The Cross Means Freedom For Me

Freedom…it’s getting to run as fast as I can across the field to Granny’s, the wind slapping my hair all around. It’s getting to swing as high as I can in Paw-Paw’s swing under the big Oak tree with its gnarled, welcoming arms. It’s the fresh air of summer, the grass grown up to my knees, tickling and soft. It’s the smell of wildflowers blooming in all their rainbow glory. It’s the comfort of a favorite book under a whirring fan on the back porch, and knowing I’ve got plenty of time to read.

summer freedom

Did I ever remember to thank the ones who gave me freedom in my childhood? The ones who worked every day so I could read on a comfortable porch or swing under a welcoming tree?

Freedom…it’s my heart pounding, my throat getting full, my eyes welling up as I sing “America the Beautiful” with my church family. I can never finish out loud because my heart is so full of emotion. It’s the goose bumps and shivers that dance on my arms as I stand and hear the National Anthem while the American flag waves gently on the breeze. It’s getting to believe in Whom I believe in without fear of persecution. It’s the ability to choose my vocation, to vote for my leaders, to live where I decide, to worship where I want to worship.

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Have I ever really thanked the ones who gave me this freedom? The ones who left their spouses, their children, their parents to fight for my freedom? Have I thanked the ones who left the comforts and safety of home, of a free land, to go into the darkness of warfare? The hot, dusty, dryness of the unknown? Have I really thought of the ones who died? Have I thanked the mothers who lost their babies? Who weren’t by their sides when they took their last breaths? Have I thanked the daddies, brothers, sisters, and friends who are mourning the loss of the ones they love? The ones that died so that I can be free?

Freedom…it’s a sin-stained cross. It’s Calvary, the place where forgiveness was nailed in place once and for all. It’s the blood-soaked trail up a winding hill of suffering. It’s the sound of weeping, wailing, and mourning mixed with jeering and mocking. It’s the lashes and pounding of nails. It’s the sweetest voice ever heard saying “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” It’s the crowd shouting “Crucify!” and my sin being brought to the front and center. It’s my Savior saying “Forgive Paige, she knows not what she does.” It’s Jesus. Freedom is Jesus. It’s beautiful, and it’s for me. It’s for all of us.

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Have I thanked Him? Have I really and truly remembered to thank Him for the freedom that He gave to me? He offered it up as a beautiful sacrifice, and my spoiled heart takes it for granted, just as I do my American freedom and the freedom of my childhood.

Have I thanked You enough Lord? Mere words will never come close. So I offer my life, my hope, yes, my freedom to You. To the One Who gave the freedom. Forgive me and let me never forget the precious gift of freedom that has been given to me. Let freedom ring in my heart and fill it up and spill over the sides. Let it soak those around me so that they too can discover a freedom like no other that starts at the cross!

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Teaching Kindergarten: The Daily News

The first time I ever shut the classroom door and turned to my students on that first day of school, that first minute, I had a brief panic-filled thought. What do I do now?!? How do I start this?!?

After a moment to collect myself–and I do mean a moment, because, you know, there were 18 five-year-olds who needed me to be in charge–I remembered my plan and I remembered the place to start.

The Daily News routine.

I started with Daily News that morning and I’ve started roughly 2610 mornings since then with Daily News. I am such a creature of habit that it is almost impossible for me to start my school day without a classroom routine that we call Daily News.

The Language Experience Approach (LEA) is an approach to language that uses personal experiences to connect to reading and writing. Described as a whole-language approach, LEA uses the skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing to build fluency in language skills. There are many ways for teachers to use LEA to enhance literacy skills for their students, and a prominent LEA in my classroom is the Daily News.

So picture a room full of kindergarten students, all busy with various morning activities. The teacher taps a wand or taps a chime, and the students clean up and go to the “Classroom Meeting” area, chatting as they go. This is January, by the way–the glory days of kindergarten. August would look, sound, and smell differently. Anyway, I digress…

The students have made it to the rug, and the teacher leads them in a song or rhyme of greeting, and then it is time to start the Daily News. My routine goes something like this…

Me:  I’m going to start our news the way I always do…with the word good. (Several students have already started to say the word good and make the initial sound for good.)

Student 1: /g/…./g/….You need the letter G. 

Student 2: You need an uppercase G, because you are starting a sentence.

Me: Okay, I’ve got my uppercase G. Now what? (Students begin to make the middle sound in the word good.) What two letters go together to make the /oo/ sound?

