April 18, 2011 by rebelwithalabelmaker
I'm in awe of kindergarden teachers. Not just because they spend six hours every day with a dozens of five year olds and nobody ends up bleeding–although that in itself deserves some kind of award–but because they somehow manage to do it with such calm, dedicated organization. Everything is decorated, everything has a place, every activity is educational and tied into the theme of the week. They had entire units on sorting stuff (Eric's favorite activity at that age). It contrasts sharply with my home, where we have themes too, such as "unstick spaghetti from the wall" day, "lets stomp around in the snow until one of us steps on and finds the snow shovel" day, and "lets eat whatever we find in the freezer that doesn't have a label" day. But I recently learned something (maybe everybody else already knows this) that has changed my perspective on teachers and their godlike Martha Stewart personas.
The teachers are cheating.
They have this store full of books where everything's laid out for them in themes, and all they have to do is carry out the instructions and copy the cool activities. I discovered this store accidentally and became instantly dazzled. It was around Christmas time. I was in the middle of buy nothing christmas. Buy nothing Christmas was great for the boys–they loved it–but I was having serious withdrawal. I kept looking for excuses to purchase stuff.
For a while I figured we needed a pizza stone to cook pizza on like my brother in law. Of course, a) a pan works fine and b) I don't cook pizza. Then I thought I should buy frames and put up family photos–this would work better if I had any photos that were more recent than 1998 (I'm exaggerating–my sisters take lots of photos of my family). When I discovered this store full of shiny books filled with great activities for my kids, I was dazzled. I could save so much time by busying them with educational activities. I began saving time immediately by spending hours sifting through those things, then spending hours photocopying stuff and planning. We could have a gingerbread week, and a toy train week, and a mice week…
We already had a mice week, actually, when a certain older child (who will remain nameless because I am convinced that he can control all of the internet with his freaky computer skills) left the back door open overnight. For weeks (I estimate about forty billion weeks) we battled a mouse infestation. Every morning, the boys would excitedly check the traps for new friends, to be let free in the back yard. The boys didn't come to understand that mice are "supposed" to be scary, as evidenced by this story Anthony told me about when Izzy was babysitting once (picture a three year old prattling on in one continuous sentence):
"And so I sat on my bed and I saw a mouse but it was a dead mouse and I said 'Izzy, look, this mouse is dead and Izzy said 'AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH' and then Izzy told us we were going to go to her house for a visit until you got home and I said 'but I have to finish my time out' and Izzy said 'you can finish your time out at my house because we have to go RIGHT NOW' and we went to her house but she forgot about the time out and I got to play with her barbies instead."
Anyways, I am happy to report that the mouse infestation appears to be over, and ever since Pine Sol themed week, both Izzy and I are breathing much easier. And I've even made use of the educational materials I picked up around Christmas, although I never quite manage to get a full unit together. We don't have "Lets learn our internal organs" day, because I never quite get it all synchronized. We lean more towards "I need to take this phone call. Boys, colour these pancreases."
Despite the fact that the idea of organized theme units pleases my inner Martha Stewart (who, quite frankly, is beginning to sink into a deep depression and deserves a little lift), the kids don't care. Their favorite themed day was "day mom realized that the dried lentils she's been intending to learn to soak and cook so as to save money are actually older than either of us and so we dumped them all in a tub and stirred them with sticks and then glued them to paper and then stuck them up our noses and then mom made us go back to colouring pancreases."
My favorite teachers' book isn't a unit book at all. It's called "instant lessons for little learners" (by the mailbox people), and it's designed for the day when the planned unit goes haywire, and the teacher is faced with a teaming mass of five year olds who need to be told what to do before they start gluing lentil covered paper pancreases to their hair. These aren't organized by unit, they're organized by what kind of junk a panicked teacher will have on hand. The "units" have titles like "yarn", "popsicle sticks", or "dried pasta". I use this book more than all the others combined.
This gets me to thinking. What I really could use as mom of preschoolers is a book (or website) designed by the "units" of a stay at home parents' life–grocery shopping, doing laundry, doing dishes. Those "games" that we all invent out of necessity. Often they're educational, but most of all, they're convenient and real life. One of my favorites is "Find the letter". Here's how it goes:
Prepwork: Enter a long lineup in a busy place, such as a grocery store or post office. This is a good game for when your kids start pulling stuff off of the shelves and you see the clerk phoning for the security guard.
How you play: You declare a letter of the alphabet (you could use a colour for younger kids, or a riddle for older ones). The child has to look through all the products in front of them (usually candy–if I believed in Hell there'd be a special place there for the guy who puts all that candy at the checkout) and find the chosen letter. Then you repeat with a new letter. This is good for three or four minutes at least, before the fun runs out and you have to switch gears to something else–a rousing game of sort-the-stuff-in-our-cart-according-to-size or go-pretend-that-other-lady-is-your-mom. When my first batch of boys were eight and twelve, we'd play "somebody in this room is a spy, can you subtly figure out who?" but gave it up when they had trouble understanding what I meant by "subtle".
But I'm not joking (about any of this, unfortunately, not even the dead mice). We need a resource like this to have on hand, one that offers help with the units of daily life: riding the bus, washing the floor, sitting in the ER for two hours waiting for the nice doctor to dig the lentils out of your three year old's nose (okay, I'm joking about that). Lets replace the "Dora the Explorer's Creativity Enhancement Program" with "12 things to do with old egg cartons". Because lets be honest. Parents have lives of their own. Parents working outside the home often have two lives. Who told us we needed this stuff? (Okay, it was me, at the beginning of this blog post, but since then I've bathed a kid, made lunch, and cleaned out a closet. Consistency would be an unreasonable thing to expect).
On the front of one of the books it says "make the most of each teachable moment". Why do I need to do that? For all of the history of humanity, children have been loved and guided and woven into daily life. When did they suddenly become maximiz-able commodities?
Today Eric wanted to learn about the post office, great, so I explained it (accurately, I hope). But the internal organs never really interested him, and so what if he grows up thinking "pancreas" means "paper thing to colour and stick stuff to"? Lets be honest, how often is he actually likely to come face to face with one?