Saturday, May 31, 2008


Here is a guilty pleasure: Mouseburgers.

There's no way I can defend these cookies on the merits of their ingredients: vanilla wafers, chocolate patties, white frosting, and food coloring (red for catsup, yellow for mustard, green for lettuce). The nutritional merits of these cookies are in league with the hamburgers they represent, but that's a matter I won't chew on here, as that debate would likely give us all stomachaches.

I'll also be the first to admit that the curricular tie in to the book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is a little lame, too.

But these cookies are as cute as all get out and, unless you're a mouse, the serving size isn't too egregious. Their chief redeeming quality is the students enjoy assembling the ingredients and transforming them into visual facsimiles of a McBurger.

Another saving grace of this lesson is that it provides an occasion discuss the importance of moderation in eating sweets.

The Important Book: Sammy

Here is Sammy's page in the Important Book.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Old-Fashioned Car Wash

My van had been really dirty. (I was saving it up for this.)
Note the zoris on Madison. I bought the kindergarten four pairs for this center.

We're in our last round of centers. The last round includes washing cars, an old-fashioned family activity that is getting eclipsed by all the automatic car wash places you see all over town these days. They do a good job, (the automatic car washes) sometimes for free—well, free with a fill up.

Best of all, I'm told, automatic car wash facilities recycle the water they use and send the "used" water to the local water treatment facility. I don't know if any of that's actually true. But that's what I've been told.

I count myself among those who think about the eco-consequences of what I do. Washing the car in the street the old fashioned way can easily pollute the water downstream with untreated car wash water. Storm sewers send water straight to the fish in your local stream, lake, bay, or ocean!

Don't forget that mirror!

But there is a solution: vinegar! Vinegar makes a fantastic car washing agent. Mix a cup or so of vinegar in your bucket and have at it. No suds, and holy gingersnaps! the dirt falls off the car. And I don't think vinegar is too toxic pour les poissons downstream.

I put vinegar on my salad, after all.

The Important Book: Olivia

Here is Olivia's page in the Important Book.

Come back to school soon, Olivia! We've been missing you!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mrs. Kindergarten

I ran across this article about a kindred spirit kindergarten teacher over in North Carolina named Jamie Davis

I enjoyed reading about her and her joyful approach to teaching kindergarten.

Here's a link to the article about her: Link.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Car-free Days

We've been car free all weekend. Haven't been inside a metal box on wheels at all.

Yesterday we pedaled up to Graton and stopped at the Far West Trading Company and sat for an hour or so at the tea bar chatting with the owner, Lou. We sampled two Puerh teas and had their best Sencha. We bought some 18 year old Imperial Puerh tea. Puerh tea is cooked and fermented, then aged for a long time. The aroma of the brewed tea is musty and vaguely mushroomy. It smells like the inside of a cave.

He's got a large Kwan Yin sculpture in his store that might be just the thing for our new entry. Next time I go up there, I'll drag the bicycle trailer.

Well, to answer the sign's question, the tea we bought is from China.

Oxygen-producing bicycle rack in downtown Graton.

Every kindergartener should have the chance to learn this important skill.
Besides, as Sammy's face shows, it's fun!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Important Book: Miguel

Here is Miguel's page in the Important Book.

Click in for a closer look:

Renga Poetry

A friend of mine writes a special form of Japanese poetry called Renga. He has a blog about it called Renga Roads. You can learn about it here. Link.

I thought I'd try my hand at this form of poetry. He's my first effort:

Spider Webs and Dust

A stray cat jumped up
On the bird bath. The water
Froze overnight. Ice.

Clear night skies and arctic winds.
She worries: the homeless man.

Torn pants. His hand truck
Carries four Rubbermaid tubs.
His wheels, his bureau.


He’s glad to see the rose vine
Blooming on his front trellis.

“I’ve done Christmas Eve
Services for what — ten years?
Easter’s too much church.”

She hopes to meet the City
Manager. He prays, sometimes.


A kindred spirit
Half a world away. Her link.
Should he e-mail her?

Where she lives winter’s coming.
He checks: Do these shorts still fit?

The kayaks have hung
From the rafters for two years
Spider webs and dust.


Midnight. Full moon overhead.
Mid Tomales Bay. A splash.

His fifty-seventh
Birthday. Just a store-bought card
And a berry pie.