Student 3: Two o’s. 

Me: Okay, how do I end the word good? (Students are stretching out the word and isolating the final sound.)

Student 4: With the letter d. Lowercase because you didn’t start the sentence.

And we keep going with the following words and sentences. 

“Good morning! Today is Monday, January 21, 2019. No one is absent.”

We pause on certain words or phrases according to the amount of time, student engagement, and according to the skill that I am really wanting my students to gain for the month (see below).

Once we make it past the section where we report absences, I invite our Helping Hand to share a bit of personal news of their choice. Our Helping Hand is a person chosen systematically to lead the class for the day and generally help us as needed. For a kindergarten student, being the Helping Hand is an important highlight of their month.

We always go back and read the Daily News fluently and expressively. Before reading, I allow my Helping Hand to share some news of their choice to end our writing. I write what they dictate. I’ve heard everything through the years.

I have three dogs and a pig.

My sister is having a birthday.

My brother is going to college today.

My grandma died and I am sad.

We bought a new car yesterday.

I love to eat hamburgers. 

Sam is my cousin and he is spending the night with me.

My kitten ran away.

Being able to share their own experiences and narratives gives students a sense of belonging and the knowledge that their words are important and meant to be shared, even if the words are not always happy or expected. Seeing the words travel from their mind to their lips to the written form on a board lights up so many passages in their brain that point them towards fluent reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

For a teacher who is just beginning an LEA journey, something like the Daily News routine can be overwhelming. I use the following tentative schedule each year, tweaking here and there to fit the needs of my classroom. 

August

In August, my students are just learning how to sit on the rug and attend to the activity at hand. My goal for the Daily News in August is that it becomes an expected part of our classroom routine, and that students begin to realize that written words have meaning. Students who have already been exposed to books and language will begin to notice spaces between words and even punctuation at the end of sentences. It becomes an expectation in our room that the class will actively listen to the ideas of the teacher and students.

September

In September, students begin to supply letters for sounds, as they now realize that every letter makes a sound. They know that when we want to write words, we can write the letters for the sounds we hear. It becomes music to my ears to hear voices start to spontaneously sound out the words that we are writing. Since the first half of our Daily News is so routine, students learn quickly that two o’s make the /oo/ sound and ing goes together to make the /ing/ sound. Students who were previously exposed to letters and sounds before kindergarten being to realize that in many words, two or three letters can be blended to make new sounds. Many students begin to recognize simple sight words within the news as well.

October

In October, the class learns how to use words in our environment to spell many words in our Daily News. Students begin to point out that the correct spelling of their friends’ names can be found on name tags and the Word Wall. They realize that calendar words can be found on our calendar, and also on the Word Wall. They start to point out sight words, color words, and number words in the room; and then I start to see more and more of these words in students’ own writing pieces, whether it is their journals or writing workshop papers. 

November and December

In November, I begin to emphasize the use of punctuation and capitol letters at the beginning of sentences and proper nouns. I gradually begin to let our Helping Hand write a sight word here and/or a letter there. By the time students return from Christmas break, it is my goal that they will be able to write the news on their own, with prompting and support. 

January-May

While students are busily engaged with morning activities, I will call over the Helping Hand and give the level of prompting/support needed for the student to write the Daily News on his own. Some students will need LOTS of help still, and this is okay. Other students will be ready to go! This one-on-one time gives me a good overall assessment of a students’ language skills.

I can’t imagine starting my day without Daily News. Over the years, I’ve learned so much about my students’ language skills through this routine; but just as importantly, through this shared language experience, I’ve learned about their likes and dislikes, their families, and their sweet little hearts.

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A Kindergarten student’s Daily News:”Good morning! Today is Friday, 2014. No one is absent. I like hunting.”

 

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A First Grader’s Daily News: Good morning. Today is Friday, March 24, 2017. Ruby is absent. The other day I had fun at Kite Day. My kite had Optimus Prime on it. My dad bought me a lego set and he put it together and I brought something to school to play with at recess.

If you have a similar LEA in your classroom, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

 

 

 

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A Tree for Zacchaeus

In the city of Jericho, there was a very unliked man. He was unfair, unjust, and….un-tall (okay, that’s not a word…he was short).

His name was Zacchaeus. We find his story in the Bible, in Luke 19.

In the time that the gospel of Luke was written, Israel was under the control of Rome. The Romans imposed heavy taxes upon the nations under their control so that they could financially support their empire. The Jews hated these taxes because they supported a secular government and pagan gods. But, they were required to pay the taxes. Zacchaeus was a tax collector so he was regarded as a “sinner” by the Pharisees. Pretty safe to say he was friend-less.

