Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Teacher Life

Yay! School is out and it's the first full week of Summer Break!  What do you  think I'm doing with my time?

I'm spending a couple of days with a thousand-plus of my closest teacher-friends, learning about the research questions listed above. You might think I am dreading spending the sunshiny days inside a cold convention center, but I couldn't be more excited!

The following names will probably mean nothing to you, unless you are in the field of education, but they are BIG names in education.  Richard Allington spoke at the conference!  I've read many of his books, but have never heard him speak before.  He has some very strong opinions about literacy education and what teachers should and shouldn't be doing in the classroom.

Matt Glover and Katie Wood Ray changed my teaching life!  I began an entirely new approach to writing because of their books and Katie Wood Ray's workshop.  Teaching children to write is a huge challenge and there are so many different aspects that you just don't think about, until you are actually tasked with breaking them down into manageable steps for young authors.  Matt Glover shared some great writing samples and took his books to a new a level, in my mind.

At every teacher conference, there is always a book table.  Sometimes you'll find children's books and other times there will be professional development books.  It doesn't really matter which type of books. If there are teachers at the conference, the books will be purchased!  This time there were professional development books.  I purchased my fair share.  (This is where my husband usually reminds me that there is something called a public library and that I should check them out instead.  But, public libraries don't carry the most recent teacher-books!  It's my duty to stay up to date on current trends and best practices in education!)  I bought a few books and put a few others on my wish list.

I didn't purchase this one because I think I KNOW why I teach, but I think it sounds like a good read.

The conference room was so big that I couldn't get a picture with the whole room in the shot.  This was well before the conference began and hadn't really even started filling up.  I'm just floored with the realization that most of the people in this room paid $400 out of their own pockets to learn more about best practices in literacy education.  Sometimes, the school districts are able to pay but most of the people I chatted with had to pay their own fee to attend and many were from several states away, having to pay their own travel and hotel fees.  

Overall, it was a fabulous two day conference.  I feel very fortunate to have been able to attend and learn so much about research and trends in literacy education. I wish our legislature would realize the importance of professional development like this and FULLY FUND EDUCATION so more teachers could have the opportunity to learn and become the best possible teachers for their students!

Happy Summer Break!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Outgrown Swingset

Well, it's the end of an era. The swing set has been outgrown. Last weekend we took this picture and listed our swing set on our neighborhood Facebook page.

Within an hour, a neighbor was coming to  take it apart and give it a new life in a new home. I have big plans for this space. We bought chairs and more wood chips today. It's a work in progress. It's a project that will last most of the summer, but it will keep me busy with lots of planting, painting, and digging!

Happy dreaming!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Using Light in Photography

I've always been a bit afraid of using direct sunlight in photography.  Everything I read about light says that direct light is a no-no.  It washes out the subject and creates hard shadows.  Well, I'm finding that sometimes rules are meant to be broken, when you understand why you are breaking the rules.  For example, the other day when I walked into my classroom, I noticed that the light was perfectly hitting my rocks and water bowl.  I have a tiny little window on my classroom door and the sunlight was coming in through that one little spot.  The rest of the room was still dark and I thought it made the water and rocks really stand out.  I snapped this picture and I love the combination of light and dark.

On a different day, when the water jars were set up, I noticed how the light really reflected in our water jars. Again, direct sunlight was not supposed to be ideal, but in this situation I really love it.  I also love the transparency of water and glass. In Reggio Emilia (a place in Italy that has inspired teaching in a different way  of teaching from our traditional American approach) transparency is one of the key pillars.  The idea of transparency in education is inspiring in SO many different ways.

I've been playing around with collage in my light-filled photos as well.  I think collage is a great way to tell a story.  On the computer I use the collage feature in Picasa, which is a free photo editing program.  On my phone I use Pic Stitch or PhotoGrid.  Both apps have been fun to play around with.

