I am not the type of mom who carries tissues in her purse. I am lucky if I remember to take the house keys. So I was thrilled to get invited, with Sabrina, to Bowling Green, Kentucky for a "Hands-On-Learning Event" courtesy of Kleenex Sneeze Shield tissues and The Motherhood. My mission: Meet up with other bloggers and their five-year-olds, and hang out with award-winning kindergarten teacher Patrice McCrary. Together time with Sabrina, guidance on how to make the transition to kindergarten easier, info on battling germs, a sponsored trip—what could be bad? Also, I figured I could maybe get tips on remembering to keep tissues in my bag.
Sabrina's ears were bothering her during the flight, so William the flight attendant told her to blow into two cups until they were warm and then put them over her ears, to equalize the pressure. Sabrina said it worked, but I still think he was pulling our leg.
The fun started with a ride in a white stretch limo (which Sabrina called "the long-long car"). She BYO'd ice-cream.
Kentucky readers, I would have loved to meet up but the only time I veered out from the lovely Holiday Inn we stayed in was to go to William H. Natcher Elementary School.
That said, I did stand in the parking lot a few times checking out the Corvettes—this weekend was the 29th Annual Corvette Homecoming (Corvettes are exclusively made in Bowling Green).
In our hotel room, a gift bag awaited us with packs of tissues. Now I had no excuse to not have tissues in my purse. And I had something to give to Dave, because I couldn't bring him home a Corvette.
At dinner on Thursday night, I picked Mrs. McCrary's brain for a persistent problem I have: Sabrina interrupting me when I'm talking with other people. Mrs. McCrary's solution: Teach her that when I silently hold up one finger, it means I will be with her in one minute and she has to wait. Genius because it means I don't have to interrupt my conversation to tell Sabrina to hold her horses.
As Sabrina was running around with the other kids, she somehow hurt her thumb and started wailing. Mrs. McCrary stooped down, held her hand and said, "This is what I would say if I were a doctor: That your thumb needs four and a half rubs. So let's do that, and you count the rubs with me." And as Mrs. McCrary stroked her thumb, Sabrina counted "One, two, three, four." By then, she was totally calm.
I thought it was a fantastic trick, but I thought it would be even better if I could take Mrs. McCrary home with me.
Friday morning, we headed to school. On the bus, a kid needed a tissue. Oopsie. I had left them at the hotel. Still not A Mom Who Carries Tissues In Her Purse.
The fantastic bloggers (and their cute kids!) on the trip included, from left, Becky from Nickels -n-Dimes (a total sweetheart who brought classroom supplies to donate); Niri from Mommy Niri (SO funny); the fabulous Mrs. McCrary; Tara from Deal Seeking Mom (I was in awe of her before I met her, the woman has five kids ages 2 to 8 and, wow, is she calm); and the very cool Jamie from Blonde Mom Blog
The classroom was really well set up. I haven't been in a kindergarten class since I was five, and memories flooded back. I loved my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Goodman. I loved her so much I'd poke her hip all time to get her attention. At the parent-teacher conference she told my mom, "Ellen's a great kid, but she makes me black and blue."
Everyone sang a cute "Hello Neighbor" song to kick things off and Mrs. McCrary read "Germs Make Me Sick!" Then we got a little lesson on germs. Research shows you're more likely to attract the buggers if you don't completely dry your hands. We did a little experiment in which the kids all washed their hands but the boys didn't dry theirs completely ("Because they don't do it anyway," noted one dad). Mrs. McCrary had a special light thingie that made germs glow in the dark; the boys had more. All this is why the Kleenex people put a coating on their tissues, Sneeze Shield, which helps prevent gunk from getting on kids' hands when they wipe their noses. I'm hoping it also protects you when your kids shove their used tissues into your hands because they think you are a human garbage pail.
The kids made crafts, including Play-doh germs. Sabrina gave hers hair.
Then they played this cool game, Don't Catch A Cold, where you got to zap germs. Later, we had a chance to ask Mrs. McCrary questions while the kids ate lunch. I wanted to know how to better connect with Sabrina when she starts kindergarten and I'm at work and can't greet her. Mrs. McCrary suggested she talk into a computer cam or tape recorder about her day when she gets home, and we could listen it together at night. Loved that.
I had to laugh at Mrs. McCrary's tactic for dealing with tattletales. She has a photo of President Obama hanging in her class and when kids want to tell on someone, she says "Go tell President Obama." After recess, she says, there's a line at Obama's photo.
One total eye-opener was Mrs. McCrary's thoughts on what happens when you go around saying, "I can't believe my baby is starting kindergarten!" (GUILTY!)
"And if they worry you're having more fun than they are?" asked Niri. "Don't tell them!" said Mrs. McCrary.
Her advice on getting kids prepped for kindergarten—and keeping them happy in school—works for kids of all ages:
• Two weeks before school starts, ease kids back into a routine by having them go to bed and wake up ten minutes earlier than the previous day. For kids who won't go to bed on certain nights, she had this negotiation tool: "I'll give you 15 extra minutes to stay awake, but you have to have a book in your hand. If you don't, we're turning out the lights."
• Plan out a weekday's worth of outfits with the kids on weekends (check The Weather Channe, a good teaching opportunity), and place shoes and backpacks by the door every night.
• Create a reading basket. A lot of the fun of learning is anticipation. So every night, have your child pick out several books she'd like to read when she comes home from school. It's also a good way to give kids chill-out time.
• Instead of asking your child, "What did you do at school today?" and getting that shoulder shrug, ask specific questions. And request a schedule from the teacher, so you know how to gear your questions. For example, you can ask "What did you do at reading today?" "Who did you play with at recess?" and "What did you do in PE?"
• The best gift for teachers: Send occasional thank-you notes throughout the year. As Mrs. McCrary said, "They will go 100 miles out of their way for you."
Someone else asked Mrs. McCrary about her best advice for bringing up kids, based on her own experiences. This is her moving answer:
On the flight headed home, Sabrina kept talking about the trip (she still is). Then she grabbed my hands, looked at them and said, "Mommy, you have germs on your hands." Charming. But at least I had a whole bunch of tissues in my purse.
Now, a giveaway: Kleenex is offering up a one-month supply of tissues. To enter, just leave a comment below with any questions you have for Mrs. McCrary about getting children ready for school (she has experience with kids who have special needs, FYI). Or share your own tips about easing kids into school; a bunch of the best will be chosen to run on Kleenex's site. This giveaway is open to residents of the U.S. and Canada and especially moms who don't carry tissues in their purse; I'll pick a winner on Monday, July 26, announce it on this post, and alert you by e-mail.
Update: The winner is Nikki of Faithfully Frugal, who wisely puts her kids to sleep earlier a few weeks before school starts and also makes them get up earlier. I hope your family stays healthy and won't actually need the tissues anytime soon!