Friday, November 30, 2007

Dad's Birthday

Today, November 30, is my father's birthday.

He'd have turned 84 today if he were still alive.

As I took roll this morning, I told the class that I'd be thinking about my dad and missing him, and that I felt sad. I told them he taught me to love sailing and bicycling.
Here is what my dad looked like when he was about kindergarten age, just before the Great Depression.

One girl offered, "You could go to the ocean and throw in some roses. That's what we did for Opah when he died."

A little later a boy came over and told me,

"Make a little sailboat and let it go with with flowers."

Sometimes you blink back tears and carry on.

Popular Guy

Archy's a popular guy in kindergarten.

He's been with me since 1979, but magically, Archy is 4.

He has impulse control issues. He blurts, he shouts, he yodels. Yet he is my constant companion in the early weeks of kindergarten because he is remarkably discerning of his emotional life. He can describe his emotions with amazing accuracy.

Yes, Archy is my mouse puppet. His whole name is Archy Denison, and yes, Archy was a stowaway on the Venturer and has been to Dinotopia.

Archy comes to my rescue every time I need to navigate some treacherous emotional waters: stealing, not sharing, name calling, cutting in line, being afraid of snakes, cats, dogs, or frustration or discouragement.

Rather than risk humiliating a child with light fingers, for example, Archy can pilfer a cherished bauble, get caught, and become the object of my lecture about not stealing. I can rely on Archy to reflect on his behavior quite skillfully, discover his feelings of remorse, and offer a heartfelt apology (always accepted) for his transgression.

Consider finding an Archy for your kindergarten.Here is Archy Gurning.

Gurning is the ability to make a good face. It's a family talent. My brother, Jim, of Dinotopia fame, has developed this talent. You can read about Gurning on his blog, Gurney Journey. Jim's well-illustrated blog is well worth a visit. Check it out at

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Let It Shine!

One of the main lessons I wish to impart to my students is that a reliable way to be happy is to help others be happy.

The old spiritual, "Let It Shine" helps me get this idea across. I tell my kindergartners,

"If you really want to let your light shine, make someone you love happy. Can you think of a way to make someone you love happy?"

They suggest an idea and I insert their words into "Let It Shine." The repetition in the song makes it easy for even five year-olds to sing along with me.

We begin with the obligatory opening chorus:

This little light of mine I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine.
Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.

Sometimes I'll sing a standard verse, you know, "Won't let anyone blow it out, I'm gonna let it shine." and so on.

Students come up with the best verses and they enjoy their variations.

Today they suggested these lyrics,

"Help my mom do the laundry, I'm gonna let it shine."

"Help my dad clean my room, I'm gonna let it shine."

"Help my mom do the dishes, I'm gonna let it shine."

"All the planets and all the worlds, I'm gonna let it shine."

"For my big brother, I'm gonna let it shine."

Day after day Henry suggests the same lyric:

"For my baby sister, I'm gonna let it shine."

Henry's sister just learned to crawl, and she shines when we sing Henry's verse. Henry shines, too. We all shine.

P.S. I subscribe to Tom Hunter's rule about Zipper Songs: Accept every suggestion from the audience, no matter how many times you might have to sing it. When Henry suggests his lyric, it's about his baby sister, Abigail. But when Madison suggests the same baby sister lyric, we're singing about her brand-new baby sister, Miranda.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Years ago at a workshop for teachers I learned about book blessings. Book blessings are special book reviews for books you love. The presenter gave a us a demonstration. He blessed a book I love, too, Ira Sleeps Over, by Bernard Waber.

Book blessings are a good idea.

As much as I love books, I don’t teach books. I teach children. Since that day, I’ve tried to bless my students each one, every day.

Soon after the reading conference I found myself riding my bicycle around the playground with a girl who had just learned to ride on two wheels. Her enjoyment of the exercise, fresh air, and sunshine reminded me of my intention to bless my students.

Here's Belle enjoying choice time on a bicycle in 2007.
This story is about a girl who's now in eighth grade.

“I feel great,” I told her, “to be riding here with you. I'm a lucky guy.” A clumsy blessing, true, but better than none.

Her reply surprised me. “Mr. Gurney, when I started kindergarten, I wanted a lady teacher, not you. I didn’t think you’d be nice.”

I was stunned. Still, I managed to ask her, “You didn’t? What did you think I would be like?”

“More meaner. Well, maybe you’d only be a little nice."


"But really, you’re A LOT nice.”

I let her words sink in. I repeated what she had said to remember her words exactly as she had said them. "You're a lot nice, you're a lot nice, you're a lot nice."

And then it occurred to me that I had just been blessed. I said, “Well, thank you. I am glad you think I’m nice. You’re very nice to say that.”

With that, she blessed me once again, skillfully, with words that I’ll cherish forever.

“Mr. Gurney, you make my heart grow.”