There’s a new resource for Madison area parents! is a website that lists hundreds of links for pregnancy, groups, classes, activities, fitness, services, dining and shopping. Features showcase local events, specials, books, project ideas, recipes, decor, new products and much more. You can also post questions and comments to other local parents on their Facebook page: Madison Mamas

I’ve already found the website extremely useful for finding new kid-friendly places to shop and eat in the area. The site is so well organized, it’s simple to find exactly what you’re looking for. And I love the “Features” section – it’s given me some great ideas! (and was kind enough to feature RM blogger – and local Barefoot Books Ambassador – Kat yesterday! Thanks, ladies!)


School Tours: Van Hise Elementary

The last in our series of school tours, Carousel tours Van Hise Elementary.

I love the physical space at Van Hise Elementary School. The multi-colored tiled hallways are wide, windows are everywhere, and daylight streams into the building. It is bright and engaging.

Tim and I made our way to the principal’s office for our tour. The principal, Peg Keeler, greeted us personally and asked the gathered parents to introduce ourselves and tell her a bit about our children. I was nearly sold on Van Hise already. This is the only school where the principal gave the tour. And this is the only school where we are asked about our daughter. I am wondering if my husband, who was excited for Midvale and their dual immersion program, is thinking the same thing.

Principal Keeler showed us around. First stop is the community service chart in the main hallway outside her office. All students are invited to be part of one of three community service projects for the year. Each project involves K to 5th graders working collaboratively along with a faculty member, and the project goals and progress are charted in the hall. Scattered around the school are food bank collection bins, one of the current projects, and each bin we pass is overflowing.

When we visit the kindergarten classroom, what strikes me the most is the calm. No one is yelling or running around. Are these really kindergartners? How is it they are sitting quietly at their desks? The teacher tells us about their work—writing (and drawing) picture books to go along what they’re reading. I peek at one student’s work: She has already written 5 sentences, more writing from a kindergartner than I have seen at the other schools. We also visit a K/1 combined classroom, as Van Hise has both K only and K/1 classrooms. Principal Keeler says that they are strongly considering turning all classes into K/1 next year, as the multi-grade classrooms have been a success with students, teachers, and parents—peer learning, closer knit connection to a teacher, more support for children both advanced and struggling.

I confess that I was distracted inside the classrooms from some of the detailed talk because I was enjoying the wonderful brightness. The outside wall of each classroom is literally a wall of windows, and natural daylight fills up the rooms. Tim and I agree Van Hise is where you would want to spend your day and where you would want you child to learn — in a open, day-lit space. Both Midvale and Lincoln seem dark in comparison.

I ask Principal Keeler the million-dollar question: Can you talk about the overcrowding problem at Van Hise? Van Hise elementary (and Hamilton Middle school, which is right next door) has many more students than the building should accommodate. There are not enough classrooms, sometimes not enough desks and supplies. Yes, Principal Keeler says, Van Hise is overcrowded. As a result, every space has been turned into classroom space. They always seem to find the supplies they need, but they do have to scramble sometimes to make it work. We enter the library, and it proves her point. A 1st grade class is sitting in the library reading a book and writing a book report. The space is cramped. Stuffed bookshelves are pushed together to make way for computers and desks. I cannot help but compare it to Midvale’s library with its beautiful muraled wall and open space that encourages you to browse the shelves and sit and read a book.

What the 1st grade class is doing, however, gets more of my attention than where they are. They are reading Stewart Little, a 100+ page book. Wow. I asked if this is an advanced reading group, and the teacher says, no, this is a regular 1st grade class, and all the students in the class are reading the book. Did I already say wow?

As we continue our tour, we visit the music room (which is crammed at the front with book resources for the teachers), the lunchroom, and the art class. The art class was the most disappointing. They were doing shrinky dinks, and the teacher was chewing gum like a teenager.

Before I entered Van Hise this morning, I thought for sure we would send Cass to Midvale. How can you turn down the chance to teach your child Spanish? But now, it is not so clear. Tim and I started the comparisons, and this is what we came up with: Midvale has dual immersion classes taught in Spanish, smaller class sizes, a more diverse student body, extra teachers per class, and an amazing art program. Van Hise has a better academic program, a beautiful space to learn in, K/1 and 2/3 classroom options, and a more involved principal. Which missing strengths can we supplement on our own? Which can we not duplicate? Which can we do without? Decisions, decisions. And it’s almost time to register.

School Tours: Lincoln Elementary

The second in our series of School Tours, Carousel tours Lincoln Elementary.

