Kindness Gift Shop

I was not on board at first.

I didn’t say that out loud, I kept that to myself. But I was less than enthusiastic. It was tough to get my head around the logistics and the point of the whole thing.

However, it wasn’t my vision and I wasn’t about to squash someone else’s big idea. So I got on board, albeit reluctantly.

The “it” was a gift shop for students to purchase items for someone they love. They paid for the gift using a Kindness Ticket they had earned by doing something nice for others. The store would be stocked with gently used items from staff and community.

We had close to 500 students. That’s a lot of items to collect. A lot of kindness tickets to distribute, a lot gifts to wrap which requires a lot of manpower.

Not my vision, not my idea to squash.

So I asked friends for donations and scoured our home for items that might be suitable. And it started to come together. A former office was converted into a shop and the gifts began to pour in.

Another concern I had was over how the students would feel about choosing a second-hand item instead of something new. Many of our kids live close to the poverty line and I was worried about their dignity. Again, I trusted those who were leading the project and kept my doubts to myself. I started catching my students doing things for others and handed out our Kindness Tickets.

Remember the manpower issue? Not an issue. Retired teachers and university volunteers along with community members manned the store and it was up and running. Any doubt I had that this might not work were swept away when my first student was invited to go shopping. The pride in earning a ticket was overshadowed by the absolute joy they had upon their return to our classroom with a carefully wrapped gift in hand.

Some students announced what they had bought and who it was for while others decided to keep it a secret. The care and thought that went into each purchase was staggering. The supportive excitement they had for each other’s selections was unexpected. They even scouted out possible gifts for their friends to select: “I saw a purse that would be perfect for your grandma!”

The Kindness Gift Shop was a success.

The next year it was decided to do it again. Would we have enough items a second year? Would the novelty have worn off? Would people be willing to volunteer again.

Yes. Donations rolled in. My own parents contributed rolls of wrapping paper along with gift items. The timing of their downsizing move to a condo was ideal. I brought a trunk full of supplies from a town two hours away because I matter to my family and so my school matters to them.

We are a few years in now and this November when I announced to my class that the Kindness Gift Shop would be happening it was met unanimously with cheers followed quickly by outbursts of their plans.

“Last year I got a gift for my mom so this year I’m getting something for my baby sister.”

“I’m getting something for my grandma this year!”

“I can’t wait to get something for pops. I don’t have any money, but he deserves something special.”

New and returning volunteers signed up to help. Wrapping supplies were restocked and new Kindness Tickets were distributed.

As the week of the shop opening approached one student asked me if everyone had earned their ticket yet. I explained that while we have a kind group, a few still needed to be recognized. That’s when my heart grew three sizes.

“Has Josh* received one yet? Because I saw him helping Amina with her math and he deserves one.”

“What about Ryan? He always lets us use his smelly markers.”

“Asia needs her ticket because she invites anyone to join her games at break.”

“I notice that Daniel always looks out for Chris and they have become really good friends.”

“Can we tell you about kids from other classes that have been kind?”

This went on for ten minutes or more. They stopped asking if their classmates had gotten their tickets and just kept sharing all the positive things they noticed about each other. Kids who sometimes went under the radar heard how they were seen by their peers and they sat a bit taller. Students would nod and murmur their agreement about the kind attributes others mentioned. This was a turning point in our classroom community and for me. It’s nice to be noticed by your teacher, but it’s powerful to be recognized by your classmates.

It’s not easy to change or try new things. We are creatures of habit and seek comfort in the predictable. I’m grateful for those who took a risk and thought big. I’m grateful to work with educators who take chances and make a difference. I’m grateful to be part of a community who seeks to care for students they might never meet.

When someone thinks big, support them.

And maybe tell your doubts to just pipe down.

Kindergarten in Review

It has been my privilege to spend another school year in kindergarten. Teaching, that is. As our staff wraps up another busy year we are gathering reflections, quotes, and other magical moments that have made these past nine months memorable. I was digging through old tweets and posts and was struck by the ridiculous, hilarious and disgusting things that happen on any given day in kindergarten.