I'm kind of loving these light-filled photos, even though they break all of the rules.  I'm such a rebel!

Happy light-filled photo taking!

Monday, April 27, 2015

My Ebook Is Updated - Are We Ready?

Several years ago I decided to write an ebook.  I had just sent my youngest off to kindergarten and I was thinking, "There were so many things I wasn't prepared for, when sending my child off to school."  I had been a first and second grade teacher for many years when my son (my first child) started kindergarten, but I was in shock to find out what kids were expected to do in early kindergarten.  I was slightly more prepared when my daughter started, but still not enough.  When I moved schools and grade levels, and became a kindergarten teacher, I decided to make it my mission to help families prepare for kindergarten.  My first ebook was born.  I shared it on my blog and sent it to a few kindergarten teachers I knew.  Several schools emailed me to let me know that they were printing it and handing parents a copy when they walked in the door to register for kindergarten.  I can't tell you how happy that makes me!

Well, several years have passed since I first put this booklet out there for people to see.  My opinions and suggestions haven't changed much over the years, but I was thinking that the ebook could use a little updating.  Over the past few weeks I've been updating photos, updating links to different websites, and adding a few things like the kindergarten readiness videos I made with LeapFrog.

Here it is!  I'd love it if you'd share this with anyone and everyone who has an young child at home.  It's a free ebook.  I really just want to get the message out about kindergarten readiness. 

Click on the link, above, to take you to Gumroad and download the ebook.  Please let me know if you have any trouble downloading the book.  I switch my provider this time, so I'm hoping  I don't have any glitches.

Please let me know what you think of the ebook!

Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Peter Reynolds, Reggio Emilia, and Me

I'm still on Cloud 9 after Peter Reynolds, author of Ish and The Dot, let me know that he tweeted my Reggio Emilia post.  He even commented on my blog post.  It said, "Fantastic! This is such a great intro to the Reggio approach... everyone who interacts with children should read your blog. It will inspire people to dig deeper into this inspired approach to nurturing children's gift, thinking, talents. Thank you again for sharing!"

How awesome is that?  Well, I had a few people let me know that they had no idea what the Reggio Approach is and don't have kids at home, so they don't know children's book authors either.  Even though I usually stick to gardening, cooking, decorating, cleaning, and sewing posts on this blog, I thought I'd share a little about Reggio Emilia and some books by Peter Reynolds.  I have written about both of these on my other blogs.

Here is the original Reggio Emilia post that Peter Reynolds tweeted yesterday:

Reggio Inspired

Have you heard of Reggio Emilia, Italy?  I remember hearing a bit about this place when I was doing my undergraduate work, at Seattle Pacific University, in the 90's.  I was introduced to Reggio Emilia again in about 2000, when I was working on my Master's in Reading and Literacy.  The introductions were brief, maybe just a paragraph or two in a book.  About 8 years ago, I was chatting with a friend about typical teacher stuff and she was telling me about someone she knew who was going on a Reggio Emilia study tour.  That little conversation sparked my curiosity again. I remembered hearing something about schools in Reggio Emilia, but didn't remember what made them significant.  My reading about the Reggio Emilia approach started at that moment.

I started by reading Authentic Childhood, Exploring Reggio Emilia in the Classroom.

I discovered a favorite book about teaching art in a Reggio inspired manner.

Then, I discovered Playful Learning. It was like lights shining down from Heaven and angels singing.

I signed up for an online class in Creating Playful Spaces and started organizing my home and classroom differently.  I told families about the book and classes and showed them specific examples of how to incorporate Playful Learning into their homes.  It was right about that time, that I decided to create Love, Laughter, and Literacy. An early childhood literacy blog was just the thing I needed to help me really dive into issues and trends as well as support families.

So what does it mean to be Reggio Inspired?  And what's the story behind this type of learning?

