Why I use chalkboards in my classroom

Earlier this year I began a DonorsChoose campaign to buy a bunch of lap chalkboards for my classroom. Yes, chalkboards. Chalkboards, mini erasers, and chalk, reminiscent of days gone by happily replaced by white boards and of course the grand almighty Smart Board (and I still don’t know what those really are.) Every person I have talked to shows surprise that chalkboards still exist, let alone are sitting for the purchasing in the Lakeshore catalog, but they were there and on my DonorsChoose campaign they went. A few donations later and they were in my classroom, ready and waiting for student use.

And I love them.

Chalkboards are a thing. That is, the illusion of chalkboards. They’re trendy, they’re pretty, and Pinterest is full of them. Why not the classroom? What is this fear of chalk and chalk dust that has sent us all to Expo marker hell?

A few years ago, my teacher grandmother was going through her things. She had a bunch of mini chalkboards left over from her own teaching days. I was not teaching at that time and my sister took them. Ever since then, they’ve been on the back of my mind. Not overly so; after all, whiteboards are the way to go and you can even buy shower board at the home improvement store.

But some point last year I realized whiteboards aren’t all that awesome. They can get scratched to the point of uselessness and let us not forget their companion, the dry erase marker. Now that is a demon. That innocent little marker gets its tip broken constantly by overeager children and dries up in a flash. How much money did I spend over the years on markers?

My classroom isn’t whiteboard free. I have a big whiteboard on the wall upon which I write. And I even have an almost-class set of little whiteboards. But chalkboards kind of rock and here is why:

  1. Chalk is cheaper than markers. Seriously, chalk is dirt cheap even though it’s better than its icky predecessors. I can buy a whole bunch of chalk for a few dollars and not panic about the financial loss because chalk never dries out! Even broken chalk can be used for its time.
  2. Writing on a chalkboard is ever so much more difficult than writing with marker on a whiteboard. Yes, difficulty isn’t always a good thing, but I’m working with second graders and some of them have crappy motor skills. I noticed this the past two years of working in my current school. Not with chalk, of course, but with crayons. I began to question whether these kids had ever colored before. Then, as a remedy for their terrible fine motor skills, they brought in markers because those were “easier” to color with. Which defeated the purpose. Crayons take more effort than smooth-gliding markers, requiring more muscle coordination, focus, and energy. And up go fine motor skills. Writing with chalk on a chalkboard vs writing with marker on a whiteboard seems to work the same way. I still have kids drawing with the chalk, but it’s not the random scribbles of markers. They have to work a little more, and they honestly seem to think more.
  3. The kids have more fun. Face it, kids love chalk. Sidewalk chalk is still an awesome gift. Even though I have my rules about focusing on the lesson, my kiddos have embraced the chalk and chalkboards. It’s different for them and the chalk comes in more colors than the basic Expo black.
  4. It was good enough for our forefathers. Referring back to Grandma’s chalkboards, I love the classic nature of these things. This is old school elementary.
  5. Less waste. I don’t have a ton of plastic lying about. No dried-up markers, no boxes, just chalk getting used up.


Now I’m rude for breastfeeding in the bathroom

Without showing much tangible activation in groups and movements on or off-line, I’m in favor of breastfeeding rights. Call me rah-rah breastfeeding. I say if a woman wants to breastfeed in public, by golly, she should get to.

There are plenty of stories floating around of incidents rallying against the right to breastfeed in public. Tales of shame and woe, of moms getting kicked out of stores and restaurants for their lack of decency. Not to mention that series of photos showing poor women and babies shoved into toilet stalls, the “go-to” place if you must deign to feed your infant outside of the home.

Use a bathroom! The horror!

Generally speaking, I breastfeed in public. I’ve never been quite the type to feed uncovered, but neither am I about to go out of my way to find some ultra-private nursing spot. It’s never been a problem.

