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Monday, July 29, 2013

My Wonderful Week in Canada

This post really has nothing to do with teaching (well almost nothing, I will mention two awesome teachers).  I just returned from a week in Canada and Seattle.  It was just about the perfect vacation and I want to put my pictures and thoughts together and don’t have a more appropriate forum.  My son Tad is spending the summer in British Columbia so I had to go see him (and a part of the world I've always wanted to see and two of my favorite bloggers). I made plans to fly in and out of Seattle (because I wanted to see more of Canada and Washington and because I hate flights that aren't  non-stop :).  My husband Ed couldn't spend as long so he flew in and out of Vancouver.  After arriving in Seattle on Friday, I drove up to Vancouver, checked into my hotel and then explored the city. It is beautiful ... especially Stanley Park where I walked on Saturday morning before picking Ed up at the airport.
I loved Stanley Park!
After retrieving Ed (whose journey to Vancouver was not nearly as pleasant as mine), we took a ferry over to Vancouver Island where Tad and his girlfriend Hannah are working at a Camp Hill Community called Glenora Farm.  Glenora Farm is a bio-dynamic and therapeutic farm where adults with developmental disabilities (called companions) live and work together with their caregivers (called co-workers).  For six days a week, both co-workers and companions work together at 2 workshops a day. The workshops include such things as gardening, cooking, wood cutting, weaving and felting as well as singing and dancing and learning about anthroposophy (Rudolf Steiner's theory that is behind the development of the Camp Hill communities).  It is really an impressive place. Here are a few of the pictures I took at the farm during our tour with Tad the first day we arrived:
Gate to the Gardens at Glenora Farms
The herb gardens
Tad has wood cutting workshop a couple times a week.
Inside one of the greenhouses.
The barn.
Tad and Ed returning an escaped baby goat to her mama.
Tad teaching us about herbs (another workshop he sometimes participates in is picking herbs for the salves and teas they make.
Tad's house which is called Helios.  There are 3 "small houses" like this where 2-3 companions live with co-workers and house parents and 1 "big house" with more companions and co-workers.
Tad making dinner for his house. 
The living room.
After our visit on Saturday afternoon,  Ed and I drove down to Sooke (which is on the tip of Vancouver Island, right on the ocean) and had a delicious dinner and then stayed at the Sooke Harbor House.  I would definitely recommend it if you are traveling to BC.
Salad with edible flowers...yum!
On Sunday we returned to the farm and since Tad had an extra day off, we went for a long hike, to a cafe for lunch and then to a beautiful beach.

We returned to the farm after dinner for a pot luck dessert party.  It was wonderful to see Tad with the companions who clearly loved his kind, gentle nature.  
On Monday, since both Tad and Hannah had the day off, we took a picnic lunch to the beautiful Lake Cowichan.  When we first found "our spot" we wondered what the circle of rocks in the shallow water could be.  Once we started unpacking our picnic we realized it was obviously a perfect cooler for our wine and soda.
Our wine cooler.
Truly spectacular!
Tad and Hannah are avid chess players so we of course had a chess set with us:)
After dinner, Ed and I left Duncan so I could drive him down to Victoria where he caught a seaplane on Tuesday morning as the first leg of his journey home.
The beautiful inner harbor in Victoria.
I then headed back towards Duncan (where the farm is) and met Sandi from Rubberboots and Elf Shoes and Barb from Grade ONEderful for a delicious lunch at Merridale Estate Cidery.  I was really excited to meet both women who are gifted teachers (and in the case of Barb, also a gifted blog designer) whose blogs inspire me to try new things and have certainly made me a better teacher.  I love both of their blogs because, instead of being a forum to promote a teachers pay teachers store,  their blogs offer very thoughtful reflections on what they are doing in their classrooms as well as wonderful suggestions about creative ways to teach.  Not surprisingly, they are kind and generous people in "real life" too. After lunch we walked around the apple orchard and then peeked into Sandi's trunk that was filled with sensory bin goodies.  I can't believe I didn't take a picture of them?!?
After lunch, I returned to the farm for dinner at Tad's house.  On Wednesday, I spent the day at the farm.  After the whole community met for their morning meeting (where that day's workshops are assigned and any issues discussed) I "helped" Hannah make lunch (her morning workshop). After that delicious lunch, I visited the felting workshop (so cool) and then headed back towards Victoria to get on a ferry to take me to Washington.
The bag I bought that was woven at the weavery. Tad is hopefully going to buy and bring home the felted mobile I fell in love with from the  Felting Workshop.
My last full day was spent in Seattle.  It's another beautiful city.
Pike Place Market was a riot of color.
I was really excited to see the Chihuly exhibit at Seattle Center because I keep seeing fun art projects on Pinterest that I could do with my class as part of a study of Chihuly's work.
As I said, a wonderful week. British Columbia is lovely. I think Tad's experience at Glenora Farm will have a lasting and meaningful effect on him.  I was, as always, very proud of the cool person he is. I was also pretty happy with my own independence as I made my way around a new area and I was thrilled to meet Sandi and Barbara.  Now, where should I head next?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

