Pitter Patter. Roar.

Every now and then, something happens in life that just takes your breath away.

Seeing lions in Uganda was exactly that.

We had just driven out the fishing village, and we slowed by another safari vehicle and our drivers chatted to get the lowdown on where the cool animals were.

We then went on our merry way.

Soon we pulled up behind another van.  And looked out our windows and saw this:

Obed said, “There are lions!  Climb up on the roof.”

So we did.

We stared out into the grassy field, trying to figure out where exactly these supposed lions were.

Then we saw it.

The swish of a tail.

We caught out breath and stared endlessly at that patch of tall grass.  Waiting.  And waiting.

At one point during our staring match with the lazy unseen lions, another car pulled up behind us.  A family piled out, and Joseph, our guide, quietly called over to them, “Get your kids back in the car!  There are lions close by!”  The mom looked around nervously, with a bit of confusion seeing as there were no animals anywhere in sight.  But she did herd her children back to safety.

We snickered at the over-dramatization of the situation.

Then went on with the staring.

But the wait was worth it.  We went on with the staring and we soon saw a female lioness rise out of the dry field.

It was a moment that truly took my breath away.

Our hearts were so happy.  It was seriously like the coolest thing ever.

And then it got better.  The male lion, who we had no idea was even there, began to stand up.


They were so majestic.  And powerful.  And big.

The zoo didn’t really ever convey to me just how amazing lions are.

I suppose I should have paid better attention to The Lion King (who are we kidding, I used to sing along to the soundtrack in my room with a small microphone and pretend I was starring in the show)

This long walk was a little taxing on Mr. Lion.  Soon he sat down to take a little rest…

Mrs. Lion continued on meandering through the grassland alone.

We chanted his name (quietly in our hearts so as not to scare away the wildlife), and soon Mr. Lion found a second wind.  Yes!

We were sad to see that our lion friend had so many wounds.

I like to think he is roaring.  But let’s be honest.  He is yawning.  Being a lion is hard work.

The lions were only up out of the grass for a few minutes, but it was an incredible few minutes.  They really did take my breath away.  Even typing about them now puts a smile on my face and my heart go pitter patter.

Love, love, love.


Little Rina

The Rafiki kids attend Little Rina Nursery and Primary School located within a pretty short walking distance of the orphanage.  While we were in Uganda, each member of our team had a chance to volunteer at the kids’ school at least once.  I went several times in my first few weeks in Kampala and it was interesting to say the least.

School is SO much different in Uganda.  As a teacher from the States, it was a tough adjustment to visit this school – both trying to teach and watching the teachers do their thing.

Teachers, especially at the nursery school and primary school level, don’t need a lot of education.  Class sizes are HUGE (this school had 36 in their “kindergarten” and that was incredibly small by Ugandan standards).  Resources are minimal: no books, no hands-on manipulatives, no computers, no electricity, etc.

You add all those factors together and the education system is not much to write home about.  It was definitely a “learn about this new culture, don’t try to change it, and respect the teachers for doing what they can with what they know” type of a moment for me.  And a “be thankful for the minimal resources that you do have” moment too.  My school might not have a lot by American standards, but by Ugandan standards I teach in a magical palace filled with fairies and elves.

Despite that, I’m so grateful that our Rafiki kids even get to go to school – the ministry (and any family that wants to send their kids to school) has to pay school fees each term for each child.  So if families can’t afford school fees, their kids don’t get an education.  That breaks my heart.  I want every child to be able to learn.

Going to the school itself was always fun – all the kids would attack you, shouting, “Mzungu!”  until their teachers told them that was rude and they could call me Teacher Laura.  Which they did.  And even when I hadn’t been teaching there in a while, I would go pick up my kids after school and all the other students remembered me each week and ran up shouting, “Teacher Laura!” and asked me to sing the 5 Little Monkeys song with them.

The being left alone with a class of 36 four and five year olds of whom I had no control over – not quite as fun.  But I figured if I managed to keep them from climbing on the tables (too much) and running out of the room (too much) and quiet enough that they couldn’t be heard from a mile away, it was a success.  (This might be slightly different from my classroom management philosophy of my own class in the States…)  But they loved learning new songs – and obviously these kids needed to know quality music such as the Months of the Year Macarena, so reaching deep into my teacher bank of kids songs and fingerplays was a good go-to tactic when the real teacher was no where to be found and I refused to get out a stick to help control the chaos.

Just sing louder than the madness surrounding you… (good advice for really any situation in life)

The kids at Little Rina were awesome and I loved getting to know them.   And while I didn’t enjoy drinking the porridge for breakfast/snack each morning, I did enjoy sitting with the teachers while they took their break and chatted (and I choked down the thick white gloppy beverage that everyone else guzzled like it was Christmas in a cup).  The teachers are all SO nice.  They would also ask when we were coming back and encouraged me to move to Africa and teach with them.  At one point during one of these breaks, a teacher asked me why all the Americans wanted to take so many pictures of school.  I finally fessed up that I was actually a teacher in America, and so I took lots of photos because when I went home, I wanted to be able to share with my kindergartners what school is like in Uganda.

