Monday, December 23, 2013

...And To All A Good Night

Rocketeer soaks in hugs from her teachers

The holiday season is here, and The Little School kids have been busy elves (or in our case, busy Monkeys, Lizards, Giraffes, Butterflies, etc.) making piles of holidays decorations, gifts, surprises, party plans, and even, in the case of the Gnome room, an indoor ice-skating rink(wax paper feet). It really is so fun to work with kids this time of year. Children don’t get bogged down by the best deals, or the long to-do lists that fill our adult heads. Kids get to live in a magic world suddenly alit with twinkling lights, living rooms inexplicably filled with amazing trees, and kitchen counters piled high with sugar cookies. Helping to create winter memories allows us to spend time indulging in that kind of magic. It’s one of the the untold benefits of our profession.
Jackson's Grandma shows off
the newest family addition

This is also a deeply reflective time of year.  New Years ignites a mental slide show filled with snippets of an amazing day at the beach, kids and laughs, triumphs, first steps, scary fevers, unanswered riddles from the past year, joys, fears never realized, and the inevitable list of “what’s and if’s”. So much happened that I could have never guessed, so many 
mountains climbed. Thank you for being along for the journey. 

Time is measured with such a different fun-house ruler when raising a young child. What’s another year to an adult? Hardly a blip! However, the difference between 1 and 2 years old? A 3 and 4 year old? Epic! Those chubby fingers that were just learning to grasp, are now escaping down the hall with their third candy cane. This is the time of year I vow not to let it go by so quickly next time, to stop and smell every last rose and kiss each baby toe.

Explorers bring the sparkle!

As I walked through the school on the last days before break, it looked like the season had shaken itself out all over the campus. Parents gathered and filled tiny chairs for holiday celebrations. Rooms dripped with snowflakes and paper chains, and teachers left with their arms full of thank you’s, cookies, and acts of gratitude from their families and co-workers. Our desks were covered in thoughtful notes and gifts that reminded me of just how kind our community is. Two rooms independently pulled together during this hectic season to bring meals, diapers and financial aid to a family among them in need. The love was bottomless and beautiful. 

So it’s our turn: Thank you ALL for being part of this amazing, generous, dedicated and gracious community. You have loved us challenged us and stood with us during this adventurous year. We have grown with you all, leaned on you all, and learned from you all more then you know. You have shared your families, lives, struggles and stories with us, and we really can’t thank you enough. We look forward to more adventures in 2014. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Yoga Hello

Elise gets ready to do the balloon breath with the yoga chimes

Hello Little School Parents and friends.
Today I post the first official yoga blog entry.  While some of you have known me for awhile, yoga was introduced at Duke just a few months ago, so some of you have only just met me.  Anyway, I am your kids' yoga teacher, Miss Erin.  I wanted to let you know a little bit about me and give you an idea of just what your child does in yoga.  

After teaching in early years education for 15 years, I decided to pursue yoga teacher training.  I completed my training last summer 2012 through a program called Mind-Body Centering Yoga.  I take what I learned in my training along with some kids' yoga resources and my years of teaching to bring yoga to the children of The Little School.

The Mindfulness Part:

I have always been someone who enjoys the little things in life and with young kids, I am often reminded to appreciate those "mindful" moments.  Like when a child is sitting crouched on one corner of the playground, intently looking at something, and when I get closer to investigate, I find they are watching an ant as it crawls up the hill.  This is what being "mindful" is about.  Living in the very moment you are in, being aware of just what you are doing and nothing else, like watching the ant.  Kids are, at times, very good at being mindful.  But other times, they are all over the place.  Remind you of anyone?  Us, maybe? When we get caught up in the rush of life, the busy timeline where we are slaves to the hour on the clock?  When I teach yoga to a group of kids, I make a point to have us simply experience  the time we are together  as mindfully as possible.
Everett does a balloon breath

Here is what that looks like...

Once the kids are settled onto the yoga mats, I pick up my chime and ask the kids to do a big balloon breath when they hear it ring.  We breath together, listening to the echo of the chime and then we sing the yoga "Hello" song to welcome everyone together.

'Hello, my friends, hello. (we wave one hand)
It's yoga time, you know.  (wave the other hand)
So cross your legs,  (sit criss-cross yoga sauce!)
put your hands in place  (hands together at the heart)
and bend your head down low.  (Bend your head over your crossed legs)
That's how we say hello.'  (sit back up)

Once we have sung our hello song, I ask the kids to do some calming routines.  We roll slowly onto our backs and breathe into our bellies.  We move our fingers and toes, greeting our body as we move into our awareness of it.  
Using the ladybug:
"In this moment, I feel..."

