Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wednesday Dismissal

Tomorrow, Wednesday, we enter a new month, December. Tomorrow we will begin the longer Wednesday school day. For the rest of the school year, kindergarten will dismiss on Wednesdays at 1:20. Your child will stay for lunch, so pack a lunch or arrange with the office for a hot lunch for your child.

The longer kindergarten schedule preempts KIDS club.

For everyone’s safety, please come a little bit early—1:15 would be good—park your car, and come to the classroom to pick up your child. Please arrive in the kindergarten class promptly at 1:20. If you don’t have older siblings to pick up try to leave ahead of the parking lot snarl that will be in full swing at 1:30 when the rest of the school dismisses.

Hold hands as you walk back out to your car. It will be crowded and confusing out in the parking lot because the whole school is about to dismiss. Folks vary in how much patience they have. We wish to avoid any accidents or ruffled feathers!

I am assigned to do parking lot patrol starting at 1:30. I cannot serve that duty until all kindergartners have been picked up. So please be on time. If you’re late, look for your child in the school office.

The other days of the week dismiss at the same time as always, 11:45.

If your child is in after school daycare, no worries, everything will remain the same for you.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Let's see...

Here's the news summary for today.

We visited the book fair this morning after the school assembly. Students came up with a "wish list" of items they saw. We had a math lesson introducing the "minus" sign and the idea of subtraction.  Four kindergartners passed significant milestones, there's a puzzle, and some news.

See for yourself:

Five blocks
take away four blocks equals one block.

Milestone one: Hannah lost her first tooth.

She got a pencil and a tooth necklace for the tooth.

Marley's day and we rode bikes in clear wintry weather.

Milestone Two: Bailey learned to ride on two wheels.

Milestone Three: Rebecca learned to two wheel too!

What's the missing Soundabet?
On a slip of paper, write down the missing Soundabet along with your name and bring it to school. If we get a dozen correct answers we'll have a dozen extra minutes of choice time inside to use the beads, blocks, Legos, and stuff.

Milestone Four: Justin showed the class he knows the whole Soundabet. Tomorrow Samantha wants to do the same. Samantha won a poster at the Book Fair this morning.

And the news. Wednesday we enter a new month, December. We also begin the longer Wednesday school day. Kindergarten will dismiss at 1:20. Please come promptly as I have parking lot patrol that starts at 1:30 and I cannot serve that duty until all kindergartners have been picked up.

By coming promptly, you can avoid the aggravation of the traffic jam that often occurs in our parking lot at dismissal!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

All I Want for Christmas are Ukuleles

 I used to play guitar in kindergarten. Guitars are wonderful instruments to accompany classroom singing. But I don’t play guitar much anymore.

For years, I’ve seen kindergartners get guitars for Christmas—toy guitars—maybe because they’ve seen me play guitar and want to make music like Mr. Gurney does.

For years I’ve watched students abandon music making soon after starting out on guitar. Guitars, even really good guitars, are very hard to play well. Toy guitars are impossible to play well. They go out of tune, they buzz, they sound terrible, their steel strings hurt young fingertips, and they have two too many strings. Five year olds don’t stand a chance on a guitar. I doubt that even John Lennon could have played guitar at five. (I first picked up guitar in my sophomore year in college. I was nineteen years old, and it was hard for me to learn.)

After years of playing guitar in kindergarten, I’ve abandoned the six-string guitar in favor of the four-string ukulele. Ever since I got my first ukulele about six years ago, I’ve been aware that a uke is a much better instrument to start out on. Kids, I hope, will want to play what Mr. Gurney plays, so I’d better play the instrument best suited to beginners.

Ukuleles are REAL instruments, not toys. They’re much less expensive than guitars. They’re a whole lot easier than guitars to play. An interested and disciplined five year-old has a chance to successfully play a ukulele. An added bonus: ukuleles are the guitar’s first cousin. Strumming and chord fingering skills learned on the ukulele will easily transfer over to guitar because ukulele’s tuning is closely related to guitar tuning.

This year I want to add more ukuleles in the classroom. I’ve working with a ukulele manufacturer/importer (Kala Ukuleles) and a local music store (People’s Music) and a generous anonymous benefactor who together will help me acquire quality ukuleles at a huge discount for kindergarten.  It’s a start. I hope to get ten ukuleles. I’m appealing to Dunham School parents to chip in whatever you can afford to help me buy more good quality instruments for classroom use.

