Wednesday, October 31, 2012

'The Best of Enya: Paint the Stars' on YouTube

Whenever I listen to Enya, I am transported to a place of sheer calm and tranquility. I remember listening to her often during my Montessori internship year. I have collected her CDs and used her during work time ever since.

Here is another YouTube collection. This one is from her earlier greatest hits CD, called Paint the Stars. The entire soundtrack makes for the perfect background noise while walking on the line or focusing on works. The only video that you see is a stationary picture of the album cover.

The last half of the CD is the most relaxing, I think. Which ones do you like best?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Baking Banana Cookies!

I spent a small fortune this summer collecting items for the classroom that would boost our food preparation area. I also wanted to take more control over doing birthdays, because we have so many food allergies and I want everyone to be able to participate. We hadn't yet tried to bake anything and were just starting to collect baking ingredients. All we had on hand was a bag of flour, a bag of sugar, and vegetable oil for the box of brownie mix that the October birthdays had decided they wanted to bake for next week's monthly celebration.

I noticed that there were still a couple of bananas left on the food prep shelf, that were already rather ripe when they arrived in the snack basket on Monday. They needed to be immediately used or pitched. I quickly went online and started searching out a recipe for something with bananas that didn't use eggs (egg allergy). It took me about ten minutes, but I finally came across a banana cookie recipe that I could adapt to our few ingredients. These are the ingredients that we ended up using:

2 1/3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 very ripe bananas, sliced (ours were about medium-sized)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Children who were interested in helping had to wash their hands and put on an apron.

First, I showed them how to properly measure flour by leveling it at the top of the cup with a knife. They took turns measuring flour into the bowl. Next, they added the sugar and took turns stirring it all together as I added the salt. Meanwhile, another child was slicing our two bananas. Once the bananas were sliced, they took turns mashing the banana with a fork.

I added the oil and the vanilla and they kept taking turns mashing it all together with the banana.

Next, it was time to put it all together in the big bowl and stir until well blended. (At about this point in the process, one boy who was not participating looked at my assistant and said, "This isn't going to end well," as there were some minor difficulties and a little bickering while stirring.)

I love how they helped each other by holding the bowl, because that was tough to stir!

Once it was fully blended, they used the cookie scoop I had found at Savers last year (with four kid-sized spreaders!) to put the cookies onto the baking sheets.

Each batch was baked in the toaster over at 350 degrees for about 13-16 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. We left plenty of space between them, but found that they do not expand while baking.

We gathered together at the end of the morning to share our tasty treat. We practiced grace and courtesy at the same time. I went around with the napkins in one hand and the plate of cookies in the other hand. I asked each child if they would like a cookie. They were to respond "Yes, please," or "No, thank you." I also said to each of them, "You take the one you touch," to avoid that lovely habit of young ones to touch a bunch of them until they find a huge one. They were to place the cookie on their open napkin and then wait until everyone was served prior to eating.

As we sat there eating, the kids spontaneously burst into, "Thank you, Miss Coventry!" My assistant and I both said "Thank you" back to them for making the cookies for us. One of the kids also said, "Okay, on the count of three, we need to say Hip Hip Hooray for Miss Coventry, because she is the best teacher ever for letting us bake cookies!" 

After lunch, I chose two volunteers to visit the other classrooms and the office to share the cookies. One girl carried the napkins and the other one carried the plate of cookies on a tray. I was told that they were very polite as they approached each classroom. They also very matter-of-factly told each adult that they had to "take the one you touch." 

I can't wait to make something else and to back off even more from the process!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

'Those Relaxing Ocean Sounds' on YouTube

The ocean is definitely one of my happy places. Unfortunately, it is a minimum of six hours for me to access it. I live in Upstate New York, which provides me with an endless supply of lakes. Sure, you get waves on those, especially up on the Great Lakes, but it just isn't quite the same. Fight the winter blues and relax to ocean waves with this spectacular video I found on YouTube.

It is about an hour long and shows a variety of ocean beaches. The water is clean blue and turquoise, just begging for you to come dive in. Use the sounds for relaxation or watch parts of it as a part of a lesson on oceans. See if you can identify some of the wildlife that also makes its presence known through sound. For example, around the 24:00 mark, you hear birds. Around 43:00 you can hear a dog barking. You could play it during a listening activity at circle.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Loft Proposal Meeting and Plans

Today was the big day for my little group who wants a loft back in the classroom! Today was the day they got to meet with the boss to make their case. I wish I could show you their pictures. One boy dressed with a tie and had a messenger bag as his "work bag," complete with special folder for his notes. He also brought two purple flowers to give to my boss. The other two children were also carrying themselves as important people. The youngest of the crew admitted to being nervous about meeting with her, but felt ready.

