clearing out

Clearing Out and Making Space For Creativity

I spent the summer clearing out.

Clearing In Springtime

It started in May, actually, when my classroom began to feel like the walls were closing in. I needed space. Every day after school I would open something, fill the recycle bin, scrutinize and smile and either toss or find a new home.

 

clearing
What a mess…

I turned my classroom inside out before leaving in June; when I came back in early July after the carpets had been scrubbed clean and all 900 square feet felt fresh and everything was stacked neatly on top of my tables. So of course, I flipped it all around.

The back went to the front, the sides swapped spaces. Bean bags and folding chairs stacked in the center of the room on tables as I worked on creating more structure. I worked from the outside in, rearranging bookshelves and my teacher desk. I nestled new/old coffee tables in nooks with books and stools, and created AVID corners and reading spaces.

clearing
Starting to take shape…

Old paper ripped from the walls, became new blank bulletin board spaces. Wonder walls and student shout out spots smiled in anticipation of what would come in August… and I worked nearly all summer clearing out my classroom space until I could close the door and know that when school began August 27, I would be ready.

Ha.

Clearing At Home

At home, it wasn’t much different. The day after school let out in June, literally and figuratively, I opened drawers I hadn’t looked into for years. I pulled out all the linens and papers and blankets and stuff….and then I gently lifted them, breathed in the scent of memories and either gently folded and returned them to a place of honor, or let them go.

I knew what was propelling me, that life was tipping out of balance and only by clearing, by bringing awareness to the places in my life that I habitate and nest deeply, would I embrace all the change.

Before the end of July, I cleared out nearly every room in my house.  It was messy, and yes, a bit incomplete. There were tears of joy and overwhelming washes of memories that brought me down. I couldn’t go one room at a time; rather, I seemed to spiral from here to there depending on how the spirit moved me. It didn’t make much sense, but inevitably after I completed one part, an ease came over me. A sense of completion, of control, of calm.

Vaclav Havel said, I am not sure one is capable of reflecting absurdity without having a strong sense of meaning. Absurdity makes sense only against a meaningful background. It is the deeper meaning that is shedding light on the absurdity. There must be a vanish point, a metaphysical horizon if you will where absurdity and meaning merge.” Shedding layers of ‘stuff’ allowed me to shine a light on what means the most – it allowed the ‘absurdity and meaning’ of 22 years of parenting to merge and push me towards what was not only meaningful but possible.

Every Single Day

It became a daily practice. Like an addict, I fed on the need to bring balance and order. To create space for the change to wash in and out while my baby, my teenage son, wandered in and out of the house as he relished his last few months in the only home he’s ever known.

I spent much of the summer alone, in solitude. Aside from the obligatory summer excursions with the family (which I loved), I stayed at home, happily filling my days with clearing. 

May Sarton once said, “There is no place more intimate than the spirit alone,” and for me, the intimacy brought with clearing out gave me time to think. What would this next phase of life be like, alone with just a husband and a dog and no children in and out all day? What would my teaching transform into? For 22 of my last 28 years of ‘first days of school,’ I’ve juggled being that teacher-mom, trying not to show how I was always feeling split in two.

Clearing and Creativity

And to be honest, I have no idea. Two weeks after dropping off C at college and starting the new school year the very next day, my rhythm isn’t there yet. I’m exhausted, edgy, eager, curious, nervous, and mostly cannot imagine how to jump-start creativity. Seems like with all this clearing, with all this open space I should be oozing with ideas and the time to bring them to the surface.

clearing out

It’s making me a bit frightened, actually. I want to force it into shape, to dump it all out and mold a plan that seems unmistakenly possible. Things need to fall into place before me, wide and clear and clean. I feel the call to creative work – the years and years under me, of thinking about this time and feeling the foundation that I’ve been building with this blog, with my PLN. with my pushing myself into something that while at times cloudy and obscure, it seems like might just be starting to glitter. 

Feeding The Call

The poet Mary Oliver wrote that “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” 

I don’t want to push down this clearing and cleansing and creativity that is opening right in front of my eyes. I want to jump in, feet first, and see where I pop up, to give myself permission to fill those empty shelves with new ideas and opportunities. And maybe, embracing the change for once, not shrinking from it. Just as the smoke is finally clearing from the summer skies, I know this will happen. Eventually.

