Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wedding Plans

My 24-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, is getting married to Andrew in a little over a year. She wants an intimate and elegant wedding. Now is not too early for us to begin planning and preparing for what surely is one of life's most important days.

Selecting a site is the first order of business. That's how we spent the day.

We liked the headlands outside the Golden Gate best so far.

(Planning a fancy wedding is especially fun for us—Sarah and me—as we got married in 1974 when the whole institution of marriage was, in the Bay Area at least, decidedly unfashionable. We got married in ordinary on-hand clothes on Angel Island. It was a simple picnic featuring Pinot Noir wines and Fisherman's Wharf bread, and fresh freestone peaches. We vowed to be truthful and loving to ourselves, each other, and to the earth. Good vows, ones I renew each day. Those vow renewals have helped our marriage last for 34 years.)

The three of us (Lizzy, Sarah, and I) spent a most pleasant day today reconnoitering possible locations for her wedding. She wants to have an outdoor wedding, so we scouted the places that the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Golden Gate Park websites identify as wedding locations.

Lizzy in Golden Gate Park

We repaired to Green's Restaurant for a lovely vegetarian dinner at dusk.
Yummy! The tea was a Silver Needle oolong.

There is, of course, a lot more to do. Tomorrow Lizzy and Sarah are driving into the Bay Area so Lizzy can try on wedding gowns.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Cat's in the Cradle

My son, Ted's in Africa. Just talked with him on the phone.

He feels so far away so very far away....

This song came to mind. If you're a dad, have a listen. (Lyrics below.

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talking before I knew it and as he grew
He said, "I'm gonna be like you, Dad,
You know I'm gonna be like you"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin' home, dad, I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, Son,
You know we'll have a good time then.

My son turned ten just the other day
He said "Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let's play
can you teach me to throw?" I said, "Not today,
I got a lot to do" He said "Thats okay"
And then he walked away but his smile never dimmed
And said "I'm gonna be like him, yeah
You know I'm going to be like him"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home, dad, I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, Son,
You know we'll have a good time then.

Well he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say,
"Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head, and he said with a smile

"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?"

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home, Son, I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, Dad,
You know we'll have a good time then.

I've long since retired, my son's moved away
I called him up just the other day.
I said "I'd like to see you if you don't mind"
He said "I'd love to Dad, if I could find the time.
You see my new job's a hassle, and the kids have the flu.
But It's sure nice talking to you, Dad,
It's been sure nice talking to you."
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He'd grown up just like me,
My boy was just like me..............

And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home, Son, I don't know when,
But we'll get together then, Dad
We're gonna have a good time then.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Comfortable with Uncertainty

As a kindergarten teacher I find it really helps if I can find a way to be comfortable with uncertainty.

When I come to school comfortable with uncertainty I seek simply respond appropriately to the energies and interests that the students bring to class.

Sure, I want everyone at school to be safe, happy, healthy, and kind, but I don't expect things to work out that way.

I always have work to do.

Riding the moment, finding the flow, improvising ways to help happiness, safety, and kindness arise makes me feel like a jazz musician: I'm improvising.

To start the flow, before breakfast I'll read a passage from Pema Chodron's Comfortable with Uncertainty. It's an exquisite collection of 108 short teachings. Before I've had breakfast I've been reminded that in spite of all my plans and preparations, the unexpected awaits.

This passage quoted from the book will give you a feeling for her writing:


The Love That Will Not Die

Spiritual awakening is frequently described as a journey to the top of a mountain. We leave our attachments and our worldliness behind and slowly make our way to the top. At the peak we have transcended all pain. The only problem with this metaphor is that we leave all others behind. Their suffering continues, unrelieved by our personal escape.

On the journey of the warrior-bodhisattva, the path goes down, not up, as if the mountain pointed toward the earth instead of the sky. Instead of transcending the suffering of all creatures, we move toward turbulence and doubt however we can. We explore the reality and unpredictability of insecurity and pain, and we try not to push it away. If it takes years, if it takes lifetimes, we let it be as it is. At our own pace, without speed ro aggression, we move down and down and down. With us move millions of others, our companions in awakening from fear. At the bottom we discover water, the healing water of bodhichitta. Bodhichitta is our heart—our wounded, softened heart. Right down there in the thick of things, we discover the love that will not dies. this love is bodhichitta. It is gentle and warm; it is clear and sharp; it is open and spacious. The awakened heart of bodhichitta is the basic goodness of all beings.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Enjoy! Happy Holidays!

