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!

Slaw With the Lutheran Ladies

Who would think that a podcast about slaw would conjure up so many memories? That’s exactly what happened when I tuned into The Lutheran Ladies’ Lounge podcast a few weeks ago. (You don’t have to be Lutheran to enjoy the podcast so please read on) It was one of Erin’s recipe card episodes and the title “Slawfest” really got my attention! CLICK HERE to listen to the Slawfest episode.

While the ladies chatted about cabbage and their favorite slaw recipes (are you team creamy or team vinegar) my mind drifted to my childhood and the yummy vinegar based slaw served family style at my church’s annual fried chicken dinner.

Zion Lutheran Belleville’s Annual Chicken Dinner– I have happy memories of attending the annual chicken dinner with my parents and grandma. The golden fried chicken and the delectable homemade desserts made by the Lambs Club (my grandmother was an active member) were simply amazing! There were years where my grandma bought tickets for my aunt and uncle and all of my cousins and my extended family filled an entire table in the gym at Zion Lutheran School in Belleville, IL. The dinner was more than the delectable food…it was family and fellowship and a fund raiser for the school. Although I have many memories, it’s the slaw that The Lutheran Ladies’ Lounge helped me remember.

The Quest for the Recipe– After listening to the entire podcast I immediately called my mom and asked her if she had the slaw recipe. Unfortunately she didn’t have the recipe but she set out to find it by contacting the leader of her Juliet’s Group (a social group of retired ladies from Zion Belleville). Many of the ladies were founding members of Zion Belleville’s annual chicken dinner so surely one of them would have the recipe!

The Recipe– Along with the original slaw recipe, an email exchange of memories from the chicken dinner ensued with plans to share photos and stories once the ladies are able to safely gather again.

CLICK HERE to download and print the recipe.

Slaw Glorious Slaw!– I set out to make the slaw and it was just as I remembered, tart with just a surprise of sweetness! AMAZING! I didn’t have any celery seed to add and cheated by using a precut slaw blend to save prep time but it did not compromise the taste. The Lutheran Ladies’ Lounge inspired me to “think outside of the box” and next time I might add some tart green apples, craisins or sunflower seeds.

As school fund raisers changed from sit down dinners to auctions, trivia nights and pizza sales; Zion Belleville’s famous annual chicken dinner became a tasty memory some 15 years ago. I’m delighted my mom initiated the discovery of the slaw recipe. Now the memories of Zion Belleville’s chicken dinner can be shared with the next generation through cabbage, carrots and vinegar!

I would love to hear about your favorite slaw recipes! Please share by commenting on this post and connect with the Lutheran ladies on social media in The Lutheran Ladies’ Lounge Facebook discussion group and listen to them wherever you get your podcasts.

End of the School Year Celebrations… Days 64 and 65

Although the last two months of the school year brought the unexpected, the 2019-2020 school year is one we will never forget! Although it was unprecedented and filled with great adaptation and a few tears along the way, our school year ended with the closure we were desperately seeking. Over the past two days we had proper summer send offs with a memorable visit with my daughter’s preschool teacher, an end of the school year car parade at Zion and a new tradition with water balloons and pizza!

End of the Year Memories– I’m happy we had an opportunity for a private send off with my daughter’s preschool teacher and assistant when we went to pick up my daughter’s end of the year bag. Although my daughter will be leaving preschool and beginning kindergarten in the fall, this isn’t goodbye. She is simply moving to a new classroom down the hall and will continue to see her beloved preschool teachers at weekly chapel and at special assemblies. And when our church opens its physical doors, we will worship together once again!

It was bittersweet to open up the red bag filled with memories of my daughter’s last year of preschool. When we got the bag home we found a children’s bible with a special inscription inside. Along with an extra set of clothes, preschool master pieces created on construction paper, summer wishes and a portfolio full of growth and learning; was a container of Clorox wipes and an interview my daughter had with her teacher over Zoom, titled, A Preschooler’s Perspective on a Pandemic. She says she misses her friends most of all and when the pandemic is over she looks forward to play dates and spending the night at her grandparents house. Although she misses school, she has enjoyed spending time outside and learned to write letters to authors and have birthday parades. Her answer to finding a cure for COVID-19 is medicine and Jesus’s healing hands.

Items from my daughter’s red bag.

Special Early Childhood Closing Chapel– The marvelous preschool teachers at Zion Lutheran School recorded a special closing chapel for their students. Sitting socially distanced on the alter, in our sanctuary, we joined in when they sang and danced to familiar songs the children had sung throughout the year. They shared best wishes and recognized the children moving into kindergarten. They ended by inviting us to join them in reciting the Lord’s Prayer, something we discovered my daughter could do independently when we began virtual church in March. CLICK HERE to view this special chapel.

Car Parade– End of the year car parades are the popular way to bring closure to a school year that ended virtually due to a pandemic. We enjoyed decorating our car for the school wide parade through our school’s parking lot. It made us smile to see all of Zion’s teachers, support staff and administrators waving and wishing us well. At the same time we were sad because we miss our Zion family so very much and the parade was simply too short! We hope everyone has a safe and happy summer and we can’t wait until it’s safe for us to be together again! CLICK HERE to view part of the parade.

New End of the School Year Traditions– Last week one of my daughter’s dear friends left a bag of water balloons on our doorstep. During normal circumstances they would have asked friends to join them for an end of the school year water balloon / pizza party. Since COVID-19 kept that from happening, they gifted us with balloons so we could have our own party. We had a blast playing with water balloons and ordered pizza for dinner. Next year we look forward to this new tradition and celebrating with school friends will be the best part!

Endings, New Beginnings and Butterfly Blessings…Day 60

Today was the last day of school. The final week brought many endings: the final chapel with Gary the Puppet, the last preschool blog post and the final virtual circle time with her teacher. As I clicked out of the Zoom meeting, an all too familiar thing to do these days, I wondered if her kindergarten year would begin the way her last year of preschool ended… with virtual learning? As the 2019-2020 school year comes to a close, it’s too early to know what awaits us for next year. One thing is certain, there will be changes. COVID-19 has assured us of that.

The last virtual preschool class was a fun dance party!

As we say goodbye to another school year, in a few days, my daughter’s teacher, Mrs. Stanglein, will release the butterflies the class has been observing virtually. Our world has changed over the past few months but we have adapted. It hasn’t been easy, but we have fought. We continue to be filled with uncertainty but with prayer, love and support, from our family, friends and from Zion Lutheran Church and School, we can make it through any storm. As my daughter and I read the last page of the book, Where Butterflies Grow, by Joanne Ryder, the words on the page spoke to me. Although written for the butterflies, it easily could have been written about my daughter, or any child in the world who finds themselves graduating or advancing to the next stage in their educational career. I leave you with what I like to call the butterfly blessing…

“You have grown and changed and your world has grown too. Now it’s time to fly to new places, time to look for others like yourself- bright flyers in the sun. Fly, butterfly. Good-bye.”

My daughter is standing next to a Zion Lutheran School graduation sign that proudly stands in our neighbor’s yard. Signs like these appeared in yards across our country. After a prekindergarten-8th grade education at Zion Lutheran, he is graduating. My heart goes out to the middle school, high school and college graduates who spent the best weeks of the school year at home, engaging in virtual classes and will experience a virtual graduation.

 

 

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.