The visit to Lincoln Elementary School was a different experience than our last one to Midvale. Perhaps since this primarily is a 3rd to 5th grade school, they are not used to parents fresh off the preschool boat touring the school. There was no greeter or welcome to our arrival, no colored handouts with details about the school (like at Midvale), no one ready to hold our “we’re going to have to say goodbye to our baby” hands. They’re 3rd graders, they’re big kids. In fact, Tim and I were the only parents there for the visit. We found our way to the principal’s office and waited for permission to visit Lincoln’s one kindergarten class.

The Open Classroom is a K to 5th multi-grade program. There are three classrooms— K/1, 2/3, and 4/5 paired grades—each comprised of 16 students (eight from each grade level). All three classes come together for multi-age learning and collaborating: They take field trips together, work on projects together, play together, and mentor each other. Most notably, the Open Classroom’s structure allows for flexible academic study. If a kindergarten student is advanced in reading, she can read with the 2nd graders. If a 3rd grader needs help with math, he can work with the 1st graders. And students themselves help drive the class. In fact, the 4th and 5th graders assist in developing some of the K/1 study units. They really accommodate each child’s curriculum needs. Ultimately, the goals of the program are to foster self-esteem, risk taking, and decision making, through a tight knit “family” of students and teachers that work together for six years.

What is also unique about the Open Classroom is that you have to affirmatively opt into it. There are no school boundaries for Open Classroom; no one gets into this program without requesting it. The result is strong parent involvement from parents who affirmatively seek out the program.

Tim and I walked down to the large K/1 classroom. The teacher, Ms. Konkol, was very welcoming and energetic. Tim and I observed the class in action for about 45 minutes—free play as the children arrived (all the girls were in the back of the room playing dolls and pretending to be animals, the boys were in the front of the room drumming and dancing to the rhythm); morning meeting time on the front carpet (singing a welcome song, marking the calendar, back massages, and discussing the day’s schedule); and reading time (breaking into study groups to write vocabulary words and read books).

It was a bit busy, maybe even chaotic. Students were full of energy and moving about the room even when they were not supposed to. Tim and I did take a little pause that the K/1 classroom was focusing on learning basic school behavior: Raise your hand, talk one at a time, sit still. It was clearly a free-flowing classroom. Ms. Konkol explained that they were working on communication and social skills.

We wondered how it would feel outside this classroom—on the playground, in the lunchroom, in the hallways—as the only eight kindergartners and eight 1st graders in the school. Ms. Konkol told us that the whole school went out of its way to protect the K/1 class and make them feel welcomed. Sort of endearing to think of all those big 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders being nice to the kindergartners.

We quickly visited the 2/3 class, where a student gave us a tour of the room. She was impressive and sharp, showing us around the room with keen attention to details. At the end, she showed us her writing journal, and she was spelling some rather long words. Neither Tim nor I can remember what the words were, but I do remember thinking “I can’t even spell that word”.

Overall, we thought it was a good program. Without a doubt the collaboration concept of the Open Classroom can lead to a wonderful experience. But beyond the program, for us there are two big detractions from the Open Classroom. First, Lincoln is not near our house. It is a 20-minute car rides both ways that involves the beltline, and it is not near our jobs downtown either. (Compare this to walking to Midvale or Van Hise, the two Madison public schools we live near.) The Open Classroom would have to be much better than our neighborhood schools to overcome this barrier.

The second issue for us is the lack of kindergartners (and 1st and 2nd graders) at the school. At Lincoln, the music and special activities are geared towards 8, 9, and 10 year olds, not 5 year olds. I can imagine Cass wanting to be in every school play and assembly, but I don’t know how that would work at Lincoln. No matter how much they try to include the younger kids, they obviously will gear their programs towards the 3rd through 5th graders. This concern was reinforced by the lack of a full school tour—no one in the administration greeted us, and we weren’t offered a tour of the playground, lunchroom, or music, art, and PE classes. I wonder what the PTO would be like, and if any school projects and resources would be geared toward the K/1 class or the Open Classroom program overall. Do Open Classroom kids and parents feel part of Lincoln school?

Do your children attend Lincoln Elementary? We’d love to hear what you think about the school and the Open Classroom!

And if you’re also out there looking at local schools, feel free to comment about your tours!

Next up: Van Hise Elementary School.

School Tours: Midvale Elementary School

As a follow-up to our 4K and K registration post, Carousel shares her experience touring Midvale Elementary School.

I have heard such great things about Midvale Elementary School. It’s innovative: cutting-edge principal and teachers who work collaboratively and out of the box. It’s uniting: high parent involvement and a strong parent/teacher organization; a school garden on the property that both student and members of the neighborhood care for. It’s diverse: the student body is 36% Hispanic, 16% Black, 11% Asian, 6% multi-racial. Plus, it’s a SAGE school, meaning it has a large percentage of low-income children but has smaller class sizes because of this. And, for the kicker!—Midvale is now a dual-language school. Parents can opt for classes where both English and Spanish are being spoken and taught.

