Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

Homework for the “off season”

The other day, I noticed a new hashtag on the Twitterz: #eduoffseason. It seems to be about all the things we should all do in the “off season” so we can be better teachers come September. Ok. I’ll play. Here’s your off-season training plan, friends. This is the plan I intend to follow, to make myself a better, stronger, kinder, smarter, teacher and administrator in September. It’s pretty rigorous, and it is important that you fully commit to the program. If you cannot complete any of the assignments, I expect that you will substitute them with alternates that are of equal quality, quantity, and rigor. Items may be completed alone, or in collaboration with others. Collaboration with peers outside of the educational community is strongly encouraged. Your friends and family are permitted to help you with any of the assignments, as long as their participation will enhance (and not hinder) your own participation. After the first item, other tasks may be completed in the order of your choosing.

  • On the first day that teachers are off but the rest of the world isn’t, go for breakfast/brunch with as many teacher friends as you can. Sit in the restaurant for as long as you want, talking and laughing. Have appetizers AND dessert AND coffee AND wine.
  • Go to a zoo or wildlife park.
  • Go to a matinée movie during the week when hardly anyone else is there, and eat a big bag of popcorn.
  • Take a nap. Take  several naps. Take several naps a day if you want.
  • Go on a road trip, even if it is just a one-day jaunt to the next town over.
  • Give yourself a quest to find the best SOMETHING in your area. Vanilla latte, chocolate milkshake, hamburger, crab cakes, whatever. Use this quest as a way to go places in your town that you have never been before.
  • Stay in your pyjamas as long as you want. Do this as often as you want.
  • Take a walk every day. Unless it is a pyjama day, then you don’t have to.
  • Eat meals outside as often as you can.
  • Plant something and watch it grow.
  • Take at least a 3 day break from screen-based technology.
  • Go to a parade.
  • Go to a country/county/state/local fair/carnival/festival type event.
  • Stay up all night because you can’t put down your book.
  • Go out for a nice dinner on a weeknight.
  • Watch fireworks at every opportunity.
  • Go swimming outside, preferably NOT in a swimming pool. Let your hair dry in the sun.
  • Buy lunch for a friend who has to work all summer, especially if that work involves wearing business wear when it’s 847 degrees.
  • Pack an adventure bag with a water bottle, a snack, some band aids, a book, sunscreen, bug spray, and flip-flops, so you are always prepared to have an adventure, given the opportunity. Keep a towel and a hoodie in the car, for the same reason.
  • If  your school has a teacher dress code, put your work clothes away in the back of your closet and do not look at them.
  • Spend an entire day with just ONE child, of the age group of your choice, and do whatever that child chooses, with no learning outcomes or objectives or assessments or checklists (Who wants to loan me a toddler?).
  • On a rainy day, binge watch a TV show that you have been meaning to check out. (Mad Men.  Or maybe Lost, all over again from the beginning…)
  • Read exactly whatever catches your fancy. Read trash if you want because it is all your brain can handle (Hello, James Patterson, how nice to see you again…) . Read heavy literary fiction because your brain can’t handle it during school (Working my way through the Giller prize nominees). Read non-fiction about some obscure (this means NOT ABOUT EDUCATION) interest (Tudor England! Primate rescue! The social construction of childhood throughout history!).

There. You have 8 weeks to complete all the tasks. Or not. Document your progress, your process, and your product. Or don’t. Tweet, Facebook, Pin, and Instagram your results. Or keep them all to yourself.


It’s YOUR summer. Do what it takes to be a happier, healthier, kinder, stronger, smarter,  HUMAN BEING by September, and I PROMISE that you will also be a better teacher.

Now, go find your pyjamas and get started.

(This post was inspired by a homework assignment I gave to a student a few years ago, so: go find a heart-shaped rock.)

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One month in Admin: 10 things I have learned since joining the Dark Side

Ok, it has been just over a month since I started this admin gig, and moved from my classroom to my office.  I’ve learned some things, some of them serious, some of them snarky. For whatever it is worth, my advice to date:

  1. Do whatever it takes to be in a really good mood BEFORE you check your e-mail for the first time each day. For me, this means a big vanilla latte, country music in the car, and greeting our grade one and two students as they come in from the playground.
  2. Greet students by name every time you see them. Not only does this delight them, it impresses the bejebus out of parents.
  3. While you’re at it, greet parents by name, too. Ask about their weekend, their trip, the new baby.
  4. Visit the classrooms as often as possible, but visit the gym, the music room, the library, the art room, too. Specialist teachers do amazing things with hundreds of children, every day.
  5. Even if they went to kindergarten at your school, grade one students will get lost in the hallways.  Kindergarten students are constantly supervised, grade twos know their way around, but grade ones get lost. Learn to recognize a child who is lost but doesn’t want to admit it.
  6. Go outside. Go outside with big kids and little kids and in-between kids, with teachers and aides and volunteers. Learn what recess looks like, which playground equipment is the source of the most injuries, which areas of the yard can’t be seen from the benches where supervisors tend to sit. Move the benches.
  7. No meeting is so important that a child who needs a hug can’t interrupt you. Even the Head of School/the Superintendant/the Board Chairperson will NOT get mad if you pause to accept a hug.
  8. Keep crayons, paper, playdough, some stuffed animals, and a puzzle or two in your office.
  9. Aim for inbox zero once a week, and for inbox twenty before you go home at the end of the day.
  10. Go HOME at the end of the day. Everything and everyone will still be there tomorrow. You are not on-call 24/7. Go home, sit in a chair, watch the clouds go by.

