One Teacher’s Resignation

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Tonight, on the agenda, you will find my resignation from teaching Reading and Language Arts.  So to prepare for this speech, I did what every self-respecting English teacher does: I googled the word resign.

 

Resign:

  1. to voluntarily leave a job or other position

  2. to accept that something undesirable cannot be avoided

 

The problem is that my resignation is not really voluntary, but rather a decision that I was driven to make by the actions and inaction of others. And well, the second definition is not accurate either, for I will never be able to accept the fact that, despite my best efforts, I could not change the undesirable. Yet every single challenge that this town faces right now, whether it be lagging test scores, bullying, losing the best and brightest students to private and magnet schools, a growing immigrant population, increased crime, underage drinking, or heroin abuse…none of these can be avoided. However, they can be overcome. But not if the way this district operates does not change. My hope is that the new superintendent will foster the necessary changes and take my words tonight into serious consideration.

 

 

I came to this town with 5 years of experience under my belt, having taught in the inner cities of Baltimore, Brooklyn, and Newark. I took the job to be closer to where my husband was doing his residency. But to be honest, my heart wasn’t in it. I wanted to teach in Asbury. I didn’t want to teach in suburbia where the kids would be fine whether I was their teacher or not. I felt like I was selling out those kids who “really” needed me. I had seen unimaginable tragedy everyday in those cities. My students lived in extreme poverty, surrounded by drugs, violence, gangs, and abuse. But my husband assured me that I would find kids that needed help here too. That I would find my place here.

 

Well he was right and wrong. Sure there are kids in this town that desperately need a teacher to believe in them and build their confidence up where others have torn it down. But even more importantly, I learned that every student whether advanced or remedial, in the majority or minority, privileged or underprivileged needs and deserves a dedicated teacher that takes personal responsibility to help every single student achieve to the best of their ability or beyond.

 

Over the past 8 years, I have taken this personal responsibility to heart and have taught my students in dynamic and engaging ways not only how to read, write, and speak well, but to think critically and to work hard. Many teachers talk about how they just shut their doors and focus on what they can control. I, on the other hand, am a true team player. Here is a short list of some actions I have taken to try to improve this district.

 

  • In response to lagging test scores in the subgroup populations, I wrote the superintendent a letter with an improvement plan attached with 21 suggestions for how to reach our minority students, economically disadvantaged, and those with IEP’s

  • I presented those ideas to the building professional development committee.

  • As a result, I implemented a peer observation plan to encourage teachers to learn from one another informally.

  • Petitioned the teachers’ union to request full disclosure of information about the number of jobs that would be saved if teachers voted for a proposed salary freeze

  • Presented two professional development workshops, for grades K-12, on Using Enactment Strategies such as role-playing and debate in the classroom and on Creating a Literate Environment.

  • Elected Vice President of the PTA at one elementary school for one year

  • Reinvented the traditional Science Fair  at the elementary school by drawing in community businesses and museums and had record participation and attendance two years in a row. Presenters included the 4H Club, Bricks4Kidz, Guitar Center, InfoAge, and Insectropolis.

  • Volunteered to design and run a summer reading workshop at the town library to support the first summer reading assignment in middle school.

  • Assisted with the campaign of a board member as a write in candidate because I felt that the interests of elementary school children were not being fully represented

  • Attended so many board meetings that the board joked about creating me a plaque with my name on it.

  • Joined the fight to keep the 10-minute recess in our elementary schools and argued to keep advertising off our buses.

 

Finally, my biggest, most frustrating battle started on my first Back to School Night as a parent, when I noticed the lack of books in my son’s kindergarten classroom.

 

  • My plan to put lending libraries into the classrooms took nearly a year to be approved. Anyone who came within 3 feet of me that year, heard about this project and my struggles to make it happen and to convince the powers that be that it was worthwhile for children in kindergarten to read or just flip through the pictures of books of their own choosing. I presented research, lobbied for it in numerous meetings with administrators, and finally came to the board in frustration desperate to get books in the hands of our youngest students. It was approved, but for only 2 out of 4 kindergarten classes and one first grade class. But that June, 6 months pregnant, I lugged those books to my house last June and 9 months pregnant I lugged those carefully sorted and labeled books back to the school, before my baby was born in September. In 2 years, I put over 3,000 books into classrooms.

