Monday, December 31, 2012

Busy Year

What a busy year 2012 was!

Ty started kindergarten.

Za started a new preschool.

Baby C.J. was born.

Here's to a new year of teaching and loving our children. I'm so glad I have involved parents to teach alongside me!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Giving Jar

This is a first installment of "The Visiting Classroom" - a new column for Switching Classrooms. We'll spotlight what every day parents are teaching in their classrooms. 

Please welcome my friend Val, who teaches her three children every day.

1. What learning opportunity are you doing with your kids? Where did you get the idea?
Ever since the Christmas season has begun, my 3 year old and 4 year old have been focused on things they would like to receive for Christmas. They have been looking through multiple catalogs and circling items they would like added to their list. Walking through the stores they would point to anything and everything wanting this and that. I really wanted to find something to focus on giving during this holy-day season. As I was searching for ideas I came across this fantastic idea on Facebook called “The Giving Jar”. I had heard of it the year before and made a quick decision that this is what we would do this year - 24 days of giving. So I began a list and incorporated ideas I already had planned, used some ideas from the link I found, and came up with some of our own.

2. What are you teaching them?
I am linking Christmas to Jesus and the celebration of His birthday. We set out our Nativity set and reviewed the story of Jesus’ birth. The focus has been that Jesus gave us the biggest gift we ever could have asked for, the forgiveness of our sins and what that means. That we give gifts to each other this season to celebrate the birth of Jesus and to remind us of that forgiveness and that He died on the cross for us. As we count down the days to 25, the focus is that special day is Jesus’ birthday, not necessarily the day we receive gifts. That is just an added bonus. Christmas day we will wake up and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and celebrate His special day through giving and learning to appreciate receiving.

Giving Day 6 was to deliver poinsettias to all 3 great grandmothers to show them we are thankful they are in our lives.

3. Reflecting back, would you add or change anything next time?
I am excited to continue this each year and make it a family tradition. I am hoping we can be reminded to be giving all year round, not just during this special Christmas season and will be looking for new ways to give to add to our list!

Thanks Val for empowering parents to know that they can teach their children, and giving us stellar examples. 

About our mom: -->
My name is Valorie Mills and I have the best job ever as mom to three beautiful children ages 1, 3, 4 and also a wonderful step-son who is 10. I am a “retired” music educator but still teach woodwind lessons on the side. My life is full in the best way imaginable. I feel blessed and try hard to remember that each day. Like Valorie's Facebook page.

Interested in being spotlighted for the next Visiting Classroom? We are looking for ordinary parents who love teaching their children every day. Contact me for more information.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

CT Shooting

I thought all weekend that I should write something regarding the CT Shooting because as a parent of a kindergartener, and a blogger of a website where I attempt to bring the worlds of parenting and education together, people might expect an idea. I don't have a clear idea, but lots of rambling.

In fact, I don't know what to say as I sit down to write this. There are people on Facebook talking about how God is sending Americans a message, because he is mad at us. Other people believe teachers should be armed, or a security guard should be in every school. People are sending anti-gun messages in emails. We have new memes. Tweets.

Some people are calling Adam Lanza a monster. The next person feels sorry for him. Someone else is mad at his mother, another at the NRA, and another at the lack of mental health care.

And my husband and I discussed what, if anything, to tell our very own kindergartener, the one we kissed and held for an hour straight Friday night, even though he tried to wriggle away. (We told him nothing). 

I was thinking all this tonight as I did a dash to a big-box store to pick something up for my mom's group Christmas party tomorrow morning. I had to pick up one ingredient, but looked around, and what I saw was sad.

I happened upon workers (who are probably receiving a terrible wage, with no benefits, who are probably parents who are tired and struggle to spend enough time with their children) unloading boxes upon boxes of junky toys. Toys that will not last a year, toys that will break before their new owner return to school in January, toys that will soon reside in a landfill, toys, most assuredly, that were not made in the United States. Toys that will not teach children anything - or that do not encourage creativity. Toys that won't be valued, to teach children appreciation.

