Raising race conscious children: having tough conversations

let's talk about race

I have a new blog obsession, one that was recommended to me by Families for Justice, a local group I started working with to bring conversations about race to our community. The blog is called Raising Race Conscious Children, and is one of the best resources I’ve come across for learning how to talk about race, gender, and sexuality with young children. While I’m not a parent, I do, in a sense, have kids – my kindergarten students, every day for eight hours, all year long. Tough conversations arise when I spend time with my kids, and I’ve started going to this blog for inspiration and advice on how to work through these tough conversations.

The blog authors publish articles on all sorts of topics that arise when you spend time with young children, such as “Momma, why aren’t there more boy teachers?” and “Black is not a bad word: Why I don’t talk in code with my children.

For example, check out this post on what happened when the author’s seven-year-old daughter encountered an act of sexism on her soccer team. A boy cut in front of her in line and said boys should go first. He also later told her it would be embarrassing if a girl beat a boy while playing soccer. Her daughter got upset and told him it wasn’t nice.

On the way home, instead of shying away from the topic, her mom asked her daughter to explain what happened, and told her she was proud of her for standing up for herself. But the mom felt some unease when she realized that she didn’t explain the root cause of this interaction – that the boy wasn’t just being mean, he was being sexist.

So that night, the author “circles back” and brings it up with her daughter again. She does some courageous things in the conversation, including defining the word “sexism” for her daughter, and explaining that this probably won’t be the last time she’ll face a situation like this.

And instead of being fearful or upset, her daughter responds with courage too, and connects it to Rosa Parks standing up for what she believed in.

The author’s experience was a powerful one, and confirms my belief that we need to talk about these issues with our young children, instead of pretending that they’ll go away if we ignore them long enough. The conversations are tough, but necessary, for bringing social justice transformation to our families, classrooms, and communities.

My favorite line from the article:

“I don’t know if I found the right line that day, but I definitely grew. I grew in respect for my daughter and her ability to analyze what’s really going on. And I grew in my clarity that supporting our children in naming the truth of their own experiences isn’t likely to make them small or afraid. It’s much more likely to make large and courageous their capacity to act with agency in the world.”

What happened when I defined sexism for my daughter

Tips for becoming a runner: vol. 3…Go trail running

Tips for Becoming a Runner

As a result of my unrealistic desire to turn everyone into a runner, I’ve decided to share some tips about what helps me keep running. While I’m no expert, I’ve been running for seven years now, which, at the age of 29, is 25% of my life. Thus, I’ve accumulated a few ideas for how to go from running-is-miserable-torture to running-is-freedom.

These tips are in no particular order of helpfulness, and may not work for everyone. But I hope they inspire you just a little bit!

Tip #3: Go trail running.

trail run photo

The words “trail” and “running” together sound really hard core, like going for a run will turn into navigating crevasses and avoiding rogue rattlesnakes.

In the midwest, however, trail running is often just another way of saying “run somewhere besides the sidewalk.” I have two sidewalk routes in my neighborhood that are my regular routes. They’re great during the week when I don’t want to put any effort into deciding where to run. (Even the smallest of barriers to running, like having to decide where to go, often become insurmountable during the school year.)

But on the weekends, those routes become really, well, routine, and I start to dread running past the same old scenery. As you probably figured out, I do everything I can to look FORWARD to running, instead of dreading it. So now I use trail running to find new places to go.

I’m lucky to live in an area full of hiking and biking trails, so finding trails hasn’t been difficult. I purchased one of those 60 Hikes Within Wherever You Live books, and use that as a sort of checklist to decide where to go. I usually find a trail that can take me 3 to 6 miles, and I make sure to bring a water bottle in the car for when I return.

Even if you don’t live near an extensive network of trails, find a river or park in your city where you could go. Switching locations will hopefully keep you motivated to go for a run. Your body will appreciate the break from pounding on sidewalk. (A lush carpeted forest is so much better for the knees.) And prairie flowers are much prettier to look at than old apartment buildings.

IMG_5244Happy running!

Tips for becoming a runner: Vol. 2…Listen to interesting things while you run.

