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Learning To Teach Littlest Angels, Life Lessons For All

Posted by on in Early Childhood
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Leaving a Legacy. Walking the Talk

I never dreamed I'd take my biggest educational risk ever, teaching the littles, but I did. Although for several years I was a Preschool Principal, it's not the same as this. 

After summer volunteering, a literacy grant was awarded this special preschool, just my thing, so I'm back in the classroom again, helping out. I joined a wonderful multi-age, fully included school, ages 2-8. That's quite a span to differentiate for. Right now, mostly littles, 2-5. 

Tears, tantrums, need for bandaids, and reassurance. They miss mamas and daddies. Shoes on wrong feet, saying sorry, sharing and helping, spilling milk and dropping food, who knew? No just sitting around that kidney shaped table. 

 Teaching every level of reading, univ., high school English and Speech was way easier, However, having the opportunity to watch Little Einsteins in action is astounding. Simply amazing. 

We encourage ourselves and others to have a positive growth mindset, take risks, be bold, and model lifelong learning. But how many of us actually do it? It's easier to stay where we are, doing what is pretty familiiar even with all the unknowns and constant change.

What I did was just drastic, but I almost feel like I know what I'm doing. It's truly like being a first year teacher and learning how to teach all over again. 

I lucked out and learn from two extraordinary teacher-mentors, 30 and 15 year veterans. I could only wish to teach this age group and needs one millionth as well. Simply a work of heart and art. Beautiful.

What makes this school great?

  1. Consistent routines, rules, rewards, consequences. Manners key. Sharing. Happy!
  2. Children serve healthy meals and snacks four times a day, and attempt new foods.
  3. Students each have a buddy all day long. Bigs help littles, with hand washing (constant), mats, reading, walking together, taking care of each other.
  4. Children clean their own messes, tend to gardens, share and trade toys, worms and bugs.
  5. Helping each other with projects is the norm, project based learning littles-style.
  6. Literacy is highest focus, all day long. Visiting librarian, trips to library, reading, skills, three rotating groups and throughout day. We're sneaky.
  7. Lots of free and structured play, dramatic, manipulatives, stations, outdoor nature walks and trips around neighborhood.
  8. Focus on athletics and good health, with excercises, breathing, recesses and swim lessons.
  9. Arts, music, science, technology, building and maker-spaces, Genius Hour all day.
  10. Emergent readers learning phonemic awareness, early writing, book handling, concepts of print.

It's a good thing I don't believe in failure, only feedback. 

Starting over made me more humble. I always knew I was supposed to be teaching and I have, still here. This experience has enriched my life. I pray I am leaving a positive legacy in my life.

Working with two extraordinary teachers, teaching way outside my comfort and capability zone has made me a stronger, more interesting person, I think. It's like gaining a new perspective.

Experiencing the world of Butch the squirrel coming to the door for morning peanuts, digging for worms and finding snails as a bonus, sharing bikes and balls, this is the world we all need to be living in. Pure, innocence, natural learning.

 Crying our tears after things don't go our way, words of encouragement from a little to a little, this is genuine empathy which cannot be taught, but modeled, oh yes. It does seem to come instinctively at this stage of life.

Speaking of development, our directors established a caring community of positive learners at this tender age, who are protective of their school, know the Pledge and like to learn about endangered species, birds, you get the idea. 

Assessing our young children

This year the assessments flowed. And flowed and flowed. To my dismay I found myself categorizing and labeling already labeled kiddos, and supposed to give numerical scores to tasks way beyond these littles. Like Leo The Late Bloomer, sometimes the children are very grown-up and world smart, other times, not so. Need the gift of time. What's the rush, anyway? 

Observing and measuring littles has trickled down, and just crazy to me. But I did it and to my surprise I actually got some formative information I figured would be baseline data. I had to wrap my head around that. I was pretty surprised I did a decent job in a number of cognitive areas, already, but needed to improve my basic Maslow skills for this age. No expert anymore. 

