Who Is Normal?

John hits the nail on the head when talking about normal. He is a down-to-earth guy. He is who we all should be. Thank you, John. Please visit my classroom!

Down the Hall on Your Left

EVERY ONCE IN AWHILE I AM ASKED TO GIVE SHORT SPEECHES or presentations to civic groups or service organizations. I’ve done a few things for the likes of Kiwanis and businesses. Lately I have been asked to speak before an organization that serves citizens with special needs.

A couple of months ago I went downtown and spoke before both clients and staff of this same outfit about the value of writing down their own personal stories.

I said to them that, “No matter who you are you are a special and unique individual and you have a story worth telling.” I spoke to them about how to write down their stories and how, in doing so, they would be able to both learn and to teach. They would learn more about themselves and they would teach everyone else about their uniqueness, challenges, and gifts that they have to offer to…

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Memorial Day With Children

There’s nothing like greeting a soldier in dress uniform.  For young children, they are in awe.  That presence naturally commands respect.  I hosted our school’s Memorial Day Remembrance on Friday, with Army Sergeant First Class John as our guest speaker.  As John looked at a sea of wide-eyed children, ready to talk about Memorial Day and the American flag, he decided to kneel.  Smart man.  He knew that delivering his message on his knees would be better understood by children.  And, he was right!

These are the words the children wrote to him on their own.  “Thank you for saving our country” and “We want to keep you forever”.  They are sincere words.  While they capture the moment of Memorial Day and thanking a soldier, I believe there is more behind their words, perhaps a bit of patriotism learned throughout the year.

I think the best thing I do to help children understand and feel the importance of Memorial Day is to sing patriotic songs.  As adults, we feel the lump in our throat whenever we sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” or “God Bless America.”  Children may not feel that lump, but they most definitely feel a swell in their heart.  They stand proud.  I show them how to place their hands over their hearts.  They love singing patriotic songs.

We belt out “God Bless America”Our new favorite is “Red, White, and Blue” by Debbie Clement.  We love singing!  Music and children go hand-in-hand.  When the song is also a book, that’s the icing on the cake.  Children are surprised to learn that “The Star-Spangled Banner” has multiple verses.  The stunning illustrations by Peter Spier give life and learning to our National Anthem.  Oh, how we sing!

The Memorial Day Remembrance had to be held indoors as the day was chilly and pouring rain.  Each class ‘planted’ a flag to honor and remember those who serve.  Instead of putting the flags in our Memory Garden, we put them into decorated buckets.  When our pen-pal Sergeant Curran visits the children next week (he is home from Afghanistan), he will help children place the flags in the Memory Garden.  That gesture will bring even more meaning to saying Thank You.


Posted in Early Education, military, patriotism, picture books, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Logic vs Imagination

I love this quote. It speaks to how I teach children and what I now know after 30-plus years of teaching. Thank you, Albert Einstein.

I first saw this on my friend Paulette Motzko’s wonderful blog, totallyinspiredmind.com.  She always has something uplifting to post.


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Our Memory Garden


As Memorial Day approaches, I think of our Memory Garden at school.  It is a place to host our Memorial Day Remembrance for children and families, and a place to celebrate the hero in all of us on Kindness Peace and Love Day, each September 11th.

Over the years, the Memory Garden has grown in scope.  It has become an oasis of remembering and reflecting for children.  It is a place of peace.

I wrote this last year about our Memory Garden:

Our Memory Garden at school is a raised bed of beauty; flowers, sculptures, American flags, and a collection of painted rocks, all to mark classroom pets and loved ones who have died over the years. The garden sits quietly as children run and play alongside. It is welcoming, and children who visit inevitably ask questions.

Additionally, there is a flat paving stone with a carved dragonfly in remembrance of Taylor, a little boy in our school who died some years ago. Taylor adored dragonflies. Yesterday I noticed the garden needed weeding, and sat on the low stone wall to take care of Taylor’s dragonfly. Emma came over to ask what I was doing. She wanted to help me weed. That was the beginning of a remarkable series of events about dying.

Yes – dying – the word that scares teachers and parents. The “D” word. Something they hope they’ll never have to talk about until their child is older. I wasn’t scared.

Emma noticed the dragonfly and we weeded together to make things beautiful again. She was quiet, and this work seemed to be soothing to her. Well, that’s what I thought at first. Yet, it was far more than the weeding that was soothing Emma which I would soon discover. Ever-cheerful Scarlet bounced over with her signature big smile and curiosity. It was Scarlet’s first real visit to the garden.