Monday morning I’ll have a donation jar in the classroom, and this year I encourage you to offer a donation lieu of other holiday gifts for the classroom or for the teacher.

Thank you!

Question for Dunham parents: Would any of you like to see a recently released 80-minute documentary movie about the  comeback of the ukulele? It's called called "The Mighty Uke" and it covers the history of the ukulele and features ukuleles in schools. I'd show the movie at Dunham on Wednesday night, December 8 at 6 PM (early so bedtime isn't too late). Here's the trailer:

I am willing to show the movie if six of you will come.

(Please leave a comment if you're interested in attending the screening.)

Meanwhile, check out this little ukulele player:

Friday, November 19, 2010

Just Before Thanksgiving

Today is the last day I'm teaching before the Thanksgiving holiday. Next week is parent teacher conferences—Tuesday for many of you. Remember that Wednesday through Friday there is no school. I'll be back as a teacher November 29. KIDS club people please look for a notice in your Friday folder reminding you that there is no KIDS club until November 29.

Here's the news for the day:

We had quite a band to start off the day. Justin, Hannah, Rieley, Gavin, Bailey, Samantha, and Makayla. We sang Five Little Speckled Frogs. There is just nothing finer than making some homemade music—a joyful noise—with friends young and old!

Mrs. Gronlund began decorating the room with colorful Thanksgiving turkeys.

Justin brought in a holiday-themed book about the Pilgrims experiences. He also brought in a snack with a seasonal touch:

If that ain't cute, I'll eat my hat.

We had to have a little discussion about careful use of paper. I saw a number of papers with halfhearted pictures, not much more than a scribble, and then abandoned for a fresh start on new paper. It pains me to see that sort of disregard for our tree resources, so we had a discussion.

Much better is the careful work you see here done by Marley. From now on visitors to the art center will be limited to one piece of paper to use. Here's Marley's picture:

If you're able to come tonight, I'll look for you at the performance of Snow White at neighboring Wilson School at 3375 Bodega Highway, Petaluma, on the road out of town towards Valley Ford.

The doors open at 6:00 and the curtain goes up at 6:30. (Actually I don't think they have a curtain, and if they do it probably draws left and right from the middle as they usually do, but you know what I mean.)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Back by Popular Demand: Find the Missing Soundabets

Another day gone by so fast! And I get to play with my strum chums this evening. Life is good.

We went into the garden got instructions....

Packed fragrant lavender into mesh bags....

Sorted sunflower seeds....

Picked up more than the usual amount of trash from the playground....

And read the news of the day. There was a whole math lesson not described here involving dice. Maybe you can ask you child about it.

As before, I deliberately left TWO soundabets unmarked. If your child can find both of them and correctly identify both of them in the comments section, and be among the first five to do so, they'll be in the band tomorrow.

Good news! There are more ukuleles on the way. Our band will expand! I will have time (I hope) to more fully describe this news in a weekend post.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Snow White, Top-It, Lamb Chop

Yesterday I got the opportunity to look in on the dress rehearsal for Snow White, a Dunham School production which will premiere on Friday evening at 6:30 at Wilson School. Here's a photo of our cast in rehearsal at Dunham:

Tonight's homework is to play "Top-It" at home. We played it at school this morning and on previous days. You can use ordinary playing cards. I called this same game by another name, War, when I was a boy. I like this name better. Here's a photo taken after our in class game. Jackson won.

Lamb Chop and Archy came home with me today. Here they are in my bag awaiting departure to Sebastopol.

We'll hear from Archy how his visit with Lamb Chop went.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Basic Sanitation

Some days I wish a documentary film crew could follow me around as I teach kindergarten.

The cameras would capture sublime moments that I would love to share widely, moments like Elena’s first two-wheel ride yesterday.

But they’d also catch surreal moments. This morning the imaginary film crew would have caught me teaching an unplanned lesson in basic sanitation to one of my young male scholars.

We use washable markers to write names on the rubber mat where they sit for instruction. This lad knew about the washable ink. His knowledge must have filled him with a desire to test the permanence of the letters of his name. 

He knew that he would not be allowed to bring a wet towel or sponge to satisfy his curiosity about the washability of the ink in his name. Those who’ve gone before have spit on their names and scrubbed away with fingertips. This, our lad must have known, would result in a consequence he preferred to avoid.

He employed an innovative scouring tool I have never before seen put to this task: his tongue.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This is a photo of Archy. He got to do a little yodeling today. He goes a bit crazy when he yodels. Your child can fill you in.

