When You Thought I Wasn’t Listening

My oldest son Parker used to hang onto every word I’d say. Every. Single. Word. He and I would hang out for most of the day together and he’d always greet his Dad at the end of the day with, “Daddy, Mama said…” and off he’d go, repeating something I’d told him about that day. He really does have a great memory (I’m not biased or anything, right?) and he didn’t forget anything Mama said. 🙂

Parker and I were both so excited when he started preschool. His classroom was right beside mine, and he’d go into his room every day and announce in his high-pitched twang, “My Mama said we are havin’ hot dogs today” or “My Mama said it’s gonna rain today” or “My Mama said I should wear my raccoon shirt today”. It was as if he couldn’t go past the threshold without his daily Mama Announcement.

His little brother Peyton didn’t always listen to Mama as closely as Parker did. However, Peyton had a much more important person in his life to listen to…and that was Parker.

As Parker has gotten older, like all boys do, he has found other things to listen to besides me and his Daddy. He listens to his friends, his music, his games, and his shows. He’d never dream of entering his fifth-grade classroom with an announcement of ,”My Mama said…”

And I don’t think I’d want him to, as heartbreaking as it is to see him move away from me. No, I know I don’t want him to cling his Mama days for the rest of his life. But letting go, it hurts.

It’s hard.

And it’s frustrating.

I find myself lamenting over the “not listening” when I trip over my boys’ shoes in the front hallway after many reminders to put the shoes up. I find myself mumbling under my breath when I see a sink full of dried-up toothpaste after prompts to wash it out when you are done! I find myself demanding, “Are you listening to me? Do you hear me?” when I think they are not listening to my voice as closely as they should.

And I find myself begging God for Parker to listen to me and his Dad when we warn him about choices in life, in growing older, in his speech and conduct. As he tells us what is going on at school, with people in his class, and what he has seen on the news.

And as I’m pleading and grasping for peace, my Father whispers to me.

Listen, Paige. Be still. 

He reminds me that my voice was never meant to be the ultimate one in Parker’s heart anyway. His dad’s voice was never meant to be the one that took up the room in his heart. Parker has a Heavenly Father whose voice is big enough to be heard over the loudest noise of this world.

It was the Voice that spoke Parker into existence, that counted every hair on his head, that called him by name. It’s the Voice that delights in him, that calms his soul, that sings over him. The One who speaks life will never let go of my boy…His boy.

Yes, I need to keep praying. His dad and I need to keep guiding and speaking truth.

And I need to let go a little.

In early summer, Parker brought me a poem he’d written in school. It was for Mother’s Day. He had written:

             When you thought I wasn’t listening, I heard you praying for me when I was scared.

             When you thought I wasn’t watching, I saw you give supper to a sick person.

             When you thought I wasn’t listening, I heard you singing songs at church. I saw you              raise your hands. 

He’s listening. He’s watching. He’s taking heart.

I guess I just need to do a better job of listening, myself!

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

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To the Christian Teacher in a Public School