First Day of School Idea

On the first day of school last year, I took a minute to speak with each child in my class.  I sat next to the child and showed them the metal board that I had bought at Target.  I told them it said "Hello my name is" and that I would like them to write their name in the white area.  I then took a picture of the child holding the sign. That first night I put all of the children's pictures and pictures of my assistant and myself on our classroom website.  The whole project was super easy but it gave me a quick little check on where each student was (at least as far as writing their name and answering a few questions about themselves and their summer).  It was also very appreciated by the parents who could look up pictures of their child's classmates when they were trying to put a face with a name.   

Our classroom website (we use where I post a newsletter and photos every week.
It also ended up as part of my "end of year keepsake" that I gave the kids.  I used CollageIt to make a collage of all of the pictures.
I made a second collage of pictures I took at the very end of our school year. I asked each child what they wanted to be when they grew up.  I wrote their answer on the red back of the "Hello my name is board."  I should have let the children write their answers themselves (or at least sign the board) but I was doing this at the very last minute (second to last day ?!?) and was afraid I wouldn't get through everyone.  I made a second collage and then laminated the two collages together.

Both the parents and  kids liked seeing how they had grown over the year and I am sure the laminated keepsake will be fun to look back on in future years.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Throw Back Thursday - Collaborative Collage

      I love doing collaborative projects with my kiddos.  This rolled paper collage has been done by teachers in my school for several years.  It truly is beautiful (and very different feeling depending on the colors used and the width of the paper rolls).  My one problem with collaborative work is what I should do with them afterwards.  This past year I made the rolled paper collage the size of the window in one of the 3 doors to my classroom.  It will look great covering a somewhat awkward space.  I also think that this is beautiful enough that it could be sold at a fundraising auction.  We don't do anything like that  at our school but I know that a lot of private schools raise lots of money with collaborative classroom projects.
 Collaborative Rolled Paper Collage -Originally published 5/20/12
We created this beautiful rolled paper collage in several steps. First we painted the paper.  We mixed color and added texture to some of the pieces by running combs through the paint. On other pieces, we used drops of liquid water colors and salt to create the beautiful color combinations and texture.  

I used a paper cutter to cut the paper into strips which we then rolled around pencils. 

After re-rolling quite a few of the rolls, I hot glued the paper curls to foam board.  

We like the color and texture in this piece of art (once again my iphone doesn't begin to do justice to the colors in this cool piece of art).

I am linking up withCara's Throw Back Thursday Linky Party.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Throw Back Thursday - The Pledge in Sign Language

        I'm joining Cara's Throw Back Thursday Linky Party today.  This post about how my kiddos did The Pledge of Allegiance in sign language each morning was originally published last summer. 
        When I taught kindergarten we started each day by saying the Pledge of Allegiance with sign language.  I think the Pledge is a wonderful place to start talking about citizenship.  Although most students say the pledge each day, they often say it incorrectly or  without understanding what they are saying.  

