Starting to Think of the New Year

It’s around this time – mid July – that I get the first thought of the new school year. Sure, I’m enjoying the summer – the fireworks, chilling on a “beach-ish” sandy shoreline, and enjoying an amusement park.

Still, the thought of the new school year creeps in. After many, many years of living according to the academic calendar, these fledgling thoughts of the new year has been turned into a formula. For next year, I think about what I want to carry over from the previous year, what I want to improve upon, and what I want to try that’s new. If I were teaching this school year, this is how the formula would play out.

Carry Over

I bring over all of my lesson plans. When I was teaching, I always kept all of my previous lesson plans in a binder. By the end, the giant 2.5 inch binder was a couple of pounds. It was always fun to look though the lessons, with immediate memories of successes and failures flooding in.

I won’t copy the plans verbatim for the upcoming year. Still, I put a lot of thought into these plans. Why reinvent the wheel? Use the previous plans as guidance for the new year. This will save you a lot of time on planning so you can spend more time on preparing supplies and making resources.

Improve Upon

I think about the lessons that didn’t go well or the skills I need to improve upon.

Despite all of the planning in the world, lessons will go wrong. Either children will miss the intent of the lesson, I didn’t teach it well, or it ended up just not being interesting or fun. Just happens. Some of those lessons are just so bad that I won’t do them again. But there are some that I know will be great with a little change or tweek. Those I want to improve.

I also want to improve my skills. I was good at a lot of things, but equally bad at others. I was known for taking tangents on my lessons. Sometimes the resulting product was spectacular experiences. Sometimes, they would utterly confuse the children or I would lose track of why I went a different direction and forget what I was teaching. A lot of my lessons would just go so long because I bloated them with a lot of additional stories or information that was not part of my original plan.

Staying on task is something I want to improve. That and better discernment between when taking an tangent is advantageous or when it’s not worth it.

Try Something New

The first place where I would trying something new is when I would start supply shopping. It’s not blind shopping. When I started looking for new materials and resources for the classroom, I maintained the perspective of how the item would work within my system of teaching and classroom culture. I didn’t want to get a new toy or resources just because it was shiny and trendy. I bought supplies that fit my teaching pedagogy.

With that in mind, these are the classroom supplies I would incorporate in my classroom this year…

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STEM is big deal in education and I consider it tremendously important during the preschool years. This is a highly-rated resource I would try out – Teaching Stem in the Early Years by Sally Moomaw, EdD.

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I’m a big fan of classroom timers. But the ones that work best in preschool are the ones where children can see time counting down. This way, they can anticipate how soon an activity will end or how soon an activity will begin. This is a timer I would try out – Time Timer.

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There are supplies that just lend themselves open to creative application. This is one of those supplies – shape bean bags. Shapes should be in a preschool classroom… period. The shape names or on them. Plus, they are bean bags. There are many ways to ways to use bean bags in the classroom. Plus, the opportunity to cross cognitive knowledge with a physical activity. This would be one of my most anticipated supplies to get in August.

So, that’s the formula: carry over, improve, and new. It’s starting to feel like a new school year.

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Use Different Words

Preschool classrooms offer children opportunities to hear varied and numerous new vocabulary words. However, although preschool teachers know they have a great opportunity to expand children’s vocabulary, it helps to have some guides. Here’s one for vocabulary.

This guide shares how to say commonly used (such as “smart”) in different and meaningful ways (such as “witty”, “brilliant”, and “intelligent”). If you review all 16 words, they are all words that a preschool teacher would use in the classroom. Why not take the opportunity to change it up and teacher the kiddos new ways to describe something? Inspect the graphic below and see how you can expand your teaching vocabulary.

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Number Counting Matching Game

Summertime is a great time for educators to take all of those ideas from the school year and make them reality. At least, that’s been my goal during this summer. All of those notes I had about “I should make this” or “This would be a great activity” is all happening now during summer rejuvenation.

Number Counting Matching Game

Here is a free number counting matching game where children can match numbers with the appropriate number of stars. They are in color so it can assist children with the matching, but the adults should encourage the child to  count the stars to confirm the match.

4th of July Matching Game

4th of July means a couple of things for me: hot dogs, fireworks, and a bazillion American flags everywhere. With everything in red, white and blue, you can add this game to your repertoire. It’s a simple matching game with a 4th of July theme. Fun little activity for the little ones, especially if you don’t want them handling the fireworks.

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Add this to your schedule of activities for the day before the real fireworks at night. Download it, for free, at my online store.

