Kindergarten to Graduation:  We’ve Come Full Circle

Courtesy of Pinterest

This past school year was a particularly busy one for Christy and myself as we each had a child graduating from Grade 12.  This Labour Day weekend marks a new beginning for us as parents as our children move on to University, no longer living at home.  We hope that the foundation we’ve laid with them since they were young is solid enough as they experience new found independence, freedom and challenges.  We’ve tried to teach them resilience and perseverance when faced with difficult times, establish a strong moral compass based on family values when it comes to doing the right thing, along with empathy, compassion and a healthy dose of common sense.  We will see if our modelling and lessons on the beauty of our mindfulness to stay in the present, underpinned with a self-regulation structure has transferred now that they are out of the house!

Our own self-regulation certainly came into play as we navigated our way through the Grade 12 Graduation year.  Beyond the regular classroom instruction was University applications, Scholarship applications, Graduation photos, Graduation events, performances of all kinds from musical theatre, choir and dance…and that’s just what our kids were involved in.  University and Scholarship applications all have due dates and demand references which needs to be organised well ahead of time.  Special events require early ticket purchases.  It’s hard not to be constantly harping at your kids with reminders about when things are due, emotions on the rise.  But for the strength of our husbands to “let the chips fall where they may,” that meant allowing natural consequences to happen.  Truly, we found out that our kids are much more resourceful than we believed them to be.  

Having now gone through the complete cycle of K-12 public education (twice for me with two kids graduated), we’ve been talking and reflecting on our roles as parents.  We want to emphasise the importance and responsibility of our life-long commitment as parents to be involved in our children’s education and schooling, beyond the needs of shelter, nutrition and care.   We might think that support doesn’t begin until Kindergarten or even Grade One, but it actually starts much earlier than we think.  

For our University bound children we know there will be many opportunities and temptations that will present themselves.  We can only send our kids off, confident in that as parents we have communicated openly about the issues and difficulties young people face today and the repercussions of those actions.  Our Principal wisely reminded us that our young adults are able, and we should see and trust that they are able as they begin a new chapter in their lives.

Change, Routines and Self-Regulation

It’s been awhile since we’ve had a “normal” schedule. It’s probably going to be like this until the end of the schoolyear. We’ve had a lot of schedule changes this term and numerous special visits and activities which has thrown us off our regular routine. Well, it’s a very good thing for our Kindergarten cuties and their self-regulation: they’ve helped us to stay steady, grounded and in the green zone.

Now, don’t get us wrong. It’s been a very FUN time. We’ve been doing lots of interesting activities but when you are schedule, routine oriented people, as we are, it does require quite a bit of flexibility to change. When we fit in all of these extra events, we still have our regular classroom lessons to teach and projects to finish up with our students; we don’t let all of that go.

But it made us realise how much we rely on our timetable, which we know to be a good thing. A sense of structure, predictability and knowing what’s going to happen next is really important to help reduce uncertainty and anxiety. We see our children check the visual schedule in the classroom everyday, at most transitions. If we’ve made an error in the schedule, or forget to change it, they certainly notice and we are duly informed. The children want to know where we are in the schedule; it gives them a sense of comfort in counting down the activities until they can see their mom and dad at the end of the day.

When the children are aware of the expectations for themselves and others they feel calm and confident. They know what’s expected of them and what to do, so they can bring their focused attention to learning. This is a vital part of our self-regulation, being able to centre ourselves to be ready to learn. Being cognizant of what we need to do to down-regulate, whether through deep breathing, calming countdowns, or quiet activities such as walking, colouring or reading, is learned as we explore our emotions, how we’re feeling and connecting them to words and strategies. The Incredible Flexible You and the Zones of Regulation are two of the pro-social programs we use in our Kindergarten.

We practise daily strategies for self-regulation. Everyday we listen to calming music and feel our bodies relaxing. Then, we listen to the Zenergy chime and practise deep breathing to develop our mindfulness. Sometimes, we do stretches. We’re getting outside more as the weather has improved, and started our Forest Fridays, so adding some springtime walks is the next strategy to add to our repertoire.

