Teacher Turned Mama

From classroom to living room and everywhere in between


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A Thankful Child

My kids don’t stand a chance. They have a mother who absolutely loves everything related to Thanksgiving and Christmas. From hand print turkeys and homemade feather caps to sing along Christmas songs and reindeer made out of footprints, I just cannot get enough of November and December. If it were possible for my almost three year old to know the meaning of an eye roll, she would have it mastered by now at some of my antics. Instead, she takes my ideas in stride, engages her baby brother and relishes in the fact that I usually have a song, dance and craft for anything. While this is all well, good and warming to my heart, I know that my role is much greater: to raise a child who knows the meaning of thanks.

Abstract meanings do not work well with toddlers. My concrete thinker looks for the literal and absolute in everything. One would think that a tiny human being with the ability to go from one extreme emotion to another in a matter of thirty seconds would be able to grasp how to just give thanks. Well, they just don’t. It is my job to bring all the opportunities for thanks to life. Thanks is a word that comes easily to many of us. We generally overuse it on some days and under use it on not so great days. It runs the risk of just being another run of the mill word with little to no meaning.  I want them to know my thanks has reason, oomph and purpose. My top and most commonly used “thank you” moments, in no particular order, are as follows:

– Finding a parking spot close to the door (not the healthiest choice, but oh so necessary come August) – “Thank you God for this spot”

– When the bagger at the market double bags the heavy items – “Thank you so much for making sure I don’t drop all those groceries in the parking lot”

– A friend drops by for an afternoon visit, just because – “I am so glad you decided to come over today. I can’t wait until we can do this again.”

– Your spouse takes the trash to the curb in the morning – ” Daddy (or Mommy) took the trash out so that I wouldn’t have to. Wasn’t that nice? I can’t wait to thank him (or her) later!”

– A stranger buys a cup of coffee for you – “I don’t know that person, but he just bought Mommy a cup of coffee. I am going to do that for someone else. Let’s pick a person to buy one for.”

As I was typing, I realized that most of these examples may not need explanations. Sure, we all say our thank yous here and there, but do the kids actually understand why and for what reason we are actually thankful? It may sound silly at the time, but explaining yourself in this situation may actually save you time and hassle down the road in the manners department. Since I deal with little people for the majority of the day, I keep my reasons short, sweet and to the point. Because of this, I am rewarded with a toddler that is able to say (sometimes shout) thank you to someone, mean it, and remind me should I forget.

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Our handprints that became the feathers on our paper plate turkeys

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Mid-day snuggles that allow us to stop and enjoy one another.

“A thankful heart is a happy heart.”

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The Early Bird Gets The….

Fall in the air and pumpkins everywhere mean a few changes for a household with a toddler and an infant. The evenings seem to find us sooner,  which means less time and light to play outside. Also, the cooler temperatures coming from other areas (thank you northern friends) mean a higher chance of rain and less chances to frolic in the fall weather.

I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but my almost three year old wants to be the early riser on a daily basis. I should clarify here: early for her is 7:30am. That may seem late to other households,  but it seems like the brink of dawn for me when I’ve been up every few hours with an infant. On the days she does not attend a morning program, I find myself blurry eyed,  coffee in hand and desperately trying to pull energy from somewhere in hopes of keeping up with my on the go gal. With Halloween behind us, we move away from ghosts and bats and look towards more activities that focus on giving thanks and using simple resources for imaginative play. Today I present the corn table.

I took her water table and adapted it for the season. Yes, water in the water table makes sense but that can get old after a while. In the spirit of autumn, I went with basic corn kernels with a side of acorns. Economically speaking, it was better for us to buy the 50 lb bag of deer corn but the smaller containers may suit an area that is not as large as the water table.

As a bonus, we can throw the leftover deer corn over the fence and into the greenbelt for the deer to eat. E likes to sit high in her tree house with a bird’s eye view and count the deer as they walk by. Before she heads to her look out spot, we each make a guess as to how many deer we may see. Based on what happens, we then figure out whose guess was closer to the actual number. She is using the scientific method without even knowing it!

This activity can be moved inside once the weather takes a turn for gloomy. Various scoops and other tools are really the only other materials you need. Using scoops and bowls of different sizes lends itself opportunities to count out loud and reason with measurement. So grab a spiced latte, your boots and a sweater and make the most of those early, autumn risers.

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               My early bird with her corn!


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Going Batty

Oh how I love this time of year. Fall is finally in the air here and that means many exciting things for our household: pumpkin carving, leaf tracing, acorn collecting, seed sorting and many more activities that will surely pop into my head as the season inspires me. The newest addition to our household, Ryan, came at the perfect time too. We are spending more time outside (good bye hot weather) and are able to stop and smell the mums without sweating like a racehorse. With this lovely season and cooler weather comes a crop of new and hands-on ideas that I can’t wait to try out with my favorite resident toddler.