The town of Reggio Emilia was virtually destroyed after WWII.  The people living in the town didn't want to wait for their government to figure out how and when to rebuild their schools, so they decided to do it themselves.  Brick by brick, and book by book, they built their schools.  They did it the way they knew schools and education should be built... with kids at the forefront.  This would be an approach to education that challenged and accepted the gifts that all kids brought with them each day.  We often talk, in education, about meeting the needs of the children.  In Reggio Emilia, kids are viewed as people who bring their own unique gifts and talents to the classroom, not just empty vessels ready to be filled. Teachers in Reggio Emilia don't "meet the needs" of their kids, they create experiences that enhance the gifts that each child brings.

Reggio Emilia schools help children learn in different ways from traditional American schools, but have inspired many to try their methods.  Reggio Inspired schools were born and study tours were developed to help educators learn more about the schools.  A Reggio inspired school is one where the teacher understands learning to be grounded in experience.  The environment is considered the third teacher and teachers set up a space that encourages inquiry. (Two teachers reside in each classroom.)  Every space is created in a manner that engages students and parents.  There are many more elements that make Reggio schools special, such as integration of transparency, the Hundred Languages of the Child, making learning visible through documentation of learning, and the amazing Ateliers and focus on the arts.

I'm taking baby steps toward my own Reggio Inspired classroom and home life.  Our homelife is grounded in experiences.

 My classroom, in my old school, had a designated Atelier, although there is not enough space in my new building.

Even without this dedicated space, there is still a focus on the arts in my kindergarten class.

 I am introducing more inquiry based learning into my classroom too.

You can see more photos of these projects by searching Instagram for #CTInquiry and #allaboutinquiry.

 I've been specifically focusing on my documentation of student learning through photography this year and it's been an amazing process.

I'm certainly not "there" yet, but I'm inching closer. (The schools in Reggio Emilia weren't built over night and my Reggio Inspired classroom can't be built that quickly either.)  High on my list of priorities is a study tour to Reggio Emilia.  I would LOVE to go in the next year or two... we'll have to see about that.  Meanwhile, I will keep reading and getting more inspiration.  I'm excited about a new documentation process that is coming to our school, called WAKIDS, and the possibilities for transforming my environment and structure to fit the needs of center based/inquiry based learning.  In my vision, it all blends together perfectly.  Only time will tell if I can actually make that happen!

If you know me from the educational setting, you've probably heard me talk about the Reggio Approach many times.  In fact, I think I see eye rolls once in a while when I bring up a new Reggio book I've been reading.  I'm inspired to make changes to my own class, but I also see a need for change in our entire system of education.  I was chatting with my principal yesterday and we were talking about the big push to get kids "college and career ready" but I think the entire system of education needs to define what that really means.  Careers are different than they were 20 years ago and they will be MUCH different when my kindergartners graduate from high school or college.  Are we really doing our kids a favor by forcing them to conform to the "standards" that we expect and testing them based on those standards.  (Yes, I believe that having common standards to teach toward is a good thing, but that getting to those standards needs to look different for every child. In addition, I DO NOT think that standardized tests are the way for YOUNG children to demonstrate their learning. Don't get me started on that!)

Kate, at An Everyday Story has a great description of the Reggio Approach on her blog.  Click on the picture below (photo from her blog post) to take you there.

I hope you are as inspired as I am to look more closely at the Reggio Approach.  It has changed my image of the child and deepened my understanding of how kids learn.

Happy exploring!

And here is my original post on Peter Reynolds' books.  It was so awesome to see that he read my blog post and appreciates my work!  It's a teacher/blogger's dream come true!


Oh, how I love art!  I am, by no means, an artist.  As a mater of fact, I FEARED art as a child.  I could not draw to save my life and it seemed that it was always part of every subject.  We had to draw models in math (pictures to represent our thinking) and it went hand in hand with the subject of writing.  That doesn't even begin to touch the traditional - Friday Art Project.  I was no good at it, and it really frustrated me, but I wished I could do art because I loved the idea of it.

