The Most Important Things in Life

Bottom line = times have changed, but children have not.  What they need and want is the same as it has always been.  Academics are one thing, but in order to get there, children have to be grounded in the most important things in life.

I have taught preschool for over thirty years, and I know children and what they need.  It’s all the little things that mean the most, as they become the big things in life.

A few years after I got my feet wet teaching, I read Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  That had a profound influence on my career.  His opening essay seemed to take all the stars in the sky and bring them to earth in a simple package; for me it validated what I was learning, and how I was teaching children.

I knew that the ‘little things’ mattered the most, because they were really the big things in life.  I felt renewed, and I followed my common sense and also my heart in teaching.  I paid close attention to children and I began to become a child myself.  That made me human to children.  In that way, I could truly teach.  And I do.

Here is his essay:

Most of what I really need
To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be
I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top
Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.

These are the things I learned:

Share everything.
Play fair.
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Flush.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life –
Learn some and think some
And draw and paint and sing and dance
And play and work everyday some.
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world,
Watch out for traffic,
Hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.

I still have this essay, folded and slightly yellowed.  I read it from time to time.  It’s important.  Today children live in a bigger world.  COVID has had a huge impact on their schooling.  There’s a much larger lens out there, and what they see is often tainted with lures that influence their thinking.  Sadly, those lures influence their heart.  If we, parents and teachers and adults, can stick with teaching children the important things, like Robert Fulghum did, that’s the best teaching we can do.  Being loved and being valued = learning love and values.

Jennie

Posted in Book Review, books, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, self esteem, teaching, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , | 115 Comments

toys r (all of) us.

Thank you, Beth, for the National Toy Hall of Fame finalists. The collection of toys is a walk down memory lane, and covers all areas of toys and play. My vote is for sand.

I didn't have my glasses on....

National Toy Hall of Fame Reveals 12 Toy Finalists

Which toys will make it into the National Toy Hall of Fame this November? The Strong’s National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York, announced the 12 finalists for induction into the hall: American Girl Dolls, Battleship, billiards, Cabbage Patch Kids, Fisher-Price Corn Popper, Mahjong, Masters of the Universe, piñata, Risk, sand, The Settlers of Catan, and toy fire engine.

“These 12 toys represent the wide scope of playthings—from one of the most universal playthings in the world like sand to a game-changing board game like Risk to the popular adult game of billiards,” says Christopher Bensch, vice president for collections. “Whether old or new, for kids or adults, all 12 of these toy finalists greatly influenced the world of play.”

The Hall of Fame receives thousands of nominations annually, and this year, fans may vote for their favorite finalists…

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Starting the School Year Reading Charlotte’s Web

Every year I start chapter reading with my preschool class on ‘day one’.  And, the first book I read is Charlotte’s Web.  We have barely had three weeks of school and children are totally hooked.  They adore Wilbur and laugh at the goose repeating words three times.  They trust Charlotte. They have met Templeton the rat, and learned of Wilbur’s fate.  When Charlotte’s demise looked imminent in the hands of Avery’s big stick, there were gasps.

I am reading to three and four-year-olds about the beauty of life and the fear of death, about morals (and lack thereof), and about friendships (and lack thereof).  That sounds pretty sophisticated for preschoolers, but leave it to the beautifully crafted words of E.B. White.

Twilight settled over Zuckerman’s barn, and a feeling of peace.  Fern knew it was almost suppertime but she couldn’t bear to leave.  Swallows passed on silent wings, in and out of the doorways, bringing food to their young ones.  From across the road a bird sang “Whippoorwill, whippoorwill!”  Lurvy sat down under an apple tree and lit his pipe; the animals sniffed the familiar smell of strong tobacco.  Wilbur heard the trill of a tree toad and the occasional slamming of the kitchen door.  All these sounds made him feel comfortable and happy, for he loved life, and loved to be part of the world on a summer evening.

We often underestimate children.  Their brains are absorbing the world around them like a giant sponge.  Let’s give them the world through words, the best words written.  I tell the children – with great fanfare and passion – “The words in the story go into your ears and then into your brain, and you make the pictures in your head.”

That’s just what happens, every day at chapter reading.