The titles of children’s literature surrounding Autumn and Halloween are plentiful. From “Room on a Broom”  and “Ten Little Witches” to “The Itsy Bitsy Pumpkin” and “Goodnight Goon,” we are never in a shortage of reading around here. In full teacher turned mama disclosure here, I actually designate a special part of the living room to holiday/seasonal appropriate books. It works like a gem to get little Miss E in the spirit of the time of year and gives her a connection to what she sees outside of the home as well. We recently added a few bat themed stories as she is showing more interest in those little creatures that are awake in the night (along with her new baby brother).  I like to mix fiction and non-fiction when we are exploring a new topic, so I used “Stellaluna” as my fictional piece and “The Secret World of Bats” (a discover kids read along) as my non-fictional choice. The carryover of facts, ideas and story elements impact the little minds best when you can give them real world pictures and details on top of a story they so enjoy. And of course, no day would be complete without a craft to tie it all together.

A two year old’s version of cutting is somewhat similar to a student’s first dissection. It is messy and all over the place, but probably the most beautiful thing they think they have done. Sometimes I take the liberty of giving her pre-cut pieces, and other times I let her chop away and create her own masterpiece with the bits and pieces of paper she’s created. Our bat templates had a little help from yours truly, but for the most part she was careful in all the right places. I found it interesting that she didn’t want to “hurt” the wings of the bats, so she either asked for help or took a very long time around that part. The coloring and gluing of the bat to the pencil was all her, as was the final placement of the googly eyes (I mean, who doesn’t love googly eyes). Attaching the bat to the pencil gives little hands something to hold and a way to proudly fly their bat from room to room. With something as simple as paper bats taped to a pencil, we now have another fall filled treat to add to our pumpkin of fun!

– Older toddlers could work on color matching /pair recognition with the bat pictures. This may take some prep on your part, in that you have to color your own sets of bats first and place them around the house for the kids to find. When they find one, they can bring it to you, state the color, and then make one of their own for a pair. When they have all the color pairs together, punch a hole in their wings and string them together with yarn or ribbon. If you have an older sibling or friend, they can arrange the bats in a special pattern upon color/pair completion. If your toddler of an artist does not want his/her bats in a special pattern, defer your older Picassos to the next suggestion:

– For primary school kiddos, you can use the wings of the bats for odd/even practice, counting by 2’s or even pattern work. Don’t forget that a simple game of concentration, or memory, is an easy and convenient way to engage the brain, fingers and other siblings. They may even come up with a new game of their own with the bats if they are left with the pieces and a kitchen table – you won’t know unless you give them the chance! Hang your new and homemade Halloween decorations proudly!

 

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Pumpkins decorated with princess and monster stickers, bat pencils and “Goodnight Goon”are just a few of our treats from this week!

 


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Baby Steps

One day at a time. Long deep breaths. Lots of coffee. Channel that inner patience – – -> these are just a few choice phrases I repeated to myself as I prepared to not only bring baby #2 into this world, but to adjust to the change that would soon occur in our household. The strong-willed and ever so logical toddler of mine had no idea how her world was going to change; she just knew something was on the horizon.

My first born is a creature of habit. She loves routine, predictability and the knowledge of what is going to happen at a given time (I promise this was inherited, not learned). Through the months and months of planning for her baby brother to make his entrance into the world, I thought for sure she had it down to a science. From practicing with baby dolls and stuffed animals through dramatic playtime to racing against my timer to see how quickly she can bring me a diaper, we made our preparation time fun and functional. For those toddler imaginations, it was easy to mesh real life experiences with not so real objects and toys. I was confident in the skills she possessed and her proud of the way her face beamed when she sported her “Big Sister” shirt for the hundredth time. While all my planning and “baby brother drills” are surely coming in handy and making her role as that big sister more important, I should have taken a few steps back and dealt with a few reality points that we were clearly unprepared for:

1. Having a baby in the hospital means the mommas stay while the visitors go home. This was incredibly hard for an almost 3 year old to understand and accept. Despite my conversations with her about this very topic, the fact that she was leaving without me blew her mind and resulted in the outright refusal to get on the elevator with daddy.

2. Our beautiful baby boy had to spend some time in NICU to receive antibiotics. When I came home without a baby, this too blew my toddler’s mind. She saw her brother right after his birth, but not again for an entire week due to the NICU’s strict “no children” policy. Explaining this to her was a nightmare, especially since we were commuting to and from the hospital a few times a day during his extended stay. I felt as if I was talking to a highly intoxicated person who could not grasp and tie together the sequence of events.

