What I could have said: Addressing racial stereotypes in kindergarten

Happy October! Last week I had the privilege of guest-posting on one of my favorite blogs, Raising Race Conscious Children. You can check out the original article here, and then spend some time browsing their other articles. It was an immense pleasure to contribute to the knowledge they have there, for parents, educators and others who are interested in talking about race with children!

raising-race-conscious-children-og

It was just another moment in kindergarten, when the teacher (me) is ushering, begging, pleading that all the energetic and excited little bodies stop what they’re doing and come to the carpet for a story. There was a lot going on, including a little girl asking for a bandaid for a non-existent wound, a little boy getting his snack out when I had clearly just asked everyone to come to the rug for storytime, and a dozen other conversations among five-year-olds. When I looked over at one group of boys, they were pulling the corners of their eyes up into little slits, and saying “Hahaha!” and “You look Chinese!”

Two other boys, including one fifth-grade mentor who helps in my classroom, started to do it too. When you’re little, it’s fun to make your body contort in different shapes and show other people what it looks like. And if it makes someone laugh, chances are other children will join in too.

But an innocent moment between friends was tainted with racist undertones – and I didn’t know what to do.

I like to think of myself as well-read and well-intentioned when it comes to talking about race with children. Race, skin color, and culture is something we talk about often in my kindergarten classroom, and I even recently started working with a racial justice group who leads conversations about race with local parent groups. But in the moment, when I was worried about a million other things, including getting my class to the carpet in a somewhat efficient manner so we could move on to the next lesson, I wasn’t sure what to say to my little group of boys who were unknowingly making stereotypical comments about a group of people.

Here’s what I said: “I see what you’re doing with your eyes to make them that shape. There are many things that make a person Chinese, and the shape of their eyes is just one aspect of being Chinese-American.”

Not a terrible answer. I’m glad I didn’t say “Don’t do that!” or “[gasp] What a mean thing to do!” without giving any explanation about why such a gesture is harmful towards others.

I’m also glad I didn’t ignore it, telling myself that “kids will be kids.”

But I wondered, what would I have done differently if I had more time, or had made more time, to address the encounter? If I would have stopped, taken a breath, and decided to make it a teachable moment?

Because these teachable moments, the chances that we as teachers have to notice racism, call out stereotypes, and teach our children how to be more accepting and honoring of all others, are more important than any math lesson we need to teach, or tests we need to give.

addressing-racial-stereotypes-in-kindergarten

As quoted in this New York Times article, “It’s the children whose parents [or teachers] do directly address race — and directly means far more than vaguely declaring everyone to be equal — who are less likely to make assumptions about people based on the color of our skin.”

If I would have prioritized it, maybe I would have said “Let’s stop and talk about this.” And then held a conversation with my small group of boys, or perhaps with my whole class, about the meaning of the word “stereotype,” and the cultural and historical context of how Asian Americans have been treated in our country – including using the shape of (some) people’s eyes to belittle or dehumanize them.

Or we could have read several books with protagonists from Asian countries, and discussed the fact that people whose ancestors come from many Eastern countries can have many different physical features.

Or maybe I could talk about how pretending to “be” someone of another race or ethnicity by changing one small thing about your body, temporarily, is dishonoring of who that person is as a whole human being.

No matter how I moved forward with the conversation, it would have been better to spend more time on it, to help my young students really understand the power of their actions, and to help them learn to navigate our world of race and racism with grace and acceptance. But I forgive myself, and all other parents and teachers who don’t know what to say, because these moments are teachable moments for me too – and I’ll use this one to better inform what I can do next time.

50 Ways to Wonder: Have Outdoor Hour.

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom

In 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!

10. Have Outdoor Hour in your schedule.

There has been lots of media coverage on the benefits of children spending time in nature. A recent article in the Atlantic that fills me with joy, called Kindergarten, Naturally, describes a “forest kindergarten” in Finland where students spend 80% of their day outdoors. Now, being a public school teacher in the U.S., this isn’t a plausible goal for my classroom. Most schools don’t have access to rolling acres of forest and hills that are walkable from their building. I am lucky enough to teach at a place that has a school forest (albeit a “mini” one in the courtyard), but I still can’t get through everything I need to teach if I spent 80% of my time out there.