Each yoga class is different, depending on where the kids are coming from (e.g. sitting in circle time or running on the playground) and what their energy level is like.  I often use a lady-bug Beanie Baby and pass it around asking each child how they are feeling in that moment.  I get responses like, "I'm sad 'cuz my friend Naomi is sick today," or "I am excited because we are going to visit Gram and Pops!"  As each child takes a turn, I learn a little about what it is like to be them in that moment and so do they.  And they learn that they are welcome in whatever feeling they are feeling at that time.  Some feel shy expressing themselves and choose to pass.  But as time goes by, I find that often after several classes, they, too, are choosing to share how they are feeling.

Some days, everyone is feeling silly so we do lots of "active" poses like "The Wood-chopper" (feet wide, hands clasped over head... 1, 2, 3 CHOP - bend over and make a chop with your hands), or the Lion (sit on knees, hands on each knee, breath in through the nose and stick your tongue out and say haaaaaa).  Other days, everyone is feeling tired and we do calm poses like The Sleeping Mouse (sit on knees and curl over them head down to floor), or The Sleeping Baby Bear (lie on back and stick legs straight up).

Mabel does the Boat pose

Each age group is different, too.  The really young kids are starting to learn The Balloon Breath for the first time (arms up,  breath in, arms out and down, breath out).  They are fascinated by my yoga chime and sit stone still when I ring it.  We practice reaching up high to touch the sky and bending way down low to touch our toes.  We do the Butterfly pose by putting peanut-butter and jelly on the bottoms of our feet and sticking them together.  Then we raise our fingers up to our heads for our antennae and give our friends a butterfly smile. 
Helena does the tree pose

After I guide the kids through some yoga poses such as sun salutes, tree, cat and cow, snake, and sleeping mouse, I allow the kids to choose what their bodies want to do.  I get some very creative answers and assist in the modification of crazy poses, like bulldozer, batman, princess and more.

Before the end of class, I often do a "yoga rest" pose.  The kids lie on their bellies or backs or in sleeping mouse and just listen to the sounds in the room quietly.  You wouldn't believe how calm and still almost all of the kids stay. 

At the end of our class, we say our yoga good-bye.  Hands together at our hearts we say, Namaste.  It is amazing at how some of the youngest kids can actually say the word!

Wheew!!  I tried to get a lot in here in my first post.  I should be doing this about once per month so tune in again soon!


-Miss Erin

Monday, November 25, 2013

Fall-fest 2013!

I know that Halloween was basically a million years ago, and it's on the verge of old news, but these photos are too wonderful not to share. Everyday is a party in pre-school (really, we host more dance parties then Studio 54), but Halloween is extra magical around school. There is nothing quite like becoming someone or someTHING else for the afternoon. And what's better then an extended day of dress-up? Parties with your friends!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Staff Spotlight: Katie Boling

The hardworking and passionate Katie B joined The Little School in 2012 as a member of the Zany Zoo team. Katie holds a Elementary Education degree from ECU, and has taught dance for children with special needs. Her talents and dedication were almost instantly recognized. When you watch her teach, it is clear that she truly loves what she does. Always with a warm wide smile, Katie is a tireless advocate for all children. She is currently the team lead for the Mini Millipedes, and we count ourselves lucky that she has made a home at TLS. 

What do you value most or hold mot dear at TLS?  
The way we treat the kids as equals and we listen to everything they have to say.  We can often miss important aspects of the learning process If we overlook simple things said by the kids. 

What is your educational approach? 
I feel children learn best through playing.  If a child is smiling and laughing, then they are more likely to remember what they learned and be interested in doing it again. 

If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?  
I would want to fly. I have always wanted to travel, but my wallet is always empty. 

What is something about you that most people may not know?
In High School Ag class I took welding and am now a certified welder. 

If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?  
Don’t let anyone suck your fun circuits dry!

Would you rather be a worried genius or a joyful simpleton?
Joyful Simpleton

If you were an animal, what would you be? Why?
A dog, I have never met something that gives more unconditional love. 

What did you want to be when you were 12 years old?
A football player, like icebox on Meet the Giants. 