Enjoy Jingle Bells on guitar.

Click here: LINK

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


This summer I read Planetwalker by John Francis, Ph.D.

It's an autobiographical tale of of a black American who was living near Tomales Bay when two Standard Oil oil tankers collided at night on the San Francisco Bay. January 17, 1971.

John was deeply troubled by the damage caused by the oil spill.

After struggling briefly with his feelings, he decided that he could change the world by refusing to use motorized transportation. His shoes would replace his car. His renunciation was complete: John decided that he would not even accept a ride when it was offered by passing motorists.

His decision angered some people who felt that walking was a form of self-righteous one-upsmanship. He got into arguments he never wanted to have.

And so, John Francis decided to renounce talking as well.

For the next 17 years he maintained a vow of silence. (He broke silence just once, on his birthday to tell his parents over the phone that he loved them.) He renounced motorized transportation for 22 years.

Silent and walking only, he returned to college and got a Master's Degree and a Doctorate in Environmental Studies. He worked in Washington D.C. for the Coast Guard to develop regulations to prevent oil spills.

John's a hero in my book. I got a signed copy. And other copy to loan to friends.

His book is illustrated with watercolors and drawings he did while walking the planet.
It also features haiku poetry. Talented guy.
And, oh, he plays the banjo, too!

There's a TED video featuring a 20-minute talk (he talks and uses motorized transportation these days) by John.

You can see it here: John Francis video.

He's got a website, too, www.planetwalker.org.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

National Goals

This is a quotation from a speech Robert F. Kennedy made a few months before he won the California primary and became, for a few moments, the presumptive Democratic candidate for the presidency in 1968.

He, of course, was assassinated that same night. Those who took his place in the White House (with the exception of Jimmy Carter) did all they could to focus America on the mere accumulation of material wealth and concentrating that wealth in the portfolios of the already wealthy. The Reagan revolution brought to completion by the Bush and Clinton Administrations.

Kennedy is talking about the fundamental purpose of the United States. It's such a shame we have so few leaders who can think and talk like Kennedy does here.

"Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.

Our Gross National Product—if we judge America by that—that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the Redwood and the loss of our natural wonders in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts Whitman's rifle and Speck's knife and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the Gross National Product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate, or the integrity of our officials. (Remember—Kennedy wrote this in 1968.)

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.

It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

—Robert F. Kennedy, March 18, 1968

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Overheard at the Gym

At the gym this morning, I overheard a young man's conversation with a friend about teaching.

"I love teaching, but I don't want to be a teacher," he said.

"Why?" asked his friend.

"Because teachers don't really teach that much. Maybe ten percent of the time they teach. Mostly they do other things, not teaching."

I can remember feeling that way myself and saying similar things much earlier in my career. Teaching can sometimes feels more like managing, especially when you consider the time teachers can spend planning lessons and reviewing student work.

I feel a little different now. Sure, it's probably accurate that teachers are actually engaged in direct instruction for only a fraction of the time they're on duty. But even when a teacher is doing those other "non-teaching" activities, five year old eyes are watching, looking for the way the teacher handles disruptions, interruptions, and the unexpected.

They learn a lot about what to do and how to be from watching all that non-teaching activity.

Winter Holiday

Yesterday we got the tree. Just me and the missus and Lizzy.

Today it rained, so we decorated the tree and I wrote thank you notes for the many gifts I opened Friday.

Two lovely presents that now adorn our tree a set of hand-beaded ornaments from UNICEF, and this angel with a ukulele, were given to me, but I failed to write down who gave them to me. If it was you, please leave a comment so I may complete my gratitudes.

Thank you.

Last Day of 2008

We marked the last school day of 2008 with lots of holiday singing. "Must Be Santa" and "Jingle Bells" are probably our best numbers.