Forest Friday in the classroom

I can, however, afford to dedicate one hour a week to learning outdoors. I’m calling it “Forest Friday,” and it’ll be at the end of the day on Friday (when my students’ already-short ability to concentrate on indoor tasks has plummeted). Every Friday, for one hour, we’ll go outside to do whatever it is we need to do that day – a science lesson, a math lesson, a Readers Workshop. It’s not going to be play time (although there’s nothing wrong with that); it’ll be Explore time or Reading time or Writing time. Of course, we’ll talk about the rules for learning outside, so it doesn’t become a distraction-fest. And I know it’ll be a learning curve for me (How do I bring all these bookboxes outside? What if the kids need to go to the bathroom?). But I really believe it’ll be beneficial for my students.

6003963558_b4a8417f77_o

I’ve been telling parents about my plan for Forest Friday, and also telling my students. They’re really excited about it, and we had our first one yesterday (even though it started to rain so we didn’t make it to a whole hour). I told the families and students so I could hold myself accountable, since I know it’s so easy to lose motivation when you have so many other things on your mind. But this is one I want to remain committed to, because kids deserve the chance to learn outdoors.

It’s a small step, but I’m all about small steps towards bringing joy and wonder back to the classroom.

Image credits

Mindfulness in the classroom: a six-week unit

mindfulness in the classroom: a six week unitI’ve talked before about teaching mindfulness in the classroom – I started it this year with my students, and LOVED it. My kindergarteners are young and energetic and emotional and impulsive, there’s no denying it – but learning the components of mindfulness, including mindful breathing and finding a quiet space to calm down, really made a difference in how they interacted with each other and with themselves. I found students reminding others to be mindful, utilizing our Peace Table to calm themselves down, even referencing mindfulness during math lessons!

Since this year was my first year teaching it, I was kind of pulling together resources in a haphazard way, throwing in a mindful moment here and there. While my favorite time to teach it was Morning Meeting, I didn’t always have time (or remember) to practice it with my students every day. But that’s the life of a teacher! If it’s not in the curriculum, it’s hard to prioritize it. Sooooo….

I decided to make a mindfulness unit! I wrote up a formal unit that lays out the lessons I did with my students more explicitly, and I plan to use it during the first month of school this year. You can find it here on my TPT store!

Mindfulness Moments in the ClassroomThe unit is designed to last for six weeks, with each lesson introducing a new mindfulness technique that you can teach all week long. Like I said, I tend to do my mindful moments during Morning Meeting, but there are lots of other times that would work as well. See my post on mindful moments during transitions! The unit includes a lesson on introducing the Peace Table, which I HIGHLY recommend using in classrooms for any elementary age. The Peace Table is a concept adopted from Montessori education, and is an amazing resource for teaching emotional intelligence, cooperation and problem-solving for young students.

The unit also includes lots of resources on where to learn more about mindfulness education. See also my post on learning to practice mindfulness in your own life!

And if you have ANY questions about teaching mindfulness or meditation in the classroom, just send me a message! Namaste 🙂

Mindfulness in the classroom: Mindful Moments

mindful moments in the classroom

You guys you guys, I discovered the best thing!! I’ve been trying to figure out practical, not-overwhelming-or-hard-or-time-consuming ways to bring mindfulness into my classroom, and when I came across this artist, I realized it was made just for me. Or so I’d like to believe. Anyway, her name is Kira Willey, and she is a singer/songwriter and yoga person who wanted to bring more mindfulness into kids’ lives. She has lots of albums filled with beautiful yoga-for-kids songs, but my absolute favorite is her new one, Mindful Moments for Kids. I highly recommend you get it.

mindful moments album cover

The songs are about a minute long, and have names like “Candle Breath,” “Imagine You’re a Tree,” and “Be a Bumblebee.” They give short and simple directions for calming your body, breathing in and out deeply (sometimes like a bumblebee, sometimes like you’re blowing out a candle), and centering your mind. The fun instructions (“pretend you’re holding a cup of hot cocoa…take a small sip and say mmmmm as you breathe out”) completely captivate my kids, and the songs get even the squirreliest bunch of kindergarteners to calm down and focus. The album has 32 different songs on it, so the kids always have a lot to choose from.

