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 Science Lesson, Dances Around the World, Mary and Martha and Extra Snuggles… Surviving Day 5

Dances Around the World– My daughter’s dance studio, the Performing Arts Centre, put together virtual dance classes via Zoom. We had our first class today and for the preschool program they are using is Dances Around the World. Prior to class we were sent instructions on how to make props. Today’s lesson was on Italy and I helped my daughter create a plate of spaghetti, gold coins and a wishing well. She was also instructed to bring a stuffed dog to class. (and if you know my daughter that wasn’t a difficult request). The dancers used the props during class and my daughter had a blast! It was the happiest I have seen her in days. Dressed in her normal pink leotard, tights and ballet shoes, she took the class seriously and enthusiastically followed along with the instructor.

Scratch Garden– We watched an animated song about the sun by Scratch Garden. My daughter loved the song and requested to watch the animation several times. Scratch Garden has an extensive catalog of learning videos that teach the preschool set concepts through visuals. We will watch more Scratch Garden videos in the future.

Books, Books and More Books– After reading about the moon last week we learned about the sun. We began by reading the book Sun Up, Sun Down by Gail Gibbons. I found someone reading the book on YouTube. We read the book Wake Up, Sun! by David L. Harrison, a fun fictional selection about a group of farm animals who think the sun has forgotten to rise. This is a book I digitally checked out of our local library and we read it through Libby.

Sun Science– We used three different sized balls to represent the sun, Earth and the moon and daddy helped us act out how our Earth rotates around the sun while turning on its axis and how the moon orbits Earth while turning on its axis. Daddy was the sun and he stood still in the middle. It is a difficult concept for a five year old to fully grasp but the activity required movement and daddy enjoyed participating.

Sun Art– Our neighborhood is having a sunshine hunt tomorrow so we drew suns to put in our windows for neighbors to find. The idea inspired me to create the Spreading SONshine Project, a way to spread sunshine and Jesus’s love to others during this time of isolation. Spread the SONshine by drawing a sun with a cross and placing it in your window for neighbors to see. Or spread some SONshine by sharing a comforting bible verse via social media or email. Don’t forget to share #spreadingSONshineproject and follow the Spreading SONshine Project page on facebook and Instagram.

Mary and Martha and The Beginner’s Bible– Our church uses The Beginner’s Bible Curriculum for early childhood children. Go to The Beginner’s Bible website for free downloadable material. I also discovered there is an App and I can’t wait to get that for my daughter. We were sent the weekly lesson plan and did the lesson as a family. We read the following stories (“Mary and Martha,” “Lazarus Lives Again,” and “A Gift for Jesus”) in our daughter’s The Beginner’s Bible and after some discussion she colored the accompanying coloring page. Our amazing early childhood preschool director recorded herself reading the book Sit Down (Marty and Martha) by Mary Manz Simon and it fit perfectly with the Jesus Time we had planned for today.. Click here to listen to this engaging story. My daughter watched it three times and loved joining in on the repetitive parts.

Apples, Apples, Apples!.. Fun Filled Apple Activities For the Entire Family

Fall has arrived and keeping with tradition my husband and I recently took our little one apple picking. Going apple picking with my parents is one of the many joyous memories I have carried with me from my childhood. I first shared my joy of apple picking with my students when I was a kindergarten teacher. Every year we took a field trip to the apple orchard and the boys and girls would ride on a wagon, pick apples right off of the tree and taste various varieties growing in the orchard. Imagine their delight when the things we had been reading and learning about at school were now within their reach!

Below are some apple inspired activities I developed for my kindergarten classroom many, many, years ago. I recently dusted them off so I could share them with my three year old.

Apple Books- There are many high quality books about apples, apple picking and making yummy treats with apples! A few of our favorites include…

Apples by Gail Gibbons

Applesauce Day by: Lisa Amstutz

The Apples on the Tree by: Steve Metzger (our newest book from Lillian’s first Scholastic Book Order)

The Apple Pie Tree by: Zoe Hall (an all time favorite)

Apples and Pumpkins by: Anne Rockwell

The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree by: Gail Gibbons

Ten Apples Up on Top by: Dr. Seuss

Ten Red Apples by: Pat Hutchins

Apples! Apples! Apples!- This mini book comes from the book I wrote called Student Made Thematic Mini Books- With Extension Activities to Increase Language Literacy. The book was published in 2000 by Incentive Publications. My daughter enjoyed coloring the book and reading it over and over to everyone, including her stuffed animals! Repetitive readings help develop early literacy success by increasing fluency and building confidence.

Please click on this link.. “Apples, Apples, Apples!” book to download the book and create one of your own. Prior to creating the book my daughter and I took an apple taste test where we tasted the red apples, green apples and yellow apples we had picked in the orchard. Lillian declared that red was her favorite and she added that to her book!