While change is healthy and necessary for growth, we also know that too much change too quickly leaves one feeling out of control, upset and frustrated. This is why routines are such a necessary part of Kindergarten. We want the children to feel safe and secure during their day. When we do have to make changes to our daily schedule, we make sure we explain very carefully to our classes what is going to happen and why. We try to make certain that there are not too many changes in a day or week, although that can be difficult to control sometimes.

So when and where we can, we start with small changes and practise.

We might change the order of how we do things in our day.

We might change the children in the groups for Centre time.

We might change the way we print our name – in crayon or felt pen, rather than a pencil.

These seem like small things, but experience has taught us that we cannot expect five and six-year old children to accept change and adapt ”just like that,” or that “it’s good for them,” without practise. The teaching and scaffolding around changing set routines is necessary so that our children develop an understanding of why things change and the resiliency to cope with them. While we love our routines, we also want our children to learn to embrace change, without fear or hesitation. We’re looking to build strong, flexible students for a constantly changing world.

Year 2:  Happy Anniversary to The Self-Regulated Teacher!

This is an evaluation image and is Copyright Acclaim Images LLC. Do not publish without acquiring a license. Image number: 0071-0907-2808-3331. http://www.acclaimimages.com/_gallery/_pages/0071-0907-2808-3331.html

It was a quiet celebration, attended just by Christy and myself, but December 10, 2016, was the second anniversary of our website, The Self-Regulated Teacher.  As of today, we’ve written 147 posts and been viewed 19, 257 times by readers from all over the world.  Although it might not seem like much, we’re pretty proud as our main purpose was simply to provide an extra layer of parent-teacher communication for our classroom parents.  The fact that other educators are reading our work is high praise and we’re delighted that they would also spend a few minutes from their busy day to drop by.

Last year one of our classroom parents was telling us how much their family enjoyed the website, and they loved reading about what their child was doing in class.  They felt so informed about what was happening in the classroom, and could take the information we shared to remind their child about teacher and classroom expectations.  But they also raised a really good question, which was did we regret starting the website?  After all these months were we tired of writing?  She was concerned it was taking a lot of time and we felt pressure to keep writing.

But we’re still very happy with our choice to create and write for a website.  We want to share what we’ve done in our day with our Kinders, our thoughts and reflections about how things are going.  The writing is fun and easy and with Google Docs can be done anywhere (yes, some of the posts have been written on an iPhone).   We take lots of photos of our students’ work and classroom to try to show as much as we can of your child’s learning environment.  Although we still have parent-teacher conferences, and lots of “hallway chats,” it’s wonderful to have a record, in writing and with pictures, of what happened in the magical year we call Kindergarten.

On our second anniversary, we’ve updated our About Us post to reflect where we are now in our teaching.  It’s located on the menu on your right hand side of the home page; you can also read Our Story which is the story of how we became The Self-Regulated Teacher.

 

Summer is (Almost) Over Musings and Some Back to School Shopping

IMG_1448It’s been a gorgeous summer, filled with aquamarine skies and tropical waters, sandy beaches, barbecues with friends and families and lots of gardening.  Although we’ve travelled to places near and far, there’s nothing quite like coming home and the comforts of your own space and bed.  That’s probably more indicative of our age, but it’s a conversation that can be revisited at another time, cool drink in hand.

 

My dad used to always say that time goes by faster after your children are born, and in our families,IMG_5655 that is certainly true.  We don’t think just about the days and weeks anymore; instead, we find ourselves measuring time by years, holiday celebrations and the summer holidays.

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This summer was particularly poignant as my daughter graduated from high school and so begins her next journey in education:  University.  It’s such an exciting time for her, and we’re so delighted as our own memories of University life are very special.  Back at home, Christy and I each have a child going into Grade 12 this year so I’m back on the graduation wheel of special events but this will be it for me (apparently with a son it’s supposed to be simpler?).  Christy’s youngest has a few more years in school so she will have a bit of a breather between her girls.  It occurred to me that Christy and I are closing the circle as parents of school-aged children, and this will be reflected in our blog as we think about Kindergarten within the context, and as the foundation, of public education this year.

