Yet.  It’s a word I use often at school with children.  When they try hard and struggle, and say, “I can’t”, I add the word “yet”.  A child might not be able to do it just now, but with practice they will.  Yet.

Today the tables were turned.  ‘Yet’ became the children’s words to me.  Here is what happened:

It was a rainy day.  There was extra time for music and the autoharp.  Children picked their favorite songs, and we sang and danced.  “Five Little Monkeys” was a top request, multiple times.  Then, children wanted to sing “Red White and Blue.”  With the autoharp.

I don’t know how to play that song, but I have the book.  Maybe the book has the music.”

The book had the music on the last page.  Life was good.  Well, it wasn’t good.  I showed children how there were letters above the score of music, and how I could match that to the letters on the buttons of the autoharp.  Easy, right?  Not!

As I started to play and sing, I struggled to find the right button with the matching letter.  I missed.  I stopped.  I tried many times, but it was hard.  The children grabbed pretend phones, turned them into video cameras, and decided to videotape me playing.  Maybe that would help.  Besides, imaginary play is fun and creative.  This was a great idea.  Einstein said it best: “Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

Finally, I let out a big sigh and an “ugh”, and stopped in frustration.  I had made so many mistakes.  This is where the tables turned.  I told the children that I didn’t know if I could do this.

They said, “Yet.  You can’t do this yet, but keep practicing.”

Jayden said, “Jennie, take a deep breath.”  I did.  “Now, blow out your candle.”  I did.  He said, “Take another deep breath.”  I did.  Now, blow out dragon breath.”  I did.

Whoa!  This is what we teachers do with children.  Mindfulness.  It calms their body, energizes their brain, and focuses on the task at hand.  And now the children were the teachers, telling me what to do.

Did it work?  You bet it did!  I played much better than I had done before.  The children sang, loud and proud.  They continued to videotape me with pretend phones, which was very cool.

It was important for me to be in the shoes of the child, and for children to be in the shoes of a teacher.  Thank goodness for rainy days.  You never know what might happen, yet.


Posted in Early Education, Mindfulness, music, Singing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Quotations on Character

charles french words reading and writing



“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

                                                                     Maya Angelou

M0015415 Sophocles, from the bust in the Lateran, Rome.


“All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong, and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.”




“Knowledge will give you power, but character respect.”


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Book Bears, and Reading Aloud

My library reading group is Book Bears.  We read a book each month, and I host the discussion.  These are mostly second graders, eager to read.  We have a full and lively house, until…  Let me back up.  Many things have happened.

When Book Bears first met in September, everyone brought their favorite book that they read over the summer.  I did, too.  I brought Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls.  He was also the author of Where the Red Fern Grows.

Every summer I get lost in books, just like the Book Bears.  Sometimes there is one that sticks with me for a long time.  A very long time.  This one did.  His writing is fluid.  His words are a quiver of arrows, shot to the heart.

Book Bears now know that.  I read a random page from the book.  That’s all it took.  They were hooked.   They asked me to read this book aloud to them, at the end of our Book Bear sessions.  No problem.  Happy to do that.  Reading aloud really is the Holy Grail.

The next meeting I read aloud for the last 5 or 10 minutes.  That turned out to be a teaser.  They wanted more.  The following session, the children couldn’t stand it any longer.  I read for 15 minutes.  And then I knew that the Book Bears wanted read-aloud as much as they wanted to read.

I asked Ashvik after our Book Bears session, “Did you like the book?”  It was a terrific book by Kate DiCamillo.

He said, “Not really.  Well, it was okay.  I like what you read.  Remember when you read Indian in the Cupboard?  I didn’t get to hear the end of that book.  My school has that book.  I got to read it!”

My goodness.

We added a full thirty minutes to the end of Book Bears.  That meant we went from discussing our current book for thirty minutes, to hearing Jennie read aloud Summer of the Monkeys for thirty minutes.  These kids stayed.  Every parent loved it.

Still, it wasn’t enough.

Last week we got to page 36.  You have no idea all that we read aloud, and the wonderful stops to talk about what happened.  Might as well have been 360 pages.  Jay Berry and Grandpa have come up with a plan to catch the monkeys.  There are thirty monkeys and one chimpanzee.  The reward for each monkey is $2.00.  The reward for the chimpanzee is $100.00.

