When it comes to back-to-school, I have been pretty quiet online. I like to read, think, question (among friends and colleagues), and wait to see what happens. I completely understand why educators, administrators, Board personnel, and parents might be speaking out/speaking up, but I’m sometimes reluctant to share in a public forum — especially when I have a 240 character limit — for fear that my thoughts will be misinterpreted. This changed somewhat on Thursday evening after I saw numerous photographs of socially distant kindergarten classrooms. Then I had to put these thoughts out there.
Wouldn’t you know that sometimes you vocalize ideas, uncertain of what the future holds, and then you find out a little bit more the next day?! This is what happened to me. It’s like I read the future, for I soon learned that assigned seating, desks/tables, physical distancing, and a lack of shared materials are all part of our new kindergarten reality.
I totally understand the safety concerns here, and appreciate how everything possible is being done to keep staff and students safe. But my heart ached for our 3-5 year olds — some of whom are going to be coming to school for the very first time — and what their initial school experience might be like. So what did I do? First, I cried. Then, I tried hard to choke back the desire to vomit. Yes, this was making me feel physically sick. Next, I did some more productive things.
- I reached out to my teaching partner, Paula, and we began to talk about what could be possible when considering learning through a child development lens.
- I connected with some educators on Twitter. What are others doing/planning to do? How are they working within the restrictions? What might be some safe options?
- I re-watched Susan Hopkins’ recent vlog on back-to-school. If you haven’t watched this 21 minute video yet, I would highly suggest that you do. I’ve watched it numerous times now, and I love it more each and every time. I’m not the only one! This vlog has been shared many times on Twitter, and it really gets you to think about possibilities. Paula recently wrote this about Susan’s vlog, and I think her words sum it up perfectly.
In Susan’s video message, she talks about understanding the restrictions and then looking at what can be done within these limits. She encourages educators to write down questions that we can then contemplate, reflect on, and consider what can be done. Susan really emphasizes the importance of how questions, and admits that not all questions will have an answer. Sometimes though, working through the possibilities — including her first example of scaling the three-story condo behind her house — will get us to think about things differently. This blog post then is my writing down of questions, and here is our big one: how might we still honour the importance of the environment as the third teacher and play-based learning while also adhering to current classroom restrictions?
By reaching out to others and reading many suggestions shared by fellow Ontario educators, here are some ideas for this upcoming school year. These don’t even address the outdoor learning component, which might allow for a few more safer social language and responsive environment options.
I am not going to pretend that everything is perfect, but I’ve managed to move beyond the tears. Paula and I have found some positives and possibilities. We found a new challenge. Together, and thanks to the amazing support and ideas shared by others, we went from, “This is impossible,” to “I wonder if this might work.” How are you making things work? What are some of your questions and suggestions? We might need to stay physically distant, but thanks to the Internet, we don’t need to work alone. If there was ever a time to connect, now could be it!
I read in an email from my principal that there will be a disinfectant spray that we can use on things in between uses. This gave me hope! My partner and I can think of ways of allowing certain materials to be used at certain times that would allow for us to spray them down between uses. I like to bring in lots of nature collections which the students love and have so many connections to. I will be looking into how we can do this within the limitations we have.
Thanks for sharing, Laura! We’re trying to limit the time during the day that we have to work on spraying and sharing materials, but this could be a possibility. I’d love to hear more about “nature collections.” Individual ones could maybe be used in different ways. Thanks for giving us something else to think about.
I’m really thinking a lot about the challenge of getting my students to do some outdoor learning instead of only thinking of their outside time as recess. Recess and free-play are important!! But if we are going to spend a lot of our day outside we need some learning activities too! (Still thinking this through!)
I’m trying to do as you suggest – think of all the things we CAN do! There are a lot. And I’m seeing a lot of really clever ideas for how to organize materials and share materials (like math manipulatives) in safe ways. This is all going to really challenge all of us to think about school in a new way, and I think that’s a really good thing.
Thanks for your comment, Lisa! I wonder if some of the free play could be connected and extended with links to expectations, much as it is in kindergarten. What do you think? A WALKING CURRICULUM also looks at some creative learning opportunities for outside. I would love to hear what you come up with.
I think that looking at the CAN is important. I do wonder about some social options — in the classroom and outside — and how to navigate these social experiences safely. I know that play often extends thanks to these social interactions. I’m wondering if our current reality will lead to more parallel play socializing. Definitely a lot to keep thinking about.
I’m adding in these comments from Twitter, as I really like this thinking and don’t want to forget about it.