No More Hungry Bellies

Our school is holding a food drive to benefit KirkCare, an organization that helps families in our school district.  Like any other food drive, kids are invited to bring cans and boxes of non-perishable food items to donate to the cause.  Here’s a little peek into how a conversation about the food drive went in our classroom on Friday.

First, a little bit of a back story.  Last week, a friend in our class decided to donate money for the drive instead of food (thanks, J!), and so he gave me $31.  I held on to it for a few days, and then decided I wanted him (and a whole lot of other kids–including my son) to actually see what that $31 could get at the grocery store, so I asked J if he would mind if I went shopping with the money he gave.  He was totally fine with it, and so I took my 4YO son, Riley, to the store with me that evening.  I wanted to show him what we were doing at school, and teach a lesson about hungry kids and helping others.

I explained to Riley (at a 4YO level, of course) how there are some kids in the world, and in our neighborhood even, who don’t have food to eat when they need it.  Their mommies and daddies can’t just go to the fridge or the pantry when they ask for something and give it to them.  Sometimes they have to go to bed with hungry bellies because there just isn’t anything to eat.  Irony or not, this whole conversation took place right at his dinner time, so I was able to connect how lucky he was that I could get his dinner ready for him at that time; I shared how much it would hurt me to have to tell him, “I’m sorry, baby, there’s no dinner tonight.” 😦

So off we went to the store, with the purpose of getting as much as we could with our $31 to help fill the box at school for the food drive.  He was really eager to find things that he knew other kids would like, and to be able to help someone else.  I was really proud of how he kept talking about what he was doing, and was excited to be a part of it.  We talk a lot about “filling buckets” in our family and he liked that he was filling way more than 1 person’s bucket with this shopping trip.  So at the end of our time, we had a cart full of food and a lot of people in our hearts who we were excited to feed.  I had Riley guess how many items we’d purchased, and he was right–61!  He said, “We can fill 61 people’s buckets, Mommy!” (More on filling buckets in another post if you’re not sure what that means.  In short, it’s about being kind and respectful to others and making them feel good. See the link I added for the book the whole thing is based on.)

Here’s what our class put in the box on Friday, between the money J gave me and some other things Riley, R, K and I donated.  Amazing, what a few people can do in one day, isn’t it?

So fast forward to Friday at school in my class.  Our librarian had shared several ideas for books and videos to show that connected with the idea of homelessness in our country, with hopes that our kids would understand more about why they should give to the food drive, and who they could be helping in the process.  We started with a conversation trying to answer these questions: Who will this food drive benefit? If you’ve already given, why did you choose to?  If you haven’t, why not?  This got us started, but for the most part the answers were really generic; many just knew that it was supposed to help people that needed it, and they had donated just because they did.  Didn’t seem like there was any real reason–it’s just what you’re supposed to do when your school is doing a food drive.

The next question I asked was related to homelessness.  I wanted to get an idea about where they were with who is homeless, why they might be, etc.  Most ideas that were shared put images in our heads of grown-ups who live in the inner city, who have a cup or something in their hand to collect money.

Next, we watched a Reading Rainbow video that focused on homelessness.  The book featured in it was Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting. We had already read this book, but our focus had been on practicing inferring, rather than the topic of the story.  It’s a story about a little boy and his dad who live in an airport because they can’t afford to find a place to live.  The boy in the story tells all about how they make it work and how they try to be invisible.  Listening to the story this way–hearing a kid’s voice instead of mine–and thinking of it through the lens of the food drive and helping the less fortunate made many of my kiddos think of the story in a very different way.  The same story–but under different circumstances–was more meaningful.

Besides just the story, this episode featured the story of the Castro family.  The children in the family talked about how they had lost their house to a fire, and after their father had lost his job, they couldn’t find anywhere that they could afford to live.  For two weeks, the family lived in their car.  That’s 6 people living in a small sedan.  For two weeks.  They shared about how their mom couldn’t buy milk for the little sisters in the family, and how they had to go to bed hungry and crying.  The son (who looked like he was probably the same age as my kiddos) talked a lot about being scared and having to move to a shelter. In the end, the family was able to find some affordable housing.

When we finished the video, we debriefed.  Many kiddos were really touched by what they had seen.  The feel in the room was a somber one, and there were real tears in some eyes.  I had them talk with their partner about their initial thoughts, and then we shared out together.  I was really impressed by how touched so many of them were.  They acknowledged that our original idea about homelessness was wrong.  L mentioned that the families in the stories were homeless because of something they couldn’t control, like a fire or natural disaster.  E noted that the stories were more about hunger than homelessness, and that you could have a home and still not have enough food to eat.  C and K were really touched by how appreciative the kids in the stories were for the little bit that they had (the boy in the Castro family talked about how he had done flips over the place their family finally found to rent).  We just talk about all the things we want, and how we want more and more.  They thought that many of us take lots of things for granted.

While I didn’t intend to, I found myself in tears many times during this conversation.   It just got to me, imagining having to tell my babies that I couldn’t afford to feed them–especially the story about the girl’s little sisters.  I know some of my students felt uncomfortable, but I could tell that many of them just realized it as an honest reaction to someone else’s suffering.

