Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Handy Hangers Save Space in the Art Room

So you're assigned Art for the year and you're not an Art teacher.  Or, you're an Art teacher stuffed into a traditional classroom without proper materials, storage or appropriate tools.  Although there are a bazillion challenges to face, I promise to solve one of them right here, right now, TODAY!

Actually, I'm not solving anything, one of my good friends and colleagues Mrs. Tricia Smith is going to solve this for you (and if you know her, you'll probably be thinking and wondering, "Of course she mean she's only going to solve ONE problem?)  And yes, today she's only going to solve one, (but I have a sneaky suspicion she may make it to this page again) and yes, if you don't know her, she's just that sort of person...if there is a problem, she'll find the source (possibly raising her voice just a little if necessary to find it!) figure it out decisively and efficiently (again, possibly with a slightly louder voice than you think may be possible to come from her tiny frame!) and without a second thought, move on into Math 7, Art 5 or PE 6, sunny and bright, caring deeply and offering freely.

Just so you know (and if you're a teacher that crosses my path, you may be wondering..."is she going to give a bio on everyone she features on this Classroom Treasures page?")  And the answer is no.  But I sort of feel like Trish's answer to this problem was just one of those smack-dab obvious strokes of genius that practical people like her offer to the world on a regular basis so I felt it was an appropriate build-up. She is not one to sit idly by at any sort of inefficiency or inconvenience and this little brainwave proves just that.

You've already seen the photo which explains it all, but in case you can't quite see the mechanics of it (still working on my photography, remember!) she has fishing line (string would work) hung from a T-bar ceiling, attached at the top with a clasp that hooks on to the metal bars (though I think you could probably loop it around by lifting up the paneling and tie it in a knot).  Then on the dangling end of the line, is a hanger she has probably scavenged from her children's closet (but if you don't have children, I'm sure you could ask around or even ask a department store if they had a handful you could take home)  Obviously, this needs to be the kind of hanger with the sliding pinchy-clips at the sides (I know, I know, I'm getting very technical here!)  She attaches the string to a clip first, then the hanger, but you could also just tie the string right to the hanger.  I think the clip is important though because it's a lot easier to attach the hanger to an art piece (especially something wet with paint) on a table and then hang, rather than trying to clip the wet project onto a hanging hanger.  You could also label the hangers with student's names so they always keep the same hanger.

Hung in a corner of the room, perhaps above a table to discourage people from walking through or playing with them, it's a savvy solution, especially for those paint projects.

I'm not teaching art this year so I can't put this into motion although that won't stop me from re-using these handy hangers elsewhere!  Here's what I do at home.  These hangers are slightly different from above as the "pinchy-clips" are just that, and don't have the sliders.

Happy hanging everyone!

~ Tricia Smith is an upper elementary junior high teacher at Burdett School in Southern Alberta. ~

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Embracing the Beauty that Surrounds Me

My "Mom Moment of the Month" comes from my personal challenge I've had since the find joy in my daily life.

Like that quote from the Sex & the City movie where Samantha says, "Relationships aren't just about being happy. I mean, how often are you happy in your relationship?"

Charlotte replies, matter-of-factly, "Everyday."

Samanthaincredulously: "Every day?"

Charlotte, with certainty: "Well, not all day every day but yes, every day."

But my goal wasn't just relationships (although, admittedly, my relationship with my kids on a second to second basis can change from over-the moon-peacock-proud to throw-you-out-the-window-frustrated and back again!)

Ultimately, at the end of everyday I wanted to, not only be able to say I was happy, but to feeeeel happy.  Content.  Satisfied.  Joyful even.  To truly know that "my soul was joyful in the Lord: it rejoices in his salvation." Psalm 35:9.

So, my little wheat-bouquet-excursion with the Hud-man was one of those moments.  I know of no better way than to experience the awe of Our Creator than to admire His creation.  We trudged out to the closest wheat field, snipped and piled, snipped and piled.  There was some clean up to be done, but it was a beautiful day and this type of work needed to be done outside anyway.  So, as the little one played in the sunshine, I stripped each stalk of it's outer husk and trimmed each end to sit evenly in my vase.

I love bringing the outdoors in.  My beauty usually comes from the great outdoors and although I am always humbled and overjoyed by the ocean and expansive beaches, I can't see them everyday. Out my kitchen window, it's the wide-open prairie. Yours may be majestic mountains, towering trees, or maybe even calculated, repetitive cinder-block.  Or perhaps your beauty isn't in the scenery, but in the sounds, smells and textures surrounding you.  At this exact moment, for example, the beauty is certainly not in the piles of paperwork littering my computer desk, but in the "calm before the storm".  It is 6am on a Saturday and none of my children, nor my husband are awake yet.  I am savoring a steaming latte and letting my brain wander in the serene silence of dawn.  I wouldn't want the house to be this quiet all day long, and so the beauty of this hour that I have is all the more potent.

It's been nearly a month since I took these photos.  The frosts have come, the crops are all off now and even in these photos you can see the fall moisture affecting the heads of wheat as they droop.  But it's still fall, and I'm still enjoying this lovely bouquet that I don't have to water, trim or clean up falling foliage.   What a great daily reminder of the beauty that surrounds me.   Do you think I can hang tinsel on this arrangement and keep it through December?