How many times have you heard the term (or one similar) “They’ve taken God out of public schools!”? I’ve heard it many, many times but so far it has failed to worry me. Don’t get me wrong, it saddens me that a teacher can actually get fired if he or she offends someone by praying aloud or teaching scripture in a public school. It saddens me that some school systems (not mine) have taken the phrase “under God” out of their daily Pledge of Allegiance. It frustrates and sometimes angers me that other religions seem to be tolerated so quickly, yet Christianity simply will not be tolerated in some public school systems. It makes me want to cry out “What are we doing?” But when I get completely worked up over laws and rights, I feel the gentle push of the Holy Spirit saying this to me: “When was the last time you were this sad over the fact that some kids never have clean clothes on? Were you this upset when the boy in time out over there didn’t come to school because no one got up to get him dressed and on the bus? Are you this passionate when the same child just doesn’t get it no matter how much you teach?” You see, if I’m not careful, I can so caught up in the idea of protecting my Christianity (which does have its place) that I forget to actually live my Christianity. And as a kindergarten/first grade teacher in a public school, I need to live my Christianity every second of every day. I’m not worried that God has been taken out of our public schools. God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and Omnipresent. He is everywhere all the time, no matter what laws politicians make up. No man has the power to direct where God can and cannot be. God is in our schools. Jesus is in our schools. He is in the hearts of His believers. His love shines through us. Us. We are to be Jesus to the world. So, to the Christian teacher in a public school, I am in no way telling you to break the law or hinder your job! But I am reminding you (and mostly myself! :)) that it’s okay for you to bring Jesus into your classroom. We may not be able to explicitly teach the Bible and prayer to our students, but we can live the Word. We can live the way Jesus calls us to live. That’s what He’s called us to do, after all! We are just seed-planters. He is the one who saves. So how do we plant seeds? How do we live the Word when we can’t teach about the Word? We love. Oohhhhh my, this is so easy for me to say right now as I sit in my comfy chair. After two months, I’ve conveniently forgotten that I won’t be sitting again for about 10 months. Farewell, comfy chair. It’s so easy for me to talk about loving when I haven’t met that child that’s going to do their best to make me dislike them. It’s easy to talk about loving when I haven’t been in a stressful parent meeting, data meeting, in-service meeting, faculty meeting, and collaboration meeting when I really just need to get in my room and prepare! But in order to show the love of Jesus, we are called to love. What does love look like in a classroom? I was really convicted of this a few years ago as I went around blabbing to anyone who would listen how much I loved kindergarten and how much I loved teaching. What does true love look like? “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 How patient am I when my table is full of papers, files, and assessments and an unexpected parent meeting pops up during my prep time? How kind am I when the same child misbehaves time and time again? (That one hurts…) What about when that other teacher walks by with the perfect class in the hall and my class looks like a circus in comparison? Am I not just a bit envious? Or if it’s me with the perfect class, am I ever boastful or proud, even if it’s just in my head? I’ve just got what it takes to make these kids mind. My teaching must be top-notch…these kids are reading like second graders and it’s not even the first nine weeks! I’m soooooo good! With these verses above, I could go on and on about ways I don’t always show love as a teacher. I am grateful to a God who loves me in spite of me. And this year I am going to show His love, perhaps to little ones who have never experienced it in their own lives. I am going to be a seed planter, not by reading scriptures aloud at school, but by showing them in my actions. I am going to pray in my heart for patience, kindness, humility, trust, hope, perseverance… I am going to pray in my heart for my sweet little ones. jesus loves me You know the song “Jesus Loves Me”? There’s a line that I love. It says “Yes, Jesus loves me, for the Bible tells me so!” I’m so glad for His Word. I’m so glad that I can share it with my personal children, Parker and Peyton, and show them where it tells them that Jesus loves them. But what about those little ones who don’t know what a Bible is? How will they know that Jesus loves them? What about those little ones whose parents are so beaten by life that they haven’t shown their children God’s love? The Lord may place them in your room this year. He may put their name on your list. He may put them at my work table, in my story circle. I plan to show them the love of Jesus by simply loving them. Who will join me?

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Teachers, This Could Be YOUR Year

This could be your year. The one you’ve been waiting for.

It could be the first year you have your own classroom. You’ve studied, observed, interviewed, waited, despaired with disappointment, interviewed some more, waited some more, worked another job that you didn’t plan for, interviewed some more, and now…this is YOUR year. You have been given the keys to your very own classroom. And it’s full of…stuff, and anticipation, and a little fear–okay a lot of fear, and things to do. And it’s overwhelming and wonderful at the same time. There will be many times this year that the misgivings, the stress, the paperwork, the management hiccups, and yes–maybe even your coworkers–it will all threaten to overcome the wonderful feeling of having your own classroom, of finally achieving your dream. When those times come, take a step back, get a deep breath (and maybe a candy bar…and a Coke), and remind yourself of your dream. This is what you’ve waited for! Find a mentor who will build you up and who will praise the teaching profession instead of tearing it down. Surround yourself with those teachers who will help you and remind you of why you are here. This is YOUR year!