“What’s that statue?”
“It’s a baby deer.. It’s for someone who died long ago.”
“Died? Is he under the deer?”
“Oh, no. People would have to be buried in a real cemetery.”
Long pause…
“Scarlet, the deer helps us to remember the person. See how beautiful his eyes are? We can remember the good. All statues and painted rocks represent pets and people who have died”, I said waving my arm across the garden. “Look here. What are those letters on the green rock?”
“They spell P-E-E-P”.
“Peep was our Guinea pig before Ella.”
“Emma, do you remember Peep?”

Emma nodded her head yes. She was there to love Peep when he was alive, and she was there when he died. Emma had not talked this entire conversation. She had not even made eye contact with either of us.  I told the children how Peep was buried deep under the rock in a pink lunchbox. I told them the story of how he had died at Audrey’s house on Christmas Eve, and how we had buried him in the snowy weather.

Then we talked about Peep and all the things he did when he was alive. We looked at the blue rock for Goldie the fish, and the rock for Sparky, and for many other pets. I told them stories of our first guinea pig. We weeded and talked. Finally Emma said, “My Nana died yesterday. She was ninety-five.” Relief.  She said it.  We talked some more, but now it was Emma who did the talking, all about her Nana.

Scarlett jumped right in, “My sister Ruby died.”
My silence must have been deafening. “Do you want to tell us about it?”
“Yup. She was bigger than me. She died in Mom’s belly before I was born. We have her birthday every year.”

Elena, the inquisitive and thoughtful one, walked right over to Scarlet. “What happened? Your sister died?” And, Scarlett told the whole story over again, including the birthday part. Emma asked me if all the animals in the Memory Garden celebrated birthdays. I told her I didn’t know, but wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing. Everyone nodded and looked at me, hoping I could make something happen, or perhaps make things ‘right’ for the animals.

“Let’s sing Happy Birthday to everyone. What do you think”. Squeals of “yes”, hand-clapping, and jumping up and down told me that singing the song was indeed a good idea. We all held hands, including other children who had gathered at the Memory Garden, and belted out Happy Birthday, twice. It felt good. The children were satisfied.

Our Memory Garden is an open door for children to wonder about the circle of life and ask questions.  Don’t we all need that?  Don’t we need a remembrance, a garden to weed and take care of, and others who can listen and understand?

The next evening a friend and fellow teacher came over for dinner.  As we walked outside she noticed my dragonfly stepping stone in my garden.  We stopped.  This was a moment for her, beautiful memories after a tragedy.  When we walked out to sit by the pool, a rare ‘dragonfly show’ suddenly appeared.  Imagine that!



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Look What Happened!

Independent reading.  SSR.  Call it what you like.  It is crossing over from learning to read words, to learning to read.  Parents and teachers alike take a deep breath and clasp their hands together when this happens.  There are no words to say.  Words might spoil the moment.  After all, major milestones don’t happen often.

Look what happened!

I was busy in the classroom, working with children on a 100-piece puzzle. Things were bustling yet quiet.  I looked over at the big rug and saw children dragging chairs.  Little did I know that they wanted to arrange chairs in order to read books.  After they set up chairs on the rug, they went for the books.  Then they sat down, together, to read independently.

These are young children who cannot read, yet that is exactly what they are doing.  Babies hear words; that’s how they learn to talk.  Children hear books; that’s how they learn to read.

Preschoolers were clustered together in SSR (silent sustained reading). Four-year-olds, choosing to read independently, yet together as a group, without any help from a teacher.

It is the end of the school year; that means children are very comfortable with books in my classroom, and with each other.  Staging their own SSR seems natural.  It certainly did to the children.  I think I can shed some light as to why…

I read-aloud constantly in my preschool classroom.  Books are front-facing on a prominent bookshelf, accessible any time.  I put words into the minds of children.  Those words accumulate.  Knowing more words=academic success in all areas.  While this is an incredibly important fact, I know that I am putting more than words into the mind and heart of children.  Nothing can compare to reading about Jack the dog in Little House on the Prairie; the sadness of losing Jack crossing the creek, and the joy of finding him again. Charlotte the spider entrusted her egg sac and 514 babies to Wilbur the pig in Charlotte’s Web before she died.  We cry together, and we laugh and cheer together.  Word, after word, after word.

When children band together in chapter reading, in poetry, and in picture books, their collective learning is a natural ladder to the next step, doing it.  And they did.


