The Two-Year-Old Tribe

The tribe has spent many days together finding their place and purpose at Berkshire Country Day School.

We have settled upon the gymnasium as our primary place for gross motor exploration. We spend the majority of our time in the gym playing chase with our friends and teachers. We continue to practice our jumps off the mats with great success, coupled with a few tumbles that are followed by, “Are you okay?” and, “Do you want a hug?”

We have found our purpose at school as well. Our purpose is to play. Our purpose is to explore the world around us through our extensive study of play.

Sensory Exploration

We have also been thoroughly appreciating the many sensory explorations BCD has to offer; including: Orbeez, sand, water, mud, sticks, leaves, play dough and even paint!

While November is passing us by, it seems as though the tribe has belonged to BCD for years. As a whole, they are forming a congealed community of rapidly developing two-year-olds. We have become accustomed to the footsteps upstairs,  the busyness of the cubby room, and the daily visits from administration.

As the weather turns colder, we continue to grow closer. Closer to our school, closer to our peers, closer to our teachers, and closer to achieving many independent skills we have been working on since September. We have been working on unzipping coats and lunchboxes, twisting open applesauce and yogurt pouches, and taking off our socks and shoes before nap time. The colder months bring us new challenges of putting on snow-pants, gloves, hats and heavy boots.

 

 

 

 

We are looking forward to spending the next few weeks outside in the wonderful Berkshires!

By |2018-11-29T11:14:35-04:00November 29th, 2018|

“What Do We Do With the Mad That We Feel?”

Questions and Reflections From a Veteran Pre School Teacher

How do we help our children feel safe?

How do we help them understand their feelings?

How do we show and express our confidence in their ability to be kind?

How do we model compassion?

Each day across the land, preschool teachers and parents of young children struggle with these questions. In light of current events, even those of us who have been at this for a long time feel as though we are still wrestling with these questions.

A parent recently reminded me that Fred Rogers had some relevant insights about what children see on screens. In the wake of the recent horrific events in Pittsburgh and Louisville, and the fires in California, and inspired by a classroom filled with Superheroes on Halloween to reflect — on children, violence, and “saving the day,” I offer these reflections.

In our classroom this autumn, there was an explosion of Power Ranger play. Since this consisted mainly of weapons, large sudden movements, and fighting, I paused the play, and asked some of the children some questions. This led to great conversations and artwork among a few of the children, regarding both Power Rangers and a Big Foot monster, who had also entered their play.

One thing that really struck me was that the only thing the children were able to tell me about Power Rangers, aside from their different colors, is that “they fight.” Or, “they fight bad guys.” The term “bad guys,” seems to mean simply, the “others,” the “not us.” At this point, that is their take-away from whatever they are watching on screens. So that is what they are bringing to their classmates who have never seen shows with fighting.

Superheroes and “bad guy” play are not new, nor is violence in our country. In my kindergarten classrooms decades ago, alongside children who had parents deployed in the Gulf War, or in jail for violent crimes, I was dealing with Power Rangers. To be honest, it’s a challenge to have certain TV characters infused into our classroom of 3 and 4 year olds. It is even harder now than it was 25 years ago, because screens, and hence the graphic images of fighting that the children see, have become both larger, and smaller and portable, and more prevalent. Images of both real-life and make-believe violence  — in our living rooms, in cars, even in children’s bedrooms — live side by side on these screens. 

Although in our classroom the Power Ranger play has dissipated somewhat, it’s still there. The “Monster” play continues, and is particularly frightening for some of the students. A couple of my older students have learned to say, “it’s just pretend.” But for these same four year olds, and certainly for three year olds, pretend monsters — as well as teeth-baring fictional wolves, an angry-looking witch, or any one of a number of images that might be marketed for young children – can and do feel extremely threatening. Distinguishing between pretend and real is a complicated process, and does not even evolve along a predictable continuum. One minute, monster play can elicit shrieks of joy from a child; the next minute, the same child is running into my arms for comfort. In the light of day, monsters stimulate laughter; when darkness falls, tears.

Imaginative play is the work of young children, and for our three and four year olds, it is an exciting and constantly evolving and developing exploration. It grows their brains, builds social skills, and leads to joy and excitement, frustration and fear. In a group of 16 young children, we can see all of these emotions simultaneously. As teachers, we constantly scan and monitor, join and guide.