I also like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" as long as its last verse—penned by surf singer Jack Johnson—is included. It goes like this:

The end of the song everyone knows goes like this,

All of the other reindeer
laughed and shouted out with glee,
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,
You'll go down in history!

The song's last verse, as I sing it, speaks to the name-calling and exclusion that goes on in the beginning of the song. Jack Johnson's lyric gives Rudolph the last word:

Well, Rudolph he didn't go for that,
He said, 'I'm tired of your silly games.
How can you look me in the face
When only yesterday you called me names?'

Well, all of the other reindeer, man,
They sure did feel ashamed.
They said, 'Rudolph we're really sorry.
We're really going to try to change.'"

We got a visit from Santa Claus. Santa asked the kindergartners what they wanted for Christmas. I wonder if it's unusual for five year olds to ask for shot guns (real ones) and motorcycles (real ones)? Any Santas out there want to chime in?

When I was five years old, I wanted a metal Tonka dump truck. If it had a tilting bed so it could actually dump out some dirt, I'd be thrilled. I feel very lucky to have grown up in simpler times.

Rebecca lets Santa know what she'd like him to load on his sleigh.

At the end of the day our fifth grade buddies stopped by to help us decorate holiday cookies.
The cookies, supplemented by tangerines and juice, served as snack.

Crazy Hair Day

Last Wednesday was "Crazy Hair Day."

Most of the kindergartners came to school with special hairdos. Usually a "spirit" day will require me to put out extra energy to cope with the added excitement, but for some reason unknown to me, it wasn't the case this time.

Zaria had the craziest hair in kindergarten, at least in my opinion.

According the the principal, Crazy Hair Day was the most observed spirit day to date.

Here's a class portrait taken with some of our fifth grade buddies:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why I Teach

A first grader handed me this card just before school. It's like getting a bonus paycheck.

It reminded me when an enthusiatic first-grader (who was in love with her teacher) told me one day, "Mr. Gurney, you're the second-best teacher I've ever had."

Rylee's a Soundabet Master

Rylee demonstrated to me that she knows the whole Soundabet. She went home with her own deck of Soundabet cards to work on the lowercase. My hunch is that she'll master them in just a few days. Nicky also showed that he's getting close. We're nearing the halfway point of the year and the point at which half the students in class have the basic Soundabet under their belts.

Pizza for Walk-a-thon's Best Sports

At last month's Dunham Walk-a-thon there were secret scouts looking for people who showed special sportsmanship.

They selected one student from each class to be honored with a pizza lunch. Luke was honored from our class.

Mrs. Wilding and Mrs. Robbins served this gathering of very well-mannered students.

Singing for our 3rd Grade Buddies

To practice for our singing before the school board, we went over to Mrs. Carter's third grade class to sing for our buddies there.

Here's a couple of photos taken as we sang for our buddies:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mr. Kindergarten Takes a Hike

My wife and I joined a local hiking club and enjoy going out on weekends with other hikers.

Here's a link to a slide show of photos of last Sunday's 9.5 mile hike in Annadel State Park east of Santa Rosa. Hike photos. See if you can spot me in two of the photos: the lunch spot photo and the final photo walking down Lawndale Road.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dashiel's Got the Soundabet

He knows the Soundabet in both the King's and Queen's version. He'll be reading independently by spring.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Reading before Christmas

Olivia showed me today that she knows the whole Soundabet: King's cards, Queen's cards, all the words at the bottom of the Queen's cards, the whole shebang.

Once all this is under their belts reading is guaranteed. She read The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss and Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell to me.

Dulcimer Man

Richard Standard is Mr. Dulcimer in Sonoma County. He runs a program called "Bring in the Strings" of which Dunham is a part.

He told students about the parts of a dulcimer.

Here he helps students find the fingering positions to make the same notes.

He visited our kindergarten to talk about dulcimers and give us our first lesson in playing them. Students began by pairing up: one to do the strumming, one to do the noting. Then they took turns playing the instruments by solo.

At the end of the day, he told a story.

If you are interested in learning more about him, visit his website: Stories and Strings.