Until today of the ultimate irony and perhaps an important bit in the public breastfeeding debate:

Today we went to a county fair. Instead of eating fair foods, we decided to take the opportunity to visit a Mexican restaurant we love. Jade needed to eat. Now, we actually have been moving her to mainly formula for medical reasons, but we had me instead of a formula.

Somehow, some reason, I got the bug in my brain to leave the table to feed her. I still don’t know why. I wandered away and found myself in the bathroom. Why was I in the bathroom? I honestly didn’t know.

Now, this wasn’t just any bathroom. This was one of the those one-room, one-toilet deals. Nice and roomy but the kind that cause lines.

Barely had I started feeding Jade than I heard the sounds of a small girl outside the door and her mother admonishing her to “wait her turn.”

We are going through potty-training hell with Ruby. You just can’t tell a little girl she can’t go to the bathroom.

And yet, by quietly heading to a bathroom to feed my child, I was ruining others’ lives.

I quickly departed and fed Jade at our table like a sensible person.

Because taking up a whole bathroom to privately feed your child is really rude.

Hand Sanitizer, the Elementary School Classroom, and My Hatred of the Stuff

Image result for hand sanitizers


I hate hand sanitizer.

I know that seems like an incredibly strong emotion over such a mundane hygiene item, but it’s true. When a kid goes through a giant bottle of hand sanitizer in three days, when kids bawl over missing pieces of their hand sanitizer collection, a teacher misses the good ol’ days when the kids bathed their hands in the local creek. Because we all know that today that means another load of hand sanitizer.

But, alas, the stuff just appears. I apparently have very little power over our back-to-school lists and donation hand sanitizer is just what is done these days. When? When did this start? Back in my day I washed my hands before lunch. I dutifully washed my hands after using the restroom. I even used those terrifying towels. Those of us without tricky immune systems never had our mothers urging us to keep a bottle of the stuff in our pencil boxes to be used approximately ever thirty seconds. I made it to adulthood without hand sanitizer.

Did I have a kid go through a giant bottle of hand sanitizer in three days? Yes, yes I did. The first day of school arrived with my parents bringing in bags of school supplies including those awful bottles of hand sanitizer. Never mind I have 3 dozen left over from last year, we got more. My awesome aid set to the task of putting most of everything into storage for when needed. Except one kid. She held her giant bottle to her heart and insisted her mom told her to keep it in her chair pocket. I figured, eh, sure. And, oh, did she make use of that. She brought it forth to her table like a precious treasure, lovingly, with grace. She squirted a bunch into her hands. And did it again. And again. Now apparently she will die for not having her own personal hand sanitizer.

And the collections? What is with that? Every freaking scent, fine if you’re strolling through Bath and Body Works, but when you’re a second grader with a fixation problem these little anti-bacterial jewels lead to heartbreak and tears when, gasp, one gets lost. How do you explain to a weeping child it’s just two ounces of alcohol?

I’m not even getting into the compulsion for half the class to run for hand sanitizer every time we get into line or move to the carpet.

What happened last year? What are these parents teaching? Why are what should be grubby little kids so obsessed with their hands being clean?

If only I would wave my magic teacher yardstick and wish all the hand sanitizer away.Then we could return to the glory days of cycles of filth followed by a nice scrub with soap and water.

Unfortunately the matter isn’t so simple.

Hand sanitizer has become an an integral part of the elementary classroom, visible to me over the decade since I began and am currently teaching. When I started in 2007, hand sanitizer was an after-thought. Now, I have donated bottles filling up the space under my class sink.

Schools are germy places filled with germy kids. We get that. No one wants sicks kids, particularly families where both parents are working and kids can’t just stay home willy-nilly. With the anti-bacterical, germ-killing promises of hand sanitizer comes the hope of zero sick children and a lot less germs being exchanged. It all sounds so much better than soap and water!

What does the research say? A search of the Great Internet focused mainly on sites with “.org” or “.gov” seems to suggest that the experts really do prefer soap and water. Hooray! When soap and water are unavailable, hand sanitizers are considered perfectly adequate alternatives.

