Monday, December 28, 2009

We got a little snow.

This photo is from just before Christmas.

snow tunnels

snow forts

snow angels

snow people


sledding and shoveling and loving all this


I thought a lot about this post from Kristin at her wonderful blog Preschool Daze, although I regret to say we didn't actually do it. Perhaps it's not too late...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Peaceful, hopeful, joyful

My first semester of graduate school for my early childhood education license has been put to bed. I've had few days to reflect on it, and I'm more glad than ever that I've started this project. I'm learning so much, and it really won't be that much longer until I'll have a teaching license in my mitts. As much as I enjoy being a student (and I'll always be a student--there is always more to learn), I can't wait to get back into a classroom. I miss it so much.

We're visiting my parents for the holidays, and I'm pleased to report that finally, this year, we came to a "gifts for the kids only" agreement, and we actually stuck to it. With so much less stuff around, we're focussing on sharing food and sharing stories. I'm with my loved ones, and it's a quiet, lovely Christmas. I hope your holidays are joyful and peaceful.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Music in the classroom

Before my current student phase, I was a Kindermusik teacher. I read a lot of research while I was doing that about the myriad benefits of music on the human brain, especially the young, developing human brain. More synapses are firing and more sections of our brain are in use when we make or purposefully listen to music than when we do any other activity. When I think about my future classroom, I think about songs, dances, rhythmic storytelling, and little tunes woven into the fabric of our day.

I came across this video on Kindermusik's blog, called Mind on Music. Sometimes this blog can be a little too much about Corporate and not enough about education, but often there are gems, like this summary of Northwestern University's research on the effects of musical education on language development. Really nice graphic representations here of their data.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I'll have ice cream with my pi

I just completed the second of two math courses I need before I can earn my teaching license in early childhood education. These classes are called "endorsements" in the parlance of the Virginia Department of Education. Every state has endorsement requirements, and Virginia has some of the most stringent in the country. For grins, I checked on the requirements in some other states where I've lived, and my current undergraduate transcript met the requirements in each of them. But, here I am on the Virginia side of greater DC, so I took the math.

Were they a waste of time? Or were they a worthy pursuit on my way to a teaching license? I'm still not sure.

On one hand, I rather enjoyed the work. I had moments in the middle of an equation when I could forget the rest of the world and just get very deeply into an alternate mathematical state. It was a glimpse, I think, into why people absolutely love math. I was an English major and words are my first love, but I think I understand "number love" a little better now--and that puts me in a better place to inculcate "number love" in my students. I also seem to have put old math anxieties to rest, so that alone was probably worth the cost in time and money. I think of myself as a life-long student, and studying math at age 40 certainly fits with that vision of myself.

On the other hand, I have a bachelor's degree from an accredited university, and I took the required amount of math for that degree (one class). Why isn't that enough? Also, Virginia requires a passing score on the standardized test called Praxis II, one-fourth of which is on math. I passed the Praxis with flying colors, but I still needed the two extra math courses. Doesn't that constitute a double-check for the same body of knowledge? I'm all for high standards for teachers, but I'm also for applicable standards, and I'm not certain that three college level courses in math, plus an additional standardized test, all for a license that's good through 3rd grade, is the best use of state resources.

I regret to tell you that these two math classes (plus an economics class and a geography class, by the way) were responsible for a couple of years of prevaricating before I finally decided to bite the bullet. Now that I'm here and I'm doing it, I'm sad about losing that time. Shame on me. They weren't that hard. But they were a huge mental road block on my way to a teaching license. And I had to pay for them. And I had to study for them, studying time I could have applied to researching a teaching philosophy, reading a case study, or practicing a teaching technique. Time is precious, you know?
It's water under the bridge now--I've done it and I'm deeply relieved to have them behind me.
What do you think? Is Virginia a little overboard on the endorsements, or is this exactly what should be required?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My teachers

When the student is ready, the teacher appears.
- Buddist saying

Some of my teachers are obvious, such as my professors I have this semester. One in particular is so wonderful, so full of information, so funny and insightful, that I'm not close to digesting all the information in each class. This is my Foundations of Literacy class, and she is a linguist with a special interest in how young children develop language and literacy. I'm grateful to her investment in teacher training.

