Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Teaching: "Real Work" with My Little Eskimos

When I started to read, in earnest, Kindergarten Education, I felt suddenly back in touch with my Waldorf roots. Between this book and Hartsbrook's video, I feel like I'm back on track. I am remembering all the little things that are important to the way that I teach. One of them is creating a world of fantasy. This is not just done through free-play, but also by creating an atmosphere. I want there to be so many things in our school to facilitate this like play silks and play stands, but I need to figure out a way to do this with what we have.

And this winter, what we have is snow.

I put aside my desire for fairies and gnomes and settled upon Eskimos. Ruzenka had been singing a Czech song with them about Eskimos. While I understand that it's not politically correct to be using Eskimos in this way, it's a starting point for further fantasies. I can't help but think of Eskimos, either, as we try to perform triage while getting them ready to go outside and come inside. We put on stockings, fleeces, snowsuits, boots, scarves, hats, mittens, and whatever else their parents might send them with. The end result is some combination of "I can't put my arms down," Eskimos, and astronauts. Christmas is long behind us now and spring still feels quite far off, so we are celebrating winter as Eskimos. We just got an igloo-shaped tent for the classroom and I have taken to calling the children "my little Eskimos." Children love to be called something other than children. It encourages their fantasy, helps them feel like they are part of a group, and is simply fun.

One of the aspects of Waldorf education that has returned to my mind is "real work." As a teacher, my job is to model for children. I shouldn't be telling them all day what to do, but I should do it myself and if they want to join in, so much the better. It's difficult, at first, because traditional education has made it feel unnatural to let children behave naturally. But, I'm getting the hang of it again. While we are outside, I don't believe in constantly telling them what games to play or giving them tasks. Instead, I start doing something, and they can join in or not. I keep following the idea that children do not need constant vigilance. Watching them will only make them anxious and prevents them from coming up with their own ideas for play. So, I work myself and keep watch out of the corner of my eye.

Our igloo has been my "real work" success story. Yesterday morning, the snow was too hard to pack. We couldn't make snowmen or forts. Instead, I started digging a kind of reverse moat to make a wall. When they asked me what I was doing, I said I was making an igloo. They observed. In the afternoon, the snow was so hard that it was breaking into chunks. Perfect! We now had bricks of snow to build our igloo! I started breaking up the pieces and stacking them on the wall. Quickly, the children joined in. When it came time to leave, I completely forgot myself. I was so into my work and so were the children. We are making a structure that they can play in. They have a stake in their work. It's clear and simple.

This morning, they didn't want to come inside at first--they just wanted to work on the igloo. They chipped away at the hard snow, made bricks, and packed them together. During regular outside play time, they weren't so interested in helping, but that was fine, I continued to work myself. Occasionally, they helped. Most importantly, we had a new girl today who reveled in this work. She had not done anything else at school--she wanted nothing more than to go home to Grandma. But when she had work to do, she was completely content. So, above is a photo of the igloo so far. I'm hoping to find a hose or a spray bottle so that we can give it a nice coat of ice.

I thought back to other projects we've done in school. These suet bird feeders certainly count as real work. They served a practical purpose and the children can enjoy them. We spent 20 minutes one day watching a black bird try to eat off of one without landing on it.

During nap time, I read more of Kindergarten Education and remembered the things I did at Cricket that were real work. We all milled apple sauce together, we set the table, we washed the dishes. This afternoon, I decided to test the waters of real work indoors. While the children were having free play, I set out some aprons, a few towels, a bowl of soapy water, and a bowl of clean water. I collected the play dishes which did actually need some cleaning after many months of sticky fingers and runny noses. I dipped the cups in the soapy water and scrubbed with my hands, rinsed them in the clean water, and laid them on the towel. One new boy who has been difficult to entertain and distract watched me, enthralled. I offered him an apron and showed him what I was doing. He washed all of the dishes himself and then looked for more things to wash. This work had purpose. This work was sensory. The water was just the right temperature. You could smell the soap. I made sure to use a fuzzy towel.

I am working to remember the importance of all these things. Work and magic, work and magic, work and magic. Slowly, I'm becoming the teacher I want to be.

Teaching: Searching for the Old Magic

When everything is starting to fall into place in my life (visa, insurance, flat, etc.) and my weekends aren't a blur (Happy Sober January!), I find that I have so much time and energy to focus on becoming a better teacher. I spent a lot of my Christmas vacation and the time afterward working on a curriculum for the year. I outlined monthly themes, holidays, activities related to themes and holiday, songs, and stories. The appendix for songs alone is 26 pages long. But when I got back to school at the beginning of January, I saw Ruzenka's new curriculum book. It explained every Czech holiday of the year including the origins, traditions, songs, stories, and games. I would be hard pressed to remember a time that I felt so jealous. Why couldn't I have this for Anglo-American holidays? It put my macaroni-necklace encouraging Scholastic brand "Preschool Almanac" to shame. I looked at the two books I had been using to write my curriculum and thought, Foj! I deserve better, my children deserve better, there must be better!
So, I turned to the internet. I searched World Cat; I searched Amazon. Then, I thought, this is a job for a Steinerian press! I pulled out a book about kindergarten education that I had purchased at the Sunbridge book shop but never used. Hawthorn Press. As it turns out, it's an English company which made ordering books online much easier. I decided upon a book called Fesitvals Together because it includes Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, and Hindu festivals. It seemed appropriate, as I am expected to teach from an American perspective and use our holidays--and is the beauty of America not its being a tossed salad of cultures?

