Inspiration for the week

Amazingly, this week brings the end of the school year for me! In many ways this has been the most stressful year of teaching I’ve had, but at the same time one of the most rewarding as well. My monthly challenge this June is to write down three things I am grateful for each day. Getting to teach such a wild, curious and adventurous group of kids has definitely topped my list.

And in the meantime, some links that I have been digging lately:

This kindergarten teacher does one day a week completely outside, calling it “Forest Monday.” Something I would love to try.

Sharpening the saw: why productive people always have time for exercise (or, why I run even on the most exhausting days of school).

My new podcast LOVE, the Dirtbag Diaries. Stories from adventurous outdoorsy mountain-climbing type people.

Like so many, I obsess over avocados. I really want to try this everyday avocado dressing from Faring Well.

A good friend of mine and I were discussing the possible futility of avoiding almond consumption during California’s drought. Does it really make an impact if people avoid certain water-guzzling foods? If so, which foods should we avoid? She sent me this article with a helpful (and funny) synopsis: Is it really better to eat vegetarian in a drought?

Some female solo adventure books I want to read: Tales of a Female Nomad, A Year without Makeup, and Phenomenal. Afterwards, being female, I want to go on a solo adventure.

On talking about race in kindergarten.

A few weeks ago I went to a community event that was intended to start a conversation about race among teachers and parents. The topic was how children understand race, and I wrote about what I learned here. The biggest thing that stuck out to me was the need to TALK about race. Don’t pretend it’s not there, don’t be “colorblind,” but bring it up, discuss it with kids, make it an issue because it already is an issue in society, whether we like it or not.

This is easier said than done, though. As a parent, I imagine it is super challenging, because you want to get it right the first time, and in a concise and developmentally appropriate manner. And as a public school teacher, it’s challenging because I want to do those things, and also not offend anybody either. The topic of “race” is not built into my sanctioned curriculum, but it is a real-world issue that my kids face on a daily basis. And within my classroom community, I want kids of all colors to feel valued and important. I want them to know that it’s okay to be different, and in fact being different is a good thing. I want them to notice diversity, and talk about it, and learn why it’s important.

Eventually, I want my kids to know that some people don’t think diversity is a good thing, and that we have systems in our communities that are unfair, that racism and prejudice and bigotry exists. They’re going to face it in one form or another, whether we like it or not. And I want them to know that they can, and should, do something about it.

Of course, I teach kindergarten, so I have to figure out a way to fit all of that into lessons that a six-year-old can understand, and remember. I’ve put together some ideas on how to teach these topics over the past few years. I’m not sure how good I am at it, but I’m doing the best that I can, and I thought I would share what I do each year!

(P.S. I don’t claim original credit for any of these ideas. They’re taken from other teachers, books, magazines, and classes. I also follow several Pinterest boards on this topic, here, here, and here.)

Talking about race in kindergarten

We started off by looking at pictures of children from around the world, and sharing our observations. What does their hair look like? What does their skin look like? Can you see where they live? Do they look the same or different from you?

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Then we start a discussion about our skin color. I make sure to stock up my classroom library with tons of books about skin color, hair, and being yourself. There’s a really good list here if you’re searching.

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Several of the books teach that while skin is often called “black” or “white,” we are all actually various shades of brown. For example, we read the book The Colors of Us by Karen Katz. The book talks about a girl whose community is filled with people of many different skin colors. Instead of using the words “black” or “white” to describe their skin color, she uses different words for shades of brown. We compared our skin colors to each other’s, and each kindergarten then picked out a skin-color crayon that most closely matched their skin. (Skin color crayons are available here.)

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After making a list of the colors we are, we use the crayons to draw portraits of ourselves, and hang them in the classroom for all to see. After we take down the posters, I make them into a big book that is a popular choice for Read to Self time.

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We also read a book called It’s Okay to Be Different, by my favorite author Todd Parr. The message in this book is that we are all different, and instead of ignoring this fact, we should celebrate it! Some excerpts from the book:

color

place

I’ve also had the kids do a similar skin color comparison activity using paint chips of various shades of brown.

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Then we share how our beautiful skin made us feel. The kids really enjoy repeating the lesson, and I hope that it contributes to an overall positive sense of who they are.

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We also read the book I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and share why we loved our own hair. I then take a picture of each kid’s hair, as well as their faces, to create a matching game. The game is available as an activity throughout the day. This is a great way to help kids pay attention to detail and truly notice the differences among each other.