My husband Tim is sold on dual immersion. He loves the idea of Cass learning a new language at such a young age, especially in an immersion setting (compared to the sleep-inducing language classes we all had in high school). Tim also likes that this is a new program for Madison schools. He believes Midvale will garner more resources and innovation than other schools to help ensure dual immersion’s success.

I am not as sure. Everything I heard about dual immersion is great, and I love the idea in theory. Yes, this is the time when children’s brains are most open to another language. Yes, Cass will be close to bilingual by middle school. Yes, the curriculum is the same as in all other Madison classrooms, so there will be no loss in substance of her education. Yes, Yes, Yes. But other realities of the program scared me. No, the teacher would not speak to parents in English because the teacher only spoke in Spanish for the majority of the day; No, I don’t know Spanish (beyond the cursory that I know from living in Los Angeles for part of my life); No, I can’t help Cass with homework if it’s in Spanish.

And, with new bilingual teachers replacing English-only teachers, and a brand new principal, I was worried that the vitality and community spirit I had heard so much about at Midvale might be gone.

So much built up, before Tim and I even entered the school.

Visiting the school was exciting! The hallways were filled with student art in bright colors and signs reminding you to be quiet in the hallway, don’t run, and treat others as you would like to be treated. Inside the classrooms there were maps and posters, calendars and dates, math workbooks and beginning reading books. The world was wide open, and it was overwhelming to think that Cass could be here soon discovering the magic of learning. It is an awesome moment when you can envision your child’s future and possibilities.

As for the school and program itself, we liked it overall. The classrooms themselves had lots of teachers and support staff. It seemed like every kindergarten class of 18 kids had at least 3 adults in the classroom with them, helping out the lead teacher in various ways. Very impressive! Our tour guide, Midvale’s learning resource director Mary Kay, was knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Students kept running up to her to giver her hugs. But, we didn’t spend much time within each class, and when we did stop in the dual immersion classes, I didn’t understand what the teacher was saying. One class was reading a book called “The Carousel” (but that title was in Spanish). Mary Kay tried to get me to tell the teacher that my name was Carousel. But, instead of saying “My name is Carousel,” I said, “Yo soy Carousel” (“I am a Carousel.”). To which the teacher look at me with a very quizzical look. Un-huh, this is just what I was fearing.

Other things I loved about the school: the art class (could this be the greatest art teacher in the district? They were learning about Andy Warhol and drawing self-portraits. So cool!); the gym and the great climbing wall; the community/school garden; the 45 minute lunchtime (vs. 30 minutes at other schools). And Mary Kay told us they go on field trips about once a month. I don’t know if she’s exaggerating, but if she isn’t, that’s pretty great.

The new principal was certainly enthusiastic for dual immersion classes. She gave a bit of a hard sell, and you could tell she was confident in the success of the program, even to put-down other Madison schools.

So, now what? Tim and I are scheduled to visit the open-classroom program at Lincoln Middle School this week and then our other neighborhood school, Van Hise Elementary, next week. Stay tuned!

(By the way—I would like to officially blame my older sister Jodi for my failure to know Spanish. As the younger sister of a brainy, perfect student, I disliked being in Jodi’s shadow. “I have high expectations from Jodi’s sister,” a math teacher told me. So, when Jodi choose to study Spanish in 6th grade, and I had the option of taking French—with the French teacher who never met my brilliant, perfect sister Jodi—I jumped at it. Some good speaking French does me now. Thanks a lot Aunt Jodi!)

Is your child in a dual-immersion program? Does your child attend Midvale? We’d love to hear what you (and your child) think of it!

Registration for 4-year-old Kindergarten is today

Registration for Madison’s new 4-year-old kindergarten program begins today (Feb. 7). You can find more information in the Channel3000 article copied below. We’ve also included information on Kindergarten registration (March 7).

Scroll to the end of the post to read Tiffany’s (frustrating!) experience looking for a 4K for Lily. Carousel will be writing a post later regarding the school tours she’s taken recently. And we’d love for you to leave a comment about your experiences/advice regarding registering and/or finding the right school for your child!

Registration Upcoming For 4-Year-Old Kindergarten

For the first time, the Madison School District will have 4-year-old kindergarten beginning on September 1 of this year. 4K will be offered to all children living in the district who will be four years old on or before September 1, 2011.

Registration for 4K students will take place on Monday February 7 from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. at all MMSD elementary schools. [emphasis added]

Parents or guardians should register their child at their neighborhood school.

When parents or guardians register their child for 4K, they will be required to show proof of age (birth certificate, baptismal record or medical assistance card,) proof of residency (utility bill, lease or mortgage) and an immunization record. Children are welcome to accompany parents, but they are not required to attend.
Parents who are unable to register on February 7 (4K) should register at their neighborhood school as soon as possible after those dates.