What beauty surrounds you today?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Dear Teacher...7 things to Tell Your Teacher About Your Child

I'm writing as a teacher today.  I'm writing because I have well and truly been in a parent meeting in November and had the parent blow me away with some interesting little tidbit of information about their child, and all at once, like a wobbly game of dominoes, circumstances, words, marks even, fell into place.

Being the calm controlled kinda gal I am, I usually replied to this with a knowing nod and reassuring murmur all the while doing my darndest to smother the deafening screeching of my mind shouting 
WHAT THE !#$& ?

And I'm yelling this (in my head) not to said parent, but to myself!  "Really Jill?  You've taught this kid for two solid months now!  You've seen her almost everyday for the past 60 days!  How could you not know this!?"

At this point, I'll do a good 24 hours of self-doubt cross-examination, acting like a CSI spy trying to figure out how I missed this, who I should have spoken to first, and which file I obviously glossed over. 

In my defense, I've never taught primary.  I've never had 20 or 30 kids all day every day that I could observe and speak with whenever I wanted.  Sometimes I saw 75 kids in a day and taught three different grade levels (grade 4 through to grade 12).  Teachers do this all this time, in fact, many see upwards of 150 students in a day.  It still doesn't excuse me from knowing something important about my students' learning but I think it's understandable how, if it's not a disability blaring from a loudspeaker, or some obvious talent waving a red flag, in the hustle and bustle of classroom life, it can get missed. 

So here is my plea to parents to help teachers like me, avoid the uncomfortable situation of discovering new information too late in the game.  I know, I know, you don't want to be THAT parent...over-stepping boundaries, hovering, interfering.  Don't worry, with this short letter that really only takes about 10 minutes to fill out, you will NOT.  What you WILL do, is, just maybe, give your child and their teacher a little boost, so to speak.  A boost towards understanding and developing a meaningful relationship where learning can flourish.

It should be noted that I borrowed heavily (at least it would seem, since I did my research for this post backwards (tsk, tsk, finger wave) and wrote first, then googled & asked colleagues later).  I found Kelly at Mocha Momma was on the same wavelength here so I do want to give her credit, and I'm sure there are many others because what I'm suggesting isn't revolutionary.  Yet, I wrote it (again) because I believe it is important to be reminded, and in my research, I never did find a free download (like this! or this!) for a quick letter to pop in the backpack or copy & paste in an email. 

When you open the letter itself you'll find that it starts with a nice little paragraph opener, a disclaimer if you will, notifying your child's teacher of your intentions with this inform, without preaching, to assist without expectation. Then there are 7 short fill-in-the-blank sentences that you fill out for your child.  Here they are: 

1. ___(child's name here)_____'s favorite activity is __________________. 

Not only does this give the teacher some fodder for playground/hallway chat but perhaps they will be able to offer some lessons one day that really tune into to your child's favorite thing.  For example, if your child really loves building things, the teacher may be able to incorporate that into a science lesson or perhaps a language arts project where the child comes up with five fantastic sentences with awesome describing words about his new cardboard box house. 

2. ___(child's name here)_____responds really well to ______________.

What is your child's best motivator?  Candy, hugs, high-five's, encouraging words, stickers, prizes?  You may be surprised that some kids could care less about candy (or, because of an allergy or sensitivity, can't eat it) but get super pumped about a new pencil.  Likewise, some kids are NOT touchy-feely, whereas others, hug any chance they get.  Teachers usually figure out the "huggers" pretty quick, but it's still nice to reinforce.  A great resource I love love love is Gary Chapman & Ross Campbell's "The 5 Love Languages of Children".
They do a great job explaining how we all respond to different love languages ranging from words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. To take a quick quiz to see what your child's love language is visit:

3. ___(child's name here)_____ is involved in these sports/clubs/arts:

Of course not all children are into organized sports or clubs, but if they are, it's nice to know for a couple reasons.  1) General interest.  Another hallway topic to bring up to make Jr. feel special and thought about.  2) Possible interference with homework or after school study times.  Most activities won't demand that much attention and certainly won't justify missing homework all the time, but the occasional away game or late night (with the consequence of homework not being done) is usually acceptable if the teacher knows about it ahead of time or gets a parent note explaining the reasons.

 4. ___(child's name here)_____ needs to be reminded of/to ___________________________.

It seems I could send a new sentence like this each month to my daughter's teacher, as her "bad habits" seem to shift so frequently!  At one point at the beginning of kindergarten -and I shudder again thinking about this- she licked things.  Yes, with her tongue, up close & personal to whatever she saw or her could get her hands on...pencils, tables, her jacket.  The old "ignore it and it will go away" didn't apply here and I sent a quick email telling her teachers that if they saw this behavior to please firmly but quietly remind her that, "our mouths are for eating food and talking, NOT licking."  I don't know that she actually did this a lot in school (she actually didn't do it a lot in public places) but I think that by both of us watching and using the same vocabulary to warn her, she eventually dropped it within a month. I have no idea what the root of this issue was (attention-seeking? stimuli-seeking? boredom? acting like a baby to reminisce of days "long ago"?) but fortunately another behavior did not replace it (that I could tell) so we seemed to nip it in the bud pretty effectively.  I can imagine that had she been attention-seeking, she would have found something else equally as disgusting or bothersome to do.  Again, with the help of her teacher, I have faith we would have figured out the root of it together, thereby eliminating the need for her to be "fighting a battle" in the classroom and me to be "fighting" it at home, perhaps trying two failing strategies. 

