Craft Time with Mrs. Caines – September 2012

So way back in September, I stumbled across some cute crafty things while researching ideas for the craft I planned for December. (Yes, I’m a planner. Leave me alone.) And I found this:

Food Wreath from DLTK

Cute, right? And since the themes for September included Nutrition, I thought it would be a really cute craft to do with the kids!

(I also found a Very Hungry Caterpillar printout that could be colored, laminated, and used as a placemat, but I just printed those out and gave them to the teachers to do in class.)

Anyway, I thought DLTK’s images were a bit too simple and wanted to provide a lot more variety for the kids to color. So after scouring multiple sites looking for black and white clip-art, I came up with my own coloring pages.

I let the kids work on the project in stages, but in hindsight, I probably could have had them all coloring pages at the same time. Once they colored in the pictures, I used my nifty circle punch to quickly cut out the circles and let the kids glue the pictures to paper plates (I had already cut out the centers).

It was a bit harried because I had to rush to get it done, but I think they turned out pretty cute and led to a lot of discussion about the kinds of food they like to eat. And a lot of the kids asked to take pages home with them.

Some of the finished products.

So September’s Food Wreath craft to coincide with the Nutrition lesson went well, I think. Up next: December’s Penguin Diorama craft to coincide with lessons about the Arctic.

Stay tuned.

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Where does the time go?

Have I really neglected my poor blog for more than five months? I knew it had been a while since I last posted anything, but May? Really?

Okay, so what has happened since my last post?

  • I successfully finished Bay to Breakers 2012 with a time of 1:42:32. I spent an afternoon working (didn’t have to use a vacation day for that!), earned a medal, got to hang out with my girlfriends from my youth, and saw the Pacific all in one trip. Wins all around!
  • The Boy and I watched his Kindergarten friends graduate, and I got a glimpse of what was to come. I’m not ashamed to say that I teared up a bit out of pride. One nice thing about volunteering at school as often as I do is that I get to know The Boy’s classmates, and it was great to see them all moving up to first grade.
  • I skipped my 20-year high school reunion (though I planned it), mainly because work got a bit hectic and I had no desire to only fly across the country for what would amount to only 36 hours. Which leads to the next point…
  • We took a family vacation up to New York to see my sister! The Boy asked to see the Statue of Liberty (Cute Husband had never seen it, either), and we also visited the American Museum of Natural History and Strawberry Fields at Central Park. And as if that wasn’t enough…
  • We saw the Red Sox play the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, sitting in ridiculously awesome seats (thanks to my brother-in-law). I hope The Boy realizes not all visits to Yankee Stadium will include seats right by the visiting team’s dugout.
  • The Boy started Kindergarten! And boy, is he thriving. He loves his Kindergarten breakout sessions.
  • The Boy learned, struggled with, and has now almost memorized “The Star Spangled Banner”. It only took him about a month to get the rhythm right, too. I posted an early video of him practicing on YouTube in the middle of September and sent it to his teacher. It quickly spread to the rest of the staff and was shown during circle time at school. Now he is working on Bach’s “Minuet in G” and is poised to start learning “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”.
  • We received The Boy’s first real report card (prior to this, they were all progress reports), and he earned Os (for “Outstanding”) in all the core subjects and PE. He received Ses (for “Satisfactory”) in Spanish, Computers, Music (HA!), and Art. And in all of the Social Development and Work Habits areas, he received Os except in Handwriting. But as his penmanship has improved dramatically over the past few months, no one is concerned. All in all, we’re incredibly proud.

So that’s the past few months in a (very abbreviated) nutshell. I have a few stories to tell about specific events (chaperoning a field trip to a children’s museum, Halloween events around Central Florida, etc.), but I can save that for later.

Just as long as I don’t wait another five months to post something.

Hug a teacher today (or, How an afternoon as a “sub” made me so much more grateful)

Teachers who educate children deserve more honor than parents who merely gave birth; for bare life is furnished by the one, the other ensures a good life. – Aristotle

I have a tremendous amount of respect for teachers. I’d like to say that I always have, but, well, there were plenty of teachers I didn’t particularly respect when I was a student. So let’s just say that as an adult, even before I had The Boy, I developed this magnanimous level of respect for them and all they do.

The lower grade teachers, in particular, amaze me. First, they need to be able to control a classroom of children (some unruly, some needy, some dramatic), but then they also need to get said children to retain knowledge that may or may not be of particular interest to either party. Once you get to middle school and high school, you get to the teachers who specialize in certain subjects; those teachers can focus on a single discipline instead of multiple subjects. But even then, they work with older, hormone-driven, Angst-ridden pre-teens and teens. So I guess as a teacher, you kind of have to pick your poison.

