Here I am opening a thank-you gift from a parent who owns Zhi Bath and Body - wonderful hand-crafted products! Let me explain. Back in September 2017, I visited my granddaughters' classes at United Community School in Charlotte, NC and read a story as part of a birthday celebration. I read the "Turgin's Magic Bauble" chapter from my Legends of Ellandria book, but I enhanced the reading with props. I also read several of the children into the story as Turgin's friends. Both the first-grade class and the third-grade class loved the experience!
Afterward my daughter-in-law kindly forwarded a parent e-mail from the teacher of the third-grade class highlighting that week's activities. Her response was very positive. Within the next week, I received a thank-you letter from each child in the class. Wow! I was so impressed. I decided to answer each one personally. I mailed the letters to Mrs. Cooke at the school thinking "Let's keep the ball rolling. What kid doesn't love mail?"
An idea grew in my mind. Now that I have this connection with the students, what would happen if I volunteered to come back and teach them how to write a story? I worked out a plan and contacted Tracey Cooke. She accepted my proposition and bravely launched a year-long writing project.
So began a series of mid-week trips to Charlotte (Wednesday is my day off work at Park Place Children's Center). I returned November 1 to read my story of "Harley and the Hermit's Garden" and to talk about story settings. Mrs. Cooke kindly granted me plenty of time (8:20 to 9:30), and so I built an activity into the lesson. The children molded their setting out of white Crayola air-dry clay. They had so much fun!
On November 15 I returned to talk about characters. This time I read "Whimsy Gatan and the Happy Wanderer." The children each chose an animal character for their stories, and they made character sketches using oil pastels on card stock. They loved the brilliant colors and different texture of that media. As a precaution, I taped a sheet of onion-skin to the top edge of each student's cardstock to prevent smearing. I also left non-fiction books on various animals so that the children could read up on the characteristics of the animal they'd chosen.
On December 6 I talked about the basics of plot. I read excerpts from Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (illustrated by Jerry Pinkney), Best Friends for Frances, and one of Richard Scarry's stories about Huckle Cat and Lowly Worm fishing with Father Cat. With Mrs. Cooke's help, I projected posters from various animated movies. The children were so excited about identifying different types of conflict in the movies they'd seen. They started brainstorming about all the problems their characters could have or all the bad things that might happen.
Mrs. Cooke taught the students more about plot, and I returned on January 10 to talk about story-boarding and illustrations. I wrote a new story, "Whimsy Gatan and the Crest of Fathom," to use as an example of breaking a story down into pages that play up action-filled illustrations. I showed them different pictures my illustrator (Scotty Roberts) had revised. I also talked about all the hard work and patience that the editing and publishing process requires.
The students started a book cover and teaser on an 11x17 piece of cardstock. I left large sheets of newsprint for Mrs. Cooke and showed her how to fold the paper into a signature to form a booklet. Mrs. Cooke helped the students make the booklet for their rough drafts, and the students launched into writing their stories. Mrs. Cooke was able to have the rough drafts delivered to me before I returned.
On my January 24 visit, I returned the rough drafts with editorial comments. I read five of the students' stories aloud, and we discussed them together. We asked such questions as "What did you like about the story?" and "What did you want to hear more about?" and "What part confused you?" The children loved participating.
Over the next few months, Mrs. Cooke worked with the children individually to finish and revise their stories. She sent me the revised drafts, and I keyed them into an 8.5 by 11-inch template. I printed the pages on cardstock and slipped them inside sheet-protectors in a folder with a transparent cover. Presto bingo! Instant book! The children loved seeing their names in print and marveled over the copyright page. They added their illustrations.
Mrs. Cooke wrapped up the project with a wonderful Meet-the-Author event. Her newly-published students displayed their painted setting, their character sketch, their cover and finished book. I attended the event and was so pleased to see the wonderful illustrated stories. Many parents attended (besides the owner of Zhi Bath and Body) and appreciated the finished product. Students beamed with pleasure, so tickled to be a "published" author. That made parents proud too, and I'm tickled. I hosted a display alongside my granddaughter, who was bouncing on her toes with excitement, but I spent most of the event enjoying the students' work (my granddaughter and family enjoyed frozen yogurt together later in the afternoon...I didn't neglect her).
