Saturday, March 29

My Walmart Spring Shopping Challenge #GeorgeKids

Just the other day I was thinking about how Frannie is lacking in fancy clothing, and has worn the same dress for the last two Christmas and Irish concerts, as well as public speaking competitions. So the timing was perfect when I was contacted about a Walmart Spring Shopping Challenge - put together a new outfit for under $50! Could I do it? At Walmart, of course!

I decided to shop alone and surprise the girls with some new purchases. When I arrived, I headed straight for the girls' section, on the hunt for George items (with Walmart's Kids Quality Guarantee - see below). If I wanted to stock up on casual Spring staples, I could have picked up several outfits comprised of $4 tees, leggings or shorts, but I was set on something more formal.




My eye was immediately drawn to a rack of beautiful Spring dresses ($18), with little shrugs on top (making them school and church appropriate). Outfit for Talent Show and Easter Mass, check!

Frannie also needs a pair of white shoes for First Communion, so I took a peek in the shoe department and found a beautiful pair for $18, again by George, which will also look perfect with the new dress. My mom might not be impressed that they have a little bit of a heel, but the child is 8 years old with a size 3 foot - I can't exactly find her baby shoes anymore! And it is a very special occasion.






After making both of these selections, my total was only $36, so I added one more adorable Spring outfit for Frannie (which I'll show you in a minute), rounding me off to exactly $50! (Am I a skilled shopper, or what?)

I do feel a bit guilty making all of these new purchases for my older daughter, but little Maggie gets hand-me-downs from a few different family members and friends, so she truly doesn't need much. However, swimming lessons start next week and I realized quickly after we arrived in Montego Bay that her swimsuit collection has seen better days, so I added one more item to my cart.




Here are my purchases, for the $50 challenge:







Plus the extra item I threw in for Maggie ($12 for a licensed character swimsuit):




The happy model:




Thanks for the fun challenge, Walmart - and for helping me get my girls ready for their Spring adventures!

Disclosure: I was provided with a $50 Walmart gift card for the shopping challenge. Opinions are, as always, my own.




Friday, March 28

Efficient Organization: My Clothes Closet

After the overwhelming response to my "Efficient Organization: The Filing Cabinet" post (thanks so much to that person who commented!) today I am sharing with you how I keep my half of the walk-in closet organized and running efficiently. (Hubby is organized too, but I'll leave it to him to share his strategies someday if he wishes. He loves to joke about his plans for his own blog, "This Dad Hates".)

  • Since our home was custom-built, I was lucky enough to be able to determine how I wanted the closet divided. This is super-helpful, as people use space differently. For example, I have very few long dresses, so I only designated a small amount of space for hanging long items. I have one rack for hanging short items, split between tops and bottoms, and I use shelves to organize sweaters, t-shirts/tank tops, and gym/comfy clothes.





  • Just this year, I invested in matching hangers (the thin space-saving ones) for all of my hanging items. It really did open up some space, and there's something very visually pleasing about having them all the same. (I think I paid about $50 to do my whole closet.)



  • Here's my biggest tip when it comes to purging unused items: whenever I wear something, I return it to the end of the rack/pile. For example, at the end of the day, my pants get hung up on the far left of the closet, and the sweater I wore placed at the bottom of the far right pile, and items get shuffled along. At the end of each season, it's very easy to see what has been worn and what hasn't, and therefore what can be painlessly donated. This system also helps me to add some variety to my wardrobe because I can make an effort to choose items I clearly haven't worn in a long time. While putting together this post, I noticed exactly where my themed Halloween shirt from Old Navy is hanging, and it's pretty fair to assume that anything to the left of that hasn't been worn since October, and is ready to be culled from my winter wardrobe.

  • I also live by the rule that you've heard from every other organization junkie - one in, one out. While it doesn't always happen on the same day, I try to generally get rid of (by which I usually mean donate) an item for every new one that I bring into my closet. When I have a few new pieces coming in (perhaps Christmas gifts or the result of a back-to-school shopping spree) I force myself to take the time to weed out as many items, so that my closet never becomes overstuffed and unmanageable. (We do the same thing with the girls' toys, but I'll save that for another post.)