I especially like doing them when the class comes to the rug. If you think about it, transition times like coming to the rug are a really good time to take a minute for mindfulness. I realized recently that I don’t allow my kids to have slow transitions from one thing to the next. When writing time is wrapping up, I say “okay time to come to the rug for science” and expect them to be cleaned up, seated and quiet within minutes. We rush our kids from subject to subject, from room to room, from area to area. But sometimes they need time to refocus on the new topic at hand, or the new role they are expected to play (before I was a writer, now I am a scientist). These mindful moments from Kira Willey are a perfect way to help them do just that.

A few words on the importance of play

importance of playIn my grad class we’ve been doing some readings about the importance of Socratic questioning in education. While I was initially turned off by the topic (what does Socrates have to do with teaching five-year-olds?), it turns out to be really relevant to teaching kindergarten. Socrates viewed inquiry and investigation as the best way to learn, as opposed to passive accumulation of skills and knowledge. I’ve long been an advocate for more play in the classroom, and it turns out that even 300 years ago, educators saw play as the best way for young children to learn. Check this out, from Martha Nussbaum’s Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (emphasis my own):

German educator Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852) conducted reforms of early education…that have changed the way young children in virtually all of the world’s countries begin their schooling. For Froebel was the founder and theorist of the “kindergarten,” the year before “regular” schooling begins in which children are gently encouraged to expand their cognitive faculties in an atmosphere of play and affection, and one that, in a Socratic spirit, emphasizes children’s own activity as the source of their learning.

Froebel intensely disliked traditional models of education that viewed children as passive vessels into which the wisdom of the ages would be poured. He believed that education should focus on eliciting and cultivating the child’s natural abilities through supportive play. The idea of the kindergarten is just this idea of a place where one learns and unfolds through play.

Modern kindergartens…[retain] the core idea that children learn to unfold themselves by active thought, reciprocity, and the active manipulation of objects…Children all over the world today owe much to his contribution, since the idea of a type of early education through play in an environment of sympathy and love has created kindergartens more or less everywhere.

So awesome! Kindergarten should still be about playing! Except the author goes on to say…

This healthy idea is under pressure in our world, as children are pressed to drill at skills earlier and earlier in life, often losing opportunities to learn through relaxed playing.

It’s true. So much of my kindergarteners’ day is NOT playing, and is instead structured learning experiences to make sure they acquire a set of skills that in order to be “college and career ready” (at age six!). Ugh.

What that means for me is that I’m going to cling to that 30 minutes of free play time in my schedule every day, and not feel guilty if I expand it.

Mindfulness in the classroom: it starts with the teacher

mindfulness in the classroom

This school year has been harder than most for me. I have a big class, lots of kids with lots of needs, and I feel like I’m constantly stressed out. For some reason, the pressures of teaching and taking care of my students, plus adhering to all the other expectations that come with teaching in an elementary school these days, have left me feeling exhausted – even more exhausted than a normal kindergarten year. I’ve had more moments of disillusion this year than I have in the past (Am I really cut out for being a teacher? Am I losing my ability to be patient with my kids? Should I find another profession?)

It’s led me to a lot of soul searching. After lots of journaling, talking with colleagues, and reflecting, I’ve concluded is that yes, I still want to be a teacher, and am as dedicated as ever to teaching and reaching my students. But it’s been quite a while since I’ve been able to step back and deeply appreciate those beautiful moments that come with teaching young children. Their sense of wonder, the joy they bring to the smallest of tasks, the lessons they teach me about happiness and humanity.

What I need are more strategies for making my days slower, happier, more joyful. Yes, stress will always be part of teaching. But if I learn how to manage this stress in a way that’s healthy for both me and my students, I know that my days will be more joyful, and peaceful, again.

After lots of reading, I’ve figured out a potential strategy for managing this stress. Enter: mindfulness! I feel lucky to have jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon that is circulating the teaching field these days. Mindfulness in the classroom is a subtle but powerful concept that has brought hope back to the way I think about teaching. Our district requires us to do a professional development project each year, so I decided to take on mindfulness as my project this year. I plan to study mindfulness for teachers, students, and the curriculum – and share what I learn here.