Obviously, I had to share.

Kindergarten Convos

Kindie: “Is this ‘O Canada’?”
Me: “No, Elton John.”

Me: “Did you flush?”
Kindie: “No, you gotta see it.”

Kindie: “My letter jar is at home.”
Me: “Oh, will you fill it with your mom and bring it back?”
Kindie: “No, she won’t fit inside.”

Me: “Friends, we don’t put play-doh in our ear.”
Kindie: “It’s not play-doh, it’s paper.”

Me: “I like your shirt – do you know where you bought it?”
Kindie: “Where?”
Me: “I’m asking you.”
Kindie: “Yup.”

Kindie: “Guess what!”
Me: “What?”
Kindie: “Sometimes my dad takes his phone with him into the bathroom.”

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“J is for Happy Pumpkin!”

In the computer lab…
Me: “Would you like to go to starfall or tvokids?”
Kindie: “Batman.”

Me: “Stop pushing.”
Kindie: “You look beautiful.”
Me: “Carry on.”

Kindie: “Why is he wearing lipstick?”
Teacher: “He’s not, he licked the metal window ledge. It’s blood.”

Me: “What do you notice about the parachute?”
Kindie:”My headband is purple.”

Me: “I smell something pretty stinky in here.”
Kindie: “Maybe someone was smoking.”

Me: “No one is more important just because they get to the library first.”
Kindie: “Except Jesus.”
Me: “Alright. Except Jesus.”

Kindie: “My back has these sharp things.”
Me: “Yes, that’s your spine.”

Kindie: “It smells good in here.”
Me: “It must be me.”
Kindie: “No.”

Me: “Did you just eat a really red snack?”
Kindie: “No.”
Me: “Did you get some new red lipstick?”
(pause)
(longer pause)
Kindie: “Yes.”

Kindie: “We made a pretend TV at the blocks and she keeps turning it off!”
Me: “Couldn’t you just pretend it’s still on?”

Me: “Why do you think there is a Skyjack at school today?”
Kindie: “We don’t hit… or kick.”

Kindie: “He spit at me”
Me: “What happened right before that?”
Kindie: “I came and told you about it.”
(Lesson on sequencing of events followed)

Me (during story): “What do you think Rabbit is planning?”
Kindie: “My toes keep growing bigger.”

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“It’s a snail family!”

Me: “Friends, what special day is Sunday?”
Kindie 1: “Swimming lessons!”
Kindie 2: “No school!”
Kindie 3: “Church!”
Kindie 4: “Thanksmothers Day!”

Teacher: “What rhymes with cat?”
Kindie: “I know! Shat!”

(Recruited the help of a classmate to help communicate with a new kindie)
Me: “How do you say ‘cow’ in Arabic?”
Student: “Cow in Arabic.”

(During a lesson on Canadian coins)
Me: “Who is that person whose face is on every coin?”
Kindie: “Jesus.”

 

Life Lessons From The Young

“Sometimes I miss my mom but then I just suck it up. Like a buttercup.”

“If you get flushed down a toilet you won’t come out.”

“I took ten dollars from my brother, but it’s okay because I said ‘April Fools!'”

“Maybe those tadpoles are just sleeping…or having a Code Red.”

“Yeah, God wears underwear.”

“You can live without a head, my dad said so.”

“I eat Ontarios for breakfast.”

Yes, I Said That

“You’re either are an elf OR Rudolph, but not both. Make a choice.”

“Put your book in your backpack, then I’ll watch you whip and nae nae.”

You’re still the line leader even if you don’t say it ten times.”

“We glue paper, not friends.”

“We don’t use the salad tongs on our friend’s eyeball.”

“There’s no teeth involved in kissing.”

“Maybe you could have warned me you had licked your necklace before you asked for help putting it on.”

How about next time you let that fart cloud dissipate a bit before calling me over for help?”

“Whose kitten and hamburger picture is this?”

