Friday, January 27

Do You Tell Your Daughter She's Beautiful?

I have to say I disagree with all those experts in magazines and on talk shows who say we shouldn't tell our girls they're beautiful, or those moms who warn, "Don't tell my daughter she's pretty!"

A very important word for me, particularly after my switch to the kindergarten program this year, is balance. Yes to play-based learning, and yes to exploring letters and sounds. Yes to student interest, and yes to teacher professional judgment. Don't swing too far in one direction.

In this context, that means yes to telling girls that the inside is what counts, that their efforts and achievements in all other facets of life matter more than their looks, and yes to telling them that they're beautiful.

You know what? I think I'm beautiful. I mean it still takes me 20 tries and a great filter to get a selfie that I'm willing to post publicly, but in the way that it matters, I'm content with my appearance.

By superficial standards I'm pretty average looking, and was so as a child as well (with a significant dip from 1991-1994 but we don't need to talk about that). Based on magazine standards, I have tall, thin and white going for me (and there have been a couple of short-lived bonus-points blonde periods) but there are a lot of my physical features that wouldn't make the cover of a magazine. If print magazines really still existed. (And no, I'm not going to tell you what I think those subpar features are!)

So why do I believe I'm beautiful? Because my parents always told me I was. They gave me compliments about specific features (looking back, I think they both made a conscious effort not to mention weight, mine or theirs, as I grew up), as well as general comments about how pretty I was. (One of my mom's best friends always called me "pretty Katie" and I still have a soft spot for her.) They didn't even blink an eye at horribly mismatched outfits or ridiculous hairstyles (though my dad has always made it clear that my natural hair colour is best). I knew that they thought I looked just right. (Mom even thought I looked good with a tight, brushed out perm...which is why it was my hairstyle of choice for many pivotal years. Wait, am I thanking her for this?)

Just to be clear, they were also appropriately critical (you know what I mean, mom!) and kept me in my place in many ways. It was not a house of constant, empty praise, and I loved earning my parents' approval (I just used the past tense there as if somehow implying that has ended) for a huge range of reasons, somehow realizing that even though they consistently told me how beautiful I was, it mattered less than anything else.

Perhaps because I was blessed in other ways: academic success, involvement in drama and public speaking, an exceptional talent for athletics (ha ha; just put that in to see if anyone I went to school with - or, let's be honest, anyone who's ever met me - is reading), I didn't think looks were the be-all-and-end-all of life. That didn't mean I didn't want to look good.

I tell my girls (currently ten and eight) all the right things we are told to say these days, especially to instill a growth mindset, praising effort over fixed qualities (you studied so hard vs. you're so smart), and in our home school work and music are high priorities, and we greatly value our daughters' independence, creativity and compassion. That said, I'm not ashamed to admit that I also tell them regularly how beautiful they are. Olivia with her big eyes and what I call her Angelina Jolie lips, Eva with her kissable cheeks and infectious smile. (I'm not excessive; I don't compliment their clear skin or small waists - as adult women we know now what the years and hormones can do to some features.)

When discussing the accomplishments and talents of other women (and men) with my children, I'm also quick to point out a beautiful feature of someone who is black, Asian, red-haired, short, media-defined-plus-sized or in any other way different from my girls as well, to make sure that their definition of beauty remains as broad as possible.

While I often rolled my eyes as a child and threw out an accusing "You have to say that, you're my parents!" I needed and wanted them to tell me I was beautiful, and as with many aspects of parenting, I am following their lead.

I don't imagine that in our lifetimes first world humans will decide that outward appearance doesn't matter. I do, however, think we are in the middle of a movement - and can propel forward that movement - which redefines what outward beauty is. And it's not that it doesn't matter, it's just that everyone has it.

I promise if I teach your daughter, I will help shine light on the gifts she has, encourage her interests, and make her see the value of her efforts, both academic and social, to make her a better person and open up her world. But I warn you, I will also be telling her how beautiful she is on the inside...and the outside.

Tuesday, January 17

Gianna Martello: The Dance Moms Interview

If you're one of the millions of viewers who enjoys Lifetime's hit series Dance Moms, you're already familiar with world-renowned choreographer Gianna Martello - she's also an Instagram sensation, with over a million followers!

