Sunday, December 20, 2009

Shangri-La Cafe & Grill: Naanstop Pleasure!

My wife and I spent the day in San Francisco yesterday. Holiday shopping, a brisk walk in a cold breeze along the marina, and, we thought, dinner at a favorite restaurant overlooking the yacht basin, Greens. But they were closed!

We decided to drive back towards home and stop for dinner along the way. I thought of Tara's family's restaurant, Shangri-La Cafe & Grill.

Oh, boy! We loved the service (Tara's mom and older sister), the food, and the cafe atmosphere. We started out with two appetizers Chilli Chicken appetizer and vegetable Momo. The main courses we ordered were Veggie Masala and Lamb Curry, both delicious, and accompanied by garlic Naan. Dessert was the rice puddling.

We'll be back! Yum!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holiday Happenings

We had quite a festive day.

First of all, it was pajama day. Just about all of us came in our pajamas. But so did many other classes. Mrs. Wilding said that pajama day is our most successful spirit day. I would agree. The whole school seemed to take part.

We tied with first and third grades for having the most people participate by coming to school in their pajamas.

On top of pajama day, we had the opportunity to meet with our fifth grade buddies. They read to us.

In some cases, the kindergartners were reading to their buddies. It was fun for me to see the fifth graders so impressed by kindergarteners' reading abilities that some fifth graders literally raised their eyebrows!

Right after fifth grade buddies, we went next door into the community room to see the sixth grade class perform Sombrero for Santa, which, for decades has been the holiday play directed by Sra. Shimada.

And right after the play, we visited the fourth grade classroom which had been transformed into a Native American Museum. They shared their impressive projects and knowledge.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Important Book

Over the next weeks, I'll send home this soft briefcase with "Traveling Todd," the blue dog, along with a book by Margaret Wise Brown called Another Important Book as well as a blank book for you to add a page about your child.

The kit looks like this:

And inside you'll find guidelines for filling out a page about your child:


 I wrote a little bit about myself to get the ink flowing.

The important thing about Mr. Gurney is that he treasures children just as they

Mr. Gurney first taught young children in 1967, forty-two years ago. He treasured
them then; he treasures them now.

When he’s not teaching school, Mr. Gurney enjoys being home in Sebastopol with
his wife and their friends. He doesn’t have a TV at his house. He finds time most
days for reading, cooking, playing music, and taking walks around his town and
country. His favorite getaway is pretty close to home: Tomales Bay where he
enjoys kayaking and sailing his Laser sailboat.

But the important thing about Mr. Gurney is that he treasures children just as
they are.

If you wish to write your contribution ahead of time, it will help keep the book moving from one family to the next quickly.

In the past I've shared the pages of the Important Book here on Mr. Kindergarten. You can see what those look like by clicking on the "Important Book" label on the sidebar.

I'd like to know how you feel about doing that again this year. Leave a comment if you'd like to weigh in.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

20 Soundabet Masters!

The class I have now is setting new records——at least for me——in Soundabet mastery.

I have 29 students in my class, and 20 of them have mastered the Soundabet in uppercase letters. Many have mastered the Soundabet in both upper and lowercase as well as being able to read all 40 of the Soundabet guide words at the bottom of the cards as well. A number are working to master a list of 100 words from a Scholastic Flash Card set. This is a reading/writing group of students. Not that many years ago I was pleased when only 4 students had mastered the Soundabet by the winter break.... We've come a long ways in teaching literacy in kindergarten.

I'm pleased.

This afternoon one of the students called me "The King of Kindergarten."

I told her, "If I'm the King of Kindergarten, then you're the Princess."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Love and Teaching

Over on my other blog, Mindful Heart, I've made the online acquaintance of some educators and their fellow travelers. steven, a Canadian sixth grade teacher writes a blog, the golden fish, which I enjoy reading. Today Jenny Stevning left a comment that included a quotation from Krishnamurti that I want to share here with my fellow educators.

It's about love. Love resides at the heart of all good teaching. Love calls educators to their profession.