You deserve it.



Ask Miss Night: Taming the Transitions

Oh crap, that’s right, I HAVE A BLOG!

Hello friends. I know you have all been losing sleep, wondering what has happened to your beloved Miss Ni… Oh, who am I kidding?! You all have been living your lives, most of you teaching your kiddos, getting by just fine without me. Let’s all be honest here for a minute, and admit that one of the strongest realities of this line of work is how completely the day-to-day nitty-gritty can consume us – to a point that it seems we blink, and suddenly it is the end of October.

CAN I GET AN AMEN ON THAT?! (Or a what-what, or a whoop-whoop, or a hallelujah, or a hell-ya, or whatever exclamation of agreement you prefer…?)

Anyway, have no fear: I am back, with a great question from a reader we will call NE. NE is new to kindergarten, and is struggling with transition times. She says:

Well, since this is my first experience with Kindergarten I have no expectations of what is going to happen but here’s something I’m struggling with. My dismissal time routine is really rough as is right after lunch. With our schedule we eat lunch then start math. What are some attention grabbers you use to help keep the attention of your students? After unstructured time (lunch) my class is really wild and hard to settle down……
When I dismiss, I dismiss bus students then have the walkers get their backpacks from their lockers. As I’m watching for parents another unstructured time, the students seem to be wild and not wanting to read or do a puzzle.

First, dear NE, please know you are not alone. Dealing with transitions is one of the hardest part of teaching little ones. Even the most angelic group of kiddos can seem to turn into a whole other species at the times of day when there is more than one thing going on at once, or when they are waiting for the next thing to start. To make things worse, transitions often seem to happen at times of day when kids are tired (Post-recess! After lunch! End of the day!) and/or hungry (Pre-lunch! Before snack! End of the day!) And, even when you have  GREAT transition routines, there are still random days where those in-between times go back to being a 3-ring circus of chaos, and all you can do is breathe through them. The good news is: by their very definition, transition times MUST come to an end.

That said, there are things you can do to help things go more smoothly. Since it has been several weeks since you submitted your question, you may have discovered some of these, or stumbled into other solutions. I’m also going to ask the readers to share their best tips and tricks in the comments, since they are  ALWAYS much smarter than me!

My first approach would be to eliminate as many transitions as possible. Look critically at any time of day when you are asking the entire group to stop one thing, come together, and than start another thing. Is there a way to change it, or to create a routine that has less stop-and-start. My favourite example of this is doing snack as a centre rather than a whole-group activity: during my afternoon play centres, one table is designated as the snack centre, where children can choose to eat whenever they are hungry. This saves me multiple transitions – from play to cleanup to hand-washing to snack to cleanup to bag-packing. Instead, we just do play to cleanup to packing. So, for your lunch-to-math transition, is there a way to have a routine allowing each child to finish lunch, clean up, and start a math routine of some kind, without having to wait for everyone? A math journal? A designated shelf of math-related games or manipulatives? Something they can start independently, but that is not mandatory, so that the slow eaters can skip it if needed.

My second piece of advice would be to consider the noise level, as transitions are a time when it is WAY too easy for kids to get sucked into an escalating spiral of LOUDNESS, where the LOUDNESS makes them speak LOUDER to be heard over the LOUDNESS which makes everything LOUDER… you can see where I am going with this. While I am not a huge fan of making children be silent, a “no talking” rule, when used sparingly, can help kids focus on the task at hand, and develop the self-regulation to move through a particularly difficult transition. My current group has been struggling with the “getting ready for recess” routine (we are already into snow pants and heavy coats and boots and hats and mittens), and just last week we instituted a “no talking until you are dressed” rule. It is not my favourite, and will not be the rule forever, but right now it is helping them stay focused on details like “MITTENS GO LAST.” So, for you, NE, are there times where a temporary “no talking” or “whispers only” rule would help create a habit of calm and focus?

My final addition to a transition tool kit is songs and chants. Songs, poems, and fingerplays are your best weapon at any time that some of the kids are waiting for others to be ready, or when ALL the kids are waiting for an event or activity. Sing, sing, sing. Find songs for the transitions themselves (like a cleanup song), and sing songs while you wait. If half the kids are at the circle and the other half are still wrapping up lunch, start singing with the carpet kids. It will keep them out of trouble, and the slower cleaner-uppers will hurry to join you. SInging a familiar song at steadily decreasing volume can help bring a group together and quiet, so you can start instruction without battling chatter.

There you go, NE: my three best techniques for taming the transition monster. Now, awesome readers, please share your brilliance in the comments, because I  KNOW you know way more things than me.

And don’t worry, i won’t leave you hanging this long again!

Have a question for Miss Night and the readers? Click on the button to submit it.