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That at the end, we take a photo of our beautiful skin.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas, and I find myself tweaking it each year. There are lots more ideas available online if you want to teach/talk about skin color. I also want to do more reading on how to incorporate anti-bias education in more subtle ways throughout my curriculum, particularly how to teach about social injustices around race and skin color. But this is a start for now!

Here are more resources that I’ve came across:

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}

Inspiration for the week

adventures

My podcast crush on To the Best of Our Knowledge continues. This time, they did an episode on going wild, where they talk about adventures for families, for diversity, and for your soul.

As a result of the afore-mentioned podcast, I added a ton of new adventure books to my book list.

How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. An argument for biking to work every day.

You don’t have to be excited to stay committed to a habit like running. This post is hilarious, and a much needed reminder when I am not feeling up for a run (or yoga or skiing or whatever it is). “It happens with our work, with our hobbies, with our relationships, and with our best intentions and biggest goals. Sometimes we’re excited and sometimes we’re not, but excitement isn’t the holy grail we make it out to be. And, frankly, I think we’re all putting way too much pressure on ourselves to FOLLOW OUR PASSIONS! and FIND HAPPINESS! and CARPE DIEM DO WHAT YOU LOVE BECAUSE LIFE IS SHORT AND YOU’RE A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE OF BRILLIANCE WHO NEEDS TO CHANGE THE WORLD!”

Some recipes to try this week: oat nut chewy granola bars / roasted broccoli and red pepper grilled cheese

I just read the book “It’s Okay to Make Mistakes” to my class, written by my all-time favorite children’s author, Todd Parr. The messages in all of his books are so simple and positive. And he has coloring sheets for kids!

Monthly Challenge, Vol. 2

Well poor timing on joining the Weekly Wishes link-up! Looks like Melyssa from Nectar Collective has put an end to it. I don’t mind, though, because it motivated me to make my monthly goals public, which will hopefully give me more of a push to accomplish them. Plus I loved seeing all the other goals that people posted! The health/wellness blogging world is pretty amazing…

I am also making one slight change. Instead of monthly goals, I’m just going to choose one monthly challenge. I’ve done this in the past, with a lot of success. (I even did a No Sugar September, which I thought would be impossible. But it actually helped me form a new habit – cutting way back on sugar, plus not craving sweets after both lunch and dinner. Miraculous.) Since having one intention for the month is a lot more do-able than having several goals, I’m going to continue with my tradition of having monthly challenges!

Monthly Challenge

Last Month’s Wishes

  1. Practice my banjo every day. Didn’t do so well on this one. Just didn’t have time! I am blaming it on teaching, since that takes up most of my time and energy. I really hope I’ll be able to dedicate more time to it this summer!
  2. Apply to grad school. Still waiting on one more letter of recommendation before I can do this. It isn’t do until June, so that’s good.
  3. Do one long run each week (5-6 miles). I did pretty well with this one! The weeks I did miss were because frisbee practice has started up, so that meant an hour or more of sprinting around on the weekend. Just as good as a long run!
  4. Take steps to focus on the joy of teaching. I did my best on this one. This month was particularly stressful, but I’m doing lots of fun things with my students to make the end of their kindergarten year really enjoyable. In some ways, the year has crawled by, but in other ways I can’t believe it’s May already! 

This Month’s Challenge

Meditate every day, for just two minutes. My stress level has been through the roof lately, because of school but also because of all the things I am involved in. I’m working on slowing my days down, so that I can relax and enjoy the present moment. Yoga helps with this, but I can’t seem to fit in more than one class a week. So I’m going to try to start up an old habit that I had last year – meditating for just two minutes in the morning before work. I have a nice little set up in my apartment, a blanket on the floor that faces out the window. And since it’s only two minutes, it should be easy to fit in each morning. And hopefully will have positive effects on the rest of my day as well.

I also think I’m going to print this out to hang in my meditation area! I have no clue where I found it, but it’s both beautiful and calming, so perfect for a meditation corner.

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How children understand race

I was able to be part of a great discussion last night at our local children’s museum on how children understand race. The event was called “Difficult Conversations,” and invited parents, educators, and community members to learn and discuss how children learn about race.

The event started with a speaker, Erin Winkler, who is a professor of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She had a jam-packed presentation with so much fascinating research on how children learn about race, how stereotypes about race are formed, and what educators can do about it. After the speaker, the audience members broke off into discussion groups to talk about their experiences with race as parents and educators of young children.