Enter Jesus Christ, Son of God. The purest, kindest, most honorable Man to walk the earth. A Man from Heaven who was loved and followed by many on earth. Not loved by all, but by many. So many more than Zacchaeus, who was loved by no one.

Jesus was traveling through Jericho, and as was throughout most of His ministry, He was surrounded by a crowd. To the outcasts, the rich, the poor, the sick, the rulers, and the sinners, Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Light. He was a force, drawing in the hearts of any person in His path.

Even Zacchaeus, a greedy outcast. A sinner.

Two interesting things about Zacchaeus here:

1.) He is described as “short in stature” (Luke 19:3).

2.) The name Zacchaeus means pure.

Zacchaeus was a “chief tax collector,” so he was very rich. He could have anything he wanted in material possessions. However, on this day, what he longed for was of a heavenly nature.

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus.

I imagine in the crowd that he was pushed aside, grumbled over, and perhaps stomped on. He strained up on the very tip of his toes, calves burning like fire–for even just a glimpse of Christ would fill him more than the earthly riches  he currently consumed. So, being the resourceful guy that he was, Zacchaeus came up with a solution for his problem.

He climbed a tree. A sycamore tree (and sing it with me–for the Lord he wanted to see!).

flight landscape nature sky

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And Jesus came by, knew exactly where to stop, knew exactly where to look for His beloved brother, ZacchaeusChild of God.

The nerve of that guy, went the whispers. He steals from the poor, gives our money to the pagans, and…and…he just looks ridiculous up there. What a loser!

But Jesus looked him right in the eyes and said loud and clear for all to hear, “Zacchaeus, come down from that tree. I’m going to stay at your house today.”

And do you know what Zacchaeus did??? The Bible says he came down immeditely and with gladness. Leaves floating, dust rising, and bark flying, this rich business man made a hasty exit from just being able to “see” Jesus and embarked into a true relationship with Christ. “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

You know…sycamore trees are noted for their longevity. Some live more than 250 years. Long before Zacchaeus ever needed it, God planted that tree.

He is so Awesome. He is all-knowing. It’s just like God to plan for us, down to the very last detail. It’s what He does. It’s why He is God, and He is in control.

Not only did God plant the tree for Zacchaeus before the tax collector-turned follower ever needed it, but when He formed him in his mother’s womb, He named Zacchaeus for what he would become under the blood of Jesus…pure.

Because he was able to see Jesus and know Him that day, Zacchaeus became a changed man. He gave half of what he had to the poor and paid back those he had cheated their amount by four times. And he followed Jesus.

Think of those around us, friends. The cheaters. The haters. The unfair. The unliked. The unloved. The sinners (much like us). They may not be short in stature, but unless we show them, they cannot see Jesus.

So, long before they ever knew they needed Him, God planted something in their path, so that they may rise up and see Jesus, the Savior.

Maybe He planted you. Could it be that you were planted right where you are today so that you could lift up a Zacchaeus, that he or she may see Jesus? That he or she may know Him as Friend and Savior?

You may lift them up with a kind word or gesture, by including them when no one else will. By showing love. They will recognize a difference in you that is not in the world. Seeds will be planted, watered, and some will be harvested. Souls will be saved by God because someone lifted them up and showed them the way to see Him. Maybe you are that someone. Maybe you are that tree.

Or….maybe you are Zacchaeus. Unloved, unliked, undeserving. You have a Friend. Look for Jesus. Find Him in His Word, the Bible. If you are unsure about finding a Bible or its meanings, look for a tree that He has planted in your path. A person who professes Him as their Savior. A Christ-preaching, Bible-believing, love-giving church family. Look for the trees.

Before you were ever born, He named you. He calls your name now. No matter what you did before, He calls you pure. 

He knows what we need before we’re even aware that we need it. And God provides, just like He did when Jesus walked the earth. He will give you what you need today just like He did for a lonely tax collector 2000 years ago.

He will give a tree for Zacchaeus.

 

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Paperless Post for the Win!

So, my life can get pretty crazy, pretty quickly. Like, instantly. Between a schedule full of sports, two backpacks full of stress, and a family and church life, my days don’t have lots of seconds left for extra things.

Sometimes I’m so busy that it’s hard to hear the Lord’s whisper on my heart–especially when He nudges me to encourage a friend who needs an extra boost.

