Sunday, 11 May 2014

I'll be a Real Teacher soon

I've been subbing at both Escuela and Bloom for several months, and as the summer sidles up it's getting closer and closer to the time to make a formal choice. I can't sub forever. (Not if I want to make rent.)

I'm choosing Escuela.

Even though Bloom's teaching philosophies really resonate with me, there are a lot of other factors that make it a less than ideal workplace. The main factor that pushed me over to the Escuela side of the fence is that Bloom is uncomfortably understaffed. It's an inclusive school, meaning children with disabilities are integrated into all classrooms, which is great -- but to be successful, an inclusive program requires adequate adult support. I have had a number of hellish days subbing in Bloom's 2-3 year old room where five of the ten children have behavioral challenges (ranging in severity) and there are only two teachers. We just can't keep kids safe with those odds. There have been some sort of fairly major child-on-child violence every time I've been there, from metal shovels thrown at heads to throttling to dragging other children off high places. It's really stressful, and it's not fair to the kids. I've started to dread my shifts at Bloom. I often find myself wishing I could be at Escuela instead.

Escuela's ratios are lower than the legal requirements. It makes an incredible amount of difference to have three teachers with ten or twelve 2-3 year olds rather than just two teachers. Escuela has an assortment of children with behavioral challenges too, but it's so much more manageable with that one extra teacher around.

The position that I'm angling for with Escuela is in the infant/toddler program. It's funny, I consider the 3-4 year olds to be the most stimulating and inspiring age group to work with for me personally (with 2-3 year olds as a close second). While I always enjoy my shifts in the infant room, I definitely wouldn't want to be trapped in an infant teacher position year after year. But the position I will (hopefully) be taking is a cohort model, meaning I start with a batch of infants and then continue with them for the next two or three years as they grow up. And that sounds rad.

I've already started fantasizing about curriculum and classroom traditions.

And as a bonus, Ezra is at Escuela, so I get to keep being involved in his life for the next few years at least. I started taking care of him when he was six months old, a mere larva wriggling on the floor. Now he walks and speaks and has a sense of humor and big beautiful butterfly wings. Human growth is such a strange and magical thing. I'm so happy I get to spend my days watching that unfurling.


Thursday, 27 March 2014

bead spelling

After a full day of school, Sasha often isn't terribly enthusiastic about focusing another hour and a half of her attention on practicing her literacy skills. She often wants to do things like jumprope or play on the swings or sing and dance or work on a craft project. However, she also knows that our tutoring time is designated reading and writing time.

But Sasha is clever. She has started figuring out ways to incorporate reading and writing into these other activities. And she knows that as long as she can find a way to include reading and writing, I'll almost certainly say "yes" to whatever she wants to do.

Recently, she really wanted to make a necklace. So she proposed a spelling activity. Each bead she picked up correlated with the next letter in the word she was spelling aloud.

Although this just looks like a regular necklace, she made it by spelling night, bright, slightly, might, knight...

High fives,


Made Sasha some Bingo sheets with our latest word set (words with gh).

This game is super easy to make, since you can draw a grid and fill it with any sight words you're working on learning, and use nearly anything for markers -- I had some colorful gemstones on hand, but pennies or legos or dry beans or torn scraps of paper work just as well.


Sunday, 16 March 2014

word bubbles

After noticing Sasha's interest in comic books like TinTin and Babymouse, I wanted to find a way to incorporate elements of graphic novels/comics into our literacy lessons.

So this week I brought some pre-printed word bubbles.

 I also brought scissors, colored pencils, paper, magazines, and glue sticks.

We did two different activities with these word bubbles.

First, we used the word bubbles to imagine what the animals in National Geographic photos might be saying. These examples both use Sasha's "best guess" spelling, which is appropriate for Sasha's current level of cognitive development. "Best guess" spelling requires her to problem-solve by making good guesses based on her developing sense of phonemic awareness, rather than simply copying down the letters an adult dictates. I don't correct her spelling at this stage unless she explicitly asks me to. I usually remind her that as long as she can read it, the spelling is not important in activities like this.


