Saturday, July 26, 2014

Celebrating Literacy Through Authentic Writing Experiences

In a previous "celebration" post, I shared the beginning of my son's journey into emergent writing. Having had very little interest in learning how to identify or write his letters, I had to get creative in my approach. In addition to the Menu Board, I recently began writing letters with whipped cream!

The inspiration hit me one morning when we were eating waffles topped with blueberries and whipped cream.

I thought, "what better way to motivate my son to identify his letters than with food?!?" Because I didn't want him to gorge on whipped cream, I decided to write a letter that could be easily transformed into another letter:

My next letter pairing will be changing E to F!

In addition to identifying and writing letters, I also want my son to engage in actual writing exercises. Again, he was reluctant! He knows enough to know that he doesn't "write" the way Mommy does, so he didn't feel like he was a writer.

Then I remembered a game he likes to play, Store Clerk. He has a play cash register and a miniature shopping basket. He sets up shop somewhere in the house, sometimes outside if he's selling garden products :-) I then get to push his little basket around placing items in my basket to purchase. What I decided to do, one day, was to equip him with "receipts", on which he had to write down my items, in case I needed to return anything. He bought into it, scribbling notes on each receipt:

As I emptied my basket, he scanned and wrote, scanned and wrote:

Usually, he gets really into his role and will send me off with a wave and "Thank you for shopping" or "Please, come again":

I am very much enjoying this journey I am on to find authentic, meaningful ways to help develop my son's early writing skills, as these experiences are the foundation upon which he will build as he grows older. I hope to find more :-)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Fresh Perspective on an Old Adage: A classroom is like a garden

We've all read them: analogies between education and gardening, learning and seeds, students and plants. These comparisons have been written about so frequently, that they have reached the status of being cliche. And, while I generally try to stay away from overwritten topics, I had a thought this morning while watering my garden. As I continued down the row of vegetables my son and I planted, this thought grew, and I quickly realized it was today's Slice of Life!

What started out as my musings about how some fruits and vegetables grow rather quickly, while others slowly, soon materialized into reflections on how my students also grow at different rates. This is an oversimplified version of what transpired in my mind's eye this morning, so allow me to elaborate.

When my son and I planted our first little slice of garden, we planted sunflowers, radishes, greens, corn, carrots, green beans, and kale. I, being a product of our fast-paced, wired society, expected immediate results:

What I got, though, was a lesson in patience and individuality! 

You see, some plants sprouted within days, yielding concrete evidence that all our nurturing and caring was paying off, while others did most of their work underground, invisible to the naked eye. 

Take, for example, the radishes: those sprouted, grew, and matured so quickly that I didn't even have the forethought to take pictures of their development! Similar to the radishes were our sunflowers. They sprouted right out of their shells for all to see, unharnessed and uninhibited:

And, within days, evidence of their growth was blarignly obvious:

Until, one day, with very little support and guidance from me, they blossomed into the magnificent flowers they were destined to become:

Some even outgrew the space I thought large enough for them to flourish, and they reached beyond even my expectations:

These are the students who will be successful no matter what learning situation they find themselves. But, my analogy doesn't end there, because not all of our students learn and grow at the same rate.

Weeks after my son and I planted our carrot seeds, we still had no proof that they were viable. I had almost given up hope that any of them would sprout; but, unable to give up, I kept watering and watching, until one day, the tiniest piece of evidence:

So tiny, that I wasn't even sure it was a carrot! But, as more popped up, I reclaimed my hope that somewhere, underneath the surface, all my attention and nurturing had, indeed, taken root:

Over time, they started to resemble the bushy tops of carrots! Weeks went by and the carrots slowly but surely grew, nurtured by my constant watering and caring, until voila:

As I reflect on those crucial weeks in the beginning, I realize that, had I given up when I thought there was no proof of life, I would have squashed any hope of bringing this bountiful crop to harvest.

Naturally, I can't help but think of how many students I have given up on too soon because their growth and development, their learning, was happening deep down, out of my view!

Then, there are those students who defy logic; who, out of nowhere and with no support, grow from the most unlikely situations. These are my rogue tomato plants, sprouting from arid, parched ground, picking up the water residue from nearby plants, and blossoming into lush greenery:

Producing their own fruit, these students challenge our antiquated education system, inspiring us to bring about change:

So, my lesson today is about patience and not giving up, even when I don't have irrefutable evidence that learning and growing occurs.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Where I'm From: A copy-change poem

Today, I wrote a copy-change poem as part of my writing group. One of our group's members (thanks Adrienne), suggested we get to know one another by crafting a "Where I'm From" poem. I decided to share it as my Slice of Life today because it reached much deeper than I anticipated:

Where I’m From…

I am from wind-swept beaches,
from dark chocolate and red wine.
I am from the house where my son, my dogs, and I lay our heads
Comfortable, safe; feels like a warm embrace.

I am from the Birch tree,
the Weeping Willow
Trying to avoid the sting of its branches.

I’m from the coming night, waiting for porch lights to come on and holding hands as we Trick-or-Treat;
from Momo and Clara and my Uncle John.

I’m from the “we have no secrets” and, yet, there are secrets.
From a wordless but supportive childhood, and “I don’t remember what I was told as a child”

I’m from Baptist-Catholic parents, but I do not identify with one, specific religion.

I’m from a navy hospital in Port Hueneme, born of Irish and Swedish parents, but raised in a Mexican-American blended household; nourished with corn bread and greens, and chicken enchiladas.

From the realization that my family was different, first growing up under a single mom, and then growing up in a bi-racially blended family.

I am from a shaky childhood, riddled with uncertainty, but always blanketed in love.

~ Renae Mattson

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Little Slice of Our Garden in Pictures

This year, my son and I decided to delve into large-scale gardening. Up from tomatoes, strawberries, and sugar snap peas from last year, we have added green beans, corn, carrots, potatoes, sunflowers, squash, watermelon, jalapenos, red peppers, greens, lettuces, blueberries, and raspberries.

Most of what we are growing we have sprouted from seeds, nurturing and watching them every single day. It has been an educational experience for my young son, and a healing one for me.

Life as a single mom, working to provide for my little family on my own, has been stressful, to say the least! My time is split between caring for and playing with my son and our two dogs, housework, cooking, working, grocery shopping, and paying the bills, leaving very little time for myself. A lover of nature, I yearned for more time outside, aside from playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, fetch, or baseball :-)

So, my son and I started gardening. On one hand, it has added more "chores" to my day, but watering and caring for our plants has proven to be more therapeutic and relaxing than dutiful! And, these are chores my son loves to help me with:

I also used this experience as a teachable one, researching with my son both online and at our local library. We learned the importance of adding plants that would draw in pollinators, such as butterflies, bees, and birds. We also introduced lady bugs to help with our aphid outbreak!

Although my passion is capturing life's beauty in words, I decided to let pictures speak for me in today's Slice of Life...