He works past midnight on his
Poem. No one will read it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Life-Giving Power of Self-Emptying Attention

My local paper, the Sonoma West Times and News runs columns written by ministers in our area. This week it carried a piece written by Gene Nelson, the pastor of the Community Church here in Sebastopol. It’s a good message, one I’d like to pass along here. (Full disclosure: my wife serves on the City Council of Sebastopol; he and she are members of the same Sebastopol Rotary club; Mr. Rogers is one of my heroes.)

Sebastopol and Civility

The recent uproar involving the Sebastopol City Council, and the behavior of its members and of those who attend its meetings, has reminded me of a story: An old rabbi once asked his pupils how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun. “Could it be,” asked one of the students, “When you see and animal in the distance and you can tell whether it is a sheep or a dog?”

“No,” answered the rabbi.

Another asked, “Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it’s a fig tree or a peach tree?”

“No,” answered the rabbi.

“Then when is it?” the pupils demanded.

“It is when you can look in the face of any man or woman and see that it is your brother or sister. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night.”

Could it be in spite of our well-known political correctness and our proud stands in the name of justice and fairness and peace, that our community still balances precariously on the edge of such darkness? Has our desire to score political points and ensure that our side wins at any cost brought us to the kind of blindness warned of by that old rabbi? Has the “take no prisoners,” “my way is the only way” attitude of the administration in Washington infected public discourse even here? Judging from the level of bitterness, anger and accusation that I keep hearing and reading about locally, it would seem that the dawn is still a long way off...even in Sebastopol.

I once heard Robert Bellah of the University of California at Berkeley, speak of our educational system as a “relentlessly utilitarian,” a system in which scores on tests matter more than the kind of persons we are producing. How easily that can happen in our civic culture. All that matters is my point of view, getting my way, without regard to the kind of community I am creating—or destroying—along the way. Too often, I fear, in our self indulgent age we suffer from what James Q. Wilson described as the “elevation of self expression over self-control.”

But again, what happens to any hope of community in the process? We may disagree on every imaginable issue, but don’t we still have an obligation to treat each other as persons of worth and good will, as risky as that act of trust might be?

I think back to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS. Invariably, Mister Rogers treated everyone in the neighborhood with courteous and loving attention, everyone—even inanimate objects—treated as a marvel of supreme worth. “You are special,” he sang to the children and to us, “And you can never go down the drain.”

Says Carol Zaleski of Smith College, “Mister Rogers bestowed attention instead of grabbing it. He reminded us that neighborhoods are arbitrary, tumbling us together with people we didn’t choose; and that what makes a good neighborhood is not emotional bonds but bonds of courtesy and the life-giving power of self-emptying attention.”

Yes, we are quite eloquent when speaking of our rights. But such talk is only empty noise if not combined with talk of my obligations to that old fashioned, hopelessly quaint concept of the common good.

Fruit Salad Salsa

Our chorus teacher, Andrew, has been singing with us this month. One of his songs is called "Fruit Salad Salsa."

We used his song as the recipe for our cooking table activity in the past week. The song mentions mangoes, papayas, bananas, apples, oranges, and pineapple as being in the salad, so that's what we put in. Snack included some fruit salad each morning for seven days.

As someone who did not get to taste mango or papaya until I was in my twenties, I felt happy to be able to introduce these special tropical fruits in their natural form to five and six year old students.

(The historian in me reminds me of just how fortunate we are to live in a time and place where we can taste food that has traveled so far and so quickly to reach our plates. Conditions allowing this sort of privilege are exceedingly rare from an historical perspective.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Important Book: Madison

It's Madison's day. She was in KIDS club this afternoon and rolled through the kindergarten sight words and the Soundabet both decks, Kings and Queens.

Her page in the Important Book is here:

For Those of Us in the Bleachers

Kindergarten is supposed to be fun. Games of catch, too.

Learning to catch with a mitt is a skill that's difficult for five and six year old children, but that doesn't stop many parents from wanting to introduce their kids to baseball, that most American of sports.

Bleach Bottle Mitts

Today Ms. Campbell introduced the kindergarten to a simple and effective alternative to the fielder's glove: uncapped plastic one-gallon bleach (or other liquid, like my favorite household cleaner: vinegar) bottles with the bottom cut out.

There are several things worth mentioning about these devices:

1. Being recycled, they're A LOT cheaper than real mitts;

2. No one had to manufacture or market them for this use;

3. They work without the operator having to squeeze the mitt at just the right time;

4. They can be used to fling the ball to a partner;

5. The "sweet spot" where a successful catch can be made is big;

6. The hand is protected from being smacked painfully by a ball;

7. They can be conveniently stored together by nesting them together and running clothesline through their spouts.

8. They're impervious to harsh chemicals, even bleach!

The kindergarteners had a blast using them as you can see below:

Remember the "4 Rs" Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Restore.

