October 9, 2013

"Can I play?" – Tales from our Classrooms

3rd grade and pre-K buddies with their haul of
tomatoes from the school gardens

Every now and then, a guest writer appears in this column.  Today, Associate Head of School, Mandy Stepanovsky, waxes eloquent about Friends’ social emotional learning and the great things she sees and hears each day in classrooms.  Here’s Mandy….

As we enter October, there is a warm feeling that embraces our campus.  Teachers and staff, students, and families have settled into the new school year with established routines and classroom rituals solidly in place.  

In Preschool through fifth grade, I am struck by the cohesiveness of each classroom community and the rich relationships that have already been established.  At each age, intentional social/emotional curriculum is helping our students to grow and learn.

Preschool classrooms continue to provide environments rich with opportunities for developing language to identify, express, and manage feelings and emotions.  Children in the morning classes are embracing the routine of the school day while learning to make and be good friends.  Through dynamic, age-appropriate choices in the classroom and on the playground, students in both the morning and afternoon classes are getting to know themselves, their teachers, and peers. This week our preschool teachers shared with their afternoon pre-Kindergarten students that some of the three year olds in their morning class were having a hard time saying goodbye to their moms and dads.  They asked them for advice to pass along.  Here is what the pre-Kindergarten students had to share:

"I was scared to come to school and I was sad and missed my Mommy.  I would write her letters with teachers and then I felt better."

"I was sad sometimes.  Then I said, "Can I play?" and I made a friend."

"I was sad but now I'm not.  Now I have fun when I come to school and I'm so happy and I get to play with all my friends and everyone here is my friend."

"I didn't have a friend and then I learned how to make friends."

"Well...I was sad but then I just got used to it.  Tell them they'll just get used to it."

Kindergarten students have quickly become a dynamic force in our elementary school building.  
Mandy Stepanovsky
Students explore friendship and school rituals through their “Circle of Friends” curriculum.  They have most recently explored similarities and differences, focusing on appreciating their friends for both.  Additionally, Kindergarten students were a part of the goal setting process for October conferences, identifying some of their own academic goals for the school year.

Psychologist, Carolyn Aibel, has been busy working with all students in grades first through fourth, with a planned visit to fifth grade later this month.  Teachers and students have enjoyed drawing from her expertise as they explore friendship dynamics and communication skills necessary for negotiating needs and wants with friends.

Carolyn’s presence has fostered a common language that students, teachers, and families can use regardless of age or grade.  In her initial sessions Carolyn spoke with classes about upstanders/bystanders, victims, and aggressors.  Each of the classes explored scenarios and brainstormed ways in which a bystander could move into an upstander role. One example would be a group of three students at lunchtime.  

Aggressor:  What is that in your lunch box?  That looks disgusting!
Victim: shrinks away slowly
Bystander: just watches

Another way to approach the situation:

Aggressor:  What is that in your lunch box?  That looks disgusting!
Victim: starts to shrink away
Bystander turned upstander:  That doesn’t look disgusting, it just looks different.  I used to eat those kinds of sandwiches every day.
Victim: Yeah, I like eating this for lunch.
Aggressor:  You do?  How did you make it?  Maybe I would like that too.

Through playing roles such as these, students explored age appropriate scenarios and brainstormed ways to solve problems efficiently and respectfully.

Carolyn Aibel, Ph.D.
Additionally the whole school, preschool through fifth grade, continues to explore the character trait of grit.  Preschool classes have enjoyed stories such as The Tortoise and the Hare and The Little Engine that Could, carrying their learning over into play as they can be heard chanting, “I think I can, I think I can” when trying a difficult task, or changing their game of car racing to “slow and steady wins the race” car play, slowing down the usual whirlwind of their race.

First grade explored grit through “A Penny in an Ice Cube” challenge.  Small groups of students were given an ice cube with a penny in the middle.  They were given the task of getting to their penny without picking up and holding their cube.  After working through this challenge, here is what a few students had to say:

“We need the help of others to reach our goals.”

“There are no winners or losers, but the winners are the ones that keep working on it.”

As the Associate Head of School, it has been my privilege to be in all of the classrooms experiencing first hand all of the learning that is taking place each day.  With the help of others, there is no doubt that students and teachers will reach their goals this year and I look forward to sharing more stories from the classrooms in the future.

Note: Psychologist Carolyn Aibel will be attending our next Parent Council Forum on Thursday October 17 at 8:45 a.m. to inform parents and answer questions about the work she has been doing with our elementary students.

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