Welcome to my Blog!

Greetings and welcome to my page. My name is Rebbecca, I am a mom of two and a preschool teacher in southwestern Virginia. I have had the blessing of working in a Reggio Emilia inspired center for nearly 10 years, with the Greenies (my students) for 7 of the last 10 years. Our emergent curriculum and play based learning approach has changed the way I think about working with children. I am looking forward to sharing my inspirations, reflections and stories with you. So glad you're here!

“If you are a dreamer,come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean-buyer. If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire, for we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!” Shel Silverstein

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thinking of Spring already?

Winter is just around the corner here in southwestern VA, in fact I will be attending our local Christmas parade this afternoon with my children.As it is 60 and sunny it's heard to think snow, so for now I will think Spring! It's easy to do when you check out these pictures from Casa Maria's blog. Being on the playground committee and looking at these pictures I am feeling so inspired! Check out the link below. Thanks Maria!


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Making Colors

If there is anything more magical than mixing colors on a light table I have yet to hear of it! I set up this experience the other afternoon and immediately had a herd of Greenies eager to work with the materials. By late afternoon I found myself with a core group- mixing and marveling away!

The set up: three jars of colored water- red, blue and yellow. Recycled trays with wells in them. Pipets, two for each color. Lots of paper towels on standby.

You can how this small group space is a perfect opportunity for conversations and practicing our manners! 

Abigail tells us, "I'm mixing colors, I don't have green." Elise shares her knowledge of color mixing, "you need blue and yellow." Abigail takes her advice and adds blue, yellow... and red. "Oh! I made a mud puddle!"

 Clara is one of my friends who always has a very intentional and unique way of using the materials. Here she explores technique as she sucks up color in her pipet, tips it up so the color drains into the bulb, then tips it over and dispense color into her wells. It obviously takes a long  time to fill a well but Clara is patient and determined as she works, taking her time and enjoying the experience.

Another child seems to have created a study in green! It reminds me of a beautiful mosaic and makes me think of maybe creating a provocation of color shades..... I feel a trip to Lowes and their paint sample aisle coming on!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Painting With Power Tools!

(I do not remember where I saw this first, probably Teacher Tom....)

Feeling powerful, taking risks, being empowered... that's how we roll in the Green Room! Painting with a drill has been something I have wanted the Greenies to experience for a long time, I was just waiting for the right moment. Those who know me know how impatient I can be so I decided this week was it, we're going to just go for it!

We started in our classroom. The Greenies and I donned smocks and goggles. I asked each Greenie if they knew how to use a drill and everyone of them, without a pause, gave me a big YES!!!

While most took to this experience with great enthusiasm, there were a few who approached it with a responsible amount of caution, meet my friend Olivia-

"Olivia is cautious as she begins working with the drill. She uses it at a slow speed and focuses on the center of her paper. She is encouraged to make the drill go faster if she feels comfortable, she pulls the trigger harder, "oh, that's fast!" As her confidence with the drill builds she begins to manipulate it across the paper. She continues to use the drill at high speed and creates lines extending from the center."

Another friend takes a very serious and calculated approach to the art. This young man studies his art with great importance, just look at his posture in this series:

Take risks, be brave, learn much!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Telling Yuval's Story- My Essay From NAEYC 2011

After working with an amazing family for two years I decided to write about our experiences together. The result was this essay which I have presented as a workshop promoting collaboration between home and school in the best interest of an ESL student. I have presented this at local, state, and national levels and would love to see it published one day. Enjoy!

I hope that the following story will touch and inspire you as much as Yuval and his family have inspired me. The following presentation combines 2 years of documentation and interaction, and the accounts of me, Yuval, and his family. At the end I wish to share a video in which I interviewed Yuval during his last week at our center and in America. Yuval and his family moved here from Israel during the summer of 2008 due to his father’s temporary position as a research associate at VT. Yuval and his family had been in America less than a week when Yuval first came to our center. Yuval’s family tells me that the child care center he was at in Israel was similar to RR but with a higher ratio (2 teachers to 25 children.) They told me that they were ‘looking for a childcare center… where our child can play, learn, be happy and express his feelings and personality without being judged.’

