Ding Dong School: before Mister Rogers & Sesame Street

Miss Frances Ding Dong School
“Miss Frances”

The day after Labor Day was always the first day of school in Michigan. One of my earliest memories is of my older sister, Terri, heading out for school the year I must have been four. I can see myself sitting in the bay window of our living room, and she alerted me that she was leaving for school, but mentioned how “lucky” I was that I got to stay home and watch “Ding Dong School” on television.

It all seemed rather dubious to me, since I WAS looking forward to kindergarten the next year, but it was kind of her to make the attempt. My mother looked on and seemed to be trying to gauge my response. I suppose it was hard for me to face summer’s end and be the only child remaining at home, since my younger brother was not yet born.

I DID love the show, however, and since we only had clear reception of one network in our little town in Northern, Lower Michigan, I was lucky that it ran on NBC through 1956 (followed by syndication for some years after). The presenter, Dr. Frances Horwich, known to the young viewers as our teacher, “Miss Frances,” had a calm, soothing voice that seemed to be aimed directly at me. The show always began with her ringing the large school bell, of course. She read books to us, presented various types of interesting lessons, and demonstrated art projects. Children often sent their drawings and other works in to the show, and Miss Frances would sometimes share those, as well.

a suitcase with a surprise

Sources reveal that she was an experienced educator, but had very little familiarity with working in front of the camera. From a kid’s point of view, the show felt very natural and real, as if I was actually there in her classroom. Due to the show’s popularity, many different types of products carrying the “Ding Dong School” name became available, like finger paints, balloons, valentines, and records. I don’t remember having any of those, but we did own some of the “Golden Books,” such as these shown. Titles often focused on family, community, and the use of imagination in play.

The Big Coal Truck

My afternoon kindergarten the following year paled in comparison, naturally. With a large room full of actual children and no helpers that I can remember, I’m sure that our teacher had her hands too full to give us much individualized attention. I kind of missed those mornings spent at home in our sunny living room, with my mom nearby and Miss Frances talking to me out of the black-and-white television like I was the only kid in the world. Little did I know at the time that my future would also find me as a teacher in the classroom with young children.

When Ebay was still a novelty, I often looked up collectibles that interested me. One day, I saw some of Frances Horwich’s personal items related to the show up for auction, following her death, such as a custom-made chair with her name on it, her collection of school bells, and awards that she had received. I did some research and learned that she and her husband had no children, so I suppose there was no one in particular to leave these types of things in a will. At first this seemed very sad, that her belongings would simply go to the highest unknown bidders on the Internet. After giving this some more thought, however, I realized how insignificant “things” really are and how many thousands of individuals, like myself, remembered this woman for providing them with a pleasant first education experience. That seemed much more important, in the grand scheme of things.

~Becky

Talking with Kids about Climate Change

After reading this week that some of Earth’s “old” polar ice is breaking up for the first time on record and that the current administration plans to further relax the pollution rules, I felt frustration beginning to boil. What to do? Write about it! No, I’m not going to write a children’s book about climate change (at least not now:) but I AM going to tell you about several good literature choices that are available. These books can help you broach this topic with our young and up-coming scientists, activists, and caretakers of the Earth.

 

The Tantrum that Saved the World is by Megan Herbert (writer and illustrator) and Michael E. Mann (climate scientist). This rhyming book is available in hardcover and e-book from World Saving Books in Amsterdam. In the story, various people and animals who have been displaced by climate change come knocking. They don’t just want a place to stay, though; they want to get busy and make a change!

The story is easy to understand for young children, and the colorful illustrations add to the enjoyment. Toward the end of the book, you’ll find informational pages about the science of climate change that will add even more depth for somewhat older readers. The print book includes an action plan poster, and the e-book version offers a PDF of the poster, as well. Bill Nye the Science Guy recommends this book, which is certainly high praise.

 

The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge is just one of the adventures in this science series for kids written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen. As a teacher, I loved sharing these stories of Ms. Frizzle and her class with my own enthusiastic students.

This particular book from the series explains in a kid-friendly way just why the Earth is getting warmer and explores what the children can do about the situation! The lively illustrations tell even more of the story beyond the text. Available in hardcover, paperback, and audio.

I’m wondering if any of you have read and discussed either of these books with your own children or students. If so, I would love to hear about the experience. In addition, please feel free to share any other titles on the topic of climate change geared toward young kids all the way up through YA! 

~Becky

How Mrs. Wishy-Washy Saved the Day: a former teacher’s reflections

Mrs. Wishy-Washy

Becky as Mrs. Wishy-Washy
Becky as Mrs. Wishy-Washy on Halloween at her last school!

 

When I moved back to my home state of Michigan about fifteen years ago, I jumped at the chance to teach kindergarten at a Pre-K/K early learning center. That public school was in the Upper Peninsula and part of the state’s most northern K-12 school district. My recent teaching experiences were with upper elementary students, and it had been years since I worked in a preschool or completed a short stint in kindergarten during my student teaching. To say that I was nervous is an understatement!

Imagine my excitement when I discovered a dark cupboard full of colorful ‘big books’ the first day I visited my new classroom.  Many of the titles were written by the prolific New Zealand author, Joy Cowley, whose books I hadn’t previously encountered.  During that school year, I learned to love her books just as much as my students adored them!

All of Ms. Cowley’s books are great, but Mrs. Wishy-Washy was the most popular character, hands down. Here’s some background about her:

  • Who is Mrs. Wishy-Washy?  One of Joy Cowley’s most-loved characters
  • What is very important to her?  Cleanliness!
  • Where do she and Mr. Wishy-Washy live?  In a rural area in the state of Washington
  • When does she get grouchy?  When something gets in the way of her washing
  • Why do her animals sometimes look sad?  They are tired of being washed!

Besides tales of keeping other characters and her surroundings clean, other antics involve a farm fair, birthdays, gardening, baking, and appearing on TV. The students loved chiming in during ‘shared reading’ time and then reading on their own with the small-book versions of the matching titles.

 

Ms. Cowley’s books are very conducive to a wide variety of literacy lessons:  beginning and ending sounds, blending, rhyming, story elements, sequencing, building words, spelling patterns, sight words…the list goes on and on!  Beyond that, many of them also lend themselves easily to tie-ins with other areas of the curriculum, such as science, math and social studies.

It’s no wonder that I again sought out Mrs. Wishy-Washy and friends some years later, when I found myself teaching young learners in another U.P. location. In relief, I found the school library housed many of her big books for the teachers to share, and that the smaller versions were already on the shelf in my classroom.

For those of you who write for kids, this author has a wonderful book titled Writing from the Heart that I’ve found to be a great resource for my own writing. If you’re teaching or have young children and haven’t met Mrs. Wishy-Washy and Joy Cowley’s other books, you may want to check them out. I’d love to hear about your favorite picture book characters OR about your ‘go-to’ resource books for writers!

barn-no attrib. required