And now onto business.

Although many people don’t realise this, it actually takes a great deal of time to wind down the classroom, and ourselves, after a busy year of teaching.  There is a lot to clean and tidy in a Kindergarten classroom and we are usually in school for another week or two, depending upon what projects we might be up to.  When we’re finished, we definitely try to relax and “let it go.” But school is never really far from our minds, because in just a matter of days after starting our holiday we found ourselves out and about and shopping for some great resources for our classrooms this fall.

Whenever I go to Victoria, British Columbia, I love to visit my favourite teacher’s store, Schoolhouse Teaching Supplies.  I’ve been shopping there for a number of years now and they always have such fantastic collections of books, teaching resources and supplies, stickers and classroom decorations.  The lovely shopkeepers are happy to order things in for you, if you’re looking for something specific.  We need to replenish our alphabet stickers, calendar pieces, birthday certificates and cloakroom tags every year, and sometimes a pretty new bulletin board border is just the perfect finishing complement to an art display.

Some of the treasures of our most recent shopping spree

Some of the treasures of our most recent shopping spree

On this particular visit to Victoria, we wanted to do a mini bookstore tour so we took a day to go to the downtown Chapters, Russell’s New and Used Books and Munro’s Books.  We hadn’t been to Munro’s for a long time but our son’s English teacher had recommended he go there the next time we were in town.  Munro’s is in a beautiful, high ceiling space on Government Street and very wonderful it is with not only a well-curated collection of books and fun “bits and bobs” for the literati (think cute book lovers’ tote bags, book labels, cards and papers) but they also have an outstanding children’s literature section.  Naturally, we couldn’t leave empty handed so we came away with these beautiful new alphabet books:

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And I had to buy this adorable tote:

I <3 Darcy

I ❤ Darcy

Back at home, when we thought we couldn’t possibly buy anything else for school, we were having lunch in town with a colleague and walked past Vancouver Kidsbooks at their new Broadway location on the way back to the car.  Although our usual neighbourhood haunt is our adored Kidsbooks in the Village store in North Vancouver, this larger store is pretty amazing.  There are just so many beautiful books for children from infant to young adults, and toys, puppets and puzzles.  We’ve been replacing and upgrading the learning resources for our classrooms so we decided to purchase some new puzzles for our classes:

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We won’t tire you with the rest of the shopping we did, but let’s just say we’re going to need some help getting this stuff to our classrooms.  The shopping bags are starting to pile up downstairs for our return to school this week, and there will be certainly be some unpacking to do.  But in the meantime, we’re going to stay in this restful and relaxing state of mind, hopefully the same as you.

 

May the Self-Regulating Force Be With You!

We often wonder how our teaching of self-regulation strategies fare outside of the specific lessons.  For us, the overriding question is whether or not the children are able to transfer what they know to a context outside of classroom instruction.  We’ve been practising our deep breathing; creating calm, peaceful scenes in our minds while meditating; listening to soft music and focusing on relaxing and breathing when using the Zenergy chime.  We’d have to say this was a pretty good week to test out the effectiveness of our teaching.  Would the children be able to manage their energy during the long presentations this week?  What would they do if they were feeling restless and wiggling in their seats?  Do they know how to ignore distractions? Would they be able to self-regulate their own learning by reflecting on what their task was in each new situation?

IMG_1186One of the most exciting things we did this week was to welcome Kathleen, a scientist leader, from “High Touch, High Tech” to our classrooms to present the “Newton in Nutshell” workshop which focuses on Force and Motion.  As physicists, the children would study things that moved and how they moved.

The children learned that scientists can do lots of things.  They conduct experiments which are done in a laboratory, and for this special day, our classrooms were the labs.  Kathleen reviewed the important safety rules such as wearing safety equipment like goggles and lab coats; walking in the lab and keeping things out of our mouths.  Students must listen to instructions, note the order in which tasks are to be completed and take precautions in using equipment.  