When I became a teacher, I decided to take the fear out of art for my kids.  I started taking art classes for teachers in college and have spent many years practicing art with my own kids.  I can honestly say that I am no better at art than when I started, but I've learned to overcome my fear. I strive to find the art in every day life and make things beautiful around me. My big learning is that it just doesn't have to be perfect... that's all.

When I was at the NAEYC conference in Dallas, a few weeks ago, I was able to hear Peter Reynolds speak.  I could have listened to him all day.  He just GETS kids.  He knows their thoughts and fears when it comes to art and creativity and helps them think outside the box.  The books, pictured above, are a trio which really inspire kids to be the artist THEY are and not try to be perfect.  Sky Color, Ish, and The Dot are absolutely beautiful stories about the fact that it might not look exactly like a house, but it's house-ish.  Today, we did some Peter Reynolds inspired art.  It didn't have to be perfect, but it was our way of practicing small motor, trying to draw something new, and then adding labels later.  

It was good day, and we were ALL artist-ish.

Enjoy creating art!!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Bunnies, Berries, and Basil

Ok, there is actually nothing in this post about basil, but the title sounded better than Bunnies, Berries, and Zucchini.

Our garden is really starting to take off.  We've planted several new varieties of berries this year, which I'm really excited about.  We planted the Brazzelberries, which are dwarf raspberry bushes that do well in pots.  I planted a few new strawberries too.  I still need to make several trips to Biringer Farms for my BIG picks, but at least I can pick myself a snack now and then.

We've started lots of different seeds in the garden too.  I usually wait until May to plant my basil and tomatoes because they don't like cool and wet conditions.  I'll have to see how things go this year, with our new little friends hopping around.  Most of you know that we have a pet bunny at our house, but this year we also have a family of wild bunnies living under our deck.  They are awfully cute, but I'm afraid they will love our lettuce a little too much!

My garden is my happy place, so I'm thankful that Spring is finally here and my mini-homesteading can begin for the season.

How about you?  Have you started your planting yet?  What do you plant in your garden?  Are you trying anything new this year?  I'd love to hear about it!

Happy planting!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Big Scary Wall

Everybody has a wall like this one.  My sister calls it The Big Scary Wall.  It's that one wall in your house that is just a blank canvas, but it's SO big that you don't even know where to begin.

I've had grand plans for this space since we moved in, 10 years ago.  My plans have involved an entry table with lamps and a picture (hubby said no), barn wood shelves (don't even know where to begin with this idea), a gallery wall with photos (my house is already filled with photos of my kids), and even building shelves into the wall (again... don't know where to begin with that one).  It's been 10 years and I have done nothing with this space.

This is the big wall you see when you walk into my house and take a right, toward the kitchen.  It is also directly across from the dining room.  Here is the lovely view you see as you are sitting in my dining room.  Pretty blah, huh?

Well, I have finally decided that it's time to do something about the big scary wall.  I bought 3 small-ish items, which won't even make a dent in this space.  But, the best news is that I have an IDEA of what I want to do!  It's taken 10 whole years but I now know how I want this space to look!
  I can't wait.  

Here are 2 of the items I purchased for the big scary wall.  The rest of the things will come from thrift stores, possibly an antique store or two if I don't find what I'm looking for at the thrift stores, and my pantry cupboards.

I can hardly wait!  Do I have you wondering what I'm going to do and why I'm so excited?  Oh, I certainly hope so!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Cooking Ahead

Want to know my #1 secret for feeding my family during the crazy work weeks? It's chicken.  We eat chicken several times a week and I try to cook several pounds ahead of time. This week, my hubby cooked the chicken for me on the smoker.

My usual method for cooking chicken is to throw 2-4 pounds of chicken in the crockot with a few cups of chicken broth, turn the crockpot on low for 7 hours, and leave for work.