Getting the children to pause their play, and talk and paint about it, was just my initial response. I imagine in the future we might be having conversations in our classroom about different kinds of power — about being strong and capable, and about distinguishing between superpowers and real powers. We have started to have conversations about the FEELINGS we have — feelings that might cause us to hurt others, or to help others. And we will always have sand and art materials available for them to express, play out, and record their feelings.

Mr. Rogers points out that when bad things happen and when people are hurt, it is reassuring to “look for the helpers.” We want to teach the children that WE can BE the helpers, and that fighting and hurting others is not helpful; that it is, in fact, harmful. Even when others are not hurt, we can always practice being helpful. It is possible to develop our “helping” powers.

I offer a few videos. I hope you might spend a few minutes watching them. If nothing else, Mr. Rogers reminds us that being present with young children, and available to listen and talk about what they are feeling, as well as what they might be seeing on screens, is so important. Even though some of these clips are from decades ago — before ipads, smartphones, enormous HD TV’s, and the current hate crimes — I think he is also a good reminder to limit and very carefully control our children’s exposure to screens. 

The questions will always be there. So will our love for our young children.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9E-I7yBwIc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FVNY2oPP2WI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKy7ljRr0AA

http://www.fredrogerscenter.org/about-us/

By |2018-11-19T14:02:37-04:00November 19th, 2018|

Starting the School Year With a BANG!

On just the third day of school, nature provided the Preschool class with such an exciting and memorable event. While the children were in their very first gym class, a powerful thunderstorm rolled in.
We had wind. We had very bright lightning and very loud thunder. We had torrential rain.
We had a shared experience.

The thunderstorm hung around for a while, so the children were “stuck” in the gym – a pretty good place to be stuck, with Mr. Storti, and Kristina, and plenty of balls and hoops to play with. When Dr. Segar made the rounds around campus to check on everybody, he stopped in to see them. He comforted a frightened child and listened to another who had a lot to report. 

Meanwhile, I was “stuck” back in the classroom. When the wind came up, I frantically ran around closing windows, which had been wide open against the stifling heat. Eventually, after the lightning and rain subsided, I walked over to the gym to join the children.

In the end, even the families got to share in this unusual event. At pickup time, the lightning was gone, but it was still raining. So parents or grandparents had to find us at the gym to take us away under the cover of umbrellas.

A group builds a “fire boat” together.

The next day, what did we talk about at Morning Meeting? The rainstorm! What IS rain? Why does it rain? What do we find on the ground in the rain? What do we like to do in the rain? The children had a lot to say.

We read books: Rain Drop SPLASH  by Alvin Tresselt, wherein rain grows into a stream, which grows into a river and into the sea. This led to a discussion of boats.

In one of our discussions, somebody shared their knowledge that sun and rain together make a rainbow. Oh gee, we HAD to read Sky Fire by Frank Asch. Somebody asked the big question: Why does a rainbow disappear? At nap time, the children notice the rainbows on the floor, made by the prisms hanging in our windows. What makes that rainbow? Hmmm….

Painting thunderstorms

 

Just like that, in the blink of a thunderstorm, a project was born. Our class will continue to explore water and things related to water. Already they are expressing their knowledge of water and storms through language – “sprinkle,” “pour,” “wet,” “soaked,” “gushy;” through art – one child dots paint on paper to make rain, another swirls paint with a brush to make wind; through building – every day a new kind of boat.

 

 

Two children work on a “zoo boat.” After classifying the animals, they assign them different living spaces.

Now, instead of frantically closing windows, I am frantically trying to record their words on paper; save their artwork; and capture their constructions with a camera. I struggle to keep up with their free and agile activity. My teacher-brain struggles to keep up with so many ideas of ways to provoke their curiosity and imagination. We have a stream and a pond to visit, mud to find, water droppers to play with, paint to blow, a rainbow to construct, more boats to make.

This is Reggio-Emilia: Environment is the third teacher. Teacher and students explore and learn together.

By |2018-09-18T08:44:03-04:00September 17th, 2018|

BCD’s First Course

Recently, my boss made a comment that sparked a new perspective on life with the B2’s. I realized that by creating this Program at BCD this school year, we provided an opportunity for two year olds to take what amounts to their first school course, “Problem Solving for the Beginner Two.