Registration for 5-year-old Kindergarten

Kindergarten registration for incoming students in the Madison Metropolitan School District is Monday, March 7, 2011 from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m. at all MMSD elementary schools.

Parents or guardians should register their child at their neighborhood school. To be eligible, children must be 5 years old by September 1, 2011.

When parents or guardians register their child, they will be required to show proof of age, proof of residency and an immunization record.
Proof of age — the child’s birth certificate or passport, or other proofs such as copies of medical records, formal religious records maintained by an entity other than the parent/guardian, etc. are acceptable.
Proof of residency — a utility bill, lease or mortgage are acceptable.

Children are welcome to accompany parents, but they are not required to attend.

Parents are encouraged to register their children at their current neighborhood school between 1:00 & 6:00 p.m. on March 7.

Parents who are unable to register on March 7th should contact their neighborhood school as soon as possible for alternate dates and times.

To locate a child’s neighborhood school, call the Public Information Office at 663-1879 or go to Find Your School.

Follow this link for is information about registration at individual schools. All schools will be registering children from 1:00 to 6:00 p.m.

Tiffany says …

As a parent of a 4 year old, I’ve been excited about the prospect of 4k, however I am extremely frustrated at the lack of communication, organization and coordination between the district and the ECE centers that it has approved.

We are in the Leopold area and we would have liked to start Lily where she would be the following year for kindergarten, however Leopold isn’t a 4K site, which is understandable, and no problem! I read an article that stated we’d have 50 something sites to choose from. Fabulous!

We called the Department of Early and Extended learning to find out which school site she would be placed at for 4K, and were told they don’t know yet where Leopold kids would go, and we were given no idea when they might be able to tell us.

Okay, we are flexible, so we started looking at ECE centers on the Madison 4K list we found online. We were frustrated to see so few options anywhere near us, when options are plentiful in other madison neighborhoods. Of the few options near us, several we called for tours immediately said they have since chosen not to participate in 4K this year (then why are they on the list!?), or that they are giving all available 4K slots to current students (part of the initial acceptance process was supposed to evaluate whether the program HAD ROOM for new students through the 4K program).

At this point we’ve missed our chance to have priority placement for the 4 year old class at Lily’s current preschool. We have toured several preschools only to be told that if we want to go there we need to apply with them, then list them on our MMSD registration form February 7th as one of our choices, but we wont know whether the school we chose will accept us until March or later. In addition, most of the ECE centers are requiring more hours than MMSD is reimbursing them for, meaning there is no way to participate in a Model 3 MMSD 4K program without paying out of pocket, though it will be discounted for what the district is paying.

We are frustrated, and I feel misled about it from what I learned at the informational meeting in December, which made it sound like ECE centers that applied were agreeing to offer a 4K program following the schedule and cost that MMSD was arranging.

We are trudging along. Touring centers we can’t afford and don’t know if we would even get into and thanking our lucky stars we’ve got a fabulous nanny to rely on if Lily winds up home with us full time next year.


Thanks to Half-Pint Resale for info on this great upcoming event!

Lowellpallooza: Sunday, February 13.

Come support a local school – but mostly, come and experience the Gomers Kiddy-oke!! The Gomers are AMAZING with the kids and the kids super dig being on stage and having the band rock them out to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.

So whether or you are looking to make a star out of your child or just for an awesome evening of entertainment that you and your kids will enjoy, come on out!

What is it?

Lowellpalooza is Lowell Elementary School’s 6th annual fundraising benefit for the school in a non-school space. The Harmony Bar & Grill, a long-established neighborhood eatery and music venue, has graciously offered to let Lowell accept 100% of the cover charge for this event. Lowellpalooza will merge parents and teachers and caregivers and staff and community supporters into one large, music-happy crowd. It’s a great, fun event. See what the Isthmus had to say about previous Lowellpaloozas!

Who’s Playing?

Seven Stone Weaklings (4:30 – 5:30)

Seven Stone Weaklings are a new Madison super-group that plays covers of late 1970s punk rock with some original music thrown in for good measure. They include members of Aniv de la Rev, The Escapists, So Dang Yang, Sunshine for the Blind, Otis and the Alligators, The Lollards and Shanghai Party Boss. They’re thrilled to play the Harmony for the first time. Check them out at:

The Gomers Kiddy-Oke (6:00 – 7:30)

Here is a chance for our kids to be rock stars! Join the Gomers on stage and sing your favorite songs to a crowd of adoring fans! You’ve never seen karaoke like this before!

What’s the cost?

Adult tickets are $10 if you buy them before the event on Sunday, or $12 at the door. Children under fifteen are $5 in advance and at the door. Children under 5 are free.

How do I get tickets?

Nab one at one of these locations:

School OfficeThe Harmony Bar

Capitol Kids

Bongo Video