 

In many cases, the administration has been forthcoming in setting up meetings to hear my concerns and ideas. However, there was an occasion when two of my emails went completely unanswered. Moreover, those emails were sent in response to a public call for help in finding ways to improve literacy scores. On another occasion, I offered to work with the board to meet one of the board’s goals, “To promote open communication and partnerships with families, students, staff and the community.” I even provided the Board with a detailed outline of my ideas, which included a blog to publicize the issues discussed at meetings and open up a greater chance for public input. I received one positive email saying that after the new committee heads were set up they would contact me, but that contact never came.  Another opportunity was lost and once again, I was left feeling frustrated and driven to move.

 Upon hearing that we are leaving, some asked me, “Do you really think you can find better?” The answer is yes. I researched many towns in several states and found public schools really working in other places despite Common Core, PARCC, and the ubiquitous “state requirements” for testing, benchmarks, and changed teacher evaluation. I found elementary schools with outdoor stages where students learned literacy through the arts. Others had multiple gardens tended by the children. I found a Blue Ribbon school in Linwood, NJ with a parent group in addition to the PTA that raises an average of 30k a year to donate to the school. They donated keyboards for the music classroom a few years ago, so now every child learns to read and play music by the 4th grade. There summer camps run by parent volunteers offer everything from Zumba to book clubs. I would have worked tirelessly to bring such things this town, but I got tired of fighting. It took me a year’s worth of stress simply to be allowed to put free books in classrooms. I’d be dead before I got a vegetable garden here. Therefore, we are moving to Linwood, so I don’t have to die trying.

Living in town for the past 7 years, I have loved bumping into my students and their parents. I have developed many lasting relationships making it hard to leave. Last week, I went hiking with a student from my first class here, who is going into her junior year at UVA. Twice I was invited by students to attend the National Honor Society induction as an influential person in their lives.  My husband has a patient who never wants to talk about her ailments, but would rather tell him again and again how thankful she is that I taught her granddaughter how to write. Students come up to me at the Italian Festival, the town pool, Wegmans, even when I am running in the park. They make me smile when they ask if I still make kids write essays for chewing gum, read 20 books outside of class, and pick apart their essays in my famous purple ink for not using proper hamburger form. A few have even babysat my own children!  My students give back to me so much more than I could ever give and for them I will always be grateful. I am sad to leave them.

 

However, I have also seen the other side. The police reports where my former students have been arrested for throwing underage drinking parties, resisting arrest, possession of  heroin, vandalism, and most recently even accused of attempted murder.  When I worked in underprivileged communities, I used to think that if only I could bring my students to a good suburban district like the one I went to as a child, they would have a real chance at life. Now I know that even in a district like this many students are falling through the cracks. The scary part to me is that the blame is put on the students themselves as if the adults have no role in their failure. But we all have a responsibility to not just gossip about these kids but to work together to implement real solutions.

 

Well, here are some real solutions:

 

  1. Communication- This Board needs to collaborate with parents, teachers, businesses and organizations in the community. Teachers need to know they are welcome to come to meetings and are free to speak without fear of retribution. For example, there was a report given on the excellent state of the technology in the schools. The truth is that during a presentation by an Apple representative extolling the greatness of their product, the whole auditorium of teachers erupted in laughter when the speaker couldn’t get the internet to work. A problem that teachers often face in their classrooms and in computer labs. These breakdowns in communication are beneficial to no one.

 

  1. Leadership- Administrators at all levels need to stop blaming the state for everything. Our hands are never tied. The best way to improve test scores is to teach well. Many teachers here do teach well, when they are not bogged down by endless pressure, stress, and changing requirements. Last year PD days were wasted by requiring teachers to create 200 question assessments that were thrown out one year later. That is not just poor leadership, it’s bad for morale.

 

  1. Instruction- Kids learn best when they value and enjoy learning. My students will tell you that I work them hard, really hard. But they will also tell you that they have fun, laugh, draw, act, dance, argue, and all of it makes them read, write and think better. When kindergarteners are stressed out, something is gravely wrong. Just ask any kindergarten teacher how the first year of full day kindergarten went. The ones that aren’t afraid to be honest, will tell you a sad tale of behavior problems, increased requirements, and worst of all hardly any play time which is how 5 and 6 year olds learn best.