On a recent winter day, the B2’s assistant teacher, Carli, was unexpectedly sick. What to do? Our Associate Head of School, Leigh Doherty, filled in, and spent most of the day with me and the B2’s. Even on normal days, Leigh is a regular visitor to our classroom. The children always love to see her, she knows them well, they know her, and she loves to be silly with them and pay us a visit to get a dose of cuteness.

But on this day, Leigh spent more time than ever with us, following along as the children took her through their daily routines. The next morning, Leigh said to me, “At the end of the day, it struck me that the B2 children’s days are just a continual series of problem solving — all day long!”

I was so happy to hear Leigh’s comment. It’s easy to appreciate two and three year old cuteness, but for the finale to this school year’s blog posts, I thought I’d shine a light on the hard work these young children engage in each day. So here is my course description!

PROBLEM SOLVING FOR THE BEGINNER TWO

This course reflects BCD’s core values of community and respect.

In this class, we will explore the many facets of becoming a member of a community, and engage in intensive practice with life skills. Through attentive guidance and consistent routines, the children will be introduced to ways to navigate life’s common but challenging social skills — sharing, taking turns, recognizing another’s pain, meal time etiquette, and teamwork. They will also be encouraged and expected to persist towards mastering essential practical life skills such as eating with a utensil, washing hands, putting on and taking off jackets and other clothing, and removing and putting on socks, shoes, and boots. Toileting practice is also encouraged and supported.

The children will face a range of other physical challenges, including managing lunch boxes, food containers, and ziploc baggies; drawing and painting with various tools; stacking blocks and digging with a shovel; removing sand from inside shoes; climbing ladders and walls; throwing and rolling balls; jumping with two feet; pedaling bikes and navigating with scooters. The curriculum also includes safe stick play, story time etiquette, and what to do when encountering insects, chipmunks, and dead birds.

As if this wasn’t enough, the B2 children will also learn a great deal of expressive language during their school year. Some will move from single words to speaking in sentences, and learn to articulate multiple sounds and blends. Each child’s vocabulary will grow enormously, and most will learn to answer questions, and engage in conversation of a few exchanges. Their language develops through intense social interaction; through reading books and singing songs; and through rich experiences with new materials and exploration around our amazing campus.

They do all of this while beginning to face the daunting challenge of learning appropriate and effective ways to manage their most basic emotions of sadness, joy, and anger.

After completing this course, the children will have mastered many life skills, and be very familiar with the benefits of persistence, perseverance, and kindness when solving many of life’s daily problems.

Yes, small children are cute. But here at BCD, our focus is on respecting the hard work they engage in each day.

By |2018-05-29T14:04:25-04:00May 29th, 2018|

Back to Nature

In PreK, we consider the grounds of BCD part of our classroom: being in nature does so much for the soul. There are numerous ways being in nature is beneficial so I will focus on the two most important to me as a teacher of younger children. 

 

The first is, it improves creativity and complex thought. There are no toys, dolls, markers, blocks, magna-tiles or Legos in nature. When we are out exploring the campus we find branches, rocks, dried leaves, moss, bark, and more, that nature gives us. In Reggio-inspired classes, we call these “loose parts,” undefined ingredients and pieces that rely on  the creativity of the children to “become” something. Letting PreK play in the woods provides endless opportunities for inventions, experiments, and collaboration. They make sticks into fishing rods, collect and add large sticks to the 8- foot nest they are creating, pretend branches are horses— we even found a fallen tree that was balanced on another fallen tree and made a seesaw! 

 

 

The children are constantly making observations about their world. “This sand is heavier because it is wet,” “The seesaw works better if there are three kids on my side and the other side,” “The leaves in the stream float until they get really, really wet. Then they sink.” This play works the frontal lobes of their ever growing brain and helps develop more complex thinking, which they’ve used this year and will continue to expand as they move through the grades at school. 

 

The second thing that nature has been proven to do is that it improves behavior and social interactions. The more time we spend in the woods at “our nest” and exploring the numerous paths and streams (even a beautiful waterfall!), the fewer disagreements I see between friends. Out in nature, the group has to work together to move big branches or to get up a muddy hill. They may sit quietly and watch the fish or search for worms together to save them from drying out. Whatever it is, the children are working together to reach a common goal. The more time we spend outside the happier and more connected the class becomes. 