Patience, Jen. Patience.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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What To Learn When You Want To Grow

What To Learn When You Want To Grow

My own children have officially launched, leaving me wondering, questioning, considering how now to become the very best version of myself as I move into another phase, one without my children here to direct my time. It’s still important for me to learn and grow and progress.

I’ve done my best with my kids and now life is different, ready to teach me new lessons, I hope! But right now, I need to keep busy – actively trying to nurture my mind and develop as a person, or it’s highly likely I’ll just stagnate. This isn’t ideal when I really want to flourish in this next phase of life. This is why committing to pushing myself, going back to school, and taking up new interests and hobbies can be very much a benefit. But where to start? And what kinds of things should you be looking to learn when you want to grow? Let’s take a look at a few ideas I’m mulling over:

Learn A Language

One of the very first topics that can help you to grow and develop is languages. When you can acquire a new language, you’re really broadening your horizons and opening up your mind to new possibilities. If you’ve always wanted to be able to speak another language, then this is something that you really should look to do. But do it in a way that really works for you. Book an online course, get a tutor, or even head overseas to master the language in the native country. Just do what you feel is best for you to be able to really grow as a person and speak a new language. I’ve been using Duolingo to work on my Spanish!

Learn A Craft

Or perhaps you’re not that interested in languages, and you’d rather learn a craft? Why not take a look at these crafts to make with DIY Joy and see if you feel inspired. From knitting to baking to even things like makeup artistry, here you’ll be looking to discover something that can give you a new skill for your own personal enjoyment, or inspire a new business venture for you. Baking has always been a stress reliever for me, but now that there are no children at home to eat my treats I’m going to have to bring them to school…

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Learn Coding

Right now, the internet and technology are so huge. So why not be apart of that and learn to code? Last year I used some coding hyperdocs in my classroom – you can try them out here. If you do have an interest in this area, coding is a great skill to understand for your own personal internet use and if you want to go into business too.

Learn To Teach

Maya Angelou said, “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” Now, this can mean that you do want to go back to school and get your teacher’s credential, or maybe start by volunteering in a classroom – teachers always need help. When you love learning, it’s highly likely that you’ll be passionate about teaching too. So why not look to share your love of learning with children or seniors?

Learn Business Skills

Another skill area to consider involves business. Have you always wanted to launch your own company? Create a blog to showcase your creativity? Then why not try it out?

Blogging has turned into a big side job for me – it’s amazing how much I’ve had to learn about marketing, social media, and growing my professional networks. Read up on business skills online and with books. Find key business solutions that allow you to prevent fraud with Jumio’s Netverify or create a website with Wix. Scroll through blogs and even think about getting your MBA so that you could start off on your own.

If you’re an empty nester like me, consider investing in yourself. Learn and grow!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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hovering

Hovering: Touching Down Gently For Endings and Beginnings

I feel like I’m hovering.

Early spring

It started a few months ago, back in the early spring,  when I did a huge garden cut back. Two huge buddleia bushes cut to half their size on the advice of my mom, who reminded me they could take a good pruning. Moms always know best.

I’ve waited and watched them respond, starting with small green buds springing out from the narrow branches. Eventually, they began bending in the wind and then gently bursting forth into regal purple bloom just like mom said. I’ve watched what I’m pretty sure was a Swallowtail and a Monarch lightly land on the cone-shaped blooms, taking what they need and moving on. The bushtits (yes, it’s a type of tiny bird) and doves flit above and below, using the foliage to mask their presence.

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May hovering

In May, I traveled to Utah to be part of Lily’s college graduation, yet constantly felt just on the edge of the celebration, the ceremony, and the photos. I hovered in her first non-college apartment, her first with her boyfriend, not wanting to make too much of my imprint on their space. I met her first dog. After graduation parties, drinking games, the late night jaunt to the neighborhood pub – I found myself in each space, hanging on to my be-here-now mantra, yet feeling part of and not belonging all the same.

Ellie the Doubledoodle, Lily, Cam and me after graduation.