The first lesson I’ve learned seems to be the most important: You can’t teach mindfulness to your students without practicing mindfulness in your life first.

Yoga, meditation, and journaling are all habits I use to bring more mindfulness into my life. Others use running, biking, walking, or restorative breathing. I’ve also heard of people who write a word like “awareness,” or a mantra like “breathe and let go,” on a stone, and put it on their desk in their classroom. This reminds them to take a pause and notice their body, notice how they are feeling, notice what they need to recenter themselves.

My favorite resources for learning the basics of mindfulness in the classroom, and how to adapt it in your own life first, are listed below.

Teach, Breathe, Learn: Mindfulness In and Out of the Classroom by Meena Srinivasan

teachbreathelearn

This book is written by a former teacher from India who now works on social-emotional development in the States. I love her short, informative chapters, her stories of the classroom, and her straightforward advice on bringing mindfulness into your life. She also provides an entire unit (geared towards 6th grade but adaptable for other ages) on mindfulness that would be perfect for the beginning of the year. I loved this book and it only took me about a week to read it.

Mindfulness for Teachers: Simple Skills for Peace and Productivity in the Classroom, by Patricia A. Jennings

9780393708073_300

This book was a longer read, and full of tons of strategies and habits for adapting more mindfulness into your life and classroom. This is a good one to read after you’ve had a basic introduction (maybe from the previous book I mentioned). The author really emphasizes how teaching is an emotional profession, much more than most jobs, and the stress level can be very high – and mindfulness strategies can really target the emotional stress that teachers experience every day.

The Way of Mindful Education: Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students, by Daniel Rechtschaffen

daniel r

I have to admit I haven’t read this one yet! It’s got a long waiting list at the library, so I’ll get to it eventually! The author is pretty well known in the field as a mindfulness educator, and I’ve heard a few interviews with him (including this one from the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science – another awesome resource for learning more). I have no doubt it’ll be a good resource.

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn

zinn

This was my first introduction to meditation and mindfulness. The author is well-known as one of the first to bring mindfulness meditation to a larger Western audience. The book is really easy to read, with short chapters that give lots of practical advice on how to develop a mindfulness practice. He has tons of other books, but this one is a sufficient introduction to developing the habit. It’s also really cheap and you can often used copies at thrift stores!

Next week I’ll share some of my tips on how to teach mindfulness to your students. And eventually I hope to share what I learn about the benefits of mindfulness and working towards a more peaceful classroom. Thanks for reading!

photo credit

On talking about race in kindergarten: Children’s books to read

One of my main goals as a kindergarten teacher is to help my students be comfortable in their own skin (literally and figuratively). Thus, every year we talk about race. To be more accurate, we talk about skin color. I am a big proponent of having this conversation with young children, because as research shows, kids notice it already. While many adults want to pretend that they “don’t see color,” kids already begin to notice differences in skin color when they are infants. I believe it’s important to discuss and explore our differences, instead of focusing only on how we are all the same. So every year, I teach an All About Me unit that includes discussions and explorations of our skin color.

To jumpstart these conversations, I read aloud many of the great children’s books that have been written about race and skin color. I decided to compile a list of the books that I find most helpful, because every year I go back to try to find them. I encourage you to read them with your students, or purchase them for your home! (And for more information on what we do after reading the books, click here or here.)

Books on Race

  1. Happy to Be Nappy by bell hooks
  2. Shades of Black: A Celebration of Our Children by Sandra Pinkney
  3. Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs
  4. I Like Myself! by Karen Beaumont
  5. I Love My Hair! by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley
  6. The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
  7. Skin Again by bell hooks
  8. A Rainbow All Around Me by Sandra Pinkney
  9. Shades of People by Shelley Rotner
  10. Black is Brown is Tan by Arnold Adoff
  11. All the Colors We Are by Katie Kissinger
  12. It’s Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
  13. The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler
  14. Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester
  15. I Am Latino: The Beauty in Me by Sandra Pinkney
  16. Colors of Me by Brynne Barnes

Sun & Moon partners in the classroom: a freebie

Just posted a new freebie over at my TPT store! I use partners in my classroom for lots of things, including turn & talks on the carpet and buddy reading in Reader’s Workshop. In my effort to bring more nature into my classroom (even in the form of clipart), I made up a list for Sun & Moon partners. You can print it out and post it somewhere. Then when you ask your kiddos to turn and talk to their partner, you can say “Sun partners go first,” or vice versa!