They couldn't wait for 9 o'clock to arrive. I finally had to set the timer on my phone and hand it to them to keep them occupied for the final 15 minutes. I printed each one of them their own copy of their proposal. At 9 o'clock on the nose, we went upstairs to her office. 

She was meeting with another staff member at that point, so we patiently waited in the entrance area. When she was ready a few minutes later, she gathered them in the board room. They had formal introductions with handshakes, and the meeting commenced. Each one was taking their own notes (mostly scribbles, of course) and had a chance to speak.

I had to return to my classroom, as there were 17 other children present today. A half hour later, my threesome returned, with a drawn plan from which they were to create their own model.

They sought out materials in the classroom that could help them. Yesterday, they were trying to "build" it out of the golden beads and bead bars. I think the gold color reminded them of the color of the original loft. You can see the red counters next to the picture. They were using the dots to outline the shape on the table, so that they could draw it.

I think it is time to dig out some of the other art materials, so that they can create a true three-dimensional representation of the loft they wish to build.

Part of the meeting also consisted of lessons in taking turns while speaking, allowing others to share their opinions, and brainstorming in a group. All of these are amazing lessons. Remember, these children are only 4 and 5 years old.

I'm very proud of my kids and can't wait to see where this whole project goes!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Loft Proposal

I have so many stories from my classroom that I want to share and I am so far behind! But this one had to take precedence, as it was one of the greatest experiences, yet.

At our old facility, from which we moved in the summer of 2011, I had inherited the room that had the loft. I was so excited when I saw that classroom on my interview tour. I remember telling my parents that I would love to have that room, but wouldn't hold my breath. I was ecstatic. I loved using it. I would get a birds' eye view as I observed the children moving around the classroom. Children used it when they didn't feel well, or just wanted to get away for a bit. We were devastated when we couldn't bring it to the new facility with us. 

Here is a picture of it after we had moved everything else out of the building:

Many of my students last year had been in that old building, and of course would ask for it. They were sad, but gradually accepted that it was gone. One of them was actually proud because his father had taken it to be reused elsewhere. This year, I am down to just a handful of kids who were in that building. Today, out of the blue, one of those boys asked me why we didn't have the loft.

"Well," I replied, "When we had to move here, [the boss] said we couldn't have it anymore for many reasons. Besides, where would we put it?"

He looked at me with a deadpan expression and said, "So, get rid of the SmartBoard!"

I swear I didn't put him up to this, as I know many of my readers know how I feel about the SmartBoard. And ironically enough, had the loft actually come with us, that's precisely where it was designated to go had the giant SB not arrived. Oh yeah, here is the monster-sized thing:

This is actually a picture from BEFORE the giant arm came out from the top, that is used as the projector. But, I digress...

Anyway, so I told him if he was really concerned about it, he could go ahead and talk to The Boss about it. He recruited one of his younger friends to go with them. The office staff later told me that they came in very serious and demanded to see The Boss (only using her proper name). With hands on his hips, he told her that we needed our loft back and wanted to know what to do. She asked them to draw a picture and to leave it for her later. They returned to the room to let me know.

I happened to have this picture on my computer still, so I opened up the file so that they could see it to draw it. He then used it as a talking point as he gathered other students around him. He told them how every part of it worked, all of the shelves and tables and what-not that had been around it, and how wonderful it had been. He also started listing reasons why we should get it backed and called it his "Business Meeting."

So, I offered to transcribe their reasons and tried to play Devil's Advocate as I came up with more questions for them to solve. When we were done, I typed it up. We printed it out. The little group signed it and then delivered it to The Boss for her to peruse. She told them that she would look it over and then meet with them later. They are determined to meet with her at 9 am, so I hope she does!

Here is what they had to say:

  1. It was very quiet up there.
  2. We have tables and knee tables, but we need more room to work with more people.
  3. You can put knee tables under the loft.
  4. If it is too sunny and you forgot your sunglasses, you can work in the shade under the loft.
  5. When it is so hot, you can get cooler under there.
  6. It was so quiet up there, that you didn't need to come down to turn off the lights to tell people to be quiet.
  7. It was so nice up there. You could see everything in the room and see all the people. You could pick your work without having to walk around. You could look, see what the work was, and then pick it out to take back to the loft. You didn't have to walk and walk and walk and make your legs tired.
  8. The bench was up there. You could take a book and just turn the pages. No one interrupted you like down here.
  9. I think it would be nice and quiet and not disturbing like down here.
  10. The loft was so relaxing.
"How big is the box?"
[The custodian.]
  • Doing jobs, like cleaning works. 
  • Collect all of the money at my home.
  • Chiropractic job
  • Go to all the classrooms to clean all of the works. ("You guys realize that we're going to have to be at school for a long time to get all of that cleaning done, right? We may have to sleep here!")
~~Take down the SmartBoard.  It doesn't work, anyway, so we don't need it.
~~We can move the language shelves, put up the loft, and then put the shelves back under the loft.
~~We cannot block the bathroom, the exit door and the door you come in.

