Announcing Our "Most Memorable Learning Experience" Back-to-School Contest Winners!
September is upon us, heralding back-to-school milestones for many Soft Star families. In the spirit of the season, we asked our readers to share with us their most memorable learning experiences, and WOW, did you ever deliver!!
We were blown away by the outpouring of educational stories, ranging from touching to challenging to hilarious...and everything in between! We are honored by the time, thought, and honesty that went into these posts, and we are so grateful to all our entrants for sharing a little piece of their families with ours.
Three Grand Prize Winners will receive $100 worth of healthy snacks for their class, plus $100 worth of Soft Star Shoes for themselves!
It was incredibly difficult to pick just three winners...so we didn't. Well, not exactly. We've also chosen 26 additional submissions for Honorable Mentions! These stories are also featured here, by category, and their authors will each receive a $10 Soft Star gift card in recognition of their work! Thanks for making us laugh, cry, and, most of all, reconnect with our sense of childhood wonder.
GRAND PRIZE WINNERS:
Home is Where the World Is (By Carrie Z., Homeschooler)
Growing up, my mom home-schooled us in the nineties, way before it was cool…
One thing my mom taught us was a curriculum called “Mapping the World by Heart”. Twice a week for a year, we would take out our large 11x17 paper, marked with only grid lines and a sharp pencil, and start tracing the lines in one grid space, learning about each country as we went along. With the help of books (before the internet was being used like it is today), we toured each continent, learning about each country, its peoples, faiths and heritage, exports/imports, and what it might be known for. It was a beautiful, enriching experience and at the end of it, for my cumulative exam, I was able to (from memory) draw the entire world map to scale...with nothing but my mind, my sharp pencil, and a ruler for marking my grid lines! This world map now sits in my home as one of my most prized memories of growing up. One day when my kids are big, I plan to do the same for them.
The Boat and the Wizard (By Rebecca M., Twig, home-based Waldorf School, RI)
One day while dropping off our then 3-year-old at her home-based Waldorf School in Twig, RI, we came across one of the teachers building a play structure. I asked, with Little One beside me, "Oh, Rob, what is that, a boat?" To which he graciously and wisely said, "...or a rocket, or a bus, or a tree...". I smiled deeply, and as we walked off to the swings, my little one said, "Wow, mommy, isn't that neat? I get to play with a rocket-tree-boat...and who knows what it will be tomorrow!?" A beautiful moment indeed!
With Pink Shoes and Sparkles for All (By Allegra H., SongGarden Preschool, OR)
We were talking about how much Zia (my girl) loves pink. She said that she was glad to be a girl, because she gets to wear pink and purple. I said that anyone can wear pink, but she didn't think so. The next day at school, she noticed how Fletcher (a boy at school) wears pink sparkly shoes. After school, she told me that "boys can wear pink too!". Her interest and observation began a conversation about how boys and girls both like sparkles, and pink, and can wear any color they want to -- a pretty important lesson! We now notice when people dye there hair, or what colors they wear, or if they have bright shoes, bags, glasses, etc.; our conversations are much more, er, "colorful" using color as an entry into observing and embracing difference.
HONORABLE MENTIONS (By Category):
Geography vs. Grammar (By Janet Kay)
My teacher in Ireland wrote the following, looking for the grammatical errors (not capitalizing the state and city names):
New york city is the capital of new york state.
Teacher: What is wrong with this sentence?
Me: New York is NOT the capital of New York state -- it's Albany.
Jammin...Ben Jammin. (By Shannon)
I received a text from the mother of one of my son's classmates requesting a playdate. I didn't recognize the last name, but I had a feeling the text was from the mom of his friend Ben. So I asked my son what Ben's last name was. He said, "Jammin". Me, "Are you sure?" "Yes, it's Ben Jammin"...aka Benjamin.
Teachers Have Jobs? (By Sharon Ary)
While teaching 2nd grade, I told the kids that there was no school tomorrow, but that I still had to work (because we had an in-service day). One of my students asked me where I worked.
Dirty Joke (By Dana Marie, Unschooler)
After a long, hard rain, our 4-year-old took an interest in the newly forming erosion grooves on the side of the trail where we take our afternoon walks.
A few days later he told his first "joke":
Q: Mama, what does the erosion say to the dirt?
A: Let's get grooooooovy!!!
Lab Work (By Laura Swain)
During recess on the first day of teaching 2nd grade, an enormous black lab bounded around the fence partition and headed straight for the sea of little people. I managed to grab him by the collar and instantly regretted my decision...he smelled like he'd been rolling in excrement or other alluring things in the nearby woods. I lost my grip and the dog leaped up the steps, following the students inside. I found myself frantically chasing an enormous, smelly black lab through our building until the doggie escaped through a propped-open door. Later that day, I found out from our school secretary that he had jumped into our PTO president's open van in the parking lot. When my students tried to clean their hands afterward, they used an apple-shaped bottle of soap (gifted to me by one of my new students) which we had all mistaken for hand sanitizer. "Well, let me show you where our bathroom is," I announced as we all headed down the hall, chuckling about the wackiest first day ever and smelling like a cross between country apple and country roadkill.
