Wednesday, March 3, 2010

From Buffalo, New York, with Love..

A Kindergarten Class Shares Our Olympic Experience.
Here is a "guest blog" from Molly, an exceptional teacher with a great appreciation of sport and an understanding of lessons learned that she shared with her students and parents: 

Lutzes, Lemons and Lessons

    If anyone has doubts that preschool children can absorb the complexities of the Olympic games, come spend some time with us in our classroom, and my children will change your mind!
    As their teacher, I was prepared for the curricular excitement of the Olympics.  I created a family Olympic packet that explained the games, and I wrote detailed lesson plans for each day of the games.  I created a workbook for each child, where we would journal and draw about each new Olympic topic.  I designed Smartboard lessons that showed each sport in action and explained how the athletes would earn their placement in each event. We would also be discussing all the life lessons inherent to competition of any kind:  grace in losing, modesty in winning, perseverance, integrity, honesty, and motivation.
   Yet, something was missing. I wanted to personalize the Olympic experience for the children.  There were so many events, so many sports, and so many athletes.  How could I narrow it down, so we had something really special to focus on?
    I took a chance, and created a website called “Kindergarten Olympics.” 
I explained that we were a class from New York state who wanted to know more about the Olympic experience. We were hoping that people who were attending the Olympics would become our eyes and ears, and would write to us about the events they attended.
    It was a shot in the dark, but a worthy one.
    I posted the website address on a few Olympic fan pages on Facebook, and crossed my fingers.  Well, the Greek gods were shining down upon us, because somehow, we attracted the attention of two mothers of Olympic figure skaters: Jeremy Abbott and Rachael Flatt!  How did we get so lucky to attract this kind of response?  I have no idea.  But their letters and photos transformed the experience from the two-dimensional television screen to a full-blown emotional journey for the children.
    The first to respond was Jeremy Abbott’s mother, Allison Scott. She wrote in her first email that their family motto is “PCF,” which means that when you try really hard, anything is possible; even Pigs Can Fly!  She sent us photographs of Jeremy, of Vancouver, and of their PCF puppet, named Bobby, who gave us his own almost-daily personal insights to the Olympic experience.  The children were hooked!  We also heard from Jody Flatt, Rachael’s mother. Jody also sent us photos; the children’s favorite one was of Rachael’s two Old English Sheepdogs, Fred & Ethel!
    The men’s short program one of the first events of the Olympics for the children.  The children watched Jeremy’s performance on my Smartboard. They were disappointed with his placement afterwards, and they needed an explanation. This was difficult to do, because I had to assure them that although Jeremy had struggled with his performance and didn’t place well, just BEING at the Olympics was an honor.  Since the children had no prior experience with pre-Olympic competition, it was hard for them to rationalize this explanation. 
    Enter: Allison Scott. 

   Allison’s post the next day on her blog was titled: “A Recipe for Making Lemonade,” which was a nod to the saying: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  I decided that lemonade needed to be the plan for our day as well!  So after an expeditious stop at the grocery, we were tasting sour lemons, and making them into sweet lemonade.  We took a photo of our sticky experience, and emailed it off to Allison and Jeremy. We wanted them to know that we learned a very important lesson from Jeremy’s lemony short program!  Subsequently, the children were thrilled to watch Jeremy the following day on my Smartboard in his Free Skate, making his Olympic experience into a sweeter one, indeed!  As an avid figure skating fan, I understood the significance of moving from 15th to a 9th place finish, especially in the age of our honest, albeit unforgiving, judging system!  In the children’s eyes, Jeremy had done just what his mother had urged him to: make sweet lemonade out of his sour lemons. 
    There was no greater Olympic lesson for the children.  Sure, we watched other athletes struggle and fall, soar and succeed, medal, and celebrate. We journaled, crayoned, and discussed our way through biathlon, snowboard cross and short track. We mapped the athlete’s countries, played their sports in gym, reenacted different events, and had our own opening and closing ceremonies.  But their first, and most lasting lesson, was Jeremy’s.  Life may not always give you exactly what you want most, even if you try really, really hard.  The lesson we learned is that it isn’t about what happens to you. It’s what you DO with the events that happen to you.  It’s your attitude.  It’s how you view it.  And, it’s how you make something better happen because of your positive attitude.  Did Jeremy win a medal?  No.  But he and Allison taught us – ALL of us – how to approach the inevitable adversity in life.  And that is an OLYMPIC-sized lesson that my class and I will never forget! - Molly Sanders Clauss - Elmwood Franklin School, Buffalo, NY


  1. Oh, Allison. This is just beautiful. Thank you for sharing it.

    What an amazing lesson you and Jeremy have taught these kids.

    That's what a CHAMPION is.

    Ice Mom

  2. Thank you, Ice Mom! This was a very special thing for us to share, but I think Molly and her class gave us more than what we gave them. I suspect we will be communicating for some time to come!

  3. What Ice Mom said! Jeremy truly is a champion human being, and a great example for these younger humans.

    Thank you, Teacher Molly! I hope my son Ross (preparing to teach middle-school math) will be as inspiring a teacher as you are!

  4. Ice Girl said, "Wow. That's an awesome teacher."

  5. Children totally "get it". Their understanding never ceases to amaze me, and their compassion is so prue and honest. This IS what makes the World go around and around! Bless all the sensitive teachers, and bless the people who give the teachers information to build on. It is truly dimentional to the depths of caring.

  6. Fantastic. I still wish I'd had enough of a Twitter following to get my Jeremy Abbott drinking game going-- Every time Jeremy landed a jump, drink some lemonade!

  7. What an amazing experience you and Molly gave those children, Allison! That's an Olympics I'm sure they'll never forget--and what a character-building message to take from it all!

  8. Beautiful! Thank you for sharing! My daughter skates, and it does not come naturally for the most part. Many elements she fights to learn. She is also a perfectionist, which complicates it. I am not sure if she practices more than all of the skaters at the rink, but she would be in the top three. She fits your PCF motto, in that she tries really hard. If you don't mind, I would like to use your motto for the times she is working really hard, but gets discouraged. Now all I need is to find a picture of your son for my daughter, to remind her of what perseverance can do.

  9. This just brought a huge smile to my face. How very, very cool to make the Olympic experience a personal one for those kids. I'm reminded of a magnet that my mom has on her fridge, which says "I am not made or unmade
    by the things that happen to me...
    but by my reaction to them." (from Saint John of the Cross) Also reminded of Viktor Frankl, who suffered in the WWII concentration camps: "Everything can be taken from a man but ...the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." (From Man's Search for Meaning)

  10. Wow...thank you to Molly and the kids! This has been quite a journey for all of us, and a real learning experience all around!

    Bethalice: Jeremy came to his skills later in his career. Tell her to hang in there. Hard work is rewarded - not always with medals, but with constitutional metal that lasts a lifetime!

    Jen:Your mom had refrigerator magnets? I'm impressed! Kidding aside (since you are a friend of mine), thank you for sharing her more than appropriate quote with us!