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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Currently

Well, I went to write a "currently" post, but really it would be all about school.



I'm trying to remember, in the throes of being a first-year teacher, that this is normal. Feeling this overwhelmed and exhausted is ok.



I am currently thinking, living, and breathing kindergarten. My students, my lesson plans, my parent interactions and conferences. I worry about how to reach that tricky child, whether or not my small reading groups are really addressing specific needs, and how to gently guide 5 year olds into loving learning.



I am currently eating tacos, spaghetti, and sausage sandwiches for dinners every week because those meals can all be made, fairly cheaply, inside of 20 minutes and with minimal cleanup. I am also trying not to worry about calories, because darnitall if I don't need that third piece of chocolate to get through this afternoon.



I am currently rereading Harry Potter for the 57th time because it's simply all my brain can handle by the time I pick up a book in evening, and it's happening in approximately 8 minutes increments because I fall asleep.



I am currently loving my job. Loving watching children learn, play together, and become a community in my classroom.



What have you been up to?!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

On being the Ones who Stay

It began around the last year or so of high school.


People asked about my college plans, and I told them about my intention to attend community college, and later on, Temple University. My friendly inquirers congratulated me on my sensible and economical choices; how practical, they said, to do the same work for so much cheaper and closer to home.


Meanwhile, most of my friends packed their earthly belongings and headed off into the wild blue yonder, ready to test their wings and their luck. Grantham, PA. Lynchburg, VA. Clearwater, FL. Even Orange City, IA, and one to California.


A few years later, friends started graduating from college and moving again; Chicago, Texas, Florida....the friends I had made at college moved away, too. Maryland. Boston.


Even my family moved halfway across the country, leaving me in the good old Philly ‘burbs to try their luck in the tiniest of Michigan towns.


I stayed behind. Stayed only 45 minutes from the house I grew up in, stayed by my (then) fiancee, by my job, by college.


Fast forward six years...I live in an apartment 5 minutes from my first home in Glenside, the same apartment my husband and I moved into as newlyweds. We (well, I) casually keep an eye on houses for sale in our neighborhoods, knowing that we love this area and want to stay.


Fast forward six years, and find us active and engaged members at a wonderful local church. A church that has close ties with Westminster Theological Seminary, and the many students that flock from across the globe to study there. Students, who after their 3-5 years of seminary (possibly with a marriage or baby added into the bargain), move to Anywheresville, USA to pursue God’s calling for their lives.


And we stay.


We say goodbye to Kelli and Will, Jason and Sarah, Juan Carlos and Samara, James and April, Brooke and Dan...not to mention their wonderful children and the hope of wonderful VBS’s. We know they are going to follow God’s leading, they are choosing exciting and fulfilling adventures, and they are pursuing the things they are meant to pursue.


But our hearts break a little bit. Ok, a lot bit.


Our most recent conquests, Dan’s and mine, are two wonderful young men who have become quite good friends of ours. They live just minutes away and we have them over regularly for dinner and movies, spewing random movie trivia, cracking good-natured jokes at one another’s expense. I’ve so enjoyed getting to know these friends, engaging in each other’s lives, praying for, supporting, and rejoicing with one another. But I know, in that objective, self-serving and self-preserving part of my brain, that they will leave us one day. They will leave us for good, purposeful, godly intentions. And we will stay behind, our roots deep and strong and lonely.


I’ve begun to wonder lately how the next five, ten, fifteen years of our lives will be shaped by these friends, these brothers and sisters in Christ to whom we offer our love, our energy, and our friendship. What will happen when we aren’t young and energetic anymore, when we have small children who drain our emotional banks and sap our time? My hope and my prayer is that we will continue to reach out to these movers and shakers, these transient, and that our home will continue to be a haven, a respite, a safe place for a warm meal and friendly company. I also become increasingly thankful for those few friends who remain here, with whom we grow, love, support, mourn, and celebrate.


