First Days of First Grade

It’s still August, we’re deep into summer and yet school started on Tuesday. Now my days are filled with first graders. I love their unfiltered questions, their earnest effort, and unbridled joy. After a few years of not teaching these young ones, it’s refreshing to be reminded that these learners are eager to make things, to say things, and to play, play, play!

Tuesday was loooooooong. That first day back after summer’s break requires stamina that has dimmed since June. And on the first day of school in first grade, teachers are busy! Just remembering my new schedule took a crazy amount of effort!

But there was also lots of room for fun (which also doubled as formative assessment for me). I braved the paint (on day one!) and students watercolored their self portraits. Collaborative tower building revealed gaps between students who already knew how to work smoothly with others and those who clearly wanted all the control of the build. For some groups, collaboration meant building separately and then looking for ways to combine the small builds into something larger.

Waterlogue 1.4.5 (128) Preset Style = Bold Lightness = Auto-Exposure Size = Large Border = No Border

One of my favorite activities was inspired by author and artist Debbie Ohi. She has a series of illustrations created emerging from broken crayons. As part of our morning message yesterday, I asked each student what they could imagine coming out of a broken crayon. I heard about dragons, strawberries, flamingos and more.

We studied Valerie Worth’s poem, Crayons, noticing her use of the words grubby and stubs. We talked about how crayons work even if they are broken. And each student drew an illustration to accompany the poem.

But the true magic happened when each student selected a crayon, broke it, and created an image emerging from the broken crayon. After drawing, each 6-year old carefully glued their crayon pieces to their creation and carried their art over to a counter to dry. Then it was time to write.

I led with the assumption that they could all write. I reminded them that if they weren’t sure how to spell a word, they should write the sounds they hear when they say it. And they were off. I asked for a sentence about their crayon art. Some stayed safe, writing a simple sentence like, I made a cat. Others included more elaboration and showed confidence as writers. But all successfully used their imaginations and created something wonderful.

After school ended, I typed up their sentences and created a display for parents to browse when they come to school for Back to School Night next week. I hope they enjoy their children’s early first grade work as much as I do!

Watery Thoughts

I walk the beach feeling the water-laden air kiss my cheeks as the breeze lifts my hair straight up, making me taller by inches.  Water, clear as it pours from my water bottle, takes on every shade of blue as I look out to the sea on this sunny day. What is it about the qualities of water that allow us to see so many colors when we look out at the ocean?  Water both absorbs and scatters light, swallowing the red, orange, yellow, and green wavelengths, leaving the shorter blues and violets for us to see as blue’s variations.

Water, also known by its formula H2O, is a miracle of chemistry.  The magnetic-like attraction of hydrogen and oxygen pulls the atoms together to create this unparalleled life-giving substance.  Water is a magical shape-shifter.  When it heats up, it becomes a gas we call steam, rising nearly invisible into the air.  When it cools down, it becomes hard and cold and incredibly strong.  We call it ice and as it warms and melts, it becomes liquid water once again.  Water evaporates, condenses, and precipitates in a constant state of movement through the water cycle, creating our weather, refreshing our reservoirs, blanketing mountains with snow, watering crops, cooling the surface of our planet.  Earth’s surface is 70% covered by water.  Scientists are constantly seeking evidence of water on other planets as a gauge for the possibility of life as we know it.

We not only depend on water, we are made of water.  Human bodies are 60% water.  Water quenches our thirst, cleans our bodies, refreshes us on a hot summer’s day, runs through our veins, flushes through our organs.  We crave water, fear water.  It lulls us to sleep and shouts for our attention.  

My memories are saturated with water.  

The birth of my first child came with the unexpected gush of a river of meconium-stained amniotic fluid, right after my husband told me, “Let’s not have the baby tonight–I’m exhausted.”  That flow of water set in motion the activity, the worry, the joy, and the endless nature of parenting with the arrival of the most perfect baby boy–unrivaled until his brother joined us a couple of years later.  And with that flow and the baby that accompanied it came more attention to bodily waters.  Suddenly liquid intake and output became something to measure and worry about.  Is he getting enough milk?  Peeing enough back out?  I found myself swimming through waves of information seeking that perfect watery balance.

We hear all the time that we should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.  It seems that everyone carries large bottles of water around with them.  Is it too late to drink once you feel thirsty?  Can you drink too much water?  I’ve heard the stories of people dying simply by drinking too much water.  Water intoxication, also known as hyponatremia, happens during major sporting events, fueled by the fear that dehydrating would be worse.  Water is both necessary for life and can take life away–and sometimes make it unpleasant, even when you are trying to have fun.  It’s not always about drinking water, sometimes it’s the movement of water that is the culprit.

