Thursday, 5 January 2012

Christmas concert, Kindergarten brunch, holidays and back to it!


It has been a little while and I suppose I should try to make this more of a weekly update, especially now that a few people have told me that they're checking for updates once in a while, maybe I'll be more inclined to write!

The last week before Christmas holidays was crazy. The adults in the classroom managed to get through the week by having a constant coffee and chocolate supply on hand. If you can't beat'em, join'em right? I couldn't blame the kids for being excited though, I was too.

The Christmas concert was a lot of fun, and they were definitely pretty cute! Apparently people at the back could hear the kids singing too and not just me and my half-gone voice. Our little porcupine (albeit almost late to the party!) was perfect in his role, and we had even the quietest, most shy kids onstage with us. Thankfully we were first, and most kids stayed with us to watch the rest of the show afterwards. Seeing kids moved by music is such a neat thing. We've had some really neat moments over the past month that include music, and it has opened up a lot of interesting experiences and ideas for me. Some of the kids (many of the Mennonite children) were completely enthralled hearing other students in the school singing. They didn't move for the entire concert after we were finished.

There is another little one in the class who works with a full-time assistant who has tried out music breaks when being in the class is just too much. He sat listening to a range of music, from opera to pop and books on tape for half an hour straight. This was a huge amount of time for him to be sitting calmly and totally focused on one thing.

I suppose I had better learn a little more about music as I've noticed that many kids seem more focused and productive when there is music in the background of the classroom during activities. I had a prof during one of my first years of university that would play music (a different piece each day, depending on the lesson) as we walked in and out of his classes. It always set the tone for the lesson, even though this was a class of over 400 people, and we were exposed to anything from Mozart to Jiminy Cricket's "When You Wish Upon A Star."

Our Kindergarten brunch was a huge success! It was so much fun to cook with the kids, even though the bread turned out a little tougher than usual due to excessive kneading, and our jello cut-outs ended up frozen then liquified.

*On a side note, I had made 8 batches of bread dough on the weekend (a sweet egg bread that my family calls 'Teddy Bear Bread' and is made every Christmas) and put the batches in freezer bags to rise as I drove back to the town where I teach. I had the dough sitting on the floor of the passenger side, and part-way through my drive I heard a few "pop! pop! pop!" sounds that could have been my tires popping. I looked over to see that the warm air from my heater had been blowing on the dough, causing it to rise to epic proportions and explode the bags wide open! You can bet that dough stayed the night in the fridge after that!

I love parent volunteers. I had a few Moms that came in both days to help out, clean up and lend plates, crock pots, punch bowls, recipes and a lot of patience to the process. They were wonderful. The kids made Christmas tree shaped bread, cranberry orange muffins, jello, cut up apples, pomegranates, fruit dip, hot chocolate and punch. They welcomed their parents (and Grandparents!) and helped to make sure everyone had something to eat. We had about 40 people in our little room, and many families who brought siblings and Grandparents too. Most of our Mennonite families even came, which was very exciting, as many do not speak English and have quite a few little ones to bring with them. It was a really fun celebration. We ended our clean-up with a "pomegranate stain scavenger hunt" (I'm awful I know!) to wipe up any last remnants of our mess...the cleaning staff has more than enough to do this time of year!

On our last day before the break we took the kids to the Grade 9 Science class where the student teacher was demonstrating how to make ice cream with dry ice. I was really worried that the kids would get too excited and try to touch it, so we had a quick safety chat and went over to the room. About half of the kids were terrified, and wouldn't even try the ice cream when invited to. It was a pretty neat thing for them to see, and hopefully we can get in to some of the other classes to see what they're doing as well. The Grade 6 students will be making 'egg parachutes' at some point, and dropping them off the roof of the school, so we'll definitely be watching that one!

After watching ice cream being made, we hopped on the bus and went to see a movie at the theater in town. The movie definitely wasn't my first choice, but the kids enjoyed it, and one little girl (who sat on my lap for half of the movie) very proudly told me at the end that, "I didn't even cry!" We headed back to the school for a pizza lunch, quick recess and an assembly to round out the day. This was the first elementary assembly that the Kindergarten kids have been there, and they behaved really well despite the amounts of junk food eaten that day. I got to give out a few classroom awards to kids who displayed the  "best printing," "best reading," "best manners," and "most gentlemanly" behaviour for that month. Our class also won the "Library Award" as the Kindergarten kids are always "enthusiastic and have great manners" in the library (we've been working on it)!