End of the school year

Wrapping up the end of the school year in June, my “purge party” that somehow felt so necessary – a desperately needed state change, flipping everything that I’ve had for the last 16 years of being in that cozy orange-walled room, my students hovering not wanting to see the school year end – and me not wanting to face the change the next year would bring.

I’ve always struggled with endings and beginnings.

Graduation

The next night, sticking to the plastic seats on my alma mater’s field, I was waiting, watching, hovering on the edges of the photos and hugs as Cameron realized his official end to what he’s required to do – and poised to adventure off into what he wants to do. Lily’s graduation I was far from hovering – full of tears and pride and laughter, I missed being in the moment as she walked across the stage. This time, I wanted to be there. And I was there, yet not fully present. Suspended, not needing support, poised for tears and surprised at the lack flowing down my cheeks as I watched him take his place among the graduates.

At the last minute, I tried to snap a photo of the two of us – this is all I got.

I chaperoned grad night, felt proud of my former AVID students celebrating their first phase of education. Not wanting to be accused of hovering over my own son as he sank into his own joy of endings and beginnings, I kept to myself.

The next night I dipped down into Cam’s grad party, to the visit with my daughter and the Google Boot Camp I was somehow teaching. Suspended. Hovering over my emotions, knowing if I gave in I couldn’t stop.

Like the buddleia, I’m cut back. Lost half my frame, stripped down to bare bone. I’m tired. I’m raw from stuffing emotions down to make it through one more day, one more event. I’m tired of dodging yet another milestone zooming towards me.

hovering

August

So bare, it turns out, that I couldn’t put my thoughts out for consumption until now. I needed to linger with my feelings for two more months, to push them in and pull them out until now. The final ten days are laid bare before me. Now, when the empty nest is exposed. When I really no longer have the luxury of hovering. I really needed to be present and here, not anxious in the background. When I’ve recovered from pruning, and feel bloom bursting forth once again.

The buddleia is in full bloom now. The hummingbirds have taken over the bush, dropping in to take what they need. Like helicopters they hover, waiting for the precise moment to touch down – to hit the target and lightly brush the surface, just long enough for release, then in a burst of lift, take off sideways, moving skyward towards their next stop.

Whoever said life went in a straight line…I guess maybe I’m a helicopter parent after all.

hovering

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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kids

Kids, School, and Stress – 4 Tips That Will Help

Back to school is closing in fast – and while we may all agree that education is one of the most important factors in any child’s life, more and more we’re seeing our kids’ mental health at risk. For kids, going to school can often feel as though they are merely learning to take tests. This in itself can make school a very daunting environment.

kids

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. With the right plan of action, it is possible to make life less stressful for students. And when they feel calmer about school situations, it’s likely that they’ll perform better too. Ready to get started? Check out these four tips to help your student prepare for a new school year:

#1: Focus On Effort Rather Than Attainment

Teachers and parents want kids to be successful – but what does success look like? Finding a way to successfully encourage kids to try their best is an achievement in itself. Incentives and rewards are excellent starting points. In truth, the most crucial factor is for them to gain a sense of perseverance. After all, the occasional setback is inevitable.

When the effort is there, the attainment will come. Success may look different for one child compared to another, but reaching those personal summits is the ultimate triumph.

#2: Remove The Sense Of Unfamiliarity

Most children are wise enough to know that they are preparing for tests and assessments. Unfortunately, the vast majority enter test situations without truly knowing what to expect. This can be the worst issue of all – the anxiety created by feeling unprepared can be paralyzing.

One way to remove the sense of unfamiliarity is to visit www.writingsamurai.com to access some truly wonderful test resources. Remember that it’s not all about preparing for the questions, but also preparing children for the test conditions. Trying to get them to follow the exact routine that will be used on the test day will greatly enhance their self-confidence. When the element of surprise is removed, kids can focus solely on the questions themselves.

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#3: Encourage Kids Towards Interactive Learning

Different children respond to varying types of learning. Regardless of the delivery method, there is no doubt that they will retain more information when they are actively interacting with the content.

There’s nothing wrong with having fun while learning. Introducing podcasts, videos, and physical activities to the classroom can all work wonders. They can soak in the info needed for tests without even realizing that they are actively revising. Additionally, these activities can encourage the development of many other real-life skills.