"ready for take-off"
Then Sasha decided she wanted to use a piece of posterboard she dug out of a closet to convey a scene.

I also did some research on comic books and graphic novels aimed at emergent readers. I'm hoping to get some of these from the library this week! Here's the list:

Adventure Time
Zita the Spacegirl
Little Adventures in Oz
The Scary Godmother
Lunch Lad
Geronimo Stilton
Flora & Ulysses

I'm excited to see what else we can do with comics as a format for literacy activities. Maybe develop our own short comic book!

High fives,


I introduced Sasha to a new literacy game recently. I actually got the idea from El, whose son (close to Sasha's age, and also in a similar developmental stage in regards to literacy) invented a similar game himself using a Scrabble board and tiles.

There are only two rules:
1. Players take turns using letter tiles to invent new words. Only made-up words count, no words that are already real words.
2. You have to say your word out loud and give it a definition.

A big area of development for Sasha right now is phonemic awareness, which is basically the correspondence between letters and sounds. This shows up in both her decoding efforts (also known as "sounding it out") and her spelling and writing attempts.

This variation on Scrabble or Bananagrams is great for helping kids work on their phonemic awareness. Yes, the words are silly nonsense words, but that takes the (enormous) pressure off of reading or spelling the words "correctly." But the game still has players working with the basic building blocks and rules of the written English language. It doesn't feel as intimidating as spelling and reading "real" words, plus it makes kids feel powerful to invent their own words -- the sillier-sounding, the better -- and definitions. Providing literacy opportunities for kids where they can feel powerful and in control helps build their confidence in their emerging reading and writing skills. For kids like Sasha for whom literacy is a challenge and a frequent source of anxiety, I cannot overstate how essential it is to prioritize confidence-building activities like this one.

When we played, at Sasha's request we just turned all of the letter tiles face up and chose whichever letters we wanted; you could also play a version more like Bananagrams or Scrabble, where players receive a certain number of face-down tiles at the beginning, and replace them with more randomly-selected tiles as they place their tiles on the board. The grid paper in the photo was something I made to provide Sasha with a little bit of structure; lots of our words extended off the edges as we continued playing. As an added challenge, you could color-code the board and add a points system like Scrabble (or just use an actual Scrabble board!).

As her own extension of the activity, Sasha suggested that we use our invented words to create a secret language. She diligently wrote down every word we created and its translation, and then constructed sentences in code. She had a lot of fun with this activity, and we'll definitely keep adding to our secret language dictionary as we replay the game!


Friday, 28 February 2014


I visited the anti-bias/restorative justice preschool this week for a few hours. My initial impression last week, when I toured Bloom and met with the director, was a general sense of "ehhhhh." But that was when all I had to go off of was the facility, which is undergoing renovations and is just generally dated and hodgepodge -- but with grand plans and so much potential! -- and my sort of awkward, informal interview with the director. The director's educational philosophies seem to line up quite well with mine, but I walked away from the meeting really appreciating some of the organizational/administrative structures in place at Escuela. Like that Escuela trained me as a sub and paid me for it, and made their expectations explicit (on paper, even!), and prioritized getting my paperwork squared away. Bloom seems to be more haphazard in this regard.

Today I got to see the teaching practices in action in the preschool/pre-k program, and I'm enamored all over again with Bloom. The teachers responded so sensitively to the children, and I saw a lot of Reggio best practices actually taking place. Probably my favorite thing that I observed was "story circle," which was a totally different approach to the circle time I've typically seen in preschool classrooms. Circle time is usually an exercise in trying to micromanage the children's bodies and attention while slogging through a series of singalongs, picture books, and maybe something like the weather or calendar or class jobs. But story circle! Story circle was a time for the teacher to use small props (small wooden dolls, gemstones, scarves) to set a scene and tell a story, to which the children listened raptly. And the story she told, with robots and bears and dragons and humans and foxes, was one about family, adoption, and community. YES. SIGN ME UP.