Children are tiny compared to the rest of us. They don't think they are, which makes them even tinier. Parenting consumes adults - it changes us. We raise our kids in a society, in a culture, and that shapes them. Right now, we have a sad place to raise children. Was it always sad?

Prior generations had wars, famine, hushed molestation, and bans on "airing dirty laundry." I don't know that generations before us had an attack on basic values, that toys, clothing, and commercialization targeted children in underhanded, nasty ways. 

Meandering tonight, I gazed at dress-up clothes, size 4-5, that were see-through, black, with bloody skeletons on them. I saw a shirt that said, " 3 Things I'm Good At: making my homework disappear, annoying my sister, video games."

I guess you can dress your children in such garbage, and obviously people do, or it wouldn't be in the store. I don't advocate regulating what is sold or created, but I encourage parents to think before they buy. Parents are ultimately responsible for the messages their children receive.  

Wouldn't it be a welcome thought, to have a society that valued education over video games and kindness over bloody skulls? Life's not roses and ice-cream, I get it. But - size 4? Our culture instills violence into young, vulnerable lives. Then we all suffer. It would be nice if corporations were on parents and teachers' sides, if the bottom line wasn't the holy grail. It would be nice not to drive my kids to school and explain inappropriate commercialization to them.

I kept thinking, what if customers (parents) told these companies their stuff was junk and we didn't want it. Then I thought, I think we do. I think parents try. (I honestly believe parents and teachers try - they really do). Why won't this junk go away? It starts so early, and the desire of a designer and a cheap shirt maker to rake in extra money takes precedent over sending young kids a positive message.

So yes, it absolutely parents' jobs to protect children. It is our jobs to instill our values, to interpret messages for them (and teach them how to analyze), to put the heavy weight of life's sorrows on our shoulders.  And yes, it is our job as parents to keep all this junk out of our kids' lives, all this stuff that we as parents deem as junk. And I understand that every parent's definition of "junk" differs.

I'm tired though, and I have years and years of parenting left to do. 'Sad' does not cover the emotions of the CT shooting - heartbreaking, unfathomable, and horrific still do not give the events justice.

Sad does cover how I feel about our society right now, and its violence and apathy for our tiniest members.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Disney on Ice! Treasure Hunt

Magical Childhood

Sometimes, adults forget what it is like to be a child, to be trusting, to wonder so endlessly.

As my kids watched Disney on Ice last night, I got to watch their faces as characters skated and sang. They were excited, yes. They were also curious and a little astonished.

Before it started, they asked why the ice was red. My husband and I explained them the lights overhead changed colors, making the white ice different colors.

Ready to start!
They wanted to know how people moved on ice, and we discussed the special shoes they wore. 

And on, until the show started. It began by warming up the performers, and taking the approach of exercising and why bodies need to move. Then Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy showed up. Goofy fell on the ice, and Donald shook his head at him.

The characters from "Alice in Wonderland," "Aladdin," "The Lion King," and "Peter Pan" performed. The show was amazing, complete with fireworks and music from the movies. I was taken back - I did not expect this kind of performance. It was magical, and I know the feelings of my children will stay with them for years. The show really was that mature, to make a lasting effect. It was not a cheap, thrown- together affair. I felt fortunate that Ty and Za will have such memories.

Za climbed on her dad's lap for help braving the theatrics, aka, loud noises and lights.

Other times. Aladdin and Jasmine took a carpet ride, and Tinkerbell and Peter Pan flew in. My three-year-old giggled and jumped. My five-year-old smiled, and I noticed he had big, wondering eyes. After the second or third character "flew" into the arena, he leaned over and whispered, "I saw those strings."

It just doesn't last long, the innocence before they notice and understand. Kids wonder about different colored ice and special effects of lights. It is so important to explain processes and answer their questions. I would be lying if I didn't admit I smiled a tired smile (you know the one I mean?) when Ty noticed the wires that actors held.

Because I slightly remember that awe, that feeling of "wow - there must be some magic, some mystery" from when I was little. It is fleeting. At the age of five - is it really ending?

