By Diana Post and Jennifer Pitts, Preschool Teachers; Steve Davee, Begininng and Lower School Woodshop Teacher
This is how we know when things are going well in the Beehive: we hear a gentle buzzing from the Honeybees. The room is calm and everyone is content. We often elbow tap each other at the end of one of these good days. And lately we’ve had many of those days.
But in the year of COVID-19, we began the year in uncharted territory. We had guidelines from the State of Oregon for full-day in-person preschool instruction, but most decisions were something our team had to figure out together, including distancing, cleaning protocols, and classroom materials. We developed a strong camaraderie based on the simple belief that this was a unique opportunity, and we wanted this year to be successful. We started with the understanding that children want to engage in activities, explore, play, and make friends. They want to be heard and feel safe so they can take appropriate risks. They love to try new things, show what they can do, and improve on what is difficult. We wanted them to have the freedom to do all of that.
We realized that we needed lots of physical space for our 19 students and began to take advantage of the natural resource right outside our doors—the campus as classroom. But children naturally want to be close to each other, even when outdoors, so we introduced language and physical markers as gentle reminders. Doing and saying “Starfish” became a new staple of our daily routine: the children put their arms out and make adjustments if they are too close to a friend.
Social emotional learning continued to be a key component to preschool and overall school readiness, and this was tricky: we had the added layer of not being able to see half of each other's faces. Instead, we focused on the expressions in the eyes and body language, and the children adapted and continued to practice kindness, inclusion, and self-regulation.
Rather than focusing on our limitations, we made this a year of possibilities. We love the term “possibilities” because it emphasizes what is potential, surprising, mysterious, unknown, new, and original rather than something that is expected and previously defined. Many things are literally possible; everything else is possible in the realm of imagination. When we think of “possibilities,” it connotes hope, surprise, optimism, and tolerance for new views and perspectives. We use the word to encourage inventions, explore forms of expression, and to tell stories, entertain, experiment, discover, and solve problems. We believe in the possibilities and potentials of every single child.
We used the term “Possibility Parts” when using a variety of materials in Woodshop tinkering, personal projects, and art explorations. And the theme carried over to other aspects of their work and play—as they jumped into a gardening project, began a story workshop, launched rockets, and shared their family holiday traditions.
We learned that children can teach us a great deal about resilience, adaptability, and the power of being together as a community. Not only did our preschool students wear their masks and wash their hands multiple times an hour, they gracefully accepted and adapted to our scheduling changes and reminded each other to be safe, kind, and helpful. We can’t wait to watch this class move through the grades at Catlin and see them soar.