  • Speaking of seasons, I have my wardrobe streamlined enough that I keep everything (for all four seasons) in my closet. Shorts get moved up to the top shelf (on top of my wedding dress) after their disappointingly brief season of use is over, and trade places with heavy sweaters, which tend to get much more airtime. Other than that, most of my items can be worn year-round, and I'm actually making more of an effort to repurpose clothing as much as possible. A lot of cute short-sleeved tops look great with blazers in fall and spring, for example, when it would be far too cold (for me) to wear them alone. (Well, not alone, exactly. There would always be bottoms. Just to be clear.) My bedroom dresser holds socks, underwear, and swimsuits, but everything else is right here in the closet.

  • I wrote about my jewelry organization once before, but here is the photo of my "Little Black Dress" which hangs on the closet door (earrings are stored in compartments on the back):




  • I recently put up a small rack on the back of the door for belts (and by "I", of course I mean my father, who is still always willing to do odd jobs for me, even though I'm unable to bat my eyelashes through text. Or is there a way?) The rack will only hold about a dozen, which gives me incentive to keep my selection pared down. Until Christmas, the only belts I owned were black or brown, so my friend (and next-door-teacher) spiced things up with red, green and grey ones as gifts!



  • Because our walk-in closet is right beside our ensuite, we use wall space in the closet to hang our towels and bathrobes, 

  • All shoes are kept on the shoe racks at the bottom of the closet, although we have a large shoe storage unit on the landing in our garage where we keep the items we wear on a regular basis. (How I wish it could be the sandals and flip-flops instead of the boots.) There's no way I am showing you a photo of anything out there at this time of year, though. Things are always kept "organized", but in March, there's just no way to keep everything clean! (Same with my car. Living in the country is never good for the outside, but this winter is killing the inside too.)

  • The only laundry baskets in our home also reside in this closet, one clearly for darks and one for whites. I'm in there constantly, so I can see pretty quickly when one is full, and throw a load of laundry in the washing machine. Once the girls are old enough to do their own laundry (I'm giving Frannie a couple more years) I'll get them similar baskets for their own rooms.




  • I only keep things that belong in the clothes closet in the clothes closet. That might sound obvious to some, but those who have their wrapping paper, garden tools and soup cans stored in their master bedrooms should pay attention.

  • As a random note for those people who think that I get rid of things a little too ruthlessly and am completely devoid of sentiment, I would like to share with you two other items that have a special storage place in my closet, in a box of mementos: 




See? I'm not completely cold and heartless when it comes to meaningful material items!

I also have to say that when the members of our Student Government selected "80's Day" as one of our Spirit Week themes, I was actually glad that I had kept a pair of retro earrings that I wore for an 80's party years ago (my cousin hosted the party and included an accessory in every invitation - neat, right?) This is the sort of thing I would normally give away after the fact, but for some reason I held on. However, worst-case scenario would have been paying a couple of bucks at Ardene for a new pair, which wouldn't exactly have been the end of the world.

To wrap up with some exciting closet-related news: while in the process of writing up this post, I realized that my dress selection could probably use some attention, so I'm happy to announce that my personal stylist, Lisa McLatchie, is on the job! (She visited my house to do a Wardrobe Makeover and also helped with a Coat Intervention.) I'm sending her pics of me wearing all of my questionable dresses, and she'll be responding soon with her kind yet ruthless professional opinion, which of course I will share with you here! Looking forward to that!

How do you keep your clothes closet neat and organized? I'm always thrilled to get new tips! If you've done a closet-organizing post, feel free to leave your link below - I'd love to check it out!



Tuesday, March 25

Adventures In Freelance Writing - Volume IV: How To Thicken the Skin

In case you missed the rest of this series:

Adventures In Freelance Writing - Volume I
Adventures In Freelance Writing - Volume II
Adventures In Freelance Writing - Volume III

This time around, I'm addressing one huge topic: my very thin skin.(I will limit this discussion to writing-related matters.)

For the past 14 years, I have been the one to assign work and assess it with a red pen.

Believe me, it is very difficult to switch roles.

Very early on in my freelance writing career (as in, three or four years ago) I got used to having pitches rejected. I understood that, in the beginning, I was completely unknown, and also that magazines only have a certain amount of space.