Lots of other little moments made me feel like this would be a very good place for me to teach. I love the children at Escuela but I'm not sold on some of the approaches to classroom management, curriculum, and behavior modification. I hope Bloom has a staff opening soon so I can graduate from part-time subbing!

High fives,

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

the ultimate arts 'n crafts project

It has begun. HB and I have started researching, in earnest, babymaking. We have a timeline and a budget and multiple library books out about the whole process. (This one was mostly useless but this one is proving to be about a thousand times better.) We recently had dinner with one of my favorite professors, her wife, and their itty bitty three-week-old preemie to interrogate them about their experience with conception. I've started accumulating local resources and idly skimming donor profiles in a few online sperm bank databases. We're still a couple years out but we have A Plan. It is very exciting.

We've mentioned it to a few friends and some of HB's family but are very intentionally keeping it quiet from my family. Mainly because my family would be very excited and would bombard us with a million questions and then would tell absolutely everyone and it would just get out of hand really quickly. With HB's family, we knew we'd get a sort of neutral "okay, cool" from most of them and an uncomfortable "you are doing whaaaat? Howww?" from HB's mom, who we delighted in regaling with details about intrauterine insemination just to watch her squirm. (She squirmed admirably.)

Of course, two major things we need to get worked out before we can start this Making New Life arts 'n crafts project for reals is Actual Money (it's about $1,000 total per "try" when your lack of the appropriate gonads forces you to buy one of the essential babymaking ingredients, plus I hear children actually eat money as their primary form of sustenance) and Not My Mother's Medical Insurance (because you can't just give birth in the woods anymore, I guess?). HB just became a co-owner of the place they work, but I'm still trapped in the cycle of paying off student loans/paying for grad school tuition/working sporadically as a sub at Escuela (Ezra's preschool), which is slowly but effectively gnawing through my savings. For several (mostly boss-related) reasons, I'm trying to wean myself off of working at Escuela in favor of wedging my foot in the door at a preschool that I strongly suspect is my dream preschool (its whole schtick is restorative justice and anti-bias education, how rad is that?!), which in theory should help me accomplish goals one and two (Actual Money and Not My Mother's Medical Insurance). The future is in the future, though, so we shall see how this all pans out.


Monday, 16 December 2013

Gamifying Literacy, take 2

It all started when I found this little thing at my local game store.

So my challenge was to build a board game around it. I wanted to make a game that was more complex than my last board game; involves some math (and ideally skip counting, since Sasha is working on that concept in class); incorporates strategy and not just probability; requires players to read, write, and move their bodies; and would provide a platform for players to become more familiar with sentence anatomy (nouns, verbs, and adjectives).

Here's what I came up with.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Sasha Says, ep. 23

"The teacher wasn't actually a bad teacher, just the class was misbehavinged."

"You know how I'm a barefoot walker?"

"I look like Santy because I have the same initials. I'm twins with Santa."

"Sometimes I like to see the smell, you know?"

"I wish my hair sticked up. If it was as long as Rapunzel's and it sticked up it could hit the ceiling!"

"I was such a grubber when I was a baby."

"I like to really mess up my hair."


Thursday, 12 December 2013

Twister with a twist

Sasha said she wanted to have our tutoring session at home this week. Usually we're in a cafe, which has its advantages (no toddler or dog or neighbor kid interruptions) and its disadvantages (limitations on resources, space, noise).

At home, Sasha got really excited about the idea of "making a game." After some initial blanking on how the game should work or what it should be about, Sasha realized we could adapt one of her existing games into a reading game. We perused the game closet and she picked Twister.

We selected a bunch of her flash card words to write on strips of masking tape. When I spun the spinner and called out the combination ("Left hand blue!") she had to read aloud the word on whichever circle she picked. (We also tried a version where I just called out a word and she had to hit it, but that was much more physically challenging.)