Tips for Becoming a Runner

As a result of my unrealistic desire to turn everyone into a runner, I’ve decided to share some tips about what helps me keep running. While I’m no expert, I’ve been running for seven years now, which, at the age of 29, is 25% of my life. Thus, I’ve accumulated a few ideas for how to go from running-is-miserable-torture to running-is-freedom.

These tips are in no particular order of helpfulness, and may not work for everyone. But I hope they help a little!

Tip #2: Listen to interesting things while you run.

Now, this is a controversial one, because there are a lot of people out there who say you should run just for the pure joy of running. Be in touch with your body, pay attention to your surroundings, listen to your own thoughts, and all that.

If you’re one of those people who can run this way, I am extremely impressed. Keep it up.

I, however, am not one of those people. I don’t like listening to the sound of my labored breathing, and I get so bored focusing on my mind replaying the day over and over again. When I don’t have headphones to distract me, I end up dwelling on little aches and pains in my body, or the extreme level of humidity, or any other excuse to stop running. Thus, I am a big proponent of bringing along your ipod (or whatever) and listening to interesting things to help you get through the run. Such as…

MUSIC!

I make my own playlists, and always keep at least one playlist on my phone titled “Running.” The songs are usually upbeat, dance-y type songs, or else epic instrumentals that leave me feeling motivated. I also have playlists titled “Training,” (for really long runs) “Mellow,” (on those rare days when I can run to slow music) and “Life” (for nostalgic purposes).

Sometimes I listen to playlists that people have made on Spotify, like this one and this one. Also, Spotify just came up with a new program that tracks your steps per minute and makes a mix for you! I haven’t tried it yet but it looks pretty awesome.

I also love the podcast called Music that Matters, from Seattle radio station KEXP. They put out an hour of new music each week, and sometimes have ones called Runner Powered Podcasts. I love these and keep them on my phone even after I delete other episodes. The DJ plays perfect running songs and intersperses them with inspirational running quotes. The latest one is my current favorite!

PODCASTS!

It took me a long time to realize how genius it is to listen to podcasts while you run. It’s like reading, my favorite thing in the world, only you can do it while running! There are a million different podcasts out there, but I find the ones that work best for me to listen to while running are the story-telling podcasts. They keep me focused on the story, rather than my desire to stop running, and sometimes minutes (whole minutes!) can go by where I don’t think about how my body feels, but instead think about what will happen next in the gripping podcast story. Some favorites:

I also love ones that are more focused on teaching you something (rather than telling you a story), but are still engaging programs, like…

And last but not least, I often defer to my dad’s favorite show when I need some humor to distract me: Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

AUDIOBOOKS?

Okay so I had to include this, because it would seem logical that if I love podcasts, and reading, I would also love audiobooks. But for some reason, no matter how hard I try, I can NOT seem to get into them. I have successfully made it through probably five audiobooks in my lifetime, which is not for lack of trying. (My dad has an incredible list of hundreds of audiobooks that he has listened to, organized alphabetically, that puts me to shame.)

Anyway, I think some people do like running while listening to audiobooks, because it’s something to engage your mind on the trail. So I found some lists on the internet that seemed helpful. Who knows, maybe some day I will discover a latent love for audiobooks…

12 Audiobooks for Runners (these all sound awesome)

Read While You Run

Listening to Audiobooks While You Do Something Else is the Ultimate in Multitasking

 

Small things to make life better

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Making small changes in order to live a healthier life has been an obsession of mine for a while now. I love Gretchen Rubin and Zen Habits and all the other people out there who write meaningfully about this topic, without just making listicles like “12 Things to Do for Eternal Happiness.” So of course I was excited about the “One Small Thing” series from one of my favorite bloggers, Alicia at Jaybird! She and other bloggers write all about small, actionable things you can do to make yourself feel better and healthier – like making your bed every day, or storing your canvas bags more efficiently.

I get excited every time she posts a new one, and I was lucky enough to contribute as well! Click here to see my guest post on making grocery shopping faster, easier and more awesome. Just like the other ideas in her series, it’s a tiny thing that makes a big difference in reducing stress (which ultimately makes life better).

Tips for becoming a runner, from a former non-runner

In news that makes my soul very happy, my mom has started running! And so have two of my very favorite friends who are also baby mamas (thus making the accomplishment of running even more amazing since they are raising children at the same time).

