Look Out Kindergarten, Here We Come!

Last week was my daughter’s first day of kindergarten! A day I had played over and over in my mind for years. Although COVID-19 and the many changes it brings never entered my mind when I dreamed about sending my child off to kindergarten, my daughter and I were both ready for this new adventure!

This school year will be different in many ways…masks, temperature checks, no parents in the building, lunch and chapel in the classroom, assigned seats, extra hand washing, no field trips. (just to name a few of the many precautions put in place to keep the students at Zion Lutheran School safe.) Since my daughter has never been to kindergarten, many of the changes will go unnoticed. She is simply overjoyed to be back in school, elated to be in class with her best friend and is ready to begin this new chapter in her life. As we drove to school on that first day, a little voice from the backseat said, “Mommy, I am so excited to go to kindergarten. It’s been too long since I’ve been at school!”

Before I even had a chance to drop my daughter off I was receiving phone calls and texts asking me how I was doing? My mom wanted to know if I cried? Others wanted to know if I felt comfortable sending my daughter to school for face to face learning amid the COVID-19 crisis?

Last week my daughter and I went to school for a private “Meet the Teacher.” As we walked hand and hand down the familiar hallway (my daughter’s new classroom is across the hall from her pre-k classroom) to her kindergarten classroom, a sense of peace embraced me. Any doubts I had about sending my daughter back to school for face to face learning were washed away. After a long absence I felt as if we had returned to the open arms of a loved one. We were home. In that moment I was reminded that God was watching over us and that going back to Zion for face to face learning was the best decision for my family of three. During our visit we were warmly greeted by Mr. Debrick, our principal and Mrs. Haun, our early childhood director; two individuals who have worked endlessly making careful decisions, implementing new procedures and putting precautions in place to keep my daughter and her classmates safe. Their leadership made me confident on our decision to send her to school.

And I couldn’t have picked a better teacher for my little one! Mrs. Reed is the quintessential kindergarten teacher…warm, kind and loving, with a clear set of expectations. She has a Christ centered classroom, understands the whole child and has developmentally appropriate expectations for them. I know my daughter will have a fantastic year under her guidance and care and for that I am truly grateful!

On the first day I walked my daughter to the entrance of the early childhood wing where she was warmly greeted by a group of teacher assistants waiting to help her find her classroom. With COVID-19 preventing me from walking her to the classroom, I waved goodbye at the door. My little one excitedly entered the building, never looking back and walking confidently forward, clearly ready to kick off a new year of learning and growth!

I picked my daughter up from school at 11:30 (prior to COVID-19 we had signed her up for half-day kindergarten to start out) and she excitedly shared everything she had done. She described all of the things I would expect to see and hear in a kindergarten classroom on the very first day of school. From singing the days of the week (Adams Family version I figured out) to counting the days they have been in school to singing “Tall Voices on the Playground, Small Voices Inside,” to reading books (she scolded me for reading most of them to her already), to finding her spot on the carpet (she informed me some spots may change because people talked when they shouldn’t) to talking about Jesus, I could tell she going to have a fabulous year! By sharing these intimate details of her first day of kindergarten my sweet daughter had unknowingly presented me with a very precious gift!

The Noteworthy Mommy Gets Her Daughter Ready For Kindergarten!

During my twenty-eight years in the field of education, seven glorious years were spent teaching kindergarten. I look back on that time with found memories and keep in touch with some of my former students who are now young adults beginning careers or parents sending their own children off to kindergarten!

This year I am sending my only child off to kindergarten and we commemorated this milestone with some special books, back to school traditions and activities.

Kindergarten Books- To prepare my daughter for her first day of kindergarten we read several kindergarten themed books. As a former kindergarten teacher, most are from my own collection and as I read them memories of my seven years laying the educational foundation for five and six year olds flooded back. The joy of preparing my classroom and filling it with new materials, the shiny waxed floors and freshly cleaned classroom, the anticipation of meeting my students and experiencing a new beginning with them was thrilling! Now it will be my daughter’s turn. The following books are some of my favorites.