Last week, The Boy’s teacher asked me to come to school today to stay with the kids while the teachers enjoyed their Teacher Appreciation Luncheon.

“I know you need to check with work, but just let me know,” she said.

Well, how can I say “no” to The Boy’s teacher? I mean, honestly. I suppose I could, but she wouldn’t ask me unless she needed me to be there, so I put in my request and made plans to work a half day today. And I have this philosophy about The Boy’s teachers: They’re my coworkers in the job of educating The Boy. Cute Husband and I can only do so much; we need to partner with his teachers to give him the best possible education.

When I arrived at school today, the kids were all sitting down, getting ready to have lunch. Ms. M and Mrs. G gave Sarah (another classroom mom) and me instructions and reviewed the basic classroom rules before they left for their luncheon. It was a lot like babysitting, only with 22 kids there (one of whom happened to be mine). I’ve been around everyone enough times to know who causes trouble, who lacks focus, who likes to be dramatic, who keeps to themselves, etc., so I had a basic idea of what to expect.

And, of course, I refused to show fear. I may only be The Boy’s mommy, but I think I’m pretty capable of managing a few other kids, too.

Lunch was, well, interesting, for lack of a better word. The kids are supposed to raise their hands when they need something, and they may talk quietly among themselves, but no one is supposed to get up and walk around without first receiving permission. And without Ms. M and Mrs. G there, those rules seemed to fly out the window.

Movie time was somewhat challenging. There was supposed to be a DVD in the player, but there wasn’t, which gave the kids an opportunity to be a bit unruly. Once I got the movie in, most of the kids settled down, but then the tattling began. I finally told all the kids that if they couldn’t work out their own problems, I’d start putting names on the board (which meant they’d lose a privilege the following day).

And then, of course, the DVD player froze because the disc was scratched. So I improvised and decided to read them a story. Not wanting to look partial (because I had already told The Boy in front of his classmates that I had no problems putting his name on the board if he wasn’t behaving, even if he is my son), I closed my eyes and randomly picked someone to select a book. (It ended up being Sarah’s daughter.) The Boy wasn’t happy; he wanted to pick the book. But thankfully, that drama didn’t last long.

So when Ms. M and Mrs. G returned from their luncheon, I was in the middle of reading to the kids. It was a story about seeds, and I did my best to keep it as entertaining (and informative) as I could. There were a few names on the board (not The Boy’s, thank goodness), but for the most part, everyone was really well-behaved.

And I was so incredibly relieved to see the teachers return!

I’m glad I volunteered today. I’m glad I spent the afternoon with the kids and got to experience a few hours in The Boy’s teachers’ shoes. I’m also much more appreciative of all that they do.

So to all the teachers out there, thank you. Thanks for setting examples for children, for teaching them how to behave with others, for showing them how to be productive members of society, for daring them to be more than they ever thought they could be. Thanks for putting in the effort so many parents (like me!) are afraid to put in, for caring enough to discipline them, for teaching them more than lessons they’ll find in a textbook.

But most of all – and this particularly goes to The Boy’s teachers, past, present, and future – thanks for helping Cute Husband and me raise our boy. He is who he is because of the people who have reached out in some way to impact his life, and those include his teachers.

Level up! (or, Why the Gamer’s Mentality is not a bad thing)

Wednesday night at dinner, The Boy very proudly told me that he started working on the blue boxes at school. This is a very big deal. When students begin writing sentences, they start with the pink boxes. Once they master those, they can move up to the blue boxes.

“And after I master the blue boxes,” he informed Cute Husband, “I can work on the green boxes! Those are the hardest, but when I’m in Kindergarten, I’ll have to work on the green boxes every day!”

For better or worse, I realized that this is kind of how The Boy approaches learning. It’s like a game to him. You start out at the simplest, most basic level, then move up to different worlds or levels once you master those skills.

With his lessons, he has set his own goals. He wants to read proficiently because he’ll be able to play his Pokemon card game and read directions on his Phineas and Ferb games. He wants to practice writing sentences so he can move up to the green boxes. He wants to practice addition so he can move up to subtraction and ultimately up to division (“The line with the two dots on top and underneath it,” as he describes it). He wants to play the guitar well so he can learn a song and play it well. (And then learn more songs.)

He was like this even as a toddler; you could see what his goals were. He wanted to see over the top of our bed. He wanted the ability to climb onto our bed. He wanted to be able to open a door by himself. He wanted to be able to turn on the lights (and turn them off). He wanted to be able to run quickly, balance on the edge of the curb without falling off, and open the garage door. He wanted to be able to get water from the refrigerator, and then he wanted the ability to switch between ice and water. He wanted to reach things from the counters.

