Thursday, August 15, 2013

The First Day

The aisles at Target are filled with cute tissue boxes and brightly colored folders, the neighborhood is quiet by 7:00 each night, the names of 24 new little ones are printed neatly on name tags, (no little hands have tried to pick at them yet!) and the sun is setting earlier.  It's back to school time!  There is no greater time in the whole school year, in my opinion, than the first day of school.  After 2 and a half months off I have had time to reset my mind, rethink my teaching strategies, prepare my classroom once again for a new batch of kindergarten kiddos, and renew my roadmap for meeting the learning goals of all my students.  But this year is different.  This year I begin as not only a teacher, but as a mom.

Over the past few days my Facebook newsfeed has been filled with first day of school pictures.  You know the ones I'm talking about.  Both kids standing on the front porch with their backpacks on.  I'm pretty sure my parents made my brother and I do it through our senior year in high school.  If I remember correctly, my mom even suggested I stand in front of the big stone sign that said the name of the University I attended when they dropped me off that summer day.  I refused.  This year I also noticed many parents sharing their concerns about dropping off their first kindergartener.  They shared their fears, hopes, and dreams as their little one stepped out of the daycare center and into the real world of school.  Many parents expressed anxiety, nervousness, fear, and sadness about time passing too quickly.  Their "baby" is now waltzing onto the school bus and towards adulthood.

As a kindergarten teacher, I've watched the bittersweet drop off moment on the first day of school for 5 years now.  Most kids are excited and proudly carrying around their brand new shiny backpacks (most of which are bigger than they are!)  And the parents?  Well it depends on who they are dropping off. 

The First Timer: You can spot the first timer easily.  They are standing quietly with their child the whole time.  Usually they keep a hand on their child's shoulder.  Mom's got a camera hanging from her neck, ready to capture this milestone moment.  Dad is in his work attire, ready to head to the office once this whole charade is over.  Mom has insisted he be there.  They have all the paperwork you've asked them to complete in their hands, not to be trusted with their child.  This parent may have a tissue wadded up in their hand, ready for that dreaded moment when the child walks into the school for the first time.  Or maybe that tissue was needed on the drive over...  Mom has usually confirmed their end of the day transportation with you ahead of time through an early email, but will typically double check it with you at this time.  She may also mention that her little guy has an extra set of underwear and pants in his backpack, "just in case."  Handle these first timers with care.  They really need to know that you care about their child as much as they do.  Also, be sure to smile your best when they insist on a first day of school picture with you and their child.  It will definitely be in some type of baby book for years to come.

The Been There Done That Parent:  The parent who has done this before is usually talking and laughing with other parents as their child plays with a neighborhood friend they have spotted.  This child may also be the one who doesn't have the nametag they were supposed to be wearing.  "Could you just get him a new nametag?"  Mom asks.  "He peeled it off in the car on the way here, you know kids!  And I think his sister ate it!"  This parent may even drive off before you walk into school because she knows you will care for her child and has learned to trust the teacher already.  She may not have a camera on her, but be camera ready anyway.

The Grand Finale Parent:  But the parents that go under the radar I've found, are the ones dropping off their final kindergartener.  They have had brothers or sisters do this before, so I used to assume they were professionals at this point.  Nothing to worry about.  But then I started to notice over the years, these were the moms crying the hardest.  Their last baby is flying the nest.  No more 3 AM feedings, no more diaper changes, no more baby gates needed in the house, no more toothless smiles waiting for you in the crib each morning.  Their last baby has grown up and is about to head into kindergarten.  These moms are professionals in a sense though.  They wait until they get back into their cars to cry.  They know better.  Be extra kind to these moms and dads.  They are often overlooked and under appreciated.