Meet the Teacher– A week before school, we signed up for a private meet and greet with my daughter’s kindergarten teacher and kindergarten assistant. To avoid extra people in the school building, one adult was invited to join their child on this special tour of the kindergarten classroom. My daughter was excited to meet her teacher, Mrs. Reed and her kindergarten assistant, Mrs. Collins. My daughter found her cubby, practiced washing her hands properly, made a painted heart to hang in the classroom and read the book Kindergarten, Here I Come! with her teacher. My daughter got to take the book home so we could read it before the first day of school and inside the front cover was a handwritten note from Mrs. Reed. When I read the words “Jesus loves you and so do I,” any trepidation I had about sending my daughter to Zion Lutheran School for “face to face learning” was washed away. I felt confident that my husband and I had made the best decision for our family because I was reminded that along with Zion’s carefully thought out safety procedures and dedicated teachers and staff, Jesus would be lovingly watching over our daughter while she is at school.

The Kissing Hand Tradition- I always read The Kissing Hand to my kindergarten students and their parents during our “Meet the Teacher Night.” I also made and decorated heart shaped cookies for them to take home. I began this tradition with my daughter when she was a three year old heading off to preschool. CLICK HERE to read all about it. We continued the tradition this year with Nana and Pops joining us in baking and decorating homemade kissing hand cookies which we gave to my daughter’s teachers and administrators on the first day of school. CLICK HERE for Nana’s homemade sugar cookie recipe and CLICK HERE for Nana’s homemade buttercream frosting recipe.

A Special ‘Twas the Night Before Kindergarten Poem- I was touched to receive this special poem written especially for my daughter by Auntie Jaime, a dear friend and my daughter’s honorary auntie. When I read the poem it brought back faded memories of when I was a kindergartener (43 years ago) and more vivid memories of my first day teaching kindergarten (24 years ago). As you read the following words I hope you are transported to a simpler time, not so long ago, when all children could safely go to school, hold hands with a new friend, learn without wearing a mask and freely play tag on the playground.

Whether you are home schooling, going back to school for face to face learning, engaging in virtual learning or participating in hybrid learning, I pray that you and your children have a safe and productive school year!

A Memorable Weekend…Days 68 and 69

On Thursday we celebrated Ascension, the 40th day after Easter Sunday, that commemorates Jesus’s ascension into heaven. CLICK HERE to view an Ascension Service recorded at my church last year.

As my family of three worshiped from home today we were reminded of Jesus’s ascension into heaven. My daughter listened attentively as our pastor read the following during the children’s message…Jesus said, “God has given me complete power over heaven and earth. Go and tell everyone the good news. Make new disciples. Baptize them and teach them to obey my commandments. Don’t ever forget, I will always be with you.”

Half way through the sermon my daughter said, “We sing the song, Go and Make Disciples during circle time at school, always at this time of year.” I got tears in my eyes because my five year old daughter gets it! She may be coloring during church and appear to not be paying attention, even more so now that COVID-19 has caused us to worship at home, but she is listening and she understands! 

My daughter and I completed this coloring sheet with pencils. The colorful image of Jesus ascending into heaven reminds us of the huge stained glass window behind our alter at church. We look forward to the day where we can worship in God’s house once again. A day where we will be home and can praise Him with our church family!

“The Holy Spirit will come to you. He will give you power to tell people about me. Now the time has come for me to go to Heaven. Do not be afraid.”

I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb…Good Shepherd Sunday on Day 48

This Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter, is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The name derives from the Gospel reading for the day, taken from the tenth chapter of John. CLICK HERE to view our worship service and make sure you watch the sermon!

I recommend listening to his moving words but here are some notes I took from Pastor Rouland’s sermon. He asks us to remember what it feels like to be lost and challenges us to think of the voices in our lives that drown out the clear voice of our Good Shepherd, Jesus. Pastor Rouland made me question, am I always being spiritually safe? Are there times in my life where I rely on myself to be safe, where I have created paths that are straight and safe and fail to listen to Jesus, the One who calls me by name? By spending time reading His word, singing His word and putting myself in places where I will hear Jesus, I will gain the spiritual safety I so yearn. Pastor Rouland reminds me that Jesus is here to carry me, to bear my burdens, to lead me home. Listen to the voice of our Good Shepherd, Jesus.

The Lord is My Shepherd- After reading Psalm 23 from my daughter’s Beginners Bible, we made a little lamb with cotton ball fleece to remind us that we are Jesus’ little lambs.