He just wanted to get to the next level.

I think the human brain is wired to want to level up. I think we get bored with complacency and comfort. I think we, as humans, need to continue learning and mastering skills so that we can at least feel like we’ve reached the next level, even if we don’t get a promotion or a raise at work.

Or maybe it’s just me and my crazy little family. Maybe The Boy was doomed to have this Gamer’s Mentality because both Cute Husband and I have it. But I know he has this mentality, and I can see it in the way he tenaciously attacks new challenges at school (and yes, his guitar). He approaches them in the same way he approaches a video game: he repeats a level over and over and over again until he finally levels up.

And then he moves on to the next level.

Because he does it at his own pace, he doesn’t burn himself out. The lessons aren’t too difficult for him, and he still has that enviable mindset that failure isn’t possible if you try hard enough. Just like you can beat the final boss in any video game if you try hard enough and log enough hours, you can master any skill you want if you try hard enough and put in the hours.

So maybe the Gamer’s Mentality isn’t such a bad thing, after all.

Ready for Kindergarten

I had my first ever parent-teacher conference yesterday morning. I arrived a few minutes early and waited in the front office for The Boy’s teacher to come get me. When Ms M arrived, she ushered me into the Principal’s office, which immediately made me nervous for absolutely no reason.

It was a very quick meeting. The ultimate outcome was this: The Boy is ready to start Kindergarten in the fall, he is extremely well-liked by students and faculty alike, he has made tremendous academic strides in the past year, and he possesses all the tools he needs to excel in Kindergarten.

Okay, so I really didn’t need to have a meeting to tell me that, but it was good to hear.

He still won’t have homework next year, but he will have occasional projects to work on at home from time to time. He’ll also have some more structured lessons once he starts Kindergarten, including workbooks and journals. So, really, there’s quite a bit to look forward to. It will be different, but familiar all the same.

I was also told that the school is looking into having calendars made featuring the children’s artwork, and guess whose art projects will be included if the calendars are made? The Boy’s “Fingerprint Tree” that I did with his class in November was selected, and another student’s “Cherry Blossoms” from the craft I led a few weeks ago was also chosen. So now it appears the bar has been set, and I need to come up with some great ideas for the next school year.

Maybe Kindergarten will be an exciting adventure for both of us.

The Boy is 5!

It may be cliche, but it’s so very true: I cannot believe that my little baby is now 5 years old.

We had a very busy – but fun! – day. It began with a trip to Dr W’s office for The Boy’s annual check-up. He is now a little more than 43″ tall and about 40.5 pounds. What’s crazy is that he has grown just a little less than 2 inches in the past year and gained a bit more than 4 pounds. He had his last immunization shot today (yes, I know it’s his birthday), but Dr W and his nurse told The Boy the best news of all: he doesn’t need to get another shot until he’s ready to go into the 7th grade. (His nurse was also pretty awesome; I don’t know how’s he did it, but she managed to give The Boy his shot without him realizing it. That meant no tears. Awesome, right?)

After his appointment, I took him to school, dropped off his updated immunization forms (no sense in delaying it, right?), then began the mad dash to get everything together for his birthday lunch.

(See, my birthday is in January and usually fell during Christmas break. As such, I didn’t have cupcakes at school on my birthday. And yes, I know I’m living vicariously through The Boy.)

First, I stopped at Walgreens to get some photos printed for The Boy’s Birthday Walk poster. (More on that in a bit.) I picked a few pictures I wanted printed, placed the order, and scurried off to pick up the cupcakes and pizzas.

I paused in the Publix parking lot to swap out The Boy’s car seat for a booster seat. He hasn’t exactly outgrown the Britax Marathon that I’ve had in my car for the better part of the past 4 and a half years, but he’s close. The tops is his ears are almost in line with the top of the car seat, and that means he’s ready for the booster seat.

That, alone, is hard to believe.

Anyway, once I finally got everything together, I returned to The Boy’s school in time for the start of the Birthday Walk. Now, this is the first time I’ve participated in something like this. It’s really cute and quite clever.

When I walked into the room with the drinks and food (sans cake; I had to go back to the car for that), The Boy was standing in the center of the carpet where his classmates were all sitting around him. In the center was a cloth on which a circle representing the seasons of the year was printed. In the middle of the circle was a yellow sun.

Ms. M instructed me to stand just outside the carpeted area where the kids were sitting. I held up the poster I had (admittedly) thrown together so hastily, and the Birthday Walk began.