This brings us to the point of this post.  In one of the nerdier things that I have done lately, I put together a little “educational video” about the schools in Uganda – specifically Little Rina – that I showed to my kindergartners today as part of our communities unit.  Afterwards we passed around my banana leaf ball from Africa and each shared something that we noticed in the movie and discussed how it was the same or different from our classroom community in Minnesota.  It was actually a pretty cool discussion.  And while I won’t make you sit in a circle and pass around a ball, I am an equal opportunity film-maker, and I wanted to give you the opportunity to watch this ridiculousness so you can learn as much as the kindergartners.

Highlights of the movie showing include the children waving back at the child on the playground who waves at my camera and excitedly talking to their friends about how the kids in Africa are watching us.

Schoolhouse Rock vol. 38

Oh friends, so much has happened, but I forgot to write it all down.  I will try and remember a few of the highlights for you…

There is the kiddo that called someone else a crybaby.  Then got in trouble for it.  Then laid on the floor for five minutes crying and rolling around.  I love a little bit of irony in my day.

Remember the little girl who was trying to lure me to her home for a sleepover with promises of cupcakes and a guest bedroom?  Well, she is trying to sweeten the deal… “Miss K, I exercise at home!  It is called Zuma.  I mean, Zumba”  “Ooh, tell me about that.”  “Well, we do dance moves and exercise.”  “Can I see some of your dance moves?”  “Mmmm… I’m not sure you can dance at school – even outside.  I will show you when you come to my house.”

Best conversation I’ve overhead:

(Thanks Jill for reminding me of this…)

Research teacher: “Thank you class.  You were good today.”

My student: “I was good?”

Research teacher: “well… (pause) Overall the class was good.”

And let’s not forget to mention school picture day.

Several kids looked like they stepped right out of 1993.  It was brilliant.  I was instructed to make sure one little girl got her lipgloss on before her school pictures because she has chapped lips.  The past two nights I have been at Twins games and suffered from chapped lips and wished I could borrow some of said lip gloss.

But the best part of picture day is when one little boy was told, “Put your hands at your sides and smile!”  and he struck THIS pose (with double finger guns)…

Photo Credit

love & giggles

This evening the plan was to make a ridiculous mini-documentary about school communities in Uganda for our kindergarten communities unit.  But then I got to looking at some of my other video from my time in Uganda and I kept watching these three – Don, Carol, and Emma dancing around and saying “I love you” in both English and Luganda and I figured you would probably want to see it too.  I love them so much.  Seriously – this will be the cutest 57 seconds of your day.  You are welcome.

Safari-ing: Fishing Villages

During our full day in Queen Elizabeth National Park, we saw two different fishing villages.

When this land was set aside to be a national park, these villages had nowhere to go, and the people eventually were allowed to stay.

So they live within the boundaries of the park, surrounded by their traditional culture and customs, wild animals in their backyard that most of us visit a zoo to see, and a steady stream of mzungus traipsing past.

The first village we saw was on our game drive in the morning.  We drove through it to see hippos sleeping near shore.  I should probably point out that these hippos were incredibly close to where the people were.  Scary!

Also, be sure to check out the short little video of our drive through the fishing village.  My favorite is the pool table in the little shanty.  I saw these everywhere in Uganda – including one in my neighborhood in Kampala.  But the video totally gives a much greater sense of place than these photos…

One sad fact I remember Joseph sharing with us on our drive through is that on average, one child from the village school is eaten by a lion each year.

We saw the second fishing village in the afternoon when we were on our boat ride on the Kazinga Channel, between Lake George and Lake Edward.  The men were just preparing to head out for their afternoon fishing trip.

The biggest threats to this village are hippos and crocodiles, both of which we saw plenty of while we were travel along the channel.  My favorite part of their boats is the leaf-shaped paddles.

Schoolhouse Rock vol. 37

Week Two: successfully completed.  How do I know it was successful?

Let me offer you a few bits of evidence.

Evidence #1:

The child who thought that kindergarten was LAME-O in week one is now asking me for blackline masters so he can make his own version of my sweet games at home.  That’s right, kid.  You love school.

Evidence #2:

Student 1: Miss K, you should come over to my house.

Me: What would we do?

Student 1: Well, we have cupcakes!

[ten minutes later]

Student 1: Miss K, I’m gonna invite you over for a sleepover!  We have a guest bedroom.  It can be for adults or children.

Student 2: You are having a sleepover?  Who is coming?

