Sep 192012

There’s a particular 3 year old who loves to come in to my office and inspect the ‘machines’ I have.  He checks to make sure the calculator, adding machine, computer mouse, bicycle pump and leaf blower are all in their places.  We talk about who they belong to and what they are for and if he can ‘have’ them.  He usually leaves my office with the calculator in hand, but, sometimes, he gets to play with the leaf blower.  These are VERY special days.


The first time I watched him with the leaf blower, I was struck by how he used it. Instead of asking to plug it in or flipping the power switch, he pulled an invisible starter cord over and over again. It suddenly became very clear: even though the leaf blower in his hands had no starter cord, he had seen one being started that way and that had become part of his script for using a leaf blower.

The power of observation is strong with this one.

  I know from talking with his parents that this little guy is obsessed with their gardener.  He watches him intently and takes note of every thing he does.

I wonder if that gardener is aware that he is an example, that his actions are being studied and mimicked.

“Be imitators” the Bible says.  No need to tell kids.  They got this.

This brings up two questions: Who is imitating you?  Who are you imitating?

 Posted by at 20:46
Aug 072012

School starts in just two short weeks for us and even though our friends and neighbors are savoring the last of summer, we are already back in the swing of things here thanks to Marching Band Camp.  Sunshine, my oldest, is now a Senior in High School.  He got himself up at 5:45 this morning and jumped right back into the routine.  

I love the fresh start that the beginning of the school year provides.  I’m always happy for the opportunity to reboot my routine and re-establish good habits.   I don’t know what it’s like not to “go back to school”: my parents are both educators and I’ve been a student, a teacher, a teacher’s wife, a parent, and an administrator.  I dance to the rhythm of the school year whether I want to or not.

That being said, I thought I’d share some of my tips for starting the school year off right.  

1. Get a Calendar and USE IT!  I recommend a central, visible written calendar for the whole family.  With five of us going different directions nearly every day, a calendar is essential.  We write everything on the calendar so it’s important that the squares are big enough for all our information.  Football, Marching Band, Back to School Night, Minimum Days, Work Schedules, Youth Group, Doctor and Dentist Appointments – it all goes on the calendar.  I tell my kids “If it’s not on the calendar, it’s not happening.”


2. Get ready the night before.  Think through your day and prep as much as you can. Encourage everyone to pick out their clothes the night before and lay everything out. Seriously, your know it’s much better to discover that your kid is out of clean underwear at 7 p.m. than at 7 a.m.  If you have a kid who can never find her shoes when it’s time to go, have her put them by the front door before she goes to bed.  Establish a gathering place for everything you need to take with you when you leave in the morning: backpacks, instruments, sports equipment, P.E. clothes, etc.  Consider packing the car the night before if that’s practical. The more you can do before you go to sleep, the easier your morning will be.  

3. Use the power of 15 Minutes.  I’ve written before about the power of 15 minutes, but it comes into play again at this time of year.  When faced with homework, especially after a carefree summer, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  If you’re faced with a whiny or defiant kid at homework time, set the timer for 15 minutes.  Challenge them to focus until the timer goes off and then reward them with a brain break.  Sometimes you’ll find that they’ll keep working after the timer goes off just because they are so close to finishing or they’ve gotten into the groove.  

4. Read everything the school sends home on the day it comes home.  I know, it’s a ton but it’s important to know what’s going on and you don’t want to be the parent who forgot to pick up your kid on the first minimum day.  Transfer all the important dates straight to the calendar right away and toss all the papers that you won’t need.   My least favorite thing about starting a new school year is all the paperwork that I have to fill out as the parent.  Fill out and sign everything on the day it comes home so you don’t have to think about it again.  This is where the power of 15 minutes comes in handy: don’t be afraid to set the timer for yourself.  You’ll feel so much better when it’s done.  

5. Set a Simple Routine.  Whether it’s morning, after school or before bed that is the hardest for you, a routine can help.  The goal of a routine is to make part of your life automatic so you can concentrate on the fun and important things.  For kids a routine makes part of their life predictable so they can spend mental energy learning new skills.  Imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have to repeat the same words every day.  How do you set a routine?  Start simple.  Think about the top 5 things that must be done and write them down in an order that makes sense to you, i.e. shower, get dressed, breakfast, pack lunch, free time. Now post this list somewhere you will see it! It takes 27 days to make a habit so be kind to yourself (and your kids) and don’t give up!

Last night Sunshine gathered his supplies by the front door and laid out his clothes without a word from me.  He got himself up in the morning and was ready to go by 6:30 a.m.  Not every day will start this smoothly, but we’re off to a good start.  Here’s to another successful school year!

 Posted by at 08:12
Jun 012012

As we get to the end of the school year, teachers get tired.  We do.  

