The Little Things

Five-year-olds can teach us so many lessons!

My students constantly inspire me with their love for little things. My classroom has tubs upon tubs that are full of tiny manipulatives, and a favorite activity for the whole class is “tub time,” where, if we are done with other jobs for the day, each student gets to pick a tub to have all to himself or herself, even if it’s just for five minutes. The students will choose from small people, cars, dinosaurs, blocks, textured materials, animals, and the list goes on. Some students like to sort their little things, some make patterns, and others compose addition/subtraction stories. Still others like to have dramatic play with the tiny things in their boxes, creating a whole story of their own.

Tiny manipulatives aren’t the only little things that can bring instantaneous joy to my kindergarten students, though. Any small thing can brighten their day if it is presented to them in the right way. 

After lunch every day, we have a “dessert” of one tiny chocolate chip. Just one tiny chocolate chip from the baking ailse. The students eagerly hold their hands out and their eyes light up as I give them one tiny chocolate chip each. They savor each morsel. One time, I ran out of chocolate chips and instead of buying new ones, I brought in a bag of mini marshmallows. When it came time for “dessert,” I told the kids that I had a surprise for them and pulled out the marshmellaws with a flourish. I was met with gasps and cheers and excitment, and my heart just swelled at their joy that they are so willing to give!

One time at Christmas, a sweet student had left her nap mat on the bus. Our PE teacher brought it down to our room and instead of just walking in and handing it to the student, she said, “Special delivery from the North Pole!” The kids all gazed in wide-eyed wonder as the owner of the mat jumped up and said, “Oh my gosh. I cannot believe this. Thank you!!!!!” It made their day, which made my day. Just a few simple words. Little things, really.

One day, we were learning about clouds and I decided to haul out some cotton balls so that students could create clouds of their own. One sweet boy said that he’d “never forget this day as long as he lived.”

I have a student who is known for saying that each day is “the best day of her life,” because she can find wonder if every tiny peice of something. On rainy days, if we glimpse a break in the clouds and “sneak” outside for a few minutes, she always celebrates. On special days like the 100th day of school or Valentines Day, she is over the moon with excitement. She exclaims over her friends’ accomplishments, especially the little milestones that have such a big impact. She allows the little things to make her day full of joy!

Those sweet kiddos, they can teach us so many things. They love every little thing, they celebrate the little things, and they acknowledge the little things. And by the end of the day, all the little things become one big thing…a great day that they don’t forget. Teachers and adults alike, we have the power to change the lives around us.

All because of the little things.

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Be the Hummingbird

Several weeks ago, I heard our Associate Pastor Jacob Elliott speak on having a mindset that doesn’t conform to this world. During his lesson, he spoke about two kinds of birds: vultures and hummingbirds.

He pointed out that vultures continuously search for things that are dead and decaying to feed on. They get their life from rotten things. They circle and hover until they can feast on the worst, and then they go and search for more decay.

Hummingbirds are different. They spend their life looking for sweet things. They hover over flowers and colorful feeders, waiting to get a sip of nectar. They are energized from this, and then they zoom away to find more sweet things.

I remember the conviction on his face and in his words as he urged us all to be like the hummingbirds. I tucked this away in the “school” section of my brain.

School is so much of my life, but this mindset applies to everything we do! In schools, workplaces, even churches everywhere, we will run into both vultures and hummingbirds. Our own minds can be a tug-of-war between the two.

While “vulture” might seem to be a rather harsh word for some, the term does describe some who are constantly negative, always looking for something to call rotten, always seeking out the bad things, and worse, once they’ve had their fill, leaving those things for dead, a lost cause.

On the other hand, I’m sure you can picture a “hummingbird” in your life right now. You see their face, their smile, and you hear their encouragement. They make it their life’s goal to find the sweet things in almost any situation. And while I’m not so optimistic that I think bad things can’t happen and shouldn’t be addressed, I do hold to the belief that “God is working all things together for our good, according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

We’re living in some crazy days right now, my friends. There is this tiny virus that is affecting the entire world’s health, economy, and way of life. I can face the truth of that. In fact, I can think about it so much that I can pick apart every news story and social media post like a vulture, looking for every bit of destruction to feed on for the coming days, until I see another news story with more death and destruction.

