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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Books To End the School Year

Usually the end of the school year is emotional but even more so this year. I am grateful that our principal is having a time for us to see our students one last time before their summer vacation officially begins but it is going to be hard to stay stoic with them. I did get some good news-I am going to be looping up to 1st Grade with my kiddos next year! What a perfect year to be able to start off knowing exactly where they are academically and already having a relationship with parents.

So as we wind down our online learning I have several last read-alouds that I will be doing with my students. I wanted to share the titles because you may be looking for a good way to end the year as well:













Thursday, May 21, 2020

Everything I Learned About Teaching I Learned From My Dog

Ok maybe not EVERYTHING. But I did learn a lot.

So 11 years ago I was looking for a puppy and came across this bundle of ears at a rescue event. She had been at the shelter a month but they couldn't tell me anything else about how she had gotten there.


I asked my mom if she thought I should buy a carrier for the car to take her home and she said they always just carried their puppies in their laps. I decided to name her Ruby and brought her home. She bit and scratched me the whole way. I was like-aren't rescue dogs supposed to be grateful-did you not get that memo? :) The next few days she paced constantly. She had so much anxiety-she just wouldn't lay down and relax. I actually would put her in a crate several times a day just to give her some peace. She was also very mouthy (she would nip whenever she felt stressed which was basically all the time).

Signed up with a trainer who came to our house and observed her. They said "she's always like this? she never jumps up in your lap and cuddles". Yes she's always like this. "Well, I think you should return her to the shelter because she will never be the kind of dog you want her to be". What?! I even said to this woman-I'm a teacher. Imagine first meeting a student and telling the parents-he's never going to be the kid you want him to be. I was so offended. We had paid for 5 sessions up front and never let them back into our house.

Trainer #2 called her his little alligator because she keep untying his shoelaces with her teeth. He was all about giving her enough exercise and teaching her how to heel. We practiced and practiced but it didn't make her behavior any better. She was still nipping and still pacing. He suggested putting her on a treadmill to release all that energy. Yeah, not going to happen.

Trainer #3 called himself the Dog Whisperer for our city. He took out a prong collar and said you need to be tougher with her. You need to show her who is boss.

Trainer #4: A friend of my mom's suggested a dog trainer in her area that worked with challenging dogs. From the moment we met her I knew she was different. She understood Ruby. She channeled that nervous energy into agility training. She gave me permission to let Ruby be who she was. Maybe she was just never going to walk behind me in a perfect heel. Why not put her on a long lead at the park and let her roam in front of us? If she's nipping at you on walks-then don't take her for walks right now-you are just reinforcing that behavior. This trainer saved us.

It took a lot of work, but Ruby became a great companion. She wouldn't always listen and there were some behaviors-like barking at EVERY SINGLE PERSON who walked down our street that we could never get rid of. But when I let her be who she was and accepted that, she blossomed. 




The same goes in our classrooms. Sometimes we have ideas of what we think kids should be, how they should act. Not every child is capable of conforming to that. We have to let little things go and meet them where they are. 

Ruby was diagnosed with leukemia and I had to put her down today. I was thankful the vet let me go in with her because with all the distancing right now that is not usually the policy. That stubborn girl fought until the end. I am so thankful to have been home with her these past few months. I would joke that she was getting spoiled but I believe things happen for a reason. If we were at school right now there would be activities I couldn't miss-I couldn't take off for a vet visit or even just to grieve.

I am loving the messages from the families of former students who looked at Ruby like our class mascot. She even jumped up and took over class a few times during online learning. It's so hard to say good-bye but heartening to me that she will be remembered.

Anyway, remember one size does not fit all. We have to face every student with a different set of tools and do what works for them. I hear teachers all the time say things like "he does that on purpose" or "this kid won't obey". Every behavior is a need. We have to figure out what that need is and fill it. And any preconceived notions we have about how students should act need to be tossed out the window. Be flexible.



Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Books About Feelings

Our kiddos are going through a lot right now. I was in an online lesson, took a sip of water-it went down the wrong pipe and I started coughing. One of my students said "are you alright Miss Trayers, do you have the Coronavirus?" This is a 5 year old! I just can't imagine how they are trying to process all this. They take on the feelings of the adults around them and many adults are feeling scared right now. Plus, they are having to deal with social isolation and not being able to play in the park, etc. It's a lot for their little minds to process.

As we return in the fall, I think it's really important to include social-emotional strategies in our plans. I wanted to share my favorite books for talking about feelings with the little ones.





I LOVE Mr. Rogers. He was such a beautiful human being. His whole purpose in life was to give kids permission to  feel their feelings and be able to articulate them.


A great story about grief and how to deal with it. Little by little until you start to feel better.


One of my pet peeves is that people don't know how to just listen. They either want to tell you how to fix your problem or they want to tell you about their experiences. I hate when I share something with someone and they just turn it back around about themselves. This story shows how different animals react to a child who is upset. The rabbit just listens and that's what they needed.


I explicitly teach my students how to calm down. I model it for them myself when I get frustrated. Love being able to use stories to help give them strategies.


Lots of ways to calm down and Sophie tries all of them.


A cute story that I know many students can relate too. I mean everyone gets grumpy every once in a while right?


Different animals represent different feelings.








You have to let it in.



I thought this story was heartbreaking the first time I read it. How often do students feel invisible? I want my students to know how to include everyone.




Saturday, May 16, 2020

Backward Writing Prompts

So often when we give students a writing prompt, we give them the beginning and ask them to write the rest. One of my favorite activities is to give them the ending and ask them to come up with the beginning.  

Some of my favorite endings to use:

* and then your teacher went home.
* and then the cookies were gone.
* and then the zoo closed.
* and then the doorbell rang.
* and then we closed the fridge.
* and then he scored a goal.
* and then they screamed.
* and then the power went out.
* then he took off his mask



To add another element of rigor you can give them the phrase and ask them to decide to use it in the beginning or the end of their story.









Thursday, May 14, 2020

Positive Things About Remote Learning

I know sometimes it's hard to find a silver lining. When we got the message that we would be teaching remotely for the rest of the school year I was both excited and terrified. What would that look like with Kinder students? As time went on we figured out a way it worked for us and now I feel like an old pro. I don't feel like an effective teacher using online lessons. I wish more of my students would participate (I have about 7 out of 22 who sign on every week). But I do see some positives:

1) I have gotten to know my students better. Every time we connect online they show me their favorite toy, their pet. I talk to their parents. I feel like our relationship has grown.

2) Learning new technologies has been fun. There are systems in place now that I think I will actually continue in the future. I am actually going to use Zoom to tutor my 6-year old nephew who lives in another state. Each day I'm learning new features like how to share my screen or show a powerpoint.

3) It's allowed me to be creative. We still have our old curriculum to follow, but I don't feel like I have to follow that script. What we are doing is more like enrichment. We have had guided field trips to museums, did projects like inventing a new instrument and insect. I have gotten input from the students about what they want to learn about-so they are invested too.

4) Teachers are sharing all kinds of resources with each. Someone will talk about an activity that they did and my first question is how did you do that? There are step by step instructions on how to make a bitmoji or change your Zoom background. It's refreshing to see teachers sharing ideas and not charging for them.

5) We have been working with the students online in small groups. I feel like I can really target the skills they need help with and differentiate more easily than in the actual classroom.

So it's not all bad. Truly. Do I hope to continue that way of learning in the fall-not on your life! :) But I do think we are going through all this for a reason and maybe that reason is to make us less techno-phobic. :) 

What are some positive things you see about this whole situation?



















Sunday, May 10, 2020

Social Justice with the Little Ones

One of things that got cancelled when our quarantine season started, is our Social Justice Wax Museum. I assigned each student a historical figure and a book to go along with it. The plan was to research that person together and each student made a backdrop collage of their book. On the day of the presentation we were going to dress up like person and the students had a little speech they were memorizing.