 

We are lucky to have BCD’s 27 acres, with trails, a pond, a garden, fields, and plenty of play areas, where we can reap the benefits of all nature can do for children. While we go outside in our snowpants and boots during the winter, the recent warm days have made us all the more excited about exploring the signs of spring. Our most recent activity was welcoming the frogs back to our pond and collecting some eggs so we could observe them—and the tadpoles that will soon be here—for “science” class and in our science journals. 

 

In these final weeks of school, we’ll be taking the opportunity to spend even more time outside, we can’t wait for our next discovery!

 

 

 

https://childmind.org/article/why-kids-need-to-spend-time-in-nature/ 

By |2019-01-10T11:30:08-04:00May 7th, 2018|

What’s the Big Deal About “Wonder”?

“A ladybug on the gym floor!”

Early childhood educators love the word “Wonder.” We talk about a child’s sense of wonder and cultivating that wonder. Books have been written on “The Wonder Years,” and we have famously labeled four year olds as “Wild and Wonderful.” Indeed, every day this wonder in young children — in the form of a ladybug found on the gym floor, a prism rainbow on the wall, newly formed ice on a puddle, the gurgling of water under a grate — sustains us in our work with young children. Our B2’s wonder is contagious!

In Hawaii …

Over our Spring Break, I was again so fortunate to be able to travel to a far-away land, this time across the Pacific Ocean for two weeks on the islands of Hawaii. Each day brought new sights, smells, tastes, and sounds, from volcanoes, geckos, and sea turtles, to Kalhili Ginger, fresh Mahi-Mahi and Ono fish, tree frog peeps surrounding us through the night, and bamboo groves rattling in the breeze. For two weeks, I floated in what I will always remember as a “Wonder Bliss.”

One day I had a little revelation about Wonder that seemed especially relevant to my work with young children. I had driven 1.5 miles over lava rock, on what could barely be called a road, in order to get to an oasis of a beach we had read about in our guide book. At the end of this bumpy primitive road, we were surprised to find a parking lot full of cars, and many people lugging picnics and towels, just as we did.

As we ate, I watched a couple of young men snorkeling in a cove near our picnic table. Clearly, they had been at it for a while — wearing full wet suits with various straps and gear attached. After a while, they emerged with a few octopuses hanging from their belts! Before they emerged, I had seen them shed their wet suit shirts and spend several minutes floating and snorkeling in the very shallow reef water. They had been on a fishing expedition, but I didn’t realize until I myself got into the water why they had been hanging out for so long in that cove.

I was hot, so I put on my prescription swim goggles and ventured into that water. It was cold and wonderful, so I dunked down. I was immediately surprised and rewarded with three bright yellow fish with black stripes! Wow! I dunked again, and spotted black and white ones! Again, and I saw a large and shimmering blue-green fish. I kept floating and dunking, finding more and more. I lost count of how many different varieties of fish lived there in that little cove. A rainbow of colors, a full spectrum of geometric patterns of all sizes! This silent underwater world absorbed me completely. And I had discovered it!

After some time, I left the water to tell my husband about the great surprise I had found. I was absolutely thrilled. But I was also chilled, so I covered myself up with hat and big shirt, and went for a walk down the beach to dry off. I headed towards another cove in the distance that intrigued me. Having to choose between hot lava rock, hot sand, and stony water on my bare feet, I was looking down a lot — so until I was about 30 feet away, I didn’t notice an enormous creature lying on the sand! It was certainly as large as a baby elephant!

From my research afterwards, I learned that this monstrous creature was a Hawaiian Monk Seal. These are endangered, and there are only about 1500 of them left on earth. I also learned that they come onto the beach in order to give birth — which was almost certainly why I saw this one there on that lovely beach. And when I told my husband about it, I was not exaggerating — they do weigh hundreds of pounds (even when not pregnant).