That sparked questions, and math calculations.  Two dollars didn’t seem like much to the Book Bears, but one hundred dollars did.  We stopped to talk about when the book was written (they were amazed that it was written the same year I was married), yet we knew the story was long before that.  Late 1800’s.  I took a wild stab and guessed that the money had multiplied ten times.

We had a great math session, recalculating and adding each $2.00, plus the $100.00.  No calculators, no pencils.  It was the best.  But, my guess was wrong; the money had far more than grown ten times.  I can’t wait to tell Book Bears that our calculation of $1,060.00 in todays dollars is well short.

Since we were only on page 36, we stopped to calculate how many pages we would need to read in order to finish the book by June.  Not looking good.  The children asked me to use my iPhone calculator to figure this out.  We huddled together.  Seriously.  They were a little worried.  I said, “To make the math easy, let’s say we’re on page 40.  The book has 290 pages.  Subtract the 40 we have read, and we have 250 pages left to read in five more meetings.”  Not good, because we stop all the time to talk.  That’s what happens with a good book.

We’re adding another session in order to read aloud this book.  I left the library feeling like all the words we had spoken were now stars shooting out of my body.  I was full of stars.  Never underestimate the power of reading aloud, no matter the age.

Have you ever read one line, one statement in a book, that knocked you off your feet?  This one from Summer of the Monkeys did just that:

“It was the inside of my grandpa that really counted.  He had a heart as big as a number four washtub; and inside that wrinkled old hide of his was enough boy-understanding for all the boys in the world.”

Words are magic, aren’t they?  They take us to places, make us understand, make us laugh and cry.  When words are well crafted, they leave a ‘forever’ mark.  E.B. White’s words do that.  Kate DiCamillo’s words do that.  So do Wilson Rawls’ words.

If you love boys and dogs, grandpas, incredible adventures, and one of the best stories written, Book Bears recommends Summer of the Monkeys.  I do, too.


Posted in chapter reading, children's books, Early Education, reading, reading aloud, Teaching young children, wonder | Tagged , , , , , , , | 50 Comments

Beautiful art…was created by human beings just like you… Maya Angelou QUOTE FOR WRITERS (and people who like quotes)


starry-sky-1948523_640Find a beautiful piece of art. If you fall in love with Van Gogh or Matisse or John Oliver Killens, or if you fall love with the music of Coltrane, the music of Aretha Franklin, or the music of Chopin – find some beautiful art and admire it, and realize that that was created by human beings just like you, no more human, no less.
Maya Angelou

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“How Much Wood Could a Woodchuck Chuck…?”

Thank you, Steve, for being a role model for engaging children in learning and fun.  They will remember you!  I am honored that you dedicated this post to me.  It is a terrific read!

“How Much Wood Could A Woodchuck Chuck…?”


“Who was Pavarotti?”

I thought I had them stumped. But stumping wasn’t the end game. The objective was twofold: strengthen our daily dialogue, the fun part; and stimulate their thinking skills, the learning part of our relationship. .

As for Pavarotti, the surprise answer came from a confident high schooler on a unicycle who steadied himself, as best one can on a unicycle, and delivered it with certainty. “Not only was Pavarotti a famous Italian opera singer”, he opined, “but he was a tenor”.  I was impressed.

Crossing Guard PatchI’m a crossing guard for a suburban school district in western New York State. Every school morning and afternoon, I have a minute or so to interact with groups of kids ages twelve to eighteen years, while waiting for their signal lights to change. I try to make the wait meaningful.

“What is the formula for converting Fahrenheit to Celsius?”

Recent mornings been have been cold, bitter cold, the perfect environment to challenge them with this question. And the answer came fast. “(F-32) /1.8”. These kids are good.

It’s become apparent that they almost expect something each day, a quiz, a fact, a general question. An approaching airplane provokes a simple discussion. An unusual sunrise or an odd cloud formation gets us talking and imagining. It’s all about the dialogue.

“Who was Francis Scott Key and what did he write on this day (Sept 14) in 1815?”

“What direction are we facing while waiting to cross? Forward doesn’t count!”

“January is named after the 2 headed Roman god Janus.”

“Why did Frosty the Snowman tell the kids not to cry?”