Or, I can be like the hummingbird. I can find some sweet bits of life here and there that grow into nourishment for my heart and soul. I think I’ll make a list right now of some of just some of the nectar that I’ve found so far…

–Many of us have spent more time in conversation with the Lord; being still, listening to His still, small voice. 

 –Yesterday, my church posted it’s first Youtube service, possibly reaching more people across the community, state, and world than we’ve ever had the capability to before! Churches EVERYWHERE went online and continued assembling together in a virtual sense.

–Families have spent time together, had meals together, and had conversations. I have spent more face-to-face time with my sons and husband in the last week than I have in a looooonnnnggg time. And I have loved it!

–Teachers’ hearts have broken and grown even bigger for their profession. I have really started to re-think how children learn, and while I will always appreciate structure and routine, I see that my own kids learn differently at different times that are –surprise!–not regular school hours! I will be changed as a teacher, for sure. I miss my students more than I thought possible, and when I get to step foot back into that classroom, my heart will overflow with joy.

–I have spent more time outside in my own yard than I did in any of the last four springs. My friends have, too. I’ve seen pictures of sunrises, nature trails, new blooms, and glorious sunsets.

–Social media has become more social, but more hopeful. Across my newsfeed, I’ve seen messages of hope, scripture promises of strength and endurance, and songs of praise and adoration to the God who works all things for our good. I’m sure if I was in a vulturous state of mind, I could quickly find some rotten things, but I’ve noticed a sweeter trend for sure.

–We’ve looked closely at the things that we used to take for granted, and we’ve started to count our many blessings and truly see what the Lord has done.

What am I leaving out? What sweet things have you found in the past few days that have energized you for the days ahead? I’m urging you to be like the hummingbird. Find your strength in the good that God has placed before you, and you will find LIFE!

brown hummingbird selective focus photography

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Granny’s Tulips

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”                                                                                                                                    Hebrews 11:1

 

Last fall, my Granny pointed out her window and said, “I’ve been planting tulilps all day.” Now, I don’t have her green thumb, but I know enough about plants to know that her tulips come from bulbs. I looked out and saw…nothing. Nothing except for a small bit of evidence that the soil had been shifted around.

“And they’ll come up…when will they come up again?” I asked her.

“Oh, they’ll come up in the Spring. They better, after all that work I did!” she exclaimed.

All winter long, Granny has waited expectantly for her tulips to arrive above-ground. This has been an exceptionally wet winter, with days upon days of rain. Some days, when the gloom just fell down like a blanket, she’d sigh and say, “I’ll be glad when my tulips come up.”

She never even considered that they might not bloom. She KNEW they’d come up. She KNEW that what she planted in the fall would come to pass, even though she couldn’t see the growing, the moving, the changing underground. She never dug up the bulbs to see if they were doing what she knew they should be doing. She had faith that what she couldn’t see was what was happening.

We live right beside my grandmother. For the past week, she has told me to come down and look at her tulips. They are glorious! Today, I snapped some pictures of the product of her hard work and faith.

It gave me pause.

This week, I have grieved over my empty classroom and the empty church building. I have missed my kindergarten friends more than I thought I could, and I have cried over thoughts of a sanctuary on Sunday morning with no singing, no rustling of the pages of scripture, and no precious times with a church family that I love.

But this is our time to take what has been planted in us,  and use it to push forward! To change, to transform into a more Christ-centered, prayer-focused people. This is our time to appreciate what we never knew we had. To plan on how we can be better stewards of what we still have, even if we can’t get to it for a temporary time.

And this situation, it is temporary.

And when it is over, can you imagine how many teachers will be just a little bit softer towards the hearts of their students, their voices a little more gentle, their hearts a little more understanding? Can you imagine how many classrooms will be filled with joyful laughter, celebration of just being together, and  happy welcome-back hugs? How many jobs will be filled with purpose for the task at hand?

And just imagine with me…on that first Sunday back in the Lord’s house, together again with our families, the joy in the hearts and on the faces of our loved ones, the singing that comes from a soul rejoicing, the voices lifted in praise to the One who brought us through this hard winter of the uncertainty of an illness…I can’t wait.

It may be in April, May, or even next fall.

I don’t know when the time will be. I don’t want to rush this time, as much as I miss my school babies and my church family. It is a necessary time.

As hard as it can be, I hope that we all cherish this time and praise the Gardener for the planting, the changing, and the growing within us.

Because when we push through the surface, it will be a glorious and beautiful time.