“Putting marbles on your eyeballs is not a learning centre.”

“Help tidy up, it’s what dead Fishy would want.”

________

Is Kindergarten the most magical place on earth? Possibly. It has its ups and downs and can leave you exhausted. But only in kindergarten will a five-year-old slide you a note and tell you it says “I am leaving early today for a meeting with my investors.”

 

 

 

 

Sparkly Mittens

“My hands are cold,” my young friend informed me. This little student had not dressed for the cold snap we were experiencing and her hands were raw and stiff from the freezing temperatures. The mittens she had been wearing were thin and soaked through from playing in the snow.

After double-checking for spare mittens in her backpack and the bin in the hall where extras are stored, we headed to my stash. Friends had kindly donated new hats and mittens for our school community. There was one pair of mittens left after winter had depleted my supplies.

“Well, look at that!” I told her, “purple mittens that are just your size and they even match your boots. Will you wear these if I give them to you?” She quietly nodded and her eyes lit up.

“I don’t have sparkly mitts,” she told me. She watched as I unhooked the pair and then began to snip off the tags. “Why are you doing that? Why do they have those?” she asked.

“These are brand new so I need to take the tags off from the store.”

Again, those big brown eyes looked up at me and she said with surprise, “Why would you have mittens for me?”

Why do we have mittens? For the same reasons we have extra snow pants, boots, shoes, jackets, and underwear. We have them because we know that life is not always easy or fair or simple. Finances are tight, families are stressed, jobs are hard to find. Sometimes grown-ups are dealing with their own messes and challenges. They are trying their best, but even the small things in life are too much some days.

Why do we have mittens? The same reasons we have a snack program to make sure hungry kids are fed and ready to learn. Because you should not need to worry about having enough food, enough warm clothes, or boots that do not leak. You are kids.

She is too little to understand the impact her question had on me or the many layers my answer contained.

“I have mittens because I care about my kindergarten friends,” I told her. And with that she shrugged and toddled back outside to play. Ready to be carefree again and play with her classmates. And eat snow, of course, because after all, she’s just a kid. That’s what kids should do.

Why do we have mittens? Because you matter, little friend. Everyone matters. 

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If a Kindie Sees an Ambulance

Inspired by real life events (everyone is fine) and the beloved series of books featuring animals with insatiable and irrational desires for things like donuts, pancakes, and muffins, I decided to try my hand as an author of children’s books. Here’s the working draft of my first manuscript. I might turn it into a play, I haven’t decided yet.

———————images

If a kindergartener sees an ambulance in the school parking lot, they will immediately jump to the most extreme scenario.

Kindie (spotting an amubulance through the classroom window). “Someone is dead.”

Me. No one died.

Second Kindie. Someone is DEAD?!

Me. No one is dead.

Third and Fourth Kindie (as they rush to the window). Who died?

Me. No one is dead. They are here to help a student and give them medicine.

First Kindie: Well, SOME people are dead.

Me. (exasperated look)

First Kindie (whispering, head down). Well, they ARE.

Me (more forcefully). The ambulance is hear because teachers did the right thing and called for help to make sure everyone is okay. It’ll be fine. Oh, look! See? There’s the student sitting up, they’re going to be fine. Firefighters, police, and ambulance drivers are our friends. It’s fine, but if you feel anxious or have some questions we can chat. BUT EVERYTHING IS FINE.

Second Kindie. One time I had to get stitches at the hospital. I was bleeding.

Third Kindie. Is the playdoh open?

Second Kindie. Joey picked his nose. I SAW him.

Fourth Kindie. So, who died?

(Scene)

What Are you Doing?

Ah, teaching kindergarten children. Is it rewarding? Yes. Fun? Absolutely. Challenging? At times, yes. Energizing? You betcha. Draining? For sure. Worth it? Without a doubt.

Do you ever wonder what it’s like to work with small children every day? Here you go.

___________________________

Student (to me as I stamp letters with a classmate). What are you doing?