Here's the quote:

"Now, how is love to come into being? Surely, love must begin with the educator, the teacher. If, besides giving you information about mathematics, geography, or history, the teacher has the feeling of love in his heart and talks about it...if in his conversation, in his work, in his play, when he eats, when he is with you or by himself, he feels this strange thing and points it out to you often, then you also will know what it is to love."  —Krishnamurti

Image from rickpdx.wordpress

What I teach about reading and writing and numbers will be soon forgotten.

The activity at the edges of the formal curriculum will endure longer.

What matters more than math, reading, and writing is how I respond to a bicycle crash on the playground, how I listen to a child who's not getting along with others, the interest I show when a child finds a snake in the grass. All these and much more were part of my teaching in the past two days.

And, I would like to add, that a child's first—and most important teachers—are his or her parents and family.

Monday, December 7, 2009


Siena and Jordan learned to ride two wheelers over the weekend.  They showed us their riding skills today at school.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Yeah, Maddison!

Maddison has learned the whole King's Soundabet in uppercase! I know that there are many others who are very near to mastering it, too. I can barely keep up with the requests to show me they know it. I'm trying.

Anyway, we celebrated in aftercare with a little herbal tea party, complete with Ritz crackers. Life's simplest pleasure are the finest ones of all.


The Kindergarten Handshake

I like to see kids celebrate each other's successes, so I don't frown upon a pat on the back, a "high five" or just a hug of congratulations passed between students in moments of sympathetic joy.

But lately, we've seen hugs devolve into friendly wrestling matches. I've seen some high-fives that are more like very vigorous hand slaps. (Not that I'm so old that I cannot remember the delight I took in wrestling when I was five years old—I remember really enjoying friendly wrestling, especially with my dad! Are boys so different from puppies in this way?) But enough's enough, so we've developed a Kindergarten Handshake.

Tonight's homework is to teach the handshake to a family member.

It has 4 parts. Parts One and Three are the same: the ordinary, familiar handshake. The whole thing goes like this:

Part One: Regular handshake


Part Two: Soul Brother's handshake


Part Three: Back to the regular handshake.... and


Part Four: Thumbs up!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Planting Trees

We spent the morning yesterday planting trees along a creek near our school.

At the opening we were given instruction in how to plant a tree.
Planting trees ought to be on every school's scope and sequence.

The trees will restore health and diversity to the creek and the many life forms it supports: fish, mammals, birds, reptile, amphibians, fungi, grasses, trees, and shrubs.   The trees will shade the water in the creek. The shade will cool the water and help to keep it from evaporating. The trees roots will help hold the soil in place; erosion will slow.

Patrick clears away the grasses to prepare the ground for digging a hole.

Our project gave us all and opportunity to work cooperatively in the pleasant late autumn morning sun.

By noon we had planted our whole day's allotment of trees; I'm told that we work more quickly than many schools. Focus and concentrate: that's one of my  sayings. We finished two and a half hours ahead of schedule. We had lunch by the creek on the ranch. By midday, we headed back to school.

It was fun to go back to kindergarten and teach without lesson plans—just winging it like a trapeze artists without a net.

Many thanks to Mrs. Buckner for egging us all to get involved and to Lorette over at STRAW (Students and Teachers Restoring A Watershed) for organizing our event.

The closing circle. Lorette, the original STRAW teacher sums up our day's efforts.

By the way, I totally forgot about preparing homework for tonight. Your child didn't forget; I forgot.

Ah well, it was Book Fair Night. I wasn't able to attend, as I had a meeting with the Mayor of Sebastopol to congratulate her on her election to a rare second term as Mayor of our town.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Bloody Mess

Everything's going along smoothly. The math lesson went just as visualized—maybe better because Patrick wanted to count the long chain of linking cubes that stretched across the room. (There were 605.)

Mrs. Frech was in the office completing the paperwork for tomorrow's field trip. I was soloing the class—28 kids. I was reading a story. What could possibly go wrong?

Spontaneously M's nose gushed blood. Blood ran down her face and on to the front of her clothes. Blood was smeared on her hands, arms, and cheeks.

I put down the book. I got up and tried to clear a path through the bodies on the mat to the door.

"M, stand up. Go to the office! You know where the office is, right? Lori in the office will take care of you." I ushered her across the sea of students, opened the door, and sent her on her way. I knew that there would be blood to mop up.