I received it only a few days later and fell in love. I haven't read it cover to cover--but it has recipes, stories, crafts, and songs. I feel so much better about my curriculum having used this as a guide. I started to remember the magic that I used to see in early childhood education. I have been trying to organize the school and toys in a way that reminds me of Hartsbrook, so I looked at my own pictures of when I used to work at Cricket and then I searched the website for more. I found this video:

Hartsbrook Early Childhood Enrollment Video from Klituscope Pictures on Vimeo.

My heart swells to remember working there. I could wish for nothing else in life. When I worked there, I felt the endless possibilities of childhood. I felt the magic all around me. We lived in a world of fairies and gnomes and beauty. I try to keep this in the back of my mind all day at work. Remember the magic.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Most Peculiar Friday Night

I am certainly the last person who would have predicted that a Friday night in which I do not go Out On The Town would be atypical in my life, but as it turns out, it is. I've slowed down since Christmas, but until then, every Friday was dancing night. As it had been snowing since I walked to work on Friday morning, I thought I would have a rare Friday night in. But it being KT's last day in Prague and Nicole's last weekend before she started her farming adventure, I was coaxed into going to Nicole's flat for a soup dinner.

While you may think that Central Europe would get a lot of snow, this much is really uncommon here. It had only been snowing since 8am, but by four in the afternoon, the trains were a mess. I caught what I think was the 2:26 train at nearly 4 o'clock. When KT was convincing me to take the journey to Prague, I was so adamant that there was blizzard outside and she was being completely unreasonable. She kept telling me it was just a little snow. When I got to Prague, I realized that the reason she kept saying it was just a little snow was that... it was... in Prague. We were certainly getting much more snow in Kolín than Prague was getting.

I'm kind of sad that this is no longer a typical Friday night in my life. Hangin' out on couches, poking each other in the eyes with our toes. That's one of the downfalls of living out in the 'burbs--every time I come into the city, it's for something big, not for casual hang-out-time.

There aren't two people in the world with whom I enjoy casual hang out time more than KT and Nicole. Let's spoon on the couch, okay? 'Kay!

But as the evening progressed, I began to feel more and more sick. Spending hours outside in the cold is starting to get to my immune system, it seems. Between that and the fact that I don't trust CD (the Czech rail system) to get me home late at night during a blizzard, I decided to call it a night early. I headed back to Hlavni Nadraži where I found most trains to be delayed at least 70 minutes. The train I got took nearly twice as long as usual. But eventually, I made it back to Kolín...

...where Rasputin was waiting for me. As was a long, unplowed, snowy walk home.

But the snow clinging to my window (okno, neuter) made it all worthwhile! And it continued to snow for two more days. So look forward to pictures of my town after a snow storm with accumulation totaling more than the past three winters combined! Hurá!

Christmas At School: Beginning to End

The first holiday in the Christmas season is Saint Borbora's Day, 4 December. As I explained before, on this day, unmarried women cut a branch from a tree and place it in water to see if it will bloom by Christmas. If it does, the woman will be married in the following year. You can see above that my branch bloomed! This means that in 2010, I will marry a Czech. I am not, however, holding my breath.

Next up, the following day, is Sv. Mikuláš Day. This is the day when Sv. Mikuláš (Czech for St. Nicholas) brings an angel and devil into the homes of small children. Those well-behaved children may sing a song and earn a treat from the angel. The little ones deemed too troublesome to continue existence will be taken in a sack down to hell by the devil. Kind of puts our coal tradition to shame. What a way to begin the Christmas season--fear for one's immortal soul!

Then, of course, we have Christmas! This was our Christmas tree at school. It took a long time to string all of those dried fruit rings but it was certainly more enjoyable than stringing popcorn and cranberries (yeah, Mom, you'll never live that down). Our ornaments are made out of gingerbread. It was a very traditional European Christmas tree, though I am told that the Czechs also usually have ornaments made out of straw.

And finally, we come to Three Kings Day, 6 January. This brings our Christmas season to a close. If you think about it, we've been celebrating for over a month straight now it seems, so maybe it's time. A lot of the traditions that were reserved for Three Kings Day have been moved to Christmas Day--like in America. However, Three Kings Day in the Czech Republic is a day when people from various charitable organizations come knock at your door to ask for money. Some of my students brought in change purses and couldn't wait to give a few crowns to the Three Kings when they came knocking! It's good to end the Christmas season with a non-materialistic giving holiday!

A Very Ex-Pat Christmas

I spent Christmas Eve, which in this country is Christmas, with my Czech friends having a very civilized dinner. We had a Christmas tree, presents, a beautifully set table with floating candles as a centerpiece. While we did play Go Fish, it was still quite a classy affair. Then I went to Christmas with the expats. It was more like Christmas as I know and love it.

We didn't have a Christmas tree, but this tree outside of the flat was decorated with a pool tube and a jock strap. Merry Christmas!

In order to fit everyone at the table, we had to put together tables and desks and overflow into another room. In order to get from one side to the other, one needed to do the Under-the-Table-Shuffle, as demonstrated here by my most nimble self.

We may not have had glasses to drink our wine out of-- but who needs 'em when we each have our own bottles? Also, we had quite the spread! There was not one Christmas feast item that was lacking. Wait... maybe a goose? Do people still do that?

Another example of the Under-the-Table-Shuffle, done the other direction.

Climbing out...
I made it to the couch which was used instead of chairs.

Begin gratuitous posed photos! Aww, friends!

The expat ladies all have some power animal. Mine is danger mouse. I may be small, but I love me some danger?

And what would Christmas be without a little post-wine sing along? There was no "Jingle Bell Rock" but we did sing a rousing rendition of "The Wild Rover" and other unmentionable melodies.

And what is Christmas without a little love?

I couldn't have asked for a better orphan's Christmas celebration!