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Design Thinking makes people smile

When First Graders ask if they can interview you to find out what makes you smile, they’re off to a smiley start already! A couple of weeks ago, Elizabeth Tozzer and Marlene Getzendanner asked if a few faculty members would sit with their students during Design Thinking to assist with their current project. We took turns chatting with polite First Graders with impressive interviewing skills, firm handshakes included. The kids asked, “What makes you smile?” and follow-up questions. I answered that swimming, eating ice cream, and watching people being kind to each other are things that make me smile. Students around the room took brief notes and drew pictures as we talked, starting to imagine a prototype of an invention that would enhance our lives.

This week, the faculty members were invited back for a presentation. As I sat down at a table, four boys sat across from me holding special contraptions. One by one, they explained that they had built prototypes of things that would make me smile and make my life better. One student had designed a super fast slide that would get me into a pool more quickly than ever before. The other three students showed me wild inventions that infused people with kindness through jumping into tubes and being hit with soft, kind, fluffy bullets. Pretty creative!

Thank you, First Graders!

Read more on the Design Thinking blog here:

Four protoypes of inventions that would make lucky Ms. Strother smile

Four creative inventors in Design Thinking


Curriculum night video

If you missed PF-2nd Grade Curriculum Night (like I did!), here’s the 3-minute video parents watched during their SEL/Guidance and Bible Values rotation, 45 seconds of bloopers included. No one’s perfect, right? Enjoy!

Zach Apologizes in First Grade

Zach Apologizes, first grade Feb 2015

In our First Grade counseling classes, we’ve been talking about to apologize — and apologize well. It’s easy to throw out a meaningless “Sorry” when we’re in the wrong; it’s harder to share an honest apology and attempt to find restitution for the wrongdoing. In Zach ApologizesZach’s mom teaches Zach about “The Four-Square Apology” after Zach forgets his manners and pushes his brother down in frustration. The four steps to a good apology are: 1) Recognize what you did to hurt somebody, 2) Think about how the other person felt, 3) Consider what you could do next time, and 4) Decide how you’ll make it up to the person. After hearing and discussing this book, First graders completed a worksheet about a recent situation that warranted a good apology.

four square apology sheet, first grade Feb 2015

A First Grader’s great Four-Square apology

In our follow-up lesson to Zach, we’re reading Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry and discussing how Martha’s family would have felt even better if she Martha had elaborated on her simple “I’m sorry.” Although “I’m sorry” is a helpful statement when shared in a meaningful way, those two words don’t erase accidental or purposeful hurt. Students are creating skits in which characters show examples of good four-square apologies. I think many of the students are truly grasping the importance of a genuine apology, but I know for sure that all of them enjoy yelling, “Three… two… one… ACTION!!”

Martha book cover, first grade Feb March 2015

HMcC kids skits 3-23-15

Gathered around classmates doing a skit on the carpet with one cast member in the chair as the teacher

HMcC kids skits II 3-23-15

Three more classmates perform their skit in the style of “theatre in the round”

Positive thoughts in First and Second Grades

In a recent two-part counseling lesson in First and Second Grades, we talked about positive and negative thoughts and how powerful our brains are. To demonstrate this power, we closed our eyes and imagined a food that we love. We imagined how the food looks, smells, tastes, and makes us feel. Physically and emotionally, we felt relaxed and happy just thinking about this food! Then we turned our imagination to the appearance, odor, and taste of food we strongly dislike. Yuck! The physical reactions were real. Just by changing our thoughts, our bodies and moods changed.

Negative self-talk can be powerful and extremely detrimental, affecting work performance, self-esteem, and much more. It’s normal to have negative thoughts, but as we talked about in lesson one, it’s important to “shred” our negative thoughts and refuse to give them power.

After “shredding,” we must work hard to reframe the negative thoughts into positive ones. In lesson two, students played a game in which they selected an orange or yellow “negative thought card,” read it aloud to the class, and then found a green “positive thought card” that would be an example of reframing. (See photos below.) Some of the green cards applied to more than one orange/yellow card, and the students enjoyed determining positive thoughts they could generalize to multiple real-life situations. Then, students completed a worksheet to take home and share with family members!

negative and positive self talk cards, 1st and 2nd grades 2015

Don’t allow negative thoughts like these to take over your brain!


