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.

Children’s Play Hasn’t Changed

Head of Early Childhood, Kim Barnes, talks about the importance of big bold play.

I felt a tap on my shoulder early one morning as I was watching a group of children play King of the Hill on the burm on the Lower School playground. A tap on the shoulder and the hair on my arms stood up as I braced myself for a confrontation for a group of parents had been watching the play on the hill for a few days and I had been waiting for one of them to ask, “why are you allowing this play?” I turned to find a parent with a big smile standing just behind me; she simply wanted to comment that “the games children play haven’t changed much, have they?” This parent was correct and my heartbeat slowed down as here was a comrade who realized the importance of what the children were doing.

As my observation continued, the ebb and flow of natural laughter and, to be quite honest, squealing hung in the air. The boys and girls had their hands open, palms to the inside, revolving with one another in imaginary circles, big smiles, and bursts of exuberant, joyful laughter. Occasionally a child fell or slipped down the hill and there was always a hand or two to pull them back up into the melee of circling.

Swat and down went a child! Although the child jumped right up, the fall was a bit hard. He didn’t say anything to the other child and he was ready to return to his play. Another child had witnessed the fall and he made a point to both the boys that the hit was too hard as he demonstrated what motions and actions could take place so everyone would have a good time and would feel safe.

Before school begins each morning, the Lower School children are enjoying opportunities to participate in self- selected, big-body, bold play. The games and activities they feel they are creating (but we know better) are building muscle tone, upper body strength, lower body strength, agility and balance. Affective and intellectual learning is also taking place. Children learn to take turns and the give and take of physical games. These children are learning to “even the playing field” as they learn to judge how to make allowances for another child’s size and age and how to communicate these expectations. They are modeling appropriate play behaviors for one another as these behaviors become innate life skills. These children feel empathy for an “injured” party and learn to care for one another in a nurturing manner. No one is excluded – all are welcome and many come.

A watchful eye is always nearby. The urge to step in is always close to the edge. It takes great confidence in children to not intervene. Yet time and time again these wonderful little beings prove they know what to do and how to interact. If left to the devices of children, play hasn’t changed much over time nor has the craving and need for that big bold play. Sometimes it’s just a matter of trust.

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.