Tradition for the Sake of Tradition

The UK has been going through an immense heat wave. Many schools in the UK have dress codes for the students, such as collared shirts, shoes, and colors of the clothes. During the hotter temperatures, students are holding true to their uniforms, but are succumbing to the effects of  heat exhaustion and coming close to passing out. Needless to say, the students cannot focus on learning.

I completely understand the situation. When I was in elementary school, I passed out due to heat exhaustion. I collapsed to the ground, face and body against the hot asphalt. Yard supervision saw what happened and acted immediately. I went to the hospital and spent 10 or so hours being filled with IVs. Since then, I’ve been aware of what hot weather can do to a person and make staying hydrated a priority. In fact, when I was teaching, I told my students to constantly drink water with the underlying motivation that I was preventing a repeat of what happened to me.

Now, when I read about the students and heat wave, it hit me personally. At one school in the UK, most of the students are able to take all necessary measures to deal with the heat – except if your a boy. The school maintains a strict dress policy and – in the boys case – they have to wear pants at all times. Everyone else can wear skirts or pants.

The reason – because it’s school policy.

Students and parents complained. How can students learn if they are dealing with sweltering heat? Why maintain the dress code if it is preventing student learning? You’d think this would be a worthy argument. However, the school maintained the policy and responded that the students would be reprimanded if they broke the dress code.

So, as a response, a group of boys borrowed skirts from some of the girl students and wore it to school. It was a protest. They would not suffer from the heat anymore.

Now, I’m looking at both sides of this situation. I get what the school is trying to do. They are keeping to the rules and policy. It’s something the kids will experience when they are adults. Also, at some points, the schools must maintain their stance when rules are challenged, because ultimately it is in everyone’s best interest that the rules are kept.

I’ve been on both sides of the equation – where I’m the one challenging the rules and the one that is enduring the barrage of challenges. Rules are in place for a reason. And when you ask someone about why the rule is there, there should be an explanation for the rule.

But, when you have rules for the sake of tradition – that boys wear pants – because that’s the way it is, that’s not an explanation. Follow the rule for the sake of the rule? No. That’s not a defense. Furthermore, if you don’t follow the rule, you’ll be reprimanded? That’s not not an educator response, that’s a power response. To follow a rule – without a reason – because I say so sounds beyond the character of an education administration and more like another kind.

And I’m not just saying in this situation but for a lot of situations you see in education. There are rules in place on boys and girls that have been there for decades that are outdated, misused, or just plain wrong. And our students are going through different kinds of struggles because the schools are keeping to the rules because, well, that’s the way it’s always been.

If your defense for a rule is because “that’s the way it’s always been”, then 1) you don’t even know why that rule is in place and 2) you’re not responding as an educator if the rule is hindering student learning as well as not showing any other kind or enough of a benefit to justify keeping the rule.

When times change, the rules change.

Hearing about students going through a struggle while the school responds with reprimands really, really get’s under my skin. However, I will say that the school has heard about the complaints and are looking at the policy. I really hope that the school can see what their students are going through and make an “educated” response.

Still, good on the boys for making a stand and good on the girls who let the boys borrow the skirts. I hope to see such teamwork – the same and reciprocated – as these students grow into adults. They are showcasing a tremendous courage in their youth.

Potty Training from the Other Side

I expected that most of the students that came into my classroom would be potty-trained. If not, the children would need a little guidance and be where they needed to be. I was a teacher, not a parent. I did not appreciate how hard and stressful potty-training can be.

Now, as a father, there are some experiences I have now that I wish I had while I was a teacher. Potty-training is more than just reminding children to sit on the potty and go to the bathroom. I believed a parent would simply need to wait until the child went. Then, repeat the process until the practice became habit.

But, as a parent, my goodness. Potty training takes consistency, patience, and a lot of laundry detergent, carpet cleaners, and deodorizers. It can be stressful and, at times, defeating. Like, “When is this potty training thing simply going to ‘click’ for the child?” “How much more cleaning?” “How much more laundry” “Am I doing something wrong?” “Why are other kids getting this thing down and not my own child?”

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There needs to be reminders, positive praise, and incentives throughout the learning. Reinforcement to wear that weird, uncomfortable under wear. Having a timer to remind the child when to go and, at the very least, try to go. Encouragement to try and use the potty (and discouragement to regress back to the diaper). Then, a celebration for success, topped off with a little reward – toy, candy, or otherwise.

At times, potty training can be stressful. You’ll try anything to make it work. My wife and I didn’t go into potty training with the idea of giving candy. But, at some point, we would try anything to make it work. Our expectations of what we would do to make it work dissolved into doing whatever it took to get it to work.

