And just like that, the first week of school is finished. Except it really wasn’t a week long. In Ontario, we start school the day after Labour Day, and as a Kindergarten teacher, our first Tuesday back is actually a meeting day. Students and their families are invited into the classroom to meet with us for one hour visits throughout the day. Not only do they get to see the classroom and meet some peers, but we can also answer any questions that they may have and start building new relationships with the children. With all of this in mind, the first week ended up being three traditional teaching days, but what a wonderful three days they were. I can’t help but sit at the computer today and share many of my reflections — both new learning and good reminders — from the first week back.
1) We cannot forget that the year is young: it’s only been a few days in the classroom. My teaching partner, Paula, and I came back to this point numerous times as we reflected at the end of each day. It’s easy to remember what the children were like at the end of last year, but what about back in September? For some students, this is the first time that they have ever left their parents for the day, and for others, this is the first time that they’ve done so in the past couple of months. Separation is hard … for adults and for children. So as much as we want to develop literacy and math skills and delve into the Program Document, this week was an important reminder for us that sometimes, just getting in the door, can be a major accomplishment. We also have to celebrate these moments!
2) Tears are not misbehaviour, but stress behaviour. Love is what matters most! As some of my blog readers know, I’ve had many evolving thoughts on crying. But I think that watching my teaching partner over the past couple of years and considering what I’ve learned from Stuart Shanker, Susan Hopkins, and The MEHRIT Centre, have helped me respond to tears differently. I’ve been tested when it comes to tears over the past week though. Compared to some other school years, we’ve had a few more students that find the morning goodbyes challenging. For some children, the crying quickly stops, and for others, it takes longer. But each day gets a bit better, and often with some quiet words, a little time, and even a hug, the tears are replaced with smiles.
3) Sometimes we need to get creative! The other morning, I was in the classroom when a parent dropped off her child for the Before Care Program. When I went to say, “hello,” the mom used that opportunity to quietly disappear to hopefully lead to a happier transition for her child. But when her son realized that his mom left, he started to cry. I walked with him into the classroom next door for Before Care, and quietly spoke to him with the hope of stopping the tears. When he said to me, “I never got to see my mom wave goodbye,” I said, “What if we emailed her and asked if she would send you a goodbye video?” He liked that plan, and while he was still a little upset, he recorded his own “goodbye video” for mom, which I emailed off to her. We then worked on drawing a mom picture together, as we waited for her video response. In a few minutes, mom emailed me a quick recording of a “goodbye,” and this was all it took. He watched as mom waved, “goodbye,” said, “Goodbye mom!,” and then went back to drawing before school started. He was all smiles for the rest of the day. Now we have a goodbye video that we can use if he’s upset again. This is not a solution that I would have considered before, but this child’s words, my iPad on the table, and the hope that a little creativity would help, worked. Will this solution work for every child? Maybe not … but hopefully there’s a different option that might!
4) Less is more … especially in September! Last year, we started off by really reducing the number of items that we had out on the shelf, and while we added some more things as the year progressed, we definitely embraced the “less is more” philosophy. This year, we reduced the items even more! Since we didn’t know all of the children yet, we decided to make a simple house for dramatic play. Instead of putting out plastic food or filling the house with loose parts, we started the year without any food. We were curious what the children would do. We’ve loved watching their problem solving in action! A few children have moved items from other locations to use as food (e.g., dominoes or jewels). Other children, found paper, and drew and cut out their own food items. As they started making food, one child thought that a restaurant might be fun, and turned dramatic play into her own restaurant. The restaurant creations have evolved over the past couple of days, and while we’ve supported some of the learning that we’ve noticed, we’ve let the children take ownership over this space. I kind of love how some children use it as a house, and then clean it up, for others to use as a restaurant. It’s like the classroom can be whatever the children want it to be! While you would think that you’d need more to be creative, a little less out can actually lead to more creativity.
5) It’s always worth considering “why” we’re making the decisions that we’re making. While I understand this point in theory, sometimes I need this reminder in practice. Let me explain! Here’s one example. On the first day of school, we put out some paint on our two-sided easel. All day long, the children painted pictures. Most of the pictures were just combinations of lines and dots. Some took up the whole page. Some only took up small sections of paper. There was not enough room on our huge drying rack to keep all of the pictures. By the end of the day, I questioned, Why exactly did we put out paint? What’s the value in it? That’s when I thought …
- It’s calming for some children.
- Many students express themselves through paint.
- Artistic problem solving can start with mixing colours.
- Learning to hold a paint brush, printing your name, and even switching paper are all good for developing fine motor skills.
- Lots of oral language, including storytelling, happens around the easel.
So why did I want to stop it?
- Because we used additional paper. (Students could create a gallery with these first paintings though. I loved this suggestion that Paula made!)
- Because it’s messy. (The children tidied up the mess.)
- Because the paper has to be constantly switched. (The children did the switching.)
- Because we ran out of paint at the easel. (An SK student offered to fill it up.)
It was Paula talking me through this question that made me realize that it was my own hangups that led me to wanting to make a change, and that if I kept my focus on kids, I’d see things differently (as I did in the brackets).
6) Daily reflection time is important, and changes are worth making. Again, this is not new learning for me, but I was reminded about the importance this week. As I shared in this blog post, Paula and I did a lot of thinking about our room design and why we made the decisions that we made. At the end of the day on Wednesday though, we talked about how the children used the space, and Paula suggested a change to the eating table area and the dramatic play space. Both of these changes made a lot of sense, and we definitely saw the value in making them. We made other small changes throughout the week: even switching around a writing table space, and putting out paper around the table to invite more children to this space. Sometimes it’s just a small change that can make a big difference.
It was often through our conversations that we decided on these changes, and Paula’s great spatial sense helped with visualizing some changes that I likely would not have considered and couldn’t “see” on my own. This was a good reminder for me that while reflection is key, “social reflection” is just as important. A different pair of eyes, a different set of strengths, and a different perspective often help make the environment and the program even better! An educator team is ideal for this in Kindergarten, but I can’t help but wonder how educators can pair up in other grades to also make this possible. What have others tried?
I’m now incredibly excited for next week, and interested in seeing how my reflections from this week will impact on what comes next. What might I also add to my reflections next week? Many of this week’s reflections make me think of my “one word” — perspective — and how different perspectives can impact on how we view the classroom, view learning, and view children. I would love to hear your “perspective.” Educators, administrators, parents, and students, what have you learned or been reminded of after the first week of school? How might your reflections impact on what comes next?