#1: A New Beginning
Here is what I know:
The upcoming school year will not look like anything we’ve known before.
We cannot try to fit a large square peg into a small round hole.
This is something my incoming kindergartners already know.
What comes this year should be reset and reimagined. Our schedule and our program cannot (and should not) look the same. It is not about “fitting in” the same minutes of PE or Science, Music or Math. This year will be about global learning, about whole child development. About race and responsibility. About consideration for others. This year will be different. It likely will not be what anyone wants. It may (if we let go and do it well) lead us to something better.
Here is what I hope:
There is a lot of contention around opening plans. As of now, my school is planning on opening with in-person school just after labor day. Here is what I hope that our beginning can be.
I will be set up at a safe spot on the grass. Each family will be asked to sign up for a 15 minute slot to come by to say hello. This will be a time when each child can see the parents and I are connected and on a team to keep them safe. Transitions can be hard for little ones. They need to see that the connection is made between these trusted adults in their lives. When families come by, there will be time for a quick hello and a short time for the children to participate in our first KG class project (a simple COVID inspired and COVID friendly art project). This drop-by is important. It will be a time to connect and create together before we have to begin the important COVID related procedures that will dominate the beginning of our days at school.
The next day, each child will join me and a few of their classmates on campus for a designated hour and a half. I will meet with small groups of kids to show them each and every piece of what they will need to know to simply arrive at our classroom door. This is not something that should be done with a group of 14 students or with hordes of other children all arriving at campus at the same time. We need to start small and to start slowly in order to connect and to do things well. For each group, I will be there to meet them at the newly designated grade level drop off site. I will walk them slowly through their new door, up the stairs they are permitted to use, show them the water bottle filler in our area, and lead them right into our classroom. I will show them how we will get outside - the place we will spend the majority of our time (all of our time if possible). Outside, we will connect, we will kick a ball together, we will play games, we will begin to learn a bit about one another.
Day 3 and 4: Half Groups for Half Days
Half of my class will come for a half day on Thursday (8:30-Noon) and Half of the class will come for a half day on Friday (8:30-Noon). These mornings (and the opening weeks that follow) will be used to begin to create community. I will spend the afternoons meeting with each family on Zoom - hearing from them about their experiences, plans, fears, and hopes. In order to create an effective remote plan for each student (which I am fairly certain we’ll eventually need) I need to know what home is and will be like for each of my students.
In the mornings with my kids, we will connect by learning about each other, begin to create shared routines, and assemble “go” bags (details to come) that will travel with them and serve them whether at school or at home. Each year I take time to introduce each and every material and space in my classroom. The kids discover how one might use an area or a material, how to care for it, and most importantly, how to care for and respect each other. Together with my class, we learn routines and systems to create a safe, joyful, considerate, and productive community in which all children can grow, learn, laugh, and play. These goals will remain the same. This year, rather than guiding them through discovering the block area, we will explore the woods behind our school. Rather than considering where to place the crayon bin on the table so that everyone can reach, we will consider how far we must place our bodies away from others while we eat so that we do not get anyone else sick and why it is so important to put items we’ve touched back into our own bags or into the “to be cleaned” bin after we have used it. It is a time for consideration to take center stage. And for that, I am grateful.
Looking Beyond: A Question Mark
Beyond that first week… who knows what will be. The school’s plan is for all 14 of my kindergartners to be with me from 8 am until 3:00 pm. For whatever time I am asked to be “at school” with my kids, I will do my best to show up, to imagine new ways of designing my program to spark joy and learning in each and every child. I will spend 8 hours in a mask and face shield, purchased with my own money. I will pack a bag each morning - filled with masks, wipes, and hand sanitizer; with a white board and alphabet tiles, paper, markers, and any special materials for projects on that given day. We will find a spot on the lawn behind our school - assuming it is not designated for someone else - and we will run and play and learn. I have long been inspired by the Tezuka design of the Fuji Kindergarten (a model that removes physical boundaries and allows for “unfettered learning and play”). The families in my class will see this influence play out in our year.
I believe in children's intrinsic motivation to learn. It is not contained within the walls of a classroom. They will learn to think. They will question and investigate. They will explore and create. They will count collections of sticks and play math games with precious beach stones I've collected throughout the summer. They will learn to communicate in all forms as we reach out to experts who can help us in our investigations and think of ways to express thanks to the essential workers who sacrifice daily for those they do not know.
For too long what we know to be best practice in the world of early childhood education (and education on the whole) has been slowly pushed to the periphery. Playful pursuits have been replaced by worksheets and inflated expectations as children are rushed from one activity to the next with no time to develop the executive function skills that enable success in all areas of life. This is a year, despite all that our kids cannot do, to reclaim pieces of childhood and community that have been rushed past and overlooked in recent years. I will not be trying to force what was into this year. Despite all of my worries and opinions on what we should have done or should be doing, I am finding inspiration to connect with my students, to get creative with my teaching, to revel in the spark of new understanding in their eyes. I will be present with them and teach them to be mindful as we navigate this brand new world together.