#4: Change The Environment For Kids

New surroundings can have a telling impact on educational development and can be linked up with interactive learning.

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Arranging field trips can be highly beneficial. Visit www.owlcation.com for a step-by-step guide on how to handle this task in style. Field trips are so memorable that kids strongly retain the things they learn, which can be crucial when assessment day arrives. If nothing else, a break from the norm can reset their minds, reducing the stress that may have built up over recent weeks.

These four tips are just the beginning of helping kids connect to school, feel confident, engaged and reduce their stress. I’d love to know what you do to help your students get back to school successfully!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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field trip

Plan A Class Field Trip – The Results Will Be Transformative!

Hands up – who wants to take a whole class of kids on a field trip to New York, also known as the Big Apple? No? What about another big city?

field trip
When my daughter was in my class, we took this overnight field trip to Monterey, CA!

Field trips ARE a lot of work, and even more stress, but you can run an educational trip to New York (or modify this for any location, really) effectively, and I’m excited to show you how. In fact, to help you get everything right, I have come up with the guide below:

field trip

Risk Assessments and Paperwork

Before we get to all of the good stuff like choosing where to go and what to see, its vital that you get all of the paperwork done. Yes, I know that paperwork is the bane of teachers’ lives and field trip paperwork is the worst of all. However, it is essential both to ensure the kids have as safe a trip as possible and to cover yourself as well.

In particular, make sure you have completed a risk assessment and submitted it to the school or group leader that approves them well before the trip. Also be sure to have information on kids that have allergies and other illnesses, as well as emergency contact details for all. You’ll be confident that even if something does go wrong, you will be able to deal with the most straightforward way possible.

field trip
Field trip to NYC!

Plan Your Field Trip

Once you have all the dull paperwork out-of-the-way, it’s time to consider your field trip in more detail. In fact, it’s a good idea to think about where you would like to take the kids and what educational benefit each site or venue has.

Want to link your Big Apple visit directly to a class project such as immigration or population? If so, then sites like the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, as well as Lady Liberty herself should be on your agenda.

Of course, you don’t have to have a direct link to a particular project for your visit to New York to be educational. After all, there are many cultural sites to visit as well that can link to the curriculum such as a visit to MOMA, and even taking your class to see a show on Broadway, an activity that would be good for young musicians, dramatists, and dancers alike.

field trip
Even riding the subway is fun on a field trip!

Major Sights On Your Field Trip

Of course to be able to plan your field trip effectively you need to know what is available for educational visits and experiences in New York.

Luckily, you will find that the major sites such as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and One World Tower all have specific sections on their website that you can get access to ahead of time to find out more information and get some resources like lesson plans to use. Similarly, many have guided tours led either by professional tour guides or recordings that will make sure that the kids will get the most out of their visit while they are there.

Field Trip Cultural Attractions

In term of cultural attractions, New York is brimming with options too. Firstly there are ‘the big three’ Museums: MOMA, The Met, and The Guggenheim that host a wealth of exhibitions and workshops that would be an excellent educational experience for kids.

Then there is the theatre district in Manhattan, with its famous playhouses and a range of musicals, plays, opera, and more modern shows.

Of course, it can help a great deal to pick a piece for your class to view that is suitable for their age range and topic interests. For example, you can see the musical Kinky Boots in New York City now on Broadway, a production that could be great for students that are studying music, the 1960’s, gender roles, and even British culture.

There are of course plenty of other show to choose from as well including Disney’s The Lion King, Wicked and The Book of Mormon, among others.

Emphasis On Fun

Lastly, but not least, if you are in New York for more than a day with your class and you have done the educational ‘big hitters,’ you may want to take them to some of the more purely fun places too.

For the younger kids there is now a Legoland Discovery Center in Goshenand for kids of all ages, there is Luna Park on Coney Island. Bronx Zoo is another excellent choice that is both fun and educational as there are many exotic species here including giraffes, sea lions, and even polar bears.

My best advice is to think of something that makes your destination a fantastic choice for your class and might even change your whole teaching experience when you return home from your educational field trip!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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