The kids think they know it all.  Everything is predictable and “boring”.  The kids get excited because they can sense the end is near and the teachers are drained.

It’s a perfect time to “Change One Thing.”

Sometimes that’s all it takes to right the ship.

Add water to the sandbox.  Add glitter to the playdough.  Stick googly eyes on the easel painting paper.  Swap scrapbooking scissors for the regular ones.  Have circle time in the middle of the basketball court.  

They’re all simple ideas, but each bring their own brand of magic to the classroom.  

Sad EggHappy Egg

Now here’s the real trick: it works at home too!

Do homework outside.  Picnic in the living room.  Mop the kitchen floor with your feet in old socks.  Set the table with the good dishes.  Add bubbles to the bathtub.  Sleep backwards in your bed.  Buy fresh flowers for yourself.  

What one thing could you change today to shake things up




 Posted by at 20:18
May 272012

  Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Chicken Soup with Rice are some of the most playful, insightful, inspirational children’s books I’ve ever read.  When Maurice Sendak died earlier this month, it all came rushing back. The creatures in Where the Wild Things Are are both the most gentle and the most ferocious monsters of my dreams.  I’ve been Max: “Let the wild rumpus start”, his mother: “you wild thing!”, and those precious wild things themselves: “We’ll eat you up, we love you so!”  

Maurice Sendak didn’t write books to club children over the head with a  life lesson; he wrote with joy and insight about what he saw, felt, and experienced. He played with language in a way that invited you to play along.  Who doesn’t love “Oh my once, Oh my twice, Oh my Chicken Soup with Rice”?  

Sendak didn’t do many book signings because he said it confused the children when he took their beloved books away and wrote in them.  His favorite story involved a young fan who enjoyed the personal drawing Sendak sent him so much that he ate it.  What a compliment!

In his recent interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross on NPR, Maurice Sendak sounded like a lonely, wounded child when he talked about those he’d loved and lost.  He even expressed joy that he would die before the interviewer so he wouldn’t have to mourn her too.  His heart was raw from feeling for 83 years.  

Maurice Sendak: Conventional?  Nope.

A treasure?  Absolutely.


 Posted by at 21:34
May 042012

[I’m a sucker for a well-written children’s book – the kind that clamors to be savored and shared.  From time to time, I’ll post about one that tickles my fancy.]

Today is illustrator  Don Wood’s birthday.  He is best known for illustrating his wife, Audrey Wood’s books including King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, The Napping House, and Piggies.

piggies cover

Knowing that his birthday was coming up, I started combing through our school library shelves for any of his books to re-visit.  The first one I came upon was Piggies.   It’s a simple text that equates a child’s fingers with pigs.  I threw it in my bag to bring home and share with my own kids since I didn’t have time to shanghai any preschoolers.

My 11 year old daughter and I had a few minutes together waiting to pick up the high schoolers and so I pulled it out of my bag and handed it to her.  She gasped “I love this book!” and immediately began to flip the pages.  When she got to the end, we went back through it more slowly in order to appreciate the rich illustrations.  As we talked about which pig was most like us, we noticed more and more details: the ten pigs have distinct personalities, the left hand is boy pigs and the right hand is girls, some of the pigs have props that they use in clever ways from page to page. What a treasure!

My 8th grade son picked this as his favorite page from the book.  The skiing pig is his favorite.cold piggies

There’s a great literacy building project that goes with this book as well: Kids can use their own hands to mimic the piggies in the book and then come up with their own phrases, i.e. My little piggies are flipping.  If you want to take it a step further, trace their hands onto paper and have them make ink thumbprint piggies doing what they described.  Collect them together into a class book.  

What great books inspire you?

 Posted by at 07:07
May 012012

As a teacher, sometimes it’s tempting to simply tell children the answer to a question rather than taking the time to guide them through their own exploration.  When you have the time, it’s worth the investment to watch the joy that comes with a new discovery.  

I recently overheard two four year olds, a boy and girl, talking about favorite colors:

B: I’ll do it purple because I know you like purple and pink.  They’re your favorite colors.

G: I’ll do it red because you like red.  (beat) I don’t like red at all.

I could see B getting ready to take offense.

Me: I’m surprised you don’t like red.  It’s kinda’ like pink and purple.

G: What?

Me: Red is like pink.

G: Noooo.

Me: Do you know what happens when you mix red and white?

G: No, what?

We found some paint and she tested the red on the paper, then I squirted a generous amount of white in the cup and she mixed it with her brush.  

G: Wow!  Look at that pretty color!

She swirled it around, creating a pig colored cloud on the paper.

Me: What would you call that color?

G: Pink

Me: So red plus white makes….

G: Pink!

Teachable Moment seized.  


 Posted by at 16:12