Just three weeks ago teachers at PNA were eagerly anticipating the return of students from Spring Break, however the pandemic caused by the coronavirus has rapidly turned our world upside down. For teachers at PNA, it has required us to think outside of the box as we strive to continue our mission of educating children to be exceptional learners and independent thinkers. While we all hoped the health crisis would resolve itself quickly, it has not. So, our challenge as teachers is this: how can we adjust what we do as teachers in the classroom to help students be successful with distance learning?
This has required a few things from us as teachers. First, we had to quickly learn new technological skills, and begin using them ASAP! It has made us step out of our comfort zones and try new ways of teaching. It has made us truly appreciate our dedicated parents who are striving to keep their students’ learning happening at home. And, as I’ve spoken with other teachers, every one of them has mentioned the same thing: It really makes us miss our kiddos!!
Every day we make videos for our students and post them on Flipgrid. We have morning meetings, where we sing, go over the calendar, daily schedule and question of the day. I explain any worksheets we will be doing, and then we practice phonemic awareness skills. I often give suggestions about what kind of activities they may choose to do that day. Finally, I remind them that their family will likely not do things just the way Mrs. Smith does them, and that’s okay! 😊
I also post videos of songs, our science experiments (will our seeds EVER grow?!) and our Closing Meetings where we wrap up the day, talk about what we did, reveal the question of the day for the following day, and sing a song or two. The children, in return, also post short videos about their days, all of which I watch and respond to, and students can also watch each other’s videos. And next week, in order to help us all feel more connected to each other, we will begin holding Zoom meetings! I’m looking forward to that!
So, while this is a very challenging time for all of us, I am so grateful to be part of a school community which is completely dedicated to the success of our students. I’m sure our approach and practices will evolve as we continue distance learning, but our commitment remains the same: support our students and their families in the learning process.
For this last month our students have been focusing on friendship and social/emotional problem-solving skills. There are many reasons we encourage dramatic play in early childhood learning. While well-planned dramatic play can support a child in learning literacy and math skills, it functions mainly to support a child’s imagination in role-playing. This kind of play provides fertile ground for practicing social and conflict-resolution skills. One thing we’ve added to our dramatic play area in the last month is a pretend Post Office area. This has been very popular center, and the children have practiced negotiating for the roles of clerks, customers and mail carriers. It doesn’t have to be a complex center to provide lots of practice in these important skills!
What young children need is continued support as they practice applying these principles and skills. As adults, it can be frustrating when we know that children know the right things to do, and yet they often choose to lie, hit, be mean, etc. It is important to remember that learning these social/emotional skills is much like learning to ride a bicycle. Children have seen it modeled many times, and they may want to do it very badly. They have been told what to do, shown how to do it, helped onto the bike, received hands on help, and given lots of verbal encouragement. Then wow! Finally, they can do it! And they (and we) are so excited!
And then they fall off. Or crash. Probably multiple times!
We don't chastise a child for falling off or crashing. No, we tell them we know they can do it -- it just takes practice. We tell them how we understand that it is hard for them to learn to do it, because it was hard for us to learn also. As parents and caregivers, we help them up, tend their wounds (and their self-confidence), and help them back on so they can try again. We know that crashing and falling is just part of learning how to ride a bike. It is also part of learning how to behave properly in the face of strong emotions, as well as so many other things in life! And, so it is with social/emotional learning: it requires a whole lot of practice within a safe environment, with lots of loving support before a child begins to become proficient in resolving their own social and emotional difficulties.
Home, of course, is the primary place this learning happens. However, a good preschool program can provide another positive emotional environment for young children to learn these (and other) skills; and PNA is not just a good place to go to preschool, it’s a great place!
In Early Kindergarten we have outdoor recess for 45 minutes every day, except when the temperature is dangerously cold. For children who participate in the Extended Day Program, there is at least an additional hour of outdoor play following the regular dismissal time. Most children can’t wait to get outside! There are many reasons that outdoor play is vital in early childhood programs.
Outdoor play improves physical development and promotes physical health.
When children play outdoors, they increase their ability to run, jump, skip, throw, climb, and balance, and they also improve their muscular coordination and cardiovascular endurance. Outdoor play in early childhood helps children learn to seek out exercise, fresh air, and activity as stress relievers, and it also increases the likelihood that a child remains active as they grow and mature.
It creates opportunities for social interaction.
Outdoor play provides children with the opportunity to gain many social skills as they interact, negotiate the rules of their games and share the available toys. Playing physical games together, helping one another build things, and engaging in dramatic play (pretending) all help children learn grow in their capacities to negotiate, take another’s perspective and collaborate.
Outdoor play helps children gain knowledge and appreciation for the natural world.
To learn about the physical world, children must have opportunities to experiment with the physical world. Young children learn primarily through their senses, and they must have lots and lots of experiences in the natural world to learn about weather, the seasons, and the animal life in their locale. Learning about their natural environment helps children understand what nature provides for us, as well as our responsibility to care for nature.