She's still working on discerning left and right. You can't see it in the picture, but she had me write a big R and L on her corresponding hands and feet to help her figure out which to use on each turn.

She had a great time with this game, and really took ownership over this project. One of the best things I can do as a tutor is to recognize and support opportunities for Sasha to be her own teacher, to tap into her own ingenuity and resourcefulness in meaningful, fun ways.

High fives,

Monday, 2 December 2013


I love documentation. My very favorite places on the internet are "mommyblogs" with really good photography and thoughtful writing. I also really like blogs that supply good ideas and tutorials for play-based learning activities. One of the things I'm most excited about for my impending teaching career is the opportunity to document children's learning. The whole reason I keep this blog is to record my experiences with kids. And even here, where I'm limited by the "not my kids, don't have photo release forms" factors, I still tend heavily toward including images when I can, whether it's pictures of the kids or of our activities.

I just finished my first couple of weeks subbing at Escuela, and even though documentation is not in my job description as a sub, at El's encouragement I've been reveling in the opportunity to snap pictures of the kids at play.

El already took the Documentation class in our grad program (I'll take it in a few months), and she's given me some really great advice for taking good photos of kids:

1. Fully engaged. Try to capture moments when kids are fully engaged in what they are doing. Often, kids won't be smiling in these pictures. They are learning, they are interacting, they are creating.
2. Story. Select pictures that tell a story without needing a caption for context.
3. Kid level. Get down at kid level. Seriously. Pictures taken at the level of children's faces have the effect of making you feel like you're right there in the kid's world, while pictures taken from above (adult level) looking down on kids feel remote and disconnected. Plus, you miss a lot of kids' facial expressions when you're mostly looking at the tops of their heads!
4. Tight shots. Practice taking pictures with tight framing. You often don't need to see a whole kid -- or even a whole face -- to understand the story of what's happening. To some degree, this can be accomplished by cropping photos you've already taken. 
5. Alternate sides. Look for moments that show a different side of a kid than you usually notice, such as a quiet kid yelling, or a high energy kid cuddling calmly with stuffed animals. Capturing these moments will help you keep the whole kid in mind, rather than letting their more dominant characteristics define who they are when you are engaging with them.

With these points in mind, I can already see improvements in the pictures I've been taking of the kids at Escuela, and I've only been at it for two weeks!

So far, most of the pictures I've taken have been on a cell phone or on my crappy point-and-shoot camera. But coupled with my upsurge of enthusiasm for taking good photos of kids is my renewed enthusiasm to learn how to properly use my fancypants dSLR camera. One of my friends who's something of an amateur professional photographer is trying, yet again, to give me camera lessons so I can progress beyond Automatic mode.

I'm very excited for where I can go with my documentation skills.


Friday, 22 November 2013

gamifying literacy

Every week when planning Sasha's literacy tutoring session, I invariably trawl Pinterest for ideas before I do anything else. And invariably, I throw up my hands in frustration and end up doing my own thing. Because most of the "literacy" or "reading" pins in the Kids category aren't innovative games, or sensory-related writing activities, or anything that sounds like it would actually be fun -- just worksheets. I never want to see the word "printables" again, ugh. And this time of year, a lot of the available worksheets aren't just unimaginative, they're racist too. Double ugh.

So this week I did what I usually do when Pinterest serves as anti-inspiration: I made my own activities.

Sasha, like most human beings, enjoys games. Our usual flashcard matching games have gone a bit stale, so I made a new game. A board game. With dice and cards and everything.

This game is super simple. Roll the dice, move your piece (dinosaur toys, since I've got a bit of a collection going), do what it says on the space you land on. I made three stacks of cards: one stack of sight words Sasha is still working on, one stack of sight words Sasha has already mastered (the ones with smiley face stickers), and one stack of sentence cards. The sentences are all derived from or related to the books I've read aloud to Sasha over the course of the last year (Harry Potter #1-3, The Spiderwick Chronicles, Dealing with Dragons, and Holes). The game takes about 10-15 minutes from start to finish to play, and it took me about 45 minutes to make (including writing all of the sentence cards -- I already had the two piles of sight word cards from our previous tutoring sessions).