Just like Granny’s tulips.

 

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Leaning

“What have I to dread, what have I to fear, leaning on the everlasting arms? I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, leaning on the everlasting arms. Leaning, leaning, safe a secure from all alarm. Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms!”

I will admit, worry is always a struggle for me. It follows me around like a shadow, step-by-step sometimes, until I give God control of my fears. The problem is, once I give Him my fears, I’m bad about keeping a string around them, one I can yank back towards me whenever I want to.

In the times that we are in right now, I have found that God’s Word, communication with Him, and singing praises to Him are what light up the shadows of my fears the most and chase them back into the darkness.

Just this morning, my daily devotion came from Psalm 46:1. “God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is found in times of trouble.”

Yesterday, during my prayer time, I was drawn to the sound of the birds singing, and I felt like the Lord was saying to me, They’re not worried. They’re praising the Creator. You are worth more than the birds. Why do you worry?

And this weekend, at a women’s retreat with ladies from my church, we sang the old hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.”

The words have come back to me time and time again. If I’m truly leaning on Him, I am safe and secure from any kind of alarm. What kind of things do I have to dread? Why do I insist on carrying burdens that weren’t made for me to bear?

His arms are strong enough to carry the world when our strength is gone. His arms are steady enough to hold us when things that we thought were un-breakable crumble at our feet. His hands are gentle enough to calm us when the suffering around us threatens to shake our very souls.

He is enough.

He has always been enough.

He always will be enough.

I heard the verse this weekend, over and over, “Be still and know that I am God.” I have always cherished that verse and clung to it, and this morning, while reading Psalm 46:1, I continued on and found that my “Be still” verse was in the same chapter of Psalms, in verse 10. I heard the Lord loud and clear.

I will give Him my worry and lean a little closer to Him and be still. Once we are so still, and listening carefully, we can hear His heartbeat, which always beats for His children, calling us to come and cast our cares away.

What a different time we are living in today, but what a special time we are living in. We have been granted this moment to be still, and lean on the One who cares for us more than anything else in this world.

closeup photography of book page folding forming heart

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Our Day

We had a good day yesterday! It was easy and fun, and we talked a LOT together. We decided to tweak just a few things, and I’m sure we’ll change something little every day to work for us, but here’s how it went down…

8:30 ish (or when we all get awake–there is only one morning person among us, and it is not me)- Fire up the ol’ Toshiba laptop…it takes awhile to come on. Meanwhile, we eat breakfast and talk about today’s date. What famous things happened on this day in history? What holidays are this month? Remember, I’m a kindergarten teacher and I can’t let go of calendar time. I’m glad for these chats, because my very smart middle school boys needed to polish their calendar skills, even simple trivia like how many weeks are in a year, what day of the year is this if we count in order, what effects does Leap Year have on the next month, etc.

After Breakfast- in class, I always read a story to my kids after calendar time. At home, I read from a devotion book for teen boys that the boys’ Papa gave to them last year. We also read aloud from one hymn a day. The old hymns are very lyrical and introduce my boys to some new vocabulary words while also promoting fluency in reading.

Reading Stations- We do four “stations,” just like my super-smart kindergartners.

1. We do Read to Self, where the boys read a book of their choice to themselves for 20 minutes. For younger kids, I’d suggest 15 or 10 minutes. Right now, one boy is reading an I Survived  chapter book and the other is reading The Hunger Games. I also grab a book for Read to Self, and we all find a comfy spot on the couch or chairs to read.

2. We do Work on Writing, where the boys and I write for 20 minutes. This is where I blog (I won’t finish this post before Work on Writing is over–it will post later today) and the boys write on a topic of their choice. I thought they would buck me here, but it is so silent while they are writing. This has been my biggest and most pleasant surprise so far. They love being able to write! I have never thought to ask their teachers if they are so enthusiastic about writing at school.

3. We learn with technology for 20 minutes. A GREAT site for this right now is Moby Max, which is free for a limited time due to our very special circumstances across the nation. Moby Max has a “teacher”, albeit a somewhat creepy-robot-voice teacher at times, that actually goes over specific skills for reading and math. Since these are our Reading Stations, the boys work on reading skills. Once a child gets into Moby Max, I’d suggest either taking the placement test and going from there, or working on sight words, vocabulary, or fluency skills, depending on age. My kindergartners work on letter naming, letter sounds, and sight words at school. 🙂

4. We do the Teacher Station. At school, this is called the Mrs. Givens station, but at home, I just sit down with the boys and monitor/guide them as they work through an i-Ready Student At Home Activity Packet for reading.