But there is a catch.

Efficacy depends on the method and the quality. Are students washing their hands correctly? Is the hand sanitizer a decent sort?

I’m currently teaching my 3-year-old how to wash her hands as part of our Horrible Potty Training Odyssey. She’s not that great, ultimately preferring to get the pretty strawberry soap on her hands and stick those hands under cold water.  I’d expect 7- and 8-year-olds to be better, but not all are.

We all ought to know the drill. Wet hands, apply soap, scrub hands thoroughly for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, and rinse. Not smear your hands with soap and leave the restroom. Not race to see who can wash their hands the fastest. Not stare in wonder at the piles of foaming soap rising like mountains on your hands. Apply soap and scrub for 30 to 120 seconds!

The friction and soap then remove germs and grime, leading to hygienic paws.

I have heard from parents and teachers that kids (and people in general) are so awful at washing their hands that hand sanitizers are just easier to deal with. Heck, I found a couple of pages promoting hand sanitizers saying they will get hands cleaner.

But are kids even using hand sanitizers correctly? Is it even a good hand sanitizer?

To do its job, hand sanitizers need to have an alcohol concentration of AT LEAST 60%. This is the stuff that gets all the germ-killing action going on. Cheap brands don’t necessarily have this much alcohol. I’d love to research the efficacy of essential oil alternatives, but at this time with your standard bottle of sanitizer this is what I got.

So let’s say you have a bottle of hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol in it. Great. Now, your kiddos ought not to be slathering the stuff all over their hands like its a great sanitizer party. They need a palm-full each (I find this generally to be one pump) and then they need to be rubbing that stuff all over their hands until their hands are dry. No lakes, no throwing it in each others’ eyes (true story).

Right now you’re probably thinking I have terrible classroom management when it comes to hand sanitizer and you’re probably right. I promise I am trying to figure out to manage this stuff without banning it from my classroom. Surely it wouldn’t be a big deal if properly used.

But I am happy to report hand sanitizer still has issues. When a product’s job is to kill less than 100% of germs, it rather gives a false hope. A very miniscule false hope, but one just the same. The best way to keep away day-to-day germs of the classroom is to not be touching your face with gross hands. There is a worry that too much reliance on simply blocking most germs with hand sanitizer will create a lazy reliance on the stuff rather than encouraging a healthy spectrum of hygienic habits.

And let’s not forget the wisdom of our forefathers: We need to build up a reasonable resistance to germs. I just completed my first week of school and there is already something awful floating around the school. Yes, I’m wiping down my classroom. I even diffused some On Guard before school started. I’m taking sick kid complaints seriously.

But this is not atypical for the first little while back to school. Kids are faced with a new range of germs and their immune systems are learning how to deal with them. In short, we need the opportunity to build up our defenses. You’ve heard the tendency for kids in overly-clean homes to get sick more often. There’s a lot of truth to it.

By relying way too much on hand sanitizers, we may actually be opening ourselves and our kiddos to greater sickness.

Sensible treatment of germy situations and thoughtful hand washing, in my opinion, ought to handle most situations.

I’ll admit hand sanitizers probably have their place, but hand washing was good enough for eons of classrooms. All I see right now is a bunch of kids and families obsessed with those bottles and a total inability to wash hands.




A Misadventure in Cloth Diapering

I am a cloth diapering mom. Not 100% as Layne has no idea how to use them, but they are certainly are a popular option when it comes to changing bums. Eventually I shall write my thoughts on cloth diapers.

I recently made a mistake in cloth diapering and I write this as a cautionary tale.

Ants. Apparently ants like to eat poop.

Saturday found myself and the girls in the front yard and for some inexplicable reason I used the front yard to change Jade’s cloth diaper.

I then did something I will forever be ashamed of and has probably made me a subject of gossip in the neighborhood: I left the diaper on the grass. Yup. Right there I just left that poopy diaper, sort of out of view with the intention of eventually returning to take it inside and rinse it.