He and I had a good time at the beach yesterday. Thanks, Archy! 

Here's another look at Hudson's note with all the Soundabets boxed and marked. You can see how much more decodable text is when the Soundabet is learned and understood.
Easier to read in seventeen ways.

Here's today's note. I deliberately did not mark one of the Soundabets. If your child is among the first five who can find it and identify it and put a comment up on this post, he or she will play with Jackson in the band.

Tomorrow is Wednesday. Music with Andrew. Break up the Lego creations. Homework.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Elena Rides a Two Wheeler

Here's the news of the day:

The patterns written about here was an ABC pattern using small colored blocks of wood. Everyone was successful in adding to the pattern. (It was today's math lesson!)

Hudson requested that Archy address the class before snack. I had no idea what Archy was going to say, but he talked about the beautiful warm (78° F!) weather we're having here in Northern California. He suggested that I take a walk on the beach after work.

Elena learned to ride a two wheeler today. She basically taught herself as far as we can tell. Mrs. Everson was the adult in closest proximity to Elena's success and wouldn't take much credit for teaching her this new skill. I served as photographer to record the event for all to see:

One of Elena's first rides
I've gotten smart enough to listen to Archy, so, as he suggested, I drove out to Doran Beach on my way home from work today for an hour's walk along the Pacific.

How often is it that warm and pleasant out there? Not so often, really.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Addition Symbol "+"

The math lesson today introduced "The Addition Symbol."  It has other names, "The Plus Sign," the "Plus Symbol" or just plain old "Plus." Any of those names will do. It's probably best to use all of them. I called it "The Plus Sign" today in class.  Make sure that your child knows (through lots of exposure in lots of different situations) that whatever we call it, this "+" it's about putting two or more groups together and seeing how much we've got all together.

After I led a whole class demonstration on the mat, we went to the tables and practiced at the tables. We used ice cream sticks, with the "+" written on them, slates, and little plastic blocks. The ice cream sticks were for dividing our slates in two. Then we put a number of counters on either side of the sign

Here's a simple problem Hannah did:

1 on one side and 1 on the other side
What is the answer? Remove the stick and count them all together!

1 + 1 equals 2!
Easy enough. We did more difficult problems, like this one, too.

Hmmm.  4 on one side and 6 on the other.
So, what is 4 plus 6?

4 + 6 equals 10!
I encourage you to do problems just like this at home. At this point kids need hands-on practice with real objects. I strongly recommend that you avoid the more abstract and conceptual algorithms that you find in workbooks.

Problems written out horizontally like 3 + 5 = 8 or vertically, (please forgive the formatting) like this are best saved until later.

+  5

So, again, please give plenty of  hands-on practice.  Avoid the algorithms until later.

Today's news

Chocolate Chip, Justin's Baby Goat

Justin's been helping to raise baby lambs whose mothers cannot produce the milk they need with the help of Gram Cracker, his grandma Marcia Swenson. She brought one of the lambs to school.

I got a couple of photos of it.

Chocolate Chip gets some love

And of course we had to sing this old favorite children's song (adapted for the occasion):

Justin had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb,
Justin had a little lamb whose fleece was black as coal.
And everywhere that Justin went, Justin went, Justin went,
 Everywhere that Justin went that lamb was sure to go.

It followed him to school one day, school one day, school one day,
It followed him to school one day which was okay that day.
It made the children laugh and play, laugh and play, laugh and play
It made the children laugh and play to see a lamb at school.

Zander and Chocolate Chip

And, now, for you loyal readers: the first five kindergartners who can solve the plus sign problem shown in little blocks on the music stand will be in Monday morning's band with Hudson. You must leave the answer in the comments to enter this contest.

Enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veteran's Day--No School

Hi all—

To honor Veteran's Day, there is no school today. Enjoy the day and remember all those who've served you.

South Main Street, Sebastopol, CA 11/11/10

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 10, 2010

A nice day today. The morning flew by in a flash. When the parents arrived to pick their children, there was still a lot left to do... tomorrow, I mean Friday.

For example, Gavin brought a book to share and I forgot to read it. We didn't do the Soundabet or the story the goes with it—as Hannah reminded me on her way out the door.

And we didn't dance. A day without dancing is somehow not quite complete.

We did learn how to play "Top It" in math. We made one hundred X's on the chalkboards. We had music with Andrew and began to practice for the winter holiday show next month. More about that in a future post.

Alexis shows Samantha how to play a C-chord.