Dance Moms follows the training and careers of children in dance and show business under the tutelage of Abby Lee Miller. Martello has appeared on the show since Season 1, assisting Miller to choreograph the performances of the show’s stars such as Maddie Ziegler, Mackenzie Ziegler and Kendall Vertes. Season 7 is currently airing on Lifetime.

Martello has been choreographing routines for the Abby Lee Dance Company (ALDC) since she was 16 years old. She has been a part of the faculty at the ALDC for 11 years, and has been a guest instructor and judge around the world on competition circuits. Her award-winning routines have earned her regional and national titles, as well as overall awards and choreography awards.

While my daughters are more focused on the singing and acting aspects of their triple threat status, they do love to dance - though you don't see a lot of Irish stepdancing on Dance Moms!

I was thrilled to have a a chance to toss a few questions at Gianna on behalf of dance moms (and dads everywhere!

Why do you think dance lessons are so valuable for young kids?

I think dance teaches you more than just steps and routines. Dance teaches you how to listen and take direction. It teaches you how to work hard at something that may not come easy to you. Dance helps with your posture, it teaches you balance and coordination of your arms and legs. Every young kid needs all of those things!

What advice would you give parents who have children involved in competitive dance?

It can be really good for some kids and not for others. I was a competitive dancer all my life. I was not always first overall, and sometimes for parents and kids who are really competitive, that’s not good enough. My parents knew I loved it so much that they let me continue through until I graduated but if it gets too serious it may not be healthy for every family. (It's also really expensive!)

Do you have any specific tips for parents of boys who are passionate about dance? Is it more difficult for them to pursue, or do you think both sexes are welcomed in the field now?

I think it’s AWESOME for boys to dance. I think some of the best dancers and choreographers are guys. Sometimes it can be difficult for some boys because it’s not the norm. I can remember dancing with boys that got made fun of in school, but when they were in the dance world they were getting double the amount of praise a girl dancer would get. As much as I hate to admit, I still think that boys are getting bullied for their passion for the arts from the outside, but once you get to the dance world they are SO welcomed!

Do you think there are any misconceptions out there about Dance Moms - in terms of the dance competitions, the reality show aspect, etc.?

I think there are a ton of misconceptions about Dance Moms -- I could go on for days! I don't think people realize how hard the cast works. It is NOTHING like regular competition dance. Normally, a dancer would learn and rehearse a solo or group routine for months; we learn and rehearse in about 2 days of filming. They have to compete against kids that have rehearsed so many hours longer and try to beat them. People also don't get that it is a television show so the drama is more explosive than normal, however I did grow up in a group with some crazy dance moms. Also we film SO many hours that you don't see, so when you all think everything is negative and bad, you don't get to see the good stuff, you just see the 5 minutes that were really bad.

Have you learned anything through this experience that would impact you if you have kids in the future who want to get involved in dance?

I obviously want my kid to be a dancer. I come from a long line of dancers. If it’s not what he or she wants then we will try a different route because it’s obviously not for everyone -- but FINGERS CROSSED!


Thanks so much for taking the time to share! Take a look at Gianna in action here:

Follow Gianna Martello on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Wednesday, January 11

When to Keep Sick Kids Home - Plus $150 Shoppers Drug Mart Prize Pack Giveaway

"Mommy, I don't feel well..."

We've all been there (despite good hygiene, lots of sleep and vaccinations such as the flu shot), and many of us have struggled with staying home from work or arranging alternate child care for our sick kids. It's not easy! According to a recent Shoppers Drug Mart poll, 30% of adults with children have sent sick or contagious kids to school or daycare...though 86% of parents say they are annoyed when others do this!

When an illness is serious, we know there's no choice, and we move mountains to keep our child home to recover. But sometimes, it's not so cut and dried...are they too sick to go or not?

Often daycares have very clear policies about when kids can and can't be present, but school can be a bit more iffy. As a teacher, my two biggest guidelines are to keep kids home if:

1. They don't feel well enough to be there. If they have a high fever, are sleepy, teary or in pain they won't be in any position to learn.

2. They are contagious (or likely contagious) with something icky (not a medical term). You never want to pass on vomiting, diarrhea, rashes or other diseases like pinkeye. A good way to decide is to ask yourself how you would feel if a classmate came to school and passed the same illness along to your child (and in fact, it's possible they did!)

