Friday, April 27, 2018

Get Out The China

In my home I have been working on being Present, it is actually my One Word this year.
Last year I watched a Ted Talk on the power of play.

Ted Talk-My Year of Saying Yes

Since then I decided that when my children asked me to play I would always say, Yes.
Today my girls were excited to play imaginary games. They asked me, “Mommy can you play?” I said, “Yes.”

We first played ballet wearing our most colorful socks, next on the list was a birthday party, and last was a fancy tea party using only the fanciest of everything. The fanciest clothes, the fanciest words like extraordinary, and the fanciest cups. The fanciest cups meant they had to go into our china cabinet and get their great grandmother's teacups and plates. Hearing the girls talk in British accents as they drank chamomile tea was extremely heartwarming.

During this time of play my husband went to pick up Chick Fil A. When he got back the girls went to put up the teacups that's when they saw the wedding china. I refer to this china as the wedding china because we received it at our wedding in 2005. We have probably used this china a handful of times. We rarely use it because it is considered special. We save it for special events and mostly holidays, okay mostly Christmas because it takes awhile to clean up china.

As the girls put away the teacups, they started getting out the wedding china plates and saucers, it was at this moment I could feel my heart pounding. The girls hearts were also pounding, but from excitement. “Oh these are so fancy, we should use them for our fancy dinner! Mommy can we use them?”

Did they not realize these plates weren't ordinary, that this dinner was not fancy, and that we were about to have fast food…fast food on China. (Gasp!)

I wanted to tell the girls No and explain to them that these plates were our wedding china reserved for only special dinners, dinners with guests, and dinners on holidays.

Then it dawned on me that this was a special dinner, it was filled with guests who I most love, my husband and children. This dinner was not a holiday, but I believe each day is a gift, one to be cherished and if I believe that I need to live it.

So I explained to my children that these plates and cups are very special and if they wanted to use them we must continue to be super fancy, so Mike poured the unsweet tea into our china cups and put our fast food on our china plates. As we ate in our dining room table, a room also rarely used because it is usually reserved for guests, we pretended to be fancy, but mostly we just giggled and acted silly.

I am learning this year, I have to let go of the love of stuff and let in the love of people, that our lives are worth living when we learn to truly live. We must not value our things over the people we love, instead use what we have and enjoy it. In doing this we can enjoy each moment of the day and get more value out of what we own.

These plates and spontaneous play of two little girls and two adults willing to play along absolutely sparked joy tonight and it was so unexpected. 

Now the cleanup, well that’s another story, one told at 9pm when those sweet little girls were sound asleep, but cleaning those plates with my husband and laughing about the night was a joy in itself. One I will make sure I do more often. Letting go of the value of stuff and letting in the value of people has made a world of difference in my home and in my heart.

So I throw out a challenge today, go into your home and find something rarely used that might bring you and your family some joy, trust me it will be worth it.

“Love people. Use things. The opposite never works.”
-The Minimalists Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Chase the Right Bells

As a child, the sound of the ice cream man made an alarm in my head. My home was at a dead end, so the ice cream man never came down that far, making it only possible to get to the truck by sprinting down the street, up a great big hill, and running my little heart out. I was fast, but I can’t even count on one hand how many times I actually caught up to him. Each time I ran for that truck I was so disappointment sometimes even seeing his tail lights just off in the near distance.

Let’s fast forward to today. Today the sound of the ice cream truck, you all know the sound, blared in our neighborhood. Our neighborhood has never had a truck gone by in the 12 years we’ve lived here and this spring has been the first time we have ever had one visit.

Well, when I heard that truck and I told my girls who was making all that noise, they lit up and I mean lights in the eyes like Christmas. 

We got our coins and ran outside in about 30 seconds flat. We were ready to get that ice cream, but just like me when I was little, we didn’t make it. We could hear the bells off in the distance, but the longer we waited the further the sound went.

How disappointing.

But then I had an idea. I said girls get in the car. I ran inside, grabbed my keys, and we buckled up fast.

As I started to drive, every prayer I could muster was said.
We went through our neighborhood, no ice cream truck.
We went through the back neighborhood, no, not there.
We went to the end of the street toward the main road, no ice cream man in sight and then…

THERE! It passes right by us. The girls said, oh no, no ice cream!

However, by this time this mom was bound and determined to get to that ice cream truck, so I continued to follow him.  

Were we ever going to catch him? Would we be going home empty handed?

Nevertheless, just when we were about to lose hope that this chase was finished, the truck finally came to a halt. We all burst into cheers as the truck's stop sign flipped out; we quickly unbuckled and ran as if our life depended on it.

There my little ones were able to look at the ice cream panel, picking slowly and carefully, choosing an ice cream worthy of the chase.Their little squeals of delight and laughter made it all worthwhile. Worth the run, worth the drive, worth the feeling of crazy.

Normally I would not do this but something in me said, DO IT! Just get in that car and go! Find that truck!