Wow, Mrs. Cooke! I thank you for the opportunity to work together to inspire interest in books and to encourage writing skills. As a former English teacher, I think I have a good idea how much hard work and patience you must have expended in guiding such a big project through to a glorious end. Your students are so fortunate to have you!
One of the joys of working with children is watching their humor develop. For a young child, humor is typically simple. If I point to my nose (a label they know well) and call it my ear, they giggle. Playing dumb is rather fun: "Oh, that's my nose, not my ear? Oh, then this must be my ear!" (I point to my eye). More giggles. Eventually, one of the kids tells me that I am all mixed up. We laugh, and the game is over.
One of the boys in my class has picked up on this humor and tries to trick me into thinking my peas are blue. He laughs when I smile and tell him he can't fool me. My peas are green! He's the one all mixed up. Yet look at the picture above! Someone must have found (or made) blue peas. I'm not telling Dylan!
A few days ago, I enjoyed the simple humor of mislabeling from a different angle. Teachers at Park Place Children's Center are encouraged to sit down and eat lunch with the children to model manners and increase conversation. Rather than consume the children's milk, I brought a beverage for myself that day. I set my bottle next to my plate and announced, "Look what I have! I brought vitamin water to drink."
One of the boys looked at me strangely. "Spiderman water?" he asked.
This particular child loves pretending to be a superhero like Spiderman. Spiderman must have been on his mind. And one must admit that the cadences of "Spiderman" and "Vitamin" sound a bit similar.
I smiled and said, "No. My water is red like Spiderman, but it's VITAMIN water. Do you think Spiderman drinks vitamin water to keep himself strong and healthy?"
A confused look passed over his face. I'm guessing VITAMIN was a new word for him, and he had no idea what it meant. I didn't try to explain.
His confusion prompted me to think differently about vitamin water. Note the picture of Spiderman above. Do you see a mouth? Peter Parker may drink, but Spiderman must apparently rehydrate differently. But if there were vitamin water that gave Spiderman his "spidy" powers, I'd probably buy some and try it. Wouldn't you?
Some enterprising marketer has missed an opportunity!
Since March of 2017, I worked full-time as a rotating two-year-old teacher at Park Place Children's Center. Near the end of August 2017, the children moved up to their new classes, and I enjoyed getting to know three new groups of two-year-old children.
The rotator position is the best of all worlds: It demands flexibility (I haul my box of tricks from one room to the next). But I don't have to try to squeeze in monthly assessments, schedule parent conferences, or send out parent communications, as the lead teachers must. I am still free to come up with cool ideas for learning, but most of all I simply get to enjoy the kids. I'm the fun teacher, and the kids look forward to their "Mrs. Katie" days.
In February 2018, I accepted the position of lead teacher for the Goldfish class. Making each day interesting does take more effort on my part, but I enjoy the rewards. The children loved the day I brought lots of B-food items in my surprise box: broccoli, bananas, blueberries, brussel sprouts, beets. Some of the children ate broccoli raw and begged for more! The next week C-foods were equally exciting--carrots, cabbage (they felt how heavy), corn (they helped to husk it), and cranberries (small).
I've been rolling out changes:
- My train whistle means, "Line up! We're going out of the room!" A yellow train track marks the spot where they line up.
- I've added new items to the sensory table nearly every day (sadly, many teachers do not use the sensory table on a consistent basis): various forms of pasta, beans, green peas, and now sand.
- I managed to convince the administration to buy four new costumes (sturdy Melissa and Doug outfits that the children love--fire chief, police officer, doctor, and construction worker).
- And I introduced a new center--a store with a retro Fisher-Price cash register that the kids love. I used the Learning Resources Farmer's Market Color Sorting Set and A-Z Alphabet Grocery Set. I aim to order the Learning Resources One to Ten Counting Cans too.
Park Place Children's Center (where I work) offers a schedule filled with various activities. Each two-year-old class enjoys half an hour on the playground in the morning and in the afternoon. In addition, two-year-old classes enjoy twenty minutes outside the classroom for enrichment, Spanish, library, and gym. Of course there's breakfast, lunch, and nap time as well. The rest of the day is spent in the classroom either in circle time or free-play in various centers. I work to make that time interesting and relevant to the children.
- For Valentine's Day, I taught the children how to set a table. They used plastic tableware and some old place mats and napkins that I inherited from my mother-in-law. The kids were so excited about helping their parents! They did pretty well learning too.
- Tomorrow I am bringing in the new ukulele my husband very kindly bought me for Valentine's Day. I hope to enjoy more music with the children (nursery songs and folk songs).
Am I tired at the end of the day? You bet! I don't typically have much energy left to pursue my writing interests. But it's a satisfying kind of tired.
All summer and then some I took a break from blogging. In late May I attended my granddaughters' dance recitals. In June I enjoyed spending time with my family at a mountain resort in North Carolina. I finally got around to planting my flower garden in late June. We chilled at home and watered it during July and August. In early September, I attended my niece's wedding in Minnesota and enjoyed visiting with my brother and sister and nieces and nephews.
Most of the summer, I worked, of course. I love the children in my classes! We play trains together, enjoy playdough, and sing silly songs like "On Top of Spaghetti." Most of all, I love reading to the children and watching the stories develop their brains. One of my summer favorites was Rikki-Tikki-Tavi (Rudyard Kipling's classic story as illustrated by Jerry Pinkney):
The two-year-olds had grown in their ability to listen to stories (by this time in the school year, most of them had actually turned three years old). So although the book is longer, I was able to read the story to them in two pieces (first Rikki Tikki Tavi's arrival in the garden of the English family to the killing of the little poisonous brown snake Karait--then later the scary but brave battle against the cobras).
The illustrations are fabulous! The children enjoyed identifying Darzy and his wife, Chuchundra the Muskrat, and Nag and Nagiana. They also enjoyed repeating Rikki-Tikki-Tavi's war cry (Rikki-Tikki-Tikki-Tch!) and mimicking his perfectly balanced dance and jump. Needless to say, I read the book to the two-year-olds more than once, as they revel in repetition.
My other summer favorite was Margot Fonteyn's Swan Lake, a re-telling of the story behind Peter Illych Tchaikovsky's classic ballet.
The plight of the swan-queen and the transformation of Count Von Rothbart into the evil owl-magician captivated the children. The concept of malicious deception (tricking Prince Siegfried into thinking Odile was really Odette) seemed new to them. To me, this is a valuable lesson to learn in life--one better learned vicariously through this story than through real-life circumstances.
I was able to read this story to a group of four-year-olds and two groups of three-year-olds without much modification.
- I occasionally rephrased sentences knowing that the children would not understand "Prince Siegfried was transfixed by Odile" (he couldn't take his eyes off her) or "the maidens were distraught" (the swan-girls were crying, so upset that they couldn't answer Prince Siegfried).
- The book refers to Prince Siegfried's mother as a princess, a name the children found confusing. and so I called her the "Queen Mother" instead.
- For the two-year-olds, I glossed over a lot more, particularly the tragic ending. I focused instead on moral: The power of their true love was greater than all the forces of evil added together.
The three-and-four-year old classes enjoyed making a ballerina craft, which we glued to skewers so that they could make the ballerina twirl. That turned out to be a popular craft even for the boys, some of whom drew or decorated male dancers instead. Parents were impressed with the tactile use of the craft; however, I did not attempt the craft with two-year-olds.
The children also enjoyed listening to clips of Tchaikovsky's music and trying to guess where the swans were dancing and where the evil owl-magician comes in. The turbulent music scared a few two-year-olds, so I had to limit the clip. Overall, parents enjoyed having their children exposed to the idea that music can tell a story.
We tried a bit of dancing too, but alas! How I wished my daughter-in-law or granddaughters had been there! I was never trained in dance and served as a poor illustration. (No video clips are allowed in preschool classrooms, or I would have shown the children clips of the ballet.)
From Rikki-Tikki-Tavi the children learned bravery. From Prince Siefgried and Odette they learned both wisdom and love. Valuable lessons in life, and they had fun learning. That's the best part. See why I love teaching preschool?