This year, this month anyway, my request would simply be to remind my daughter to grab her jacket at home-time.  I'm positive that come winter, no teacher would even pass her in the hallway in a tee-shirt and not ask her to go back and find her coat, but with the balmy fall we've had, and the hustle and bustle of post-bell packing and bus-catching, Miss E has managed to leave four hoodies/jackets in her tiny little Gr. 1 locker!  It's not a big deal, but if her teacher knew she was so bad at remembering, I know she'd be happy to throw out a reminder here and there so that all the lockers got emptied every night.  

5. ___(child's name here)_____ is diagnosed with _______________________.

This is usually redundant but never hurts to reinforce with a simple one-line statement.  Out of a class of 25, many teachers will have 5-10 "coded"/"IPP" students (the term may vary but basically means the child has a doctor-certified diagnosis and requires accommodations).  If your child needs accommodations in the classroom this will probably be discussed with you by the first week, but if you have an older child with a non-visible or very mild disorder it doesn't hurt to remind.  

I remember teaching one such high school student who had a very mild case of Asperger's.  Although the doctor had confirmed it, it had never been filed nor had he been given a "code" (as our school district calls it) and there was really no major concerns over his grasp of academic subjects.  I only taught this boy one class a day as as such, I didn't have a clue that he struggled with this.  It wouldn't have changed my grading or expectations of him, but once his mother informed me of this (in a casual after school chat) a few situations suddenly made sense and I was more sensitive to placing him in group work and large class discussions. 

6.  ___(child's name here)_____ has had trouble with __________________in the past.

The unfortunate reality of many classrooms is that, yes, there will be 5 or 6 diagnosed disorders (to which accommodations will be made and educational assistance above a classroom teacher will be given) but the majority of children will struggle with certain things such as focus, organization, reading in general, the ability to write stories down etc. They struggle, but not to the degree to warrant another body in the classroom to help. This means that one teacher is responsible for organizing the accommodations of 5 or 6 students as well as finding creative ways to encourage roughly 15 other students to read, write and do math.  

Knowing your child has struggled with reading in the past, will give their teacher a nice heads-up to perhaps direct him/her to more level-appropriate books, or maybe even, if an extra body is available one day, give them a little extra attention. 

7. I would say ___(child's name here)_____is a(n) _______________________learner.

The eight major learning styles are as follows and we all fall into at least one of these styles (certainly some of us fall into two or three):

I took these "mantras" from which has a great quiz for older students to determine what their learning style is.  Visit the site to pull up more detailed descriptions of each learning style and tips for the way you learn.

i) Naturalistic. Your mantra: Let's investigate the natural world.
ii) Bodily-Kinesthetic. Your mantra: Movement is fundemental.
iii) Musical. Your mantra: That sounds good to me!
iv) Interpersonal. Your mantra: I understand what you mean.
v) Intrapersonal. Your mantra: To thine own self be true.
vi) Visual-Spatial.  Your mantra: What you see is what you get.
vii) Logical-Mathematical.  Your mantra: Why?  Well, because it's logical!
viii) Verbal-Linguistic. Your mantra: Tell me in words - written or spoken - and I'll understand

I have done quizzes with my older students in the past so that they can see for themselves what type of learner they are, but it's always helpful to get the "at-home version" from a loved one who has known them since day one to offer another perspective on the student's learning style.

8.  This one isn't listed on the downloadable letter because I don't feel it can be quite as succinct as a one line statement, but I would also encourage you to either write or discuss with the teacher any "at home struggles" that may be going on in your child's life.  Divorce, sickness of a loved one, even a pet's death, are really hard on kids (even, and sometimes especially teenagers, who are "supposed" to act like adults so much of the time)  It never ceases to amaze me how hurt feelings or confusion actually manifest as displays of aggression, disruption or complete inability to focus or participate even on a favorite subject.  Most children won't know how to deal with these feelings in the "traditional way" grown-ups have learned to deal with them (meaning, for example, when you're sad, you cry or when you're mad, you want to yell)   For many children, a feeling of sadness may not trigger tears, but cause them to pick on one of their best friends, be the crazy class clown trying to make everyone laugh or cause the extrovert to become introvert.  There is no telling how or why these emotions turn into specific actions but a little insight (details aren't necessary) can go a long way into dealing with behavior changes.

Here is the link again for the downloads. They are the exact same letter except the boy version is dark navy blue and the girl version is purple and all the "he's" and "she's" are in the right place.  Apologies for not making the letter any "prettier" and my "free version of Word" doesn't even let you see the font and format in the image preview, but in this case, I think the content is meaningful enough as it is!
Things to tell Your Teacher About Your Child boy version