*Reading Stations takes us about an hour to an hour and twenty minutes to complete. It’s not over in a flash. Yes, I’m aware that it sounds very school-ish, but I am a public school teacher, and I do like to work on grade-specific skills per the Alabama State Course of Study, which you can find here:  https://www.alex.state.al.us/browseStand.php . I will work on these skills whether we are required to or not, because it is what I do! Also, my boys like it so far. I will admit that I thrive on structure, and at home I am realizing that it is okay to be a little un-structured. For instance, today I let the boys do Reading Stations in any order that they wanted to, lol! We also took a very extended recess outside, and just picked up where we left off when we returned.

I read to them again. After reading stations, I read again to my boys. Yes, you read that correctly, I read aloud to my middle school kids, just like I would to my kindergartners. We pick a chapter book together, and I read a chapter a day. We’ve done this for years right before bed, and we decided to stick in our day right here. Your kids are never too old to hear fluent reading, and it’s even better if they hear it in a genre that they normally wouldn’t pick for themselves. They are introduced to a world of characters and places.

RECESS- How fun is this? At school, we are limited due to having so many minutes per day and so many children waiting for their turn on the playground, so our recess is only 15 minutes. At home, we are unlimited! Our time is unlimited! I’ve been so glad for pretty days that we can all get outside and take a walk, play with the dogs, look at the cows, and enjoy the fresh air.

Music- At school, my class has a time of music and singing right before lunch. We watch videos from The Singing Walrus and Super Simple Songs that correspond with current holidays and themes. At home, one boy practices piano and the other beats on the–I mean practices–the drums.

Lunch

Trivia Time- for my tiny kindergartners at school, we so love this time right after lunch (that doesn’t actually include trivia). At school, I read a chapter from Junie B. Jones and her latest adventures. At home, given my boys have a love for trivia, that is what we do for a few minutes to transition back into a learning mindset. We are currently using a Bible trivia book, but there are many resources online for trivia!

Number Talk- For very young children, this can simply include counting to 100 from any given number, counting collections of things and discussing how the child counted, counting by tens, fives, etc. Yesterday my boys and I revisited what a prime number is and visited Khan Academy to sharpen our skills with prime numbers.

Independent Math Work- for about 20 minutes, one boy works on i-Ready grade-level math work while the other one works on Moby Max math fluency. Remember, Moby Max is currently free and is very good for taking your child at his/her current level of learning and moving forward from there.  After 20 minutes, the boys swap.

Science Experiment- This week we did an experiment with an egg that I found here. We are watching it and recording our observations daily.

Social Studies- Yesterday, we talked about St. Patrick’s day, and today we discussed Ireland, their government, economy, etc. We will also look to see how society is being affected by the current global situation.

Pebblego is a great resource for ideas for social studies and science.

PE- back outside! Running, basketball, football…I don’t have to encourage them much to get out and get active!

Read or Rest-So, my kindergarten friends always rest after PE, and I have told the boys they can read or rest quietly for a few minutes. Yesterday one looked at his baseball cards while the other built with legos. I was the only one who read! Haha! Maybe this time is really for Mama!

Snack- Who am I kidding? They’ve been eating the whole time!

Jobs- my school kiddos love to have a job at school. My boys are less-than-excited to do chores, but chores must be done, and this is when we are doing them. So that’s that.

Afternoon Meeting-  I was a little unsure about this part. At school, we talk about our day and what we loved about the day, what we will do tomorrow. So yesterday, the boys and I had a quick discussion about the day, and they said today they might want to “get all the school done early and play the rest of the day.” However, our plans changed this morning with a quick trip up to the church gym (which was empty…we are following the social distancing rules, don’t worry!), and we all learned that flexibility is a great aspect of learning at home. The seventh grader said he loved the afternoon meeting most of all, and my heart grew and swelled a bit bigger, and then he said he loved it because it meant that now he could go play Madden, but you know, whatever. I still know he had a good time, and that he spent a lot of it with me. 🙂

 

*So that’s a lot of words to explain our day, but that’s what our day’s framework will look like for now. It’s two days tested at home, and 15 years tested at school, and it’s never failed me yet. What are you doing to keep a routine at home? I’d love to know!