Being the ones who stay has changed and grown my understanding of community, and made me so aware and grateful that we are creatures designed for relationship. These friends enrich our lives and break our hearts. They keep us serving, keep us humble, and they inspire us to love freely and without condition. They, without ever knowing it, give food to our roots. They give us a purpose in staying.


We will stay. We will love from near and far, we will welcome, we will unpack moving vans, we will feed and befriend and shower, and then we will repack vans and send off.


We will stay.



Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fall Walk Photo Dump

A walk through Pennypack Reserve in Huntingdon Valley on a gorgeous fall day. 



No more words really necessary, amiright?! 
































I love fall.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Pancakes


It's a typical stereotype, but every fall I go a little nuts for all things pumpkin and apple. This year I decided to manifest that stereotype in some cop-out pumpkin spice pancakes! 



Most of the time, I make pancakes by mixing up some Aunt Jemima box mix with different ingredients. I've done yogurt, applesauce, oatmeal, various fruit or chocolate chips...this fall, I decided to try pumpkin spice. 





I followed the basic directions on the box to make the batter, but then I added a couple teaspoons of Trader Joe's pumpkin butter, a dash of cinnamon, and a splash of vanilla extract. 




Voila! 



Perfect fall weekend breakfast. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Even More Apples

Among many other things, my mom instilled in me the very strong habit of picking apples every year. 



Without fail! 



It's always fun, always worth the effort, and I get to make delicious apple treats for weeks thereafter. This year, I went with just Sister, and I'm kind of glad because it was a bit of a fiasco. 






We usually go to Solebury Orchards in New Hope, which is a bit of a hike, but they have a great vibe and some extremely delicious apple cider donuts. However, this year they were completely mobbed when we showed up. The trees were fairly picked over (we theorize that they were about to switch over to new rows, because the rows available were picking were almost empty, but there were rows of trees a few yards away full of beautiful apples and signs that said "DO NOT PICK"). We, however, rose to the occasion and I channeled my inner Katniss to climb some trees. 







Success!


It ended up being a blast, but we were a little miffed at the availability of apples, and apple cider donuts. We got some cider ice instead, some beautiful pictures, 




Pretty sister. 






and skedaddled with our bags of treetop apples. 








Do you have any favorite fall traditions? 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Apples, Apples, Everywhere!


Our first science unit in kindergarten was all about the 5 Senses. We covered what they were, how they worked, and practiced using them with various objects and experiences in the room. We discussed how good scientists have three jobs--they have to observe the things around them, collect information about those things, and then communicate what they’ve learned.




Then we took our awesome scientist skills, and applied them to apples. Yum!



We read the books The Tiny Seed, and Ten Apples Up on Top. I know there are lots of other good apple books out there, but I’m just starting to build my library. Let me know if you have any suggestions!



We made stained glass apples,


Source
Our apples had black "frames," but I didn't snap a picture.



And we explored actual apples from the grocery store. We used all five of our senses--seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and finally, tasting!



We described them, like good scientists, so that others can learn from what we know.



And, like good scientists, we made predictions--we guessed which color apple (red, yellow, or green) we would like the best. Each student took a slip of paper in the color of their guess. Then we tasted! 



If the students made correct predictions, they kept their slip of paper. If the results from our experiment surprised them, they could change the paper.



I emphasized at this point that science is less about being right or wrong, and more about learning new things. It’s always ok if our predictions are wrong!



We graphed the results.





Next, we made diagrams of our apples. These are ripped pieces of paper, and I printed out labels (our handwriting is still iffy!) so we could continue to communicate our learning. Didn’t they turn out adorable!?





The culmination of our Apples unit had two parts. (As you can see, we covered a lot of ground here! This took us most of September to accomplish.) We visited a local apple orchard, where we took a hayride, picked pumpkins, learned about how orchard workers pick apples, and picked apples to take home with us. I picked extra so we could have a special treat.



Crock pot applesauce! We made a recipe (which tied very neatly into our Sequence of Events unit from language arts) and let the apples simmer all day. Our classroom smelled fantastic.


Just FYI, it definitely took longer than three hours. More like five.