Because I emphasize "doing the right thing without being asked" one girl had already grabbed a rag with the idea that she would start mopping up the trail of blood across the mat. I remembered my trainings about blood-born pathogens.

"Oh, no. This is a job for grown-ups. Let me clean this up. Stand back everyone!" As I try to gather the materials together to clean up the bloody mess, another girl vomits.

Arrrgh! In less than a minute a calm and peaceful scene has gone totally out of control. Luckily, Mrs. Frech showed up about this time. I thought she had come back when she M arrived in the office, but it turned out that M never got to the office; she spent 5 minutes bleeding all over the girls' bathroom making a huge new cleanup project for Mrs. Frech.

People who think that it's possible to teach 29 kindergartners solo (such people exist) deserve to stand in my shoes this morning. One at a time.


Tomorrow we'll be planting trees on a ranch near our school. Please remember to dress your child in sturdy shoes and layered clothing that can get dirty.

Don't forget to send along a lunch.

We'll be planting trees most of the day, and ought to return to school by about 2:15.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

100 Sight Words

In my classroom I have a collection of 100 flash cards with words written on one side and the corresponding picture on the other.

We've got a number of students in class who are looking for new hurdles to jump over, so I'm offering this one: Learn to read all of these words. Brenden's already over this hurdle and I believe there are a half dozen or so others who are eager for the challenge.

Here's the list, too small to read until you give it a click:

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Look! There's IS!

Teach kindergartners the Soundabet and suddenly they're noticing digraphs (for that's what we call English sounds that require two letters to write down) in print all around them. Suddenly they see (and can read) words like "shampoo" because they see the Soundabet "sh" and "oo" and know how to sound them out. It's magic.

Teach kindergartners to read "sight words" and suddenly they're noticing sight words that we teach words like "the" "is" and, well, "like" and "and" itself. Suddenly they see (and can read) short sight words. Trust me they see them everywhere.

One scholar took a look at this shirt and exclaimed, "Look! There's 'is'!"

I did not see the word "is" on that shirt.

It seemed to me that the shirt read, "beware of bears!"

But teach kindergarten a while. You'll learn to ask questions and be more flexible in your thinking and seeing.

"You see 'is' on that shirt?" I asked.

"Yes. It's right there."

And he points to the word "bears."

"You see is there?"

"Yes, Mr. Gurney. I see it. Can't you?"

I looked more closely.

"Not, really... to me it says "bears," I said.

No it doesn't. It says "is" I-S. Is.

And of course, how could I miss it?

It was there. You just have to look.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Old Computer

NO WONDER my computer failed! It was NINE years old, ancient by computer standards. Built in the year 2000. Here's a picture of its bottom with the date to prove its venerable age.

Think how old that is.  It was a long time ago.

When I first hefted the iMac onto my teacher's desk...

  • Clinton was president;
  • the economy was humming right along as if it would never seriously falter;
  • the children I'm teaching now were not yet a sparkle in their father's eyes;
  •  the Twin Towers and World Trade Seven stood tall in lower Manhattan;
  • Fallujah or Abu Ghraib or Kabul—who heard of them?; 
  • global warming was happening, but who knew?

It seems a very long time ago.

I pulled my old Soundabet computer out of retirement and it's working fine. It's only 6 years old. It's full of nice photos and music, and it's always served me well. Its only fault (and the reason why it was ultimately replaced) is that it's a loud machine by any standard. It hums louder than the Giant at the top of Jack's bean stock and is just as strong. Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum.

In the kindergarten office I'm not going to notice its happy humming, so I'm a happy teacher.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Adding a Dash of Math to Handwriting Lessons

I find new, better and—for me—exciting new ways to do things I've always done even after nearly three decades in this work.

We've had to make very extensive use of chalk on wood-framed slates as we wait for the Dunham-adopted Handwriting Without Tears workbooks to arrive. I submitted the requisition for them last September. I think the order got placed Friday. A two-month trip through the business office.

Anyway, the handwriting program directs the students to write only one letter at a time on the slates. It's all very scripted and detailed, and that's a good thing. But students don't get a whole lot of practice writing the letters. It can get boring, so we've been spicing it up by adding some emotion to the letters like this smiling uppercase G that Alex did. I wrote about that in October.

