First Grade is a Sweet Place to Bee

Last week was my mini me’s first day of first grade! As an educator I would declare first grade as the most important year for the young child. For it’s in first grade where children develop reading and writing skills. These skills are necessary for future academic success. Children come to first grade with an introduction to academics but it’s in first grade where these foundational skills are developed and refined and put into practice. First grade is where students either fall in love with learning or if they are struggling and don’t receive proper support, may begin to dislike school. Since first grade is so important it is imperative that dedicated teachers who understand the reading process and the development of the young child be assigned to teach it! It is a difficult grade to teach because at the beginning of the year some instruction looks like kindergarten but quickly shifts into more rigor and by the end of the year, looks like second grade! I often say a good first grade teacher could successfully teach all of the grades!

My daughter and her teacher, Mrs. Bernhardt.

A Dedicated Teacher– My daughter’s first grade teacher, Mrs. Bernhardt, really took the time to get to know her students before school began. She did a personal Zoom with each child, sent out welcoming post cards, wrote an introduction on her blog, had parents fill out a survey and scheduled a one on one classroom visit for each family. She picked up on the fact that my daughter loves animals and unicorns and used that knowledge to build a relationship with her before school even started. But what impressed me the most, was her open invitation to chat over the phone and discuss questions and concerns. She called me one afternoon and we chatted for 45 minutes (yes, you read that right… 45 minutes!) We talked about my daughter’s needs and she took my concerns seriously; offering suggestions and brainstorming things she can do to support my daughter this year. I know we are going to have a fantastic school year because my daughter has a teacher who genuinely cares for her well being. My daughter has a teacher who will share and model the love of Jesus with her students, build a partnership with parents and go over and beyond to ensure that the students entrusted in her care have success not only in school but in life!

Busy Bees– Mrs. Bernhardt calls her students her busy bees and during open house she had them buzz around the room and collect the following items: a sweet treat, zoo stickers and a family devotional. What a wonderful way to get the children quickly acquainted with the classroom!

Sweet Dreams Poem– At open house Mrs. Bernhardt gave each student a copy of Sweet Dreams and instructed them to open it on the night before the first day of school. Inside was an original poem to help ease any anxieties they had about first grade. A bag of confetti was included and my daughter enjoyed putting the special confetti under her pillow at bedtime so she would have sweet dreams and be well rested for the big day! A few nights later I fell asleep while reading to my daughter in bed and my daughter said, “Momma, you must have some of the sweet dream confetti under your pillow!” Mrs. Bernhardt also shared a recording of herself reading the book, The Night Before First Grade. Click here to watch the video. I

The Kissing Hand- Before my daughter went off to school as a three year old preschooler, we read the Kissing Hand and my parents helped us make homemade kissing hand cookies that we shared with her teacher. Click Here to read all about it. We continued the tradition when she entered her second year of preschool and when she went off to kindergarten last year. This year my friend, who my daughter affectionately calls, Auntie Jaime, helped us bake and decorate kissing hand cookies. We added some crosses and hearts to remind our favorite teachers that Jesus loves them and that He is with them every minute of everyday!

It’s All About Reading– Some children will learn how to read no matter how we teach them. But the majority of children need to be taught the code to reading which includes some important parts (phonemic awareness, phonics with decoding strategies, word building, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension). As a reading consultant my biggest fear is that my daughter will not develop adequate reading strategies. So when my daughter’s teacher projected the image of Scarbough’s Reading Rope during parent orientation, I was ready to jump out of my chair in celebration! Now she was speaking my language and any worries I had about my daughter receiving solid reading instruction were put to rest. (I told my husband I would be happy to give him a PowerPoint presentation on then since or reading when we got home) And when Mrs. Bernhardt announced that reading with your child would be the only homework this year, it was clear that she is a teacher, who like me, understands the importance of reading. In fact, she said although they will do science and math, she could easily teach reading all day long!

A Back to School Message From the Noteworthy Mommy- May you and your family have a blessed 2021-2022 school year! Whether your child is going off to preschool, beginning middle school, high school or college, I pray they have a terrific year! For the families who home school, may your school year be filled with learning and fun. And for the children who are returning to face to face school after a year or more of virtual or hybrid learning, I’m sending you prayers for a safe and successful school year!

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!

Going Back to School…New Beginnings and Familiar Traditions

As I write this post most schools have recently completed their first day of school or will be welcoming students back in a few days. I simply love this time of year as it signals a new start and a fresh beginning for teachers and their students.

Throughout my twenty-six years in the field of education I continue to delight in the sights and smells of a new school year. A few days ago I conducted my last summer in-service training. As I walked into schools across eleven different states, preparing teachers for a new school year, I was greeted with the smell of freshly waxed floors (shined to perfection), saw inspiring bulletin boards decorated with bright construction paper and entered classrooms stocked with new school supplies eagerly awaiting young learners.

This year my daughter started her second year of preschool at Zion Lutheran School. She returned to the same loving teacher and was excited to find some of her friends had returned from last year. The only change was a new classroom space that her teacher successfully made both inviting and engaging. I reveled in the familiarity of it all as I anticipate future years to be a bit more stressful on both of us.

Prior to the first day of school we continued our “back to school” traditions of reading the “Kissing Hand” and making and decorating kissing hand cookies with Nana. We started these fun activities last year and you can read all about them here.