Kathleen asked the children to describe how objects move.  They knew they could pull or push objects. Pushes and pulls are the forces to get objects to move; however, the objects have to follows rules or “laws” so Kathleen taught us these laws:

The first law of motion:  An object in motion stays in motion.  An object at rest stays at rest.  Kathleen showed us with a long string of beads in a cup how once we start to pull the strand out of the cup, the rest of the strand would follow and it would not stop until it was finished. This motion stopped when the beads hit the ground.

IMG_1181The second law of motion: The bigger the force, the faster the motion. An object with a bigger force goes faster and further.  Kathleen set up a series of dominoes to demonstrate  what happens when we push hard or push slowly; and that by changing the position of the dominoes (closer, farther apart) it also changes the motion.

The third law of motion: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.   A reaction happens after the action; for example,  if pushing against a wall while wearing your skates (the action), the reaction is to go backwards.  Using Newton’s Cradle, Kathleen showed how the number of balls she set in motion had an equal reaction in that the same number of balls on the opposite side would start moving.  


FullSizeRender-1Finally, we learned about the apple falling out of the tree. Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity.
If you drop an object, it will always fall to the ground. Gravity pulls everything to the ground.

With their newfound knowledge, our children then embarked on a series of experiments and learning centres to practise what they had learned.  They were able to drop a variety of objects down a vortex, race cars, fling pompoms in catapults, spin felt pen tops to make designs and test out the “spinning wheel” while standing on a moving platform.  It was a very busy and exciting time.

We were happy we’d taught the expectations for centre-based activities and practised this process many times under a variety of circumstances from the regular activity time to Hallowe’en Centres to Math.  The children were all able to rotate well through the stations and participate in their specific learning tasks.  They walked safely from table to table. For the most part, they remembered the instructions to follow through on their activities in the correct order.  For their age, and this being the first time for many of them to receive specific lessons in self-regulation strategies, we were really proud of our students for demonstrating patience, turn-taking and sharing cooperatively most of the time.

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But we’ve also learned that self-regulation instruction is not a series of lessons, or taught only in the early years of Primary.  In the past four years where we’ve made significant changes to our classroom instruction and classroom environment, we know that learning, understanding and using self-regulation strategies is a complex process.  We’ve said before that self-regulation is a way of being, something that we have learned and developed over time.  We know that our Kindergarten students are well on their way in their personal journey of self-regulation.

This Week in Our Room:  June 13-17, 2016

Many thanks to Roseanne from the West Vancouver Memorial Library for showing us a variety of wonderful books and reminding us to register for the Summer Reading Program.

We enjoyed our delicious cookies from the Kindergarten Cookie Sale.  Thanks to Mr. Blackburn and the Grade Six students for organizing this special event.  Funds raised will be donated to Free the Children.

We loved watching our siblings and other Ridgeview Primary students perform at the Primary Talent Show.

Upcoming Events and Reminders

Next week is the last week for Home Reading.  Friday, June 24, will be the last day to take home a book.

Wednesday, June 22, is our Vancouver Aquarium Field Trip.  Please return your permission form and cheque on Monday.

April 20, 2016:  Talk With Your Kids About Money Day

 

IMG_2758-1“Don’t let money be the tool that trips them up” —Gail Vaz-Oxlade

Talking about money and finances has always been an open discussion at our house but has lately become the topic of urgency, because our oldest child is graduating from Grade 12 and starting University in the fall.  She’s been accepted to UBC and we’re about to enter the world of the Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) and accessing those funds we’ve been saving for years now.

Today, the third Wednesday of April, has been designated as Talk with Our Kids About Money Day.  Although it seems kind of early (we are Kindergarten teachers, after all) to be talking about money, we know it’s really important to start forming good habits and a healthy perspective about money at a very young age.  Canada’s Task Force on Financial Literacy views that the improvement of financial literacy among young people should be a shared responsibility, a lifelong process and provided for in public schools.  While Christy and I do not concur exactly with that perspective, we do think that some basic knowledge (attributes of coins and financial role-playing are part of the BC Kindergarten math content), financial “theory” (saving some money every month is important and necessary) and the application of money skills (bake sales) can be taught at school.  However, our belief is that the actual teaching of financial literacy is the role and responsibility of parents because money reflects our personal and family values and morals, and is influenced by our cultural heritage.

