Tuesday, December 18, 2018

My Old Pal, Eight

For the past few nights my daughter has been quietly crying herself to sleep. I found her doing this one evening on accident. I ran upstairs to grab something and instead of finding a sleeping girl, I found her weeping. I quickly asked her what was wrong, and she replied with, "I don't want to turn nine."

My daughter's birthday is Friday, December 21st. Winter Solstice. She was a c-section baby and this date happened to fall among the ones I could choose. There is something about her. Always has been. She is quiet. An observer. I think it has something to do with being born on the first day of winter. Like a rite of passage.

When I inquired about why she doesn't want to turn nine, the flood came.

Then the sobs.

Then the reasons.

She feels like she is growing up too fast.
She doesn't want to go to middle school.
She is going to miss Hiawatha.
She is going to miss all of her teachers.
She doesn't want to be an adult.
She doesn't ever want to leave me.
She feels like she is growing up too fast.
She is going to miss her old pal Eight.

When I was telling a friend about this, she reminded me of the short story "Eleven" by Sandra Cisneros. And that had me thinking about the beginning of the story.

"What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two, and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you don’t feel eleven at all. You feel like you’re still ten. And you are—underneath the year that makes you eleven."

So for my daughter's ninth birthday, I think we will make a list. A list of all the things she cherished about being eight.

And another list. A list of all the things she will look forward to about being nine.

Celebrating our soon to be nine year old

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Art of Play

I have been meaning to write this post for weeks. But after the first session with my kindergarten STEAM students, I waited because each session I had was better than the last. My initial session, in a four session science series, proved to be the most important  and set the stage for all the rest. And all that was involved: playing. 

That's what the kids would call it. 

I prefer to call it discovering. 

My science series was targeting force and motion, but I wasn't sure which way it was going to head. When you look at all the standards, there is a lot of information for these little ones to learn. I had no idea what their background knowledge was and instead of doing a kwl with them, I decided on the art of play. Discovery centers. These centers allow students to choose where they want to go, for how long, and explore the materials and bins at their disposal. 

I had taught fifth grade for many years but this year found myself working with kindergarten and first graders.  I know exactly what centers look like with 11 year olds but had to seek out the advice of the amazing teachers in my building to help me see what centers look like with five year olds. I settled on choice and self regulation. 

Each center had a number. Only that number of students could be at that specific center. When students left one center for another, some would come in and take their place. What happened during this time of discovery was nothing short of amazing. As the students navigated the materials, I had conversations with them. I wanted to know what they were discovering; what thinking was going on inside their brains. 

Here are a few of those: 

Bridget: Look what I discovered!
Mrs. Waugh: Tell me about it.
Bridget: I discovered that when you pull the little gray thing, the car goes up.

Mrs. Waugh: What are you engineering?
Areya: I am making a track for the cars. They are having all of these problems. One went the wrong way into a dead end.

Hannah: Look Mrs. Waugh. We are engineers. We are sharing and working together to make stuff. I’m making cupcakes.
Mrs. Waugh: How are you getting them to move?
Hannah: I’m pulling.

Mrs. Waugh: What are you doing?
Blake: Making a factory.
Mrs. Waugh: How?
Blake: Putting machines in a line.
Mrs. Waugh: What kind of factory is it?
Blake: It’s going to be a factory, that, an apple cider factory. Some hand made machines like this one do the apples. That one takes the juice out and this one peels the skin off. That one smashes the apples into tiny pieces to get the juice from it.
Mrs. Waugh: How are you making your machines move?
Blake: By our hands. We don’t have hand mixers now. It mixes stuff. I wonder if it’s an old fashioned mixer.

It was these conversations that guided my next session, the instruction portion. I had found that many students could tell me that things moved up and down, left and right, but very few people used the vocabulary push and pull. Wouldn't it be amazing if all teachers had the time in their day to allow students to just play?

And we sat and watched and listened.

That information. More valuable than we could possibly know.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rapunzel in the Red Rain

My daughter Kate wants to be an author and illustrator someday. And I have no doubt she is going to be one. She writes. All. The. Time. Buying notebooks is a weekly occurrence in our house. I just can't say no; I would feel like I am squishing her dreams. She also makes things. Cardboard is her current favorite medium and has been for a while. I always say she can make anything out of nothing because she can see the finished product before she begins to create it.