 

  1. Help the students who are at risk- Stop looking for ways to punish the “bad kids” and start looking for ways to support them in overcoming their challenging situation whatever that situation may be. Often the kids who behave the worst respond best to positive attention. Pull these kids into the school community rather than focusing on excluding them for bad grades and behavior. Our district could offer intramural sports or even hold parent workshops run by teachers about how to help with homework, make time for reading, the benefits of limiting screen time, and how to use positive discipline at home effectively.

 

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In closing, I want to thank everyone who came out here tonight to support me and to hear this letter. I didn’t write this speech for a pat on the back for my hard work. I am here because though I am walking away, I will always take a little piece of this town with me. I care about what happens here. . I hope that in my absence others will step up and be the leaders this school community so desperately needs. I wish you all the best.

 

 

It has been my pleasure to work with so many dedicated teachers and support staff. I also want to thank my principal t the Intermediate School and all of the other administrators there, and also the board for your service. And finally, I would like to thank all of my students and their parents for without students there are no teachers.

 

I want to leave you with a poem by my favorite poet Shel Silverstein.

shel

 

 

 

A Bittersweet Cacophony: That’s Life

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My resignation was approved. 

Since 2001, I have been more than simply employed as a teacher. I have been a teacher. When September 1, 2014 comes, and my resignation is official, my employment status will change. But I will continue to be a teacher, not just because I am choosing to homeschool my children until we get settled in a new town and until all of them are out of preschool, but because a teacher is who I am. 

Most resignations slide by unnoticed, unless it is due to some violation of the law. But my resignation was different, to me at least. A cacophony of emotions swirled, all competing for space in the crowded confines of my mind. I spent 4 nights between the times of 10 pm and 3am trying to compose my resignation speech. A speech that no one expected me to give.(In fact, I wonder if anyone else even writes such things.)

But once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. Writing for me is catharsis. I guess that’s why I love teaching children how to write. For I know, it is a passport to freedom and opportunity. Writing helped me to sort out my emotions. It was a very private exploration of my mind and heart that suddenly became public last night.

I thought all day today about whether I was willing to publish my words. Written down they are in black in white,  while when I spoke them they were in color. My words danced as I read them, off of the paper, ignited by my emotions finally gaining release. I was angry. Angry that I tried so hard. Angry that I was driven to leave my job and find a better situation for our family. Angry that on my way to the board office my phone was blowing up with messages from people who couldn’t make it. I was angry there would be no crowds. No begging me to stay. No plaque to hang on my wall. No reporters snapping photos. No governor flying in by helicopter. (Yes I had invited him too.) I was just one teacher. One teacher leaving in a district of many.

Feeling fortified by my anger, I marched into the room ready to read my speech without a hint of a tear. Then I saw two of my students already sitting in the front waiting for me to come. I had seen them earlier in Starbucks and on a whim asked them if they wanted to come. Both graduated the year before, why would they care to go to a Board meeting? Well when I saw them sitting there, having arrived earlier than me and sitting in the front no less…well my anger melted away. The students. My students. Then I turned to see the faces of a few colleagues and friends and some people who I just recently met came to hear what I had to say. And suddenly it didn’t really matter who was there and who wasn’t. 

As the meeting wore on with tedious details, I started to rethink the harsh parts of my speech. I poised my pen to make a few changes when I heard one of my students whisper, “Don’t do that or you will regret it. Just say what you came here to say. We love you.” 

I am about to post a version of my speech where I edited out the name of the town I live in and the schools I am talking about. Please be respectful and not mention any specific names of people or places if you choose to comment on the speech. My intention was never to point the finger at anyone as a bad administrator, board member, or person. My purpose was to show what goes on behind the scenes in schools. The frustration that teachers and other reformers face. The danger of red tape. 

My hope is that more parents and teachers start getting involved by going to meetings, writing emails, and coming together for changes that they think will benefit the children. Our town is not a bad place to live, but just like any other town, it can always be better. Speak up. Get involved. Or at least try to support those who do. 

Please feel free to read the older posts on my blog too and it you like what you see subscribe to get my new posts via email. (Click +Follow) It’s a great way to stay in touch. Thank you for reading! 

Uncommon Core

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Before Clark went to kindergarten, I worried. I knew the type of preschool he exprienced at home in “Mommy School” was a far cry from what he would find within the bounds of public school education.  It had been years since I taught elementary school, but I had been watching creativity, self-expression, and individual choice errode from the fabric of American education from my vantage point as a middle school teacher.