The Needy Parent:  Needy parents are just that, needy.  They will ask you what time school is out today even though it was on the letter you sent home weeks ago.  They will tell you they didn't get the paperwork done but promise to have it by tomorrow, or they could just fax it to you today if you need.  She will remind you about her son's sensitive skin and insist you keep him in the shade during recess.  This parent may even show you a photo on her phone of a healthy bowel movement from her son versus an unhealthy one, just so you know when he's constipated (true story, this happened once.)  Once she reminds you that he may need help wiping after using the restroom, I kindly remind her that it is his job to take care of that.  I used to roll my eyes at these parents and try to not laugh at their ridiculous requests.  But you know what?  All of these requests are due to feelings of anxiety and nerves.  Be extra polite with these ones.  They aren't sure about you yet and are testing to see how much you care.  A big smile and taking notes about what they are telling you will put them at ease and help them have a much better day at work knowing their child is taken care of.

After 5 years of watching drop off and now having my own baby, I realized something huge this year.  All these parents want on day 1 is to know that their child is safe, loved, and respected by YOU.  They don't care what level their child will be reading at.  They don't care where your degree came from or that you earned your Master's Degree over the summer.  They have no interest in your snack schedule or adorable first day of school outfit you selected for the day.  They want you to love their child as they do.  That's it.  So give that crying parent a hug.  Nod enthusiastically as that parent tells you about their child's giftedness when it comes to anything artistic.  Smile big when that parent wants their seventh picture of you and their little one.  The first day of kindergarten is not really about the kindergarteners.  It's about their parents and making sure they feel comfortable leaving their babies.  Unlike daycare, these parents didn't get to tour several schools in hopes of finding their favorite one.  They didn't get to interview teachers until they found the right fit.  They got a letter saying this is your child's school and this is her teacher.  See you then.  Like it or not, this is how it is going to go!  So put the parents at ease on the first day and love each child as if they were your own, because a little piece of each parent is with you all day long.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

5 Reasons I Believe in Homework

I teach kindergarten and I believe in homework.  Yes, you heard me!  There has been a lot of discussion about homework in schools over the past few years and whether or not it is best practice.  I've read several articles and heard teachers share their beliefs about homework and its validity.  I've given homework to my kindergarten students for the last 4 years and stand by that decision.  Here's 5 reasons why I believe in homework... even in kindergarten:

1. Homework is a communication tool for parents.
Homework allows parents to see what skills we're working on in the classroom.  When they sit down with their child and complete the activity together, they get instant information about specific skills we are currently practicing.  Each week my students get a piece of reading homework.  It asks parents to read a book with their child and provides a comprehension focus for them.  By giving parents word for word questions to ask their child that match the language we use every day, we are giving them tools to support their child's learning.  Parents quickly learn whether we have been discussing schema, making connections, or nonfictition text features using this single piece of homework.

2. Homework shows academic progress.
I do not use homework to determine if a child understands a skill... but parents can.  When a parent sits down to complete an activity with their child, they quickly see if the child is secure with it or needs support.  For example, if the assignment asks students to draw 2 patterns and the child says, "What's a pattern?"  The parent knows they need practice this skill at home.  If the child makes 4 correct patterns, the parent know this is a secure skill.

3. Homework teaches responsibility.
This is a much argued point.  It's one that I agree with!  I give my students one week to complete 2 pieces of homework.  It is sent home on Monday and needs to be back by Friday.  Do I have a student list I check off once homework is returned? No.  Do I contact parents about missing homework? No. Do I reprimand students who don't turn it in? No.  Honestly, I don't have time for that.  I'm busy teaching.  I do not send work home to penalize students.  I do it to help students practice responsibility at whatever level they are capable of. Let's be perfectly honest.  A kindergarten student cannot control whether or not their parents make time to complete homework with them (this is why I struggle to support rewards for students with completed reading logs.)  But they do know it is their job to take it home, complete it, and return it.  How and if they get that done, is up to the child and their parents.  If I can help even 1 child practice responsibility at the age of 5, then it was a success.

