Google+ bakers and astronauts: Lately

16 January 2014


Returning to the classroom in January is always refreshing.  After a few weeks without the daily routines, we all come back with fresh eyes, ears, and hands.  Perhaps I speak for more than just myself when I say that I have resolutions, both big and small, in mind in this second half of the year.  From continuing on with some elements that felt successful to trying new things, January feels like a second chance on the school year.

One thing that I noticed in the first few days of January was the level of independence that the children have now.  So much of our work is focused on self-regulation and community that it takes that holiday break to look at the classroom community (and individual children) with fresh eyes.  I recall September being an endless whirlwind of grabbing, screaming, zipping, unzipping, dressing, undressing, and emotion.  Today I stood and put on my own shoes to go outside as the children put on their own shoes.  It is the simple things that are so hard to see when they are so ingrained in our daily routines: stepping back puts a different light on it all.

I've also been hearing more conversations between children, seeing them interact without the mediation of myself or another teacher.  They invite each other to play; they are able to clearly state if they would like to be left alone; they don't pull each other's socks off!  The development of their relationships has been far from linear.  In the early years, a child is just another kid one day and a best friend the next, and that new openness to peer interaction is a wonderful thing to see.

All of these things said, the goal of preschool (or life) is not to float along in a conflict-free bubble.  Conflicts are what got us to where we are now.  And with fewer children needing support for small problems, we open up our time to different problems, questions, and curiosities.  We take the time to work on every problem that arises because that is our work in early childhood.

Because this was such a young group at the start of the year, we were very focused on the social and emotional aspects of our day.  We did a few projects, but the bulk of our work was free play.  With free play, children can constantly work near and with other children, and I can focus on stepping in for support.  I spend the first 90 minutes of the day as a facilitator: talking through conflicts with children, encouraging children to go deeper with materials, or getting more red paint.  It would be ideal if all of those things could happen at the same time, but needing to wait for that assistance, perhaps, builds in a natural way for children to begin to solve their own problems.  Some high-priority issues will always come first, and children who are waiting to be read to might need to wait.  Chances are, they'll begin to look at the book themselves, or request that book when we all gather together later.  It is just another way that we embed real-world problem solving into our day.  I don't expect three-year-olds to exude patience, but learning to wait a minute and delay gratification is naturally occurring in our day, and practice doesn't hurt!

As I enter the new calendar year, with fresh eyes on the school year, I think a lot about my role with these children, in this community.  In September, in the children's eyes, I am a playmate and a grown-up.  I can help them with complicated things like opening a container or getting dry clothes.  I can read a story or get clean water for the paintbrushes.  I can pretend to be a dinosaur who loves apples and peanut butter!  The evolution of my relationship with each child as an individual and with the group, as well as their relationships with each other, has been our real work this school year.  It has been an absolute pleasure to see children turn to each other rather than me when they need their jackets zipped.  I have the luxury of spending more and more time observing and documenting as I play the role that I truly love:  facilitator.

I hope I can find ways to document and share the journey that we have been on as a classroom community.  This is not a revelation - we actively work on community building, emotional intelligence, and relationships all day, every day, in preschool.  It was important for me to take some time to reflect on the evolution of this aspect of the school year - seeing where we began, where we are, and where we might go next.

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