Literary Tastes (By Brittany Havens)
I cut my daughter's lunch sandwich into the shapes of her class's weekly letters. Later that day I asked what she had learned, and she said, "That A tastes better then T".
A Wee Misunderstanding (By Rachel F.)
I am an elementary school teacher. Several years ago, right after winter break, one of my students came to me jumping up and down, saying that he had to wee. "I gotta wee!", he said, over and over. I could not figure out what was going on, as this was a 3rd grader. I told him to just calm down and go to the bathroom. He stood there trying to figure out why I was telling him to use the restroom. It wasn't until later in the day, when he was telling his friends about his holiday gifts, that I realized he was trying to tell me that he "got a Wii" (video game system) as a present. I laughed until I cried that day.
Seeing the Beauty (By Stacy, Waldorf-Based Homeschooler)
We homeschool our special needs child and typical child. I'd say the most memorable experience for my special needs son was when he was first able to communicate all the barnyard animals on his Tobii Eye Gaze device; because he is non-verbal, that is his only form of communication. For my typical child, it was seeing him watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly this summer and watching the wonder in his eyes. Sometimes the simplest learning experiences can take up the most room in your mind and heart.
Soul Songs on Treeful Days (By Vicky S.)
This piece of magic is written by 'Anna', 11 years old, during my time working and sharing with her and her classmates; it really reminds us what we should always care about: "...I felt moved, and no one but me can describe the feelings and the sense of power and emotion...I know at the end of this very majestic, moving, heartwarming and treeful day I’ll go home so brainwashed on trees. I found the way to look at the perspective of a tree. The small nut of the tree made of the smallest segments. My eyes are fired and scared for life to know so much about a scientific plant known to provide soft, silk textures, spun web, fresh leaves that can make you asleep, and others yet to be found. Comfort in my heart pleasures my soul in a soft way...I find my ways and paths and look for my soul. I shut my eyes...and think of all the feelings and thoughts."
Ladies' Man (By Jeffery Clark)
My son's most memorable learning experience came in 7th grade, and was not technically in the classroom, but rather when he was first realizing that there were girls...and he liked them! We knew the first school dance of the year was coming up, and he wanted to look cool, to attract the ladies, so to speak. He planned very carefully for that day, combed his hair and dressed in nice clothes. He was so excited!! We drove him to the dance and his eyes lit up when he saw his friends and -- gasp-- girls, milling around. Suddenly, he got shy and announced he did not want to go in! We knew he was very nervous about actually going in. We sat in the car for 45 minutes and talked him into going in. Three hours later, we picked him up and he was all grins! He had a great time, and I think most of all. he was proud of himself for overcoming his crippling shyness. He is now in the U.S. Army and a father and husband himself, and he remembers that night very well.
Remembering the Golden Age (By Amy Jones)
My son had the same teacher for 1st grade that our daughter did 16 years ago. This year she was able to help Mrs. Johnson with St. Patrick's Day, acting as a mischievous leprechaun. She delighted in turning desks around, stacking chairs in odd ways and sprinkling glitter and gold coins everywhere! She remembers being amazed by the work of the leprechauns when she was in 1st grade!
KIDS AS TEACHERS
Popularity Contest-ed (By Rebecca H.)
My most memorable learning experience is from my oldest, now 23. He was a part of a large group of kids that lived in our neighborhood and rode the bus to school. There was a girl who was being bullied on the bus. He and his friends did nothing. She stopped him one day and told him that by doing nothing, he was the same as the bullies. He and his friends had the power as a group to say something. He came home and told me, and he was in tears. She taught him something so important. He made a choice that day to never sit by and say nothing again. The impact we have on others is huge! That was over 10 years ago, and I still get tears in my eyes thinking about it. That sweet girl who was being bullied helped teach my son how to do the right thing.
A Stellar Lesson (By Anastasia Noll)
I am a Montessori elementary school teacher. At the beginning of each year, we tell the story of the beginning of the Universe. One year, we had a student who had missed the lesson. I asked if there was another student who would like to tell him the Cosmic Story. The boy who volunteered excitedly described the Big Bang with love and awe in his voice, and how it was like drops of water flung out of a glass, and "one of those drops...was our Earth!"
Rainbow Warrior (By Noemi R., Creative Arts Charter School, CA)
My son loves bright colors, and for school he chose a backpack with a lot of pink on it. He attends Creative Arts Charter School in San Francisco, and it's a great community for empowering kids to be the best them they can be.
One day in 1st grade while walking home, he got teased about the pink bag. He just turned around and said, "everybody gets to enjoy every color". I was so proud of him!
The Wrath of the Kiddo-Saurus (By Ali Celestino)
My son began Kindergarten being hugely obsessed with dinosaurs. When he arrived home that first day, he handed me a note...and a Ziplock bag with the shredded pieces of his nap mat!! The teacher asked him why he destroyed his mat; he told her he was a dinosaur.
Management Material (By Lori F.)
I was helping out in my son's 1st grade classroom. He was supposed to write and illustrate a story.