Kids have it for such a short time, and as a parent, it is awesome, a mixed bag of emotions to watch Za lit in amazement, and Ty enjoying himself, only with a bit more skepticism than his younger sister.

My kids thoroughly enjoyed Disney on Ice, and their parents appreciate the innocent and magical memories they have from it. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Craft Stick Ornaments

Easy! Craft Stick Ornaments

The finished projects.

We made simple and inexpensive ornaments today. The project took a bit of time because we had to allow the paint to dry, and then the glue, but it was inexpensive and fun. You can probably guess what we did, but here are quick directions.

Supplies Needed

Craft sticks
Puff balls (or glitter - I just didn't want the mess)
Paint (or markers)
Yarn/ Ribbon
Napkins/ cups lids (or anything to put the projects on for drying)


We set out our supplies and I gave Ty and Za a cup lid with a squirt of green paint. I put the craft sticks on the napkins, and they painted - without brushes.

Painting the second side.

Then we had to wait. The kids wanted to paint both sides of the sticks, so we had to allow the first side to dry.

When both sides were dry, we glued them together to make triangles. Again, we waited for that glue to set.

Za got right to work.
At this point, I wrote "from Ty" on his (and then on Za's trees) so that we wouldn't get them confused. Za started gluing puff balls on her trees.

Ty sorted his balls by color, and created a pattern for his trees.

The finished, patterned trees.
After that part dried, I glued a loop of ribbon on the back. The kids helped me wrap their tree ornaments and decide the recipients. The project took most of the day, off and on, but it was inexpensive and fun. 


When I started this project, I did not take into account how long the process would be. Everything had to dry. I would have told my kids in advance that they would not have ornaments to wrap within an hour. We honestly worked on these all day. 

We Addressed the 8 Intelligences! 

Working with color patterns and triangle shapes is mathematical- logical

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Learning from Unstructured Play

Children will learn from any situation.

We had a rare and gorgeous December day recently. It was sunny, like the finale of autumn was saying good-bye before rainy, icy winter arrives. I took Ty and Za outside for playtime while C.J. napped. They played in the dirt and added water. We went through several wardrobe changes because of wet knees and mud-caked shoes.

Car "zooming."


Doing what big brother does.

I believe children learn from every situation. This makes me nervous because I want to be a good example, but I also try to seize upon this fact to instill small life lessons as we go through our days. (These are the ones kids remember the most anyway, aren't they?)

Unstructured play allows kids to think, without rules, media, noise. It also leads to team building, like siblings partnering and digging in your back yard for buried pirate treasure:

Unstructured play. Messy clothes. Buried pirate treasure. Happy childhood memories.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Disney on Ice! Update!

Hello! I am excited to share this fun activity with my readers. Media is such an important part of our children's lives, and discussing what they see, and how they feel about shows is even more important. Plus, ice skating is just cool.

Along with discounts and a ticket giveaway, I received this Disney coloring sheet for my kids. Print it off, and have fun coloring!

I have quite a few entries for Disney on Ice! but will gladly accept more. Here are the details for how to enter:

1. Leave a comment about Disney on Ice! on Switching Classrooms' Facebook page. (You will need to 'like' the page if you haven't already).

2. Leave a comment here, below about
Disney on Ice!

Keep in mind that you must be 18 years or older to participate. 

One winner will win four tickets for December 9th. If you want to order tickets with a discount code, here is that information again: 

Peoria Civic Center - December 6-9
Showtimes: Thursday – 7pm
Friday – 7pm
Saturday – 11am, 3pm, 7pm
Sunday – 1pm, 5pm
Tickets: $10, $15, $21, $34, $44
Tickets are available online at, by phone at 800.745.3000, at the Peoria Civic Center Box Office and Ticketmaster outlets, including area Walmart locations.
For more info, visit disneyonice. 

 If you are going to order tickets in advance, be sure to use discount codes: MINNIE4 ($4 off each ticket). 

I'm sure it will be a fun show. Good luck!