The beauty of Charlotte’s Web comes from learning about the world, and about every feeling that is important in order to grow into a good person.  Goodness and knowledge, all on a farm.

I had a pleasant surprise; my hardcopy of Charlotte’s Web is of course at school.  As I typed this post, I needed a copy of the book in order to type E.B. White’s words from page 62.  Surely I had another copy of the book here at home.  I did!  As I opened the book, this is what I saw:

Thank you, Gabriel.  You are now in high school, doing very well.  Whenever you visit (once or twice a year), it means the world to me.  And today I found the book you gave me.  You loved Charlotte’s Web.  That book went straight to your heart, and I know your heart wanted to give me something when you left my class and moved on to kindergarten.  From my heart to yours, thank you!

Jennie

Posted in chapter reading, children's books, E.B. White, Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Imagination, Inspiration, Learning About the World, reading aloud, reading aloud, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , | 72 Comments

9/11 and Kindness Peace and Love Day at School


Honoring 9/11 at school is Kindness, Peace, and Love Day.  It has been twenty years since that tragic day in September, and for children it is a day to remember the heroes.  How do we help young children honor the brave people on 9/11?  By remembering and celebrating how people were united in brotherhood and came together to help each other.  We talk about heroes – firefighters, police officers, nurses, doctors, teachers…

Yes, heroes.  They are the ones who face a tragedy and find goodness and strength.  We can, too.  Children can be heroes.  There is a hero in us all.

We hold the American flag.  I talk to children filled with big eyes and wearing red, white, and blue.  I show them how to stand and put their hand on their heart.  We sing “God Bless America.”  Then I ask, “Who is a hero?”  The shout-outs are terrific:

Firefighters!  Police officers!  Teachers!  Moms!

“You can be a hero, too.  Yes, you can.  You can help a friend.  You can spread kindness.  And when you see a firefighter or a police officer, please say ‘thank you’.  So who’s going to celebrate Kindness, Peace and Love Day?”  Every hand went up.

We then sing one of our favorite songs about America, “Red, White and Blue” by Debbie Clement.  While the song is a book, based on quilting America, it is the children’s favorite.

We listen to Lee Greenwood and The Singing Sergeants singing “God Bless the USA.”  If you haven’t heard this rendition of the song, you’re in for a treat.  Grab a tissue.

We will never forget 9/11, and we will always celebrate Kindness, Peace, and Love Day.

Jennie

Posted in America, American flag, Expressing words and feelings, Inspiration, Kindness, Love, music, Peace | Tagged , , , | 64 Comments

The Start of a New Year at School – Part 2

In Part 1, I talked about welcoming children to a new year at school.


Part 2
This is the really important piece – The Teacher.  What a teacher brings to children and the classroom makes all the difference in the world.  I have written this to teachers before, yet today children need teachers more than ever.  Here is my letter to teachers:

Finding Joy – It’s the Magic Word!

Dear Teachers,

As you start your new school year, there is one word that will get you through the uncertainty and the worry.  It’s the same word that is the heart of educating.  That word is ‘joy’.  No, it’s not the happiness that children bring. It’s the happiness that you bring because it inspires and ignites the mind and the heart of children.  Yes, that’s how it works.

Children come to you with big eyes, looking at you to teach them.  They don’t know what to think.  They want to learn, yet what they really want is to be inspired to learn.  That is where you can make a difference.

What do you like?  Because whatever it is, from math to music, that ‘like’ will become your best buddy, your guiding star, and the foundation to teach all the things that you like.  It will also become a portal to help you teach the things you may not enjoy.  If you know that every day you have some window of time to teach what you love, then you become an educator.  You go beyond teaching curriculum; you teach the child.

Do you like reading?  Does Because of Winn-Dixie or Charlotte’s Web make your heart jump?  Well, carry that book around and read it aloud on the playground, in the lunchroom, or at the bus stop.  If this is your passion, children will know, and they will listen.  They will learn.

Do you like science?  Carry a tuning fork, magnet, magnifying glass or flashlight in your pocket.  Pick up interesting pieces of nature and explore them with children.  This is one of the fundamental constants for learning.  If you are grounded in nature and science, bring your curiosity and discovery to the classroom and the playground; then the world will open up for children.

