Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Environment

In keeping with the theme of my blog I feel compelled to write about my students' learning environment.
There are some things I can't control about my classroom: physical size or number of students, but I can control what goes into the classroom, how it's arranged, and how tidy it stays.

This year we have had 31 students and 2 teachers in our classroom. As much as I like to keep a classroom environment flexible and adaptive, the students I had this year in Kindergarten seemed to require tomato cages or a trellis.  This year countless toys and books were broken or mistreated, furniture scrawled on with markers, pencils broken purposefully, crayons constantly snapped in half. It was frustrating to see this behavior, but I think I was also channeling a lot of the frustration my students were feeling about not having spaces to grow, be themselves, have quiet OR social activities, and to have more choices... to just be kids and breathe!  As am I cleaning the room and packing things away for summer, I am thinking about next fall already.

While I look forward to spending time outside this summer and doing light landscaping, I see in my backyard that plants always do better when they have their own space and aren't being taken over by weeds. I want the students to have spaces where they can explore through a variety of sensory activities, rather than constantly working with writing implements at their tables.  I want them to have room to stretch out, feel comfortable, and get their own needed time in the sun.
This year we simply didn't have a lot of room for much else. I want to weed out unnecessary furniture and get rid of filing cabinets and go as paperless as possible. This is a tall order for a teacher, as any teacher tends to be a packrat "just in case we might use it in the future."  I see so many inspiring pictures of other teachers' classrooms, through their blogs and want very much to be there, but I seem to not have been born with the organizational gene. Just like I have taught myself to like foods I didn't have a taste for (olives, anyone?) I am trying to teach myself to find a place for everything, and if it doesn't have a place, it isn't needed. I think part of me finds purpose in disarray. When things are disheveled I can look around and know where everything is. It's visually stimulating. My brain doesn't seem to handle calm well, which maybe is a good trait to have for a Kindergarten teacher.

But my classroom has to function for my students, not for me. I want to give them all their space.  Today in a visual survey of my room I estimated that "teacher only" areas account for at least 30% of the space.  This simply isn't right. Students deserve and require that space to have optimal experiences in Kindergarten. They need sand tables, listening centers, computers, dramatic play areas, construction areas, art areas and quiet reading areas, all of which was nearly denied to my students this year because of my inability to provide the space, organization, expectations, and framework for them to do these activities in. I want to whittle my teacher areas to having my desk with the computer on it and utilizing my guided reading table as a seating area for students when they all need to be working at their tables (like during math time).   Spaces that can be multi-purpose need to be, and centers areas that students will use daily need to remain set-up and organized for student use.

Although I am wholly responsible for my classroom environment, one obstacle I am find in teaching is that more and more of our Kindergarten curriculum is becoming "sit and get," which is antithetical to the way in which the majority of Kindergarteners learn. When we expect 31 young children to all be performing the same task at the same time, it becomes a game of herding cats, or turbo Whack-a-Mole. Of course there are times when we need all of the students to be together, but I believe if students are given more freedom throughout the day, these times of class gathering become more meaningful and less taxing for wiggly kids (and their teacher).

I'm looking to weeding my Kindergarten and having a flower bed ready for my new little sprouts in the fall.  In the meantime Pinterest is going to be my idea shop.  Here are a few gems I found from First Grade Fresh.

Listening Center
Meeting Area with directions, objectives

And more from

Student materials are low, teacher materials are stored using "up" space.

In other environmental news, our school is raising funds for a natural playground.  I hope that we can make this dream a reality for our students, many of whom come from apartments or trailer homes where having their own back yard isn't feasible. There is so much more to play than asphalt, balls, and slides. My favorite thing to do when I was a kid (and probably adult) was sculpt things out of mud and mix in pine needles like straw in a mud hut. I really think kids should be getting dirtier at school.

This is what I hope will take shape in our giant swath of grass. We have the space, let's mix it up!
The above design was created by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds. I feel that our school is very fortunate to be working with this great organization.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Give up...