I feared that the sensitive, introspective, observant, curious little boy whom we were raising would struggle in a world dominated by schedules, worksheets, and curriculum. Just the idea that, from 8:30am-3:30pm everyday, the best case scenario would only allow him outside for 30 minutes a day made me want to run screaming from kindergarten registration.

Here’s a link to my pre-kindergarten post (2/10/2012):

http://ucanpreschool.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/the-day-they-took-the-doll-corner-away/

So here I am, Clark is two weeks into first grade and still in public school. So were my worries in vain? Well, no. The curriculum’s reliance on worksheets and cookie cutter thinking was frustrating. The limited differentiation of instruction was discouraging. The lack of a true classroom library and independent reading time was unacceptable. The report card that came home had literally 4 numbers and 3 sentences on the entire report. There was even a move by administration to get rid of the 10 minute morning recess, which led to a petition and several contentious board meetings before it was decided to temporarily leave the recess alone.  No, it was not an ideal experience.

So, why did I stick to with it? Well, frankly, Clark loved it. He loved going to school. He loved his teacher. He loved singing patriotic songs and painting in art class. He liked learning math from the “TV”. He made great friends. He was fascinated with the kids who couldn’t stay in their seat or listen when the teacher was talking. And despite a few complaints that his hand hurt from too many worksheets, he came home everyday happy and smiling. What more could a mother ask for? Well, frankly a lot more…but even I had to admit school wasn’t killing him.

Last Friday, we invited Clark’s best buddy from kindergarten over for a playdate and dinner.  The boys had been assigned different first grade classes, but still found each other at recess everyday to play and smuggle rocks in their pockets and lunchboxes to “investigate” at another time.

As the night grew late, the boys started getting a little wild and Clark decided he was going to climb a large tree in our backyard. The next thing we knew, Clark had aquired yarn for a grappling hook, cleats for the traction needed to climb the bark, and my purple gloves to protect his hands and get a good grip.  It wasn’t long before everyone (including Clark’s 2 little brothers) was wrapped up in yarn and laughing and screaming hysterically leaving us parents to cut them out of the mess with scissors.

Is Common Core and the focus on testing missing a huge part of the boat? Yes

Is public school perfect? No

Should we give up? No

The kids will be alright. We just need to keep pushing back against the powers that be to protect that space where childhood thrives. It is the uncommon core of education that is so often overlooked.

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No Requirements

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Sometimes it’s easy to forget that motherhood did not come to anyone with a set of rules or directions.

The rules imposed by ourselves, baby books, pediatricians, family members, other moms, articles in parenting magazines or online, or strangers for that matter are arbitrary and forever changing. For my first, I steam sterilized every bottle and binky in a microwaveable sterilizer only to find out by my second baby that the rules had changed. Plastic had the evil, cancer-causing BPA that was released in the greatest quantity when heated. So in my pursuit to keep bad germs from my baby, I was actually doing more harm than if I rolled those bottles in mud first. Nice. Thanks a lot science for making my neurotic mommy compliance into an act of terror on my child.

There are no rules set in stone that need to be followed. There are no mommy police officers patrolling the town looking for moms who wipe off a binky on their shirt before popping it back in a baby’s mouth or who let their baby doze on a Boppy pillow clearly marked “No Sleeping”.  (Ok well, I wouldn’t recommend driving a moped while breastfeeding like a lady did in China this week.)

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2013/09/10/woman-warned-about-riding-while-breastfeeding/

The beauty of being on my fourth pregnancy is that I have mellowed out. Kids kind of force you to either chill out or ship out to a psych ward somewhere. My kids climb up the slides, jump on the bed, run with sticks, play ball in the house, and sometimes I even let them play outside before 4pm without reapplying sunscreen (Gasp!).

This summer I heard lots of comments from strangers about my preggo self taking three energetic to everything from the pool to the beach to a festival on my own.  “Are they all yours?” “I don’t know how you do it.”  “That’s why I stopped at one kid.” “Man, you are a brave woman.” “Oh it’s a girl? Good for you, now you can finally stop.”

But honestly, this summer was the best yet since having my first son. The boys and I got into a rhythm of going and doing that just worked so well. They learned to help me out and more importantly to help each other. Their independence led me to push myself to keep going and not let pregnancy take over my body like it was a disease. I am healthy, why should I lie on the couch like an invalid?

Here are some shots from the summer.

Hiking:

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The Pool:

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The Beach (Usually prepared except one impromptu trip with no change of clothes in the car. )

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The White House: A great tea place with a kids room complete with tea sets, dress up clothes, jewels and hats!