Now, I realize that running isn’t for everyone. But it has done such wonders for my life that I feel like I want to convince everyone who ever lived to become a runner. Having trouble sleeping? Try running. Want to lose weight? Try running. Feeling sad about life? Try running. Need to feel powerful or motivated? Try running. Need some alone time? Try going for a run.

Now, I realize this is obnoxious, so I keep it to myself. In fact, I almost never talk about running unless someone brings it up first. (But if they do, I usually can’t shut up about it.) I remember exactly how it felt to be a non-runner, and see people I knew going for an effortless three mile run in the morning. They were lean and muscular and also very zen about the world. And they made it look so easy! I was an unhealthy, slightly sedentary college student, with my longest daily exercise being a 15 minute bike ride to campus. Running even one mile was like torture.

But fast forward to today, and I have done one marathon (whoa), quite a few half marathons, and lots of little races. I also run three miles a day regularly. As a result, I feel happier, healthier, better at sleeping, better at eating, better at life in general. And I want everyone to have this feeling! But it’s a huge uphill climb to go from being a non-runner to a runner.

(As a side note, the word “runner” is loaded and in my head people take it way too seriously. I think you’re a runner if you sometimes choose to go for a run. Or when you decide you want to be a runner. But it took me a long time to be comfortable calling myself that.)

As a result of my unrealistic desire to turn everyone into a runner, I’ve decided to share some tips about what helps me keep running. While I’m no expert, I’ve been running for seven years now, which, at the age of 29, is 25% of my life. Thus, I’ve accumulated a few ideas for how to go from running-is-miserable-torture to running-is-freedom.

These tips are in no particular order of helpfulness, and may not work for everyone. But they work for me!

Tips for Becoming a Runner

Tip #1: Read inspirational stuff on the internet.

Blogs help motivate me to do lots of things. I have a ridiculously long blogroll that I read each week. And while reading about running doesn’t make you actually go out and do it, I find that it helps me when I’m wavering between “I am really exhausted and would much rather lay around watching Game of Thrones” and “Maybe I should just get up and go for a run.” Fortunately there are so many inspirational things written about running on the interwebs! Here a just a few of my favorites:

Blogs

Articles

Boards

Like these ones on running and hiking and yogis and self improvement and happiness.

{photo credit}

50 Ways to Bring Wonder: Keep a nature journal

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the ClassroomIn an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

6. Keep a nature journal.

Nature journals are a quick, easy way to get kids outside, grow their observation skills, and connect them to the place where they are. I was reading an article from Community Works Journal called “Nature Journals: An Enduring Marriage of Art and Literature,” and came across this passage, which perfectly describes why nature journals are so beneficial for the classroom:

Out of concern for increasing problems among today’s children, including attention deficit disorder, obesity and depression, there is research supporting the idea that alienation from the natural world could be a factor. A malady called “Nature Deficit Disorder” has been described by author Richard Louv in his book, The Last Child in the Woods…Louv’s recommendation is to change the education of young children from the current emphasis on technology, and instead encourage more direct exploration of the outdoors. I believe that Louv would agree that nature journaling offers an important avenue to help introduce children in a very personal way to the natural world that seems foreign to so many of them.

Nature journaling is a perfect aesthetic activity for children at school, whether they are kindergarteners sketching flowers in the school yard, middle school science students observing and recording various species of leaves and bark, or high school AP Studio Art students deriving inspiration from nature to design a beautiful journal page. Allowing children to experience the commitment to a nature journal as a labor of love should be a common opportunity for each child.

And to put it more concisely:

The natural extension of visually studying nature is to feel appreciation for it and then seek to learn more about it.

Exactly what I want for my students!

I created a simple nature journal for kids to use, which is available to download here or by clicking the picture below. But any old notebook or sketchbook would work just as well!

naturejournal

Education for Sustainability: a bit more on what it means

Education for Sustainability

A few days ago I shared with you my definition of Education for Sustainability (EFS). Of course, EFS can look like different things to different people, depending on who, what and where you teach. But in general, it’s a whole new way of looking at how we teach. As the Sustainable Schools Project puts it, EFS is learning that links knowledge, inquiry and action to help students build a healthy future for their communities and the planet.