Send her a card.

Write a note to him.

Let her know that she did a good job.

I let these nudges slip away like raindrops on a leaf, and in a few days, they are forgotten. But my heart remembers the next time I see the person who needed encouragement, and I know that I should have listened to that still, small Voice.

Recently, I discovered a company called Paperless Post. Paperless Post designs customizable, online stationery. Their mission is to show the world that communication can be personal and well-designed, regardless of the medium.

I about to straight-up give them a plug, ya’ll. This website is amazing. Once you are on the Paperless Post site, you can easily purchase “coins” to buy stationary, cards, and invitations within seconds. Then, you can send your customized message online without ever leaving your living room. Or your car, while your kid is at practice.

It’s that easy.

Now, I’m using it to send a card to a friend who is hurting. I’m using it to encourage a friend who just accomplished a big goal. I’ll be using it at Christmas to send my Season’s Greetings!

There’s no limit to what I can find, design, and send to encourage and uplift others with this tool. If you’re interested, go visit https://www.paperlesspost.com and let me know what you think!

 

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Someone Became A Reader Today

Someone became a reader today. On his mother’s lap, with his favorite book. A book whose cover is worn by many bedtime stories and look-throughs. He loves the colors, and he loves the pictures, and he loves the story. He may not know the words yet, but he can look at the picture of the girl and know that she is sad that she lost her dog, like the story says. He can recite the words he’s heard over and over, night after night. He can tell his favorite parts, and he can say what he thinks will happen next. He has connected with the book and the story and the characters, and he wonders if there are any other books about dogs that he could look at. And there was no worksheet, and there was no grade…but today, someone became a reader.

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”– Emilie Buchwald

Someone became a reader today. In her teacher’s classroom, in a cozy nook,  with her “just right” book. A book that she chose because the choice was given. She likes the cover, because the character on the front looks like her and that makes her feel important. She opens the pages and is drawn into a world of fairies and princes and dragons, and she is sad–SAD–when the class has to move on to another activity and she has to close her precious book. “Later,” she thinks. “I can’t wait.” She was given a carefully mapped path by her teacher, she took the steps down that path to choose a book she might like, and she fell in love. And there was no talk of level G or H or N…but today, someone became a reader.

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore, a duty. It should be offered to someone as a gift.” –Kate DiCamillo

Someone became a reader today. At the kidney-shaped red table, with a teacher who has planned and prayed and cried and tried again and again. A teacher who decided that she will not give up on this boy. He waits for his signal to come and sit at the table with the teacher, and he looks forward to it because he knows the teacher loves him. He knows that she is not going to give up on him. So she calls and he comes over, and at some point during the lesson, a light bulb just “goes off,” and he starts putting sounds together, and things just start making sense, and the story comes to life for him. His teacher gets really shiny eyes and claps her hands and cheers for him. He is so excited that he asks to read some more words. And there was  no timer …but today, someone became a reader.

So it is with children who learn to read fluently and well: They begin to take flight into whole new worlds as effortlessly as young birds take to the sky. “–William James

Someone became a reader today. In a library. In a bookstore. A grocery store bookshelf. A thrift store. A yard sale. They pick up book one in a series that has just been waiting for them. “Maybe I’ll read this,” they think absently. But they go home and have a second, so they sit down and open the book. And the rest is history. The characters become real. The pages are flown through, but the reader is sad when the pages are gone. Laughter bubbles over, tears flow freely, and the heart beats fast. Book one turns to book two, then book three, four, and on it goes. And there was no assignment, no test…but someone who always said they don’t like to read became a reader today.

There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book.”–Frank Serafini

You never know when your path will cross with someone who is just waiting to become a reader. You don’t have to be a teacher to inspire a rising reader. Watch for them, offer book ideas and suggestions…because it is never too early or too late for someone to become a reader. It happens every day.

closeup photography of book page folding forming heart

Photo by RAHUL on Pexels.com

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Teaching Kindergarten: 6 Ways To Promote Great Writing

It’s an amazing blessing to have a front row seat to the transformation that takes place in a kindergarten student’s communication skills. Some come to the classroom with very few words in their spoken vocabularies and leave for first grade not only with a wide bank of oral conversation skills, but as writers.

When we are able to unlock the door to writing, we introduce our students to a whole big beautiful world of storytelling, sharing, learning, expressing, and communicating. The possibilities become endless.

“Good morning! Today is Friday, 2014. No one is absent. I like hunting.”