Here's the gameboard.

Sasha loved the game. As soon as we finished she asked to play it again. Three times in a row. The element of chance provided by rolling dice and the goal of progressing along the path from start to end helped to alleviate the "chore" feeling that can come with reading flashcards and random sentences.

Sasha asked me what the game was called, and when I admitted that I hadn't named it, she got out our markers and dubbed it "run to the end." She especially liked the "whirlpool" spaces, and would enthusiastically spin her dinosaur around and around before tipping it over from "getting dizzy" when she landed on one. She even suggested, after the third consecutive game, that we start keeping a tally of how many times we each won.

This game will definitely be making a reappearance at future tutoring sessions.

High fives,

homemade preschooler gifts, take 2

My cousin's kid just turned three, so rather than buy him a gift this year, I made him one! I try to create handmade gifts when I can. This one was super easy.

The little bag was just a piece of scrap fabric sewn (shoddily) in about ten minutes, with a bit of extra ribbon threaded through the top seam so that it cinches closed. The card is just a magazine photo gluesticked onto cardstock.

Unsurprisingly, the kid's favorite gift out of allllll of the puzzles, books, clothes, and toys he got was this little bag. Not the stuff in it, just the bag. "My purse!" he shrieked, slinging it over his shoulder and galloping off, leaving behind a wreckage of wrapping paper and much fancier gifts.

Here's what was in the bag:

Magazine photos glued onto wide popsicle sticks make a fun puzzle for little hands.

For double the fun, include a second "puzzle" on the back!

These are super fast and easy to make. Here's the tutorial I used. When the images start peeling off, you just glue 'em back down again. Maybe modgepodge them for extra durability if they get a lot of use. I'm not that dedicated.


Thursday, 7 November 2013


An amazing thing happened today: Sasha interrupted as I began to read aloud to say, "Stop! I want to read it!"

Take a moment to process that. Let your color wheel spin.

This is the same kid who, a month and a half ago, balked at any invitation, request, or requirement to read aloud. Even words she was familiar with, even books she's muddled through dozens of times, even favorite stories. Even everything I custom wrote for her. Regardless of if they appealed to her sense of humor or her current interests. This kid did not want to read. It was hard and she didn't see the point of it.

I've been gone for just over a month, and I come back and she is leaps and bounds ahead of where she was when I left. In terms of reading and writing ability, but also in terms of the stuff that's harder to measure: initiative, and confidence, and persistence. Sure, she's still way below grade level, but that doesn't matter. She's reading and writing because she wants to. She's keeping a journal. She's writing fluent sentences with best-guess spelling. She's trying new words when we play Hangman. She's checking library books out that are right at her "growth" level, and she is reading them.

I am so proud of this kid.

High fives,

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

the return

HB and I are back from our bicycle tour! It was just the right amount of time -- I'm happy to be home, with lots of ideas about homemaking and art projects and gardening plans and kitchen endeavors.

I kept an illustrated travelogue throughout the duration of the trip, so I have a LOT of work ahead of me to finish it. "Finish it" means finalize my (often very rough) sketches, ink over 30 pages, scan and post-process everything, and then figure out how to publish the thing. Bottom rung would be a zine-style production with all of the pages photocopied and stapled together, but I'm hoping for something a little slicker, which will involve research and potentially pitching the project to a publisher? (Related: some of my work has been published in an anthology! One of my friends across the country saw my art on the cover of the book in a bookstore, called me in a panic midway through our bike trip, and, after being assured that the authors did indeed have permission to use my work, bought the book and mailed it to me as a birthday present. What a pal.)

I've missed Ezra and Sasha, and I'm looking forward to seeing them again in about a week. And, if all goes well, HB and I will probably be trick-or-treating with Jaden like we did last year, if I can pull together costumes for us in the next 24 hours.