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Learning Patience

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How do we learn patience? How do we learn that sometimes things don’t happen as quickly as we would like them to? Is patience a trait that can be taught or does it develop naturally?

Infants, of course, have no patience. If they’re uncomfortable, they let you know. In return we take care of their needs. I think it’s natural that as  kids grow they still have their needs met by adults, but perhaps not as quickly. Does that teach patience or just lead to irritability? I think it can go either way.

If I want your attention but you put me off brusquely I will probably feel hurt. If you tell me that you’ll give me your attention shortly, I’m likely to be satisfied. Does it work that way for kids too? I suppose it depends on a lot of things, like who the kid is, what they want, and what’s going on around them.

I’m thinking about patience because of our state testing. Can kids who are nine or ten years old patiently go through all of the questions and possible responses and evaluate all of them before choosing? Can they be expected to sit quietly for multiple hours at a time? How much patience are they supposed to have?

Some of my students are quite impulsive. Some of them are extremely high energy. Sitting quietly doesn’t come easily to them. They’re trying, though, and for that I applaud them.

I do think it would help kids learn a little more patience if we didn’t drop everything to cater to their wishes. I see it a lot. Out at the mall a kid whines about being hungry and out comes the bag of Cheerios. At the restaurant there’s a wait for the food and out comes the technology. A student leaves a paper at home and a parent drops everything to run it over to school.

I know this rant sounds all old and “in my day,” but I assure you my mother never carried around sippy cups and snacks, and if I forgot my violin or my homework? Well, that was on me. It would never have occurred to me to ask her to bring anything to school (or even to call her from school–only the nurse did that– and only if I was throwing up).

But did I carry snacks around when my son was small? You bet. We’re much more mobile now. My mom and I didn’t go far when I was a kid. Maybe to the grocery store, or the bank or the beauty parlor or the dentist. Wherever it was, we always went home afterward. We didn’t live out of some rolling second house on wheels complete with snacks, communication systems, and entertainment. Jeez, in those days there weren’t even cup holders. Can you imagine? Barbaric.

I’m not suggesting a return to the dark ages (I love my cup holders), but maybe we could use a little more patience and try to teach it to our kids. Maybe we can take our time on a project and not expect instant results. Maybe we can engage kids in something that isn’t instant and takes work. How about planting a garden or building a backyard obstacle course or writing and illustrating a book? Maybe even just reading a long book together, one chapter at a time. There is value in delayed gratification, and there is value in persistence. I wish more kids had opportunities to experience both on a regular basis.

When our kids mess up, we have to let it happen. No, I’m not suggesting you allow your child to set the house on fire, but you paving the way so that your child never experiences any discomfort is a disservice to your child. I know you want your child to be happy. I know you don’t want him to be uncomfortable. But do you want him to be independent? Do you want her to be resilient? Do you want them to be self-reliant? Or do you want to fix everything for them for the rest of their lives?

The “pay to get my kid into the college of my choice even if the kid isn’t qualified” folks don’t. Their message to their kids is, “Whatever you might be capable of on your own isn’t good enough, and you need me to step in so that you can have success as I define it.” Ouch.

Maybe it sounds cruel to a modern parent, but the phrase, “No, I won’t play with you right now, go find something to do, without technology,” can be a loving response to your child. Let kids explore and use their imaginations, and they will discover worlds that aren’t found in any app. Stop trying to fix everything for them, they will be okay as long as you let them fail from time to time. Being uncomfortable in the short run can have great benefits in the long run. And parenting isn’t instant. You have to have patience.


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Testing Time Again

It seems like I’m always writing about state testing. Maybe that’s because it always feels like state testing time.

Today the little munchkins are taking a writing test. They will read articles at, or above, their reading ability, then write some type of adult inspired essay on whatever topic they’re given. I feel for them.dpgcjz9_5cdv8cshq.jpg

This task is hard. Sitting in one place is hard. Being quiet is hard. Doing one activity for an extended period of time is hard, especially if it isn’t an activity you’ve chosen. And if it’s one where you don’t feel confident? Well, that’s just torture.

I’ve tried to prepare them for what they’re about to encounter. I’ve tried to give them lots of opportunities to write and learn various strategies and techniques. I’ve tried to build their capacity and confidence as writers. I’ve tried. But the thing you have to remember is this: they’re little kids. Give them a break. Give me a break.

If you really want to see kids write, let them write about worms and aliens and Pokemon and colonies of warrior hamsters. Let them write about the time they went to the beach or the way their aunt does their hair or their favorite video game. Let them describe their dream birthday party or bedroom. Let them examine an ordinary object up close and write about what they notice. Let them be playful and imaginative in their writing. Don’t make them write about the benefits of recycling or the contributions bees make.