It could be your year for retirement. You’ve gone back and forth, wondering if the time was quite right, and now you know without a doubt. This is YOUR year for retirement, and your reward is waiting for you. One of my dearest friends is retiring this year. I know without a doubt that she will use every minute of the day to continue teaching and making an impact on the lives of her students. While she is looking forward to resting with her family, she is not “done”. She still plans and anticipates and designs wonderful opportunities for the students who are blessed enough to have her. If you are planning on retiring, this will be a year of “lasts” for you. Your last time to greet new students and parents, your last time to do conferences, report cards, observations, and more. This can also be a year of “lasting”, too. Your year to leave lasting impressions, words of wisdom, and influence. Yes, even if you are retiring, this is YOUR year. Enjoy it!

Teachers, this could be the year that you go from being an average, good teacher to being a GREAT teacher– a leader in your grade level and in your school. This could be the year that others begin to migrate towards YOU, because they know that no question is too silly or lame for you to answer. This could be the year that parents begin to notice your kindness and caring for their children, because you put forth a little more effort and seem to go the extra mile for “your” kids. This could be the year that you step up and lead a collaboration, or a professional development, and others realize that you are serious about your profession. There will be days that your innovation and inspiration are threatened by the programs, the mandates, and the paperwork. But hold fast, and do whatever you can to keep yourself off of the road to complacency and complaining. Instead, focus on your kids. Know your students, study them, and plan according to their needs. Then…work your plan! 🙂 Make this YOUR year to rise to the top. You’ve got this!

And friend, this could be your year to have “The Class”. You know, the year where you go home at night and cry? And eat all the foods? And gain all the pounds? And break out in all the zits from stress? Yeah…it could be coming for you. This could be the year when all the stuff that has worked before Just. Doesn’t. Work. Anymore. At. All. I’ve been there. More than once. I’ve second-guessed myself at every turn. I’ve dreaded the field trips and Christmas parties and even just the regular days because of “The Class”. Yes, I have. There will be days that you will go and cry in the bathroom while your friend taps on the door and offers you tissues. And M&Ms. There will be days that you have really hard discussions with parents about behavior and emotions. There will be days that you beg your principal to “just come and see” what it’s like in your room, and then the principal finally comes and the kids are perfect. But y’all– there will be days when  you look back and realize the impact you have had on “The Class” and some of those stinkers will look you in the eyes and tell you they love you and you will realize that this very hard year made you SUCH a better teacher. Yeah, this could be YOUR year. I’ll get the chocolate for you and push it through the crack in the door for you, okay?

Maybe you are feeling the burn-out that attacks so many educators, even now right before the start of school. Maybe you’re thinking I’m none of these things. I’m not new. I’m not retiring. I’m not great. And I’d sure better not get “that” class again. I’m due a nice, quiet, mundane year, right? It’s not going to be my year for anything.

Well, I can tell you right now that you will have reasons for this to be your year. On the first day of school, there will be 18-35 reasons staring back at you, waiting to see how you will impact their very lives.

This could be your year to be the person that teaches the first grade boy that he CAN read and learn.

This could be your year to be the light at the end of the tunnel that keeps the middle school girl from taking her own life.

This could be your year to be the roadmap that shows the high school boy a way out of the destructive cycle he is stuck in.

This could be your year to give her the first compliment she’s ever gotten.

This could be your year to give him the first pair of new shoes he’s ever received.

Teachers, this is your year. You don’t see how? The circumstances don’t seem to add up? Then, MAKE it your year. You have the power to change your outlook and your outcomes. You have the power to change lives!

This is it. This is YOUR year. Let’s do this.

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What Does Math Look Like in a Kindergarten Classroom?

Ask ten teachers, you’ll get ten different answers. No teacher is the same, so no teacher’s routine will look the same. Anytime I do a math workshop or professional development session on math, the question that I get asked the most is “What does a math lesson look like in your room?”

The first thing that comes to my mind is routine. Math instruction in my room is a routine that we follow daily. Parts of the routine look different from day to day, depending on the standard I am teaching. And, yes, I follow the Common Core Curriculum when teaching students about math concepts in my classroom. I’ve heard lots of views on  Common Core, and I urge you to look up the actual standards and decide for yourself what to believe about them before forming a firm opinion. Common Core Standards are not a program; they are a set of high-quality standards that each child should master before moving on to the next grade level. How a teacher chooses to teach the standards is not necessarily a representation of the standards themselves. Lots of factors come into play when I am deciding how to best present the standards I want my students to master…time allotment, student behaviors, the program I may or may not be using to guide my instruction, and the current data of student progress are major factors that decide how I present math standards and instruction in my daily routine. So even though my content may vary, my routine stays mostly the same. This helps with behavior-both the students’ and mine! 🙂

The second thing that comes to mind is action. Math instruction in my room doesn’t look like stillness and quietness. It involves lots of talking and doing. This is why math stations are an important part of my routine.

The third thing that comes to mind is intervention. I meet daily in small groups with each child in my room. I love small groups because I can work with a student on his or her level more intensively than I could in a whole group setting.

So, here it is! This is what a typical day of math instruction looks like in Mrs. Givens’s room (and add in a few nutty comments and occasional fire drills, tornado scares, and restroom emergencies…hey, it’s kindergarten!).

  1. Read math literature. I use books that deal with whatever standard I’m teaching. I may read a book several times that week to point out the skill we are studying.
  2. Count to 100. We count by ones, tens, fives, and twos depending on how much time we have that day. We may count backwards from a certain number. We may start at a random number and count on from that number. At beginning of year I count to 25 or 50 depending on the level of the class and move up as they are ready.
  3. Count around the circle to find out how many kids are here today. We then fix our “attendance towers” to show how many students are here and how many are absent. We talk about which tower is longer, shorter, has more, fewer, etc.
  4. Weekly Data. Each week, we work with a question on the board to display and interpret data. We have a different task for the data each day.
    1. Make it Monday- we  make the data. I have the question ready and students write their name under the proper response as they come in and unpack. During our math routine time, we count how many names are in each category and record a numeral in each category.
    2. Tally it Tuesday- we add tally marks on the data.
    3. Write it Wednesday- we write sentences to tell about the data.
    4. Thursday Change-up– we show the data in a different way; a Venn Diagram, bar graph, etc.
    5. Figure it Friday– we make an addition sentence out of the data. At the end of the year we do a subtraction sentence, too, if it’s appropriate.
  5. Counting Basket. Our “helping hand” for the day brings us the class counting basket and shows how he/she counted the items in the basket. The kids have already  looked in the basket, then counted out the same number of items in their own personal basket. We talk together about how to record in our journal what is in our counting basket. At the beginning of the year, a child may only draw how many items are in the basket. We move on to using numerals, number words, tally marks, and ten frames to show a certain number of things. At the midpoint of the year, we begin to form addition and subtraction sentences to show the number of items in our basket.
    Math stations involve a large variety of hands-on manipulatives.

    Math stations involve a large variety of hands-on manipulatives.

  6. New Concept Discussion and then Small Group Instruction/Stations. Sometimes I discuss the new concept whole group and sometimes small group. In years that I have lots of children with exceptionalities, I usually like to do small group lessons more than whole group depending on the needs of my students. Stations can be done in so many ways in kindergarten! My teaching friends do all sorts of different stations set-ups. I am doing partner stations this year, where students work with one partner and two  partner sets come to me for small group instruction.
    A student has constructed this addition sentence to explain her arrangement of tiles.

    A student has constructed this addition sentence to explain her arrangement of tiles during partner stations.

  7.  Concept Discussion after stations if needed. Depends on how stations went, I like to come back to whole group for a discussion of concepts learned at stations. This discussion is usually student-led, unless Mrs. Givens needs to “talk shop” about a certain behavior or trend that needs to stop! 🙂

 

At the Teacher Station

During Math stations, I make myself a station to do intervention and/or enrichment. Each month, I print off a monthly math journal from KetchensKindergarten.com. We usually start off small groups with a page or two from the journal. The journals cover common core standards and are very open-ended for discussions.

After journals, we play a game that goes with the new concept we are working on. Since I have same-ability groups, I can make the game math the abilities of the kids in my group for intervention or enrichment.

Sometimes we may end the small group by doing a quick paper for my records or for sending home to parents.

I understand that I am one kindergarten teacher of many. My routine does not have to be your routine. This is what works for me at this time, this is what makes me feel like an accomplished teacher, and this is what grows my students.

What kind of things are in your math instruction routines? Let me hear from you!

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If You Give A Teacher A Class List

If you give a teacher her class list, she’s going to want some mailing addresses to go with it. So she’ll dig through mounds of registration forms to find “her kids” and write each address. Seeing all those addresses will remind her that she needs envelopes. She’ll go to the store to get some. At the store, she’ll see the discounts on sunscreen and flip flops and she’ll realize summer is ending. She’ll get sad. So she’ll go over to the shoes to cheer herself up. The cute, strappy heels will give her hope, but then she’ll think about standing in them all day at school. She’ll choose Dr. Scholl’s  instead. On her way to pay for the envelopes and shoes, she’ll pass the Back-to-School quagmire. She’ll get sucked in by the fifty-cent Post-It notes. The Post-It notes will remind her that she wanted to buy 40 of the seventeen-cent notebooks. Just in case. When she’s loading the notebooks into her buggy, she sees the pencils, crayons, pouches, pens, highlighters, and sharpies. She can’t help herself, and in they go. The last thing to go in the buggy is a book of stickers, which makes her think of stamps. When she thinks of stamps, she’ll remember those envelopes and the mailing addresses she needs for “her kids”. And chances are, if you give her mailing addresses, she’ll want a class list to go with it!
If you’re a teacher, you’ve probably read them, but even if you’re not, you’d like these books! 😊


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The Crayon Bucket

In my classroom, we have this bucket. We call it the crayon bucket. Its job is to hold two kinds of crayons: the broken ones and the forgotten ones.

When I started teaching it didn’t take me long to figure out that crayons are hard for five-year-olds to keep up with. Like… I found it out within thirty minutes!!! 🙂

We started out that first day and everyone had a brand new pack of shiny, beautiful, pointy crayons (by the way, I quickly learned that you don’t give a class full of kindergarteners an entire pack of crayons on day one…teaching 101). Now I do a crayon a day.  As we learn each color, if we treat our first crayon nicely, we get to keep it and eventually get more, but anyway, that’s another story!

So, after thirty minutes on that first day of school, I had a floor full of random crayons. And that bothered me! All during the school year, I would find crayons in the floor and I would hold them up and no one would claim them, even when they looked through their pouches. Even the kid with only two crayons in his pouch would be like, “No man, that’s not mine…” Hence, he always only had two crayons in his pouch. 🙂

So I started setting the lost crayons on my desk. But soon there were too many for my desk. And during my first year of teaching I had so many overwhelming roles to learn that even though I was bothered by these forgotten crayons, I didn’t have the time or energy to think of a solution for them. So I got a cup, and they quickly filled up the cup. So I got a basket, and they began to fill up the basket.

And then another thing started to happen all those years ago that really bothered me… when we went to do a special art activity, I’d say something like, “Get out your red…” and immediately several people would chorus “I don’t have a red!”–especially two crayon guy…he never had anything!

So one day the light clicked on for me. The crayon basket, of course! It had all the reds we needed! I started a new procedure that has been tried and true since that first year I started teaching. We have the lost crayon basket for when someone is missing a color. The rule is if we are missing a color, we don’t yell out. We just go to the crayon basket and pick out what we need, and the best part of all is… we get to keep it! And do you know that the child who was so forgetful with her crayons earlier takes that “new” red one from the basket, uses it carefully, and then gently puts it in her pouch and is sure to zip up her pouch this time so that she doesn’t lose it?

The rule at the crayon basket is that we can only stay there for five seconds, because we are guaranteed to find the needed color in five seconds. You know why? Because after ten years, this is my lost crayon basket bucket. It’s full of every color we would ever need!

I'm sure you think I shot the CapriSun beside the bucket for your viewing pleasure! Actually, that's just to let you know how big the bucket is. :)

I’m sure you think I shot the CapriSun beside the bucket for your viewing pleasure! Actually, that’s just to let you know how big the bucket is. 🙂

A lot of crayons get forgotten. Until they are needed. And if a child has forgotten a blue crayon, when the teacher says to get a blue, the crayon becomes very important to the child, and it’s no longer forgotten. Especially when the child knows they get to keep the blue. It’s a treasure to them now, and they are glad to keep it.

The great things about the crayons in my class’s crayon  bucket is that they don’t stay forgotten. They sit in the bucket, ready for the time when someone needs their exact use. And then it’s their time to shine! They become very important to the ones who need them.

There’s another kind of crayon in the bucket…and that’s the broken crayon. Now, broken crayons are the most special ones of all! They may not be as pretty as the new ones; they may be missing their paper, their shine, their points, but they have a very special job.

You see, we have a lot of students coming to public school these days with certain learning, physical, and emotional needs. For a number of health, environmental, or unknown reasons, they don’t have the fine motor abilities to color and cut and write like a “typical” kindergartener. Some of them have never even held a crayon, so it’s hard for them to learn how to fill a picture with color. I remember the first time I had a student with a physical need that required more practice than what I was providing in the general setting…the wonderful occupational therapist for the county came in and looked over his workspace to help me and give me pointers on supporting him with writing, coloring, and other fine motor skills. And guess what she did first?

She took his brand new crayons and BROKE them. And I was horrified! One by one, as she was just talking to me and breaking away, I could only look on in horror! Finally, I found some words in my head and yelled “What are you doing?!?” And our awesome therapist said words that have stuck with me…she kept on breaking and she said, “Broken crayons make weak hands strong.”

Broken crayons make weak hands strong.

Kids who can’t hold a pencil can grip a broken crayon. They have to bear down and hold it tightly with correct finger positioning when their crayon is broken.
And I have also learned that kids who need emotional and behavioral support love to use broken crayons. They can bear down and push and scribble and make really strong marks with broken crayons without fear of getting in trouble for tearing up something new.

I know that  some people reading this today feel like an old broken or forgotten crayon. You may be broken down by physical health problems or relationship issues. Or you may be chipped away by little things of life every day…a cruel word chips here, a busy schedule nicks there, until one day you look in the mirror and you are only half of the person that you thought you were.

I have great news for you, friends.

You are needed. God has an area of your life designed just for you. There is a need around you, and you are the perfect person to fill that void. There may be “weak hands” in your circle, or even outside of your comfort zone, and your brokenness might be exactly what those hands need to hold on tightly to in order to become strong. And if you feel forgotten? I can tell you with certainty that He did not forget you. You are never out of His sight, and He has something great in store for you! Here is what He says to His people in Isaiah 49:15-16 (NIV):

I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

You are not forgotten. You may feel that way, and feeling that way is hard–sometimes awful!–but our human feelings are very fickle things. They change with our circumstances like a tree sways in the wind. God’s word never changes, though, and He says that we are not forgotten.

You know those crayons in the lost and found bucket? They’re really not forgotten, either. They are just waiting for their time to be used. Are you ready to be used?

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Sharing with friends at sweettothesoul.com, purposefulfaith.com, Tell His Story, and holleygerth.com.

tell his story     coffee for your heart rara soul friends

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Teaching Kindergarten…Keep The Home Living Station!

I remember my first day of kindergarten. I was sort of indifferent about school…I didn’t know what I was getting into, so I just followed my mom into the building. However, once I realized she was leaving me there, I quickly decided I didn’t want to stay. There were some tears and anxiety…and then I saw the “play kitchen”. Seeing this familiar fixture brought me so much comfort, and even excitement, and then I was okay. Really, I was good to go. And the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been going to public school ever since!:)

kitchen one

When I was a five year old kindergarten student, K-5 was actually all about learning to come to school. We learned social skills like how to share, how to help others, how to be a friend. We learned the importance of keeping up with our belongings, taking care of school property, and working with our emotions. We learned how to get along. We learned how to be a student.

Now kindergarten is still a very important avenue for learning social skills, but we are also learning to read (pretty fluently), write stories–both realistic and fiction– and to add and subtract by the end of the year. I don’t know about  other kindergarten teachers, but I have found myself in a place before where I have forsaken the importance of teaching social skills in order to teach more reading, write more words, and add more numbers. I’ve spent more time blending and segmenting phonemes than I have teaching my kids what to do if they have to share a toy.

And I wonder why they bicker. I wonder why they tattle. I wonder why they have one crayon left in their pouch after just a week of school (Teacher, I don’t have a red…or a blue…or an orange…).