It invites children to learn science.
By interacting with the outdoors young children are constantly learning concepts of physical science such as gravity, motion, force, and conservation. Outdoor play gives children opportunities to explore cause and effect and initiate informal investigations of the natural world. It allows children to be actively engaged with the physical world. “When it comes to thinking about physical matters -- learning about objects, kinetics, spatial relationships, and natural forces -- active exploration is especially helpful. It beats merely hearing a message, or observing somebody else act" - (Gwen Dewar, PhD).
It allows children to be children.
For a variety of obvious reasons, activities such as jumping, running, climbing, swinging, racing, yelling, rolling, hiding, and making a big mess cannot happen in the classroom. Yet all of these activities are necessary in childhood! Children need to have time where they feel free from being under adult control. They need time and space to explore, have adventures, experiment with the natural world, take risks and just be children. Time spent outside actually increases a child's ability to learn inside!
For more information on outdoor play, you may be interested in the following articles:
This week in our classroom we have been focusing on our feelings and our relationships with others. We are learning about the different emotions we all experience as well as some ideas about how to manage them. We have also begun talking about how to be a good friend.
One day a few weeks ago, after a particularly long day, my TA looked at me and said, "We do SEL all day long, don't we?" I agreed with her and was happy that she understood that social-emotional learning is woven throughout all of our preschool activities.
A quality early childhood program does much more than prepare a child academically for kindergarten, although this is very important! A great programs should also support a child’s growth in all developmental domains. Most early childhood educators would agree that social and emotional growth in the preschool years is just as important as academic achievement. One reason for this sentiment is that social-emotional growth has an impact on every aspect of a young child’s life. Self-esteem, personal relationships, and academic growth are all affected by a child’s ability to feel good about themselves and their ability to successfully interact with others.
Families play an integral role in the development of a child's social-emotional development, where situations and conversations arise naturally, and parents model positive relationships and problem-solving. The classroom environment, too, can also provide many opportunities to learn social skills as children grow in emotional literacy.
Managing a child's challenging behavior can be difficult at times. It is important to remember that because a child's emotional, cognitive, and verbal skills are still developing, it can take a long time for them to develop impulse control as well as the ability to share and take turns. Being able to appropriately express negative emotions can also take time and lots of practice.
It is essential during this stage of your child's life to accept their feelings as real and valid, even if behavior is not acceptable in a particular situation. By accepting and acknowledging how a child is feeling, you begin to build trust and help children recognize that you are trying to help them. Reflective listening is a good way to validate a child’s feelings and show empathy. By talking with a child you can help comfort them, identify their feelings, and give them perspective. Talking also enables you to teach words that will help a child build an emotional vocabulary. This will help children be better able to express themselves in future situations.
Next week, as we celebrate Valentine's Day, we will be continuing our study of friends, and we also will be talking about what it means to be a good friend.
This week in early kindergarten we continued our study of Arctic animals. We discussed where these animals live, how they hide themselves, what they eat. and how they take care of their babies. We learned words like habitat, predator, prey, qiviut, and blubber. We watched several clips about polar bears, musk oxen and walruses, and we also watched a short a video of a father teaching his son how to build an igloo, as well as several clips about polar bears, musk oxen and walruses. The children were so engaged!
When Mrs. Jaeger, our dedicated PNA art teacher, entered the classroom and discovered what we were studying, she immediately (and happily!) changed her plans on the spot and began teaching us how to paint musk oxen. This involved learning how to mix the primary colors to make dark brown and the add the teeniest bit of white to make light brown. Paint mixing was a big challenge for the preschoolers, but they loved it!
The next time that we had art we got to practice paint mixing again in order to get the black paint we needed to paint orcas. We began with painting an orca tail and then we made another painting with an entire orca. When it came to mixing the paint for the water, all kinds of blues emerged from the preschoolers’ palettes!
Thank you for your enthusiastic help, Mrs. Jaeger, in extending our learning about Arctic animals!
Last week, with the help of Mrs. Jaeger, each student created a portrait of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. , and these were arranged in a wonderful display in the staircase in the front of the school. This week our class joined all of our PNA community in celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. We began Monday with an assembly, where we listened to older students share messages about Dr. King's life and his great work. Both last week and this week we all focused on one of Dr. King's important quotes: Life's most persistent and urgent question is, "What are you doing for others?"
For our preschool classes, we hoped to provide a meaningful experience for the students by inviting them to chose one toy of their own to donate to a child in need. We collected many toys to donate to Clare House Women's Shelter.
One of the things which is most wonderful about Anchorage is that it is such a culturally-rich place to live. Because our population is so diverse, it is certain that we and our children will have friends, classmates and co-workers of many different ethnicities and cultures. Early childhood is a perfect time to help children understand and practice the concepts of kindness, service and inclusion, regardless of race or ethnicity.