The Luckiest People

I had a boss, a long time ago, at Internationally-Known-Non-Profit-Agency-of-Ill-Repute, who was a big proponent of having A Friend at Work, and encouraged us to get to know one another, socialise, connect outside of our workspace. She said everyone needed People. So we did. Socialise, get to know one another, connect outside of work. And from that came P and L, two of my long-time People: friendships that have survived and thrived through weddings and kiddos and grad school and career changes and new homes and big moves. My girls. My People.

When I moved to a new country for grad school, my dad loaded all my earthly belongings into his horse trailer and drove me down there. Once I was all set up in my teeny weeny apartment, he did the long drive home alone, and later told me he found it really hard to drive away and leave me in a town where I had no People. Funny thing is, I remember watching his truck leave my parking spot, and thinking: “Ok, I have a house, furniture, groceries, a sense of where to find things in this town. Next up: I need to find me some People.”

I found me some People, and they remain My People to this day.

A few years ago, my first year at This School, at a time when it was In Transition and longtime staff regarded new staff with the squinty eyes of suspicion. Hard to find People when no one trusts anyone. I found ONE: a grade one teacher, also new, also regarded with suspicion. If you can’t have People, have A Person. That grade one teacher is still My Person, although I have People now, too.

Today, straggling with My People (including my boss, who is totally one of My People) after a meeting… A colleague, relatively new to our school, an amazing teacher. She teaches some of my students from years ago, describes them in the very same words I used when they were kindergarteners. From her today: tears, at feeling alone in her desire to question pedagogy, at being at odds with her team, misunderstood. A realization: she doesn’t need advice. She needs some People. We get her. We love our students the way she does. We ask the same hard questions. We find the same quirky, sometimes dark, humour, in working with young children. She’s us. She’s People.

So, we’ll be her People. We’ll invite her to lunch and share our jokes and make note of her Starbucks order.

We all need People. We need to find our People. We need to be People to others. Your People may  be in the classroom next door or across the hall or up the stairs. They may not be. They may not even be in your school (or office or centre, or wherever you earn your  paycheque), although just like my long-ago boss, I think we all do better at work if we have at least a Person. Your people may be on The Twitterz (like some of my best People are). They may be commenters on your blog (hello, blog People!). They may be in a course you take or sitting next to you at a meeting.

Find your People. Be People.

This job is too hard to do alone.

People need People.



Cash to fill my tank*: choosing the awesome instead of the awful

(Disclaimer, because I know I am blessed with many friends and readers who may be prone to worrying about me needlessly: I am fine. Everyone I love (including my ridiculous dog) is fine. There are no true emergencies involved in anything I am about to say. I am fine, and after writing this I am going to make some iced tea and watch some Big Bang Theory and laugh. EVERYTHING IS OKAY, I PROMISE.)

Hmmm… I don’t know if I have much in me today. It has been an overwhelmingly strange 24 hours in my world. Some amazingly wonderful things have happened (including things that involve this blog!). I have shed tears over something precious that I have lost (it is literally a THING, and I will get over it, but I am still VERY sad right now.) I have rolled my eyes in frustration at busybodies. I went back to school today, and am mired in all the ambivalence that goes with the end of summer. And then, today, a coincidence so goose-bumpy that it puts a lump in my throat. I’m sorry to be cryptic. I promise I will share if and when I can.

If someone were to ask me right now: how was your day? I’m not sure if my answer would be “it was AWESOME,” or “it was AWFUL.” Both would be true. I would rather it be awesome. So, a list of random thoughts and small miracles that may help tip the scales more clearly to the awesome side of things:

  • The cherry tomatoes on my tomato plants are starting to turn red! I grew these plants from seed. I have never grown tomatoes before. This was one big experiment, and I am sort of amazed that I will actually get to eat something that I grew.
  • #Kinderchat resumes tonight, in about 3 hours (7pm MST, 9pm EST). If you don’t know about #kinderchat, check out our Newbies Livebinder, and please come join us. We are the best PLN around.
  • Seeing my boss today made me remember how very much I love working with her. I wish every educator had a boss so committed to children as she is. And everyone in EVERY field should get to have at least one job where their boss is truly a kindred spirit. It changes everything.
  • In my classroom, I have a deep counter than runs the full length of a wall of windows. That counter gets enough sun that I really think I could grow a mini garden there. Problem: it would be too high for the kids to see and enjoy. Readers, do you have any thoughts on how to set it up so kids can “hang out” on the counter safely?
  • I got my class list today. 20 kids, 10 girls, 10 boys. As I wrote about here, almost exactly 2 years ago, having a list of names changes everything. I wish parents knew this: how I fall in love with their children while they are still just names on a piece of paper. With that list, classroom setup goes from “doing a chore” to “preparing a gift.”

I can choose for today to be “strange but awesome” rather than “strange and terrible.” So, I’m choosing. Today was an awesome day. Here’s hoping that tomorrow is equally awesome.

But hopefully less strange.

See you at #Kinderchat!

*Ladies’ Choice, from the Hairspray soundtrack. Because a good showtune helps turn any day around.




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