I sit here on the 4th of July, thinking about how different this holiday is for me from those prior. I’m a career teacher who retired a year ago, and I’m feeling all the emotions that the 4th brought to me. I remember, as a young teacher, this holiday was smack dab in the middle of summer. There was unlimited time until school started.
When I became a mom, I remember my dad, also a career teacher, watching his grandchildren dance and play in the hot summer nights of Benton County. Dad always made sure his grandchildren were living their best lives. They chased fireflies, lit sparklers, and waited in their grandparents’ backyard for the greatest fireworks spectacle a kid could imagine while listening and learning from my parents’ stories.
I remember the warm love that was wrapped all around my child and her cousins. My mom and dad made childhood joyful and exciting and knew that was the key to true learning. My parents fully and completely honored those moments of childhood for my brothers and me and for our children. They were great teachers.
This 4th makes me wistful. These days it means school is near, and I am missing the anticipation of a new year with the kids at Dayton Elementary. When I began my career, I was wrapped up in figuring out how to manage behavior. I was truly focused on survival in those early years. Later, I was wrapped up in how best to insure academic achievement and growth. The curriculum and standards became my focus. Somewhere in those days, we lost three recesses a day and the wonder and excitement of exploration and play in childhood.
My young daughter loved Winnie the Pooh. There’s a Kenny Loggins song titled Return to Pooh Corner. Kenny’s essential truth is that magic and joy belong in childhood. As I look at my career, I realize that was my mission. I didn’t always know how to put it into practice though until I was able to team up with my friend, Carol Howard. She had that same Benton County childhood. She is a phenomenal teacher who introduced me to the concept of play-based education. She invited me, the Title I teacher, to participate in her journey of discovering how standards and developmentally appropriate practices could easily be married to become the guiding principle of educational practice. I experimented with her techniques in my small group intervention and was amazed…excited…joyful about the childhood wonder I saw in my students as they worked and played at accelerating their reading.
The pandemic affected so much, including our profession. My career, along with many of my colleagues, ended abruptly in a way we didn’t expect. We weren’t able to put closure on a lifetime of work, but we were able to reflect on why we were proud to be a part of this mission of not only educating children but honoring childhood.
A couple weeks ago I discovered “Conan O’Brian Needs a Friend” podcast. Conan’s theme song We’re Going to Be Friends, by the White Stripes, resonated with me. It’s about what’s truly important in returning to school. The children pictured above are important to me. They are my mom and dad’s great-grandchildren. They have been given a legacy of magical moments growing up. My wish for them is that they find joy and accomplishment as they return to school this year.
Be creative, have fun, and teach through play.
I’m getting ready for my ninth year of teaching kindergarten, and I’m getting into the mindset of what post-COVID classrooms will look like. Students are stepping into the classroom possibly for the first time as kindergarteners or first graders! Some of these students haven’t had a chance to play or socialize with other children in a year and a half.
We need to rethink what our instruction looks like and what these students need from us socially and emotionally. More than ever before they need to feel they have a safe space to learn and grow! I have started to plan what “my” classroom looks like and feels like. I started by planning out my themes for every week. It’s all about giving students an experience that they can make a connection with. For my students, many have never been camping, so I give them the experience.
We all have standards that we have to teach, but we get to decide how we teach them! I find the more hands-on and imaginative, the better. If I’m having fun teaching, then my students are having fun learning! My center activities are the same concept but change with the theme. So we might be building s’mores by having a number on a pretend graham cracker and a plus or minus on the chocolate bar then another number on the marshmallow and the answer on the last graham cracker. Later when we are doing dinosaurs we can do a dinosaur dig for numbers, operation, and answer! You think this is a lot of work, but it’s not. Brown paper graham crackers, dark brown chocolate, white marshmallow and viola – a s’more.
Students should enjoy coming to your classroom every day. Learning through play and movement is developmentally the way kids learn. My favorite go-to is “Rock Paper Scissors Sight Words.” Students first spell the word. then shoot their item and finally say the word. So “t” “h” “e” shoot rock/paper/scissors, “the.” Another favorite is “Stand Up and Dribble.” The student dribbles with each letter, shoots the “shot,” and then says the word.
Be creative, have fun, and teach through play. To see examples of what I did last year, check out www.teachingthroughplaylovingtolearn.org.
My wish for them is that they find joy and accomplishment as they return to school this year.