I watched as he first asked the boy to his left, "Could you please draw a car for me? Yours look so nice". While that was happening, he asked the girl across the table if she would draw a hotel for him. She really just wanted to do her own work, but he kept cajoling her by telling her how nice her artwork was and how much better than he was able to make, until she gave in.
His teacher never noticed. I thought about mentioning it...but decided that building CEO skills and flattering others into getting double work done was probably a more useful life skill anyway.
"Educational" Toys (By Amy D.)
My girls are not yet school age, but the following happened when they were six months old:
A gift of baby dolls on Christmas received,
One twin found upon being squeezed
from the tummy burst forth a sound of a kiss.
She then saw in her twin something she couldn't miss.
Pushing on her sister's tummy brought the sound of loud cries!
Mommy soon spirited the dolls away from tiny eyes.
A Moment of Zen From a Lifetime of Learning (By Gloria B.)
Since "brevity be the soul of wit," let's try a haiku:
Twenty-one years spent
homeschooling four lovely girls
Smile as they succeed
Ode to School-Homing (By Nicole Y.)
My boy Casey, he's two and a half.
When we visited Waldorf we had a good laugh.
To the other preschools he was afraid to go
But "Waldorf's for him!", he told me so.
That night after seeing it and ironing a pillow,
He told me he would go alone as one happy fellow.
He said "it feels like home to me"
And home's a happy place to be!
Grass-Roots Education (By Nicole B., Newmarket Elementary School, NH)
Our children attend a public school in New Hampshire. We live in a small town and with public education not receiving much funding (we are a no-income-tax state). I applaud our educators in their innovation. My children's favorite example is the building of an outdoor classroom, where teachers bring their classes outside to learn all sorts of things and gain inspiration in this space. Beyond that, the school has established a garden club in which any child from grades K through 5 (the grades that are in the Elementary school) can participate. They learn composting, recycling, cooking, etc.; the cafe even serves some of the garden veggies as snacks!
A Louder Whisper (By Laura C.)
My daughter Ella went to Woodhaven School's outdoor kindergarten in Portland. One day after class while we were stripping off muddy layers and preparing to leave, she told me that she loved school. When I asked her what she loved about it, she said, "When I'm outside, the part of me that whispers is louder, and I can hear who I am inside."
She's entering third grade this year, and I still think about the universal truth of that statement often.
The Path to Enlightenment (By Eva)
Our daughter had two years of Kindergarten and every morning (even the super cold ones) began with a morning walk. Her wise teacher observed that it offered many opportunities for learning. This came in the form of observing the seasons and wildlife (deer, birds, etc); connecting with nature; and conversation with friends. The walks often ended in the woods or at the playground. It also served to "organize" the children, so that they could be fully present in the rest of their day. There was "everyday-ness," magic, and wonder in these walks - the perfect mix for mind, body and soul (sole :) Realizing the connection between head and toes is key!!
Define "Epiphany" (By Sarah Q.)
As a TA at U of Idaho, I am both teacher and student—as I should be always. While walking with a student, I told her that in high school, I would memorize vocabulary words minutes before the quiz and then ace it, though I always failed to “learn” the words. I immediately stopped giving vocabulary quizzes.
Philanthropy on a Roll (By Hilary S.)
We homeschool and try to raise generous, compassionate children. My daughter, age six, wanted to raise money for charity: water. Her campaign? 100 somersaults a day for 60 days, raising $1,000. 6,000 somersaults later, she’d learned that perseverance pays off, and kids can make a difference in the world.
The "Invisible Hand" is Armed and Dangerous (By Sophie)
I decided to study economics thanks to my high school teacher, Mr. Levering. He animated each lecture on a subject that many people find boring. His most memorable lecture was when he described the federal bank printing money, "like blood gushing out of someone's chest in the Gladiator movie".
Writing Wrongs (By Trina Chadwick)
In first grade my son Robbie C. began having noticeable trouble in handwriting. Everything was turned backward and going right to left. I got the call to come in for the talk...
But Mr. Beers had a plan. See, my son was left handed and he figured out that that was the problem, so he began right hand training with balls and clay. In a short time he was writing very well. This saved him years of frustration. We were so grateful to this great teacher.
Cloudy, With a Chance of Birthday Wishes (By Allison Koos Fox)
My son attends a Waldorf school and for each birthday celebration they make a book. All of the children, including the birthday child, and the teachers, make a picture for the book and put a birthday wish on the back. My son's birthday wish for himself wasn't for a flying robot (a persistent birthday and Christmas wish), or cake, or any other thing. It was for as many of our special rain walk dates as he wanted. It was a powerful lesson for me that day.
Early Enrollment (By Diana Johnson)
We homeschool, which is part of my story. I recently finished my undergraduate degree. Taking my 11 year old with me to all of my college classes, while also pregnant for the last semester, was definitely my most memorable learning experience! I loved discussing things after classes with my son, and what a great way for my daughter to begin her life! I will be starting my Master's next week! I cannot wait to continue this learning journey with my children...while we all wear our newly discovered Soft Stars!
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