But how do we get our little ones from the preschool babies who walk in our door in August to the authors who leave us in May, ready to take the written world by storm? I’ve had thirteen years to work on this, and I’m still learning every day! After years of trial and error, and more error, and some more trial, I have come up with several routines that to me are “must-haves” in my room in order to promote written communication.  The list is not exhaustive–I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section–but I have found that implementing the following steps make my kindergarten students into writers that I am so proud of.

1. Let Them Talk! And talk some more, and then some more. Letting students talk is a key to oral development, which is the stepping stone to written communication. If young children can’t organize and verbalize their ideas out loud, how can they move on to getting them on paper?

Do you remember being in classrooms when you were young that were so quiet you could hear a pin drop? That’s not how my room sounds. Almost ever. We do have quiet times, and I stress the importance of quietness in certain situations, but I recently took serious consideration of the times that I required quietness in my room and my reasoning for the lack of communication. I found ways in my schedule where I could promote more conversation, and my students’ writing improved because of it. (Read more about promoting oral language in kindergarten here.) Once my students became accustomed to sharing ideas aloud in different school settings, it became natural to get those ideas on paper, and their communication expanded from speaking to drawing to writing symbols and words.

2. Let Them Draw! At the beginning of the year, I provide as many opportunities for my students to practice drawing as I can think of. We draw on whiteboards, magnadoodles, stationary, construction paper, the table (with dry erase markers–hey, it comes off!), in notebooks. I am constantly collecting little tablets of paper, stencils, markers, and pens to use in drawing activities, which eventually become writing activities.

Now, sometimes I do directed art and drawing activities, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. These drawing opportunities are not directed, except for the fact that the students have to draw the entire time that is designated. I always tell them that when they think they are done, they can add more details or more colors to their pictures. I also tell the students to use only one sheet of paper so that they can practice being focused on one “story” in their drawing. Later in the year, when students are writing long stories, I let them use as much paper as they need, but in the beginning we limit our drawing to one page in order to build discipline and organization to our ideas.

So when do we have time to “just draw” in our day? I have made several drawing stops in my schedule that eventually turn into writing stops. Here they are:

  • Morning Activities- After unpacking, students can draw in their journals or on special paper. At the beginning of the year, I specify the type of paper and provide special drawing tools like glitter pens, markers, etc. for students to use in enhancing their pictures.
  • Literacy Stations- One of our literacy stations is called “Work on Writing”, and at the beginning of the year, we simply draw during this station. This is a favorite for all students, and they especially enjoy sharing their drawing stories, which is an essential step to “writing more”, as I will point out later!:)
  • Math Stations- Students love to draw the things they have created at block stations, the puzzles they have completed, and the colors and shapes that they have sorted.
  • Science Reflections- We draw our predictions and conclusions several times weekly for a number of science experiments. Note: This is an exception to the “non-directed” drawing, as I do provide a prompt for the drawing.
  • Social Stations- In my class, when we do Social Stations–some call these Fun Stations or Play Stations–drawing is always a choice. It never grows old! By providing new and fun drawing tools throughout the year, students never get tired of the opportunity to draw.

It makes me so happy to see students in kindergarten progress beyond pages full of scribbles to pictures with details, with structures, with organization. Pictures that tell a story. Pictures that are waiting on words!

This is a drawing from August. You can clearly see two friends. The author added details like a sun and grass. This is a drawing from August. You can clearly see two friends. The author added details like a sun and sky.

3. Let Them Write! Okay, there’s no magic date that we change over from drawing pictures to writing words in my classroom. Sometime in September though, I gather everyone around on the rug and do one of the most important lessons of the year. It’s the “Let’s Add Words” lesson! I very excitedly point out that we have been drawing some marvelous stories with lots of details and colors, and now that we are learning our letters, I think we should add some words to our stories. I tell my students that from now on, I’d like for them to add words to all of their pictures that they draw. At first, they may only want to write one word on their story, or a few labels. We have several lessons where we learn what labels are and then the kids go on a labeling spree for about three weeks in which they want to label their entire world…it happens every year! Then one word gradually turns into a few words, and then a sentence. Eventually, with some listening and prompting, a sentence turns into two sentences, and then a paragraph, and then a story. And I am always overwhelmed and amazed by the ingenuity and creativeness that grows before my eyes.

IMG_3563 “I see a rainbow. It has colors.”