So what does all of this have to do with young children? This day on the beach reminded me that the thing that makes wonder even more joyfully intense and memorable is the element of surprise, and the sense of having discovered something oneself. When I dunked down into that reef water, I had never been snorkeling before, and I had absolutely no idea that I would see all of those tropical fish. When I set off on that walk down the beach, of course I had not even an inkling that I might run into that awesome monk seal. I felt the thrill of an explorer, and I will forever remember that day.

A few days later, we did go on an official snorkeling trip along with dozens of other excited tourists. Somebody taught me how to use snorkel gear, and I stepped off a boat into a huge reef filled with countless tropical fish. I loved every minute of it, but I’m glad that my very first experience with tropical fish was on my own, and by surprise.

Back at BCD in Massachusetts …

we took the B2’s on a walk around campus one day. For four long months, the snow had prevented us from trekking down the path and crossing the bridge over the little stream to get to our favorite pine grove and hillside. But now the snow had mostly melted, and as we approached the bridge, a sound stopped us all short! The children were hearing a new and mysterious noise! Of course I knew what it was — the little stream from last fall was now a rushing river, cruising over its rocky stream bed. But the children had no idea what that sound was … water??? We walked to the bridge, and wow! In an instant they became explorers, discovering the magic of a swelling stream. They exclaimed, “WATER!” They watched, entranced. They lay down on the bridge on their bellies to look; they wanted to get as close as possible to that rushing water.

They were surprised, and enthralled! The next day at school, the first thing P. said to me was, “Can we go on a long walk?”

Wonder Bliss

When we work with young children, one of the reasons we provide opportunities for open-ended experiences is so that they can experience the depth of joy and learning that comes from discovering something themselves. There are countless ways we can recreate the “explorer” experience in the classroom. Instead of being told what to expect, or how to use the paints, or what a finished product should look like, curiosity will motivate them to discover these things themselves, and they will create a product (or a process), that is uniquely theirs. Through this opportunity for adventure, they experience surprise, wonder and absorption. They gain confidence to take the risk to try new things — the desire to go on ANOTHER long walk — and the joy that comes from creating something truly their own.

By |2018-04-19T14:14:06-04:00April 19th, 2018|

Birds!

It all started with a crow. PreK was taking a hike through the woods, and a crow swooped down and landed on a tree nearby and started cawing. The next day we were on the playground, and we saw a beautiful red-tailed hawk soaring. Then suddenly a group of crows started working together to chase it away. The children’s interests grew as they started noticing all the different birds that frequent the feeders in front of the science building. They asked questions about what birds eat and how they sleep. A study was born.

The Reggio Emilia approach believes that children are capable of constructing their own learning. And that they are driven by their interests to understand and have a deeper knowledge of the world around them. After we realized that the children were showing an interest in birds, we had a meeting to discuss what we already know about birds and what we want to learn about them. They came up with a great list of questions: Do birds have teeth? Why do they fly? Why do they tweet? Why do some birds fly away when it snows? As the children shared their own prior knowledge of birds, they taught their classmates, who in turn added their own ideas and observations.

PreK’s interests grew as we learned to “speak” chickadee. We played games only using a chickadee’s language, telling friends that we found food, all is good, or sent a loud warning that a Cooper’s Hawk is lurking.

We built nests out of clay, twigs, moss, and dried grasses. They also created a “rainbow nest” with a cardboard box.

 

We studied and felt bird skulls.

We saw different birds hunt, make nests, and eat through videos that we watched in the classroom.

We learned about different beaks and why they were different shapes.

Most recently we have begun to build a 8-foot nest out of branches and bark in the woods. The children ask to go to our nest daily. They want to add to it, play in it, and “lay” eggs in it. It is their “home.”

Like other Reggio investigations, it has been fascinating (and fun!) to see where the kids have taken this study—and in particular, to see how invested they have become in birds! They have learned patience and how to quietly observe birds; they have learned that there are many varieties of birds and how each kind is brilliantly adapted to its environment; they have built their cooperation skills as they construct community “nests” for the class, both indoors and out; and they have developed their diligence and perseverance in pursuit of answers to their questions.

 

Vicky

By |2019-01-10T11:30:10-04:00March 9th, 2018|

Reggio Magic: Open-Ended Playthings

Part One: THE PLAY DOUGH

Something old: Last week, I put a new invitation out on a table: freshly made lavender-scented play dough and familiar tools —  our play dough scissors and small kitchen knives.

