When It’s Not About The Academics …

While I’d like to believe that every conversation that my teaching partner, Paula, and I have with students varies slightly depending on the child, we do tend to have a rhythm to our discussions. Many educators, parents, and administrators that have listened to our video recordings over the years, hear how we often make connections to reading, writing, and math. The Kindergarten Program Document strongly supports these types of connections, and they’re not ones that we want to end. This week though, we had an aha moment when reflecting together during our outdoor playtime.

On the last day of school before the Winter Break, some snow issues in our kindergarten pen area had us going to the big field as a full class. We ended up loving this plan even more than we anticipated.

  • There’s more room out here for students to spread out and socialize with each other.
  • With a lack of materials in the big field, students can become much more creative with their use of nature items and their response to the environment.
  • This area often supports inquiry with tracks through the snow, a fence that looks onto a forest area, and a big grassy space full of sticks, leaves, pinecones, and insects.

Prior to this day, Paula and I normally separated in the morning with half the students staying in the pen with me and half of the students going to the field space with Paula. We realized that if we all made the move to the big field, then Paula and I could also be together in the morning and benefit from two different perspectives on the same play. We decided to make this change for after the Break, and while returning to the classroom took longer than expected, we stuck to this new plan when returning on February 8th.

This week, both Paula and I have been trying to observe students closely: saying less and watching more. This is not an easy thing to do, but it’s the very thing that led to our educator discussion outside on Thursday morning. Here’s a short snippet from this discussion.

While we’re both regularly tempted to suggest getting a clipboard, creating signs, and/or making our own labels for them to read, we’ve tried to stop ourselves from saying anything. Why? With COVID restrictions, socializing and collaborating is a lot harder to do than it was in the past. Especially inside. Our students are probably more independent than ever before, which is a wonderful thing, but we also know that at this young age, learning how to …

  • initiate social interactions
  • and problem solve in social situations

are incredibly important skills. With mandatory masking outside, we can more easily support and observe this skill development, especially in such a great outdoor space. Paula mentioned that this approach might allow for more physically distant social interactions in the classroom, which strangely enough happened on Thursday afternoon, when two students shared their wonderful discovery.

We noticed this even more on Friday afternoon, when a child appeared to be standing around watching another student create a car ramp. Why? He was actually doing more than watching: he was commenting on the design and helping the child — from afar — problem solve when the ramp wouldn’t work.

While the classroom conversations were not necessarily extending on the outdoor play, were the opportunities to connect outside allowing for more interest and confidence in connecting — from a distance — in the classroom?

As kindergarten educators, we might be able to lead this physically distant socializing in the classroom and outside, but I think that we have an obligation to do more than that. How are we allowing kids to own these social interactions: safely, but also freely, without us controlling them? I’m not saying that children won’t need our help at times and/or a few distancing reminders along the way, but students this week reminded us of just how creative they can be when they have the time and the opportunity to make the impossible, possible. I’m excited to see what connecting might look like for them in the week ahead. What about you?


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