As you can see the G's horizontal line got a little smiling curve on it.

Writing one big letter at a time helps make sure the students get the overall form of the letters they're learning right, but they don't get a lot of practice making them....

That's when I got the idea to ask the students to write smaller letters so as to fit more of them on one slate and to get more repetition. (The workbook asks the students to write each letter about 10 times per page.)

My idea was to have students write the letters small enough to fit 5 of them at a time. Like this:

Done this way, we can count their letters by fives. Students can hear that 5, 10 15, 20, 25, 30.... sequence on a daily basis as we write 500 G's as a class.

Later on we can write two rows of 5, count by 10's and make 1,000 letters collectively. Lots of practice and no trees have to give up their lives to make the paper.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


First off, thanks to all of you who offered to help me with the computer problem. It appears to be dead. I'm going to bring in my 6 year-old Mac from home out of mothballs. This machine served as Soundabet's business computer for five years. It's a good old Mac that will be a major upgrade of the District's ¿ 9 ? year old Macintosh. My old Soundabet Mac ought to see me through the next few years, no problem....knock on wood.

I talked with the principal. She said the district will re-imburse me for the green mat. She's trying to find out why the handwriting books that I ordered back in September haven't arrived yet. She said that she signed the approval for both, so I guess there's some delay in the procurement department that she'll straighten out.

Sometimes red tape seems to get cut lengthwise.

I got this photo of Dylan on his snazzy new bicycle.
He's learned to ride recently...ain't that something?

These guys are happy now. We used our imaginations to provide
more roles than Batman and Robin for these cyclist/actors.
Colton became Batman's father and supplier of income.
Justin was, I think, the Chief of Police of Gotham City.
Brenden and others were willing to take the villains' roles...

We spent some time down at the creek getting to know the critters who live there.
Many kids are afraid to touch caterpillars, beetles, worms, and the like, so I do
what I can to help my students overcome their fears of harmless animals.

But I'm not always successful. Shelby wouldn't let the
caterpillar crawl on her hand. No way, José.

Finally I just had to show you some of the strings of wooden beads
the students made today. That bottom string, colorwise, is an ABCD pattern.
But shapewise it's an ABCB pattern. Or so I'm told by my more advanced scholars.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spelling Curriculum for Kindergarten

I got a question from one of the parents whose child is interested in working on her spelling. She has an older sibling who has spelling words to learn each week and she wants to be part of the picture at homework time. She wrote, "She wants to feel like she's just as brilliant and important. At the same time, I hesitate in wanting to avoid drilling her with that type of curriculum at Kindergarten. What is your opinion, or what is a good guideline for age appropriate words for her?

I'd like to share my response to her question with everyone here:


I've come to believe the best guide is the learner herself. That takes care of the motivation factor right there.

Ask her what words she'd like to learn to spell, show her how to spell them, and then test her in a couple of days. I'd suggest a list as long as her age at a time, about 5 words per test cycle.

Add the words to a little dictionary and review the cumulative list from time to time. When her interest lags, let it drop. This is kindergarten, after all.


Arrrgh! Computers!

I went in this Veteran's Holiday morning to work. Report cards and conferences are coming soon and I need also to plan for the weeks ahead.

And guess what? My classroom computer died.

Great. Do I think it will get fixed or replaced? Well.....

I'm almost afraid to ask.
Let's not even think about what's been lost on the hard drive....


Thursday, November 5, 2009


I'm delighted with the ever-increasing sophistication of patterning. I beginning to see lots of patterns more elaborate than the simple AB patterns we see earlier in the year and also much more attention to shape. Here' a photo of a few of the patterns the students did today:

You can see that the first two patterns are ABC. The orange string shows priority given to shape over color. It's an AB pattern, yes, but it is unusual to see this.

Finally check out the final string. It's an ABBCDD pattern. Yes!

We also enjoyed our fifth grade buddy time. My group went to the garden and I took Ms. Deay's group. The buddy partners worked together to solve tangram puzzles. The students, in both kindergarten and fifth grade, really like their buddy time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

November's Snack Calendar

Here, for the convenience of everyone who has more trouble with paper than computers is a photo of November's snack calendar, the one that should already be in your household thanks to the Friday folder system.

