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Julienne M. Olson

graduated from Minnesota State University–Moorhead with degrees in early childhood special education and intellectual disabilities. She also holds a master’s degree in early childhood special education from Minot State University and is currently seeking an early childhood regular education endorsement, with plans to finish in 2013. Julienne has been teaching early childhood special education at Central Cass Public School in Casselton, North Dakota, for the past 17 years. She works with students between the ages of 3 and 6, and her classroom is focused on children who have disabilities and includes typical peer models. Outside of school, she has a passion for literature and reading, and also enjoys cycling, supporting animal charities, and spending time with her family and friends.

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Julienne Olson is the author of 200 Essential Preschool Activities, so let’s learn 200 essential things about her and her terrific new book.

How did your book come to be?
The majority of the activities in the book are things I currently use in the classroom. I have been teaching for 17 years and I love to try out new strategies, so my brain is full of ideas. If I felt stuck when I was writing, I would look through children’s literature and think about how I would plan lessons to coincide with a book’s topic.

Most of my writing was completed at home with one of my three cats on my lap or helping me type by lying across the keyboard. When I needed a break, I favored a local Starbucks and rewarded myself with a single-Grande-decaf- nonfat-no whip-vanilla-white -chocolate mocha (everyone should try one of these) and enjoyed the rhythm of people coming and going.

I think this book is a wonderful guide for any preschool or kindergarten classroom teacher. It is so comprehensive and flexible, and it provides a good foundation for an entire year of lessons—it’s great for new teachers and full of new ideas for veterans.
What advice you have for educators looking for ways to enhance their classrooms and curricula?
The best advice I can think of is to always question why you are going to teach a lesson. I think about how meaningful it will be to students, how well it will engage them, and how diverse the lesson is.

The book emphasizes how to structure all areas of your classroom and lessons -- this should be the foundation for any activity you do. Your classroom should engage children from the minute they step through the door, because that is the starting point of your interactive and purposeful curriculum with children.

Think of how one lesson can reach many different styles of learning and curricular areas at the same time. Traditional art activities can also include language enhancement, motor development, cognitive skills, and social interaction. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or to change plans that are not effective. This book gives direction, but also allows you to include your own twists and personal touches.
It’s obvious that you put a lot of thought into each of the activities in your book and spent time reflecting on how your students responded to each experience. As a teacher who so clearly cares about the learning opportunities in her classroom, you must have a lot of favorite teaching memories. Care to share one?
There are so many. The best memories I have are some of the hilarious things children say or do. One day, four boys cleared off a shelf full of blocks just to see if they could all squish into the empty holes. Another time, I asked the preschool children what they wanted to be when they grew up. One little boy said, “A garbage man. They sure have the cool trucks.” When I asked a little girl who she would visit if she was sick, she replied, “Well, I wouldn’t go to a doctor. I’d just sit on the bed with a bucket.” Kids are awesome.

As a special education teacher, I cherish all the little steps of progress that are made each day, as many things are such a challenge to some students. I also love the first day of school when the children come in the room with a brilliant smile and are excited to be back for a new year of learning.

One of the best moments happened this year when one of my former three-year-olds came to tell me she was graduating from high school. That was more than special. She walked into the room, saw me, and burst into tears as she ran over for a hug. She just couldn’t let go. That is a moment I will remember forever.
You don’t really have to share 200 essential facts about yourself, but how about a few?
  • I love supporting animal charities and currently volunteer at a local cat shelter.
  • I have three spoiled cats of my own that keep me busy with their antics.
  • I play the piano and took a stab at learning the guitar this winter. I think I need a few real lessons instead of practicing solely through YouTube videos.
  • I love reading for my own enjoyment and make time to get a few chapters in each night—mostly mysteries and biographies.
  • I also love to read to children. Watching their faces light up with surprise as I turn the page and they discover something new is such a delight.
  • I live in Fargo.
  • I enjoy visiting my parents, who spend time between the lake in Minnesota and Arizona. My Arizona visits are fantastic—mountain hiking adventures and lounging in the sun away from the freezing North Dakota winters.
  • My brother is in Minneapolis and we have a great time going to concerts and exploring the city when I get to visit him.
  • I love the smell of old bookstores, coffee, and lilacs.
  • I hate mushrooms, slimy peaches, and the humiliated grapes some people call raisins.
  • I’ve always wanted to try karaoke, but have never been brave enough.
  • I only sing in the car and to my preschoolers. They love me anyway.
  • I started babysitting when I was 10 years old and knew then that I had to be a teacher. I filled out one application and had one interview before I was hired. I have been blessed to go to work each day doing exactly what I dreamed as a little girl.