I was furiously scribbling notes throughout, since this information is directly relevant to my kindergarten students’ lives. As a matter of fact, it’s directly relevant to ALL children’s lives, and that was one of the main points of the evening – all children develop racial biases, no matter how hard we try to teach them that “everyone is the same on the inside.” Instead of pretending racial bias isn’t an issue, let’s discuss it, and begin the work that is needed to change it.

I want to give you everything that Dr. Winkler shared during her talk, but in the interest of time, space, and respect for her academic work, I’ll stick to a few highlights that really spoke to me. (For more on her research, listen to her interview on how children understand race or read any of her publications.)

We can begin with this:

not all stereotypes are created equal

This idea was fascinating to me. Yes, stereotypes exist about everyone. Even white people. But the stereotypes that are assigned to some groups are more harmful than those assigned to other groups. For example, a stereotype of a white woman might be that she is high-maintenance, or bossy, or lets her children run wild. But a stereotype of a black male might be that he is dangerous, or untrustworthy, or violent. Which of these stereotypes will be more harmful to someone who is trying to get a job, or secure housing? Enough said.

As for when stereotypes begin to appear, there’s this:

children racial bias

I’ve read research on this before. At 3-6 months, infants categorize by race, meaning they stare longer at a person of a different race. At two years old, children use racial categories to explain behaviors. For example, if a child sees a white person doing one thing and a brown person doing another, she may attribute the reason they were doing that action to the color of their skin. It doesn’t mean they have bias towards one race over another yet.

At three to five years old, kids begin to express bias based on race. Now, Dr. Winkler made it clear that this is NOT because kids are hearing it from their parents. So interesting, since many teachers (including me!) believe that their students learn prejudice from their families. Instead, she explained that children at this age are still using race to categorize, and therefore attribute certain behaviors to certain races. This is because their little brains can’t hold on to too many nuanced ideas at the same time. Not much we can do about that.

But – and here’s where a potential solution comes in – kids learn from external factors as well. Society teaches them early on that race is a category that matters, more so than left-handedness or hair color. They see people in society separated by race, and they make assumptions based on this information. Who lives in a certain neighborhood, who appears in Disney movies, who is talked about in school curriculum. And while the ideas kids are forming are still just stereotypes at this point in time, this next part made it clear how we go from stereotypes to racism so quickly in our society:

racism definition

This was such a clear and concise definition of words that are often used interchangeably. While stereotypes and prejudice exist at a personal or social level, racism is a systemic problem that results from prejudice plus certain groups having more power than others. This is both bad news, and good news. The bad news is that racism is a large, system-wide problem. The good news is that we can combat racism by identifying and combating all the levels below it (stereotypes, in-group bias, prejudice, group social power).

The last part of the talk was the one that excited me the most – what we can do to fight against racism. Usually, discussions on racism and social injustice in education are tough, because you leave feeling powerless to make an actual difference. Yes, we can teach multicultural curriculum. But Dr. Winkler, and many others, warn that multicultural curriculum needs to be more than just teaching about “heroes and holidays.” Many teachers (with very good intentions) teach about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chavez, but ultimately deliver a message that says “hooray for these heroes, now racism is over.”

In addition, many teachers teach that we should all be colorblind. “We should focus on how deep down we are all the same!” and other such messages are taught in lots of classrooms. I’m guilty of this myself, as I have done the eggs-are-the-same-on-the-inside activity, and many similar lessons in the past.

Instead, teachers need to teach students to value diversity, and identify racial bias when it is present. We learned about a fascinating study called “In blind pursuit of racial equality?” (Apfelbaum et al., 2010). In it, one group of students was taught a central message that downplayed racial distinctions, instead promoting the idea of valuing how similar we all are. (In other words, let’s be colorblind.) The other group of students learned that race is important, because racial differences make us special.

The results? The kids in the first group were much less likely to recognize subtle racism, and explicit racial bias, in a follow-up story.

Conclusion?

value diversity

Instead of teaching kids to ignore color, we should instead teach them to value the diversity of all humankind, and celebrate it. To me, this is true anti-bias education, because it doesn’t ignore differences among our students. Instead, it encourages kids to notice differences, and speak up when injustices occur.