Do you love music?  Sing your favorite songs, sing the words to a book, sing poetry, or just sing the words that you say.  If this is your passion children will know.  They’ll listen and learn.  Introduce children to the music you love.  I bring my record player and old albums into the classroom.  Some years they love Beethoven, other years the Beatles.  The point is, they will love the music because you do.

Do you love art?  Don’t be afraid to use real artist’s watercolors when introducing art.  Children enjoy learning about famous pieces of art, too.  If you treat a child like an artist and treat the work s/he creates like a masterpiece, the results are remarkable.  When a child has created something and is incredibly proud, ask the child to give the art a title and record that to the work of art.  This simple affirmation has done more for the confidence and character of children than most anything I have done.

You may only like one thing, but that alone will open the door to help you teach the rest.

We all know that the emotional and social pieces for children need to be ‘there’ before effective learning takes place.  Well, flip-flop that fact from the child to the teacher.  If you the teacher are not grounded in an emotional and social component of educating, then how in the world can you get your message across to children?  You have to share your love and passions.  That’s your joy.  In that way, you are sharing you.  And, all that children want to know is that you love them and love what you are teaching.  If they know that, the floodgates will open to learning.

This does not mean to ignore the curriculum.  On the contrary, it means finding ways to insert your passions into the curriculum objectives.

Maya Angelou was right when she said, “…people will never forget how you made them feel”.  The children I have taught for decades often return to school to visit.  They can’t put a finger on what it was in my classroom, but they come back.  Joy is the magic word.

This is a Wish Tree on the playground at school.  Children and teachers wrote their heartfelt wishes and hung them onto the tree.  My wish?  Joy, of course.

Jennie

Posted in Early Education, Expressing words and feelings, Imagination, Inspiration, joy, School, teaching, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , | 85 Comments

The Start of a New Year at School – Part 1

When children come to school next week, they will be greeted at the front entrance by this hand painted dove.  I can’t imagine anything more welcoming for children than walking across this threshold to start their day at school.

This Peace Dove goes way back, and was painted by Janine, then a parent in my class – the same parent who drew children’s ideas for the Peace Quilt.  As years have passed, she has repainted the Peace Dove whenever needed.  See, parents hang on long after their child has left school, much like children do.

Janine is an artist, and her daughters were in my class.  It’s surprising (in the best of ways) how art can play such a huge role in school.  I only have three art posters in the classroom; a sun by Eric Carle, a Grandma Moses painting, and Starry Night.  That’s it.  Janine’s daughter, Juliet, always loved art, but I had no idea how much the Starry Night poster had influenced her.  When she visited MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York City with her family, she was beside herself when she came face to face with the real Starry Night.  She kept telling her mom how this was in her classroom and how much she loved it.  Mom was shocked and sent me this photo:

I was shocked, too.  Juliet had never said anything about Starry Night.  I quickly learned that children learn and grow in many different ways.  Art is a visual that goes straight to the heart and the brain, much like the effect of a walk in the woods or a day by the ocean.  Words aren’t always necessary.  Never underestimate the power of art, or the mind of children.

Here is my classroom (it takes a few seconds to connect):

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1KY_PbOlkcWJU9YFaZCmc_meQWOcjI9Dk/view

I love the big windows looking out onto ‘the whole wide world’ for children.  There are no bright colors, except for toys.  In case you haven’t guessed my favorite part of the classroom, here it is:

Reading books to children gives them the greatest foundation for learning.  It’s the most important (and favorite) thing I do for children.  Plus, it is exciting, fun, and develops a bond between teachers and children.  Nothing beats reading aloud!  Do you recognize the books on the bookshelf?  There is a mix of old and new, fact and fiction, patriotic, rhyming, and wordless.  The books rotate every month, plus there is always a ‘little bit of everything’.  And, nature is just a few steps away:

Stay tuned for Part 2, starting the new year at school from the teacher’s perspective.

Jennie

Posted in art, children's books, Early Education, Inspiration, picture books, preschool, reading aloud, School, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , | 109 Comments

The End, and Also The Beginning

Every moment outside when summer ends is a gift.  I hang on tight.  I listen to the crickets.  I often think of E.B. White when he wrote “Charlotte’s Web.”  He knew how precious those last days of summer are.  He payed attention.