So we were very fortunate indeed to hear Canadian financial maven, Gail Vaz-Oxlade, speak to parents at the Kay Meek Theatre in West Vancouver last May.  Gail was invited to speak to the students at our three high schools and she also gave a separate parent session.  Although Gail’s presentation was geared for parents of older students, her expertise and savvy in understanding and using money is applicable for all ages.  Gail gave our audience some tough love; she asked sobering questions and made us reflect on our own financial literacy and money habits.  With her usual wit and wisdom, here are some of the highlights from her talk.

“It’s our job as parents to teach financial literacy.”

This was probably the most important idea that we took away with us that evening.  Gail does not believe that financial literacy should be part of the school curriculum:  Teachers cannot give kids the money to create the real-life learning situations.  Rather, it’s the parents who can give their kids the money and take it away.  As parents, we need to learn, know and help our children smooth the rough edges of their money personality, whether it be hoarder, spender, or impulse purchaser.   

Gail emphasised how as parents we need to take every opportunity of our lives to teach our children about money.  Parents often want financial literacy in the school system because they are uncomfortable talking about it. But she reminded us that as the parents, you are your children’s best teachers:  you taught them how to walk, how to use the toilet and how to talk.  You can use each and every day to talk about money related situations.

“Love your children enough to let them learn the lessons properly.”

As our children are learning their lessons about money, our response to them is important.  Sometimes, as a society we want to label children and teenagers these days as being entitled.  But Gail suggests it’s not things, or stuff, that spoils kids.  We spoil them by not having expectations.  We need to clearly state our expectations to our children, what we will, and will not put up with, and allow the natural consequences of poor decision-making to happen, especially those decisions related to money.  As parents, we want to be our kids’ saviours, saving them over and over again.  But, our children have the right to make their own mistakes and to fix them.  Kids only learn to spot mistakes after they have experienced making them.

So, how do you teach kids about money?

Gail recommends that children receive allowances–to put the money you would normally spend on them in their hands.  Then, set expectations about what they will do with it.  We can teach our children how we accumulate money for planned spending for predictable necessities in our lives such as car or house insurance.  What kind of spending do your children need to plan for?

Some of you may be familiar with the “money jars” for spending, saving and sharing that Gail has discussed in her books and on her television show, “Til Debt Do Us Part.” Because money is an abstract concept, putting it into the jars makes it concrete.  For more information about kids, allowances and the “money jars,” click here.

Children must learn to differentiate between “needs” and “wants.”  As parents, we must use this vocabulary correctly and consistently.  Do we always understand ourselves what we mean by needs and wants?  Because language influences how we think about things and the way we spend our money.

“Financial literacy is what you do to move from being dependent to independent.”

We love Gail’s definition of financial literacy.  She said that “being independent is the healthiest you will ever be.”  Why would we then, as parents, not teach our children the financial skills they need so that they can begin the journey to independence?

Gail cautioned us about keeping secrets about money from our children. We need to teach our children about setting goals, planned spending, emergency funds, how interest and credit works, saving for the long term and bank fees, loans and mortgages, none of which should be a secret.  Let’s talk openly with our children–we’re their parents!  Let’s give them the benefit of our life experiences and teach them about financial literacy while they are young, so that one day they can be informed, knowledgeable, independent young adults making their way in the world.

Thank you so very much to Gail Vaz-Oxlade for continuing to inspire us!

We would also like to thank our Ridgeview colleague, Leanne Pruner, for suggesting these resources for you to consider when talking to your kids about money.

Save, spend, share, invest: How to talk with small kids about money

moneycoachescanada.ca

Money Smart Kid$:  Teach Your Children Financial Confidence and Control by Gail Vaz-Oxlade

 

 

 

Communicating Learning:  Today We Celebrate 101 Posts for The Self-Regulated Teacher!

IMG_0703A special thing happened 15 months ago and that was the creation of our little website and teacher blog, The Self-Regulated Teacher.  We never dreamed that we would have received over 12,000 views (12,398 to be exact at the time of writing) by over 6500 visitors to read what we had originally planned as one form of communicating learning for our Kindergarten classroom parents.