Some of my teachers are less obvious. Many teachers I've found online, such as Allie in Brussels, making magic in a reggio-inspired classroom at the edge of an old growth forest, and Tom in Seattle, who leads a co-operative preschool at the zoo. (Warning: when you read his prolific blog, you will want to drop everything and move to Seattle just so you can be a part of his amazing preschool.) I have many more teachers online, some of whom would not call themselves "teachers."

Some of my teachers are in the house. Like my daughter, who recently said this: "You never know what's going to happen. You don't know if your lollipop is going to be orange or pink. You don't know if you are going to Antarctica. You just don't know, so you have to be looking."

Or my son, who at this moment is playing the clarinet with a focus and pleasure that I didn't know he had. We had tried piano and we had tried choir, and he really, really didn't want to do either of those. Even though I know better than to label a young child, I started to think of him as simply not the musical kind. Then he started fourth grade this year, when they have the opportunity at our school to start instrumental music. He went to an instrument petting zoo put on by our wonderful music teachers, and he saw the clarinet and fell in love. He loves the way the parts nestle in their protective case, and then how they fit together. He loves the black and silver. He loves the sound. And then, he could not get a single note out of it for over two weeks. Doomed, I thought. But my son persevered, and he is playing MaryAnn right now and honestly I can't think of anything that sounds more beautiful. He thinks he is a music student, but he is my teacher, too.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A little off balance

I feel happiest when I've created something during the day. Lately my creating has been strictly the academic kind--another paper, another discussion post, another test. This is okay, because I love what I'm studying, and I'm very focussed on the goal of a masters in early childhood education and its accompanying teaching license.

This is a tough season, though, to be at my computer instead of at my craft table. This year I've made no cookies, no handmade cards, no handsewn gifts, no crocheting, nor any other craft idea that is usually spread all over the house about now. I miss it.

And when I don't allow myself time to play, I find that I end up stealing time anyway, like writing a post for this blog and changing its banner. Or going out on the deck to visit our stalwart snowperson and offer him a hat.

And now, honestly, I must get back to work. Just 12 days left in this semester, and friend, they are packed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Moving books from a master teacher

Vivian Gussin Paley is a very bright star in my constellation of teaching mentors. She has written a dozen or so books about teaching preschool and Kindergarten in Chicago. I admire her for several reasons:

- She has honed the use of children's stories in the classroom to an art.

- She takes children seriously. She sees them, in the words of my wonderful Foundations of Literacy professor, " worthy collaboraters in their classroom narrative."

- She understands children's feelings and motivations better than anyone I can think of. She notices children.

- After decades of teaching in the classroom, she now teaches teachers, so now her body of expertise is reaching more and more children.

I just read Girl with the Brown Crayon and The Boy Who Would be a Helicopter. I'm eager to read the rest of her books. I highly recommend them--both for what they gave me in new ideas for an early childhood classroom, but also in their emotional content--the children she writes about feel very real to me. They are extraordinary children, but at the same time I understand that they are the ordinary children I'd meet in every classroom, but they feel extraordinary in Paley's books because she noticed them and recorded their extraordinary qualities. She's not a literary stylist--don't read them for heightened prose. Her dialogue, especially between teachers, isn't very successful. But if you read them for insights into great teaching, I think you'll find a treasure trove.

Here she is, speaking last year at the 92Y (92nd St. YMCA, NYC) Wonderplay 2008 conference. In the last minute, she gives one piece of advice to new educators to follow if you follow nothing else. It's pure truth.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

art + poem

This interview made my day. Not only is Susan Marie Swanson a wonderful poet, but it turns out that she's also kind and generous to her fellow poets (I'm not surprised). She also spends huge swaths of her writing time as a writer-in-residence in elementary schools. Lucky children. Smart schools.

I also love it that I found this interview on Jean Van't Hul's lovely blog dedicated to art for young children, The Artful Parent. It would have been no surprise to find it on a children's literature site, but finding it on a visual arts site imbued it with that sense of serendipity, of cross-pollination, of unexpected composition, that I hope to create in my future classroom. Which I can hardly wait to get to.