As I watched our youngest learners perform Little Prince this week, I couldn't help but reflect on one of the story's messages.
"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
When students are free to explore their interests, to try and to fail, and to experience the interests of others, their imagination and creativity grows -- as does their perspective. By having the freedom to explore their own interests and ideas means and being exposed to the interests and ideas of their classmates, students not only learn to embrace their uniqueness but to appreciate the differences of others and try new things as well.
"All grown-ups were once children, but only a few of them remember it." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
It seems like children are often more open to the beauty and mystery of our world, forever curious, exploring, asking questions, and seeking adventure in the everyday. With the responsibilities of adulthood, it is easy to get caught up in the many tasks, to focus on scores and results, to stop seeking experiences that broaden our perspective or serve no other purpose than adventure or to quench a curiosity. I feel so privileged to have a profession in which I am constantly reminded to lean into the messy process, to be open to new ideas, to keep exploring, and to enjoy the little things.
"The most beautiful things cannot be seen or touched. They must be felt with the heart." - Antoine de Saint-Exupery
I am a firm believer that learning in and of itself is engaging. In fact, that is one of the reasons I chose to continue my teaching career at PNA. I love that the style of teaching we do capitalizes on children's natural curiosity, that we engage them in meaningful learning and exploration of our world, that it truly teaches them how to be lifelong learners.
It always breaks my heart a little to hear students ask if something is going to be on the test, trying to determine whether or not it is worth knowing. I do not often hear that at PNA. Our students are too busy exploring, solving problems, looking for patterns and new ways to do things, and attempting to answer inquiries (posed both by their teachers and themselves). They are learning for learning's sake because there is much to be explored, investigated, and discovered. They are not expected to sit and memorize facts, but to do, to engage with the material - in all subjects.
Writing is often a difficult, laborious task for young learners. There are so many facets to the writing process. You have to compose a story that flows and makes sense, teach somebody something clearly and understandably, or express your opinion with reasoning. Then, you have to convey that information through illustrations and with writing, which requires honed fine motor skills, hand muscles, and alphabetic knowledge. It is exciting to share your thoughts with others in such a tangible way, but the process to do so is not easy.
Both classes were hesitant about writing at first, but now it is one of the most cherished times of our school day. This week, we began our study on how to writing. Students first started by studying how to books and making observations about how they are alike and different from other types of books we have studied or written. They took this task very seriously and poured through the example texts, studying each page carefully and recording their observations.
Through their exploration, students discovered many things, like the fact that how to books are a type of nonfiction, that they often include a list of materials, and that they almost always include steps, which can be listed out with step 1, step 2, step 3, etc. or indicated by transition words, such as first, then, next, and finally. This activity was simple, but it was engaging because I gave students the task of exploring the texts and drawing conclusions about them instead of just telling them.
While all of our students, of course, know how to do many things, I wanted to make this unit extra engaging by teaching them something new and exciting (and messy!) to write about, so I taught them how to make marbled paper with shaving cream and food coloring. I explained the process step by step as I demonstrated it in front of the class and revealed my beautiful, marbled paper. Because they were so excited to try it themselves, every single student could tell me the entire process from start to finish, which will make it very easy to write a detailed, how to book.
One of the great things about our combined classroom is how easy it makes collaborations between the two classes. Recently, kindergarten and first grade paired together to plan and execute this year's PNA Iditarod. While kindergarten prepared for the race, first grade prepared the course. First grade students were all eager to be part of the event that they had such fond memories of from their own race the previous year. They studied the Iditarod trail map and made each stretch of PNA's Iditarod like the real trail. As a result, kindergarten experienced ruts and rocks, crossed over icy lakes, and through forests, fog, ground blizzards, and white outs. The process of making the trail was a wonderful experience. Not only did we cover a geography standard as we studied and created the trail map, but we had a lot of fun creating the obstacles as well. Making snow out of shaving cream, glue, and tissue was one of the biggest hits during our work time. (Stay tuned for more footage of race day... I only have video footage on my camera! :))
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.