Yeah, best intentions and all that.

Two days later (be disgusted with me) I retrieved the diaper and found it crawling with ants. Gross! So I hosed it off. Still, the ants remained, cleaning to the bits of poo for dear life.

The toilet! thought I, gingerly carrying in the diaper to the bathroom. I ought to get a potty sprayer one of these days but I haven’t yet. So I did the old-school swish-and-flush and thought I had disposed of the ants.

I proceeded to wash diapers. After which I gathered them from the washing machine for the purpose of hanging them to dry.

At some point, a few stalwart ants had met their tragic doom in a vortex of water and clung to the organic cotton with their little legs. There they passed on, still clinging in desperation.

And they are hard to get off.

Let this be a lesson to you, poopy diapers don’t belong outside.


Those car grocery carts are just evil.

One day, back in the spring, I took Ruby and Jade to the grocery store. Ruby’s generally pretty good with the store, but that day was something else. So I bribed her. Not with candy, not with grape tomatoes, but with one of those car-themed grocery carts stores leave around for parents to use for bribery. The darn thing worked like a charm. Ruby sat in the car, spun the wheel, insisted Jade sit beside her despite the fact Jade wasn’t quite up to task at sitting up in a plastic car, and was pretty good the remainder of the shopping trip.


Unfortunately, this set a bad precedent. Ruby learned and learned fast that grocery stores (we shop at a few) possessed these magical toy car grocery carts. She looked for them, and sadly most of the time one was available. She asked for such a cart before the real car had even come to a complete stop. I’m pretty sure she dreams of these car carts at night.

She has no idea what she puts me through with those.

I’m known in reality for being  a fairly easy-going person except when I am not easy-going. If my kid wants a car cart and one is available, I’m not going to fight it.

And if we’re using them to get Jade to sit up so her mom doesn’t look like an idiot while pushing one kid in a car cart obviously meant for two kids while the other is slung in an Ergobaby carrier , then so be it. Boy, can Jade sit up now.

Last week, we ventured to the park. Layne needed a prescription picked up and I had missed the time to make dinner before he headed to work, so on the way home we stopped at the grocery store.

Sure enough, there was one of those darn carts available. Hidden way in the back around a corner where normal adults don’t look but still emitting a call to toddlers. Unlike most car carts we’ve used, some great engineer seemed to have crammed an actual toy car onto a shopping cart. Which meant I could stick Jade in the normal seat and Ruby could cruise around in that cart roughly the same length as a stretch limo.

Then comes the buckling. Are you aware those car carts come with buckle straps? Whose children are leaping from these things while parents walk ponderously through the grocery store? Am I missing some version of the Indie 500 in the produce section? Now I am all about buckling kids into actual cars, but for crying out, it’s a grocery cart!

Ruby also sits on the wrong side. We’re not in England, child.

Anywho, I grab Layne’s meds, I grab some chicken and chips because I’m a healthy mom, and we head out to the car. The real one. Because all grocery store parking lots seem to be built on hills, I wedge the cart against my car while I unload the groceries and strap Jade into her seat while telling Ruby to stay in the cart–pointless as she was still buckled in.

Parking lots make me nervous. Not to the point I gasp with fright every time I see a child walking in one, but I hear all those stories of kids getting hit and killed in parking lots so I try to channel that into reasonable and sensible caution.

And both cars on either side of my car were trying to pull out.

So there I am, trying to find the best pattern of inserting groceries and children into a car while cars are pulling out all around me, and Ruby starts dinking around in the cart. A few bumps and wiggles, and that cart starts rolling away. I envision all horror stories and lunge for that cart before it can roll all of 6 inches away.

I so thank in exasperation the people that designed the carts that send my child crying if denied one and me wondering how a cheap strap protects her.


I just may change my management system…

When I was a youngster in school, we didn’t have any of these newfangled clip charts and behavior modification tools. No, not way back when in the 90s, no sir. I didn’t even hear a darn thing about them in my college courses. Then, when I took my first teaching job, my team lead looked at me and my fellow new teacher in wonder when we said we had never head of clip charts. She made us all some clip charts, and I sort of used them and then I ignored them.

