First grade is a time of immense change for students. They mature, become better readers, further develop their independence and confidence, and grow their understanding of the world around them. We have been covering types of energy over the past couple weeks, as well as discussing transparent, translucent, and opaque materials. As Chinese New Year is at the end of January, it seemed to be the perfect opportunity to broaden the student's awareness of cultural celebrations and tie in ways of celebrating different holidays to our unit on light. We couldn't necessarily study different cultures, celebrations, and holidays around the world without learning about where these celebrations take place, which was a perfect opportunity to expose them to the globe and all it's components. Talk about cross-curricular material!
We have spent our PBL-devoted afternoons learning about cultural celebrations that use lanterns and light as part of their festivities. This week we studied Chinese New Year and Diwali, and made beautiful lanterns with translucent and opaque materials as part of an art installment piece we are going to share with the school. Next week, students will learn about how different cultures use luminaries and about the Mexican tradition of paper mache lanterns. All of this ties to how different materials allow light through in different ways, as well as exposing them to the amazing variety of cultures around the world.
Students are encouraged to do their very best work because the culmination of all this learning and work will be the display of their creations. They will design an invitation to present to other classes, set up their lantern installation, and welcome students and teachers to pass down the hall and enjoy their works of art!
Education must prepare students to be independent, self-reliant human beings. But education, at its best, also must help students go beyond their private interests, gain a more integrative view of knowledge, and relate their learning to the realities of life.
— Ernest L. Boyer
One thing I love about PNA is the ability to be flexible with our day and that we can adjust the rhythm of our learning to best accommodate the children. An independent education is all about the needs of the child, and when I see that one thing isn't working or that the lesson I had planned for the day won't meet the needs of the children on a particular day, I can readjust and tailor the experience to better suit the learning needs of the class. It's a bit like sailing; a course can be mapped but each day, each hour, nearly each minute is affected by numerous variables. One student who is loathing math at the moment? Let's switch it up and play math games! Let's make it fun again! One student who is getting tired of writing? Let's learn about alliteration and write zany and silly poems! (I particularly liked Larry the Lion likes licking lollipops with Lily at the Lake.) Feeling cramped and restless? Let's go out and feel the sunshine on our faces and wander through the trees in in knee deep snow. Flexibility, freedom, the ability to be creative and intentional - these are important aspects of education just as are traditional courses such as math and reading. So often, we can tie these creative expeditions to our lessons and students not only learn academic material, they learn to apply it in real-life situations.
Our class is particularly hands-on and creative, so we learned about architecture this week. Is architecture part of the state-mandated standards? No. However, I have a couple students who love to build and talk about growing up to be builders and exposing them to architecture seems to be a natural response to their curiosities. We designed 3-dimensional houses and students were challenged to place them in either a tree, on land, or on the water. Students realized quickly that when they placed the house in the tree, they couldn't get in it with out also designing a ladder. One student who created a boat house realized it would "sink" unless he designed a floating platform for his house's foundation. They had to figure out how to make their landscape support their 3-D house and it was so fun to see their creative energy flowing as they excitedly designed, constructed, and presented their creations. Newbyleisurelimited.com has an awesome article about the benefits of creative freedom for young children. Their article states, "By allowing children freedom in construction play it also makes them think independently and make decisions based on what they are learning. This is great for teachers and it will then transpire into other areas of education and make the child a well-rounded learner as they grow older."
Creative freedom extends beyond the classroom and traditional learning. This week's Brown Bag series is just an example of the freedom that we have as an independent school. Students were encouraged and supported as they showcased their talents. They have been learning about MLK all week and how to be a servant to others and to show kindness, support, and be inclusive. The support and energy from their classmates was palpable and it was wonderful to see students perform with such confidence. These students exuded joy, confidence, and independence - traits that all parents, teachers, and administrators hope to see as their children journey through their education at PNA.
As MLK day approaches, we have been focusing more and more on kindness and service to others. Kindness is always a focus in our classroom; however, we have been spending a lot more time discussing what it actually means to be kind and its effect on others. Students engaged in spreading joy and kindness around the school by hanging up kindness posters that encouraged others to practice kindness. On top of encouraging others, first graders practiced their public speaking skills! First graders went to every class and gave a talk about their kindness posters, how to use them, and why they were hanging them up. They answered questions from other students and displayed great confidence!
Ryan McLean from publicspeaking.com says, "Who knows what exactly what kids are scared of when it comes to speaking in public. There are so many different fears about public speaking that it could be almost anything. However, I believe if we get them practicing (and enjoying) public speaking early and build up their confidence as a public speaker then as they grow in their teenage years and as they go into adulthood then they will be confident in public speaking." So, not only were first graders practicing their public speaking skills and confidence, they were also practicing the art of spreading kindness to others. Martin Luther King, Jr. represents kindness, inclusiveness, and servitude. Students are exemplifying the character traits that Dr. MLK, Jr. wanted the youth of this nation to possess. I hope that by reaching out to others to encourage kindness will, in turn, help our young students have a sense of ownership in their actions towards others. Our class kindness project doesn't only radiate within the school walls; first grade has reached out to schools and students all around the globe to learn how other students and cultures view kindness and service. Our class was very excited when we received our first response from another first grade class in Louisville, Kentucky! We are anticipating our next responses this next week from Australia, South Africa, and Switzerland!
I look forward to the special week we have planned to celebrate each and every one of us, to share our uniqueness, and the spread even more love and kindness!
Getting back into the groove of school always takes time after an extended break. However, students arrived this week eager to engage, see their friends, play, and get back to the business of learning. We delved into a variety of topics this week from types of energy, board games, and learning and about being inclusive and kind.
Students loved having the opportunity to engage in board games this week. They particularly enjoyed learning to play Chutes n' ladders, which, according to esme.com, "was developed long before the learning game explosion, but it’s still one of the most science-backed games for building number sense in children. Number sense is an important building block that helps children make sense of what numbers mean and how they relate to each other." Students had to learn to take turns, practice patience, and use their number sense. We also played a guessing game in which children had to guess numbers using correct math vocabulary such as greater than, less than, tens and ones place, etc. Using games to reinforce number sense is always a great way to keep students minds and hands busy, all the while learning big stuff!
Speaking of keeping hands busy (but more importantly productive!), student's were tasked with taking what they were learning about in science and social studies and create tangible objects that reinforced the lessons. Students created straw pan flutes to study how air vibrating makes sounds, and they made beautiful paper tissue "stained glass" while exploring transparent, translucent, and opaque objects.
First grade also explored more about the topic of kindness. This month we will be learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and about his message of service, choosing kindness, and being inclusive. We have been reading books about kindness and discussing how we can choose kindness in our own lives. In order to help spread joy and kindness, students made warm fuzzies to hand to a special person. Warm fuzzies are merely yarn pom-poms; however, they are only to be given with the message of kindness or joy. They are meant to help the receiver feel loved or appreciated whenever they see or touch it. The ultimate goal is that the warm fuzzie eventually gets passed on to another person, and another, creating a ripple effect of kindness and joy.
Again, coming back after a long break has it's own readjustment period but it has been oh, so sweet and oh, so busy being back in the classroom. Seeing your children's smiling faces and their joy in playing and learning reminds me once again while we all choose to be here.
Ms. Tuomi has over five years experience in ASD, where she taught first and fifth grade classrooms. An avid skier, Ms. Tuomi is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Alaska Pacific University’s Bachelor of Arts in K-8 Education.