Then there were all of the tools and talks between potty times. Reading books about using the toilet. Discussing how to use toilet paper. Calling upon the services of Daniel Tiger to sing a catchy tune to mentally reinforce the potty training message. Cartoons, activities, and games were all utilized to convey – in a fun, stress less way – to please, please, please use the toilet.

Luckily, there was a day where it did simply “click'” with my son. He took responsibility to notice what his body was saying, then start a short sprint to the toilet – with a parent dropping whatever they were doing and sprinting in pursuit. Success after success, day after day, my wife and I could see the message had been received. The work and patience was paying off.

If your a preschool teacher who has never potty-trained a child, take my story to heart. Give the parents a break. They’re trying.

End of the Year is Upon Us

May, the final month of the school year. Sure, there may be a couple of days in June. But now the end of the year feels real!

It’s the last opportunity to do all of that paperwork. Make sure you have all of those observations finished. Schedule the final parent-teacher conferences. Get the kiddo’s portfolios together.

Most of all, it’s time to start thinking seriously about the end of the year celebration. My schools tended to call it EOY (we educators like our abbreviations). After many years of May celebrations, there were some resources that I keep going back for my final celebration of the year.

Streamers

Streamers are a must. For a little money, they add a lot to the feeling that this is a special occasion. Yes, it will take work, lots of tape, and maybe a sturdy chair to step up on. However, the effort is well worth the reward.

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Balloons

Balloons also signify special occasions. Think about all of the times when you had a balloon. It wasn’t just because it was Tuesday. It’s always special when there are balloons. Of course, observe special safety requirements when necessary. If you’re truly concerned, you can hang balloons in the classroom that is out of the reach of little hands.

Caps and Gowns

My classroom had caps and gowns every year. Usually, gold. Not because gold was our school color, but our staff felt the color most represented celebration in our school. There are a couple of places where you can get caps and gowns. Here is a cap and gown set on Amazon.

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Now, before you go out and buy these, make sure you take the measurements of the children. Yes, the caps and gowns come in sizes. The last thing you want to do is get an X-large for your petite kiddos. You can make the measurement process part of your end of year celebration routine.

Certificates

Document the moment with a certificate. Just know that the certificate is more for the parents than for the kiddos. Yes, the kiddos will be excited to keep that piece of paper, but you know that the certificate will quickly transfer to the parent’s hands (you’ve seen your kiddos handle paper before). The parents are the ones who will keep and cherish this document, reminding them of this precious moment in their child’s life.

Food

This is going to be controversial, but allow the kids to have some of their favorite foods – even if they are not healthy, but still adhere to allergy restrictions.

I know, I know. We promote healthy eating and practices. However, here’s my thinking. We are preparing them to be life-long learners and independent adults. And, in real life, when we celebrate major life events – weddings, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc. – we all tend to throw our diets out the window. Not just because we don’t care, but because of family and cultural traditions – the memories we all have around a meal.

Healthy eating is meant to leave a lasting impact on the children’s overall eating patterns, but not restrict them from celebrations and special occasions. That’s just my point of view.

The end is near! Summer is coming! You’re almost there!

Apologies to the Librarian

Dear Librarian,

Allow me to explain why all of the pages of the library book are stuck together. You see, my son wanted eggs.

Actually, I’ll start from the beginning. As my wife and daughter napped in another room, I was left to supervise my son in the living room. He was enjoying the books he borrowed from the library while I watched sports on television.

Then, nature called and I had to excuse myself for a minute. Literally, like a minute. Unfortunately, this was more than enough time for my son to use your library book as part of an omelette.

My son, looking around and seeing me nowhere, took it upon himself to make himself a meal. He’s independent like that. He went into the kitchen, looked around a bit, and figured that he wanted “eggies”. It’s one of his favorite meals.

He took the carton of eggs into the living room. Sitting on the ground, surrounded by your lovely library books, my son began cracking eggs. Oh, not just breaking on the ground, but smearing the yoke along the covers and binding of your books.

By the time I came back to the living room, he had already served himself two scrambled eggs. Not cooked, but merely yoked on the the books. We cleaned up (well, I cleaned as my son watched. It’s a thing in my house that the person who cooks doesn’t have to clean-up afterwards).

Anyways, the next day, I was unaware that egg had made its way into the book. I made that discovery as I tried to open the book and the pages refused open and, instead, I heard the painful, teeth-grinding sound of pages ripping as I tried to separate them.

