From the Notebook of a Grateful Teacher, November 26 – December 10, 2012

Kim Barnes, Head of Early Childhood, reflects on her everyday experiences in Greenhill’s Early Childhood and Lower School divisions.

– Mr. Simpson, Head of Lower School, gave a fourth-grader new sand buckets, shovels, and sifters for the playground. The child’s excitement was contagious as he and two other fourth-graders (one of whom sand play would have been my last guess for his choice of play), a third-grader, a second-grader, and a pre-kindergartner dug and sifted sand during the next thirty minutes of early morning recess.

– Pre-kindergartners and kindergartners were working on the “river.” I asked a pre-k’er what she is going to do about the leaves. “The leaves don’t matter. Water is a liquid and it will move under the leaves. Watch!” The water did, indeed, flow right under the leaves without disturbing anything. “See! That’s what liquids do. They go anywhere.”

– With full hands, waiting on third-graders to make their way into the cafeteria, a third grader stops everyone behind him and motions me to pass through the line. All stop even the students from older grades. Thanks were issued and then back from the original student, “My pleasure, Mrs. Barnes.”

-First grader is headed to class. She stops to tell me, “My parents forgot my backpack. No, I mean I forgot my backpack.” She wants to know what accountability is after I tell her I am proud of her for the accountability for her action of leaving her backpack.

– This has been a week of flexibility and risktaking for several of the adults in the building. After exhausting the list of substitutes, second grade was headed out on a field trip, short a few adults. An office coordinator is eager and ready to step in and help chaperone, never a worry to the time she is giving up on her work. Teaching fellows and teachers readjust schedules so 2nd grade, 3rd grade, and 4th grade classes are covered. This generally means giving up a planning time the only break in a day; it also means teachers readjust as the second adult with these young children is now gone. Heard through the grapevine that one of the fellows created a Jeopardy game on the spur of a moment to cover science vocabulary.

– Coming in from the playground, a child is eager to share his destination. “Mrs. Barnes, Mrs. Barnes, I found these coats on the playground. I’m going to all the classes to find out who left them on the playground. They are going to need them.”

– Leaves seem to be the topic of the day. This morning a kindergartner and third grader want to know why the leaves can’t stay on the playground. The kindergartner said she wondered what those men were doing with their leaves last week; “We need them for our play on the playground. We don’t want them to take the leaves. Can you tell them to stop?” A couple of pre-kindergartners echo the same thing later on the pre-k/k playground. “We need all the leaves and acorns.” As I walk out the pre-k/k door, four second-graders are actively gathering leaves and playing in them. The girls roll in the leaves, push the leaves together, swing each other around, laughing and giggling the entire time. I think the leaves need to stay.

Empathy, accountability, exploration, nature-connection, “civic” change, risk-taking – take a moment to listen and watch.

Observations from the World of Preschool

Kim Barnes, Head of Early Childhood writes about her recent observations in pre-k and kindergarten.

Eye Contact
“Hola, buenos días ¿cómo estás?”
Child answers.
“Bien, gracias. ¿Y Usted?”
Maestra greeted each child at the door, expecting eye contact and a hand shake. A surprising comment from Maestra came as a child did not make contact – “What? You do not like me? Is that why you do not look into my eyes?” Startled by the comment, the child looked up to make eye contact and with a smile gave an answer to Maestra.

The kindergartner came running up the sidewalk and grabbed my hand. “You have to come see this.” After a quick trip around the patio and through the muddy grass, the child declared, “Do you see that? It’s a leaf. We planted seeds there and that is the first one to grow. See those we planted those from our classroom. That one is mine. It was four inches tall when I planted it.”

The pre-kindergartners were busy setting out their lunches. One child spilled something and others quickly came to the aid of that child. Another child observed my interest and stated, “It is always important to help someone who is having trouble with something. That’s using your manners.”

The pre-k girls were overjoyed to share their observations of the snails. “This one,” as they explained, “fell and we had to put a band aid on his shell.” “Watch this one. He is going to go across this circus. We just have to keep spraying him. We know he is going to make it.”

The kindergarten teacher moved from table to table and then to the floor, just checking in to see how things were going, to make a comment, to listen to a story. Confidence exuded from each child. The sixteen children were focused on the job he or she and their partner were assigned at that moment in the rotation, which included a variety of small motor tasks, current project needs, and math games. Towards the end of the rotation, a book on disk was added as the teacher shared the book with this group of learners and many, even with just five weeks of kindergarten under their belts, had learned to balance work and attention to the story.

The combined voices of the ninety-two children brought one teacher to tears as she became the recipient of a friendly shoulder hug from a nearby teacher. After the song, the teacher quietly said, “The voices of children move me to tears, their voices are just so beautiful.”

The playground was bustling with cooperation. The children didn’t have to know one another; they just needed to have the same goal in mind, such as water flowing from the water table to the stream, a trip around the bike path, a sand creation, a deep hole that needed to grow deeper, climbing high to the top of the Explorer Dome, a how-to discussion on how to get to the sling swing, or simply standing up and settling one another after sitting in the spinner. Teachers were always watching and moving and keeping an eye on things and listening to the sound of children learning but never interfering as the children went about their business of constructing knowledge and meaning.

Join Us
Constructing knowledge and meaning of their world through models, cooperation, collaboration, and trust is key to the lives of these young children, never a dull moment. Join us for a time and recreate a tiny part of your world or just leave with a smile.

Start Your Engines! First Day in Pre-k and K at Greenhill

This week, Kim Barnes, Head of Early Childhood, reflects on the first day of school.

The combustion engine requires many things to get you where you going – oil, spark, fuel, cooling agent. Each engine is slightly different from the next as a weed eater often requires much priming and a lawn mower might just need a swift pull of a cord. The owner of said machine will learn how each runs and what gets each started and how to keep it consistent. There is always a particular mixture and a formula for each.

Last week at Greenhill School there were ninety-two pre-k and kindergarten children revving their engines, ready to go and explore their new world. At 8:20 am on the first day of school all were lined up, waiting to play on their new playground for the first time. As they left the ribbon behind, the race was on and all turned on their fuel at different levels. The spark for some immediately accelerated them to the top of the Explorer Dome in less than 20 seconds. Some needed a bit of priming as teachers coached them where to place a foot or a hand. Others needed to have a bit of oil added to keep them moving forward as they stopped to rest and reflect on what they had already accomplished. After a few minutes of climbing and pulling, a respite at the water table or the river was required for a few to cool down their engines and determine their next path.

Inside the classroom, only enough direction was given by the pit crew, their teachers, to prime each for independent movement. It was time to move and those doing the fueling seemed to know exactly how to inspire those needing an extra push, and give guidance to those already running at top speed. The children used the road map from the teachers to explore, and happily each chose a path and discovered what the chosen road had to offer. The pit crew was constantly observing and checking in on engines to see if refueling at the snack station or new directions were needed.

The pit crew’s time over the summer had definitely paid off to figure out how each engine ran and determine just the right fuel mixture for success. The time at homes, the time listening to parents, the time observing children, the time planning what concept was introduced first, the time scheduling the day – allowed all to have a smooth road through the week as engines were primed, fueled, and ready for a spark. I look forward to seeing how far each of these ninety-two engines will go during the course of the school year.