Student 1: Miss K.

Student 2: I want to come!

Student 1: Ok, I can probably invite you too.

And here is an unrelated third story.

During rest time, a child repeatedly asks to get a drink of water.  He had JUST gotten a drink 20 seconds prior, so we denied his request.  He then crawls across the floor, approaches my student teacher, and says pitifully, “Miss H, sometimes people need water to live!”

Schoolhouse Rock vol 36

One really fun thing about having gone to Africa is the number of African students I’ve had over the years.  I have had both parents and former students come up to me and ask me about my trip.  So that is pretty awesome.  Especially since I fell in love with Africa.  If I felt indifferent or didn’t like it, I guess these conversations could have been pretty awkward 😉

But I love that it helps me better understand the culture of some of my students.

Seriously – a lot of points of past miscommunication have been cleared up in my mind.

And bonus – I knew what a little boy meant when he asked to go to his locker and get his rubber (sorry kid – I intentionally put out pencils without erasers, so no, you can’t go get your eraser).  And I understood completely what a little girl was saying when she found out we were going to music and she enthusiastically shouted, “Yes!  Miss K!  Music is my best subject!”  She doesn’t necessarily mean she is awesome at music – she means it is her favorite.

Have spent time in the schools in Kampala, it does make me thankful that my big by American standard’s class size is not 36 students like Little Rina Nursery and Primary School’s kindergarten (top class) class size.  And even more thankful that 36 students would not be considered a small class size in comparison to many schools.

However, there are some small issues that have arisen.  For example, I am constantly motioning for children to come over to me the way that we do in Uganda.  Which is meaningless here.

And I have been really in-tune to the kids raising their eyebrows this past week.  I think, “What are they saying yes to?”  and then I have to talk myself through, “You are not in East Africa.  They are not trying to tell you yes to anything.  Perhaps they are questioning something you said.  Or maybe they are five and just like to wiggle their eyebrows.

And then there is the time I asked the kids to raise their hand and tell me their best color…

But as long as we are talking about Africa, let’s watch some of my favorite Ugandan Top Class students dancing for me:

Schoolhouse Rock vol. 35

You probably could use some visual context for kindergarten stories, so let’s go on a little classroom tour!

The view when you walk in the door

where students check in each morning, I hand out breakfast (because yes we have the privilege of eating in our room) and on the way to specials I double check that I am taking the kids to the right class

Our book boxes and our “go for the green” behavior cards. I will be using the purple bulletin board/white board space to post current literacy learnings – focus letters, sight words, word families, reading strategies, etc. And the cute little twinkle light ribbon garland above it is a non-educational related pinterest project. But they love it and I do too 🙂

Where I sit and teach from or where I sit and rock myself to sleep after the kids go home. You decide. (And notice the cute donated clock/ipod dock – and the cute little ipod nano that is not pictured. They were donated to my classroom when my CD player broke over the summer. Thanks mom and dad! You guys are so awesome!)

You might see a blank calendar and an alphabet poster that a lazy teacher hasn’t stapled up yet. I see the beginnings of a morning meeting area. I like to add the different elements to this area once I introduce them to the kids

All our toys (and a lot of learning materials secretly interspersed with the toys) go on the shelf under the window. I like for the kids to have a clear idea of what they can use during choice time, or “Active Learning” time as I recently heard someone refer to it and definitely plan to start using that myself. I also like that they toys are all located as far away from my desk as possible 😉 The green shelf that the stuffed animals are sitting on are actually soft crates that hold the picture books I will change out in for our book area throughout the year. The bulletin board is where we will put a “snapshot” of what we learned throughout the year so that we can visually reference it and remember without have bulletin boards up for every unit of inquiry that we do

This will be our writing/art center as the year goes on. Random writing materials are in the wooden shelf and the table my dad and I built also includes awesome storage underneath.

The view of from the student tables toward the doors. You can see our book area that eventually will have lots of leveled readers for kids to find a “just right” book to read. But for now i don’t actually have such books. So the dream lives on…

And the most important part of my room: the coffee corner. this is a teachers only corner. 😉 it is complete with coordinating coffee mugs (dorthee, I still have yours, so you’d better come back and visit) and three bins of deliciousness – turquoise has tea (it is fortunate that charlotte, jill, and i all love the same kind of tea) hot chocolate etc, the middle has decaf (for you jill!) and the right has fully caffeinated coffee for those of us who need that caffeine to function each day.

This is by no means a complete tour – there are lots of things that I won’t set up until the kids are ready for them (or until I have time – cough cough the blank bulletin boards everywhere).  But for the most part, that is my classroom!

And I will add one moment of hilariousness from today.  We were taking a class bathroom break, and out of the blue one little darling at the sink looks up at me, and with shock and confusion and new revelation in his voice, he confirms, “Miss K, we don’t lick the soap?!?”  Um… what?