Sometimes we have to make the decision about whether or not to send under-the-weather kids to optional events like sports, parties and playdates, and those two rules may not be enough to help us decide whether it would be socially acceptable to have our kids attend. For insight, I consulted Lisa Orr, etiquette expert and owner of Orr Etiquette (and a friend I've made as we both make appearances on THE SOCIAL) for some words of wisdom.

Lisa Orr of Orr Etiquette

According to Lisa, "illness etiquette is that you should never bring a cold, flu or disease as a hostess gift, so that means you should not attend if there is any chance you might be contagious.  A quick call to your pediatrician is always an option if you aren’t sure if your child is contagious but a good rule of thumb is if you have a child who is feverish, lethargic or is coughing and sneezing up a storm then it’s better to stay home and play another day."

Then there's the flip side - your child is perfectly healthy, and you want to keep it that when Jenny's mother calls and mentions that her little girl hasn't been feeling well, is it awful to suggest that Jenny keep her germs at home? 

Lisa says, "It is absolutely not rude – and the fact that they have volunteered the information is a great sign because they’re really inviting your input for how to handle the situation. In this case I would say something like, 'I’m so sorry to hear that she’s not well, but thank you so much for letting me know, I really appreciate it. Why don’t we reschedule our playdate,' or, 'It sounds like she’s not up to the party but I’d be happy to drop off her loot bag at school and we can organize another time to get together.' In the end the sick child will get the rest they need, other children won’t get sick and your child can play with their friend when everyone is well again."

To make sure your child stays as healthy as possible when surrounded by other children (and, almost as importantly, doesn't gross other people out) make sure you're teaching and reviewing the basics: using tissues for runny noses, coughing into sleeves, keeping hands off the face, and washing hands regularly.

Finally, get vaccinated: no matter where you stand on proper etiquette, flu shots should be part of the plan. You'll get peace of mind that your children likely won't be spreading the flu, or tracking it home from daycare, school or another gathering. Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies across the country are making it easy by offering walk-in flu immunizations administered by a pharmacist - every member of my household is vaccinated.

Now that we've settled that, it's time for a giveaway!

One lucky This Mom Loves winner will receive an awesome Flu Fighters pack from Shoppers Drug Mart valued at $150 containing the following:
  • Life Brand Hand Sanitizer
  • Cough Drops
  • Vaporizing Cold Rub
  • Electrolyte Maintenance Powder
  • Disinfectant Wipes
  • Vaporizer
  • PC Chicken noodle soup
  • PC Facial tissues
  • PC Feeling Soothed Tea
  • $100 gift card

All you have to do to enter to win is post a tweet or Facebook update that contains all three of the following:

1. A link to this post (the one you're reading right now!) 
2. A tag for @thismomloves
3. The hashtag #SDMflufighters

For example:

When to keep sick kids home - plus win a $150 prize pack from @thismomloves

Feel free to use that exact tweet, but be careful with Facebook: if you copy and paste, you still need to type @thismomloves manually or the tag won't pop up and I won't be notified in order to count your entry!

The giveaway runs until Monday, January 16th at midnight Eastern, after which time the entries will be totalled and a winner will be chosen through random number generation. Good luck...and happy flu-fighting!

Disclosure: This post was generously sponsored by Shoppers Drug Mart. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Tuesday, January 10

My Picks for the Top Books of 2016

I've pored over all of the 2016 editions of Kate's Favourite Things and compiled my edited list of the best books I read last year.

A few notes before we get to it:

  • While most of these books were published in 2016, there may be a few published earlier, and I just happened to read them last year.
  • I'm no highbrow book critic, I'm a pop culture gal. Keep that in mind.
  • This Mom Loves is now an affiliate partner with Chapters Indigo, so if you click on a link and make a purchase, a small portion of the price goes to this blog. If you're buying anything at all from Chapters Indigo, you can also use the link at the bottom of the post to support TML as well. Thanks!

FICTION (heavy on psychological thrillers, but some exceptions*)



Have you read any of these books? Which were your favourites? What am I missing on the list? I'd love to hear from you!