“How many centimeters in an inch, millimeters?”

For the most part, kids haven’t changed over the years. The younger boys are still immature, they run, yell and ask nonsensical questions.  And boys and girls still hold hands. But there are some noticeable changes. Pink, purple or blue hair is common with today’s girls, and even with some boys. The huge backpacks have replaced gym bags for carrying books. And, nearly everyone is connected via cell phones.

However, kids are still kids. If I can make them smile or laugh as they start their school day, then ‘mission accomplished’. And it all starts with a greeting…and, maybe a new question…

“Good morning, kids. Have a great day!”


“Oh, By the way, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”

To my surprise, they had answers. We’re learning from each other.

Jan 2018

Dedicated to a wonderful teacher I’ve been fortunate to know, Jennie, and her cadre of lucky students.

Posted in Early Education, Imagination, Inspiration, Learning About the World, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , | 39 Comments

A Letter From Her Majesty the Queen

Letter writing is alive and well in my classroom.  We wrote a letter to Queen Elizabeth, and we received a reply.  Children were beyond thrilled.  Everyone heard the sound of the letter opener tearing the envelope.  Anticipation!

And there it was, a real letter from Buckingham Palace, thanking us for our letter.  It was written by the Queen’s Lady-in-Waiting, which added another magical level to a very important letter.

The Queen wishes me to write and thank you for your letter.

Her Majesty was pleased to hear from you and, although unable to reply to you personally, The Queen was interested to see your questions.

I enclose a little information which I hope you will enjoy reading and I am to thank you, once again, for writing as you did.

The Queen was interested to see our questions.  That is wonderful!  Yes, they were important and curious questions from the children.

Language is the root of learning, and it comes alive with writing letters.


Posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Teaching young children, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 79 Comments

Noah, Music, and Children

Look what came in the mail for Noah, along with a pair of socks!

It reads, “Dear Noah, You knocked our socks off by taking your love of music and turning it into a music program for preschool kids!  Awesome work!”

He did just that, in my class.  Well, also his class many years ago, as a preschooler.  Noah was shy, and he talks about that to this day.  He cried at school… a lot.  I tried everything I knew to help this timid little boy, but without success.  One day I pulled out the autoharp, strummed a few chords, and ta-dah, Noah was immediately captivated.  His tears disappeared, and his love of music began to develop.

I love music, too.  More importantly, I believe it is absolutely fundamental for preschoolers, on many different levels.  Noah is just one example.  Over the years he continued with music; drumming being his passion.  Last year he asked if he could come into my class every few weeks and bring music to the children.  That question was music to my ears (pun intended).

And then, I got to stand back and watch magic happen.  His visits quickly became called, ‘Noah Days’ by the children.   All I had to say was, “It’s a Noah Day”, and immediately children were eager for not only his music, but for him.  He understood children.  He had the touch.

Little did I know that Noah’s college essay would include his music in the Aqua Room!

The theme of the essay was based on Muriel Barbery’s 2004 novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, finding beauty in life, and the importance of capturing moments of “always within never”.  Here is an excerpt from his essay:

I wanted to be able to spread my “always” to others and I was able to achieve this by reaching out to a local preschool and organizing a program where I brought instruments into a class for the children. I played the instrument, let all of them try it, and then talked to them about how it worked. At first, I was skeptical of the idea and was worried that I would be turned down, or that the children would not take interest in me, but I remembered how I felt in their shoes, and how I would have loved having hands on music to get involved with at such a young age. Music was the reason that I came out of my shell, and I wanted to be able to give that to someone. Even if it was one child, I would feel like I succeeded. I could always spot the shy children, the ones who may not have the courage to get involved, clinging to the teacher. Sure enough, I was able to get every kid involved and smiling. To me that was a moment of always within never. In all, I am happy I got to share my talent in the sense that, not only did I get the chance to share music with the children, but I also made lasting connections and served as a mentor for these kids.

One of my goals in college is to continue working with children to provide this support system for them, and help them to come out of their shells. Music shaped my life and I hope to give someone else that opportunity because to me, experiencing new things is the only way to find an “always within never, beauty in this world.”

I am so proud of you, Noah!  Thank you for making a difference.


Posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Giving, music, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , , | 52 Comments