Apple Treats- My little one loves to bake so Nana came over and helped us make apple pie, mini apple muffins and apple pizza! We followed the recipe in the back of the book  titled The Apples on the Tree by Steve Metzger for the apple pie and enjoyed eating a slice with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

We used Nana Freeman’s adaptation of a Southern Living recipe for the apple muffins and made them into bite sized snacks by using mini muffin tins. Lillian enjoyed sharing the muffins with her teachers and friends.

Her favorite treat to make were the apple pizzas, an activity my kindergarten students always enjoyed. The recipe can be found in my book, Student Made Thematic Mini Books- With Extension Activities to Increase Language Literacy. I know the children in your life will love the apple pizza so please click on this link to download the easy to follow child friendly recipe.

Paper Strip Apple Project- Pops is a retired art teacher and this is a project he has been making with students for over fifty years! Pops used red, yellow and green construction paper and cut them in 1 inch x 9 inch strips for the apple. We began by taking two strips and making an X with them and putting a dot of glue or paste in the middle to hold it in place. Then we took a third strip and placed it through the X, creating a star or astrick shape and used a dot of glue to keep it in place. The last step involved matching the strips and gluing them into place. Lillian got lots of practice counting as we counted while pressing the glue into place after each step. We used a brown strip for the stem (1 inch by 4 inch) and cut the leaves out of a 3 x 3 square.

Apple Prints- After we enjoyed eating apples in muffins, pie and pizza, we cut some apples in half and made apple prints. We examined the inside of the apple, identifying the core and the seeds and experimented cutting the apple in half starting at the top and then cutting the apple through the center which reveals a star shape which you can see in the print! The dark paper makes a nice contrast with the bright red, green and yellow paint!

Our entire family enjoyed a month full of apple fun. From reading books, to visiting the apple orchard, to making yummy apple treats and being creative with apple art; we made new memories with activities we enjoyed in the past.

Grandma Gerry

During my first two years of college I worked for the YMCA as a before and after school childcare worker. I was assigned to be Geraldine Zollner’s assistant at Washington School. At the time Washington School was a kindergarten center. I dreamed of being a kindergarten teacher when I grew up so it was the perfect placement. 

Little did I know what a positive impact Gerry Zollner would have on my life. Through her youngest daughter I was recently reminded how much Gerry enjoyed working with me. I began working with Gerry the same month her youngest child left for college. Although I could never replace Kristie, for two years I was a surrogate daughter helping Gerry acclimate to having an empty nest after successfully raising seven children. We saw each other every weekday morning at 7 am sharp and again each afternoon from the time the school bell rang until the last parent picked up their little one at 6 pm. Gerry was there for me as I navigated my first years of college and supported me as I juggled my studies with a part time job.  

Although she never knew it I often referred to Gerry as “Grandma Gerry.” It was the perfect name because she was a mother to seven children, a grandmother to fourteen and a great grandmother to two. And over the years she was a grandma to all of the children under her care at Washington School. She banadaged their scraped knees, gave reassuring hugs and comforted little ones who missed their mommies. I remember the words of motivation she shared with me before I headed off to take an exam or give an important presentation. Grandma Gerry was filled with smiles most of the time but she did have “the look.” And everyone knew when she gave you “the look” you needed to shape up or you were going to be in trouble. 

Grandma Gerry always had a stash of saltine and graham crackers that she handed out to ease tummy aches and tears. Our “latchkey kiddos” occasionally felt anxious when their parents were late picking them up but with love and compassion and a few crackers, Grandma Gerry successfully turned frowns into smiles. I was a happy recipient of her crackers and caring on several occasions. 

I will never forget the extra time and effort Gerry put into her job, especially during the Christmas season. The first year we worked together she helped the kids make a gingerbread schoolhouse that she entered in Belleville’s famed gingerbread contest. After weeks of constructing and decorating our masterpiece, we were thrilled to win a ribbon! At the time the YMCA sponsored an annual YMCA Latchkey Christmas Program where the children and their caregivers prepared songs to sing on stage. The first year I helped the kids learn the song “We Are Santa’s Elves” and the second year we performed “Suzy Snowflake.” Gerry went the extra mile and supervised the construction of sets and costumes for both performances, spending hours outside of work to make sure everything was perfect. 

Sometimes people come into your life for a short time leaving you with lessons that will stay with you for a lifetime. Grandma Gerry taught me that it’s the little things that we do for each other that really make an impact. That extra hug, a reassuring smile or a package of saltine crackers shows others that someone cares. 

Although Gerry and I hadn’t seen each other for close to twenty years we continued to exchange Christmas cards and recently found each other on Facebook. I wish this story ended with a happy “face to face” reunion as Grandma Gerry expressed interest in meeting my little Lillian Clare.  Sadly, Grandma Gerry passed on last week and the reunion never happened. I find comfort knowing there is another beautiful angel in heaven watching over all of us and I will never forget Grandma Gerry and her devotion to her job, her love of children and her special stash of saltine crackers.