Free shipping at

Sunday, January 8

Bushra Mdewaye: The Syrian Refugee Momterview

Syrian refugees: you can't get a media (or social media) fix without hearing about them, but to most of us, the term is general and vague, not accurately representing the masses of individuals that it encompasses.

Today's Momterview may not be with a celebrity, but Bushra Mdewaye's voice is just as important, and I am thrilled to give you the chance to get to know her. 

What was your life like in Syria before the war?

I had work, as a teacher. My husband Salim and I were married in 2009, and he was a production manager of a big company. We had our son Bassal in August of 2010. We had our own home and we were really happy. We lived close to my husband’s parents, we would visit with family there often. 

How did things change when the war started?

The jobs disappeared. My school, where I taught was bombed, so I stayed home. The factory where my husband worked was taken over by terrorists. So, he also stayed home with me. We had a two-year-old child at home, but no money or jobs. No money to buy milk or food for our child. Once we spent our money, then there was nothing and nothing to do. There were no jobs and no life there.

Did you feel you were in danger?

Yes. There were always bombs. So we decided to leave Aleppo and go to Jordan. My sister is married to a Jordanian person, so we decided to go there.

How did you end up in Canada? What were the steps?

In Jordan, it was a difficult life. Everything there is very expensive, and it was illegal for us to work. However, my husband worked as a salesman, under the table for a very low salary. The money he made was not enough to cover rent or the cost of living. While in Jordan, Celina was born in 2015.

We heard that Canada welcomed Syrians. We went to a church, where we were told that Canadian people wanted to meet some Syrian families. We went for a short interview. And they told us there was only a small chance for us to go to Canada and it would be four years in the future. We were very sad and didn’t know what we would do for four years.

I really don’t know what happened then, but I think it was God’s work. After only four months, we received a call, telling us to go to the embassy for another interview, before travelling to Canada in only a few weeks. We were given four days' notice before our flight to Canada. We were extremely happy!

{Bushra's family was sponsored by St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Douro, Ontario. The family's first Canadian home was within the rectory, the priest's house. While many assume Syrians are all of the Muslim faith, Bushra's family is Catholic. They have since moved to an apartment in Peterborough, as being in the city is more convenient for work, school and errands, and the committee in Douro that originally made arrangements for them still provides a support system.}

What was it like when you first arrived here in Canada?   

Everything was different, different people, culture, food, houses...even floors. We were very happy to come to Canada, but I had a bit of {translates from Arabic to English on her smartphone app} depression for about two months after arriving, it was such a big change. The travel from Jordan to Canada happened very quickly for me. We were so happy to come here, but when we arrived I was a bit depressed. It was very hard.

How old were your kids when you arrived?

Bassal was five and Celina was 11 months when we arrived in Canada. Our son was also a bit sad, it was a hard transition for him as well. He wanted to go back to his friends in Jordan. 

What were the hardest things about being in a new country?

The culture and trying to raise children in a different way. However, I like the way Canadians raise children, better than back home. In Syria, boys are given everything. They are boys, and they will become men! Girls are always the second best. The best is a boy. If the family had a boy they would be very happy, but if they had a girl the father would be sad, as he wants a boy to pass on the name of the family. The language is also difficult. I still cannot speak well. 

{For someone who has been speaking the language for only one year, I would have to say Bushra's English is excellent. Six-year-old Bassal's skills, however are even stronger than his parents'.}

How are things going now that you have been here a year?

I love it! Now I really love Canada! I don't think I could ever go back and live in Syria. Here there are lots of honest people, they don’t lie. Your religion and colour don’t matter. All people are equal. There is no cheating here. 

My husband is working at No Frills, stocking shelves and I am usually home with the kids. Both of us are taking ESL classes. I am hoping to study hairstyling, nails and makeup at Fleming College. I would like to get a job in that field.

Celina is in daycare. My son is attending school {the local Catholic elementary school} and is in Grade 1. He likes school. But he likes to play alone, or he says that. Once when I passed the schoolyard I saw him playing alone. I spoke with the teacher but she says he is doing fine and playing with other children. He did have a best friend for a few weeks, but then he told me they aren’t friends anymore. His friend was boring. {As a teacher and a mom, I assured her this was normal.}

When Canadians hear about Syrian refugees, what do you want them to think?