More Soundabet Masters

Rebecca and Kiley showed me that they mastered the uppercase Soundabet on Friday. They took home a deck of the lowercase Queen's cards over the weekend. I've heard they're almost ready to demonstrate their mastery of that deck now.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Soundabet Mastery

A whole slew of kindergartners are out to prove that they know the Soundabet.

About a half dozen kinders joined the ranks of those who have demonstrated mastery of the uppercase Soundabet. They went home with a deck of Queen's cards (the lowercase Soundabet) to work on over the weekend.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mia's Riding!

Happiness fills the air when someone learns how to ride a bike. Today was Mia's day. Here she is on one of her first trips across the playground.

On top of that, Jack B. and S. demonstated their mastery of the Soundabet this morning and went home with a deck of the Queen's cards to master. They join Luke, E. and Ziyad and there are others waiting in the wings....

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Book Fair/Pasta Dinner

Tonight was the pasta dinner/Book Fair at the school.

Art Ibleto, the "Pasta King" (a Dunham grandpa) and his crew of workers was there to provide his famous red and green pastas accompanied by salad and garlic bread. The Scholastic bookstore was open for business in the Community Room.

My wife and I enjoyed the meal and saying hello the the good turnout among kindergarten families.

The Clocks on the Wall

The kindergarten has 2 battery operated clocks.

By coincidence, both clocks stopped working this morning—exhausted batteries.

The school has a small stash of batteries for just such needs, but, as luck would have it, our supply of AA batteries had run out.

I mentioned this to the class as we opened up this morning and made a mental note to bring a couple of batteries from home.

At pick up today, Luke was looking for me. His mom had brought batteries to install in the clocks.

Acts of kindness such as these have a way of making one's day.

Thank you, Evie.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Disappointing Viewing Conditions

I had hoped to see the moon, Venus, and Jupiter in close proximity in last night's sky, but, alas, here in Sebastopol a blanket of fog spread across the skies just at sunset. It was thick enough to obscure the view.

I hope that these unfavorable conditions were very local and that where ever you were it was possible to enjoy the rare conjunction of bright night sky citizens.

Safe Schools Meeting

I'll be representing Dunham with the principal and a parent at the County Office's Safe Schools Meeting all day today.

Student teacher, Ms. Schuhmacher, will be taking over teaching duties under the watchful eye of Ms. Wilde while I'm away.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Smiley Face in the Evening Sky

Tomorrow right after the sun sets look up in the western sky.

There you will see the smiley crescent moon next to 2 eyes: the brightest planet, Venus, and the next brightest planet, Jupiter. This trio, the moon, Venus, and Jupiter, the three brightest objects in the night sky, come together to make a face.

A smiley face, you know, like kindergarten teachers draw all the time.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Walkathon Awards Assembly

On Tuesday morning we held the Walkathon Awards Assembly. Several kindergarten students were recognized. The picture above shows students whose good sportsmanship and attitude won recognition. I was particularly pleased that the four recipients were boys: Conner, Quinn, Matthew, and our own Luke.

Two of the top five fundraisers came from our class. That's Jack Bandy in the burgundy shirt and Rylee standing to his immediate left. Rylee's older brother, Logan, in the Yankee's cap was the school's top money earner.

Congratulations to all students who took part in the event. Each participant won a gift certificate from Round Table pizza and Applebee's.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dirt Road to Wildcat Beach

Saturday my wife and I rode bikes on a dirt road across the Point Reyes National Seashore from Five Brooks Trail Head to Wildcat Beach. We enjoyed every minute, taking it slowly, as we were riding skinny tires.

Just the thing to be refreshed before two long days of parent conferences....

The Best Thing about DIBELS assessments...

The best thing about DIBELS assessments is that I have to administer them to one child at a time. That means that I must find activities that keep other pupils occupied while I'm testing.

Blocks are one activity that I can count on to hold their attention. Look at the nice tower that a group of students made while I wasn't looking.

The only problem with towers like these is that knocking them down can be quite disconcerting to a child who feels they had a hand in building (but not knocking down) the building.