Yuval was 3 ½ when he came to our center. I was beginning my third year as a teacher in a preschool-aged classroom. I have had some experience with non-english speaking children in the past. The children I had worked with before knew at least basic English. Yuval’s English was very limited. Yuval’s family recalled their concerns, stating, “Our biggest concern was his English. We took him to ESL class for kids, but it was once a week and we didn’t see a real progress.” They continue, “We knew it's not going to be easy, new language, new culture… we were worried. We wanted his friends to like him and know him as he is, and we knew that the language is the first barrier we need to cross… We didn’t want others to laugh at him or think he is awkward. We want him to be able to play and communicate with his friends and teachers and keep being a happy kid.” They also had family stressors, stating, “We were also hoping for our family to make friends and adjust easily to our new home.” 

 I, too, felt apprehensive and nervous. The Hebrew language and culture was not something I felt familiar with.  I knew that I would have to learn some basic Hebrew as importantly as Yuval had to learn basic English. In preparation of Yuval’s first day and in an effort to make a positive first impression with his family, I got on the internet and educated myself about Hebrew culture and phrases. With any luck the translations and pronunciations would be correct! The first thing I learned how to say was ‘shalom chaver!’ which translates to ‘hello, friend!’

When Yuval came in for transitioning visits he was a bit shy. Sensing his nervousness, I gently came up to him. He was holding his mother’s hand and hiding behind her back. I smiled, got down on his level, looked at him and said, ‘shalom, chaver!’ Yuval’s mother, Hila, was impressed. Yuval, not so much. He stayed close to his parents for the most part during his first visit. We went outside so he could see the playground. I could see his body let go of some tension and a smile come upon his face. Yuval enjoyed the slides most of all. I observed as he went up and down, smiling. I decided this would be a good time to engage with him. As he sat at the top of the slide I started to shout, “Go Yuval Go! Go Yuval Go!” This was the first way we bonded and became a fun game between the two of us. He would wait at the top of the slide for me to say, “Go Yuval GO!” The he would slide down, smile at me, and repeat our little game. I asked Yuval’s parents to share their first impressions of our center, philosophy, and teachers. They stated, “Wow, we loved the center at first sight; we loved the big yard, the arts and crafts we saw, and the attitude of the teachers. The environment was friendly and we felt at home. The teachers were professional, warm, open and friendly. We were impressed. We felt that we are in good hands.”

Bonding and building a relationship with Yuval was very important but also important was the ability to communicate. I understood that Hebrew is and would be his primary language at home but the family understood that Yuval’s success would weigh upon his ability to communicate in English. They agreed they would also practice English at home. Yuval’s father and mother spoke English well; his mother explained to me that she learned English by reading articles and journals in English for her college courses. During the first transition visit I met privately with Hila, Yuval’s mother, and we worked together to create a list of useful phrases for me to use with Yuval. She wrote down any words or phrases I needed in Hebrew and how to pronounce them. They were phrases like: Are you hungry? Thirsty? Hurt? What happened? It’s okay. Do you need to use the bathroom? Please, thank you. Listen. There were many more. We decided that I would also pair these phrases with sign language so I could tap into the multiple intelligences should he benefit from a visual form of language. When I would ask Yuval a question in Hebrew I would do so like this: I would sign “hungry or eat” and ask, “Ata ra ev? Are you hungry? Ata ra ev?” It took a couple weeks for Yuval to catch on but when he did he started to learn English very quickly. I asked Yuval’s parents to share their impression of the transition visits and our responsiveness to Yuval’s needs in the beginning. They share, “The response to our family was…above and beyond our expectations. They knew how to bridge the language gap and let Yuval feel he is wanted and beloved. We were asked many questions by his teachers in the beginning: about his past, his development, his manners, his friends, how is he at home and more. We were happy to give the information, including a short dictionary with words in Hebrew and how to best understand him or what he wants.” I was very fortunate that the connection and collaboration between home and school was very strong from the beginning. This relationship was to set the tone for the rest of Yuval’s preschool experience. 