An excerpt from Kate's book
One of Kate's first stories she wrote was in preschool. It was called Rapunzel in the Red Rain.  She still proudly carries it around and recently read it to her fifth grade teacher.

A few days ago Kate came home from school and showed me the book she checked out from her school library: The Exact Location of Home by Kate Messner. This book was a favorite of many of my own fifth grade students last year, and I was thrilled that my daughter was reading it.

I am a huge Kate Messner fan. I was turned onto her books when I read Capture the Flag to my social studies students years ago. All my students were engaged and would beg for me to read more than the time I allotted for. What strikes me about Kate's writing is the way she develops her characters. My daughter is at the age where I am hoping she starts noticing how other authors write and can continue to develop her own style based on the clarity of their work.

So last week I posted this picture of my daughter on twitter giving a shout out to Kate Messner.

And not too long after, came this reply: 

This small act of kindness from an author has transformed my daughter. Kate feels special because someone she looks up to (a writer) made a connection with her with four simple words "from the other Kate!"

As a parent, I can't think of a better role model. Thank you Kate Messner for taking the time to respond. Even when you didn't have to. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Beginning of the Alphabet

I was raised in a home where grades didn't matter but effort did. I am not sure if it was because my younger sister and I struggled in school, the decade we were raised in, or because that is what was important to my parents. Needless to say, my report cards never saw the beginning of the alphabet.

I started school in the late 1970's before developmental kindergarten, pressure and demands. Before competition and that's not good enough. I have vivid memories of my father dropping me off  where nap time was a staple and "playing" was a way to teach cooperation and social skills. I remember bringing my beloved tinker toys for show and tell and then being allowed to build with them.

In first grade I learned how to hold a pencil, form my letters, write and read. I also learned that if I took too long to go to the bathroom the nun that I had was not having anything to do with it. There were consequences and a ruler would suffice.

You didn't argue, let alone talk back to any adult. You were at school to learn social and academic skills.  And as the grades increased in school, so did the content.

The earliest memory that I have of things not going as planned was in second grade. I remember being in the lowest reading group and barely being able to read.

And I felt stupid.

For many years.

Until I met Mrs. Teles.

Mrs. Teles was one of the first teachers to meet me where I was at and bring me up from there. I was lucky enough to have her in fourth and sixth grade. She knew right away that something was not right.

There were meetings.  A lot of them. Between her and my parents. I was tested; I didn't qualify.

But if you fast forward 35 years and tested that same little curly haired girl today, there would have been a different outcome.

Education has changed dramatically since I was a student and even a new teacher. So many more demands. 


What happened to reading for enjoyment? Playing outside? Homework beginning in middle school? Letting kids be kids?

I hope we can find the answers to those questions because I don't have much longer before my own children are grown and gone, and I want to enjoy their company as much as I can.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Encouraging Creativity

"Hi, Mrs. Waugh. Are you putting things on display?" a first grader asked me as I was walking past the display case towards my room. The students entered school on Monday to a new display up in the case: The Global Cardboard Challenge. For the past few weeks, students in my K-1 building have been participating in the cardboard challenge but taking it one step further by bringing me things they created at home out of cardboard and various other items. If it was made out of cardboard, I put it in the display case. If it was made from different material, it is displayed in my STEAM classroom.

My STEAM students take part in a monthly maker mat challenge. I don't remember where I first read about it or who I bought the maker mats from, but they are definitely something I will do in coming years. The maker mats are optional. There are nine squares like a tic tac toe board, and I require at least four activities to be completed during the month and the return of the mat to receive a certificate. I chose four because on average there are four weekends a month. If I can motivate kids to create instead of watching tv or playing on a device, I have succeeded. I then take a picture of the student and put it up in the hall by the Master Makers sign. By the end of this week, I will have 75 photographs on my Master Maker wall for September.

Seventy-five. That means 75 kids used their imagination and took the time to create something. I shouldn't be surprised but I am. It seems to me as though spending Saturday afternoons at the dining room table with crayons, paper, scissors, and anything else parents put out so kids can make something is becoming obsolete. And I am going to try to not let that happen.