We talked for a long while about our thoughts, and I was really touched by the compassion in all of their voices.  I could tell that they didn’t see the lesson as a guilt trip, but rather as a challenge.  They left the carpet ready to take on the world, wanting to make sure that there were no more hungry bellies at bedtime.  They want to do what they can to help others.  Because now so many of them understand that when we talk about helping “people in need,” we’re talking about kids who might be their age, who might be in their classroom–kids in their neighborhood and their school.  For many, this was a big surprise; they think it happens to people far away that they’ll never meet.

So I’m excited to see what this means for our Food Drive box on Monday.  I’m even more excited to see what it means for their willingness to share even far beyond Monday.  I hope that the conversation we had on Friday stays with them for a while and spurs them on for further action.  We’re going to talk next Friday about a service-learning project that our class can take on starting in January, and I’ll be interested to see what their ideas may be.  No matter what they come up with, I know they’ll do great things to affect our community.

Right Question, Right Place, Right Time

I sat down today to do reading conferences, unsure who I was going to start with on my list.  I love it, though, when a kid comes at just the right time with just the right question to help me make my decision!

So enter my friend, D.  She came over to me and asked a simple question: “Do you have any good books?”

I LOVE it when a kiddo asks me this question, because it means I can do something to help get the right book in their hands.  So we sat together and started talking about recipes.

Yep, you read it right–recipes.  We started with background, whether or not she had ever cooked before.  She told me about how she had just made brownies, and so we discussed how a recipe helps you make sure you end up with the product you wanted–a recipe for brownies helps you end up with brownies if you follow the steps.

So D and I started writing her “Recipe For a Good Book.”  The idea behind this is that you can use things that you already know you like as a foundation for finding new things you’ll also like.   The end product is the “good book,” and the recipe is how to get there.  Just like how brownie mix + eggs + oil = brownies.

We talked about some of her favorite books, and she told me she really enjoyed Fudge.  So we started her recipe with Fudge and Judy Blume.  When I asked her what she liked about it, she said she liked it because is was funny because of the kids.  So we added funny and kids as main characters  to our recipe.  I got her thinking about some other favorites and she mentioned Ramona.  We talked about how there were some similarities between Ramona books and Fudge books, and so it makes sense that she’d love both!  Next we added Ramona, Beverly Cleary and family stories to our recipe.  After some more thinking and reflecting, we ended up with a list that looked like this (after she made it into a bookmark):

Once we had the recipe, we tried it out together.  We have a basket in our classroom that’s for GOOD BOOKS (some of my favorites that I’ve put together in a collection), so I figured it was a good place to start.  Immediately we found three books that we thought would fit her recipe really well:

The Zebra Wall by Kevin Henkes, Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary and Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

By going down her list of ingredients for a good book, we realized that all of these were good options for my friend!  They had many things that she was looking for, and they were a good fit for her reading level.  Success!

The original idea for this came out of a conference I had with a student almost 3 years ago, and it has been appropriate for so many more readers since then.  I love getting the right book into the hands of a kid reader, and better yet, she has a plan for when she goes book shopping next time.  It’s a win-win. 🙂

Thinking Ahead

This will seem so random, since it’s something for January and this is the day before Thanksgiving, but I wanted to give you a little peek into something we are going to be doing.

I have tried for many years to do Student Led Conferences in the Winter/Spring, and I ran across a really great blog post that I thought you’d enjoy reading. It explained 10 reasons why they were a good thing, and I liked the comments that were added by both students and parents.

Just a look ahead at what’s to come.  I’m excited to see how it goes with our kids!

Learning Is Messy


Today was our last day of school before Thanksgiving break.  And so traditionally, that means that we do things that are a little bit nontraditional in our schedule.  For math, that meant that I put the kiddos to work.

Here’s what I mean…

For many years, my husband and I have taught together.  Well not really together, like in the same school or anything, but we’ve always taught the same grade or the one just behind.  So since that’s the case, we’ve been known to do some of the same things in our classrooms.  One such thing is the Thanksgiving Dinner project in math that comes during these last two days of school.

The idea is pretty simple–plan and shop for the Thanksgiving meal for your family.  The directions for my class this year looked like this:

What’s cool is what happens after you give all the directions and answer all the questions and set them all loose to figure it out for themselves.  Check it out.  Like I said, learning can get a little messy.  But it’s a really good kind of messy. 🙂

Z was so focused on his meal, searching diligently through each circular to find just the right foods!



Love how my friend M is so into the paper in this one!  Can you see her behind there?


The other cool thing, besides a messy classroom and lots of kids saying things like “this is really fun!” or my friend D asking me to copy his plan so he could share it with his mom (love that!), was the togetherness that this project brought as they worked with each other.  Truly a family feel in Rm. 201 today!




Happy Thanksgiving, friends!


Class Meetings: A Lesson in Democracy

We had a class meeting today.  I love class meetings.  They are such a great way to solve problems, give everyone a voice, work together as a team, learn something new.