They need to know more about Syria. Once we went to a church supper, where there were many Canadians and Syrians. A family sponsored a Syrian family, who is still in Lebanon, but they will come, and the man said, “Oh a table! That must be new for you, since you don’t have tables in Syria, right? You eat on the floor.” This is not true! So, some Canadians need a better understanding of where we came from and Syrian culture.

Because my blog is called "This Mom Loves", I'd like to ask you how you would finish the sentence "This mom loves..."? What about fashion and beauty products? I've been told you like shopping, and wearing high heels!

Yes, and I love L'OrĂ©al makeup and beauty products, which we also had in Syria. 

What else do you love?

I like reading and going for walks. Salim likes to watch the soccer games on the weekend so we stay in and I like to cook traditional Syrian meals. I like turkey here, it is done differently in Canada. We had turkey in Syria, but it is made differently here. I love the turkey with stuffing and mashed potatoes and the sauce. And cheesecake!


Thank you so much for sharing your story, Bushra.

{Note that responses were edited for length, clarity and flow.

Also please note that while a Twitter user gently suggested that I should be using the phrase "human from Syria" instead of "refugee from Syria", most of my interviews are conducted not solely because the interviewee is human, but because she or he has something newsworthy to share, as a TV personality, house-flipper, author, athlete, or in this case, someone who has fled a war-torn country and joined us here in ours. I do not for a moment dispute the humanity of Bushra as an individual, or that of any of her fellow natives of Syria, but acknowledging that every time I refer to her would make for a pretty lengthy headline or tweet.}

Thursday, January 5

Kate's Favourite Things - January 2017

Blogging news: the books in my "Favourite Things" posts will now feature affiliate links. For those who don't speak "blogger", that means that if you click on the link and end up purchasing the book from Chapters Indigo, a very small portion of the sales will be given to This Mom Loves (this also applies if you click on one of the Chapters Indigo ads in my sidebar and make any purchase at all). If you're going to buy one of my recos, or anything else, from Chapters Indigo, I'd greatly appreciate if you could click through here first. If you love my recommendations, please help keep This Mom Loves up and running! Thank you very much!


All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

A great psychological thriller, this story is actually told in reverse (Day 6, Day 5, etc.) leading up to the end...or the beginning? Two women disappear a decade apart, and there are strong reasons to believe that the disappearances are connected. I didn't become completely comfortable with the format, but the story itself was very gripping, and I definitely recommend this book.

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Be forewarned: this is not the smart, political comedy that you're used to from the host of The Daily Show. Instead Noah goes way back to share the story of his childhood in South Africa (with touches of humour thrown in, of course). I read most of this book sitting in the ER, and learning about what life was like for a mixed race boy growing up as apartheid ended (he was literally born a crime - it was illegal for a white person and black person to have a child together) really helped keep my minor medical issues in perspective. Noah is a great storyteller, and I have my fingers crossed for a "Coming to America" sequel.

I See You by Clare Mackintosh

I recently recommended Mackintosh's I Let You Go, and her new novel, where normal women face danger after unknowingly appearing in classified ads - did not disappoint. Throughout the first few chapters I was impatient to get to know the characters and see how everything was connecting, but once the story got rolling it was very compelling...let me know if you correctly guess whodunnit before the end!


Collateral Beauty

This tear-jerking drama has an all-star cast including Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren, Naomie Harris and Keira Knightley. Smith's character deals with the death of a child by writing letters to Time, Death and Love...who then come visiting in human form. I loved this movie, and the gentle twists and turns within. It might be what you expect, and it might not.


There's another all-star cast in this animated film (Matthew McConnaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, John C. Reilly, Scarlett Johansson, the list goes on) about a koala bear hoping to save his theatre by staging a singing competition. After the movie ended, 10-year-old Liv turned to me and said, "I think the main idea of the movie was perseverance," which is not only true, but a great message to share with kids. And the popular music selections are fun for children and adults alike! A great family movie.