I made sure to research the publications, pitch relevant, not-yet-done ideas to the right editors (if I could find their contact information), but was often met with silence. By which I mean an empty Inbox. Sometimes there would be a "thanks but no thanks" form response, or very occasionally a personalized rejection. If a reason was given, even better, as that could help tailor future pitches.

I also did a lot of reading (books and online) about freelance writing, and realized that this was the norm, especially for new writers, and nothing to take personally.

Things actually got harder, though, when pitches started getting accepted. To this day, I still get a rush when an editor replies and likes my idea. I get to work right away, and I always give my best, most professional, well-researched and well-written work.

But get this: editors don't think my writing is perfect. No, seriously.

The hardest part of writing for me now occurs every time I get an email from an editor with notes and revisions to be made. The first kicker is the blow to the ego that comes with learning there was something someone didn't like about my work (Inner voice: "How could she think that part was unclear? What does she mean, 'not reader-friendly'?") and the second is that now there's a big addition to my To-Do list. (Please note that the voice remains "inner". There's nothing to be gained by acting defensive.)

Now, let me be clear: virtually every editor I have ever worked with has been professional, kind and supportive. I have never dealt with anything even close to unfair criticism or nastiness (though some are much more critical than others). And sometimes, I will think that an editor totally hates my writing, and then the second draft will come back with "Thanks for your great work on this article!" and the offer of another assignment, which speaks volumes.

The important lesson I have learned from all of this: the job of editors is to...wait for it...edit.

Have you picked yourself up off the floor after that shocker? Some editors tweak here and there and some want to make their voice present in all articles they approve, but all want to do their job to the best of their abilities, and to ensure quality content for their magazines. And I'm pretty sure, though most writers don't talk about it, that I'm not the only one in history who has ever had to make revisions to a first draft. (If anyone wants to share to make me feel better, I'd really appreciate it!)

Have I cried when reading feedback? I sure have. Lost sleep? On a regular basis. I even used one experience as a teachable moment for my students, who are actually way better about accepting constructive criticism than I am.

But the bottom line is that I am so privileged to be part of the world of national magazine writing - a dream of mine for a long time. I also consider myself lucky that, just as in my role as a teacher, I can continue to be a lifelong learner. Navigating the magazine biz and figuring out how to improve and hone my own writing - these are skills I wouldn't be developing without the expertise, support and trust of all of these wonderful editors.

I'm not sure if there's anything I can do to make my skin any thicker, but the right perspective can act a bit like a numbing cream to help soften the blow.


Thursday, March 20

Family Fun - Oasis at Sunset: Montego Bay, Jamaica

Before you delve into the fun that was our March Break, please be clear that this is no freebie or sponsored post. We paid for every penny of this vacation, though even if we hadn't, I hope that by now you trust me to give honest reviews. And when I say "by now", I'm referring to regular readers who have been around for a while, not implying that two lines worth of text are enough to prove my trustworthiness to brand new readers! 





The excitement began on the first day of our journey, which was a Friday morning (an unpaid day for teachers in Ontario, just so we’re all clear).

Little Maggie –carsick at the best of times – could barely handle the anticipation of the trip combined with a drive to the airport, and she was making very good use of an extra Ziploc bag at the exact moment we were boarding our flight. Apparently WestJet takes sick passengers very seriously. I don’t want to spend a whole post outlining one of the worst parts of the week, so let’s just say that Maggie was examined, their medical team contacted, and we were ordered off the plane with the promise that they would try to get us on another one later. Because lots of March Break flights to Jamaica have four extra seats on them.

Fortunately for us, we were travelling with a doctor friend who came up to the front of the plane to get more information, and she asked to speak to their med team. She vouched for Maggie’s travel sickness, lack of fever or diarrhea, and dosage of Gravol, and thank the Lord, they let us back on, And by “us”, I mean the girls and me, rule-followers at the best and worst of times. My husband never physically left the front of the plane as these conversations were taking place, in what may have been some sort of psychological move.