Another of Dr. King's teachings which we focused on in the Beluga classroom was the importance of being kind to others and treating them respect, regardless of their outward appearance. To emphasize this point we had an object lesson using both brown and white chicken eggs. After discussing what qualities we could observe about the different eggs, we cracked a light brown, dark brown, and white egg open. After observing that all the eggs were the same on the inside, we concluded that the only difference we could see was the color of the shell -- but that the important part of the egg, the inside, was the same for each color. We then had fun comparing skin tones on our arms and the freckles and moles we each had. What a great discussion!
In the wonderful early childhood years, young children don’t generally ask questions or bring up sensitive topics because they have an agenda. Their questions usually stem from a genuine desire to make sense of the world they live in. As parents and teachers, we have the opportunity to help them find answers which are kind, respectful and sincere. While sensitive topics are sometimes challenging to talk about with children, they are made easier if you already have established an environment where everyone feel safe valued, and respected. This is the kind of learning community which we strive to create at PNA -- one which will help students learn to tolerate, accept and celebrate differences. It is the kind of community which can help them not only grow in empathy and compassion for others’ difficulties and challenges, but also encourage them to find answers for the persistent and urgent question which Dr. King put to us all: "What are you doing for others?"
This week in our classroom we learned about the many different types of animals who hibernate during the winter. We also created dens and decided which animals should sleep in them.
We also had an excellent time with our wonderful art substitute, Mrs. Adams! She brought in two different kinds of watercolor paints and we had so much fun practicing our techniques by painting rainbow stripes!
We spent much of our learning time this week with alphabet activities.
By far, our most popular activity had to be our brand new Alpha-Bots! Each of these letters transforms from a capital letter of the alphabet into a little robot! So cool!! These little toys are extremely engaging for the children, and they have the additional benefit of helping strengthen fine motor skills as the students try to figure out how to make them transform. They are also challenging for the adults in the room as well!
We love learning together in Early Kindergarten!
Brrrrr! It has been cold this week, hasn’t it? While we haven’t been able to play outside, it hasn’t stopped us from learning a little bit more about wintertime: specifically snow and ice!
An important part of our snow investigation involved a discussion on the states of matter. We talked about words such as solid, liquid and gas, ice, water, and steam. This led us in to talking the water cycle, and how temperatures in winter can affect it (Life Cycle of a Snowflake). We’ve talked about the temperature water freezes at and what affects it. The children experimented with adding sugar and salt to cups of snow to see if adding substances to snow would have any effect on how rapidly it melts. They were very excited to see how much more quickly salt made the snow melt. This led to a discussion of how we might use this information to keep our roads and driveways safer.
Then, since it was too cold to play outside, we brought winter inside! After examining the snow and looking for snow flakes and ice crystals with magnifying glasses, the students made snowballs and tried to make miniature snowmen. Little hands got cold quickly as they played with the snow, and we talked about how much warmer the temperature of our bodies is compared to the temperature of the snow.
At first the snow was very powdery. Although It took a little while, the snow finally warmed up enough to stick together!
After playing with it for a bit, we decided to have some artistic fun with it.
Did you know that you can paint snow?
What happens when we hold it under running water?
So much fun to watch it disappear! Everyone wanted a chance to try it!
We also extended our winter theme into other areas of our classroom. Winter play dough with glitter and snowflake cookie cutters was a big hit. Snowflake shape puzzles were also an interesting way to reinforce shapes and notice how we can find different shapes in everyday objects. Both acitivites were excellent fine motor practice!
Learning together about the wonderful world we live in is so much fun!
This week in the Beluga classroom as we have been preparing for winter break, we have had lots of holiday fun. We have painted, crafted and wrapped several holiday projects, and we have played many holiday-themed games, and sung holiday songs together.
One of the benefits of all our crafting and some of our other activities is that they have provided opportunities to work on our fine motor skills. Good fine motor skills help children develop the hand and finger strength needed for a good pencil grasp and control of a writing instrument. They help provide a strong foundation for handwriting.
We have used our pattern blocks to make lots of holiday shapes. While pattern blocks are very useful in teaching children about shapes and geometry, they are important learning tools for other reasons as well. Pattern blocks help children develop their fine motor and visual discrimination skills.
We decorated a few projects with beads, sequins and jewels which were challenging for little fingers to pick up. Managing glue bottles and trying to get small dots rather than puddles also was a bit of a challenge. They were determined though and did a great job!
Wishing everyone the happiest of holidays! See you next year!!
I love teaching Early Kindergarten at PNA! I have a degree in Early Childhood Education and have worked many years in kindergarten. Alaska has been my home for 28 years, and I can't imagine living anywhere else! I have four children, a dog and two cats. I love reading, camping, gardening, and genealogy!