This film is now available to rent, and I really enjoyed it. It's the true story of Captain Chesley Sullenberger (portrayed by a white-haired Tom Hanks) and his emergency plane landing in New York's Hudson River after a bird strike takes out the plane's engines. (During the landing scene, my sweet husband turned to me and asked, "When are you flying to London again?" Such a comedian.) All 155 passengers and crew survive (which shouldn't be a spoiler if you were following the news in 2009) and Sully is hailed as a hero, yet the his actions are heavily questioned, which forms the basis of the movie. I always wonder how much truth is in "true story" movies like this one - did Sully really have a fortune-cookie fortune in his wallet saying, "A delay is better than a disaster"?

Star Wars Rogue One

I'm not a die-hard Star Wars fan, but my girls love the franchise so we took them to see this film. I'm pretty sure no one needs my recommendation - if you're into the movies you've already seen it - but I do want to mention that I found the last scene very meaningful. If you're seen it, you know what I mean.

Wednesday, January 4

Realistic Resolutions for Your Health in 2017

Note to readers: I will be working with Bayer on a series of sponsored posts throughout 2017. As I'm sure you know, opinions are always my own.

I'm not big on official new year's resolutions. Even in terms of health, I don't smoke, I hardly drink (some of my friends would tell you that drinking *more* should be my resolution!) and I keep a healthy weight. However, there are some small, realistic tweaks that could enhance health for many of us. Maybe some of these will appeal to you!

If you're facing a "holiday hangover" (not the alcohol-related kind), part of the problem may be the germs you were exposed to when getting together with friends and family. Does anyone not have a cold? (Fortunately, my month-long cold symptoms seem to be subsiding, but the pleurisy I was diagnosed with before Christmas still won't go away. Yes, pleurisy. Look it up, I had to!) If you've got annoying nasal congestion, hydraSense® can help get rid of it, so you can breathe better...important for work, play and exercise!

Speaking of exercise, I am a huge proponent of walking...and while many experts out there insist that walking outside is the way to go, it's not happening for me in Canada in January - I can't even handle the 10 second dash in from the hot tub in this weather! I absolutely adore my treadmill - and, as regular readers know, the amazing treadmill desk my dad built for me. Again, there are experts who urge us not to multitask, but I find I am quite capable of walking and doing one other thing, like blogging, at the same time - I'm actually at my treadmill desk right now as I write this! On days when I'm not teaching, I get on the treadmill first thing after breakfast, otherwise I walk as soon as I get home from work. Either way, it gives me a boost of energy and makes me feel that I'm doing something positive for my health.

Now, while I'm not in the habit of publicly discussing my digestive, um, habits, it's safe to say that while holiday eating is fun, it may lack the fibre we need to keep things...moving. Keeping yourself hydrated can help, and for effective relief of occasional constipation without bloating, cramping, or gas, you may consider RestoraLAX® for a bit of assistance.

If you can tell me that you and your kids get all the recommended daily vitamins and minerals through your food, then good for you - I'm very impressed! I like to keep it real here on the blog and I will freely admit that I do not...and while my girls are certainly better eaters than I am, I know they can't tick every nutrient off the list. Therefore, since they started chewing they've been taking FLINTSTONES™ vitamins (the #1 brand choice of pediatricians) every night when I take my One-A-Day®. (It's wonderful being approached to work with brands that I already use and love.) Vitamins can help provide the nutritional support we need when we may not be getting dietary needs from food alone...but try to keep in mind the famous advice from Michael Pollan: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants." (And yes, potatoes are a plant!)

There are tons of people out there who promote adding meditation to your daily routine, which is something else that just takes a few minutes and can apparently have huge benefits. While studies show that meditating can actually help the brain process information faster, it's just not something that has appealed to me enough to give it a serious try. I'd love to hear from others who do it - what do you feel are the benefits for you? And how do you manage to sit still and clear your thoughts for any amount of time at all? Sell me on it!

My final piece of advice relates to sleep - something I've written about many times here on the blog, since it's so important to me. One small tweak you can make is to pledge to power down an hour before bedtime. The light that emanates from your phone, computer or TV can actually activate the brain and make it more difficult to fall asleep. Go with an old school book or magazine right before bed to help your body prepare for sleep...and help you feel much more refreshed in the mornings!
Are there any other simple tweaks you're adding to your routine to better your health this year? Let me know!

Disclosure: This post was generously sponsored by Bayer. Opinions are, as always, my own. To make sure products are right for you, always read and follow the label.