Here are a few more ways to describe Education for Sustainability.

EFS 1

Education for Sustainability is place-based.

  • Many districts (including my own) ask teachers to use prescribed curricular programs, written and sold by companies far removed from local classrooms. While these curricula are often research-based, they can leave both students and teachers bored and unchallenged.  Teachers approach their subject by saying: “on Day 1, we will do this; on Day 2, we will do this,” no matter what their students seem to need.
  • In contrast, EFS asks teachers to approach their subject by saying: “What is happening in our classroom or community? Can I use any of it to meet learning standards and benchmarks?”
  • Here’s an example. My reading curriculum has as one of its benchmarks “Great readers ask questions as they read.” It then asks the teacher to read aloud the book Baby Talk by Joy Cowley. This is a book about animal babies of all kinds. Instead of teaching this book automatically, I could make note of what students have been wondering and discussing in the classroom lately. Have kids been asking about why the leaves are falling? Find a book on why trees lose their leaves, and use this to stimulate questions as we read.
  • Teachers can look at what is going on in their wider community as well, and listen to students’ conversations to help determine where to steer their lessons.

EFS 2

Education for Sustainability integrates the curriculum.

  • One of the biggest take-aways I got from the EFS Institute was the importance of having a wider theme that threads throughout your entire curriculum. Research supports integrated instruction. It’s better for students’ brains and their interest level.
  • A de-emphasis on having separate times for social studies, science, math, and reading makes sense. In the world outside of school, whose job requires an employee to do math for 45 minutes, then completely stop what they are doing and switch into reading mode? This isn’t how students will think and learn when they are out of school, and it shouldn’t be how we teach them in school.
  • To tie your curriculum together, the EFS Institute suggested that teachers come up with a “Big Idea” that threads throughout the year. Here is a list of Big Ideas that relate to sustainability. Having a Big Idea will give meaning and purpose to your curriculum. It will make sure that everything you teach is related in some way to the bigger idea of sustainability and understanding one aspect of how the world works.
  • Here’s an example. Let’s say you decide that your Big Idea is Cycles, because you want your students to really grasp the idea that every organism/system goes through different stages. From here on out, every time you begin a unit or delve into a lesson, you can start by saying “How will this help them learn more about cycles?”

EFS 3

Education for Sustainability empowers students (in several ways).

  • First, it encourages students to ask questions. When you are not stuck to a prescribed set of activities, you can really listen to kids’ questions and use them to steer your teaching. If kids are really interested in where water goes after you flush the toilet, you can use this curiosity to delve into understanding our water supply. If kids are really interested in why some families are homeless, you can use this momentum to explore the root causes of poverty.
  • Second, it helps them understand how the world around them works. Because Education for Sustainability asks students and teachers to look at what is going on in their community, they will leave these investigations with just that – a better understanding of their community. For kindergarten, this might be a better understanding of their classroom and how to be a good friend. For fifth grade, it might be an awareness of how climate change is affecting their city’s food supply. For high school, it might be knowledge of how the country’s political system.
  • And last, it teaches students that they can make a difference. Instead of just learning about problems in the world, EFS asks teachers and students to come up with solutions for these problems. Instead of just tallying the number of cars idling in the parking lot, it asks students to put up signs reminding drivers to turn their cars off when not in use. Instead of just discussing the number of homeless people on the street, it asks classrooms to raise money for local homeless shelters.

Now I know that is a lot of information. But hopefully it gives you a slightly better understanding of Education for Sustainability. The Sustainable Schools Project has TONS of great resources, including some curricular examples, if you want to read more.

And while all this is really exciting, I know there are lots of teachers who will say “But my district requires me to teach exactly what is in our teacher manuals.” Have no fear. As a teacher from just such a district, I’ll talk next time about how I am going to implement these huge and amazing ideas into my classroom – one tiny, manageable step at a time.

Scientist of the Month!

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Seriously, how did teachers do it before the invention of Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers? If you are a teacher that has not discovered the wonders of these two websites, I urge you to go explore them! You will probably develop a ruthless addiction to both sites, because they offer endless ideas and teacher-made resources, often for free!  There have been so many times that I think “man, it would be so cool if I had {insert awesome idea} for my classroom, but I’ll never have time to make it!” And then, I type the words into Pinterest and voila! Another brilliant teacher has already made the exact thing I was hoping to have. Amazing.