3. A momma’s body hurts after having a baby. Period. Not being able to chase her or run behind her bike was one of the first observations she made when I came home. Even though I kept it light, simple and to the point, she still had no idea why in the world I couldn’t throw her in the air and help her swing like a monkey.

There was no way to predict certain events of when and how we were going to meet our newest member. For a detail oriented toddler, I may have focused on the big picture too much instead of the tiny particulars that obviously mattered to her. Even though I had baby on the brain, I didn’t stop to think that my first baby needed small steps of her own for this transition period.

 

The age gap between Evelyn and her brother is just under 3 years, which is perfect for her personality and our family. We are slowly finding our way and rhythm as a family of four with each passing day. Her routine has stayed the same for the most part as we divide and conquer bath, bed and story time. Although another little human has been added to the mix, we take each day with baby steps. Each feeding, outfit change and milestone that occurs in our house is played in some part by our new big sister. She may not be aware of the precious, tiny moments she is currently sharing with her baby brother, but we are. And let me just say that each point in time is even more amazing than the last.

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                                                                        Her first official photo as a new, big sister!


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Imagination is Power

Astronauts. Firefighters. Policemen. Mommies. Daddies. Teachers. Doctors. Vets. Dinosaur bone finders. What do all these professions have in common? They are standard answers from toddlers through pre-schoolers when asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This list will vastly improve once their minds and life experiences expand, but the simple answer to a pretty vague question should show that the imaginary seeds are starting to sprout.

Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited while imagination encircles the world.” I could not agree with good old Albert more, and to the point where the quote hung in my classroom as a daily reminder for myself and my kiddos. Letting children experience the world on their terms, without our interference every single minute, is crucial to their whole body development. Why limit children to just information, data, facts and statistics when we can allow them to expand their outward learning? As they set foot into the world of imaginative play, the possibilities for positive outcomes are endless. Our job as parents, adults, caregivers, teachers and role models is simple. Let. Them. Play.

One of the most fascinating articles I have ever read came from an organization called the Alliance for Childhood and is titled “Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School.” All seventy two pages kept me on my toes as a parent and educator. The ideas are simple and concise, but rarely found in many educational institutions. In a world where everyone is clawing their way to get their children ahead in some aspect or another, play is forced to the back because there simply “isn’t enough time.” I call that bluff and will gladly raise the stakes with anyone who tells me that they day is not long enough for a child to play.

I know time is precious and we seem to find less and less of it with each passing day. You don’t have to be a stay – at – home parent or even a teacher to set your little one up for quality play time. Although some adjustments are absolutely necessary, like turning the electronic devices to the off mode, making a few tweaks here and there should come naturally. I’ve often told many of my tutoring parents that car rides home (from every activity under the sun, mind you) are the most valuable. Sure, the dvd players in cars make it easy for kids to tune in and parents to tune out, but what is your child actually gaining from a thirty minute or an hour show when they could be conversing with you? How valuable are those “educational” apps for toddlers and pre-school kids when you could play “eye spy” on your way home? Make observations/predictions about the patterns in the sky and the upcoming weather – draw conclusions from your guesses and check back in tomorrow to keep the conversation going. Have a puzzle ready for your kiddos to work on if you anticipate traffic. No, I don’t mean the five hundred piece kind, but the travel ones where they have to use problem solving and reasoning skills. You were given the time together in a very small space – don’t let the lure of screens take that away from you OR your child.

Once at home, put the alphabet flashcards away and let your child play in a pretend kitchen. Place the math counting blocks back into the container and let the child sort, group and place “magic” beans into their own categories. Back away from the science apps on an electronic device and hand your kiddo a magnifying glass, a baggie and head outside to collect “specimens.” Everything your child needs to broaden their little horizons are right in front of them, as long as you aren’t standing in the way.

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E individually wrapped and placed her play “duck food” in the refrigerator so he would have snacks for the week. Take note that the play food consists of wooden bread, apples and eggs.


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A Brown Bag Princess of My Own

Navigating the waters of fairy tale land with a toddler can be a bit treacherous at times. Not only is she drawn to the long, shimmering dresses that the “princesses” tend to wear, but she is completely taken aback with the twists and turns of the castles and the inanimate objects that sing and dance. Granted, what she knows is only from story books and not movies. I can only imagine what she would take away from actually watching one of Disney’s many movies about the forlorn princess waiting for the prince to come rescue her. It is not that I am against good old Walt and his take on fantasy, but I believe in the spectrum of the genre and the proper exposure at the appropriate time. For us, some of the scenes are must too harsh and dark and I am honestly just not prepared to deal with some of the questions that those scenes may create.