Tuesday, January 3

Reflections of a New Kindergarten Teacher

To start, I should be clear that I'm not a new teacher. My 16 year resume in a nutshell: French as a second language, itinerant teacher of the gifted (serving 15 schools in the board), Grade 4/5, seven years in Grade 3, with some 2/3 and 3/4 splits thrown in there, and a great opportunity last year to teach Grade 7/8 writing on rotary.

I am, however, brand-spanking new to kindergarten. And since the biggest question I get these days is, " are you liking kindergarten?" (delivered in the same tone as you would expect for " are you liking your prison sentence?") I thought I'd reflect on it openly here today.

I knew last year that I was ready for a change, and I was very interested in what's been happening in kindergarten in the province in recent years. My daughters were past that age (turning 10 and 8), which I saw as a good thing, as I'm not sure how you can both teach and parent kindergarteners at the same time (though somehow last year I taught and parented a Grade 2 student at the same time...and when I say "taught", I mean she was literally my student. That's a whole 'nother blog post). Also, last year's kindergarten teacher was also looking for something new, which made for an ideal trade. (By the way, leaving my school was not an option - it's amazing.)

It seemed that I surprised many people with my decision - including close friends and family, some of whom could not hide their reactions. "What? You? Kindergarten?" (Apparently it was a general consensus that I would next teach at an older grade level, not younger, or else head for administration.)

Being the new kindergarten teacher started early, as the principal asked me and my soon-to-be Registered Early Childhood Educator partner (I'll use ECE for short) to run April's Welcome To Kindergarten event, so while I was still thinking about Grade 2 First Communion and Grade 3 EQAO, I was already welcoming next year's new kindergarten students.

Switching classrooms after seven years was also an event. I've moved several times over the course of my career, of course, and no matter how neat and tidy the outgoing teacher is, my personality dictates that I must go through every last item in the room (in our case, two classroom spaces) to decide whether to keep or purge, and where each kept item should be stored. Sarah (the ECE) and I spent the final PA Day of school as well as our first day of summer holidays getting this done (luckily she is just like me when it comes to organization), and I went in on the first Saturday of July - my birthday! - to paint cupboards and bulletin boards, so everything would be ready for the new school year.

Then, as the holidays were underway, Sarah called to tell me that due to seniority-related shuffling of ECEs within the school board, she had lost her job at our school. I won't get into her personal circumstances, but I can tell you we were devastated! I had heard from many teachers and ECEs that the partnership was so essential, and I signed on in part knowing that I would get to work with Sarah. We spent a crazy summer checking job postings and seniority lists frequently, trying to analyze moves that might be made and how that could impact us.

The first day of school I met my new partner, a lovely ECE who unfortunately had been bumped out of her local job to drive almost an hour to this assignment. She was great to work with, but I knew she would be looking to return closer to home, and by that Friday she had secured a position much closer to where she lives.

The second week of school - after months of stressing about it and nights of lost sleep - I was reunited with Sarah, and when she left later in the fall for her maternity leave, her temporary replacement turned out to be another hardworking and organized gal with lots of initiative, so it all worked out (yes, yes, just like my husband and Sarah's kept assuring us it would).

Completely aside from the new aspect of working with another adult so closely in the classroom, there were a whole bunch of things that made kindergarten different from anything I'd taught before.

It's different for the parents, to start - many of the kids were coming to school for the first time, and even for those with a child in the second year of the program, I was new to them. I established email lists before last school year ended, and throughout August sent weekly updates with tips to help with the transition to school, and to inform them about things they may not know. Parent communication is always a high priority for me (which connects to my TV appearances, magazine articles, and even this blog) and kindergarten parents always need more information. While by Grade 2, I could just say "Christmas concert Tuesday at 6:30", new parents have no idea what that means - Where is it? What should the kids wear? What doors do they go to? Who can attend? How long will it go? What happens after? It's all new, so I try to foresee what information they will need and provide it. 

Plus, of course, some Year 1 parents need to be encouraged to "let go" - and if you happen to be one of my parents and think I am referring to you, you may be right - but it's definitely not just you! 😃 I have to say I've been fortunate to be working with very supportive, positive parents which really helps to make my workplace a great place to be. 