What is your favorite children’s book?
"Oh the Places You’ll Go" by Dr. Seuss

What's the most memorable class you've ever taken?
A special needs class in college. 

If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
I would love to be a nurse, but chemistry killed me. 

What words do you live by?
“Change the things you can, accept the things you can’t and have the wisdom to know the difference.”

Monday, September 30, 2013

Potty 101

There is a saying: Every time a child is potty trained, a parent earns their wings. Ok, I made that up, but I really think it ought to be.

As a 2’s and 3’s teacher I rocked the potty training world, swapping pull-ups for undies at lightning speeds. Having successfully potty trained my own (genius) son and approximately 974 TLS kids, I was pretty much the potty champ (insert butterfly and rainbow sounds). I approached potty training with a near blasé attitude:  ½ peaceful Zen guru, ½ existential potty philosopher. It was deep. Meet my 2nd born (insert screeching brakes sound). Suddenly I’m cast a drift, drowning in a sea of laundry and hand sanitizer, on my hands and knees trying to figure out if I am cleaning up dog pee or kid pee…. and why is it in my closet?

Potty training isn’t for the faint of heart, but it is a parenting milestone that you can’t avoid. There are some basic truths: 1) Every child is totally different, and there is truly no one potty training prescription. 2) They DO get there. Here are the biggie rules: never shame your child, and throw a mega party with every success... or not. My daughter is kinda terrified by my excited potty cheers. 

The secrets to potty training are consistency, recognizing the signs of readiness, consistency, epic patience, and consistency. Pick an approach, and stick with it. Expect accidents, arm yourselves with a change of clothes (or two) and buy a good carpet cleaner. If your child is regularly waking up from naps with a dry diaper, then his or her body is telling you it is physically ready. Yeah! (night-time is a whole different story and will come later).  Other signs include showing discomfort with a wet diaper, ability to pull pants on and off, and telling you they want to go to the bathroom. Keep it as light as possible and offer choices to engage them in the process (Do you want to hop or skip to the potty? Do you want to sit like a cowboy or like a monkey?), have a potty party, or choose special bathroom books. Potty training doesn’t have to be the most amazing fun ever, but it shouldn’t be a battle either.

I suppose what I am trying to say is this: who the heck knows how to do it! It’s not something we must endure. We don’t slough through it, they do it! THEY do it, not us. Whoa, I just blew my own mind.  And best of all, I am sure there is a great story in the making you can dig out on your child’s first day of college. You earned it. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Staff Spotlight: The Ridiculous Laura H

Don’t be fooled by her laid back demeanor. If there is one thing to remember about Laura is that she is silly and sneaky funny. Growing up in the family bookstore, Laura is a huge book lover, and has a big giant brain that can see a grammatical error from 50 yards away She also happens to be a walking kids jukebox- she can pull out approximately a million hilarious kids songs at the drop of a hat. Need a song about an almond or a monkey? Laura’s got it. She has taken on the Reggio approach like a fish to water, and is passionate about exploring nature, play based learning, and digging deep into anything that excites the kids. She is wide open, and one of those folks who so clearly loves what she does that it's a joy to watch.

* What do you value most or hold most dear at TLS?
The woods! I can't tell you how much being able to retreat to the woods means to me. Not only is it a great place to learn about the world around us, but it is soothing in and of itself.

* What is your educational approach? How do you find children learn best?
I place a lot of faith in the brains of these kids. They are amazing! I look at it as my job to place appropriate challenges or ideas in front of them, and provide a little extra help if it's needed. I'd like any child that leaves my class to leave it confident in their ability to face problems.

* What was the most interesting trip you have taken?
I went to Japan in 2003. While I was there, I took a wrong turn coming out of a used bookstore and walked for miles in the wrong direction. In the rain. Good things happened, too. The South China Sea is beautiful!

* What movie or work of fiction has had the biggest impact on you? Why?
I love to read! I think the books that had the most to do with that were the Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. They are the first books that I can remember reading over and over again, until long after the covers came apart, just for the love of the stories.

* If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
I'd love to be able to teleport, but I'd probably mostly use it to eat lunch at home.

* If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?
Assume positive intent. (seriously)

* What was your strangest job?
You mean besides the one where I cheer for people who are trying to use the restroom? I love this job, but I think the strangest and most hilarious things happen when you spend your time with small children.

* What did you want to be when you were 12 years old?
I wanted to not have to think about growing up. Check!