       There are many versions of the Pledge in sign language.  The one I used was a variation of one I learned at a Dr. Jean conference.  I like it because it is very simple and I think it is very appropriate for young children because it slows the kids down so they say each word but it isn't so complicated that it is too hard for the children.  I asked one of my former students who I found swimming at our swim club to model the pledge so I can explain the motions we use. You will notice that I don't try to put a motion to every word. While I'm not sure that a deaf person could follow our motions, I know that the motions helped my children understand the pledge.   The word document showing the motions is available here.
        In kindergarten, I taught the Pledge of Allegiance and the accompanying sign language motions on the first day of school.  I gave brief descriptions of what the words meant when I first taught the pledge. I started by saying that most 3rd and 4th graders don't know what the words mean so it is really cool that my kindergarteners were learning such big and important words. Then, each morning, I would then ask the class about different words in the pledge.  For example,  I might do the motion for indivisible and then ask what the word means. The kids would say "can't break it apart" and I would act (and be) very pleased that they know such a big word.   
     After a few weeks, when we are really good at saying the pledge, I read I Pledge Allegiance by Bill Martin and Michael Sampson.  The book is illustrated by Chris Rashka and does a wonderful job of explaining what all the words in the pledge mean. It also includes historical facts about our flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, and Christopher Columbus' discovery of America as well as facts about our country such as what the colors of our flag represent.  I love Chris Rashka's quirky collage style illustrations.  For example on the page that defines allegiance as loyalty, there is a little dog wagging his tail.  Publishers Weekly describes the book as "simple without being simplistic, this cleverly designed volume spells out the concrete meaning behind the words in the Pledge of Allegiance while deftly communicating the democratic spirit and principles that inspired it".   While I love the book, I do think the concepts are a little hard for kindergarteners which is why I start with simply learning the pledge and the accompanying motions.  I think it helps that the kindergarteners already feel good about what they know about the pledge before I use the book to go into more depth.  Older students would appreciate the book right away and I think that this book (and learning the Pledge in sign language) are wonderful ways to introduce citizenship to young children.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Thank You For Being So Generous - Introducing Children to the Joy of Helping Others

       "Thank you for being so generous" is something you will frequently hear in my classroom.  I say it every time a child brings in change for our "Coins for a Cause" collection or snacks to be put in our goodie bags for the homeless or a toy to be shared with children who are less fortunate.  I say the same thing every time because I know it makes the child feel good. I say it whether the child brings in a few pennies or a whole collection of books.  I thank them for being generous because I want "being generous" to be part of their vocabulary and one of the ways they think about themselves. We do service projects, or "generous things," in our classroom because I think it is important for children to understand that everyone can do things (both small and big) to help others and that by doing so, both the helpers and those being helped will feel good.
Here are a few of the projects I have done in my classroom:
- We made 100 valentines to send to soldiers overseas on the 100th day of school.
- We made cards and a treat for older kids taking standardized tests.
- We made chocolate covered pretzels and cards to distribute to people who help us (lunch ladies, principal, secretaries, security, other teachers, volunteers, etc.)
- We made fancy bubble blowers (with wire and beads) for a homeless shelter that serves children.
-  We collect "Coins for a Cause." Each year we pick a charity and explain how the children's money will help.
putting together
treat bags for a homeless shelter
- Each month, one of our classrooms collects individually wrapped snacks that they then put together in treat bags that are distributed after dinner at a homeless shelter.
- We bring in a toy from home to give to a classroom that doesn't have all the toys that we have.
- We put together craft kits for a class in a low income school district
- We have counted down the days to Christmas with random acts of kindness.
Toys collected for a classroom
         The most important factor in choosing a service project for young children is that they understand how they are helping someone else.  My favorite projects are ones that involve something that the kids themselves would want.  We always talk about why we are doing the project and always act out how the people we are helping will feel. For instance, we will talk about how we would feel if we only had a few toys in our classroom and then I ask them to show me what they think the children's faces will look like when they get to play with the toys we are sharing.
        My favorite giving projects also require some time and effort on the part of the children. Although we do collect change and toys, I especially like projects that are more than just bringing in something that the child's parents have given them. (Actually, I know that giving away a toy can require a lot of effort from the child:).   Therefore, making special treats, or a bubble wand  or putting together treat bags for the homeless are even more meaningful to the kids.  The kids certainly understand the appeal of the treats but are always wonderful about understanding that they are not for them and are excited to be making other people happy.
       The first 4 projects were originally done when I taught kindergarten in a very low income school district where I couldn't ask for donations from parents.  I think that it is perhaps even more important for children who don't have as much (and whose families are frequently relying on the government or others for support) to understand that they can help others and to know the good feeling that comes from helping others. I wish I had thought of Counting Down to Christmas With Random Acts of Kindness when I taught in Chester because many of the things we do don't require any money and I think the act of doing something every day is really meaningful to the kids. Unfortunately,  Pinterest wasn't around then. :)
       Finally, I  think that it is important that service is not seen as something we only do at Christmas or for Dr. King's birthday.  Our goodie bags for the homeless are nice because we do them every month.  We also always have our coin collection sitting next to our calendar and, because my kids like to hear "Thank you for being so generous," I don't have to remind parents about it after we first explain the charity we have chosen to collect for at the beginning of the year.
           I would love to hear what service projects you do with your classes.
A very happy member of our meeting with a card and letter we sent to her.