Social Justice is a concept that has many different definitions. For me, it's about people fighting for equal treatment-either for themselves or for others. These some of the books we chose this year:






Beautifully written and illustrated story about a girl growing up in Cuba who would not give up her dream of becoming a drummer. Only boys were allowed to play the drums-she changed that.


Carter was the inventor of Black History Month. He grew up with parents who were slaves and wanted more for the African American Community.


Charlie Sifford was not allowed to participate in golf tournaments just because of the color of his skin. He broke down barriers in the sports world.


Jane Goodall has always fascinated me. She fights for the rights of animals all over the world.


This book is all about John Lewis and how he grew up to have the strength to walk with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma.


Mae Jamison became the first African American female astronaut.


This is a very age-appropriate story about Malala's fight for allowing girls in her country to get an education.


Jacques Cousteau fights for our oceans. From a young age he strove to bring awareness to the pollution and devastation we are causing in our underwater communities.


Basquiat is one of my favorite artists. He broke barriers in the art world by painting about life in poverty.


I LOVE this book. A little long for our littles, but I think it gives a picture not only into what Rosa did for Civil Rights but also into who she was as a person.


Even when they tried to make her right-handed as a child Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented. She fights for equality for women even to this day.


I have to admit, I had never heard of Sylvia Mendez until I read this book. She fought for Mexican children to be allowed to attend school with everyone else.



There is so much injustice going on in the world today. Some people believe Kinder students are too young to deal with that. I think it's important for them to know not only what is going on but how we can help combat it. They can handle it!




Friday, May 8, 2020

Chapter Read Alouds for Kindergarten

Years ago I had an administrator who was making suggestions during a pre-service session. She said she thought every teacher should be doing read-alouds with their students above their grade level. It is great for vocabulary, comprehension and there are so many reading response activities you can do about characters changing over time, etc. It was like a lightbulb went off over my head. And from that day on I have ongoing chapter books that we read aloud together. It has become my favorite part of the day.

My suggestions for read alouds in early childhood:


This is an amazing mentor text to teach voice. Bernice has a rough life and a tough time fitting in. Lots of scenarios to discuss ethics and perspective. And it's funny!


Some students have seen the movie, but I feel like the book is different. It focuses more on the family and their poverty in the beginning and I think it makes the luck Charlie has even more amazing.


This is a tremendously deep book. It's about whether or not it's worth it to love-because you can get hurt. Edward goes through a tremendous change throughout the book and it's hard for me to get through the last page without tears. Lots of opportunities for activities to compare perspectives. I usually follow up with the Veleveteen Rabbit and we compare those two titles.


There are a few parts I skip that talk about things that happened in the war but otherwise I think this is a great story of an ESL student making his way in America. The main character is a refugee who is thrilled to have his own desk at school and accidentally puts the dishes in the washing machine. An opportunity for discussions about adapting to new situations and helping people who may not understand.


I truly believe every teacher should read this book. The protagonist is an odd bird and his teachers don't always understand him. Discussions about how differences make us stronger are my favorite part of sharing this story with kids.


Dad is late coming home with milk from the store and he weaves a revolutionary tale of why that is. Storytelling at its finest.


Melody is in a wheelchair and cannot speak but she is just like other kids. In places this book is poetic and what happens to Melody at the end still angers me. Great discussions about how to treat people with disabilities.


The donkey's mother died and they don't expect the baby to live very long. A great book to display empathy and how to care for animals. There is a parallel story about the boy's brother who is abroad as a soldier.


I was one of those people who believed my stuffed animals had feelings. This book details what the dolls do when the humans are not looking. 


Tua sees an elephant being mistreated so she takes it. Again, empathy for animals and discussions on ethics and fighting for social justice.


My new favorite to read aloud. Funny and genuinely fun to read. Wedgie is a very energetic Corgi and Gizmo is a guinea pig with plans to rule the world. Great example of voice in writing. (I've never seen a dog's voice captured better!)


A little long for the little ones, but it's exciting so it will keep their attention. The robot has to adapt to survive in the wilderness. Discussions about how a character can change and also things like "would you like to have a robot for a mother?"


I change up the books I read from year to year and I LOVE finding new ones to share with my students.