Celebrating the First Day of School With “The Kissing Hand”

Whether you’re a teacher implementing the newest curriculum, a parent sending your teenager off to college, or you have children who are simply moving to the next grade level at the same school, I send you wishes for a prosperous new school year! As the seasons change the crayons will become worn and the bulletin boards will fade, the newness becoming a distant memory. When you and your children begin to lose “the sparkle” simply look back to the beginning and try to recapture some of the excitement and anticipation we all had at the start.

Celebrating the First Day of School With “The Kissing Hand”

The first day of school signals new beginnings and kicks off a year filled with possibilities. And in every school across the United States floors shine with fresh wax and bulletin boards are adorned with bright colored construction paper. Nervous children dressed in new clothes enter sparkling classrooms stocked with sharpened pencils and crayons standing tall in boxes. They are warmly greeted by smiling teachers who anticipate a year overflowing with adventure and growth.

I love the beginning of the school year and I have experienced many first days of school. Some as a student, others as a teacher or educational consultant and now my first as a parent. Looking back most passed without any form of celebration. Some years I closed my eyes wishing they didn’t even happen. During the years we struggled with infertility part of me dreaded the back to school season. From August to September “first day of school” photos flooded Facebook and reminded me… photos of a smiling child holding a miniature chalkboard may never appear on my news feed. But we remained optimistic and God blessed us with our little Lillian and now we get to celebrate her first day of school, a day we have been preparing for since we began touring preschools in January.

img_9033Knowing the “first day of school” would be a huge transition for Lillian (and for her mommy) we began reading books during the summer about starting school to help ease any uncertainty. A few of our favorite read alouds include, “Llama Llama Misses Mamma” by Anna Dewdney, “The 12 Days of Preschool” by Jenna Lettice and “The Night Before Preschool” by Natasha Wing. Our favorite book is “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn. I was first introduced to “The Kissing Hand” by my graduate school mentor, Dr. Suzie Nall, when she read it aloud in one of my classes in the late 1990’s. I will always remember the strong emotions the book evoked in me and I immediately made “The Kissing Hand” part of my back to school routine, reading it to my new kindergarten students and their parents during “meet the teacher night” that took place a few days before the first day of school. Imagine my delight when Lillian’s preschool teacher, Mrs. Stanglein, mentioned the book during her back to school parent night, encouraging us to read the book and offering up copies for caregivers to borrow.

This fabulous book that assists with separation anxiety is about a little raccoon named Chester who is afraid to go to school for the first time. Every year I choked up while reading the book. Tears streamed down my face when Mrs. Raccoon shared the “kissing hand” secret with her son. Mrs. Raccoon took Chester’s left hand and spread open his tiny fingers into a fan and kissed the middle of his palm. Chester felt his mothers kiss rush from his hand, up his arm and into his heart. It reminded him that… Mommy loves you. Mommy loves you!

The thought of parents leaving their children with me; trusting me to teach them and secretly hoping that I would love their little ones as much as they do still brings tears to my eyes. What a privilege it is to be an educator and to be partly responsible in molding young lives and shaping the future!

I saved “The Kissing Hand” for last, reading it to Lillian a few days before her first day of school. While I read, attempting to hold back tears, Lillian sat beside me taking in every word. A few hours later we said our goodbyes as I left for an overnight trip to train teachers across our state. Without prompting, Lillian took my hand, unfolded it and gently kissed the middle of my palm. She said she wanted to give me a “kissing hand” just like the one Chester gave his mommy. I in turn kissed her palm and then we both put our kissing hands up to our faces like Chester. At that very moment I knew my daughter was going to have a successful first day of school.

The day before Lillian had her first day of preschool my parents came over and Nana helped us make homemade “kissing hand” cookies. She even had hand and heart shaped cookie cutters in her cookie cutter collection! Nana is an excellent baker and Lillian and I were her assistants. Pops assisted with the decorating and Lillian was excited to share some of the cookies with her teacher, the teacher assistant and other administrators at her school. This is a fun back to school tradition I began when I was teaching (every year I made my students heart shaped sugar cookies) and I am excited to share the tradition with my little girl.

If you would like to make Nana Freeman’s delicious sugar cookies please click on this link for the recipe. Nana’s Sugar Cookie Recipe  Sugar cookies taste even yummier with buttercream frosting. Click on this link for her buttercream frosting recipe. Nana’s Buttercream Frosting recipe

Mrs Stanglein’s Purpose…Provide a preschool experience that starts children on the way to loving school and becoming good Christian citizens of God’s world.

This is the first of many “first days of school” for our family of three and I am happy to report there were no tears from Lillian or from her mommy! As a new preschool parent I am comforted to know we have found the perfect early childhood center for our family. Zion Lutheran’s Early Childhood Center is a place where play is valued and seen as the young child’s work. Through experimentation, The Project Approach and exploration, Lillian will learn about God’s world. When I first walked into Mrs. Stanglein’s classroom during a tour in January I cried because her classroom was warm and inviting. It felt like home as it reminded me of my own classroom. Her keen observational skills showed that she had perfected the art of “kid watching” and I knew I had found a teacher who believes every child has potential. I cried because in that instant I knew Mrs. Stanglein would nurture and care for Lillian and the other children in her class like they were her own.

Whether you are a parent sending your child off to school for the first time or you just packed the family mini van to take your baby to college, I wish you and your family blessings for a wonderful school year.