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During this time of uncertainty we shouldn’t be afraid because Jesus, our Sheperd, is there to guide us, provide for us and love us, through good days and during dark times. We sang the Lutheran hymn, “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb” while we worked together. CLICK HERE to listen to a recording sung by children.

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I got the lamb template from the blog www.startsateight.com. CLICK HERE to download the lamb template.

Symphony No 3 (fourth movement) by James Barnes– In January 2017, the Saint Louis Wind Symphony closed their performance at the Missouri Music Educators Association’s annual conference by playing the last movement of Barnes’s dynamic Symphony No 3. I play third clarinet in the SLWS and the piece, although challenging to play, is emotionally moving. The Third Symphony was commissioned by the United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C. Barnes, the composer, was told the piece needed to be a major work for wind band but was given no other parameters. Barnes began writing Symphony No 3 at a very tragic time in his life, shortly after his baby daughter Natalie died. The program notes state… The fourth movement (finale) represents a rebirth of spirit, a reconciliation for us all. The second theme of the last movement is based on the old Lutheran children’s hymn, “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb.” The hymn was sung at Natalie’s funeral and was the closing hymn my congregation sang on Good Shepherd Sunday.

CLICK HERE to hear the United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C. play the finale from Symphony No 3 by James Barnes.

I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb– While my family of three sang the closing hymn, “I Am Jesus’ Little Lamb,”‘my daughter declared, “I wish you were still a child. Then I wouldn’t be born yet and I wouldn’t be here for the virus.” Then she went off and began to play. Deep thoughts for a five year old and a reminder that our children are continuing to process their new normal… a time of virtual church, virtual school and physical time away from extended family and friends. Although it’s OK to be afraid, upset and lost during this time, I want my daughter to find comfort in Jesus. To know that Jesus, her Good Shepherd, is here to carry her through this difficult time.

The painting, “The Good Shepherd,” by artist, Richard Hook. Hook created a lot of art for Concordia Publishing House. This painting, or one similar to it, is what Pastor Rouland refers to in his sermon.

Tasty Tuesday With Pizza and a “Soup Opera,” (Week of the Young Child).. Day 43

Today is Tasty Tuesday! This fun, food themed day is about more than cheese and crust! When we cook with our children we incorporate math, literacy skills and science, while teaching them about good nutrition.

Pizza– My daughter and I made pizza for lunch. She topped her pizza to look like a funny face complete with pepperoni eyes, ears, and mouth, and dressed with cheese hair. My little one doesn’t like cooked cheese so that’s why her pizza face only had a wee bit of cheese hair. In keeping with the pizza theme we read one of our favorite books, The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza written by Philemon Sturges. A modern twist the classic tale, this retelling has our mouth watering every time! CLICK HERE to read The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza.

Jesus Feeds 5,000– We read the Bible story about Jesus feeding 5,000 men with just five loaves of bread and two fish. The story validates that God provides miracles when we trust in Him. CLICK HERE to watch an animated version of the story. After watching and discussing the story we traced my daughter’s hand and made a collage with Goldfish to remind us of God’s miracle.

I Can’t Eat the SOUP!– We really enjoyed watching the “soup opera,” I Can‘t Eat the Soup! by the extremely talented children’s performer, Jim Gill. A few summers ago we were lucky to see Jim Gill in concert at our local library. After watching several different versions on line, we enjoyed acting the “soup opera” out ourselves! CLICK HERE to watch the most recent version of I Can’t Eat the Soup! and CLICK HERE to watch one complete with a symphony orchestra!

Fear Not!…Day 30

When we opened the Easter basket from my daughter’s Godparents I never expected to find homemade masks tucked next to the beautifully decorated cookies. During the day I am easily distracted from the daily news. With my young daughter as my primary focus, I am joyfully occupied with play and engaging activity. The masks were a stark reminder of the seriousness that is COVID 19.  Our days pass quickly (when you have a preschooler with a ton of energy you have to be active). But when night appears I find it hard to sleep as my mind is captured with fear… How long will this last? When will my husband return to a normal work schedule and a full salary? With schools overcoming their own challenges will they ever be in need of my consulting services? Did I hurt my daughter today when I relied on technology to occupy part of her day while I attended to neglected household chores? Will my daughter attend kindergarten at a brick and mortar school in the fall or will digital learning continue to be the norm? Are my friends and family members safe?