I know I’m not the only one wondering. In talking with teachers in many districts, I’ve discovered that there is some concern with the social skills of our older students in schools today. Bullying is becoming a presence that needs to be dealt with. Not only the bully-er, but the bully-ee (Did I just make up some words?). Older students don’t know how to treat each other anymore. They haven’t had lots of practice with sharing, speaking, listening, and working with one another in a non-academic setting. Some students are “being mean” to get attention, relationships (what they think is a relationship), and acceptance. Other students don’t know how to react to someone treating them in an unwanted way, and they are dealing with anxiety that comes from not knowing how to deal with different people.  I think one way to help this situation is to give students more time to have social interaction when they are young. Before they become self-conscious and create different stations and groups among themselves.

I was on a vertical Language Arts team for my school for two years and we worked very hard to align our curriculum with the new College and Career Ready Standards for English Language Arts. One of the main topics we discussed and worked on was vocabulary. We looked at the research about the importance of teaching our children Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary words. Tier 2 words are high-frequency vocabulary words that may or may not have multiple meanings, like savor or ability. Tier 3 words are lower-frequency words that are specific to a certain context (the words  you used to write down and define in biology class). As the discussion went on, I agreed that instruction on these words was so important. It’s needed. But I had a growing sense of urgency about another type of words that I realized many kindergarteners were lacking, Tier 1 words. I, along with other teachers in my school and other schools, was focusing on teaching these wonderful Tier 2 and 3 words when I had kids that didn’t know what friend, baby, and sorry meant. I had kids that didn’t understand the meaning of beside, below, above, and in front of.

So I really started thinking about my teaching of social skills and what I call “social words”(this is just a Paige Givens term, not fancy or official by any means). How could I teach my kids these words and skills in a natural, authentic way?

The answer was right in front of me, in a sunny corner of my room, begging not to be thrown out, as so many kindergarten teachers are being pressured to do. It was my kitchen!

You may call it the Home Living Station, or the Dramatic Play Area, or  Houseware Center. You may call it “Who has time for that?!? I got rid of that years ago! Too busy.”

But I am here to advocate for the Home Living Station! There is a place for it in your curriculum! Your kids need time to play and talk with each other. They need space to make believe and work together to make their imaginations come to life. They need opportunities to practice sharing and “working it out” when there are not enough supplies to go around. They need opportunities to disagree.

A few years ago, I brought my Home Living Station up to speed with vigor and excitement. I decided to use it as a teaching tool during my Literacy Work Stations (YES, during Literacy Stations!), and started off the year with a few kitchen utensils, plastic foods, and baby dolls. I have found that if I use fewer props at the beginning, it’s easier to teach how to clean up and it leaves room for more language exchanges. I also use lots of modeling at the beginning of the year for  having nice hands, words, and feet at the Home Living Station. I have found that the Home Living Station is one of the greatest opportunities for the speech pathologist to work with students who are acquiring language skills. It’s a natural, authentic environment for students who need extra support in developing oral language skills.

I focused on three Kindergarten College and Career Ready Standards when designing my new Home Living Station a few years back. These are the ones I’ve been using:

 Describe familiar people, places, things, and events and, with prompting and support, provide additional detail. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.4)
 Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions as desired to provide additional detail. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.5)
 Speak audibly and express thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly. (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.K.6)

I divide up my Home Living Themes by the month most years. Here are my plans for Home Living each month of the school year. My wonderful kindergarten teacher partners at my school collaborate constantly to improve our stations. They’ve graciously included pictures of their Home Living Stations.

August

“My Home”- we are just learning to come to school, so this month is all about learning how to use the materials at home living. We do lots of modeling and practicing. The Home Living Station is usually everyone’s favorite station to choose (both boys and girls).

“School”- I bring in a “big kid” desk and set out books, pointers, pictures, and different items for the students to teach with. They love to decide who is the teacher and who are students. I hear my own words coming out of their mouths when they are playing school. 🙂

September

“Grocery Store”I have parents send in empty cereal boxes, snack food boxes, cleaned out milk cartons, etc. We label each item clearly and students work at the grocery store to make a grocery list by copying the labels onto their list paper. They use pretend buggies and cash registers to act out buying their grocery list.

“Apple Orchard”- My teacher friends Lori and Connie created an apple orchard in their classrooms this year with some plastic apples, pie tins, felt, and baskets. The kids LOVED it!

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