Me (thinking it is pretty obvious). What am I doing?

Student (smiling). What are you doing?

Me. What am I doing?

S. What are you doing?

M. What am I doing?

S (giggling). What are you doing?

M. What is in my hand?

S. What is in your hand?

M. What do you think I am doing?

S. What are you doing?

M (gesturing directly at the stamps and paper and classmate). What does it look like I am doing?

S. What are you doing?

M (weeping quietly). Stamping. His. Name. With. This. Stamp. In. My Hand.

S. Hahaha. What are you doing?

M. Go find a centre, honey.

S. Bye.

photo 2

Strep Breath and Juicy Talker

“I should just make the doctor’s appointment now,” I thought right after the spittle landed on my lip.

But wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.

For the past fourteen months I had been home full time to take care of various combinations of our four boys. It was glorious. And illness-free. Sure, the boys had some colds, stomach viruses, and even a incredibly strange reaction to the flu which caused our third born to be immobile for a few days. BUT I WAS FINE. No sick days for me. Feeling groovy.

Fourteen wonderful, healthy months.

Then the “incident” happened.

My first day back to teaching after my hiatus, I spent time with some young friends in a small group. I remember it like it was only three days ago. We were sitting down together having a picnic-style lunch. The conversation was flowing, they were adorable, I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

“Mrs. Moister, could you open my juice box?” asked a little cherub. But it was more like “Missish Moisssster, could you open my juish boksh?” because she had her mouth half-full of sandwich. It was white bread and balogna, but I digress.

It was on the “Moister” and “boksh” that this young juicy talker let the spit fly. I could see it coming, but it was too late. It landed on my face, and definitely on my mouth. There was no where to go.

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“I am absolutely getting sick and will need antibiotics, it’s only a matter of time. I should just make the doctor’s appointment now,” I whispered to myself as I went to wash my hands. Hand washing was required because another kindie friend asked me to open his cheese string after swearing he didn’t try to open it with his teeth. He lied.

 A day passed and the incident slipped my mind. Until 5:30 in the morning a mere two days later when I woke to discover I had small rocks that had been lit on fire residing at the back of my throat.

Juicy Talker.

How do I know for certain it was JT? She had Strep Breath. It’s a thing and I can identify in less that two whiffs.

THE THIRD DAY OF SCHOOL. HOW COULD THIS BE HAPPENING?

After some deliberation, I called it in and booked a supply teacher. It hurt to do that so early on in the school year, but not as much as my throat of flames.

Thankfully, the doctor’s office got me in quickly. I love my doctor, but that guy laughed at me. HE LAUGHED. And he made some cracks about how we should be given facemasks, which isn’t as extreme as it sounds. He also told me that being home for a year made me soft, but he wrote the prescription. He’s my people.

One year ago I was making my second trip to Target, just because I could. Today I’m dodging walking petri dishes and taking drugs. Let’s reflect on the change of my status for a moment. It’s okay if you want to weep a bit, I understand. It’s horrifying. I’d shout about the injustice of first-week illness, but I can’t because my throat is on fire.

I love my job, but kindergarteners are gross. Cute, but gross.

And so the new year begins…

____________

Want to contribute to my hazmat suit fund? Details to follow.

It’s Just Preschool

Preschool graduations. I admit, I have always thought they were a bit ridiculous.

It’s just preschool. They are starting out their school lives. How can one graduate when one is just beginning?

They come in children sizes, but should they?
They come in children sizes, but should they?

It’s just preschool. Why do we need to have ceremonies for this? Not everything has to be a big deal.

It is just preschool. They basically played all year.

What was the curriculum? Painting, gluing, singing, counting.

They just learned to share, listen, take turns, develop fine motor skills.

They only learned how to make friends, keep friends, speak clearly, open their own snacks. Print their name. Be away from mom and dad.

Why are we celebrating this past year? It’s just preschool after all.