The rhythmic motion pounded, creating that endless swirl like a washing machine, constant steady movement against my forehead, from the inside out, as I tried to push against it.  Then it migrated to the pit of my stomach before bouncing back, heading toward my throat.  Maybe I’ll feel better in the water I thought as I adjusted my goggles and snorkel.  Geoff was watching the boys as they dipped into the ocean in search of brightly colored reef fish, and trying not to watch and worry about me.  Somehow the motion of the water was an exact match to the stomach churning rhythm of the boat, today was not going to be my day for snorkeling fun.  Why is it that even as I love being on the water and in the water, that it can cause me so much distress?  

But distress is not my constant companion in watery experiences.  There’s an exhilaration and playfulness that splashes over some of these watery memories.  “This boat is nearly impossible to flip.”  Did Dad mean it as a dare as he generously allowed my sister and I and our partners to sail out into the bay,–without him?  A light wind and a sunny summer’s day enticed us to believe, inexperienced as we were, that, of course, we could sail this little sailboat without mishap.  Luckily, we were all swimmers and our young men were strong enough to pull the boat upright after some ineffective sailing techniques tested the limits of the flippability of that boat. 

And tinier, much more usual moments can also bring so much joy.  I am drawn to the beach, mesmerized by the funky smell–fishy and salty and wet, the whoosh and roar of waves as they hit the shore–echoes of the push and pull of blood through my heart, and the ever changing landscape–sculpted and shifted by tidal changes.  Some days I spy the bubble man with his magic wand.  He lifts his arms to the sea breeze and bubbles–a magic potion of soap and water–stretch and dance, reflecting all the colors of the rainbow.  I stand transfixed, my camera at the ready, watching children–magnetized by the spectacle–running and jumping, chasing these orbs until they pop.

I wake in the night feeling water seeping from my still closed eyes, dreams and nightmares locked in an embrace, a tortured dance of real-life and deep subconsciousness.  The cancer slowly erodes his strength and independence, taking away so much of what he loves about life.  The smallest joys–walking around the neighborhood to see what is going on in the community, morning coffee at the local coffee shop to spin lies with the other old men–are no longer possible.  There is not enough breath, not enough blood to take those extra steps, to carry on an extended conversation.  He’s alive, but is he living?  My tears spill over, dampening my pillow, offering relief, if only for a moment.  I know the dam will burst at some point, but like him, I hold it back as a show of my strength and independence.  Like father, like daughter.

***

Nature’s mirror, water reflects its surroundings.  Some days you can walk on clouds, watch egrets admire their image, and see details of the landscape you missed while looking straight on.  Other days are gray and flat, colors muted by the lack of sun.  When the clouds are low it’s like being submerged in a small damp box, trapped inside with only your own watery thoughts to splash through.  Moist thoughts stick, working their way from my head to my heart.  Sometimes they gather and rise, churning, lifted by invisible forces, a storm waiting to unleash.  At their best they shine, gathering the light, refracting into rainbows of colorful ideas ready to be unleashed in the world.  Water is life, water takes life, and like fish, we swim in it, through it, beyond it, drinking in its lessons, flooded with memories…of water, our lifeblood.

Beyond the Still

I love to take photos of things.  Collections of things.  Seemingly random things.  Sometimes I notice people looking, trying to figure out what it is that I am photographing.

Still life.  Where does that label come from?  Is a bowl of fruit really a “still life?”  But when I take a photo of a collection of inanimate things, I call it a still life.  Does it freeze a moment when you might imagine life paused?  Or maybe the “things” actually have a life of their own?

The school garden is one of my favorite places.  Not because I am a gardener.  I am an avid photographer of gardens, but kind of a “fair-weather” gardener.  But I love the idea of gardens and I love the outdoor learning space of school gardens.  I love spaces where kids can uncover bugs, dig in the dirt, write in the shade of trees, hang out for a while under the influence of nature.

The garden was pure respite for my students and me this year with all the COVID restrictions.  We pulled weeds, found the world’s largest carrot–forgotten when school closed the previous spring–sowed seeds, and wrote.  My hit-and-miss gardening style meant the weeds were always back with a vengeance when we returned to the garden weeks after our previous visit.  I was honestly relieved when our garden teacher was able to return to campus and spend weekly time with the kids doing some actual gardening.  

And the beauty of it all was that I could spend time with the kids in the garden doing the things I love best: noticing nature, writing under the influence with the breeze in our faces and dirt under our feet, and photographing life…both active and still.