Earlier this week, I thought that I would be blogging about what’s missing and what’s different in our new kindergarten reality. Then the end of the week happened, and my impressions and my blog post changed. Let me explain.
My teaching partner, Paula, believes strongly in the power of “time.”
- Don’t make changes too quickly. Kids need time.
- Don’t move students too quickly. Kids need time.
- Don’t add materials too quickly. Kids need time.
- Don’t remove materials too quickly. Kids need time.
- Don’t swap out provocations too quickly. Kids need time.
- Don’t intervene with problems too quickly. Kids need time.
- Don’t respond to cries of boredom too quickly. Kids need time.
While I have to fight the urge to respond immediately to students, to requests, and to observations, I’ve seen over and over again that Paula’s words around the value of time, almost always hold true.
This resulted in a conundrum after school on Tuesday, for we had just finished two first days with our students: half the class on Monday and half the class on Tuesday. While we noticed that children were fantastic overall at staying within their individual spaces, they almost exclusively played alone. Now we realize that with COVID restrictions, sharing materials is a problem, but we expected children to talk to each other. To begin to interact with those people around them. Nobody did. The room was basically silent for two days minus any comments that we made to each other or made to kids. We started to foresee a problem. For young children to settle into richer, deeper play, they often benefit from social interaction: even if that interaction is simply feedback, questions, or comments from others. Oral language development is so important for kids of this age, and listening and speaking are both part of this. How might we support oral language development when everyone is playing silently alone? Will this play have lasting power — especially for our youngest learners — without a social component? These questions prompted us to do something that we wouldn’t usually do so early on: change student seating. Now that we had met all of the children, and had a better understanding of their interests, strengths, and needs, we thought that we could create a few distant groupings that might allow for social interaction from afar.
We emailed parents and prepared families for these changes. While both Paula and I realize that it takes time to settle into the classroom, we also thought that this change was important now and going forward. Wednesday was our first day with the whole class, and I’m not going to pretend that magic happened right away. But as we sat down to reflect with each other at the end of the day, we both recalled this special moment.
It was the start of something wonderful! While we both questioned a couple of our moves, we decided to resist the urge to change things again, and see what happened as the week went on. Again, time was key.
As I shared in these tweets on Thursday night, students began to notice and respond to each other.
This continued even more on Friday.
I think that our physically distant walk into the school each day, and then the reminders to give space when playing outside together, has helped students judge a metre plus of distance. COVID has certainly supported estimation skills. By Friday afternoon, we saw a group of students — both in JK and SK — beginning to modify their environment so that they could still stay in their space, a metre apart (or more), but while interacting with each other.
- No child went to share materials with others.
- Every child kept his/her mask on.
- Speaking happened, but from a distance.
- Children owned the space.
- Children did the problem solving.
- Children directed the play.
I seriously could not get enough of the child-led, child-created, COVID safe building and conversations happening in our classroom. It made me wonder if providing children with independent spaces — even past the time of the Coronavirus — would support independent problem solving and independent learners, while also providing the quiet social interactions that would allow for collaborative play and group thinking. On Friday, I felt as though we tackled “scaling the condo wall” (watch Susan Hopkins’ video to see what I mean), but it was the kids who made the climb possible.
Yes, there are some experiences of the past that I crave — from the ease in movement to the collaborative projects to the hugs to the singing — but there are also new moments of wonderful. There are also experiences now that have Paula and I shifting our thinking about what FDK can look like in pandemic times and beyond. As Alex Johnstone, the Chair of our Board, mentions in a recent CHCH interview, there is a focus this month on “learning how to play while socially distant.”
Seeing what our 3-5 year olds have figured out in less than a week of school, I have to wonder what problem solving kids in other grades might be doing. If ever there was a time to believe in “competent and capable learners,” I think it’s now. What were some of the positives from your first week back at school? As we look at what might be lost, I think that we cannot underestimate what also might be gained.