Just preschool, where their teachers invested in their young lives as they ate their playdoh cookies. It was one or two mornings per week where they were stretched to try new things and think outside of their own experiences. Sitting at the carpet taught them mutual respect and how to follow a new routine. Planting bean seeds in paper towels and baggies fostered wonder and a sense of nurturing.

Maybe graduations aren’t necessary, but big things happen throughout our lives and they need to be marked. I think we’ve gotten carried away with graduations in particular (preschool, kindergarten, grade six, grade 8, grade 12, need I go on?) but reflecting on a year of growth and learning? That matters.

Pausing to say good-bye to a season of education or a milestone of life, let’s keep doing that. Minus the formal wear.

Even if it’s just preschool.

(Thank you, teachers of all grade levels. What you do matters and we are grateful).

Be A Learner

Last summer I was invited to share some thoughts with a  roomful of student teachers. I was nervous, they were nervous, we were all nervous.

————-

Welcome to teaching. This week you begin a year that will transform you. I must confess, I’m a little envious of you.

This is the year you get to try all kinds of new experiences with the security of being partnered with an experienced teacher. There are times you will sink a little bit, but you will not drown, because someone is by your side, encouraging you, making sure you’ll be okay, and a little bit better for the experience. That person is your Associate Teacher.

I’ve had the privilege of being a mentor to more than a dozen teacher candidates during my career. It is exciting, challenging, thought-provoking, and stressful.

Yes – it can be stressful. We wonder who our TECs will be. Will I like them? Will they like me? Will they be a hard worker? Will they cry if I have to give them some critical feedback? What if we aren’t a good match?

You are probably feeling nervous about starting your year, but rest assured, even old veterans like myself, get the jitters, too. We’ve been where you are.

So, how do we establish a positive working relationship?

Here’s a little secret – we are often asked to take a student teacher as a favour, but the fact is, we really enjoy it. Through the process of mentoring a teacher candidate we question our methods, we try new things, we learn through observing and collaborating with you. It’s a win-win.

But there is that relationship piece. And it’s a big piece. So my advice to you is: Be a Learner.

A learner asks questions, even if they might seem obvious. We’d rather have you ask for clarification than to feel uneasy or unsure.

A learner looks for things that need doing. It’s important to observe and watch, but not exclusively. Jump in. Help a student manage their belongings, sit with a group who seems to need help staying on task. Offer to run down to get the extra paper from the supply room. And if in doubt, ask if there is anything you can do.

During my very first practicum, I asked my associate if there was anything I could do to help her get ready for the day. She pointed to 3 stacks of paper and asked if would staple them. I then proceeded to staple each of the 3 piles. When she returned I asked what else I could do and she smiled and told me she had meant for me to collate the three different piles into 3 page double-sided booklets for the class. So, although I did look for things to do, I didn’t ask the obvious question. I did wonder why she had me do such a simple task and also why the booklets were so thick.

Ask the obvious questions.

"Do you drink coffee?" is an excellent question.
“Do you drink coffee?” is an excellent question.

A learner takes risks. This is your chance to try out all kinds of things. While I do recommend discussing it with your associate first, this is the best opportunity to apply new methods, new strategies, new techniques. And the really great thing is that we learn through you as well. We appreciate when you try to maintain the overall tone and classroom culture, part of the excitement of having a TEC is that we get to learn what you learn and see it put into action. I had a student teacher who really wanted to try a new game for gym. Right in the middle of it he turned to me and said, “this is a total bomb.” It was, and we regrouped, and then the next day, it went really well. He took a risk –he was a learner.

You know what else a learner does? They communicate. Let us know how you felt about your teaching, or your interaction with a particular student. If we’ve given you some constructive criticism, when you’re ready, talk about how that might have changed your teaching. I had a TEC who needed some time to process some feedback I’d given her and the following day she told me, “I remembered what you said about non-verbal cues and this morning I did more of that and I felt it went much better. “ She was right, it had. She was a learner.

It’s good to let your associate know some of your goals for the block so that they can give you better feedback. And this may seem insignificant, but communication includes being friendly – a warm hello to your associate and also other staff, emailing or texting if you are going to be absent.