Chicken cooked on Sunday makes a great chicken Caesar wrap on Monday. 

I also chop up the cooked chicken and put it in freezer bags. Small bags are perfect to grab in the morning for my lunchtime salad. 

This week we will use the chicken in a casserole and a pasta dish, as well as the Caesar wraps I already showed you. Last week we used our chicken to make chicken soft tacos, white chicken chili, and chicken pizza. 

Once the chicken is cooked, dinner is a snap!

Happy cooking!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Creating An Outdoor Learning Space

The seeds and starts have been planted in our little garden and my attention is turning to how we use our outdoor space.  My daughter is 10 now, and she has used the playset behind our garden, less and less over the past two years.

I always said that, when the kids outgrew the playset, we could get an above ground pool for this area.  It's a nice flat spot that gets lots of sun!

The problem I'm having is that I just don't see them using a pool.  We love swimming and go to the local pool several times a week in the summer, but my kids are spoiled.  The pools are really warm. (Side story:  When they were little I would hook up the hose to the hot water heater so we could have warm water in the blow up pool.) We live in the Pacific Northwest, and nights are not warm.  The pool water in an unheated pool is pretty chilly!  I truly think that if we put a pool in this spot, I would go unused.

My mind has been wandering toward the idea of Outdoor Learning in my classroom lately.  I'm kind of obsessed with Reggio Emilia and Reggio Inspired learning spaces.  You can read more about my Reggio obsession on my literacy blog.  I've been reading about wonderful outdoor spaces that simply invite kids into nature, and it made me start to wonder if I could create something inspiring out here.

Can't you image a little arbor or bridge inviting a 10 year old and her friends into a mini outdoor school to play?

I'm picturing a few Adirondak chairs, tree stumps for side tables, maybe a table made from a tree round, a chalk board on the fence, and balance beams made from logs.  Little outdoor lights, hanging from the fence would complete the space.  The little kids (the 10 year olds) might use it to play school, or games on the chalkboard, while the big kids (the 14 year old crowd) could use it as a hang out that's a little further away from mom and dad on a summer night.  Maybe I'm dreaming, but I think this could be a really cool space!

I've created a Pinterest board with ideas for my outdoor learning space.  Some of the ideas are more suited to a school environment, but there are lots of ideas that could be used in the backyard as well.  

I can see using lots of natural materials, which might keep cost down.  Now, I just need to find a neighbor who is cutting down a tree and doesn't need the wood.

Happy outdoor space planning!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Spring Gardening Kind Of Day

Hello Spring Break!  I really love you!

It was a beautiful, sunny, day in the Pacific Northwest and I spent my afternoon in the garden. My hubby and I went to Flower World a few days ago and I had some new plants waiting for me.

We bought 2 new blueberry bushes.  (This time, I promise that I will remember to water them MORE than the other plants in the yard because they really need lots of water. Lesson learned.)

We bought 2 Raspberry Shortcakes by Monrovia.  I can't wait to to see how this dwarf raspberry does in a pot on my deck.  Yes, I have visions of sitting of sitting in my comfy chair, and reaching over to grab myself a snack.

My youngest was a pretty good little helper.  We added chicken manure to the garden and she helped turn the garden and rake it out.

I pulled a ten year old ivy plant out of the pot, on my deck, and replaced it with my little Shortcake.  I will FOREVER be pulling ivy out of that, I'm afraid.

I planted lettuce and parsley starts, and I also planted a few seeds.  I planted carrots, beans, and two varieties of zucchini.  I will add basil and tomatoes in May, and I will plant more lettuce and beans in two weeks.  I also have potatoes that will be grown in bags this year. I wanted to try something new, so I'll let you know how the potato bags do.

The strawberry plants got a little TLC today too, with fresh soil.

At the end of the day, I propped my feet up on 5 bags of dirt, and poured myself a glass of Grape Crush.  

Cheers, to a job well done!
Happy gardening!


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