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Local Museum and Aquarium:

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Festivals and the Boardwalk:

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Trips to Manhattan (With my husband, not on my own!):

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Backyard Campfire and Camping:

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As the summer winds to an end and the Fall breezes begin to blow, I am going to remember the adventurous laid back spirit of our summer. Welcoming a new baby into our lives may seem like it should be stressful, but I am trying not to think of her arrival in that way. I just think about that beautiful little bundle they will put into my arms.

She won’t come with a rule book or directions tucked inside her receiving blanket, as if she were a new board game or stereo system.

The only rule will be to love her.

The only direction will be forward, into a new phase of our family filled with adventures big enough for 6 of us.

 

Go-To Activity #1: Pretty Pasta

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As we prepare to welcome baby #4, I have been stocking up on ready to do projects for the boys. It’s important for me to tell those who watch my kids that I do not want them watching television all day. However, I have found that it’s hard when the kids are wild for even my husband to think of something calm that’s not tv to get them to settle down and not kill each other!

Sure we have tons of toys, books, and storage towers full of craft and art supplies. But this is baby #4! I can do one up this time. I am actually compiling a binder of “Go-To” creative activities and crafts. This way whether it is my husband, my mom, my mother-in-law, or a babysitter watching the kids (or even me!) anyone can just flip open the binder and find something fun to do. The ultimate goal is to include photos of each activity along with directions. Then the boys can actually choose what they want to do by flipping through the binder themselves.

Activity #1 Dyed Pasta

Dyeing pasta is quick, cheap, easy, and versatile. It can be done in minutes, but it does need a bit of drying time (15 min usually does the trick).  All you need is pasta, white vinegar, food coloring, and a plastic storage bag. Here is a link to directions of how to do it.

http://onelittleproject.com/crafts-for-kids-make-your-own-colored-pasta/

You can change-up the activity with different shapes of pasta (elbows, rigatoni, wheels, shells) or by changing what the kids do with the pasta (scoop and dump, string necklaces, glue on paper as a design, etc.).  Rather than rely on others to make the pasta. I dyed a few boxes and placed them in storage containers for easy access.

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The small elbows, shells, or other short small pasta work best for scooping and dumping. I give the boys measuring cups, spoons of various sizes, cups, bowls, and muffin tins. It’s easier to let them play in the kitchen on the floor, so clean up is faster with a broom.  But if the vacuum is handy, on the rug works too.

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Stringing pasta requires more hand-eye coordination and can get frustrating. I like the short rigatoni, because the longer ziti is more challenging to pass the yarn through. My oldest is 6, so he enjoys making patterns and helping the youngest maneuver the yarn.

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You have to love when the tongue comes out for serious concentration!

If you have any other ideas for dyed pasta play, please share. Let me know if you give it a try!

(Btw it makes a cheap, yet creative birthday gift. Just dye a box, put it in a storage container and tie with a bow. You can also add some  measuring spoons and cups from the dollar store for added fun.)

Guns Over Hugs?

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America has an interesting view of freedom.

-A country rife with disturbed people doing disturbing things.

-A country that struggles to provide its children with a quality education, or even equal access to a mediocre one.

-A country that struggles to grant the equal right to marriage even as the divorce rate soars and the family fabric frays more often than it holds its integrity.

-A country that thrives on consumerism and debt.

-A country obsessed with violent and sexual images.

-A country where teachers are afraid to hug their students and or bake them cookies (that may cause obesity or trigger a severe nut-related allergic reaction).

America, when will you learn? When will it become clear that our children are precious? They deserve to inherit a better world than this. To be better equipped to deal with the messes that you leave strewn about like dirty laundry in a college dorm room.

The concept of freedom suggests a lightness of being, so commonly symbolized by soaring winged creatures. Yet such lightness is impossible when we live in fear of our children being taken from us by guns, molested by sex offenders, or bullied by their peers.

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Today I was shopping in Wegmans, and I ran into a former student of mine, who was home on break from his freshman year of college. I remember the 7th grade version of him well and still tease him about how he started out his persuasive essay with, “You’d have to be an alien to disagree with me.”

We live in the same neighborhood, so I have run into him often over the years, but this time was the first time he hugged me. At first I hesitated, was it okay to hug a former student? I have been so trained and warned to never touch my students that his gesture caught me off guard. I awkwardly hugged him back, but my mind was on my reaction. My reluctance to hug  someone I was so happy to see.