A learner plans. Planning is perhaps most important during this year as you learn more about your teaching style and the curriculum. With time and experience, you will need to formally plan less and less, but it’s good practice for beginning teachers. Planning in advance allows you to ask for resources, to discuss possible glitches with your associate, and to seek feedback or brainstorming ahead of time. Collaboration can only occur when you know where you are heading.

Along with planning is preparation – if you need sand or lego for an upcoming lesson, ask your associate ahead of time where to get those materials. It can save you a lot of last minute stress and the school day is unpredictable, you might not always have those 20 minutes before school to gather up your supplies.

Did I mention “ask”? It bears repeating. If in doubt, ask.

How do you think that lesson went?

What would you do if the smart board did that in the middle of your lesson?

What do you think I could do differently next time?

What does IEP, IPRC, TLPC, ESL, ELL , FDK mean? (teaching has more than it’s share of inside lingo – sometimes we forget, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification)

 Make the most of this year. It will be busy, at times daunting, but it is an up-close glimpse of the amazing world of teaching.

Be a learner.

Kindergarteners: They Don’t Care

Yelling out the window is not a learning centre.

Neither is chasing a classmate with a spray bottle. Stop it.

Flushing play-doh down the toilet? Also not a centre.

Please don’t pet the tadpole.

We don’t save Lego creations, no, not even if you “put it down really gently” in the bin.

Kindergarten.

I love it. Another year is wrapping up and this time of year is my favourite. This is when we get to reflect on the growth and success of the past year. I’ve been teaching this age group for about 14 years, give or take a maternity leave or two (math is hard, guys). Every year I learn new things.

Have you ever noticed a kindergartener when he dresses himself? I want to live my life with that kind of “take me as I am” attitude. Very few people over age five can pull off sports shorts paired with a long-sleeved, plaid, button-down shirt. Or socks and crocs with a winter vest overtop a t-shirt. They don’t care. 

I dressed myself. Obviously.
I dressed myself. Obviously.

Some might say that kindergarteners have inflated egos and sense of self and they would be correct, but part of that is amazing. If you didn’t have a crazy ego you’d never think that coming in 8th in a race means you won. They don’t care.

Need a pick-me-up? Come to kindie gym and watch them run laps or do dashes from one end of the gym to the other. It is the best. It is physically impossible not to smile like a lunatic who ate too many Oreos when you watch them run their little hearts out with complete abandon. And their peers cheer them on and pat them on their backs regardless of how they performed. They don’t care.

This year I learned once again that being outside is better than just about anything. There are articles and books and jargon-filled resources that essentially all say the same thing: Magic happens when we learn outside.

Just going to do some writing on my own for a while.
Just going to do some writing on my own for a while.

 

Don't know the lyrics? No problem.
Don’t know the lyrics? No problem.

No matter if you are indoors or outdoors, kindergarteners will sing along with any song, even if they don’t know the words. Because they don’t care.

I think I need to care a little less, too (but not about flushing play-doh, seriously stop doing that).

_____________

Is it Mephibosheth?

I did not record this recent conversation with a little kindergarten friend, but it’s pretty much burned into my memory.

 

Kindie: Do you know my middle name?

Me : No. Do you?

Yes. My mom knows.

What is it?

Ummmm….

Do you know?

Yes. My mom knows.

Ok, what is it?

Ummmmm…..

That’s alright.

No, I want to tell you.

Ok, what is it?

Do you know?

No.

My mom does.

Do you know?

Yes.

What is it?

Ummm……

You know, that’s fine.

Do you know my middle name?

I don’t.

My mom does.

Ok.

Do you?

No, I don’t. You don’t have to tell me.

I WANT to.

Ok, tell me.

Ummmmm…..

Is it Mark? Seamus? Mephibosheth?

No.

Do you know, but you forgot?

Yes.

(and back to Lego).

———-

Wine, guys. Red wine.