“Shred” your negative thoughts and then turn them into positive thoughts like these!

negative to positive self talk worksheet, 1st grade Jan 2015

First Graders’ worksheet — color the negative thoughts red and the positive thoughts green

negative to positive self talk worksheet, 2nd grade Jan 2015

Second Graders’ worksheet — reframe the negative thought by writing it as a positive one


Happy 100th Day of School!

We made it to the 100th day of school! First Graders brought in 100 items in a quart-sized bag. From bottle caps to buttons, it’s always so fun to see what the kids collect!

100 day PicStitch

Happy 100th Day of School!


Shredding negative thoughts in First and Second Grades

“You’re lazy.”
“You’re unhealthy.”
“Your child isn’t as successful as his friends.”
“You’re not as successful as your friends.”
“Your marriage isn’t as good as other Westminster parents’ marriages.”
“You’ll never get anywhere if you keep that up.”
“You’ll never get promoted.”

It’s no wonder that a Google search for “negative thoughts” produces 3,920,000 results. Search for “negative self-talk” and you’ll be looking at 440,000 hits. Everyone battles powerful negative thoughts throughout the day. They change our mood, motivation, actions, and eventually results we see in our lives. Aren’t they exhausting? Instead of attempting to block all negative thoughts, acknowledge a negative thought when it pops into your head — and then refuse to give it power. Don’t believe it. Counter it, disprove it, reframe it, “shred” it.

To practice this “shredding” in our First and Second Grade counseling classes this week, students wrote their negative thoughts on pieces of paper and then happily fed them to my paper shredder. Students had the option of showing their papers to me privately before shredding. Below are some of the heartbreaking thoughts students wrote:
“You are bad.”
“You make your mom cry because you are bad.”
“You’re dumb.”
“You are the slowest reader in your class.”
“You’re the slowest runner in the whole grade.”
“You are bad at sports.”
“You read baby books.”
“You act like a teenager.”
“You will never be good at math.”
“You will never have a best friend.”

We wish that the shredding permanently erased the possibility of the thoughts returning, but we know that they might creep in again. Students will work to acknowledge and then take power away from the thoughts when they come. During our next class, we’ll focus on reframing negative thoughts into positive ones.




Relaxation in First and Second Grades

What do First and Second Graders think of when they hear the word “stress”? Some students immediately go to their own sources of and reactions to stress, and others first think of their parents (mainly mom!). Here is what four classrooms of students shared in our lessons last week about how to deal with stress:

– “I imagine ropes are tied all around me, and I have to be really still and tight, and then they fall down.”
– “I think of ropes tied to my hands and feet, and they’re all pulling me in different directions. I don’t know what to do.”
– “Worry. Anxiety. My lungs can’t get enough air.”
– “I am stressed when I think about maybe getting diseases. Am I going to get this disease? Am I going to get that disease? What if my mom and dad and brother get a disease and they die?”
– “When you’re reading at home, and you don’t know a word, and you can’t figure it out… that makes me stressed.”
– “It’s when people pull their hair out!”
– “I think of my mom because when my sister and I say, ‘Mommy mommy mommy mommy,’ it stresses her out.”
– “My mom gets stressed out when she has to take me to gymnastics, my brother to a baseball game, and my little sister to a party.”
– “Stress is when you’re trying to work with a group and the other people aren’t working, and you’re like ‘Aaaahhhh!'”

During our discussion, all students agreed that everyone feels stress every day! Stress affects our thoughts and our bodies. If we allow stress to consume us, we don’t work as well, we can’t concentrate as well, and we’re not as happy as we wish to be. By practicing relaxation techniques and other strategies for de-stressing, all of us can work to manage our stress and improve overall health throughout the day.

After our discussion, the students found a comfortable place in the room in preparation for 13 minutes of progressive muscle relaxation. We listened to this relaxation video and learned how to tense and relax our muscles to de-stress. Students can use some of these exercises silently at their desks or anytime they’re experiencing stress. Throughout the rest of the school year, we’ll discuss additional techniques for conquering feelings of stress.