Click on the image below to download the freebie, or find it at my TPT store here.

Sun Moon partners

What I want kindergarten parents to know.

K parents

Dear kindergarten parents,

A new school year is starting! For some of you, this is the first time you’ll be sending your sweet, sensitive, singular five-year-old anywhere on his own. For others, you have done the whole preschool thing, so you’re not hyperventilating, but you also know that real, big-kid school is a whole other ball game.

And now, in late August, you’re meeting with me, the kindergarten teacher, and as you bring your little kiddo into this giant classroom with an overwhelming number of tables and long hallways that look prime for getting lost in, you can’t stop thinking about how nervous you are.

I want you to know, I’m just as nervous.

I’m not nervous because I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve been in the classroom for a number of years now, and while I don’t consider myself an expert, I do my damn well best to teach things right, and with passion.

No, I’m nervous that you won’t know how much I care about your child.

Throughout the year, I will do my best to communicate how much I care about your child, through conferences and little notes home and hopefully many conversations. But I only have so much time in the day, and there are so many kiddos in my class, that I know I will fail at really showing you how much I care. So please, accept my apology for that ahead of time, and allow me a chance to explain it to you now. Here’s what I want you to know.

I want you to know that I believe your child is beautiful, and very, very special. I will try to tell him that every day, but if I forget, I’ll make sure to tell him tomorrow.

I want you to know that my classroom is a safe place for him. I don’t allow kids to be mean to each other, but when they do, I stop what I’m doing to teach them how to be kind.

I want you to know I will do my absolute best to meet her needs: her need to wiggle while I read aloud, her need to go to the bathroom sixteen times a day, her need for a hug when she first walks in the room. Most of my energy is dedicated to making sure I meet the needs of all my kids. And I don’t mean just their academic needs. I mean all of them.

I want you to know that my goal is for your child to love school, as much as I loved school when I was little, as much as I love school today. I want him to look forward to coming each day, so that learning is something he will happily do for the rest of his life.

I want you to know that I won’t let the testing craze prevent me from giving her time to play, and have fun, and interact with her friends.

I want you to know that her reading level is less important to me than whether or not she is happy at school.

And last, I want you to know that I will let your child be herself. I won’t judge her for what she can and can’t do, and I will make sure she knows that it’s okay to be exactly as she is.

Thank you for sharing your child with me. I hope I can show you how much I care.

Sincerely,
your child’s kindergarten teacher

Inspiration for the week

forestI can’t believe it’s August already! This is the time of year when I start to get anxiety dreams about the first day of school, where I can’t remember my students’ names or forget to plan for the first day of school. But I also love this month, because the anticipation of a new school year makes me feel like anything is possible. I have lots of ideas rolling around my brain, including having an Outdoor Hour every Friday, and finally tackling the Next Generation Science Standards in their entirety… Anyway, my inspirational links this week are pretty kid-focused, since that’s what’s been on my mind lately!

How helping children find nature helps us find ourselves. This post resonated with me, and was written by someone who used to work at the same nature center as I do!

Ohhh how I want to teach kindergarten at a place like this!

I am trying to figure out how to add more yoga into my classroom, since research shows it may help relieve ADHD in children. And the kids love it.

Go Michelle Obama! School lunches now healthier at racially diverse schools, although we still have a long way to go in terms of healthy eating education. (Accessibility to healthy food is one barrier, and the next one is teaching kids to enjoy the healthy options.)

I loved this article on nurturing the whole teacher. Written by Emily at Shelburne Farms, who hosts the Institute for Education on Sustainability that I attended last summer!

And, a hilarious letter titled Dear People Who Live in Fancy Tiny Houses.