I write this letter preemptively, as I talk with my wife about how to explain how egg yolk made it’s way inside the book. You see, since there’s no more newspapers, my son wanted to have your library book with breakfast. He’s wise beyond his years.

Sincerely,

Gilbert

P.S. I can pay.

Character

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If anything summarized the most important lessons I taught my preschool kiddos, it would have to revolve around character. When the kids left my classroom for Kindergarten, character is the most important aspect of my teaching I wanted them to leave with.

There are many important things children learn in preschool. Letters, numbers, colors… all kinds of things. There are many social-emotional skills like sharing and taking turns. And all of those gross motor and fine motor lessons children accomplish. Children learn across a spectrum of disciplines.

And the reason why it’s so important that children learn these concepts at a young age is because they will take the lessons with them their entire lives. Think about it. No matter how far back you think, there are some things that you don’t remember learning. You just know because you know. You know?

For example, I knew my letters by an early age. I don’t remember learning them. I just went into Kindergarten (without attending preschool) knowing the alphabet. Later, I found out from my parents – and I can’t believe I’m gonna share this –  that I was taught the alphabet while I was potty training (the letters distracting me from being afraid of falling into the toilet…the struggle is real).

Still, I never remember learning my letters. I just knew them.

Now, think about character. How cool would it be for children to just know how to be charitable? Or, how about learning how to attend to someone else’s emotional needs, like compassion and empathy? How about doing the right thing when no one is looking?

Situations presented themselves as “teachable moments”.

How cool would that be? You know?

I taught many character lessons throughout my preschool teaching career. However, most of them were unplanned. Situations presented themselves as “teachable moments”.

Like, when a child is crying and I see a child go out of their way to help. I put a spotlight on that.

Or when a child is cleaning an area of the classroom that they didn’t play in. They just know that, before we go outside, the classroom should be clean. And a teacher never told them to do it. I put a spotlight on that.

Or when a child sacrifices something, like a turn at a game or materials, because they can tell that it means something more important to a friend. That’s pretty cool.

Character, above all else, were the most important lessons I wanted my kiddos to remember. I tell people constantly that, if I saw my students later in life as adults, I would consider those who were honest, trustworthy, and good as successes over those who were simply rich or acquired material wealth.

Certificate of Endurance

One of the resources I offer other teachers.

Although I don’t teach today, I still try and pass along my conviction of character lessons to other teachers. I share stories when I teach college students. I’ve made character certificates that teachers can print and pass out to their students. Most of all, I have children of my own who I will pass along my morals and values.

Character. It’s important. You know?

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Wonder

One of the most amazing things I have ever seen was the Grand Canyon. If you’ve ever been there, it’s more than just a big hole in the ground. It’s so vast and deep that, to look at it in person, you feel like you’re going to be sucked in.

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As an adult, there have been moments when I’ve been put into a state of wonder. When I went to London, England for the first time, that was amazing. The first time I saw my wife in her wedding dress. There are a couple of technology creations that take me aback because I can’t quite figure out how it was made or how it works.

However, despite all of the things that leave me in awe as an adult, it doesn’t compare to the numerous times I was put into a state of wonder when I was a child.

wonder (noun). a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable

How do magic card tricks work? How do fireworks go into the air? How do things glow in the dark? Why can I see small things with a microscope? How does that orange Nintendo blaster work with the tv?

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Even today, I still don’t understand how it works.

Perhaps, as an adult, I just know more and can figure out how something works. I don’t know how my smartphone works, but I know enough to where touching a glass surface to trigger a text message to someone across the world doesn’t amaze me anymore. And, I think I’ve taken this concept for granted because I never really thought, “Wow, text messages are pretty amazing.”

Still, there is plenty of ideas, structures, and images, that can leave me in wonder today. So, why don’t I seek these out? Why can’t I make time during my day to feel this emotion? Probably because it isn’t really important to me. However, wonder is such a wonderful feeling, like joy, love, and excitement.

Children are constantly in a state of wonder. Everything is an exploration. Every day is a discovery. Their daily lives must be amazing.

It’s sad to think that, as we grow older, we tend to lose the feeling of wonder. We figure out how something works or we generally understand why something is happening. However, we don’t seek wonder. Not like we did as children.

If you work with young children, put yourself in a state of wonder now and then, because this is what they feel. Explore something you’ve always wanted to see. There are even times when I just sit and think (meditate) that I can trigger wonder myself. Heck, bring something to the classroom that will evoke the emotion out of the kiddos.

Allow yourself to wonder and amaze.