We made some music on the ukulele.

Alexis loves this thing.

We built some pretty amazing Lego creations.

This one's all taken apart now.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Photo for Fall Placemats

Mrs. Gronlund and Miss Roach will help students make fall placemats in the next round of centers which start on Wednesday.

Please bring to school a photograph of your child to incorporate in the design of the place mat. Please don't send a large photograph, as the photo will be just a part of the design. A standard photo is fine something about 4" by 6" or smaller.

Give your photos to Mrs. Gronlund or Miss Roach.

Thank you!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

For Teachers: Taking Care of Yourself

As a "master" teacher, I was asked to offer some ideas about how to take care of yourself so as to avoid "teacher burnout."

 It's a real problem because teaching is a very demanding line of work. It's actually an impossible job to do really well, so the name of the game is to figure out how to usefully do it as well as you can.

Here are the ideas I shared at that meeting: 


Meet Your Basic Needs:

Physical Needs:
Good Food, Adequate Sleep, Exercise, Recreation,

Social Needs:
Friends and family

Other Needs:
Spiritual life, creative pursuits

Bracket Your Work Life (Carpooling Helps)

Decide in advance how many hours you’re willing to put in beyond your contracted hours, and don’t exceed that amount. Don’t ever expect to be ready for work at the beginning of the day. Don’t ever expect to be finished when you leave. If you think you can, you're kidding yourself.

Shed Perfectionism

A wise first grader once informed me, “Only God is perfect.” 

Since we’re human beings we can be assured that we will bring our (many) imperfections to work with us. 

Learn to live with your imperfections. Figure out the help you need and find people to help you. Figure out what you ARE good at, and offer to help others. (In my case I love to make music and I cannot decorate a room. I get help with the latter and am always delighted when asked to help out with the former.)

Perfectionism can be a sneaky enemy that will sap your strength and endurance. Remember, you’re only one person—you can’t do it all. Get well acquainted with what’s “Good Enough” and live with it. You’ll get by.


Like the medical and legal professions, where people speak of “practicing medicine,” and “practicing law,” teaching cannot be mastered, only practiced. 

Approached as a practice, teaching becomes a lifelong adventure in getting better and better at what you do for a living and a life. Teaching is a journey, not an arrival.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday, November 5, 2010

Here's the news. I took a large-format photo of the news. It should enlarge when you click on it. Read it to your child. Notice that I've drawn a box around the Soundabet sounds in this message—except for the "ay" sounds which I underlined.

I didn't underline all of the "ay" sounds. One is not underlined. If your child can find the "ay" that I didn't underline, and he or she (with your help) is the first to leave a comment saying where my underlining of "ay" is missing, he or she will get to play the drums Monday morning at music......

Here's the photo of the news:

You may wonder what "tray math" is.

It's a game—with many variations—that employs observation, probability, and counting skills. We introduced a couple of variations today. Here's one way to play "tray math:"

Put a number blocks of two colors on a tray.

Cover the blocks so they cannot be seen.

Covered up

Without looking, remove one block and hide it.

Remove cover. Figure out what color block is missing.

Yep. Now, explain how you knew.
For some students this was too hard; for others, too easy. Play at home using whatever materials you have at hand. Optimize the level of difficultly by increasing or decreasing the number of items as appropriate for your child.

We did many other activities, of course. The morning, the week, flew by.
We went out for PE and got some practice with basketballs.

And came back to class for some Monster Squeeze and dancing and plan-do-and-review time.

Have a great weekend.

For parents:
P.S. I'll be doing report card assessments on Monday and Tuesday and the student teachers, Miss Roach in particular, will be "taking over." I have every confidence in her that it will go well.

For teachers:
P.S. Stay tuned over the weekend for a post about how to keep balance in your life so that you're still loving your work thirty-some years into your career. This is a plan, not a promise.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bikes and Surveys

Ivan learns to ride on two wheels.

At the end of the day, Ivan announced that he'd figured out how to ride on two wheels. He's a self-taught cyclist now.

Miss Roach captured some of the goings-on today in her report on the chart.

After drawing a hen we did the Chicken Dance. Really.

At a meeting after school this afternoon we talked about a parent survey we did last year. It is giving us much food for thought.

The survey results have sparked our interest in doing a better job with helping all those who are new to the Dunham School Community to feel welcome and well acquainted with our school and its programs.

Kindergarten parents have a lot of useful information to help us with this project. I'll be working on this in the coming weeks.

Stay tuned.