I love that my students (all 400+) are so excited to bring me things they make at home and with each treasure, we celebrate.

If it wasn't for my creativity and wild imagination, I wouldn't have made it through high school and further more college. I was the kid who just didn't get it. Academics were a nightmare but throw in some art with a dash of create, and you had me hooked. So when I became a classroom teacher, I was determined to incorporate a lot of art into my lessons.

And I did. Until I couldn't.

As my teaching years added up, the demands placed on teachers were in fierce competition. Data, core programs, 3rd grade reading law. The list goes on and on. After 20 years in the gen ed classroom teaching mostly upper elementary, I took a leap. I left for a creative arts position teaching K-1 STEAM in an early childhood building.

And oh my goodness. This job was meant for me! I am having an absolute blast teaching my students how to use their imaginations, collaborate, try, fail, try again, and be proud of their creations.

Today I was searched for. Needed in a first grade classroom because one little boy made two unbelievable things at home that couldn't wait until I saw his class on Wednesday.

First, he made a maze. Out of legos. And covered it with saran wrap so it was a handheld maze. It is so fun to play.

And second. A robotic hand. Made from cardboard, straws, string, and plastic circles. It moves. And works. He explained to me and his class how he constructed it. He was so proud.

He is six. Let that sink in for a minute. Six.

Someone at home sat with him, talked to him, and was just there, encouraging creativity. We need to do more of that. And I am so glad that I am in the position to do so.

A Lego created maze

A robotic hand made from cardboard

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

For Carolyn

A few weeks ago I heard something on a radio commercial that I have been thinking a lot about.

"People don't remember the days, they remember the moments."

While most people know exactly where they were on September 11, 2001, I wonder if they remember everything about that day. For me, I remember many of the day's moments. During my fifth year of teaching, I was a third grade teacher in a small rural town and had three students celebrating their birthday that day. It was also the day that I was getting my leg cast off after a long three months. I worked a partial day, and as I was leaving, my principal and I watched the horrific events that were unfolding on the tv in his office. And I remember the car accidents on my drive to my doctor in Ann Arbor. There were so many. People were distracted. They had just heard the news. But I don't remember getting my cast off. There was a bigger moment that overshadowed it.

Another moment that I strongly remember was when the Space Challenger blew up. Mrs. Moran, my sixth grade teacher, had just wheeled the tv into her classroom so we could watch this historic event. I remember the brown tv and the squeeky wheels. I remember the excitement as the Challenger took off and the silence as it exploded in mid air. But that was it. I don't have any other memories from that day.

And this really had me thinking. These moments were tragic. So tragic that they have stuck with me. But what about the happy moments? And I started to reflect on my 21 year teaching career.

I remember Shannon from my first class that I used to call Grandma because she was loving, nurturing, and calm. She was seven.

I remember Kameah's journal entry when she wrote about how proud she was of all the A's that she received on her report card. I kept that entry for years before I mailed it to her when she was an adult.

I remember Jasmine who used to read inside her desk, very sneakily, while I was teaching.

I remember Aaron whose mother was so proud of him. She introduced me to her entire family as "his teacher."

I remember Zehlin, as a first grader, walking home from school because he was the oldest and could do it. I would keep an eye on him from my classroom window even though he only lived four houses away.

I remember Kelsi's life size metal Albert Einstein, complete with a wig that I would tell to go sit back in his seat because it looked so realistic.

And I remember Carolyn. A third grader that I had. She was smart as a whip but rushed through everything. I showed up at her house one day after school with a "magic" mechanical pencil. Anyone who used this pencil would automatically write neatly. And it worked for her.

There were so many days when I worried that I was not getting through the curriculum at the pace I needed to be. I was stressed for years at the demands I placed on myself. But when you really think about it, what are your students going to remember from your teaching ten years down the road?

Although I remember many moments from my years, I wondered what, if any,  my students remembered from having me as a teacher.

So I reached out to them.