I tried again in my second school. Then I read the brilliance of Smart Classroom Management, ditched the clip chart for a private clipboard and went on my merry way.

Folks, I don’t miss that awful clip chart one stinkin’ bit. No more panicking of what color so-n-so is on, no more hyperfocused worry from parents, just a promise of contacting parents if their kids are truly being awful.

But then when frolicking about one of my teacher forums I saw a post regarding the Super Improver Wall. A few Google searches left me yet oblivious as to what actually the thing was, but I eventually figured it out.

In a nutshell, the Super Improver Wall is a visual system for students to meet personal goals. This goes beyond whether or not Johnny raised his hand today. Thank goodness.

As it stands, my school currently has this huge focus on goal-setting, something I’m down with yet a little unsure on how to handle. Here is a fun, exciting wall that might get me remembering to help the kids with their goals.

In my mind, this is a far cry from anal classroom management behavior panic as this can be for really anything: behavior, academics, social skills, etc.

While I dread the idea of busying myself over a stupid wall, this might be something I can ingrain into a nice end-of-day routine.

I just might give it a shot.

CTR Condoms: People are upset that people are upset over this?

In the little world of Utah today blew up an incident (as I try not to think about that particular scene from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn) regarding some complimentary condoms Planned Parenthood of Utah intended to have available at the upcoming SunStone Symposium.

Since I like KSL, here is the article. And the follow-up. In a nutshell, Planned Parenthood packaged some condoms with the CTR shield with the claim of getting people to talk about various choices of sexual protection. Cue the local Mormons getting offended.

And I happen to be a local Mormon!

To confess, my first reaction upon seeing a photo of the condoms was a hearty laugh. “Choose the right protection”. Yeah, it’s kind of funny. Even now I’m not particularly offended by this.

But I read internet comments, talk with people, and yeah, I totally get the offense.

CTR, Choose the Right, is a phrase taught to young Primary children. Kids under the age of 8. And someone decides to take such a phrase to discuss adult matters like sex. Doesn’t that seem a tad perverse?

The follow-up claim was made that PPH had no intention of offending anyone. Which makes me wonder just who in the organization is coming up with this kiddy-porn stuff. “Hey, let’s take a phrase and symbol the local big religion uses to teach their youngsters and use it to discuss sexual choices!” I’d sure hate to be the parent tricked into teaching her 1st grader about condoms way before the recommended sexual dialogue calendar.

Sure, we Mormons have this awesome Brigham Young quote about not being offended, but does that excuse the dense behavior of accidentally-not-accidentally taking a trademarked symbol primarily focused on primary kids and getting your panties in a wad when, gasp, a neighbor Mormon doesn’t like it?

The other argument I hear, and the one I feel deserves the most attention, is the fact that this little CTR shield is in fact a copyrighted symbol dating all the way back to the 70s. The LDS Church allows people to use it. Planned Parenthood apparently never even asked to be allowed to use it. It’s intellectual property, folks, and it’s not yours.

So here we are, with Planned Parenthood and a bunch of I-hate-Mormons folks all flustered because people were upset with their cutesy condom packaging.

What did they expect? Were they really counting on every Mormon in the state of Utah to just turn the other cheek when a copyrighted image is used without permission to inappropriately meld a child’s phase with a sex talk?

You might say it was done in innocent. You might even find the idea clever. But if you, even for a second, looked at this and thought “Yes! What a way to stick it to those Mormons!” you have made this campaign for intentionally offense. Way to go.

Me, personally, I figure the original action itself isn’t so big a deal. At least they weren’t using truly sacred symbols. But this reaction to people that are offended, that’s a biggie.

Planned Parenthood and everyone upset because some Mormons got upset, it’s childish to poke someone with a sharp stick and then cry when they don’t like it.