Yuval’s first weeks were, understandably, very difficult. Yuval’s parents share their memories from the first few weeks, “Since he couldn’t explain what he wants to others and couldn’t understand what others want from him, his behavior became unacceptable sometimes and he was sent to calm down in the office. It upset us and we counted the days for these difficulties to be behind us.  Although some sanctions were taken due to his not acceptable behavior in the beginning (the office…), he loved to go to school and was happy as we always knew him.” We knew his happiness depended on his ability to understand and be understood, none of which was possible for the first while. He did not want to participate in circle time (would you if you had no idea what anyone was saying?) and nap time was very difficult. He would shout and laugh or get angry and start hitting us out of what we assumed was anger and frustration. We learned that in Israel he did not have to nap if he did not want to, he could go to another room and play quietly. This was not an option in our classroom and we had a difficult time explaining this to Yuval. Like all the children in our classroom, we did not ask Yuval to sleep, only to rest and be quiet. More than likely Yuval would eventually calm down and he would fall asleep. He was tired but when you are tired and frustrated it can be a very cumbersome combination. We would at times have to take him out of the room to help the rest of the room settle for naptime then bring him back in later when he was calm and we could work with him. He also had to be removed from the classroom if he hit, that was the rule for all the children. We would feel awful as he sat there in the office, calling for Ema (mother) because we knew that he did not understand the rules or the language very well yet but we also knew that his understanding would evolve through consistency. We tried many ways to calm and comfort Yuval. He was not the ‘snuggly’ type so physical comfort did not appeal to him. Several times when he was upset he would go to our dramatic play area and pick up a phone and start to talk in it, again addressing Ema. He would also sing to himself in Hebrew during his sad moments of the day. This gave us an idea and we asked the family to bring in a CD of his favorite music in Hebrew. Delighted, his family provided us with a CD of Hebrew nursery rhymes set to music. It was a tremendous success! When we could tell that Yuval was beginning to feel sad we would put in his CD, his face would light up, and Yuval would start to sing while he stood by the CD player doing the movements to the songs. After a while we would join him and also try to do the hand movements with him, he would respond with smiles or looks of disappointment, accordingly. Other ways we would bond were through providing activities that were of interest to him. Yuval enjoyed working with animals, in particular small plastic figurines. I would sit with Yuval and he would look at me quizzically as he picked up various animals. The first animal he learned to say was, ‘duck.’ He was very proud! He took the duck to my co-teacher and shared his new word, smiling. Outside on the playground, the merry-go-round was another favorite choice. Yuval would take my hand and lead me to the merry-go-round, jump on, and ask me, “push?” I would push, he would smile and I would ask, “Are you dizzy?” Yuval would smile as he responded, “dooozy!!! Doozy!” 

It was not long before Yuval felt comfortable in the classroom. With the combination of English and Hebrew phrases, bonding over his interests, and strong support between home and school, Yuval was on his way to a successful first year. His parents recall, “I remember him coming home and talking to us in English after few weeks since we moved. Slowly but surely he understood more and more words in English. It was a great experience for all of us.”

Yuval’s first friends were Danny and Kevin. Danny was American-born while the rest of his family was native to Lebanon. Danny spoke English very well. Kevin’s family was from China. Kevin spoke limited English. The three friends made an interesting combination and were inseparable. The barrier of language did not slow these friends down; they bonded just as easily and closely as any other group of children, running, laughing, looking at books together. During Yuval’s first year at our center, and even still, the countries of Lebanon and Israel were in deep conflict. You would hear the sad news on NPR then come in to work and see Yuval and Danny playing as if they were brothers with not a care in the world. Watching their friendship blossom in the safety of our country put so much for me into perspective. Language, race, cultural heritage were not deciding factors in their bonding as friends.

Also important to Yuval’s family was their ethnic identity and cultural pride. They were eager to share their traditions and holidays with our classroom. Over the next two years we would learn more about the Gur family and their culture as they celebrated holidays in our classroom, bringing in apples and honey for the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, bringing in sweet treats and lighting a menorah for Hanukkah. For our ‘read a book to the Greenies’ month his family brought in a popular children’s tale from Israel about a hedgehog who loved pretzels. They read the story then shared pretzels as a treat with all the children. One time they brought in a video that showed traditional Hebrew tales in song and dance. All the children were very captivated as Yuval narrated the stories for us and told us what to expect, “Oh, this is a funny one!” The Gurs were a very active part of our classroom. Their pride in their homeland and language was apparent and supported always. Yuval would show excitement as he drew Israeli flags at our writing center and sang songs in Hebrew to himself and his peers. When asked about our intention to celebrate and respect Yuval’s individuality and heritage, Yuval’s parents reflected, “It was very important to us to preserve Yuval's individuality, and they teachers were very tolerant and open to help us. For example- in a symbolic way like lighting a Hanukkah candles on Hanukkah with the other kids or eating apples with Honey in the Jewish new year eve.”

Yuval also showed much interest in sharing his language with his friends. How to say things in Hebrew was a consistent topic at the lunch table. His peers would often ask him how to say meal items in Hebrew and he would gladly tell them, unless it had a “cha” in it J He would inform his friends, “No, that word has a cha in it. You do not say that in English so I do not think that you can say it in Hebrew. It’s too hard for Americans, they can’t say it.” We would encourage him to let his friends try and they would certainly have a hard time saying the word Yuval presented but it was a good lesson in determination. Yuval enjoyed sharing his language so much that when we lost our Spanish teacher, Yuval came up to me and suggested, “Maybe we can have Hebrew with Yuval!” We never got around to organizing the Hebrew lessons but Yuval was very happy to share his language when he could, formally or informally. During his last year in my classroom he developed an interest in writing. He enjoyed getting out the animal picture/word cards and would reference the cards to write long lists of words and then quiz me on what each word was. This inspired me to have Yuval’s family to write a list of animal words in Hebrew. They loved this idea so much that they created their own animal word cards, laminated them, and brought them into our classroom. They also created rebus words to display throughout the classroom. Yuval and I taped the words, written in English and Hebrew, to items around our room- mirror, toilet, computer, fish tank, door, window, etc. He was so proud of the words and he eagerly shared them with his peers as they came in the room, taking their hands and showing them the words, especially the one we taped onto the toilet.  

In closing my interview with Yuval’s family, I asked them to share their final thoughts on how they felt about their experience. I asked these three questions:

 1) Do you believe Yuval’s experience has been positive? Successful? Why or why not?

Their response: “We're sure Yuval’s experience was very positive. He gained lot of friends and experiences which few boys in his age have an opportunity to experience. In talking with him about returning back to Israel, it raises lots of sad feelings about leaving his friends and teachers and mixes together with great excitement of returning back to his family (mainly grandfathers and grandmothers). This proves the good experience he had here.”

2) What do you believe were the most important factors to Yuval’s success?

Their response: “Home support with close coordination with his educators. Yuval is also a very socialized person which can very easily make new friend. This made his adaptation to the new environment much easier.”

3) What advice do you have for parent that will or are going through what you have experienced? 

Their response:  “The most important advice is to keep close cooperation with the child educators. In Yuval’s case a close feedback from his teachers and appropriate reactions after misdeeds contributed to his success. While most of the difficulties happened in the preschool, handling of these difficulties were done at home as well. The language barrier, which is more substantial than the cultural barriers, should be addressed as soon as possible. Good integration depends on the child language skills, thus knowing the language in advance can make the transfer much easier. Open discussions with the child can contribute a lot. Sometime it’s much more beneficial to listen to the child’s arguments rather to lecture him about appropriate behavior.”

Yuval and I had developed a very special bond. Yuval’s father, Ohad, told me that Yuval kept a picture of me next to his bed and would kiss the photo every night saying, “Oh, Rebbecca, I love you!” One morning he told me, “When I grow up, I will be a daddy and come to America and my kids will come to this center.” I asked him, “Do you promise me?” Yuval responded, “Yes.” I assured him that I will be here waiting for him. What better compliment can a teacher get? As Yuval’s time in the Green Room came to an end I would find Yuval and I reminiscing about his first days in the Green Room and in America. Many conversations between us would begin with Yuval asking, “Do you remember when I first came to America and knew NONE English?” One conversation in late spring of 2010 caught me by surprise. Yuval asked me, “Do you remember how you would take me to the office a lot when I first came to the Green Room?” I responded, “Yes Yuval, I remember. I felt awful about it. Do you remember why you would go to the office?” Yuval, “Yes, because I would get mad and hit you and hitting is not okay.” Then Yuval said something that touched me and inspired me to share his story with you today. “Do you know why I would hit you?” Rebbecca, “No, I guess you were just frustrated and still learning.” Yuval responded, “No, I would hit you because I wanted you to speak Hebrew but I did not know that you could not speak Hebrew.”

It was such a blessing to have that insight gifted upon me. All the years of presenting to teachers like you at local and state conferences on the topic of diversity came to a poignant standstill the moment Yuval spoke that truth to me. At that moment I was affirmed as a teacher. Before Yuval came to my classroom I came across a quote that still sticks with me today. “It’s not: is the child ready for my classroom, rather, is my classroom ready for the child?” I was nervous and apprehensive when I heard that a child who knew no English and has barely been in our country was coming to my classroom. I had my moment of panic, and then I thought of those words and asked myself, ‘is my classroom ready for the child?’ I chose to take the initiative, do my homework, and dedicate myself to Yuval and his family to make their preschool experience the most special 2 years of their lives. My time spent with Yuval was two years I will never forget, it has shaped me as a teacher and citizen of this world forever. I hope that Yuval’s story has inspired you and much as he has inspired me. Thank you. Toda.