One Sunflower

owl babies

Kids love learning about animals.

Whenever I hit a spot of low energy in planning curriculum, I just throw the spotlight on some animal the children have shown an interest in. Of course, I try to find a good story to accompany our scientific exploration.  This year, my students started talking about owls when we read The Mitten story by Jan Brett.  (They like foxes and wolves too, but I’m going to save those for a while.)  I brought in my ZooBooks edition about owls and we spent some time talking about the characteristics of birds in general and owls specifically.  The kids love looking at pictures of owl skeletons and imagining them hunting small animals at night. I know they will get to dissect owl pellets in first grade.

I also read the story Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, one of my favorites.

The year that Owl Babies was published, my son was in first grade and his elementary school was participating in a survey to evaluate books that had been nominated for some award.  Owl Babies was one of the books. I was volunteering in his classroom when his first grade teacher introduced the book.  She read the book in her froggy voice, cracking every time she read owl baby Bill’s line, “I want my mommy!”  I fell in love with the book.

It is a book with illustrations that match the text and are accessible to children regardless of language.  Even my students with the least amount of English understand when I sob, “I want my mommy!” On one page, Waddell has illustrated those precious owls, wide-eyed in the night, and very tiny in a vast forest.  When they close their eyes and wish for their mother, I take my hand and swoop and glide in front of the children to show them how she came, silently gliding through the trees.  When I ask the children about their favorite part, they almost always mention the page that shows the owls dancing with delight in front of their mother upon her return. 

Books like this motivate children to draw pictures.  They drew some great pictures of owls. 



cultural competence

Our school district is home to one of Washington’s  tribes and we have a significant population of native students in our building.  We have struggled to serve this population effectively.  Our principal invited a Native American high school student to come to our staff meeting and tell his story. 

His story is one of being teased and taunted by peers and other adults in his life – some at another school that he attended.  It was a hard story to listen to.  Recently he has found a group to belong to and creates rap songs about his experience.  He is seeking to finish his high school education although he might have to do it through other means because of being behind in his credits.

The staff listened and were appreciative of his offerings.  We clapped and then sat in a slightly stunned silence when he left.  There were a few staff who shared some of their feelings and that was the end of our staff meeting. 

The whole thing made me think a lot.  I am a female WASP.  I know I have a lot to learn about being culturally competent in this diverse world we live and work in.  I was one of the first wave of staff to participate in Cultural Competence training with our district 4 years ago and while the training was repeated in subsequent years,  the work has fallen to the wayside.  I appreciate our principal’s efforts to keep it going. 

I think I learned the most about cultural competence or lack there-of from the comments and questions the staff had after the student left.  I tried to capture what I heard and felt in a poem.

I really really really hope it doesn’t offend – it’s just a poem:


He stood before us,

our native son,

a boy invited to speak,

to be a teacher to teachers.

He looked like so many,

but spoke like so few,

so we listened


Glancing occasionally at the spiral notebook

propped on the stool,

he told us his story.

We heard his words about hurtful words.

Words that pierced him like stick and stone,

epithets aimed at his Blood and bone,

words spoken by others of Us.

We listened to this child of ancients

tell his story of wandering,

of loss and being thirsty in the middle of a rain forest,

hatchet close at hand,

a story as old as the hills.

One day this boy sang a song

and someone heard him,

someone listened.

Now this boy chips at words

like stick and stone

building a house of Blood and bone.

He looks for a path to the mountain

beyond the rain forest.

He walks tall

this short man-boy.

Our ears burned,

our hearts felt chafed.

We, too, are thirsty in the middle of a rain forest,

and mistaken about the hatchet.



I love having parents involved in my program.

I spent 15 years as a co-op preschool teacher so I’m used to having parents in my classroom, involved with all parts of the program.  In the co-op system, the parents are the aides in the classroom.  I don’t have that same involvement and I miss it, but I welcome whatever I can get!

Last week was a great example of an above average week for parent participation.  Alpha’s dad came to school twice, staying for the whole day.  He had talked to me about volunteering when we returned to school in January – wanting to know if it was okay.  Of course!!! I told him I love to have parent volunteers – especially dads – and that just being on the floor while the kids were in centers would be wonderful.   He came on Wednesday and Friday, stayed the entire day and did a little bit of everything.  The kids were as thrilled as I was. 

He was there on Friday when a few of the mommies came for lunch.  They are always amazed to see how independent their children are at meal times and their nutrition discoveries and good choices. Alpha’s dad mentioned to me that his wife teaches nutrition classes for the tribe.  I asked him if he thought she’d like to come present a class for the rest of the parents.  He was pretty sure she would – that would be fantastic!

This week included our monthly family night event.  One of our parents is representative to a “Policy Council” composed of representatives from each Head Start center.  She leads the parent meeting, presenting an agenda and collecting information from the families about specific activities.  Our current rep is a confident mother of 3 – a toddler, preschooler and middle school student.  She and I meet the week before the meeting to review the minutes from the latest Policy Council meeting and create an agenda for our own center’s meeting. 

We had 5 families show up – that’s about average this year.  Each event has brought a new family so maybe by the end of the year, I’ll finally get them all to show up!  The principal has been coming too, which is great.  I want these families to become well-connected to the school, comfortable with asking questions and sharing their perspective.  At this particular meeting, our rep asked the families to help put together a statement about their perspective of the program.  I’m used to the families being very positive about the program and the comments on this night were familiar.  They are impressed by what their kids are learning, they like the contact with the teachers through home visits and conferences and they are learning a lot about how to support their child’s learning.   One grandpa had some questions about how the program meets all the different developmental levels of the students; his granddaughter is a very capable learner.  I need to do some more work in communicating about our curriculum.  It was impressive to have a parent lead this meeting; Maestra was there to translate,  my principal pushed a bit for information and involvement and I did the note taking.  I should also mention that a high school student came and volunteered to play with the children while all this was going on.

After the parent meeting, we usually have a family activity that is literacy based.  This week I shared the work that the students are doing in their journals and the importance of telling family stories.  I gave each family an outline to use in creating a family “newspaper.”  There were statements for the parents to fill in about favorite games, food, activities, family members and pets.  The kids helped by illustrating pictures to go with the words.

I should have spent more time in linking the classroom work to the exercise, adding more depth to the explanation but the kids helped make the connections for the parents.  They huddled with their parents talking together about the statements, drawing pictures of “pizza” and “marbles,” pets and family members. 


All the families asked for more homework – I’ll bet that’s a first for the principal!

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