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4. Model, Model, Model. So, kindergarten teachers actually have two jobs. We are not only teachers–we are supermodels! One of the best ways to teach students to do what we want them to do is to show them by modeling. When I start a writing lesson with my students, before I send them off to their spots for writing, I model my own thinking and writing. Take the lesson mentioned above, for example. Once I’ve told students that we are going to start adding words to our story drawings, I model. I go to my big board or big paper and model my drawing first. By this point in the year, students are used to my modeling and they eagerly watch and add tips and pointers to my drawing, like “Add more colors!” or “You need to put some grass on the ground…and a cloud in the sky! Maybe you could draw a leash from your hand to the dog.” When the picture is complete, I show them how I would add some words. This may seem like an oversimplification, but I have learned from experience that the more I model, the more they write. So I go through the process of thinking aloud. “Let’s see…what words could I write about my drawing? What’s happening in the picture? Oh, right. I’m walking my dog outside. Hey! I could write that!  I…aaammm(that’s me sounding out the word ‘am’)…wolkeeng….my…dog.” As I model, I spell the words the way they sound. This helps the student who is a perfectionist and only wants to write words that he/she can spell. When they realize that I am giving them permission to spell the words as they sound, they seem to relax and write more freely. I always take my writing down when I send the students to their chairs to do their own writing. They may use my modeled idea for their own story, but I want them to use their own words.

As the year goes on, I let students model by sharing their work with partners, small groups, or the whole group. This provides extra motivation and inspiration and seems to give students the extra boost to write more.

IMG_3562 “I like the fire station. It is going to be fun. We are going at 9:00.”

5. Listen To Them. This was a skill that took years to cultivate. I still strive to be a better listener to my children. The more I know them and their interests, and the more that I listen to them, the easier it becomes to help them get started with ideas for writing. It gets easier to encourage them to write more once they get started.

Once I’ve sent students to their writing spots to draw or write stories, I circulate the room and conference with students individually. Sometimes conferencing simply involves me listening to the student’s ideas for their story and giving them the thumbs-up they are looking for. Other times, conferencing is a quick answer to a question. “What two letters make the /sh/ sound? Does ‘kitten’ start with a c or k?”

But sometimes conferencing involves some very close listening on my part. When a student just has a few hastily marked items on their sheet of paper and they don’t know where to go to form a story, when a student wants to draw a flower and label it for the sixth day in a row, or when a student is seriously struggling with getting their thoughts from their head to the paper at all, they need a conference to get started. Then, conferencing requires me to listen, encourage, and give direction. “Hey, I’ve noticed you’ve drawn a flower every day this week. Let’s do a different story. Hmmm. What did you do last night at home? You played with your sister? Was it fun? It was?!? You should write about that! Let’s see…so you played with your sister. Maybe you should start there? Okay, let’s go…I plaayyyeedd…” And we go from there.

There will always be a student who needs the teacher to get him or her started from square one. I have found that conferencing is the key to this. Conferencing and listening help me to know so much about the child’s abilities and interests. This is an invaluable tool for teachers and students alike.

FullSizeRender (6) “My favorite thing to eat is pizza. My favorite flavor is cheese because it is good at the pizza store and it is hot and ready.”

6. Make It Fun! There are things you can do to spruce up writing opportunities throughout the year. Novelty items like special paper, notebooks, pens, markers, stencils, stickers, desks, and envelopes just make writing more fun and exciting. Involving writing in different tasks like block-building, art, experiments, and even the Home Living station can invigorate students’ creative juices as well (for more on writing in the Home Living station, click here). Finally, making a big deal of publishing students’ writing is a huge motivation factor. I like to have a Writer’s Corner or some type of special display for students to showcase their favorite pieces. I also include special sharing times in my daily schedule when students can share their stories with peers.

This lap desk can be used anywhere in the room. Students love using it in a quiet corner to compose their stories. I fill the sides with markers, pens, and crayons! This lap desk can be used anywhere in the room. Students love using it in a quiet corner to compose their stories. I fill the sides with markers, pens, and crayons!

I’m sure there are so many more ideas to help our students become writers in kindergarten. For me, the ones above have been fool-proof, child-proof, and crazy day-proof. These routines have been imbedded into our days at school, and as a result, I have seen growth in my little writers that astounds me and humbles me all at once. I am glad to have played even a small part in facilitating what I pray will be a lifelong love of writing and learning for my students.

morning station blog pictures 009

What about you? What has worked in your classroom or home for promoting writing with your little ones?

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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!

ao                              ao2

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