I’m very excited to explore how to teach this with my kindergarten students. I have done some teaching on valuing diversity in the past, and plan to post some resources and ideas for how to do it very soon. I am always hoping to strengthen my understanding of anti-racist and anti-bias education. Here are a few quick links that I find really helpful:

Blueberry coconut banana bread {vegan}

blueberry coconut banana bread

I’m a latecomer to the coconut oil obsession that has been going around. But, obsession it has become. I put it in everything now – my oatmeal, my stir fry, my popcorn. I even tried it in my coffee once, but that ended up being pretty weird…

There’s a lot written about the health benefits of coconut oil, like this and this, and also this. But mostly I like how it tastes, and I keep looking for any excuse to sneak it into recipes. So when I discovered this blueberry coconut banana bread recipe, I had to make it immediately. (The blog where I found it, Faring Well, is a beautiful website filled with recipes and food stories, so be sure to check that out as well.) It’s vegan, and could theoretically be made gluten-free if you used oat flour. It ended up being so delicious that I made it again a week later. And I’ll probably make it again this weekend.

Without further ado, here is the recipe for blueberry coconut banana bread. You’ll never go back to regular banana bread again.

Recipe: Blueberry Coconut Banana Bread
Prep time: 10 minutes prep, 40 minutes bake
Inspired by: Faring Well

  • 1 large overripe banana, mashed
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup plain almond milk
  • 1 t vanilla
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 400F. In a mixing bowl, combine all the wet ingredients, plus the salt and cinnamon. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Add in blueberries and coconut. Pour into bread pan and bake for 40 minutes. Try to wait until it cools completely to eat, or sneak a piece while it is still warm. So good!

Photo credit

Inspiration for the weekend

banjo girl

girl meets banjo. In case you want to get lost in a world of banjo pictures and songs.

Why sensitive souls need rituals. This is me.

Hurry Up and Wait: a children’s book for grown-ups, about presence in the age of productivity.

I made this, and it was delicious. I really want to make this, because I think it will be delicious.

A new simple living blog crush: Think Big Live Simply.

I really want to hang up this poster about meditation in my apartment, but I can’t figure out how to print it! Anyway, it’s really pretty and makes meditation seem do-able.

A podcast on political correctness, including a discussion on the word “tolerance.” Helped me think about the difference between teaching tolerance, and teaching acceptance/understanding.

I haven’t listened to this yet, but I think it will be interesting: Why early childhood standards of Common Core are developmentally inappropriate.

Monthly Wishes, Vol. 1

Monthly Wishes Vol 1

Well, as a chronic list maker and goal setter, I couldn’t resist this link-up on weekly goal setting from The Nectar Collective! Link-ups make me a bit nervous because participating in one puts my writing out there in the world. I love my little corner of the internet, where I can ramble on and on about teaching, and running, and eating delicious food (three things that have nothing to do with each other, and yet they have everything to do with my life). But I also love the idea of connecting with others who are pushing themselves to live healthier, happier lives. So here goes!

The Nectar Collective
Each month I plan to set intentions that will help me be a healthier, happier teacher and human being. I realize that it’s halfway through the month of April, but better late than never! This month’s goals:
  1. Practice my banjo every day. If I do it every day, I’ll buy a new banjo at the end of the month! Learning the banjo has been so much fun, and while I’m still pretty terrible, playing it gets me out of my head and in touch with my creative side, which I often neglect (due to being stuck in my head).
  2. Apply to grad school. I am so excited to have decided on a program where I can study both science and literacy education. It should be amazing so now all I need to do is apply…
  3. Do one long run each week (5-6 miles). I’d like to prove to myself that I don’t need to sign up for a big race in order to keep up with running frequently.
  4. Take steps to focus on the joy of teaching. Each time I get frustrated with some aspect of the education system, particularly around the new educator evaluation system, the political climate, or unreasonable administrator demands, look at this picture, and remember why I teach — to help kids have more of these experiences, in which they get to marvel at the beauty and wonder of the world:

Kids tree

 

Can do canning: Jar your garden to savor later

I love canning, even though it’s time-consuming and makes the kitchen really hot in the middle of summer. But the process is easy and, much like cooking, is a form of meditation for me. And in the middle of winter it makes me really happy to see jars of tomatoes and jam and pesto on my shelf.

I also happen to love infographics, so I especially liked this infographic on canning. Enjoy!
Can-Do Canning: Jar Your Garden to Savor Later  - MJJSales.com - Infographic