And then there are the kids...everything is new for them. The idea of "indoor shoes" (which all of my former students had mastered years earlier) seemed especially to mystify them. ("But...I just changed my shoes?") Even the most generous child who takes turns with a couple of siblings at home is thrown into a crazy situation of taking turns with 28 others. The concept of backpacks is a novelty, and they need a lot of practice to check for their communication bags and other items each day...though it certainly comes with routine. And there were many questions I never had to answer before, even from Grade 2s, like "What's recess? Why is that bell ringing? What's an assembly?"

I've found the physical aspect a huge change as well - on my feet even more, assisting with outdoor clothing as I never had before, helping with "accidents" without actually going into the bathroom with the kids, helping them learn to wipe their noses (all typical in kindergarten, by the way)...and I have to say the germs did get the best of me, as I was sick this fall more than ever. (I mean, come on, who gets pleurisy? And still has it, even though it's the new year, I might add...)

While Grade 2 and 3 students already knew exactly where their buses were and how to behave in the parking lot, I feel very responsible for making sure the kindergarten students are safe and sound (older bus buddies are certainly a great help), and I always have to remind myself that safety rules which were old hat to my former students were completely new to these little ones.

While of course I am vigilant about student health concerns at any age, having a five year old in the class with a peanut allergy keeps me even more aware, as well a sweet little guy with Type 1 diabetes. I'm telling you, it's pretty impressive to see a four-year-old independently test his blood sugar level two or more times a day, and I'm learning so much about this disease from him. (On a related note, if your child has a health issue, I'd strongly recommend you follow the example of these parents and communicate frequently with the teacher, providing thorough and accurate information and showing your support. You want staff members who work with your child to be aware and alert, not paranoid and panicked.)

Next, of course, is the newness of the kindergarten curriculum - updated this year and new to all K teachers, not just me. Of course I had to read every word of the document before beginning, and it's a huge change for me. There's been a lot of buzz about Ontario's kindergarten program, and I can tell you that I definitely see the importance for young children of learning through play (and I certainly appreciate that I no longer have to bring marking home). That said, "balance" is always a key word for me (luckily my ECE feels the same), and I feel trusted by administration to personalize my program based on my own teaching experience as well as my own research - it's true that you really can find research to support any position - including opposing ones. Wine is good for you - yay! Wine is bad for you - boo! I don't even drink wine, but I was tempted in September...

If you asked me about my new position during the first two weeks of school I would have said that I didn't know what I got myself into. (Someone once used the expression "herding cats" and I wouldn't say they were wrong.) However, I like to think that classroom management (which requires building relationships with students, setting expectations and providing routine) is a strong point for me, and that's what was really needed to get the school year going smoothly.

Now that we are four months in, I can tell you that I love my job (as I have every other teaching position I've held). This age group is so incredible, and I feel like it's such an honour to be the one introducing these little guys to the idea of school. They are so ready to learn, and particularly hang on my every word when I'm reading a story, which is very cute. Reading and writing is huge for me, and it's amazing to watch as these skills begin to take hold for the very first time. Kindergarten students can also be so sweet...I certainly get a lot more compliments, hugs, and "I love you"s than ever before (way more than the 7/8 class gave me last year!)

Seeing students learn through play is fascinating, and my heart swells when I hear them repeat my own phrases back to me, like when a little one called me over to something he was working on and proudly announced, "Look, Mrs. Winn! I'm growing my brain!"

It's also a great age for having fun with kids, and we had a great time with Christmas in particular. As a Catholic school, we have the green light to focus heavily on the religious season, and while we set up the drama centre as Santa's workshop and wrote letters to the big guy in red, we also shared stories, activities, crafts and videos focused on the key people in the Nativity story, which many of the kids were learning for the first time. It was so special to be part of that with them.

After establishing relationships with 29 kids, 28 sets of parents (there are sisters in the class), and three ECEs, as well as setting up the routines the way I want them, I can confirm that I am very happy in kindergarten. It reminds me a lot of parenting - to put it bluntly, sometimes you feel like it's sucking the life out of you, but then you turn on a dime and it's the most rewarding thing ever. And though I could, both legally and morally, give up being a kindergarten teacher more easily than I could a parent, I still wouldn't want to.