4. Students get to show off!
There is nothing I love more than when a parent tells me how amazed they are with their child's knowledge.  When parents are directed within reading homework to ask for a text to self connection, many are hesitant and unsure.  Then... their child speaks.  I don't think many parents are aware of what their children are capable of.  Yes, they know their child is smart.  But they don't know just how capable they are when it comes to high level responses.  It's exciting for kids to share this new learning with their families!  When I hold up the new homework for my class on Monday afternoon, cheers literally erupt from the crowd!  The question is, how do we keep this excitement going beyond kindergarten?

5. Parents realize they are partners in their child's eduction.
Once parents realize what we are learning and how successful their child is with each specific skill, they become a part of their child's education.  They feel informed.  They feel knowledgeable.  They feel capable of having conversations with their children that connect to those we have in the classroom. I never want parents to feel in the dark until report card day.  It should not be a surprise.  Homework is another way I push the door wide open for parents to communicate with me and their child about their learning.  No, every parent will not be a partner in education, that's the reality.  However, the door has been opened for those who are willing.

*If you'd like copies or information about the homework I use with my students, I'm happy to share.  Just contact me!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Communication is Key in Kindergarten

Well the year has begun and 24 new kindergarteners have taken over the classroom!  Along with those 24 kiddos come 24 sets of parents.  Anyone who has ever taught kindergarten knows that these families often need lots of communication.  Many of these parents are first timers when it comes to having a child in school.  They have lots of questions, concerns, and anxiety when it comes to having a child in school.  And rightfully so!  It dawned on me this week why parents feel nervous.  As a teacher who is a non parents, I often forget that these children are someones babies.  I've been around several of my friends who have had babies this year.  As new working moms, they were on the hunt for the best childcare possible upon returning to their jobs.  They interviewed many in-home sitters and daycare center providers until they found the perfect one.  Even then it was hard for them to leave their babies!

This is exactly why kindergarten parents are nervous!  They are dropping their child off with someone they only met once.  Someone they didn't get to choose.  Someone they don't even know.  My perspective on parent communication changed drastically upon this revelation!  My mission: To provide  parents with as much information about myself, my instruction, our daily activities, and our goals as possible.  Whatever I can do to make them comfortable with their child's education, I will.

I started with an email to my parents before Open House night.  I wanted to welcome them and share my excitement for the school year.  I also opened up my class website to them prior to Open House.  My website is something I am SUPER proud of!

I started using Shutterfly's free website template a few years ago and absolutely love it!  More importantly, parents love it!  If you haven't yet checked out their free sites, do it!  One of the best features is the calendar.  You can add events throughout the year with details for parents.  The day before an event occurs, an email is automatically sent out to parents reminding them of the event.  This is awesome for early dismissals, concerts, class parties, and school-wide events.  We all know how busy we get as teachers, so why not let your website do the work for you?  Another feature I really love about Shutterfly is their picture feature.  Adding photos of your students is easy.  You can add captions and allow parents to comment on photos.  I usually add a new album each month to keep myself organized.  Parents often tell me how much they enjoy seeing what we're doing in the classroom.  It makes them feel like they are right there with us every day.  Last year I even uploaded short movies of the kids Skyping with local firefighters and singing songs.  Our school requires a newsletter go out to parents from each classroom every other week.  I simply write an update on the homepage of our site and a notice goes out to parents that the newsletter was added.  You can upload files to the website as well.  I have my monthly snack/activity calendar available each month along with documents that get sent home, just in case they get misplaced :)  When parents email me looking for things like the snack calendar, the newsletter, or that paper that was sent home on Tuesday, I can simply tell them to check for it in the website.  Everything is in one place!  I am not paid my Shutterfly (wouldn't that be awesome though) so trust me when I say that you MUST get a classroom website started through them!

Finally, simple emails make all the difference.  After our first day of school, I sat down and typed up a brief account of our day.  I told parents there would be some pictures of our first day on our website too.  I got several emails back in response within a couple of hours.  Parents were so grateful for my constant communication and said how relieved they were to know their children were in good hands.  All they needed was to know their child was safe and cared for.  Within a few days, many of them knew that; and that was my goal.  Now as the second week begins, I need to be sure that my communication remains constant.  It's easy to get busy with assessments, data results, organizing the classroom, and lesson planning, and forget the basics.  But now I really understand the importance of communication.  It leads to trust.  Trust leads to a partnership.  And great teacher-parent partnerships mean a successful education for children.