We had promised the girls seatback entertainment on the plane, which didn’t happen, but the drugs knocked Maggie out for the entire flight and Frannie (mommy’s girl) was more than happy to read a complete chapter book sitting beside me, so all was well. The immigration line at the Montego Bay airport was crazy, but since Pearson had been a breeze – and we were lucky to be arriving at all – we took it in stride.

After another hour’s wait for our shuttle (which our contact at the resort agreed was much too long), we were taken to Oasis at Sunset. Since we arrived, appropriately, after sunset, everyone was very tired and hungry and not quite ready for the slow and easy pace of Jamaican time – and the rain wasn’t helping. I didn't want a cocktail as I waited for my key, and I definitely didn't want to complete the same form I had already filled in online for "advance check in".

However, after a good night’s sleep (and getting unpacked, which is super important for a Type-A like me) we woke up to a beautiful sunny day that quickly cleared up any of the yuckiness of our day of travel.

 “Oasis” is the two-story exclusive section on the absolutely gorgeous Sunset property. We had nice walk-out patios which faced into the centre court, yet seemed fairly private. (As I sit on ours, writing this post - which won’t go live until after we return because I don’t like to advertise our partly vacant home – the sweat is dripping onto the keyboard, which is actually completely refreshing after leaving Polar Vortex temperatures back home). Our room also had bunk beds for the girls (a real thrill for them), full bathroom, stocked fridge (water, pop, beer) and working cable. I know, it’s a vacation and I shouldn't care about TV, but, hello, the most dramatic Bachelor finale yet!





Random notes and observations:

Water park: I could go on and on, but I hope the photos suffice. It was absolutely perfect for kids the ages of ours (waterslides, lazy river with tubes, hot tub, pirate ship), with wading areas for younger babes, and enough to entertain older children as well. 






There were other pools too, including adults-only (so you can rest assured that there’s a place for people to go if your kids are driving them crazy) and a pool with a hot tub and swim-up bar – also a hit with the kids. (Frannie told her class that her first favourite part of the trip was the buffet, and her second favourite was using the swim-up bar to order strawberry daiquiris.)

There was a quiet beach, with a private section for “Oasis” guests (which we never used, because we were happy with the main resort beach), as well as an even more private "au naturel" beach (if you know what I mean), where of course I spent TONS of time. The water at the beach was shallow enough for the kids to walk in, and the sand was perfect for building. 




The resort is clearly a popular spot for destination weddings, to the enjoyment of our little wedding crasher:





The food was great – a full buffet available for all meals, a “fast food” grill by the beach, and several a la carte restaurants that require reservations, plus a private restaurant right at the Oasis part of the resort, The Terrace – which was painfully slow, but had a gorgeous view of the property and tasty food. Our favourite was the Italian restaurant. Service there was very quick, but our reservation was so late that by the time dinner was served, Maggie was down for the count.




We went back a few nights later, my husband I dining first while our friends watched all the kids, and then they took the second shift for the “romantic dinner” (a perk of travelling with another family).

This is an evening shot of the view from our "usual" table at the Banana Walk Buffet (there were only a few tables big enough to seat nine):




Some of our party took advantage of kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boating, etc., while I took advantage of reading: five magazines (I rationed them out, one per day), plus some fantastic books, all of which I would recommend - “The Blondes” by Emily Schultz, "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd,  "Amelia Grey’s Fireside Dream" by Abby Clemens and "NYPD Red" by James Patterson. And get this: my husband was so relaxed that he…READ A BOOK. In the first two days.And then another one! I'll be honest, though: by Wednesday night, I was really starting to crave a productivity fix (so I did some more work on this very post) but I was actually quite proud of myself for being able to just sit and do nothing but read for most of the week.

Frannie celebrated her 8th birthday while we were there, and was treated to half crown braids (at the full-service spa), thanks to our travelling companions (Maggie got hers done as well). We also brought a couple of small birthday gifts with us (Lego set and summer dress), and were very grateful that the buffet dessert fare included chocolate cake that evening!




The Montego Bay Birthday Girl:




In general, our days went something like this:

Breakfast
Beach or pool
Lunch
Pool
Rest/get ready for dinner in room
Dinner
Back to room

Employees were continually checking in to see that everything was going well, and everyone was very friendly and accommodating.