I got home tonight with my son. He saw kids riding up and down our street and called out to them, "Hello! Come play with me!"  For a few minutes I had one of those moments parents have when they finally are certain of the growth and change their child is making. He doesn't need me or want me around at all waking hours like he used to.  Today I saw him reaching out to kids he didn't know, out of his shell, and I realized my baby is nearly ready for school.  It can be a tough pill to swallow, or is it that big lump you get in your throat when you have to let something go?

I came up and checked my Facebook and saw a fellow teacher friend who posted this link:
I think that this article speaks to something I find as true, that we create our own happiness with what we have. It isn't the prize we earn when we finally get to point B, or the new house, a new car, or a diamond ring. It is the spiritual grounding you have in your own life and how we manage inevitable challenges.

Although there are 15 things to give up, I found the following from the article to be the most applicable as of late.

Be willing to give up your need to always control everything that happens to you and around you – situations, events, people, etc. Whether they are loved ones, coworkers, or just strangers you meet on the street – just allow them to be. Allow everything and everyone to be just as they are and you will see how much better will that make you feel.
“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond winning.” Lao Tzu
There are many things I cannot immediately control: my class-size in number of students, my income (or lack thereof), etc., but I can manage them.  I find that I am sometimes fighting my boisterous students for them to be quiet so we can continue on, but there is really no way I can MAKE them be quiet.  I just have to find a way to manage their disruption so they don't find it rewarding to be disruptive and the rest of the students can continue on. 

about what you can or cannot do, about what is possible or impossible. From now on, you are no longer going to allow your limiting beliefs to keep you stuck in the wrong place. Spread your wings and fly!
“A belief is not an idea held by the mind, it is an idea that holds the mind” Elly Roselle

Kindergartners can achieve so much when they are given the right enriching experiences that inspire them to learn. They often remind me that learning is limitless when I see how much they achieve in 9 months.

 Give up your constant need to complain about those many, many, maaany things – people, situations, events that make you unhappy, sad and depressed. Nobody can make you unhappy, no situation can make you sad or miserable unless you allow it to. It’s not the situation that triggers those feelings in you, but how you choose to look at it. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking.
Lately I feel I have done too much complaining. Despite it being a tough year, no excuses.  I think I am going to start filing them away.


 Change is good. Change will help you move from A to B. Change will help you make improvements in your life and also the lives of those around you. Follow your bliss, embrace change – don’t resist it.
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls” 
Joseph Campbell
Sometimes I have a hard time determining my bliss. Yesterday I spun one of my students around in circles (he was having a bad day) and watch his face light up as he squealed with delight.  I love cooking, especially when it turns out, photography... I think though in many ways I have been trying to find footing in my personal life, and perhaps I am holding on and searching with my feet where there is no footing yet.
Not me, wish it was!
and lastly for tonight:
This is a concept that, for most of us is so hard to grasp and I have to tell you that it was for me too, (it still is) but it’s not something impossible. You get better and better at with time and practice. The moment you detach yourself from all things, (and that doesn’t mean you give up your love for them – because love and attachment have nothing to do with one another,  attachment comes from a place of fear, while love… well, real love is pure, kind, and self less, where there is love there can’t be fear, and because of that, attachment and love cannot coexist) you become so peaceful, so tolerant, so kind, and so serene. You will get to a place where you will be able to understand all things without even trying. A state beyond words.
I love my son beyond words, and I am growing to accept that it is okay for me to love the time I spent with him when he was a "baby." But I cannot keep him as a baby forever. I think as a single parent who misses out on some of the time with him, I fear losing him or his love.  I know that it is an irrational fear, but there it is, nonetheless.

I think anyone should check out 15 Things You SHould Give Up To Be Happy for a little bit of introspection and self-reflection.  I'm sure there is something there that anyone would feel they could work on.

This entry is for my grandma who passed a year ago today.  I love her and all memories of her. I'd like to think that her simplicity and sensibility guides me a little bit everyday.

And also to my mom, who cried on my first day of Kindergarten.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom.  Thanks for pushing me through those big, red double doors at Pitsch Elementary, even though part of you maybe wanted to pick me up and run back home.

Maybe it's a little gift for you to know I'm right back in Kindergarten where you left me that day, hair still wild and curly and glasses still thick and plastic, fashion sense only slightly improved.