I know I am not alone. All of my readers are experiencing their own fear, anxiety and personal worry. Reading a daily devotional helps me begin each day in a positive way. FEAR NOT is the theme for Zion Lutheran Church in St. Charles’s annual Easter devotional. Written by members ranging from school age to senior citizen, the devotions cover most of the Easter season, beginning with Easter Sunday (April 12) and ending with the day after Ascension (May 22). The devotional booklet was written before COVID 19 hit our area and this Noteworthy Mommy wrote the devotional for May 5. CLICK HERE to download the devotional booklet. I turn to my writing as a way to make sense of the challenges our world is facing. And just as my daughter is comforted by my loving touch, helping her fall asleep when she awakes in the middle of the night, I find comfort in the hands of my Heavenly Father. As a child of God I place all of my fear and worries into His hands. As Miss Tracy reminds us at the end of dance class… I AM LOVED. I AM SAFE, I AM WELL.

An Easter Sunday in Isolation…Separate But Not Alone

This Easter is like no other we have ever experienced. I should have been singing in the choir at our 11:00 service, marking my first Easter singing with the treble choir at church. Instead I sang with my family of three as we sat on the couch in our family room streaming Zion Lutheran Church St. Charles’s worship service through our TV. While COVID 19 shuttered the doors to physical church buildings around the world it did not cancel Easter or close church. It didn’t stop us from getting out our alleluia shakers and saying He is Risen. He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

Although this Easter was different in so many ways, at the same time it was oddly familiar. As we sang all of the Easter hymns I grew up with, from the opening hymn, “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today” to “This Is The Feast” to the closing hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today; Alleluia,” I was transported back to my childhood. To an Easter where I worshiped with my parents and maternal grandmother at Zion Lutheran Church in Belleville. It could have been any Easter in the early 1980’s. I would have been in elementary school, third, fourth or fifth grade, it doesn’t matter as they would have all been the same. Me wearing a dress that I couldn’t wait to get out of, sitting uncomfortably on the hard pew daydreaming about the Easter eggs, candy and toys that would occupy the rest of my day. But the music always drew me back in. As we sang from the blue LCMS hymnals I hung onto every note. My mother’s beautiful voice, the organ and occasional trumpet, brought me comfort and embraced me with loving arms. God didn’t bless my grandmother with an angelic voice but as a life long Lutheran she belted out each note with Lutheran pride. I admired her tenacity and unwavering love for her church. Although she has been with Jesus for thirty-three years, I felt her presence today as we sang “Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds.” As my daughter fell asleep in my lap I was transported back to the present, the first Easter in my daughter’s young life that she won’t be able to celebrate with all four of her grandparents. Although we took an Easter meal to both sets of grandparents this weekend and each one had a surprise Easter egg hunt for her in their yard, we weren’t able to be together and that bothered my daughter. It felt weird to be so close to our loved ones, yet so far a part. In keeping with proper social distancing there was no physical contact on our short family visits and no comforting hugs due to COVID 19. This historic time of isolation will change us all. And as a result my five year old daughter will grow up with a greater appreciation for worship and devotion, family dinners and comforting hugs.

Good Friday, The Sparkle Egg and Virtual Family Bingo

For the last two years my daughter and I have spent Good Friday attending an Easter event with my parents at a farm near their home. We pet baby bunnies, participate in an egg hunt, have a meet and greet with the Easter Bunny…a few of the many activities at the farm. This year that tradition, along with many others, was unable to take place. But as I reflect on the events that unfolded instead, simple as they may be, this Good Friday, the one spent in isolation, helped my family focus on the Lamb instead of the bunny!

Easter Scavenger Hunt– My daughter and I began our Good Friday with an Easter scavenger hunt. We headed outdoors on this beautiful day in search of the items on the list below.

As we went through the list, collecting the items around our yard, we were reminded of Jesus and the loving sacrifice He made for us.