You will not believe how many times over the course of the day
students informed me that they were certain it was ready. It never was. 



It was the perfect--and delicious--way to finish off our apple unit!




Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Back to School, A Little Late

When I said a few weeks ago that the school year had hit me like a ton of bricks, I wasn’t really employing hyperbole.





Unfortunately.



Anyway, I tried to warn you that posts may be delayed/fewer than usual/nonexistent, and I wasn’t just being self-deprecating. Any good teacher knows that the day starts long before students arrive, and continues way past when they get on the bus to head home. Add into that tutoring two previous students, stuff with church, and, you know, trying to be married and keep a household semi-functioning (which actually takes time), and there’s precious few moments left to blog.



Enough of the excuses. I just felt the need to explain myself, and justify the weekend hours I spent running errands, spending time with family, and reading a book instead of on here.



I wanted to round up a few of the resources that I found invaluable as a new teacher in the first week or two of school. Those first few days define craziness, and it all flies by in a blur of learning names, needs, and personalities, trying to teach classroom routines and procedures, and maybe, if you’re really lucky, actually getting some learning done.



This is an actual photo of my first week “plans.” I downloaded the plans template from Pinterest, and edited them to my needs and liking.


Source


Then I made loooong lists of possible activities for those first few days. I tried to tell myself to relax, just take things one step at a time, and not sweat it if we didn’t actually get that much accomplished. After all, I’m not only new at this myself, but I’m teaching brand new 5 year olds!

Of course, I had to make myself fairly detailed plans for the first day, so I wrote it out on a piece of notebook paper. That only lasted two or three days, and now I’m quite comfortable fleshing out plans in weekly format.


Yes, those are my actual plans for this week. Luckily there are no coffee stains this week. ;-)


In those first few days, I tackled the following:
  • Teaching classroom routines (this could be a whole post in and of itself...hmm, note to self…). I focused on everyday routines, such as unpacking in the morning, snack and lunchtime routines (we eat in the classroom), lining up and walking in the hallway, sitting on the rug, and packing up in the afternoon. This list really helped me decide what to teach right away.
  • Get-to-know-you-activities and crafts. This included making self-portraits, morning meeting activities, and a graph of the letters in our names.
  • Practicing centers and other classroom usage. I have a very hands-on, interactive teaching style, so my room is full of ways for students to learn independently. Nothing makes me happier than seeing students play math games, choose good books from our class library, or practice their handwriting--WITHOUT REALIZING THEY ARE LEARNING. I absolutely believe learning should be fun, and kindergarten is the perfect place to practice that. Anyway, I taught my kiddos how to use the library, the math and literacy centers, and the art center.

Blurry literacy centers...I change out the materials every few weeks to make
sure we are practicing new skills! 


After three days of this stuff, the children felt comfortable in the room, and seemed ready to move on to actual learning! So we launched in our phonics program (we use Fundations, by Wilson Reading), our language arts (Foundations and Frameworks) and some math (Everyday Math). The fact that we had practiced so many routines and procedures meant that we could focus on the content.



In the first week and a half or so, did lots of simple activities to get used to the way learning happens in kindergarten. Those activities usually included a book, of course! The ones I am definitely planning to use again are:


  • First Day Jitters (talk about and make lists of how we feel on the first day of school)
  • Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten (alphabet review, where to find things in our classroom)
  • I Like Me! (make our self-portraits)
  • If Everybody Did (talk about our classroom rules, and role play how we act in kindergarten)
  • Pete the Cat: Rockin’ in My School Shoes (for fun--play the song from youtube!)
  • Chrysanthemum (by Kevin Henkes, count the letters in our names and make a graph showing how many letters are in our names)


These covered several days, and let us get plenty of practice in using our materials, and our minds! Plus, they give us some cute things to hang around the room for back to school night.



Any other teachers out there have any “go-tos” for the first days of school? It’s such a tricky balance of letting the children adjust and breathe, and trying to get them used to the new schedule and (sometimes) rigorous expectations!