By the way, the first thing I noticed this morning when I woke up were the birds singing outside. I immediately thought of this  passage, found in Matthew 6:26-27. Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” 

They were singing without a care in the world. You are worth so much more than a bird, my friend. Sing loud, and cast your cares on the One who cares for you more than He cares for the birds.

beautiful bird bloom blossom

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All Things Work Together

Well, it seems that I have a little extra time on my hands…so I write!

I felt a lot of things yesterday when I looked around my classroom one last time before turning off the lights and locking the door.

I was sad. Sad that I won’t get to see my kids for three weeks–we’re a family, you know. Sad that I won’t be back in my home-away-from-home. I was uncertain. Wondering what kind of days were before the boys and myself as we tried our best to stay at home, away from crowds of people. I was contemplative. Already thinking up some kind of plan to keep doing some kind of school routine with the boys at home, because, you know, some teachers never stop…

I had just sent my classroom parents a schedule of what our school day looks like and how they can make their home day look similar if they wanted to. I thought to myself, You can do that with the boys.

Hmmm. My kindergarten schedule? With the boys, who are in 7th grade and 5th grade? They’d never go for that.

But my boys surprise me sometimes. I pitched the idea to them like this: “Hey guys, I worked on a schedule for some students and parents who wanted a daily routine while we were out.” A little chuckle from me, trying to seem nonchalant. “I thought, we could do it at home, and we could just insert your grade level into some of it, and you could do my kindergarten day with me and we could make it fifth grade and we could make it seventh grade and some of it might seem funny and some of it might seem–”

“Yeah! Let’s do that!” they said. Quickly.

“I think that’d be fun,” the seventh grader said.

“We’d get to talk a lot to you,” said the fifth grader.

My heart broke and grew at the same time. Since when did my boys think we don’t get to talk much at home? When did I become unavailable? I thought they were the ones who’d become unavailable?!?

So, here we are. They are currently in Reading Stations, which my kindergartners love. And I love. And–surprise–fifth and seventh grade boys love. I’m not jumping the gun here. I know this is day one. I know that tomorrow Fortnite could be calling their name and Facebook could be calling mine, and I don’t say that second part with pride.

But here we are. Working on Writing. To my kindergarten friends out there, my boys are loving Work on Writing as much as you do. I used your stories to inspire these boys to write today. The seventh grader said he wrote “like, a moral story.” The fifth grade wrote a piece titled “My Journey to a Rock.” He says it has a tiny bit of violence in it. Say what?

And I wrote this.

With my boys. We wrote together. My writing heart is happy, my teacher heart is ecstatic, but my mother heart is full. Completely, and utterly full.

All things DO work together for our good.

Tomorrow during Work on Writing, I just might share our schedule with you and let you know what worked and what didn’t!

boys 2020

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It Has Passed, But It’s Not Over

It makes me a little sad.

Packing it all away, putting up the decorations for another year. Sometimes I feel like I’m putting up Christmas for the year.

In Luke, we see that after the Savior’s birth, after the star, after the shepherds, the wise men, the gifts, “Mary treasured these things in her heart, and thought about them often.” 2:19 NLT

It wasn’t over, even though the events had passed by. I imagine she pondered the miracles of His birth and the tiny tender moments as her boy grew and taught, performed miracles, and yes, even when He died a terrible death.

When others saw hands that healed, she remembered little fingers that grasped her hair as she rocked Him to sleep.

When others heard a voice that brought the dead to life again, she heard the little-boy laugh of her son as He learned how to hammer and build from Joseph.

When others mocked Him as He cried out on the cross, don’t you just know that she remembered His cries in that manger?

I’m sure she also remembered and held on tightly to her words, spoken to an angel over thirty years ago, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be as you have said.”

Often in our lives, things happen that have a lasting impact on us. Impactful things. Both good and bad; big and little. Our Father told us that He will work everything for our good, for our hope. Even bad moments can eventually transform into treasures with the grace of God.

Christmas for this year has come and gone. 2019 is almost be a year of the past, but the treasures of the year will not be over. You can store them up in your heart like Mary, and pull them out to comfort you, to celebrate with you, to spur you on—whenever and however you need them the most.

If He did it for Mary, He’ll do it for you. ❤️

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