Basically, the birthday celebrant recounts a little about each year of his or her life. The Boy spoke about things that happened before his first birthday, like getting his first haircut and learning how to eat with a spoon. Then he walked around the circle on the cloth and recounted events before his second birthday, and so on. Finally, after his fifth (and last) rotation, Ms. M asked him what his goals were for the coming year.

“I’d like to practice writing sentences,” he said finally after a long but thoughtful pause.

I had the option of taking The Boy home after lunch, but when I asked him if he wanted to go home or stay and do lessons, he opted to stay.

Well, it’s his birthday. If he wants to stay, who am I to deny him?

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The end of the year report card

It’s hard to believe it’s almost the end of the school year. The actual school year ends in May, but the kindergarteners in The Boy’s Montessori classroom will have their first standardized tests in a few weeks, and everyone will be plenty busy. Besides, it’s not like the Pre-Kindergarteners’ skill sets will really change all that much during the last 7 weeks of school.

We received The Boy’s report card today, and after Cute Husband and I reviewed it at the dinner table, we told The Boy how very proud we were that his skills had shown marked improvement. When we received his first report card in November, most of the scores were Ps, or “in the process of mastering”. (I prefer to say the P is the equivalent of the S, or “satisfactory”.) This time, most of the Ps were now Es. (E stands for established mastery of a skill. I prefer to think it means “excellent”.)

So which skill sets remained Ps and didn’t improve to Es?

  • Controls own behavior
  • Follows classroom/school rules
  • Listens appropriately
  • Works neatly
  • Good pencil control
  • Writes letters on lined paper
  • Writes the numerals

None of these are surprising to me. I’m a little more surprised (but relieved!) that he has shown mastery in observing table manners, but I’m not at all surprised that he still needs to master controlling his own behavior or any of the other skills listed above. It’s not that he doesn’t know how to follow classroom rules or use his listening ears; he just chooses not to sometimes, and that’s not okay.

All in all, though, it was an excellent report card. He’s shown a tremendous amount of progress in his skill sets, and he is truly thriving in this environment. I have a meeting in a couple of weeks with Ms. M to review what will be expected of him (and what I can expect) once he enters Kindergarten, and I’m sure there will be a few things Cute Husband and I can do with The Boy to help him really prepare over the next few months.

It’s still hard to believe it’s almost the end of the school year, and it’s even harder to believe The Boy will start Kindergarten in the fall. But he loves school, and he’s excited to learn, and I’m continuously amazed by how much this little person has mastered in such a short period of time!

The not-so-invisible Education Gap

Last night at dinner, as we do every night, Cute Husband and I asked The Boy what he did at school that day.

“I helped Mr. C,” The Boy replied. “And I made a kite.”

“Were you able to do some lessons with the other VPK kids?” I asked.

“They don’t have lessons,” he corrected me. “They have toys.”

Cute Husband and I looked at each other and didn’t say anything.

“I’m really glad we decided to send The Boy to his new school,” I told Cute Husband this morning.

“I can’t imagine they don’t have some sort of curriculum,” he replied. “I mean, this is a pre-kindergarten program. Maybe day care just doesn’t have the same kinds of things they have at school.”

Once we got to the day care parking lot this morning, The Boy echoed the chorus he’d repeated yesterday and the day before.

“Mom, I really don’t want to go to my old school.”

“Honey, we’ve talked about this every day,” I said, trying to reassure him. “It’s only for the week.”

“I know, but I don’t like it here.”

“Why not?”

He sighed loudly. “Everything’s too easy,” he replied. “They don’t give me any challenging work.”

Now, I know I have an intelligent child. Really, I think all children are intelligent; some are just given more opportunities to explore different subject matter. So I disagree that I have an exceptionally gifted child. He’s inquisitive, he’s observant, and he’s interested in myriad things. Aren’t all kids?

It bothers me a bit, though, when we have these conversations. There was a brief time when Cute Husband and I contemplated letting him stay at this day care facility to attend voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK). Private school is, after all, not cheap, and his day care did a fine job teaching him various skills while he was there. But we could tell at the age of 3 that he was able to do and explore much more than day care allowed, and that’s what ultimately swayed our decision.

I’m glad we chose to send him to his current school, and I’m even more thrilled that he’s thriving there. But it makes me a little sad knowing that we had to research private school programs in order to give him the challenging environment he craves so much. And it bothers me even more to know that so many families, whose children are probably just as “gifted” (I hate that word) as The Boy (though perhaps in other areas) aren’t able to do the same.