We carried this idea around for a long time, and with the help, support and encouragement of one of our BFFs, Cari Wilson, Innovation Support Teacher (Technology) for West Vancouver and our Ridgeview Principal, Valerie Brady, we published our first post in December 2014.  We’re appreciative of the positive feedback from our classroom parents and others readers of this blog.  Thank you for leaving us your kind comments and questions.

As we reflect on the various ways to communicate learning that we’ve used over the years, beyond the three written report cards, parent-teacher conferences and Student-Led Conferences, our primary method has been the classroom newsletter we’ve written every week since we started teaching, from Kindergarten to Grade 4 (not including the years we were Learning Support teachers).  We originally wrote this by hand until recently when we’ve started to post it online.

Each and every parent group has always enjoyed, “This Week in Our Room,” to review the goings-on of the past week, with reminders for the upcoming week.  We know those newsletters graced many fridges, were placed in special binders or pinned to the family bulletin board.  Families tell us how they kept all those handwritten paper newsletters from the Kindergarten year as a classroom memory.

Our families need to know, and love knowing, what’s happening in their child’s school life.  Supporting the children in their learning, and extending the learning at home, requires that parents have an awareness of the classroom routines, curriculum and activities.  In our situation, we wanted parents to be able to take the information we provide through the newsletter, and use that as a basis for conversation beyond the ubiquitous, “What did you do at school today?”  Our classroom parents are knowledgeable about what their child is doing at school, and can ask the pertinent questions to help uncover the learning gems each child knows.

We realise that our level of communication is going to be different in Kindergarten, compared to a student in the older grades.  Our children are more than able to share with their parents what we do at school, but the rationale for an activity might not be as clear to them or there were too many reminders on a certain day, and we like our parents to know these things.  We consider classroom communication a teaching responsibility, so if reminding our parents to send along a pair of rain boots for outdoor play, or making suggestions for reading at home, contributes to a fun and successful school experience, then we’re going to do it.

We’ve noticed an increase in the number of working parents in our classes over the years and as working parents ourselves, we wanted to improve when and how information can be accessed and technology has allowed us to do so.  Working parents cannot always drop by the classroom to see the latest bulletin board display or see when it’s their child turn to be the next Special Helper.  Our first foray into digital home and school communication started with the app Remind, which delivers text messages from the teacher to the classroom families from an account separate from your smartphone.  It allows us to schedule Remind texts days and weeks ahead, as we think of them, and to include photos as well.  We highly recommend it as an excellent method to send reminders home.

From Remind we made the jump to writing and posting the newsletter online.  It’s actually easier and faster for us now, because Christy and I would meet in person or discuss by phone what we were going to write. We can write our newsletters and blog posts on Google Docs, share it with each other and we can both be reading, revising and editing at the same time (as we’re doing right now), or when it’s convenient for us, before we copy it into WordPress, our blogging platform.

We don’t necessarily endorse that a classroom website and weekly blogging is for everyone.   We were already used to writing the newsletter, and looking for ways to increase our efficiency and reduce paper consumption.  We now write a short blog followed by the newsletter on Fridays.  We work on it over the week, adding bits of information as we think of it.

On Sunday we write a blog post that is current and relevant for what’s happening in our classrooms and at our school.  These blogs take more time because of the topics we choose to write about; however, we love sharing what we’ve learned through our teaching and experience and have achieved a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment through writing and publishing.  We’re not going to romanticize blogging, though.  Although I love writing and have a passion for writing, writing takes time and periodic bouts of writer’s block can seriously extend the amount of time you were planning to spend on writing one post, never mind how the rest of your evening (or day) was affected.

Our Kindergarten website focuses on school and classroom expectations and routines, and foundation learning for our students.  Again, our original intention was to write a Kindergarten Handbook, a “how-to” for negotiating Kindergarten here at Ridgeview, and we decided to just have everything, our newsletters, blog and handbook information in one place, theselfregulatedteacher.com.  You can read more about “Becoming The Self-Regulated Teacher” here.