Something new: A basket of shiny glass stones, and a basket of small assorted stones from outside.

All week the children played with them, enchanted by the feel of the stones — smooth and rough, shiny and dull, of different weights. They pressed them into the playdough, hid them in the dough, stacked layer of stones and dough, each child calmed by the lavender, and absorbed in a little world of their own making.

Over the week we saw ice cream, burgers, snowmen, islands, an apple, Mickey Mouse, a house, a road, snakes, a rock castle, a cake. As they played, they talked about their creations; their hands squeezed, rolled, cut, and pinched; they became more familiar with scissors; they talked about colors; they shared stones and tools; they started to notice one another’s creations and became inspired to do more.

Once again, for the millionth time, I fell in love with open-ended playthings.

Open-ended materials for young children are materials without a pre-determined script. They can be used and manipulated in many ways, limited only by the children’s imagination. Not only do children practice motor, language, and social skills with them, but they also encourage imaginative play. Imaginative play — the cornerstone, the essence, and the driving force of young children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development.

Watching the children so enraptured by the play dough and stone combination, I thought it might be fun to choose another familiar classroom open-ended material and reflect on its many uses.

Part Two: THE SILK SCARF

One of the most important objects in our classroom is our basket of brightly colored silk scarves. How does a simple silk scarf make its way through the school day of our two- and three-year-olds?

HIDING

Under the scarf, we hide ourselves, toy animals and little people, a drum, a block, a ball! Even more fun, we hide each other!

MOVEMENT

We dance, parade, wiggle, and shake. We wave the scarves high and spin them around us. We run across the gym with them, flying like the wind!

SLEEP

We use it as a blanket for ourselves–and for our babies!

PREPOSITIONS

We hide UNDER it. We pass it THROUGH our legs. We drape it OVER us. We sit ON it. We wave it AROUND us. We wave it ABOVE us. We put them IN the basket.

VISION

We look through it and see the world tinted in color.

WHERE ARE YOU GOING?

On a picnic!  (the scarf is our blanket) To the beach! (the scarf is our towel) To the store! (the scarf is our coat) To the rescue! (the scarf is our cape).

BABIES

We use the scarves to swaddle them, and to lay over them on their beds.

 

SOUND

When we wave them hard, they make a little “snap.” When we cover the big drum with them, they muffle the drum beat.

TOUCH

They flutter over our faces and our arms. They feel soft on our skin.

AN IMAGINATIVE PLAY UNIFORM!

Sometimes while wearing their scarves, the children go about their business, cooking in the play kitchen, drawing, or playing in the dollhouse.

At these times, the scarves are like Superman’s transforming cape, empowering the children with greater focus and imagination, and enabling their young brains to soar!

 

By |2018-02-23T06:21:28-04:00February 23rd, 2018|

Why?

As a PreK teacher I hear the word “why” all day, every day. “Why do snail eggs stick to the glass? Why are those clouds flat? Why do birds talk to each other? Why did that tree fall?” Not only do the children ask me “why,” but so do parents, colleagues, and people I meet in the community.

So what is the most asked question by grown-ups… “Why do you like teaching PreK?”

Here’s my story: Like many people, as a child, I neither loved nor hated school– I liked school. While it was just something I did every day, there were certain highlights and specific outstanding teachers that stand out in my memory. I graduated high school and went on to college. Once I received my B.A. in Communications, I was convinced I would never go to school again. I began working at a small private school in New York City as an after school teacher, then the next year as an assistant teacher in a second grade classroom. Several of the other assistant teachers were attending Bank Street graduate school. I was curious and signed up for a class—just one. I was hooked! I applied to be a full time student and loved every minute of the program, which, not surprisingly, aligns with BCD’s Reggio Emilia approach of exploration and discovery.

My goal as a teacher to make my students love learning and be excited to come to school. And that their love of learning continues throughout their lives.

 

I love teaching. As a teacher you continually learn and grow each day. You learn new strategies, ideas, and skills. You get to collaborate with your colleagues, and they hold the same hopes and desires for their students. You learn a lot about yourself, not only as a teacher but as a person.