This behavior is usually reserved for my husband Mike, who is more spontaneous than I am, always bringing such excitement to our family, but today the spontaneous one was me. And I’m so glad I was!

This story isn’t about the ice cream, but it is about my children seeing their mommy do something out of the ordinary to help them get something special. I want my girls to see that sometimes you have to chase things, sometimes you have to go that extra mile, and sometimes you have to make a decision to be a little crazy to get what you want.

Stepping outside our comfort zone to experience all life has to offer, makes our life more full. We have to chase the right bells and make it happen. Make it happen for our children, our students, and even ourselves.

I don’t think my girls will remember the exact ice cream they had today, but I do know they’ll remember this experience, an experience they had with me.

May we all step outside ourselves sometimes to build crazy, silly experiences for our children and our students by chasing the right bells.

Friday, April 20, 2018

What I Learned From A Montessori Classroom

Today I had the privilege of observing my two children at their Montessori School. Claire who is 5 ½ and Audrey who just turned 4 have both thrived in this school environment. Over the years, I have watched them grow and discovered some of the reasons for their growth and joy of learning.
As I walked into the girls classrooms, I took in all the sights and sounds of their classroom environment. A peaceful, clean, joyful, and busy place, where students took pride and ownership of their work. A place where students persisted at challenging tasks and did their best just because they knew a job worth doing is worth doing well.

As I sat in the observers chair to watch the work going on in the classroom, I reflected on what I had captured over the years from the Montessori classroom and put in place in my own classroom.

1)      Giving Choice

Montessori allows choice.                                                                                                                  

      I give my students control over their day by adding choice in their seating, work spaces, work materials, station work, and cafeteria seating.Giving them some choice in the day helps them own their learning and become learners that are more independent. It also creates an inner drive in my students, which motivates them to continue their learning outside the classroom. Giving choice is something that all children should experience to help them practice making decisions and get to know themselves as learners.

2)      Welcoming Mistakes

Montessori looks at mistakes as part of the learning experience.                                                  
We discuss how learners make mistakes, which give us the opportunity to try something different, making our work better. There is a sense of peace knowing that if I didn’t get it right today, I can continue to work on it until I feel proud of my work, but I can also be proud of myself right now for trying my best and sticking with a challenging task.

3)      Spills Happen
Montessori teaches practical life using every day tools.              
      It is extremely important to me that my students know how to handle spills and other clean up situations in and out of the classroom. I let my students know from day one that taking care of the classroom is a family responsibility and by taking care of the classroom, we take care of each other.

I can always tell when a student has truly bought into this idea when I come over to the café table and find out a big spill just happened, yet is already gone because the kids helped each other clean it up. This seems simple, but this is a proud moment for me because my students have learned they are capable yet also willing to tackle problems with their classmates.

4)      Letting Parents Observe

  Montessori offers observation.                                                                             

I sat in a seat today called the observing seat. When I left the school today, I could not put into words the feelings I had, but I can say I felt grateful for every single educator in that school, just by sitting and watching.

As an educator, I know there is so much that takes place in any given day. If I were to explain to a parent their child’s full day from bell to bell I would overwhelm them. I have found that observation allows a parent to see the windows into your classroom and into their child’s world, allowing much conversation to take place in the child’s home.

If you open your class up for parents to observe not only will they connect more with their child’s learning, but they will also be more willing to connect with you, so don’t just show parents pictures of their child and the classroom, but let parents come in, seeing the action first hand.

5)      Teaching Letter Sounds First 

Montessori focuses on letter sounds, not names  
 I have learned with my own children and my past kindergarten classes that to help a child to read, they need to focus on the letter sounds.  With my own children, I started teaching letter sounds by 16 months old. Many thought this was too early, but playing games with language from an early age has  helped my own children become early readers and improved their speech. In my kindergarten classroom, we name a letter by its letter sound. We do learn, it is also called letter A, but the focus is always on the sounds. By the end of the year most if not all students are reading in the classroom. Once they master the sounds, they can master reading.

6)      Modeling

Montessori schools use intentional and specific language.                                                            I am an encourager, so I tend to want to praise students for great work, and that’s okay, but I have to be careful not to have students rely on verbal praise to do a task. Instead, I want them to be proud of their work. I work on this daily by recognizing task persistence.

Language I am practicing using with my students:
-I noticed (stating what they did)
-Is this work you are proud of, What makes you proud of it?
-How did you feel when you accomplished this?
-Is there anything you will do differently next time?

We can learn so much from all walks of education. 
I am thankful I have witnessed the Montessori approach with my own children, allowing me to use their ideas in my own classroom.
I won’t be turning my classroom into a Montessori one, after all I work at a public school and not all their approaches work for my students and our classroom, but I AM grateful I have learned some amazing strategies to carry with me to my own classroom. Many of these have made me a better teacher and a better mother.

It is my hope that by adding these details found in Montessori schools, I can add more light to my own public school classroom. Making our class a better place where all my students grow to become lifelong learners.

Extra Resources:
Here is an awesome video about the founders of Google and their Montessori experience: