It Takes Two

In my work teaching at our local university, I have enjoyed a unique spectator-style view into the lives of people who are working on degrees to become teachers. Every semester I am given the amazing opportunity to introduce myself to more than fifty people who are planning to work in any number of grades and subjects somewhere among the classrooms of the 21st century.

There are many hundreds of very good students whom I have known over the past decade, and then there are a handful who are truly inspired and inspiring.

This semester I think I have finally realized what sets them apart. They have the mind AND they have the heart, in equal measure. There is no doubt that many have one or the other and all of them have the mind and heart for something….but this handful have it for teaching.

They leave neither heart nor mind behind and every idea and lesson plan and motivation is better for it. When I tell them that students and their families are just waiting for them out there in this wide world of ours, their countenances brighten even more.

Together, they make an aspiring teacher a force to be reckoned with…mind and heart. It takes two.

5 Great Kids Reads for Halloween

Halloween books

Thirteen years ago I was assigned to a student teaching position in Kindergarten at Windsor Hills Elementary School in Putnam City, a suburb of Oklahoma City.  It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget, but one of the moments that stands out to me was the day my assigned classroom’s wonderful veteran teacher told me what she wanted me to use as my theme to teach when my professor came to evaluate me as I taught that roomful of 20 young children in late October.  She said one word – ‘monsters.’

She had always used that as her theme for this particular week and so that was the theme she wanted me to use, as well.  I was crushed.  As a boy, I was scared to death of monsters and spent many creepy nights sleeping outside my parent’s bedroom in my Battlestar Galactica sleeping bag.

Now here I was faced with having to create a five-day curriculum for little girls and boys about the one thing that surely sent them fleeing on most nights – monsters!  To make a long story short, it went wonderfully well (this was one great teacher and I trusted her) and I had the time of my life.  We used the puppets of Where the Wild Things Are and learned Monster tunes for Kids that my daughters and I made up at night and I taught to the children the next morning in circle time.  We completed math lessons with monsters and wrote stories and talked about scary monsters and funny monsters and fears and worries and everything in between.  The whole room was a monster wonderland!  I also collected quite a variety of great children’s books with monster themes during that semester of my life.  Here are a few of our favorite short read-alouds to celebrate some reading time with your little ones during this especially monstrous week of the year:

1.  Ten Creepy Monsters by Carey Armstrong-Ellis (Harry N. Abrams, 2012) – Julie Roach and School Library Journal reviewed the book for Preschool to Grade 2 and wrote, “When ten creepy monsters meet beneath a pine tree, they get into all sorts of trouble that helps readers count backward from ten to one…After the second to last monster-a vampire-rushes off in the sunrise, readers are left with one monster hurrying home. An abandoned mask, strewn candy, and a sleeping boy tell the rest of the story. Fun for Halloween or for counting anytime.”

2.  Monster Mischief by Pamela Jane (2001, Scholastic) – This is a wonderfully inventive book of creative monsters visiting a monster home to trick or treat for Halloween.  This quote from the book sums up the fun, “On Halloween, for trick or treat, five monsters mixed a stew to eat of which they never ate a bite, because their stew ran off that night.  A few, I know, are glad of that – spider, lizard, frog and bat!”

3.  Haunted Halloween:  A Choose Your Own Adventure Book #37 by Susan Sanders (1986, Bantam-Skylark) –  If you grew up in the 1980’s in America, this was the hottest series on the bookshelf.  It is still around and still exciting and interesting and interactive.  If you don’t remember how it works, the reader reads a few pages and then at a key point in the story there are two questions at the bottom of the page.  You must choose your own adventure at this point, sometimes for good and sometimes for not!  These are so much fun and your kids need to be reading them – there are many choices so I was happy that we had this one for Halloween week here at Father Knows Books!  In this book, “it is halloween night and you’ve been invited to a costume party at an old, spooky mansion.”

4.  Monster Pops Counting 123:  How Many Monsters Can You See by Gill Davies (2002, Parragon Publishing) – “Discover a pop-up surprise on each page as you enjoy a monstrously good counting rhyme.”  This book is super for preschool and Kindergartners, as well…and who doesn’t love a pop-up book!

5.  The Teeny Tiny Ghost by Kay Winters (1997, Scholastic) – a wonderful children’s picture book with a great read-aloud style and wonderful illustrations by Lynn Munsinger.  It is the story of a “timid teeny tiny ghost.  He lived in a teeny tiny house with two teeny tiny black cats.”  He is scared of scary stories and hides when he hears himself say “boo!”  When his friends come for a surprise costume party, things indeed take a turn for the better.

Are you sure this is true?

Girls Little House Prairie

Outside of my life as a dad and husband, there are few things I love more than teaching students in our education department at the local college here in town. Most of them are nearing the end of their degree and about to receive their teacher certification when they enroll in the course I teach on social studies and science in early childhood education. They are so energetic and passionate about their upcoming life as a teacher, and the things they learn out there in real classrooms during their field experiences and practicums and student teaching are truly a treasure to all of us in the department.

Among the assignments included in my class is one about learning what children already understand about a particular subject. We ask our students to get out there in real classrooms and talk with young children about a topic and see what they know and what they want to know and what they need to know about that particular topic. This kind of information, a pre-assessment, is very helpful to us as classroom teachers when we go about putting together units and lesson plans for young children today, and it is always eye-opening and one of my favorite assignments to grade because the responses are always different and funny and interesting to hear the honest talk that children so happily and freely give in such assignments.

One of my favorite responses to this assignment occurred just last year. A student read to us her wonderful interview and assessment of the children in an elementary classroom where she was working that semester. Here’s what she wrote, “I asked the children to close their eyes and…imagine not having any electricity, running water, iPods, TV, and transportation. I then talked to them about Laura Ingalls Wilder and gave the class background information about her. I gave the children directions by asking them to draw a picture or write down any things that they found interesting [as I read] an excerpt from Little House On the Prairie. After I finished reading, the children asked me different questions and one [child said], ‘Are you sure this is true?’ I assured them that it was.”

To open up a dialogue as this gifted teacher did and have a child respond, “Are you sure this is true?” – what a conversation starter! I don’t think we could ask for more from a book.

As much as I love reading books to my children that are clearly fiction, this child’s response makes it clear that we need to be reading all kinds of things with them and that includes great historical novels and intriguing non-fiction works from the past and present. For me, the Little House series revolved around Farmer Boy. I loved that book, still do, and I remember my 6th grade teacher, Zola Evans, reading a chapter to us every day just after lunch and recess.

Every good book holds a moment of opportunity for its readers. Whether you are a child or an adult, there will come a subtle minute when you pause in the middle of a great paragraph and look up from the page and wonder – could this really be true? No wonder people like books.