So that’s teaching. Why PreK? Why this age? PreK is special because three-, four-, and five-year-olds see the world in a different light than adults. They see the world with excitement; everything is new and fresh. It is energizing to see the children discover unfamiliar things, learn from each other, connect the dots to figure out solutions. What they are doing in our class lays some of the earliest building blocks for all the classes that will come after and for how they will live their lives. Oh, and they surprise me. Every. Single. Day.

In a nutshell, I love that my work has a purpose. I get the opportunity to touch the lives of my students and contribute to making their future one that is bright and productive. My goal as a teacher to inspire my students to love learning and be excited to come to school. And ensure that their love of learning continues throughout their lives. These are the things that I remember about those exceptional teachers that I had who made an impact on me as a student, and I’m honored to carry that on to the next generation.

By |2019-01-10T11:30:11-04:00February 1st, 2018|

Creating a Community of Two-Year-Olds

What does a veteran elementary and early education teacher do over Winter Break?

  1. Fly to Ireland for the very first time to spend eight days exploring the Emerald Isle
  2. Pack one book: Do Parents Matter? by Robert LeVine and Sarah LeVine

I reveled in Ireland’s beauty and history, and its friendly and gracious people – truly, every shopkeeper and pub waiter, every bus driver and ticket-taker, had a smile and friendly word, and often a story or two to make us laugh.

And I also read the book!

The LeVines, respectively a professor of education and human development and an anthropologist, have spent a lifetime studying child-rearing practices in diverse cultures across our globe. In general, they have found that children can be happy and healthy in a wide range of conditions, and guided by a wide range of parenting practices.

In my new professional challenge as a teacher of two-year-olds, this book was most helpful to me by opening my eyes further to this point: “The behavior of toddlers in highly responsive to their parents’ priorities.” How do we use a Reggio-inspired philosophy to bring cohesion to this diverse group? How do our school priorities influence the behavior of these young children entrusted to our care?

As I traveled around Ireland, I thought about how Irish children observe and hear, from infancy, the adults in their lives engaging with strangers with politeness, humor, and friendliness. They also attend schools financed by the government and managed by the Church, with all of its attendant values. They share a strong and clear historical identity.

Before heading to Ireland, as I reflected on my first months of life with our B2 classroom, I felt truly in awe of how strongly the children had become a community. They announce the arrival of their classmates with gusto, greet each another with a hug or at least a smile, notice when somebody is sad, and offer a truck or an animal to share.

In October, when I first observed a group of them engaged in interactive play, initiated on their own, I was amazed. “This is not typical two-year-old behavior,” I thought. But then I observed it more and more – in pairs and in small groups, the children were “cooking” together, hiding together, driving to the beach together, coordinating their movements as they ran with a hoop, assigning family roles, and on and on.

I thought, “Given the opportunity and the encouragement, two-year-olds are capable of so much!”

I was struck by how quickly the children’s sense of class community developed, even at this young age. I asked myself, “What have we done in this brand new Program for Two-Year-Olds that has promoted this community spirit? How have we conveyed our priority of ‘Community’ to these very young children?”

We arrange the day’s routines and the environment to support opportunities for cooperative play. A round table is regularly covered with communal paper, where the children gather and experiment together with paints and other art materials. A comfy floor cushion is large enough for four children to sit together with books. A dollhouse sits on a table where children can access it from both sides, and play opposite each other. Percussion instruments are usually used on a round rug, which encourages circle movement and communal drumming.

Over the first weeks of school we ventured out on daily walks around our campus. These walks had no purpose other than for everybody to explore their new environment together. The children gradually learned to travel as a group. The quick ones had to wait for the slower ones. The ones who loved to wander learned to come when called. When somebody fell, the others noticed and announced it with concern. When one child discovered something fun or interesting – a pile of leaves, a bench to climb on, a fence with holes – classmates gathered.                                                    

It’s not always easy – to wait, to share, to disagree. But through hours of shared experiences, and with encouragement to be caring, friendly, and inclusive, these two-year-olds have often pushed past the comfortable realm of “parallel play” and into the often messy but rewarding experience of group play and teamwork.

 

Just as the Irish children absorb their cultural heritage of helpful and gracious hospitality, our two-year-old children have made a strong start in absorbing BCD’s priority of a supportive community.

 

By |2018-01-11T13:21:27-04:00January 11th, 2018|