The Sparkle Egg – This heart warming story about Easter and forgiveness will strike a deep chord with readers of all ages. The Sparkle Egg tradition will help readers and their families grasp the totality of God’s perfect grace. Go to The Sparkle Egg website and read the book for free! Make a Sparkle Egg and draw a picture of something you are holding onto or are ashamed about and put it inside the egg. On Easter morning, remove the paper and when your child opens the empty egg they will be reminded of the gift of complete forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Like the tomb on Easter morning, The Sparkle Egg is empty.

A Surprise Easter Egg Hunt– When we dropped off supplies at Maw Maw and Paw Paw’s house my daughter was thrilled to find they had hidden Easter eggs for her to hunt in their backyard. While keeping proper social distancing we all enjoyed this fun surprise!

Virtual Bingo– Via Zoom my daughter joined her cousins in Georgia for a game of virtual bingo. Virtual daily meetings with family and friends are becoming our norm.

Good Friday Tenebrae Service- Our family of three gathered on the couch and in darkness worshiped together. While worshiping at home we remembered the day that the sun stopped shining as the Light of the World was crucified for the sins of the world. CLICK HERE to watch Zion Lutheran church’s Tenebrae service.

Good Friday With Pastor Rouland and Gary– During the isolation a highlight of our week is watching a special message from our senior pastor, Pastor Rouland and his sidekick Gary. Each week, my daughter laughs out loud as she points to the screen. We ended our day watching their video before bed. CLICK HERE to learn why we call today Good Friday.

Paper Doll Bunnies, Easter Cupcakes and The Living Last Supper…Day 18

Staying home in isolation wasn’t the plan. My husband was supposed to be playing Simon the Zealot in the Living Last Supper at church. He delivered care packages and went shopping for others instead. I thank my husband for being strong for our family. I was supposed to sing in the choir tonight but haven’t left our neighborhood since Palm Sunday. Our daughter was supposed to go to preschool and have fun with her teacher and friends. She had a virtual play date as an alternative and heard the announcement that school would stay virtual for the remainder of the school year. Changed plans, cancellations and delays are the theme in households throughout the world. It brings me comfort to know our family of three is not alone. God is with us, always. Although it might be difficult to see His love through this time of uncertainty, all we have to do is look at the cross and we are immediately reminded of His everlasting love and sacrifice.

Lillian’s teacher provided the directions and supplies for this Good Friday cross project and her daddy helped her make her cross.

Easter Book- The Easter Egg by Jan Brett is a sweet book about a little bunny who wants to decorate the perfect egg for an egg decorating contest. CLICK HERE to read this amazing book online and CLICK HERE to watch a video of Jan Brett introducing her readers to some of the real life animals she used as models in her illustrations.

Bunny Paper Dolls– My mother shared this project with me and this is the year I shared it with my daughter and her friends. CLICK HERE for the bunny and clothing patterns. Trace the patterns on construction paper, cut out and decorate. Don’t forget to give your bunny a cotton-ball tail! Lillian named her bunny Cottontail.

Easter Cupcakes-We made cupcakes to eat on Easter Sunday. My daughter enjoyed decorating and eating them! We used my mom’s delicious buttercream frosting recipe, Nana’s Buttercream Frosting recipe.Jesus Time– We continued watching the Holy Week Lessons shared by our early childhood director. CLICK HERE to watch. CLICK HERE to view last year’s production of The Living Last Supper performed by our church, Zion Lutheran Church.

Finding JOY in the Journey

This is a photo from our weekend. Taken right before sunset it epitomizes the innocence of childhood, a care free little girl simply experiencing joy in her journey. The photo was taken as we walked (she ran) around the pond in our backyard. Earlier our neighborhood rang with dogs barking, children laughing and lawn mowers humming with the sounds of spring. In this scene people had retreated inside to start their evening routines and our soundtrack came from song birds proudly singing a tune and allowing us to listen in. The grass we walked upon, once dull and brown in color, had awoken to a luscious green. The smell of pollen from flowering trees was in the air giving us another reminder of rebirth. Spring is not in quarantine and neither is God. He created this beautiful day and He is with us on good days and in trying times. Love embraced me as I gazed at our house (shown here in the distance), knowing we would return home to a nutritious meal prepared lovingly by my husband. The wind began to blow indicating a spring storm was on the horizon. But when I looked up at the sky there was hope among the darkness. God was sending a visual reminder as rays of sunlight were peeking through a mass of clouds, reassuring me that we will all get through this.