As I was driving home, the exchange plagued me. How did we let the perverted, twisted minority, who mistreat and abuse children, prevent the rest of us from expressing the very love and closeness that allows children to understand what it means to be cared for? How did an innocent hug become engulfed by the fear of litigation? Did I really think that the boy’s parents would track me down and accuse me of “putting the moves” on their son in Wegmans with two of my children looking on from my overstuffed-for-the-holidays shopping cart? No, of course not. But the fact that my heart leapt, even just a little, with a twinge of hesitation points to the level of depravity that exists in the ability for students and teachers to form real connections.

In reaction to the tragedy in Newtown, many have suggested to arm the teachers or even children with guns. But perhaps, the way to stem the flow of violence in our schools and world is to fight back with what is clearly missing from our schools and world. Fight back with compassion, love, tenderness, and empathy.

Let’s listen to our children, encourage them, and show them that the world is not full of  disturbed people doing disturbing things.

Give them a hug.

Bake them a cookie.

Pat them on the back.

Slap them a high-five.

Start building up the connections between us that we have so willingly allowed a select (nefarious) few disrupt.

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Work, 3 Kids, and Staying Sane

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So often, people tell me that they don’t know how I get anything done between my full time teaching job, my 3 boys, and my husband working late most nights.

Well, first of all, I should really sleep more.

Second of all, I am the worst of all procrastinators when it comes to grading papers. Okay maybe not the worst, but my students have already learned not to bother asking when a particular assignment will be graded. I prefer to make teaching quality, creative lessons my priority over instant feedback, though of course I know that instant feedback has many benefits as well.

Third of all, I am an idealist. I don’t let my day-to-day struggles get me down, because I refuse to allow anything to get in the way of my ideals. Yet I can admit that my idealism has led me to many sleepless nights and most recently to an ulcer. (Yeah, and you thought those were reserved for stressed out middle-aged businessmen!)

Well, this post is for those kind souls who have been asking me to slow down, take time for myself, and relax. The fact that such comments are thrown at me on a daily basis has to mean something. However, maybe I just project an image of stress that is inaccurate or overly dramatic. (Just ask my mother, I have always been a drama queen.) The truth is that I am having fun in the midst of it all, and so are the kids.

This post is also for those of you who need to find a way to fit some levity to the stresses of balancing life with kids.  Especially when the evenings are cold and dark.

I proudly introduce my gallery of Pre-Dinner Activities. (or you could call ite he “How I Maintain Sanity Without the Television While Unpacking 3 Backpacks, 3 Lunchboxes, and Entertaining 3 Kids.”)

We practice yoga. (Lots of deep, cleansing breaths for Mommy too!)

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I make homemade play dough on the weekend for a quick easy go-to activity during the week. Add some glitter and have on hand  some themed cookie cutters, and/or some small plastic insects and animals for more fun.

http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,189,149163-234206,00.html

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Another fun, but admittedly a bit messy, is chocolate pudding. I have learned to save this one for just before bath time at night. But jello or shaving cream are less messy alternatives for sensory play.

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The boys love to watercolor, and as far as painting goes; watercolors offer the easist clean up. Though I have made homemade fingerpaint in the past that uses dish soap as its base.

http://www.food.com/recipe/homemade-finger-paint-176355

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All thre boys love to write. So I keep a plethora of construction paper, printer paper, and larger chart paper at their level. They often decide to draw or write on their own. Sometimes they prefer the coloring books or mazes. Having a variety of writing implements keeps this interesting as well.

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In a pinch one night, when they seemed to reject my every idea. I cut some holes into an empty box of garbage bags and made a super hero lair.

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Another night thebig boys set out on a quest to make chocolate out of mini M&Ms. They asked for measuring cups and filled them with water and submerged the candy. I stopped chopping vegetables for dinner to show them how hot water would make the chocolate dissolve completely. It was a cool impromptu science lesson.

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We also try to get outside, even if it is only a 15 minute stop at the playground. Fresh air is a refresher for everyone.

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So there it is. I am managing to squeeze in some fun after school for the kids. And when they are happy and having fun, I can relax and enjoy those little boys that I miss so much all day long.

I hope that one of these ideas inspires a stressed out parent out there to try something new after school, before bed, or on the weekend. And when all else fails just lie down and remember that tomorrow is a new day.

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