Safari-ing: Game Drive at Queen Elizabeth Park

We saw lots of crazy cool animals at Queen Elizabeth Park.  I am saving some of them to show you later – ones that I feel deserve their own post, but I wanted to share with you some pictures of lots of the animals we saw on our game drive.

First up will be awesome antelope type animals called Uganda Kob – they are actually on Uganda coat of arms, so people must love them.  They are pretty cool.  And I guess the area of Queen Elizabeth Park we drove through was actually their breeding grounds, so there were herds of Uganda kob EVERYWHERE.  We saw a baby kob nursing, which was neat, and we also saw a a herd of them break into a run, and if you look carefully into the background of the photo (I’ll tell you which one in the caption) you can see a family of lions in the background, which is clearly what set them off into their panicked run.

Other highlights included stepping out to look for the distant lions and landing in a giant mud pit and nearly falling entirely into it.

Waterbuck: a bigger and darker colored antelope type creature.  We saw them at a lot of parks throughout Uganda.  So I hope you like them, because you will be seeing more of them.

Warthogs – I was excited to see Pumba in person, but it turns out that we saw SO many more of them at Lake Mburo.

We took our safari van with the top popped up through the game drive.  Whenever we passed by any other vans, our driver and guide would chat with theirs to get the low-down on what other animals are around and where to find them.

Alright, and now for the animals:

Uganda Kob – first sighting!

kob running in the foreground, and a lion laying in the background. awesome.

Do you see the lion? Laying there? No? Ok, look at the tree. Look at the grass around the tree. Now look just to the left of the tall grass and you can see the lion laying in the background. He was too far away to see without binoculars. Or without a telephoto lens, and even then he was super tiny.

Ok, now do you see the lion? He is standing. And his wifey or one of his two cubs is to his right.

water buffalo

no… that’s not ice. that’s a salt lake

a herd of waterbuck

Schoolhouse Rock vol. 34

Welcome back to another school year, friends!

One week with kindergartners is down, and I feel like I could sleep for a year.  It has been an exhausting week, but I think this year is going to be a good one.  It is going to be tough, probably a smidge stressful, and very busy, but I’m excited for it.

Here are a few reason why:

  • My student teacher from last spring is with me again this fall to finish her student teaching, and she is awesome and we work so well together – she is a lifesaver as we tried to navigate the waters of Week One.
  • Thanks to an amazing grant, we are getting tons of professional development in the area of teaching literacy.  Even though it seems intimidating from this side of the journey, I’m thrilled to learn how to take what I do, and do it better.
  • I have always worked with great educational assistants (shout out to Molly, Shawn, and Dorth, who might be reading this – you girls are great too and I loved working with you!), but I have to say that this year I’m beyond excited to work with my newly hired EA.  She is awesome with the kids, is quick to help, and brings a lot of joy to our classroom.  And I’d have to say we make a pretty good team.  And she is on my list of favorite people.  Win.
  • My class is huge (I have approximately 1,000 students), but they are pretty awesome (read – they are cute and I have high hopes that we will mold them into an awesome class because right now it is closer to herding butterflies than teaching kids to read).  Even my “too cool for school” kid who sighed a big, “LAME-O” on the first day of school, seems to be kind of coming around.
  • Some of my students are actually pretty independent.  Perhaps a bit TOO independent, as I have lost one of them twice when he continually decides to just walk away and “go look for his locker” or “go find his sister”.  Fortunately for me people keep finding him and returning him to me.  Come dismissal time, I always end up with the right number of students.
  • I have some hilarious ones this year.  Which is a sigh of relief for all of you I am sure.  There is the kid who ran out of the bathroom in fear of the urinal (which I did not fully appreciate – wash your hands before grabbing onto me, kid!)  and the kid who introduces herself as “Ladybug” and has a lot to say.  All of which cracks me up.  She is pretty polite, including being quick to say, “Bless me!” after she sneezes.  And there is the kid who says, “I have a peanut allergy.  I can’t eat peanuts.  If I do, I have to go to the hospital.  And my mom REALLY doesn’t to have to take me there.  So I just shouldn’t eat peanuts”.  Or conversations like this, “You can choose if you want to continue to cry loudly in the hallway or rest quietly in the classroom.” “I want to cry in the hallway.”  “Ok then, let’s go sit out there so we aren’t disturbing our friends.”

At the end of Day One, when all I could think about was how I was so relieved we made it to the end of the day.  One student was not so thrilled.  On the way to the lockers to get our backpacks she sadly exclaimed, “But Miss K-!  Kindergarten is SOOO fun!”

Every year brings new adventures.  This one is shaping up to be no different.  Get excited kids – another year of kindergarten is underway.