Here’s an example. This spring I talked to my kindergarteners a lot about being a scientist when they grow up, but I realized that I never really explained what that meant. So in a frantic attempt to give them a better understanding of what it means to “be a scientist,” I read them a book by Jane Goodall. Well then for several weeks they thought that being a scientist meant living in the jungle with chimpanzees! While that is certainly one option for scientists, there are obviously many more routes that science-inclined people can take.

So, I decided the best thing to do next year would be to have a featured “Scientist of the Month.” During the first week of each month, we could read books and watch clips about this scientist. This will be a great way to get more nonfiction books in my kids’ hands (you’re welcome, Common Core) as well as get them exposed to all kinds of scientists – including female ones!

Well, it’s not enough to have a brilliant idea like Scientist of the Month. Turns out you actually have to make a plan for which scientists will be featured, and put together some info for the kids on each one. Thus, “make Scientist of the Month packet” got added to the bottom of my supremely long list of summer projects.

But wait! Thanks to the miracle that is Pinterest, I learned that another teacher had the same brilliant idea, and is giving away her Scientist of the Month stuff for free! She did all the work of choosing scientists, finding pictures of them, and putting together biographical information on each one. So awesome.

Scientist bios

So if you want to do the Scientist of the Month idea too, go on over to The Teacher Garden to get pictures and bios on each scientist. And for a lovely title poster for your bulletin board, click on the image below to download it (or click here if the link doesn’t work). Hooray for the internet, and teachers who make my workload easier!

Scientist of Month

Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots

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I work on the side at a local nature center, which is so much fun and such a great way to expand my abilities to teach environmental ed in the classroom. Recently I was asked to help lead a new effort for the nature center to become a Roots & Shoots service learning site. Roots & Shoots is an outreach organization created by Jane Goodall (one of my personal heroes) that encourages schools and community groups to do environmental service projects. Basically any project that helps the environment, wildlife or the human community will count as a service project, everything from clearing invasive species to building a butterfly garden or picking up trash. The nature center is a really easy place to set this up, since we have schools, Scouts and community groups coming to the nature center for earth-related service projects all the time. Now all we have to do is let them know that we are officially a Roots & Shoots service learning site!

I was thinking, though, that I could easily do Roots & Shoots service projects in my classroom as well! Why not? I’ve always wanted to do a large service project with my students as part of the science or social studies curriculum, and this could be an authentic way to carry one out. I could start by teaching about Jane Goodall and other scientists who study wildlife. Then we could brainstorm projects that would help the earth. Then, probably as part of a writing project, the kids could write up what we are doing and submit it to the website!

For more information on how to have your classroom or school become a Roots & Shoots site, click here. There is also a free online course this summer (that I’ll be taking) called Turning Learners into Leaders: Empowering Youth through Service in Education. It’s supposed to help train you on how to carry out service projects with your students. Perfect for my new plan! Here’s the flier for the online course:

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50 Ways to Bring Wonder: Use science journals

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the ClassroomIn an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

2. Use science journals

Science journals are a cheap and easy way to give your students somewhere to write down all their questions, observations, and thoughts about the world, without you having to manage lots of papers or activities. I just bought cheap notebooks and used rubber cement to glue these covers on the front. They have lasted all year. You can have students use science journals for all kinds of science-related activities, including:

  • making KWL charts at the beginning of a unit
  • recording observations about animals or plants
  • drawing what they see on a nature walk
  • writing down questions they have
  • recording results from science experiments
  • writing new facts from non-fiction books
  • reflecting on what they learned at the end of a unit

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I keep my students’ science journals where they can easily access them , and encourage them to use them however they see fit! Some teachers do very involved science journaling, which I admire and wish I had time for! I keep it simple, though, and basically use them for my students to record what they observe about the world.

Here are some places to find more info on science journaling (also called science notebooks).

The Science Penguin
Science Notebooking
Kristen’s Kindergarten
Little Miss Hypothesis
Kindergarten Kindergarten