This is what they had to say:

Kayla: "A love of learning. You made learning fun, and helped us get excited about learning new things. I was just talking to someone yesterday about the Living Museum project we did in your class. Fourteen years later and I still think about your class and use your creativity to help me with my path to becoming a teacher."

Madisen: "I have decent posture because of you."

Stephanie: "You taught me that there is no "right" way to learn. More-so, breaking the mold of textbook reading and doing something interactive/creative to reinforce topics like no test can."

Sarah: "I first think of the multiplication master. I remember you were on maternity leave and when you came back, the first thing you did was congratulate me...I remember feeling special. And I remember once you had your baby, you let the whole class take turns holding him."

Kelsi: "I have so many memories of being in your class that stand out, it's hard to pick. One random silly one that always makes me think of you is I was doodling in class one day and you showed me how to draw a rope, like vertically with the letter "s." And I still draw it that way and every time I do it, I think of you. Probably more important than drawing rope, I credit a massive amount of my writing skills through the rest of my education to you. I learned so much about creative writing from you. I also felt that you were one of the few teachers who challenged everyone in class, no matter how well they did."

Charlotte: "I wanted to tell you that you are one of the reasons I became a teacher. I can remember the golden plunger and countless other things I did as your student. One thing I know for sure is how supportive and kind you were to my mom while she was going through getting her degree and you always believed in our family. You always had the highest expectation for us and made us truly feel like more than just your students. I still carry with me how much of an impact an educator can have when they truly care and accept what a family is going through, and I do everything I can to be that kind of mentor/advocate for each and every child and family I encounter. I believe in the power of people and I have no doubt you played a part in that."

And Carolyn: "A sense of responsibility and ownership. And a love of writing that I carry with me to this day. And I still use the same kind of mechanical pencil  because of the "magical" one you gave me."

In this teaching age of testing, testing, and more testing, take some time to make moments that your students will remember long after they have left your classroom.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Unicorn Feed and Supply

If you have a child at home between the ages of six and ten, chances are unicorns have taken over your life.  They have in ours. Because, well, I have an eight year old. She lives in a world of unicorns, glitter, rainbows, and all things happy. She has already started planning for her next Entrepreneur Night at school. Her table will be decorated with unicorn cards, unicorn tears, unicorn skin, and anything else unicorn that she can think of. It isn't until February.

I recently came across a friend's post on facebook. She had visited a store in downtown Ypsilanti called Unicorn Feed and Supply. I showed it to my unicorn obsessed daughter and right then we decided to start planning for a special trip to visit this place.

And last Wednesday we went. Adorned in their unicorn garb, my two daughters (the younger more unicorn obsessed than the older) were more than excited to visit this magical place. My son, not so much, but he didn't really have a choice. After having lunch with my father and step mom at one of the best places I have eaten in a while (Beezy's Cafe), we made the two block trek to a store that is every unicorn lovers dream.

When you first enter, you are greeted by this large white unicorn that has yet to be named. Then, you look around. Unicorns, unicorns, unicorns. Unicorn pencils and markers and lights and decorations and this and that. The store is a modest size and the owner, Jen, has done a nice job with the space. There is a little something for everyone. Funny little cards for adults, metal art, facial supplies, little trinkets, Mrs. Grossman's stickers. It was these stickers that brought me back to my childhood. I had found my happy place. You could even purchase them by the sheet!

Since we were the only ones in the store at that time, I talked with the owner. I asked her how this store came to be. She quickly reached under the counter and pulled out her sticker book from her past. It was almost identical to the one I had. She opened it up and there I saw the puffy stickers I had saved my money to buy, the smelly ones that  never lost their scent, and the gel type ones that I so badly wanted but was never able to purchase. I was instantly jealous of that sticker book. What a reminder of my youth.

Jen continued to talk and told me that this sticker book was the only thing she had saved from her childhood and questioned herself why. She remembered buying Mrs. Grossman's stickers by the sheet and wanted that for other children. So the idea of this store came to be and she put her idea into action. The rest is history.

I only find it fitting that as I type up this blog post my two daughters are outside riding scooters in the rain looking for rainbows because that is what happens when the sun is shining and rain falls out of the sky. And they, are happy.

Unicorns Galore in Downtown Ypsilanti