Anyway.... here it is:

If you want to make it larger than this, click on it.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Rewards Don't Work

About thirty years ago I opened a school to teach people windsurfing. You see, I LOVED to windsurf. My idea was to turn my passion for windsurfing into a summer business that would bring me some extra income.

I didn't expect that my windsurfing business would kill my interest in windsurfing. But that's exactly what happened. My hobby became my job, and I was soon hating it.

What I experienced is not a bit unusual. If you do what you do for pay, you probably will not enjoy your work. If you go to work because you love what you do, well, you'll probably love what you do.

I ran across an interesting article online that discusses an experiment that demonstrated that rewards don't work. Rewards actually are counter-productive. The experiment this article describes was done with preschool children who liked to draw. If children were given rewards for drawing, they began to draw less than other children who were not rewarded for drawing.

You can read that article here: Rewards.

Why do I mention this here on Mr. Kindergarten? To suggest that you avoid rewarding your child (or student, if you're a teacher) and trust the stronger and much more reliable motivator: intrinsic motivation.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Halloween Parade

These students returned to school to join the Halloween Parade this afternoon.

Thanks to the room parents for a great Halloween snack and party this morning. I'd like to pass along Michelle Lorenz's thank you's here:

I wanted to send a thank you to everyone for all your help today.
Thank you to Tracey and Kerri Petersen for the yummy snacks.
Thank you to Hunter's Family for providing delicious and beautifully decorated cupcakes.
Thank you to Maddison's Family for the great goodie bag.
Thank you to April, Shelley, Tracey, Jennifer, Mrs.Frech and Mr.Gurney for the fun games. 
The kids had so much fun because of you.
Michelle Lorenz

Have a great weekend.

Rolling Dice in Kindergarten

Today in math the students rolled dice and recorded the result to see which number came up most often. We'll do this activity again and also for homework next week. Some inaccuracies occurred (at 38 seconds) on this first time through. As we do it again, the process of rolling and recording will become well established and the students will have enough brain power left over to think about the results of the dice rolling.

With enough rolls, they'll hopefully see that the odds of rolling any particular number is about the same as rolling any other number, a fact that is not necessarily obvious or intuitive to them right now.

I was pleased by how engaged they were in this simple activity, especially on the day of the Halloween Party and Parade.

Have a safe Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Wear Red Wednesday

Tomorrow's one of our spirit days. Folks from "Red Ribbon Week" will be by to look at our doors and see who's wearing red.

Frankly, I think anti-drug programs don't have a place in kindergarten. Using drugs illegally just isn't on most kindergartners minds. So programs like Red Ribbon Week whose basic message is "Don't Do Drugs" don't work very well. It's because the human mind just doesn't work that way.

If I say, "Don't think of a green elephant in a tutu," guess what shows up in your mind?

Yes, a green elephant in a tutu.

So we play it really low key in kindergarten.

Other news:

Shelby mastered the Soundabet in Uppercase today. Yeah, Shelby. I forgot to give her the prize: her own deck of Soundabet Queen's cards. Please remind me.

Corinne, see my comment on the Green Mat post.

Bye for now....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A First Grade Blog

I just discovered a first grade teacher's blog that I like.

It's by Kathy Cassidy, Blogmeister.

I put a link for it over there on the right.

Check it out.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New Green Mat

The new green mat, with room for our 29th student, Trisha, arrived and I installed it Friday.

Students will be able to self-select a place to sit on Monday and we'll see how it goes.

I painted a stripe on the playground to help the students line up far enough from the door so that it can be opened without danger of banging into their noses.

And, oh, looky here at the patterns we're seeing. Man, I'm impressed.

Last, but not least, I put the finishing touches on the vortex generator which will see service in kindergarten. Anyone got some smoke bombs they could donate?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More Math Activities

Most of the students have got the idea of the teens down quite well. They drew a card with a teen on it and built a structure using that many wooden cubes.

Here are photos from some of them.

At the end are two photos of wooden bead patterns. Some students are moving beyond the simple ABAB pattern and exploring more complex patterns. Sam shows an ABC pattern. I'm seeing students come up with lots of AABB patterns. It's enjoyable to observe the students as they progress naturally to increasingly complex patterns.