I read last month that the achievement gap between rich and poor kids actually starts in kindergarten, and after these last few days of having The Boy complain about how bored he is in the VPK program at his old school, I can see it.

The gap is really out there, and it starts early.

Spring break drama

One day, The Boy will look forward to Spring Break. One day, he will welcome the idea of going someplace where he won’t be expected to do anything but play.

One day, I will tell remind him of a time that he pleaded with me to take him to school (or my work) instead of dropping him off at day care because (as he says) “they don’t have challenging lessons for me.”

I love his old day care. They’re awesome. In fact, when I gave the requisite 30-day notice that I was removing The Boy from their care, I included a note of thanks, praising their staff for their level of care and attention. But The Boy, for whatever reason, has not wanted to return. In fact, after he toured his current school and had his interview with the program director, he asked if he could start at his new school right away.

“They’re doing lessons,” he gushed when I asked him why he wanted to go right away. “We don’t do lessons like that at my Three School!”

But his old school has a couple perks. One of his friends, E, attends the voluntary pre-kindergarten program there. And they serve lunch (meaning he doesn’t have to bring his lunchbox), which is now a novelty. There was once a time he thought the school only gave lunch to the kids who didn’t have a lunchbox to bring food to eat; he has now learned that purchased lunches at his school are a treat.

But this didn’t make today’s drop off any easier for him. It began in the car; I would unbuckle him and he would buckle himself back into his seat. I got carried him out of the car, and he ran back to open the door so he could crawl back into the car. I carried him into the building, checked in at the front desk, and ultimately carried him to the classroom where he would spend the week.

It was a nightmare. I felt like the meanest parent ever.

Thankfully, Mr. C, The Boy’s last teacher before starting at his current school, was there. He was so surprised and genuinely happy to see The Boy, and tears started welling in my eyes as Mr. C told The Boy how much he’d missed him.

After a bit of small talk (“How does he like his school?” “He’s reading now and writing sentences!” “Oh, my gosh!”), I signed The Boy into the classroom and Mr. C pried him away from me so that I could escape leave.

Fortunately, the tears had subsided by then, so I didn’t feel so terrible about abandoning leaving him. And as I left, I asked The Boy to be a good helper for Mr. C, who promised, in turn, to put him to work.

Cute Husband gets to be the hero and rescue him this afternoon. And I can only hope tomorrow will be much less painful.

Craft time with Mrs. Caines: Cherry Blossom Trees!

I found this adorable idea online: Cherry Blossom Art from a Recycled Soda Bottle. I’ve already signed up for two crafts this year, but I thought this craft was too cute to pass up – especially since this year marks the centennial of Japan’s gift to the United States. And since yesterday was the start of the Cherry Blossom Festival, well, why not?

Cute Husband let me skip Sunday’s trip to the Magic Kingdom (he and The Boy needed haircuts) to test out different media for this craft. Whatever I decided on using had to (a) be easy to use, (b) dry quickly, and (c) be washable. (These are 3- to 6- year-olds, after all.)

After testing out stamp pads, markers, and colored pencils, I finally decided on mixing some magenta and white Crayola Washable Kids’ Paint for the flowers and mixed some brown and black Crayola Washable Tempera Paint for the tree. I brought some large drawing paper that I bought about two years ago and arrived at The Boy’s school a few minutes early with my fingers crossed that the kids’ finished trees would at least resemble the one at AlphaMom.

The finished product that made me want to try this with The Boy's class.

Before we started work on the craft, Ms. M let me tell the class a little bit about the cherry blossom trees (which required a bit of research on my part). I explained that the Japanese government gave the United States government about 3,000 trees as a gift 100 years ago, and that a few years later, after the cherry blossom trees in Japan weren’t taken good care of (I skipped the whole World War II part), the United States was able to return a gift of cherry blossom trees to them. And I explained that the cherry blossoms only stay on the trees for a few weeks at the start of spring before the winds blow them away and green leaves cover the trees.

Then, it was time to get to work. Ms. M set up two stations in the classroom. She would work with the kids on painting the tree then send them to me for the blossoms.

Painting the trees

The end result turned out very well, and the kids all seemed to have fun with it. A few asked me why I put bottles in bowls of paint and were then amazed that the bottles made flowers on the page. Once everyone had a turn, we placed them in the hallway to dry.

Cherry blossom art drying in the hall.

Ultimately, The Boy got to have two turns at stamping flowers on trees: once for the tree that I had painted and again to complete a tree he had painted himself. And the fears I had that they wouldn’t turn out as well as AlphaMom’s?

On the weathered look of the manila drawing paper, I think I like our version even better.