So, there you have it. I'm particularly fond of the sunglasses reason, myself.

Trying to get a loft into the classroom is going to be a difficult task. There are so many factors that must be taken into consideration, such as space, cost, and insurance with liability. We may be able to come up with some kind of a compromise. And honestly, my classroom isn't really loud this year. I think they just are in love with being able to turn off the lights to ask everyone to use quieter voices. ;-)

I love these guys.

I will keep you posted! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

'Rain Relaxation Sound' on YouTube

Are you looking for something different from music to have as a relaxing sound in the background? I found a clip that lasts for almost two hours. It is simply the sound of rain falling. It is accompanied by a photograph of rain falling. It may be more appropriate to pipe in to a quiet corner, as opposed to the entire classroom. I haven't noticed any thunder, so young ones won't have to be startled by that.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reflections on the first month of school - Meet & Greet and phasing in

I had hoped to write this post at the official end of September, but life got in the way.

We have had four weeks of school. The children come back in stages, starting after Labor Day. The first Tuesday is a sort of "Meet & Greet," where the new children come in for a half hour with a parent. They get to find their cubby, bring in their supplies, and start to explore the classroom with my assistant. I answer the parent's questions, and ask a few of my own. My three big questions? 1-Is your child potty-trained? 2-Does your child go to After School Care or Parent Pick-Up? 3- Does your child have any food allergies? The rest I can usually figure out for myself.

Parents are often so overwhelmed with their child starting at a new school, that they often are stumped for questions. I talk about the general flow of the school day and some of the materials in the classroom. I start to talk about a lot of Montessori philosophy, that explains why we do the things that we do. I know that a lot of it is foreign to the generalized idea of what preschool is all about. I observe how the child is interacting with the environment upon his first experience in it. I also pay close attention to how the child interacts with his parents. A lot of information can be gleaned in this initial half hour, even if I am talking to the parent.

On Wednesday, just the K's come in. This year I have six. Two girls and four boys. One is already 6. Three more will be 6 very shortly. The other two turned 5 over the summer. This is a bigger range in age and ability than I have had in a while in my K's, but that is okay. This year, they got to pick out their journal notebook and folder and go to the school library to choose books for our classroom shelves.

Our Wednesdays are always half days in the classroom. Everyone goes home at lunchtime. Those who stay at school either go to After School Care, or to an enrichment class, which is for an extra fee. We have offered classes such as yoga, karate, Drama Kids, violin, sports camp, and more. These start up in mid-September, and about a third of the children participate.

Thursday is the day the the Extended Day 4's join the class. It is also our first full day of school. I have 14 Extended Day children this year, so 8 4's. They also had the opportunity to pick out their journals and folders.

Friday is the day that the half-day 4's join us. Many of them were in the classroom the previous year, so they already have a good idea what is going on. You always have a few new ones, as well. These 4's are the ones who still nap in the afternoon or who are brand new to Montessori. They have the option of moving up to full day later in the year. I only have one who is a half day 4 year-old, and he still hasn't yet turned 4.

Monday is when "returning" 3's join the class. These are the children who attended our toddler program. That means they are at least familiar with the classroom environment and have seen our faces while walking through the hallway.

Tuesday is the first day that all of the children are present for an entire day. This is also the big day of the crying. You may get a few tears on that Monday, but most of them are already used to leaving their parents. That Tuesday is always a hard one. But, the children get over it and engage in the classroom activities. Over time, the crying ceases completely. It just takes some time. I will post more on that later.

Within the following week, almost all of our specials have started for the school year. By October 1st, they are all in place. Everyone knows where everyone is going. Routines are established. The magic is well under way.

Other schools handle their first few days differently. I know my previous two schools did it differently. One had children come for a shortened day in small groups for two days. I believe there were four groups in all. For the next two days, the class was split in half, again for shorter days. And then they all came for their normal schedules. Another school had all of the children start their regular schedule on the very first day of school.

What does your school do? What have you seen work and not work?

'The Very Best of Enya' on YouTube

I had always been a fan of Enya. When I was doing my Montessori training "at the turn of the century," her music was a staple in our classroom. My mentor teacher didn't often play music during work time, but we used it for group time while walking on the line or delicately carrying objects.

In my own classroom, I often like to have music playing in the background. I start it as we dismiss from circle (if we have one first thing in the morning), or simply put it on at the request of my students.

If you don't have a CD on hand, you can play this Enya compilation from YouTube. It consists of her "greatest hits" and only shows the album cover for the video. It makes for excellent background music.

My favorite song is definitely "Only Time." It often moves me to tears. "Carribean Blue," "Book of Days" are other favorites. Which track is your favorite?