Last year, because of a new protocol introduced in our district, I started doing class meetings in a different way than I had done for so many years before.  At first I wasn’t sure about how it would work–mainly because it was new and new is sometimes scary–but jumped in with both feet and gave it a try.

We schedule class meetings once a week and there is a set way we do it each time:

1.  I start with a list of the things we’ve done during the week.  Usually this includes the activities we’ve done, books we’ve read, concepts we’ve worked on, and then also includes any special things we do.  Last week that was a special musical performance and meeting with our Learning Buddies.  We review this together and kiddos can add anything that I may have forgotten.

2.  We sit in a circle and then mark the list according to three criteria:

  •      With green dots, we mark the activities we like the most.  Each kiddo gets one choice.
  •      With blue dots, we mark the activities where we think we learned the most.  Again, everyone gets one choice.
  •      Lastly, with red dots, we mark the activities that we think we could improve upon, work on, or do better at the next time.

Someone is the timer for this section, and allows us 2 minutes for each round.   A student puts the dots on the ActivBoard flipchart with the pen.  This is what our flipchart looked like from today’s meeting:

3.  After these steps, then we work!  By looking at what we’ve marked, we decide what we should discuss; usually it is the item with the most red dots. The timer allows us 15 minutes to discuss the problem and work on a solution together.

4.  After we’ve reached consensus (more on this later), we decide what we’re going to try and then start doing that.

For the past few weeks, our discussions have been around the volume of our voices, choosing smart carpet spots, or other behavior-related issues.  Today, though, something really cool happened.

See how there are red dots by “getting back into our Writer’s Notebooks” and “analyzing the algorithm?”  Those were both topic-related items, based on how well we did something in writing and math, rather than how well we followed (or not followed) the rules of school.

Well, we decided to talk about Writer’s Notebooks, and what came up as a result was nothing short of amazing.  For the next 15 minutes, my students discussed (without raising their hands, which we’ve been working on!) how they feel like they haven’t been doing the best job of coming up with good ideas to put in their writer’s notebooks, and how they need to really get back into the routine of writing.  They made suggestions of how they could do this, calmly and respectfully, and worked hard together to decide on a plan of action.  I was most impressed by the leaders that naturally rose to the top, how the others listened to them as they led, and how many kiddos invited others who hadn’t said anything yet into the conversation.  Somebody even got up–without being prompted–and started keeping a list of who had shared (and how often they spoke), so she would know who we still hadn’t heard from.  There were a couple of times that they started to get off track or started talking over each other, but both times someone was there to calmly remind us of our job or of the time we had left.  The best part was that this time that person wasn’t me–I’ve been working on talking less during class meetings. 🙂

Today was a great picture of what kids can do when they are allowed to identify real problems and then work to solve them.  I didn’t have anything to do with the decision made today–outside of setting up the framework for discussing it–and they came up with a completely doable solution, that everyone was happy with.

And so now a word on consensus….in our meetings we don’t vote on an idea; we work to try to reach a consensus.  That is, work on the problem until we get a feel that most of the group is happy with the plan.  Unlike voting, it doesn’t become an “us against them” kind of thing, and the most popular or loudest voices don’t get to make the decision.  By allowing more than just choice A and choice B (like in a vote), often times choice C will arise; a choice that is often a combination of the first two, or is even better than what we originally mentioned.  And the best part is that usually that final solution suggestion comes from the quietest voice on the carpet, the one who has been sitting and listening and then finally has the courage to speak their mind.

I am so proud of my learners.  I am so glad that my friend Mike Holdinghaus taught me how to do class meetings this way.  I am so glad that we take time out to learn important things like how to have a civil discussion, how to make a decision and how to work together.   This is good stuff, people, good stuff.  And it’s all stuff that they’ll need and use long after they leave me for middle school. Hopefully for the rest of their lives. 🙂


Coming up next

Over the next few days I have plans for several new posts related to “What I did on my summer vacation” (this one will hopefully come in several parts), as well as some fun interactive ones for you to think about this last week before you come back to school.  Don’t worry, it won’t be like homework!  Stay tuned…:)


Remember the pictures from yesterday?  Take a look at just what an hour or two’s worth of work can do:

This picture didn’t turn out too good, but it’s the view to the right from the door.  My desk, the carpet, a table or two and the ActivBoard.

Still some stuff on the windows, but can you see a classroom starting to take shape?  I am really excited about the way this part of the room worked out.  The blue shelf will be cubbies for some of you.  The empty shelves on the left will be the library.

Just inside the door: table, yellow cubbies, a desk and a round table.  All the stuff on the counter will move and that will be the art center.  See the green wall to the left?  It looks like this:

I’m pretty excited about it.  I mean yes, eventually it will have stuff covering that all up, but I love how it speaks to our construction theme.  You will start to see more of that CAUTION tape creeping up around the room soon.

I worked some more today, but forgot to take pictures.  I’ll do that when I go in again tomorrow.

Hope you got your letter today (or yesterday!).  Watch your mailbox for a note from me, too!  🙂