(If anyone wants help with setting up a Shutterfly website for their class, just leave a message.  I'd be happy to help!  I do not have a link here to my website because it is secure.  Parents must be invited by me to have access to it.  Nothing is more important to me than the privacy of my students and their families.  Another plus to the Shutterfly website!)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Get Skyping in Kindergarten!

Thanks to the Skype Education site ( our class had connected with a 5th grade class in Arizona and kindergarteners in Boston.  We work with our friends in both states 1-2 times each month.  Skype Education allows you to post what kinds of classes you're looking for and describe the experiences you'd like to have with them.  Discussing trees in science?  Find out if there are classes who'd like to share the trees in their region with you!  Want to discuss holiday traditions around the world?  Make a post requesting classes from other countries to work with you!

Below is a video of our friends in Arizona reading to us during our "Celebrate Reading Week" at school.  Each child in the 5th grade class read a page from a book to our class.  When they were done, my students stood up in with their guided reading groups and read a book together to the 5th graders.  Such a motivating experience that built up their confidence as readers!  I

My point?  Make on of your New Year's resolutions to utilize technology more!  Throw open the doors of our classroom and welcome in students from around the state, country, and even the world.  See what happens with just a little bit technology, some creativity, and a whole lot of fun!

Would love to hear the ideas you come up with and hey, maybe our class can Skype with yours!!

Skyping with Friends in Arizona

Click here to view this video

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Free Tool for Sharing Out Student Progress!

(Insert theme from Jaws)  It's coming.... charge up your laptops... plug in your apple spice Febreeze air freshener... and hang up your students' best work.  Conferences are almost upon us!

As our kindergarten team met last week we talked about how confusing our new report cards, er, progress reports can be for parents.  Take the category of "phonemic awareness" for example.  There is no explanation.  It simply says, "phonemic awareness."  What does that mean?? How can we show them in uncomplicated terms what it is?  What do parents really want to know about their kiddos?

We figured they want to know the basics.  Letters, sounds, high frequency words, counting, identifying numbers, and reading ability.  So let's give it to them straight.

I created a document to fill out for each child based on the assessments I'm completing over the next couple of weeks.  It will be send home prior to conferences as a quick snapshot for parents to see regarding their child's basic kindergarten abilities.  Yes, there are much more complicated things we're working on that will be on the report card such as "text to self connections, editing writing, revising writing, data collection, and fiction/nonfiction knowledge," but these are the basic building blocks that support the rest of these more challenging skills.  Feel free to use it or tweak it to meet your school's needs.

Click here to download the Kindergarten Skills assessment.  (It didn't upload exactly as I had it done in Word, but you'll be able to rearrange things as needed.)

Happy conferences!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pretty Cool Pumpkin Lessons!

October is one of my favorite times to teach kindergarten!  Pumpkins, bats, leaves, oh my!  Once you look past the crazy Halloween party, kids hopped up on candy, and the repeated question, "What is YOUR costume?" it's actually a lot of fun!

Here's a little peek at some of the things we've been doing throughout our tree unit in September and then our pumpkin unit in October.  Hopefully you can take away something to try out in your classroom this fall or... let's face it... next fall.  Happy haunting!

These are our torn paper trees.  We learned about how trees in our area change with each season.  Students worked in groups of 3 and tore pieces of construction paper to create a tree for the season of their choice.  Here is a spring tree.  Below is a photo of some trees through the seasons spring, summer, fall, and winter.

I asked parents to bring in pumpkins for our class to use for our science unit.  We spend time measuring the pumpkins during math as we learn how to use a measuring tape.  They recorded their measurement and taped it to their pumpkin.

We practiced estimation by guessing how many pumpkins tall we were.  The kids wrote down their estimation on a recording sheet and recorded their actual answer once they measured themselves.  So much fun!