Exposing children to all types of literature should bring out the natural curiosity in both the parent and the child. One of my staple reads is “A Family of Readers’ by Roger Sutton and Martha Parravano. In this exceptional book, they state that: “Time travel, fairy tales, myths, legends, and stories of magical objects popping up in our own familiar world, as well as stories of talking animals, animated toys, and wizard schools, all propose a departure from the laws of nature as we recognize them…fantasy stretches the imagination, intellect, and emotions in ways that enhance, rather than discourage, children’s engagement with real life.” As Evelyn becomes more and more involved with the stories she reads with us, her outlook changes and her interests show their heads in different ways. Whether she wants to take on the role of the main character who befriends all the farm animals, the princess that tells the prince to get lost, or the little girl who enjoys playing house with her dolls, fantasy and imagination most certainly go hand in hand in her little world.

A sweet family member gifted the book “The Paper Bag Princess” by Robert Munsch for us to read and enjoy. I can’t believe I was not familiar with this read, let alone the fact that it was celebrating 25 years of press and success.In a nutshell, Princess Elizabeth has her heart set on marrying a boy named Prince Ronald until a dragon sets her castle on fire, taking the Prince and leaving her with nothing to wear but a paper bag. She spends a few pages outsmarting the dragon in various way in order to reach the prince to rescue him (note: NOT the other way around). When it comes time for the two to leave the dragon’s cave together, Ronald could not look past the fact that she was dirty, smelled like fire and did not possess the princess-type clothes he thought she should be wearing. With a flip of her hand and her hair, she told him that even though HE had the clothes, fancy hair and title, there was no way she could ever, ever marry him. And away she skipped off in the sunset (enter the approval of mothers with daughters here).

Granted, the first read through of this with  2.5 year old was one with lots of stopping points and questions, but I was amazed at how quickly she understood the difference between real and fantasy. Knowing that dragons have all these powers to use for good and/or bad, but ONLY in stories is the key to making it through any type of book in this genre with these odd looking creatures. With a mind as concrete as a toddlers yet an imagination as formidable as sand, it is very easy to blend the two worlds. Luckily the knowledge of “this only occurs in stories” carries over to other children’s reads as well, which then lead to discussions, comparisons and the forming of stronger opinions. The personification of animals will probably be the first give away to a young child that the story may not all be real, while pre-school and kinder aged kiddos may have to find a few more reasons to support that assumption. Primary aged students might be drawn to this type of genre as an escape from their everyday in-class reading, and your middle schoolers may think there is nothing cooler than a boy with magic or a train that stops at quarter intervals at the train station. Letting fantasy stories into your child’s library, mind and heart is important at any age, as long as you give them the tools to come back to reality, sans dragons.    🙂

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Hard at work, creating her own paper bag attire

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MY Paper Bag Princess!


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First Week Jitters

 

                                                   https://i1.wp.com/www.juliedanneberg.com/images/First_day_jitters_cover-330.jpg  – My favorite read for the night before the first day!

Oh Friday, how parents and students love you so, especially when you are the endpoint to the first week of school! The first day jitters may be over, but as a primary teacher, I usually ended up with a case of first week jitters in addition to the first day. Hopefully everyone can breathe a sigh of relief after realizing a few things:

1. Your teacher does not resemble a monster in any way, shape or form.

2. Lunch will happen, regardless of how many times you may have heard otherwise.

3. You can’t beat the new smell of all your school supplies.

4. The librarian is there to help, not scare you.

5. Attending “special classes” such as art, computer and music give you and your teacher a well-needed break. Don’t worry, it’s nothing personal.

6. It is not the end of the world if you have a different colored supply box than the person next to you. Embrace your uniqueness!

7. Making new friends is not easy, but the best way to make a friend is to be one. Seriously.

8. Telling your parents about every single detail of your day can be a daunting task, but try your hardest to remember as much as you can. Go easy on them; nagging is just love covered up in questions.

9. Homework is homework. Complete it, turn it in and be done with it.

10. Remember that telling the truth to your teacher will always be your best bet. They are on your side and  want you to succeed, so just rip the band-aid off and make the truth come out.

With that first week behind everyone, make sure you take the long weekend to relax, unwind and laugh. If you reside in a place where swimming is still necessary (yes, please), find an old rope swing and take a dip into a lake. If you are starting to feel the early chill of fall, make some homemade muffins and get the family on the floor for boardgames. Whatever this holiday weekend finds you doing, take part in it together. And be sure to pack some laughter in there as well.