My digital camera to the rescue. I pull it out from my bag and tell them I want to get a picture of the tower coming down. Everyone gets a small block and tosses it lightly into the tower. With luck I get a picture of the blocks on their way to the floor:

Everyone wants to see if the picture I snapped caught the action.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Proposition 8

We don't discuss politics in kindergarten, especially touchy subjects like the recent ballot initiative in California, the anti same-sex marriage Proposition 8.

But after class the other day, one of the mothers told me that she and her kindergarten daughter saw some coverage of Prop 8 on television. Gay and lesbian couples must have appeared on the screen arguing against the same sex marriage ban.

"Can men marry men?" her daughter wanted to know.

"Yes." her mom answered. Her daughter pondered this new idea for a moment and then asked a follow-up question.

"Can women marry women?"

"Yes, women can marry women, too." came the reply. Again a moment's pause as her daughter considered her options.

"Well," she announced, "I'm going to marry a woman, and she can have the babies."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

DARTS: Teaching Sounds

Researchers have discovered what separates strong readers and writers from those who struggle: it's the ability to HEAR the SOUNDS in words. The kids who can accurately tell you the sounds in words will find reading and writing much easier than those who can't.

For example, if you ask a child to tell you the sounds in word "lake" kids who will become good readers will be able to say its three sounds: /l/ /ay/ /k/.

Kids headed for difficulty will say something less, perhaps the whole word, "lake" or maybe just two bits of it: /l/ /ake/.

Luckily, this is a skill that can be taught.

The trick is finding ways to practice the skill (it's called phoneme segmentation) that are fun and that get the body involved.

Today I asked volunteers to come to the front and throw darts at the dart board while saying the sounds of words as they tossed the darts.

Here are ten practice words to do at home:

mop /m/ /o/ /p/

late /l/ /ay/ /t/

mouse /m/ /ou/ /s/

eight /ay/ /t/

red /r/ /e/ /d/

ink /i/ ng/ /k/

time /t/ /igh/ /m/

count /k/ /ou/ /n/ /t/

knee /n/ /ee/

bees /b/ /ee/ /z/

More to come later.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Here's a math activity you can do at home. Ask your child to guess how many things they might find and then count to see how accurate their guess was. They suggest raisins in a small box of raisins. You might rummage through your Halloween candy and ask your child to guess how many M&Ms they might find in a "fun size" bag. Search around, find something to estimate and write it down on a piece of paper.

We'll talk about it on Friday.


We gather for a group photo before we begin.

Walkers in action about halfway through the event.

We held the Walk-a-Thon today under cool cloudy skies. The weather may have been chilly for the onlookers, but it was favorable for the participants who walked briskly for an hour without any worry about dehydration.

Many thanks to all who volunteered to help make this event a great success, but in particular to Kristen Robbins who took the leadership role in making this event run so smoothly from start to finish.

November Snack Calendar

Here, a little belatedly, is November's snack calendar:

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Best Indicator of Reading Success

By far the MOST reliable early indicator of reading success is the ability to quickly say all the sounds in the Soundabet.

Other tests (DIBELS comes to mind) may have a lot more data behind them, but in an opinion formed over 28 years in the classroom and watching students go on from kindergarten into the grades to come, there is simply no other indicator that is as predictive of reading success as knowing all the sounds in the Soundabet.

It always makes my day when someone adds this accomplishment to their kindergarten credentials.

Today was Luke's day. Here he is:

Luke is the second student this year to reach this milestone.
There's a whole posse of students right behind him.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pumpkin Patch Photos

To begin with, thank you to our room mother, Tonya Bello, who suggested this trip, to all the drivers who made this trip possible and to Mrs. Frech who did a lot of the legwork.

Soon after we got there the kids ran through an elaborate hay maze.

We settled down at the base of a pyramid for an orientation.

And we climbed to the top of a nearby pyramid.

Baby animals were on display at the farm.

Why I pass on bacon.

We got to ride on a cart pulled by a tractor to the pumpkin field.

We dug for potatoes.

Each farmer bagged four potatoes.

Kids milked Jessie, a Jersey cow whose milk makes good cheese.

Scaling the highest pyramid on the farm.

Pumpkin ice cream awaited us at the end of our day on the farm.

And how could we resist? One last run through the maze.