* What is your favorite children’s book?
I'd say right now it's Freight Train, by Donald Crews. I love how specific it is. It's not a choo choo, it's a freight train! It crosses trestles and has oil cars!

* What's your favorite tree?
There were several big banyan trees at a park near the house I grew up in. I loved them- trees with tunnels through them!

* What words do you live by?
The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them. - GK Chesterton

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ouch! Biting (still) Stinks

This post is an oldie, but a goodie and can never be said enough!

There’s no way to make this sound cute: Biting stinks.

Biting stinks, however, it is a fairly reliable step in children’s development. I could set my watch to it.

My daughter came home with a bite last week. I momentarily saw red. When I was a teacher in a toddler room a few years back we had at least 3 children who were active biters, and a solid 6 pinch hitters. We tried everything from shadowing children (this is where a teacher follows a child) smaller group sizes, crunchy foods, re-arranging the room, seeking expert help, and even shifting kids to other classes. We devoted a tremendous amount of man and brain power to the issue. We documented our days and saw that we had significantly more biting attempts then actual bites. Go team!  Even still, in our darkest hour, I passed out 9 oops forms in one day. I felt like a huge failure as a teacher. It was powerlessness at its best (worst?). Every time I shared an oops report for biting to a parent, I felt an awful sinking in my stomach. The faces of the parents on both sides of the aisle reflected a mixture of shock, confusion, sadness, sometimes anger, but ultimately a sense of hopelessness as well. And then, slowly but surely, it stopped. What happened? Did that 18th round of “biting hurts” finally sink in? Did I earn my angel wings? Nope. They got older. It’s like magic.

There are many reasons why kids bite, and none of them are because the kid is “bad” or their parents (or teachers!) didn’t do the “right” thing.  In fact, they may be looking for space, attention, that super cool toy, mimicking behavior, or even as simple as teething. The list goes on. Babies grow into toddlers... with independence, attitudes, wants, and yes, teeth. They often cannot yet talk and can only access their most primal emotions. Even if they did have a name for what they are feeling, they have no real way to express it. Multiply that by 12 kids, mix it up, and you have a perfect environment for biting.

Dr. Harvey Karp, author of Happiest Baby on the Block, argues that the first step in dealing with young kids is to accept this simple fact: toddlers are neanderthals. As I watch my one year old grunt and ball up her little fists in anger, I know this is a metaphor I can get behind. This doesn’t mean that we throw in the towel and take cover until they are 6. It means that when a child bites, we can say "this is a neanderthal, I'm not going to take it so personally." Our job as parents and educators is to learn how to communicate with our little cavemen and do our best to keep the neighboring cavemen safe. We acknowledge the child’s emotions and give them words for what they are feeling. We arm ourselves with lots of hugs and ice packs. What we don’t do is exclude a child. We remind ourselves, “It is not their fault. They, too, are suffering the pains of growing up.”

So tell us what you think. Have you had to deal with this yet? Has your child bitten? Were YOU a child who used to bite? Have you seen those tell-tale marks on your kids? Tell us how you got through it. Let this be a safe place where we can give each other support and a light at the end of the toothy tunnel.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

She's not called Crystal for nothing!

I’m not exaggerating here, but Crystal is amazing. I had worked along side of Crystal for a few years now, without knowing much about her.  Last year I had the privilege of having her as my daughter’s teacher. My respect for Crystal grew with every interaction I witnessed, be it with a student or another adult. She is a wonderful example of composure, heartfelt love for the kids, and professionalism. She is that rock solid individual who flies under the radar, and sees no need in self-aggrandizing (i.e not at all like me). She is the definition of good people, and I assure you she will be red in the face reading this. Though she earned her BA in Leisure Sports Management and a minor in Business Administration, she has been working in Early Childhood Education for more then 18 years. Crystal is here because she truly loves what she does. A Mom, a softball champ (code name: Red), and surprisingly tender soul, we are so lucky to have her among us.  

I asked her to tell us a bit about herself:

How did you find your way to TLS?

I found TLS through the internet, or rather my husband did.  I was looking for a school closer to home than where I currently was.  My husband sent me links from 4 different schools he had come across while he was looking.  He spends much more time on the computer than I do. :) After interviewing and comparing the schools,  TLS was by far the most impressive! 

When looking at The Little School website my first impression was the menu! I was so amazed at the types of food that the children was being served.  Much different than coming from some where frozen food and food from a can was being served.  When touring TLS I loved the atmosphere and was impressed hearing how the teachers communicated with the children.