I received some really wonderful cards and gifts from the kids and their families, and have come to the conclusion that: 1. I smell funny, and 2. that I need more chocolate! There were a lot of lotions, soaps and chocolates for me to enjoy! One really interesting and strange thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows where you live. Sometimes it's not a good feeling that people seem interested even in what groceries you bring home (goodness knows what people think of me carting laundry back and forth on weekends!), but it's also nice to know that people are watching out for you. A "Secret Family" adopted me the week before Christmas, and left a gift each night on my porch for me to come home to. That really blew me away.

It was nice to have a break and though it was hard to come back, the kids didn't forget everything and were really well behaved (though very tired by the end of the day) on our first day back. We went over our rules again, enjoyed the strangely warm temperatures and went OUTSIDE for gym class (unheard of here in January), reviewed our Sound Connections and did some new puzzles. The funniest part of the day was our shaving cream activity. We rolled up sleeves and put a pile of shaving cream on the table in front of each child and let them trace the capital and lowercase letters that they knew. They wrote their names and generally got pretty messy. Thank goodness shaving cream doesn't stain and just wipes away! It was a pretty fun activity, and one that helps out with fine motor development as well...I think the art of teaching Kindergarten must be hiding all of these developmental exercises behind exciting activities! Needless to say, we had most of the staff come by to see why our classroom and all of our kids smelled so darn manly!

The day had its really tough points as well, including parents coming in who do not often have the opportunity to see their child, and are so appreciative that their child has a safe and consistent place to come, and parents calling from the police station reporting a kidnapping when their child is safe at school. There were also calls to try and track down another child who should be at school, but whose family seems to have left without much trace. There have sure been a lot of sleepless nights on my part trying to think of what to do next, how to document things and how I can do the best for each child in the class, so I can only guess what parents go through in tough situations.

One thing I have really noticed in working with kids is that some parents are very disinclined to listen, ask or even speak to me about strategies, because I am young and do not have kids of my own. I was speaking to the classroom assistants about this as well, and one pointed out that I am also not from "here" which makes sense, though this has happened when I coached as well. Unfortunately, I haven't found a kind way to mention to these parents that before teaching I coached for 11 years (18 month-old children - adults), and have had many opportunities to learn strategies and just see what works with different kids. It's all part of proving yourself too I suppose, and this will take time!

A couple funny stories to finish it off:

One little guy came up to a classroom assistant, leaned on her and very sweetly asked, "did you miss me over the holidays?"
She responded with, "Of course I did!"
He then noted very matter-of-factly, "I knew you would."

Another little boy needed help opening his water bottle and stepped in front of one assistant and said, "open!"
She then said, "open what?" (Asking for a 'please'!)
He looked at her, very confused and said again, "open!"
I figured that I should stir the pot a little and whispered, "sesame!"
He then turned to her and said, "open sesame!"
Poor little guy...he did eventually figure out that we were asking for him to use his manners, though it was through no help of mine!

Doing our calendar each day takes a good half hour, as we can incorporate math, literacy, songs, weather, numbers, patterns, printing, etc. into it, so it is quite the production (and has taken me until now to have any sort of system to present it to the kids). The first day back we had some parents in the classroom, just watching what our days are like as they hadn't had the opportunity to come in to our class yet. We were in the middle of our calendar (imagine, it's a new MONTH and YEAR now) and one little girl wanted to help as I sometimes get volunteers to use the pointer to count and help us figure out what kind of movement pattern will be associated with our numbers that month. Well...she came up there and completed our calendar and counting smoother than I have ever done- with the parents still in the classroom watching of course! We had a good laugh as both the assistants and I noted that this little girl should lead calendar every day instead of me!

I have a fun lesson planned for tomorrow afternoon- making pudding in bags, add milk and let the kids squish away until it thickens up (see, more developmental exercises hidden away)! Hopefully it turns out a little cleaner than our shaving cream adventure!

Tomorrow should bring new challenges, and next week again as we get a new student!

Thanks for reading!

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