Let them tell you about the time the power went off during a summer storm, or the time they went camping and forgot the bug spray. Let them write about their favorite stuffed animal or their favorite dessert. Or how about this? Let them write about the time they had to live in their car for a while or about how their uncle shot himself or how they found their mother dead in bed. Yes, all those things have happened to students in my care. You want to give them another state test? Fine. But let them be kids, please. They’ll grow up soon enough.


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Hello Winter Break!

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The weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter Break in an elementary school can sometimes feel like a countdown to crazy, fueled by tired teachers, excited children, and looming report cards. Add in regular holiday stress, mid-year testing, and the realization that half the school year has already flown by and you still have SO much to teach your kiddos, and the result can be downright exhaustion.

Of course as the years have gone by and I’ve become more experienced, I’ve learned some techniques for handling this stress. Please take them with a grain (or more) of salt.

limit expectations – yours, your students’, and your family’s

Grade every piece of paper? Nope

Plan the greatest lesson you’ve ever taught? Not likely

Organize three art projects and a family night? Not in December

Frozen pizza for dinner? Again? You bet

plan on getting sick

Kleenex Tissue Box.jpgYour students are germy. They cough on you during reading group. They hug you with hands that have wiped noses. They touch every surface in your classroom. They are averse to hand-washing. You have a custodian who loves to vacuum and do little else. More than likely you will get sick, in spite of washing your hands thirty times a day. Plan on it. Have sub plans ready and the number of a good sub available. Trust me on this one.

pull out the extra special bribes

Okay kids, if we manage to do a great job on these mid-year assessments not only will there be an extra recess, but there will be jolly ranchers for everyone!

add new books to the classroom library

Nothing gets kids excited about reading a book more than having it “sold” to them. Save up some of the books you get with your book order points for this time of year, then give short book talks to generate interest. Books go out to the class and you get engaged readers who have something productive to do.

keep careful records of all holiday gifts received from students

If a child or family is kind enough to remember you at holiday time with a card or gift you must acknowledge it and write a sweet thank you immediately. Don’t let kids just pile stuff up on a desk or table. Call them over and ask them if you have their permission to open their gift. They will say yes. They want to see your excitement. Let them see it.

81wpFtLNKsL._SY355_.jpgIt doesn’t matter if it’s a generous gift card, a bag of cookies, or a smoky old stuffed bunny that your student has decided they want to give you because they love you. Every gift is worthy of your profuse thanks. Yes, even a candy cane. Your kiddos deserve to see you happy as a result of their efforts. Write those thank you’s during your prep or lunch and let kids take them home the same day. It’s important.

don’t decorate your classroom for the holidays

grinchBanner1200x675.jpgSo many reasons for this one. First, not everyone celebrates, and if you’re a public school teacher you should try to respect this. Second, the more normal you keep the atmosphere, the more normal behavior tends to be. Third, it can be a lot of work to change decor, which leads us to the fourth reason (and in my mind the most important): nobody wants to come back from winter break to holiday decorations, and nobody wants to hang around on the last day before break taking them down. Just do yourself a favor and don’t do it.

it’s okay to give academic work

PAPER-AND-PENCIL.pngSome people seem to think that the weeks leading up to winter break are fair game for throwing the regular curriculum out the window and focusing on holiday themed activities. Seriously, people, kids are excited enough without you fueling the fire. Keep it academic and you’ll have far better behavior, and when you do get to the final day and let the students have some fun, they’ll appreciate it all the more.

movies and recess are your friends

Let me rephrase that. Movies and recess are your friends if you use them wisely. Our grade level generally does one movie before fall break (based on a book we’ve read), one before winter break (also based on a book), one before spring break (based on Greek mythology) and one on the last day of school. We also show a movie of a tall tale and compare and contrast it to the text. We don’t do blankets and stuffed animals and popcorn. Sticks in the mud? Maybe. But our kids are well behaved and enjoy themselves, and we get some time to work on things like entering grades and finishing report cards.

plan for January

Don’t tell yourself that you’ll do your plans over break. You’ll just end up dreading it. Get them done in December. Copy what you need for the first week back (or at least the first 3 days) and allow yourself to forget about it as you rest and recharge.

bring a big tote on the last day before break

112636_2253_41.jpgPlan on taking your gifts and goodies home with you. Nothing should be hanging around the classroom that reminds us of the holidays once school starts up again in January. See “don’t decorate” above for more information.

Now that I’ve shared my tips with you, I hope you have a tremendous winter break and truly use it to reconnect with family and friends, and to relax. You’re going to need all your energy when you get back to school for the big push toward spring testing!