What do you value most or hold most dear at TLS?

My relationship with the children and how we communicate.  I love that we teach these children how to self regulate.  We help them recognize their feelings and emotions and what their peers are feeling.  We guide them in using their own words to communicate with us and their peers to socialize and problem solve.

What was the most interesting trip you have taken?

My husband and I went to Las Vegas.  From there we took a small charter plane and flew to the Grand Canyon. It was breath taking!

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role?

Julia Roberts

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional, with whom would it be?

Julia Roberts.  I guess its obvious I like her!

What would you listen to if you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life?

What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong

Friday, July 19, 2013

Welcome to Starr - Duke's new front office presence

Starr Williams joined The Little School at Duke on July 8th.  She will likely be the first person you see when you come by the main office in the morning.  Feel free to stop in and introduce yourself when you see her.  She loves the tight-knit community feeling of the Duke Little School campus, as well as how fast-paced and busy each day is.  In addition to helping Mary out with school administration, she spends half of each day in classrooms as a floater.  Of her new role at TLS Duke, Starr commented “I love the combination of learning how the school runs and still being able to connect with the children - I feel like this job is the perfect fit for me.  It’s also really exciting being a part of growing a school community.”

How did you find your way to TLS?   
My friend and former co-worker, Amanda, started working at the Hillsborough campus and she would always talk about how the administrative staff seemed to really care about their employees. She often spoke of how it was such a positive work environment - different and better than other places she had worked. She loved the fact that if the children didn’t seem to be interested in the “topic” of the week, you were allowed to scrap that lesson plan and follow the children’s interests.   This approach, which I have since learned is called ‘Reggio’,  allows you to focus more on the children and not on some detailed curriculum you have to adhere to even when children lose interest. Then there was talk of this “Magic Tree” and “Magic Mountain” - our favorite destinations in the woods nearby our Hillsborough school. It was Amanda who suggested that I apply at The Little School and I did. I came for the interview and fell in love with the school. I had never seen a preschool that looked like this -- there were lofts in the classrooms and the play spaces were amazing. I really liked  the fact that the children were able to get all dirty. Did I mention they had a chef?...Love it!

What do you value most or hold most dear at TLS?
I value the sense of community here. When I first joined The Little School community I started out as a floater. Everyone welcomed me and made me feel like part of the team. Being the new person is never easy. I had never heard of Reggio before starting here so I had a lot of questions. The teachers taught me about Reggio through their interactions with the children and answering my many questions. Also, there are always trainings made available to us. What I hold most dear is the bonds and relationships I have formed with the children, staff, and parents.

What is your educational approach? How do you find children learn best?
I find children learn best through play. For example, through interactions with their friends during play children are learning to share, developing patience when they have to wait for a friend to finish with a toy, and learning valuable social skills. They are learning a lot of key skills and not even realizing it. Also, by making learning interesting and fun by including it in what they already love to do, which is playing, I feel that the children are more likely to want to learn.

What was the most interesting trip you have taken?
The most interesting trip I have taken was to Fraser Colorado for the Captivating Retreat in 2005. This was the first trip that I had taken without family; it was just me and friends from school. The retreat was high up on a mountain. We were so high up it seemed like we could reach up and touch the clouds.

If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
If I could be a superhero I would want my superpowers to be healing. There are so many sick men, women and children out there who need a healing touch.

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not famous, living or dead, real or fictional. With whom would it be?
Mother Teresa.

 If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?
No matter how many times you fall, get right back up again. This piece of advice is something you could live by for the rest of your life.

Would you rather be a worried genius or a joyful simpleton?
I would rather be a joyful simpleton. My motto is “There is beauty in simplicity.” Whether it’s a beautiful sky, sparkles on the road that shines when the sun hits it, sun showers, a child’s laughter, or a really old house that is falling apart. Those are the types of things that make me smile. You would be amazed at all the beautiful things you could see if you would just stop and pause for a moment to take it all in.

What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?
I would wear a tutu every day and not only at work.

What would you listen to if you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life?
“Anyway” by Martina McBride

What is your favorite children’s book?
Oh, The Places You’ll Go! By Dr. Seuss

If you could do any other job in the world, what would it be?
I would be a photographer or a principal ballet dancer at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. 

What words do you live by?
In a world where you could be anything…Be Yourself.