Adapting to needs of youngest learners

While I'm busy teaching how to use a scissors, cut and paste, glue, stick cotton balls on Santa's beard, I'm reading Snow books and probably playing Little Mermaid quietly. 

I sing, stretch, hang out on the floor, build legos and in between I carry around my set of alphabet cards or a classic book, especially those with rhyme, rhythm and predictable patterns. Their favorite books so far are Yo, Yes! Chicka Boom, Brown Bear; they enjoy fiction and non-fiction. The most loved non-fiction books are about China, sharks and Endangered species.

We've done a lot of book repair and scotch tape flows freely. It's a BIG deal. Before naps, I read with clusters of kids, and never have enough time to read their stacks. Sometimes I tell them to just pick a special page and that works for the moment. It also teaches skimming and scanning.

Favorite whole class Circle Lessons:Tikki Tembo, with rhythm instruments, Everybody Cooks Rice, using chopsticks, and Shoes. I brought my tap shoes. Best science experiment was Sinking sub, little old cereal toy plastic sub, powered by baking soda. We began scientific method.

In the rotating groups each day, I started with shapes, colors, numbers, counting. Used old fashioned large rotating hands teaching clock, wood teaching shoe, abacus, slates and white boards. Lots of play dough. Dud lesson was tracing our names in salt trays. Salt flew all over the art room. 

Teaching emerging, budding readers to read

Literacy skills so far are looking pretty strong. Concepts of print, phonemic awareness, rhyme and rhythm, a few sight words, alphabet, writing some letters and our names. Learning that sounds make letters and letters make words. Reading, writing, speaking and listening integrate with arts and crafts, nature projects, music and movement. 

In addition to word recognition, I've been modeling comprehension by checking schema, making predictions, doing Book Walks, retellings and summarizing. A lot of sequencing. Basic Story Grammar. Pretty great for preschool kids, don't you agree? I ask questions on many levels of Bloom's which I never thought I could.

Little sponge-worthy new word learners. I am constantly amazed at the words the kids are learning; their vocabularies are increasing steadily. Haven't done a Word Wall in the art room, so that's maybe on my to-do list. I am starting pop-up cards and making books.

Of most importance, I think, we are modeling how to make our needs known, use complete sentences, discover the beauty of our language and the joy of reading. It just doesn't get any better than that.

I encourage us all to be bold, be brave, take risks. That never changes. Exploring the passion which brings us and keeps us teaching, cleaves us together, learners all.

Come experience preschool with me and you'll know what I mean. Nothing better than love. I love you all. Let our collective voices "raise the roof" with celebration of young learners.

Leaving footrprints on your reading hearts, Rita



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Modeling the art and craft of teaching reading for 47 years, Mrs. Wirtz taught language arts, speech and reading at all levels preschool-adult, including penal. She served as Pre-school and K-6 Principal. Rita was also a Curriculum Consultant, ESEA, Title I Program Evaluator and literacy trainer. At the university level she taught school administration in the Bilingual Cohort at CSUS and National University, Sacto. Mrs. Wirtz also taught all reading courses for Chapman University for many years in Sacramento and Placerville, Ca., and mentored student teachers. On the national level she was a well known motivational Keynote Speaker and Seminar Leader. Most importantly, Rita walked the talk, teaching with teachers in more than 500 K-12 and special needs classrooms. Rita authored books, publications and Pre- YouTube, videos were filmed by San Diego County Office of Education. Calif. ASCD authored companion book guides, and Calif. school districts correlated her basic skills instruction with State Standards. Mrs. Wirtz' newest book is Reading Champs! Teaching Reading Made Easy, a review of the basic building blocks of English and Reading. Rita is currently teaching in a multi-age, fully incuded preschool, ages 2-8. Find Mrs. Wirtz on Twitter @RitaWirtz, Facebook and website- www.ritawirtz.com.

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Guest Saturday, 23 February 2019