And, if you haven't yet tried vinegar as a cleaning agent, hang on to you hats! We're going to show you just how good it is by washing some cars next week, starting with mine.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Important Book: Madeline

Here is Madeline's page in the Important Book. Click in for a closer look:

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Here's a thought:

"Simplifying our lives does not mean sinking into idleness, but on the contrary, getting rid of the most subtle aspect of laziness: the one which makes us take on thousands of less important activities."

— Matthieu Ricard

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Important Book: Kiyana

Here is Kiyana's page in the Important Book:

2008-2009 Screenings

Tomorrow and Friday I will be out of the classroom screening the students who have registered to come to kindergarten next year.

KIDS club will not be offered for the rest of this week. It will resume Monday.

Learning Together

I like to provide activities that encourage students to work together.

We are in the homestretch of the kindergarten year. The finish line is less than four weeks away. Among the things I need to do is to assess what's been learned. For this task, it's possible to work together. This afternoon I was able to take a photo of Blaine testing Sammy and Sammy, in turn, testing Isaac on the mastery of the Soundabet.

Sammy's doing the "OO" sound of moon and will soon do the "TH" sound.

Isaac's doing the "AY" Soundabet sound in PLAY.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Monday's homework was to make a boomerang from scratch.

I've always been attracted to boomerangs because they fly away and then, mysteriously, circle back. They remind me of karma.

Following the instructions on this page, I made a couple of boomerangs that worked surprisingly well. On Monday morning I showed the students how to make one and how to toss it so that it will land pretty close to your feet.

I gave the students this page as a starting point. It's from a book by Jill Hauser. Link.
Some years ago I met Jill who has written a gajillion books for kids and teachers.

Come Tuesday morning, a number of boomerangs came into class. The earliest students were allowed to let 'em fly, but by the time half the class had arrived we put them away for a 9:00 fly off.

I promised that I'd feature the winner of the contest here on the blog, so here it is held proudly by its owner, Belle:

Even with a good toss, this boomerang flew back close to my feet.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Georgia O'Keeffe

This morning we did paintings in the style of Georgia O'Keeffe—flowers so big you cannot fail to see them.

I was particularly pleased by the way the students became absorbed in using their brushes attentively in an effort to discover new ways to put paint on the paper.

The lesson comes from an art curriculum we use that comes out of Del Mar, California called Arts Attack. You can tell it comes out of actual classroom practice. They've got a website here: Link

Kaylee paints with care.

Some quotes from Georgia O'Keeffe:

On flowers:

So I said to myself-I'll paint what I see-what the flower is to me but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking the time to look at it-I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers. "

"I hate flowers. I only paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move. "

On singing:

Singing has always seemed to me the most perfect means of expression. It is so spontaneous. And after singing, I think the violin. Since I cannot sing, I paint."

On courage:

I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life -- and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do."

To view an online gallery O'Keeffe's luminous paintings, (parent alert--it includes some nudes) go here: Link

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

A Sweet Message

It's teacher appreciation week at our school.

In the break room yesterday we found this message, thanks to Evie, a first grade mom who came up with it. You'll have to click on the picture to read the message. By the time I got there with my camera, someone had nabbed a candy bar right above the Abba Zaba bar. (It was later returned.)

Who can identify the missing candy bar? Leave the answer in the comments section.

The Important Book: Kaylee

Here is Kaylee's page in the Important Book. Click in for a closer view.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

We can spell

I remember reading about a classroom computer lab where each student sits before his or her own computer to work. Each of the student computers is networked to the teacher's desktop computer where the teacher is able to capture the screen of any student computer to monitor work. Such systems are expensive. They cost tens of thousands of dollars per classroom. I would imagine that they are prone to malfunctions and planned obsolescence.

Computer labs like that seem a costly and poor way to do this sort of work. A much simpler—and more earth-friendly—technology has been around far longer than I have: chalkboards.

Here, see for yourself how a teacher can monitor kindergarteners spelling:




An added benefit is that wood-framed slate chalkboards are very satisfying to use. They're solid and heavy. The chalk is fun to write with, and being short, can only be held with the proper three-fingered grip. The little scraps of bath towels make good erasers. And, done on the mat like this, if someone needs a little help it's only inches away.