Posted in chapter reading, Early Education, Imagination, picture books, reading, reading aloud, Teaching young children | Tagged , , , , , | 57 Comments

“The Stop Game”, From Dinosaurs to Poetry

I invented a game for reading-aloud children’s books that are, well…long or potentially boring in the eyes of the child.  Poetry!  Fact books!  In my heart, I know these books are hugely important.  I just needed to find a way to engage children and help them see, the way that I see.  Or, perhaps the way that I know.  I do know, and the “how to do it” just comes to me.  The Stop Game is the perfect answer, a solution that children love.

Here is how it works:  I hold a book up and partially open it, so I can fan the pages with my thumb.  I tell the children, “On the count of three, say STOP.”  I begin to fan the pages on the count of one.  Breathless anticipation is an understatement.  I keep fanning the pages, and when I get to three the children yell STOP.  Oh, how they yell, because they’re excited.  Then, I show them that page, the one when they said STOP.

We are learning about dinosaurs this month.  Besides making great dinosaur art projects, I wanted to teach children facts.  After we used a 100-foot measuring tape in the hallway to see the real size of dinosaurs (Brachiosaurus was 85-feet, the entire length of our hallway), I knew children were ready for more learning.  I had a great fact book about different dinosaurs, so we played The Stop Game.  Oh my, today is day three of children begging for this.  And, they remember the facts!  The Stop Game repeated a dinosaur page today.  When children asked where the dinosaur lived, Kate blurted out, “Australia!”  There is a column along the right that lists location, size, enemy, food, and more.  I am grilled on these facts every day.  Isn’t that wonderful?

Children are excited to learn specifics about dinosaurs.  They can’t get enough.  They’re four-years-old.  Thank you, The Stop Game.

Poetry is a fundamental in reading, words, and rhyming.  The simplest of words written in poetry have the most powerful meanings.  I read poetry to children.  And, we play The Stop Game to make the words come alive.  Poetry+The Stop Game=Understanding.

The first poetry book I fell in love with was Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic. It is a classic, and continues to be one of the best poetry books for children.  Every page that The Stop Game lands on, is a good poem.

My favorite new children’s poetry book is Outside Your Window.  The poetry goes through the seasons and all the animals within each season.  There is a wide variety of poetic style, so every poem sparks a different conversation.  Children love this book.  They love poetry.  Playing The Stop Game allows them an opportunity to really listen to the words.  It is wonderful.

“The Stop Game” actually started with the dictionary, years ago.  A big Scholastic Children’s Dictionary.  Every time we read a new word, I used the dictionary to look it up, with the children of course.  It was exciting to pull out this big book, show children the fore edge (opposite the spine) with red markings that indicated the letters in the alphabet- and then open the dictionary to see those red alphabet markings.  Honestly, this was very exciting.  After we looked up the new word, we wanted to look up many more new words, over and over again.  So, we played The Stop Game, opened a page, and discovered a world of words.  Author Patricia MacLachlan would have said, “Word After Word After Word.”


Posted in Early Education, Imagination, Poetry, reading, reading aloud | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

Happy Birthday, Milly

We wished Milly a Happy Birthday this week, as she turns 87-years-young.


Since 2009, Milly has been connecting generations with my preschoolers.  I get to stand back and watch love and happiness ignite into hugs and smiles, from both the children and Milly.  She plays Bingo and Go Fish, sings and reads stories.  Children like her walker and like to watch her sew.  A needle and thread weaving in and out of fabric is fascinating.  It’s quite remarkable and very genuine.

When Milly began her visits to my classroom, I had looked far and wide for a master quilter.  Children were bursting with ideas about peace- not the typical ideas, their ideas.  Why not turn those into a quilt? We did!  It is even my blog photo.  Since then, Milly has made other quilts with the children, and is finishing one that has been two years in the making.

The incredible journey of her quilts began with Gloria, who has a Peace Quilt of her own.  Gloria is Milly’s best friend, and does more for teaching children about kindness and peace than any other person.  After all, even though she may not look pretty, and likes to wear black all the time, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.  The children know that and befriend Gloria (who goes home most every weekend with a child).

Thank you, Gloria, for being you, and for sharing your Peace Quilt.  Thank you, Milly, for being you, and for sharing your amazing quilting and your big heart with the children.  Happy Birthday!


Posted in Diversity, Early Education, Kindness, Peace, quilting | Tagged , , , , , | 35 Comments