The Quiltmaker’s Gift part 2

After reading The Quiltmaker’s Gift in our First and Second Grade guidance classes recently, we had part two of our lesson this week. Students talked about what they wish they could give to others. We imagined that we could give our friends and family anything at all, as long as the gifts are thoughtful. We wrote our wish gifts on holiday shapes and glued them to posters. Here are some of the sweet gifts the students wish they could give:

“I would give my sister a huge gym because she loves gymnastics.”
“I would give my mom a day off.”
“I want my grandma to have a lot of health.”
“I would want to give my mom a new baby.”
“I wish I could give my dad a new laptop.”
“I would give my teachers a year of everyone listening.”
“I want to give my brother new football figures; he lost 5 out of 7.”
“I would give my mom an RV.”
“I want to give Katie a house right next to mine.”
“I would give my mom a robot that does her chores.”
“I wish I could give my crazy sister a crazy pig.”
“I want to buy my parents a new house.”
“I would give my brother golf lessons with Tiger Woods.”
“I want my mom to have a beach of her own.”
“I would give my teachers a money tree.”
“I would give Ms. Strother a Coke machine that doesn’t need money.”
“I would give my nanny New York Giants tickets.”
“I would get Olivia new cleats and shin guards.”
“I wish I could give my elves a reindeer.”
“I would send my teachers on a trip to anywhere!”
“I would give Mrs. Steele a million pieces of gold.”
“I wish I could make my sister’s dreams come true.”

I would give pic

wish posters

The Quiltmaker’s Gift

QMGift cover

The Quiltmaker’s Gift

In the first part of our two-part December classroom lesson in First and Second Grade, we read The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau and discussed the joys of giving and consequences of greed. This story is so beautiful. I knew it was a hit with the students when a boy in Ms. Hartness and Mrs. Hines’ class said loudly, “That was a great story!” as I finished reading the final page aloud. Later that day, a boy in Mrs. Chapman and Mrs. Haan’s class said, “I really liked that book!” (I checked it out of the library, so if your child wants a chance to look more closely at the amazingly detailed and complicated illustrations, check it out in January!)

In the story, a greedy king wants to buy a quilt from an elderly quiltmaker, but she does not sell her stunning creations. She gives them to the poor and homeless. She instructs the king to give away his thousands of possessions, and when he has emptied his palace, she will present him with a quilt. As the king experiences the joy of giving to those in need, he realizes that it’s not things that make us happy.

To hear the students react to the story has been inspiring. They get it. They know that although it’s fun and lucky to have a lot of “stuff,” most of us have more than we actually need. The children offered personal stories of collecting clothes and toys they’ve outgrown and donating to Goodwill and The Salvation Army. They shared special moments with family members who help them shop for others when the holiday season comes around. “It’s really great when I get lots of toys,” said a First Grade girl, “but what happens is that I can’t play with everything. The things get kind of wasted. I think I could give some away.” We all agreed that it’s ok to accept gifts because of the joy that others feel when we appreciate their thoughtfulness, but it’s not ok to be greedy.

During our follow-up lesson, we will talk about what we would give to others if we could give them anything. I can’t wait to see what our thoughtful little Wildcats will say!

Funny Families

tgivingIn our First and Second Grade lessons this week, we read The Perfect Thanksgiving by Eileen Spinelli. In the book, there are two families. The narrator’s family is messy, loud, and full of love. Abigail Archer’s family is “perfect” and also full of love. We talked about how there is no family that’s actually perfect. No one is perfect! And no family is better or worse than another family. If the students visited my family for Thanksgiving, they’d be lucky to find a seat among the 20+ laughing and joking and storytelling adults and kids. We’re far from perfect, and we have a lot of fun!

Then, I gave each student a sticky note. Anonymously they wrote one funny/silly/embarrassing/nonperfect/happy fact about a family member or pet. We stuck them on the board and then had a great time guessing who wrote each one! Below are some of the students’ funny family facts:

  • When my mom is watching soccer, she screams when someone gets close to the goal
  • My brother is scared to brush his teeth
  • My cat drinks dog water and eats dog food and acts like a dog
  • My mom has crazy hair — it is like she is Albert Einstein
  • My grandma snores
  • My mom snores louder than my dad
  • My sister wears the same shoes every day
  • My dad leaves the garage door open even when my mom reminds him to close it
  • I always leave my jacket
  • My mom burned the pumpkin seeds
  • My dog takes my socks

Parents, please remember the school-home rule agreed upon long, long ago. We’ll believe half of what your child says about you if you give us the same courtesy. 😉