Tonight was one of those last summer nights.

Baseball was on the radio.  Crickets were chirping.  The air was still and warm.  The sky was an art show.  The world was whispering and smiling as it darkened.  It was a wonder.

Somehow I know E.B. White felt the same way on a late summer evening.

When something ends, there is a new beginning.  Summer is ending, yet children start school next week, and I start reading aloud “Charlotte’s Web” that very same day.  Yes, on ‘day one’.  Life is good.

~Every ending is really just a new beginning.~

Jennie

Posted in chapter reading, children's books, E.B. White, Early Education, literacy, Nature, Quotes, reading aloud, reading aloud | Tagged , , , , , , | 77 Comments

Today’s Quote

Soul Gatherings

Z 46

One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers,

but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.

The curriculum is so much necessary raw material,

but warmth is a vital element

for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.

~ Carl Jung ~

__________

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History Through a Classic Picture Book – The Little House

Last night as the sun was setting, the house next door was getting sleepy.  Just look at those window eyes closing and getting ready to say goodnight.  They reminded me of a favorite picture book, “The Little House” by Virginia Lee Burton.  It is as wonderful today as ever.  The window eyes on that little house are endearing.  More importantly, the book sparks an understanding of history and generations- a great way to teach children.  They love this book!  I did too as a child.

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Whenever I read aloud the classic children’s book, “The Little House” by Virginia Lee Burton, it turns out to be an unexpected history lesson.  This wonderful book begins with a charming little house on a hill, living through days and nights and the seasons.  She loves the countryside and the changes.  The early illustrations capture all the images of the seasons.  At this point in the book children are hooked, because they love the little house.  As I turn the pages they know summer follows spring, then autumn then winter.  Each page is predictable.

The next page was the game changer.  A road is being built by the little house, yet the children couldn’t see what was happening on that page.  How could they not see?

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I went back and forth between the previous page and this page, asking plenty of questions.  Were they so focused on the house that they couldn’t see ‘the big picture’?  Once the children saw what was happening, the story changed; there was much more than just the little house.  We talked about steam shovels and trucks, and the smoke from the steam roller.  From this point forward, every page in this book shows a significant change, and we jumped in with both feet.  The tenement houses were built, and that was the trigger for history.  We talked about the buildings; they were different.  Then a child commented on the cars passing by.  Yes, they were different, too.

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The cars started most of the conversation.  I told children that my grandmother drove those cars and my mother was a little girl riding in those cars.  Generations are a concrete way to teach history to young children.  It’s their closest element to an abstract concept.  Children identify history through their parents and grandparents, and a few lucky ones may have a great grandparent.  It starts with something close to home, like a car, and that can be the catalyst to talking about history.  That’s exactly what we did.  The next page, and the next, and so on were steps in history.  Trains and subway cars were a natural curiosity, since children were captivated by cars.  Then came the twenty-five and thirty-five foot buildings.  We talked about Boston and about Groton, and who has the tall buildings.  We even imagined how high twenty-five stories would be.

Of course we never forgot about the little house, especially when she was moved from the city back to the country.  This was perhaps the most exciting page; it sparked great conversation.  Children asked how they did that, moving the house, and also asked how deep the hole was, and if the house was okay.  This is the pinnacle in education.  This page is all about math, science, engineering, kindness, history, and language.  I think that’s why children like this page.  There is so much to talk about and so much to learn.

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The rest of the book is wonderfully predictable, as it should be.  After all the lessons and learnings and dialogue that transpired while reading this book, the little house comes to rest at a new place in the country, much like where the story began.

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When I was in first grade, this was the one book I remember my teacher reading aloud.  Frankly, that is my strongest memory of first grade.  Now that I am the teacher, I have a greater understanding of how a picture book can teach history and beyond.  That’s what I do.

Jennie

Posted in Book Review, children's books, Early Education, history, Inspiration, picture books, reading aloud, reading aloud, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , | 87 Comments

My New Books Arrived

Look what just arrived in the mail today!

Jennie

Posted in books, Giving thanks, Inspiration, reading | Tagged , , , | 58 Comments