The rooms were kept clean (though the bathroom felt a bit dated to me) and the housekeeper left folded towel animals for the girls to find at the end of every day.

There’s also a kids’ club at the resort, but we really didn't have a need to drop our kids off for care, since there were always four adults sharing the supervision load. (Note that I didn't say four sober adults. There was always at least one of those, though.)

While we did stay on the resort the whole time, we ventured out for a glass-bottomed boat ride, which was really cool – they even provided bread for the kids to throw in, tempting tons of sergeant major fish to swim to the surface to grab a nibble.








We met some very nice people (most couples/families included a teacher – why else would you travel during the most expensive week of the year?) and we had a great chat with rocker Chris Brodbeck from See Spot Run (if you don’t remember their song “Weightless” right now, you will when you hear the chorus again) and his gorgeous wife Nimali.

While the girls were interested in souvenirs, their choices were quite expensive (and would have ended up hidden in a drawer somewhere) so we made them a deal: A bag of M and M's as a consolation prize, and upon our return, they would get $10 to put towards something bigger (both think they want an iPod Touch, but they’re a far cry from having enough money). They took the deal - and the minute we were in the door they were asking for their tenners!



(Sweltering in jeans, but we were ready to leave for the airport!)


All-inclusive is a great way to go with kids. If the macaroni tastes funny, go back and get something else (I’m not promoting wastefulness, but it actually does encourage them – and me – to explore a tiny bit more knowing that it’s not a huge commitment). Our girls particularly enjoyed the self-serve soft ice cream machine.

Them: "Is it really free?"
Me: "NONE of this is free. It was just paid in advance."

This was our third all-inclusive ever (Cuba for our honeymoon and Mexico as a family in 2012) and definitely my favourite, however also the most expensive. But if it’s in the budget, Jamaica is totally worth it, and this resort in particular is absolutely fantastic for kids.

On an (almost) final note...it was very fitting that the radio in the shuttle back to the airport was preparing us for home with some Canadian crooners. Nothing says 30 degree heat in Jamaica like Anne Murray's festive version of "Away In a Manger". For real.

Final note: Please please please do not hesitate to ask questions, either in the comments or by e-mailing/tweeting me, etc. I'd love to be able to help with someone else's family trip planning!

For more information on our resort, check out their website here: http://theoasisjamaica.com/

Wednesday, March 19

Disciplining Big Kids (No More Time Out): My Today's Parent Article

For the April issue of Today's Parent magazine, readers were asked to submit ideas for topics they'd like to see covered, and for the "Big Kid" page, one parent wondered about the best ways to adapt discipline strategies as their little kids get bigger, and the "time-outs" aren't so effective anymore.

I was happy to tackle the question, and with expert input from psychotherapist Alyson Schafer, as well as a couple of parents currently in the "big kid" trenches, I put together this article for the magazine:

http://www.todaysparent.com/kids/school-age/smart-discipline-strategies-older-kids/

And because you know I love to show my byline in print:




Alyson's tips are terrific, though sometimes I want to go completely against her advice and embrace the tough-love Dr. Phil philosophy: figure out what the kids love and use it as leverage, whether the punishment fits the crime or not.

One Twitter reply to this article mentioned that it's missing a discussion of consequences for more serious infractions, and I totally agree. Word count is always my biggest challenge, and this piece only had room for dealing with day-to-day issues and the general evolution of discipline as the kids grow.

As always, I want to thank my sources (Alyson, Sally and "Jessica" - you know who you are!), and I'd love to know what you all think!


Sunday, March 16

How To Get Ready For a Southern Vacation: Type A Style

The (somewhat scary but perhaps amusing) preparations for a southern family vacay (in no particular order):

  • Untangle 4 sets of earbuds for plane. (Find out en route to airport that there will not be seatback entertainment on plane that you and children were expecting. React to e-mail in such a way that husband thinks we have been notified of a death in the family.)
  • Reserve books at library based on latest book club assignment and recommendations from all talk shows watched (total 10).
  • Force Ask daughters to recycle Valentines and consume/donate Valentine's Day candy before departing. Use photos of destination as incentive:


  • Order new swimsuit from Old Navy (because - fast free shipping, easy returns. This was not sponsored.) 
  • Keep self from mentioning upcoming trip on social media, despite excitement to share. Remind self that announcing partial vacancy of home is not wise.
  • Book housesitter. Can always depend on former babysitter to look after house, or to play role of host in mock talk show segment being videotaped for submission. Different story.
  • Leave notes for housesitter, attempting to be respectful and not micromanage the smart young woman while feeling need to provide as much trivial detail as possible. 
  • Attempt to clear PVR. Have many shows to record over 8 days away, and consider PVR another area to "declutter". Ask husband if he can delete any of his shows. Be reminded by husband that episode of Live! With Regis and Kelly from August 2011 where we can be spotted in audience very briefly is still on PVR. Stop bugging husband.
  • Use moisturizer with self-tanner for two full weeks just to move from "Ghostly White" to "Yes, I'm a Tourist". 
  • Repeat tanning mantra over and over: "A golden glow fades, sun damage is forever." Buy extra sunscreen, while secretly hoping that it doesn't totally work.
  • Pack for self and two children (with their assistance, of course). Don't even offer to pack for husband, though hear that some wives actually do that. 
  • Remember any medications that may possibly be required during trip. Include children's Gravol, though it won't help when most needed - when our family is ordered to exit the plane with sick child and catch later flight. (Now you have to come back for my trip post.)
  • Get manicure (shellac of course), not knowing that tropical orange shade will exactly match tacky wristband provided by resort. (I swear, I didn't know.)
  • Do pedi at home, attempting to be frugal. 
  • Recognize irony in using word "frugal" in a post about preparing for an all-inclusive March Break Jamaican vacation.
  • Remain blissfully unaware that kids' spray sunscreen and sand mix together to create nail polish remover and pedi will not last through first beach day.
  • Remember desperation for Canadian treats during last tropical trip. Stock up accordingly (Smarties, Lays).
  • Complete all personal grooming necessary for swimsuit wear in March.
  • Purchase extra razor blades.
  • Check in for hotel and flight online at the first moment possible, though the timing really makes no difference whatsoever.
  • Write oh-so-witty list about trip preparations.
  • Remind self that can NOT share trip info on social media in advance.
  • At airport, purchase magazines that cost more in total than the bathing suit purchased for the trip.

************

And now, we're back from Montego Bay, Jamaica...best family vacay ever! (New York with hubby and Vegas with sisters-in-law still top the "Couples Trip" and "Girls' Getaway" categories.)

Just be glad that I am NOT doing a "Recovering From Southern Vacation and Getting Back Into Routine" post. That one would be even less exciting, and even though I didn't drink in Montego Bay, the first day back almost called for it. Not for any dramatic reason, just because I insist on being unpacked with laundry done, mail and phone calls caught up and life generally back in order within 24 hours of returning from a vacation, even if on that same day of return both daughters are performing in a big concert.

Type A, remember?

Tons of trip info (yes, I was able to relax!), with photos, coming later this week!


Friday, March 14

Should Kids Be Allowed To Dye Their Hair? My Today's Parent Article

This was a fun article to write, as parents have varying opinions on the matter, and even the medical experts don't yet have definitive data one way or the other. There are studies involving rats ingesting huge amounts of the chemicals found in hair dye (which don't look good), but those don't exactly correlate perfectly with humans using the ingredients externally (and perhaps only occasionally/rarely) and then washing them off.

Here's a quick snapshot of the article in print in the March issue (I always love to see that!)




To read the entire article online, visit: http://www.todaysparent.com/kids/tween-and-teen/hair-dye/

Thanks again to Sue, Sally, Kim, "Kelly", Amber, Alyson Schafer and Dr. Lanphear for their contributions!

What do you think - should kids be colouring their hair?


Tuesday, March 11

Look What I Found: The Public Speaking Edition

When going through old souvenirs, I came across my certificates from Royal Canadian Legion speaking competitions. While it seemed like a big deal at the time, I think I only ever made it as far as one step past our local Legion, which is a far cry from the provincial championships my niece and nephew have both earned in the past few years!





What were my award-winning topics, you may (not) be wondering?

Grade 4: Penpals
Grade 5: Gum
Grade 6: Glasses
Grade 7: Soap Operas
Grade 8: Anorexia

And yes, you do see the name "Katie" on there, which is what I was called until high school, when I shortened it. My real name is Kathleen, and my parents called me Katie as a child, thinking I could switch to Kathleen when I was older, but it was too hard a transition. One year, mom registered me for soccer with my full name, and teammates kept yelling "Kathleen! Your ball!" as I looked around the field wondering who was supposed to be going for it. At least that's my story.

At the school where I teach (and my daughters attend), it has been a longstanding tradition for students to present speeches (called "storytelling" in the primary grades) as early as Grade 1. Parents help kids to prepare and practise their material at home, which they deliver to the class for an Oral Communication mark. Winners proceed to a school level-competition, and those champs move on to the local Legion.

Last year, in Grade 1, Frannie's first ever speech was all about her teeth adventures (beginning at 19 months of age when she fell and knocked the two front ones out!) She earned a silver medal at school (competing against three of her cousins in the same division), and third place at the Legion competition.



Sharing Teeth Adventures, 2013


This year, she chose to speak about rules (her opening was "Rule Number One For Kids: Your parents are always right. Rule Number Two: if your parents are wrong, go back to Rule Number One!") She was selected to go to the gym, where she placed third, moving on to the Legion where she brought home another bronze medal.

Frannie is lucky, because she loves to perform in public (she's been singing and dancing on stage since she was three), and she is a strong reader who can memorize easily. This year, we also noticed a huge difference in her ability to take feedback and make improvements to her presentation, which was great to see (yes, she has a bit of her mother in her. Okay, a lot.) She may be lacking a little in competitive drive, but I'm not going to consider that a fault. From what we see (and I'll gladly admit that parents don't always see it all) she seems to be a good sport, congratulating winners and being happy for the speaking accomplishments of her family and friends.

The ability to speak in front of a crowd is a wonderful skill to have, though for some students giving a speech, even just in front of their peers, can be both scary and stressful. As teachers, we're still trying to decide whether making classroom speeches optional might be a route to take in the future.

Best of luck to two of my nephews and one niece who are moving on to the next step in 2014 competitions!

Tuesday, March 4

School Roundup: February 2014

Okay - this one's going to be brief, with just a few highlights:

Language:

I love to connect a study on Point of View (peoples' thoughts/feelings) with Black History Month, and I'm always touched by the fact that my (almost exclusively white and of European descent) sweet students have very little understanding of the idea of racial hatred. Though many have limited exposure to other colours and cultures, they also don't have any preconceived (or drilled-in notions) of superiority or inferiority.

Great books:

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Cole



Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine



The Other Side of the Fence by Jacqueline Woodson



In writing, kids worked on Point of View poetry (based on The Bug In Teacher's Coffee by Kalli Dakos), where they chose an inanimate object (ranging from curtains to hockey stick to lightning) and wrote a poem from that object's point of view. They all had a fabulous understanding of the skill, and the finished products (typed and illustrated) made a great hallway display.







Art:

This was my favourite Art activity of the month: cityscape quilts, based on the book Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold. Kids outlined their sheets with fabric squares, then added black buildings and cut out yellow construction paper to represent the lit windows. The pièce de résistance: I took the kids' photos in a "flying through the air" position, which they cut out and added above the skyscrapers.




Original Pinterest pin: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/175288610470824911/

Religion:

As Ash Wednesday approaches, I thought these Lent Boxes were very appropriate, with symbols representing this religious season:




Original Pinterest pin: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/175288610470878203/

Science:

As I try to get on board with "Inquiry-Based Learning", I felt our Science unit on Forces was a great place to start. We began the unit using a textbook/videos, led by me as the teacher, but spent the last few days with students devising their own questions about Forces, based on their knowledge, understanding and interests, and then having the opportunity to explore answers to their questions. I was kept hopping ("We need a skipping rope!", "Can you get us the magnets bin?", etc.) but it was totally worth it to see them engaged in (reasonably) self-directed learning. This is definitely a subject that is conducive to inquiry, as I don't feel pressured to cover each and every curriculum expectation.

And that was February...or some of it!