Authored by Taylor Davis
When I taught kindergarten I truly had no idea how much time a three year old teacher spent in the bathroom…really no idea! I continue to find myself uttering phrases that few adults have ever strung together. “Get the beads out of your nose. You have blue energy but you need more red energy? And of course…please…don’t lick the door.” ECC is a completely different animal than the lower school and along those same lines PK3 and K could not be more different. Children in these formative years grow in leaps and bounds just over a few years and so the way that we teach must scaffold according to children’s developmental stages. My classroom routines, assessments and priorities vary greatly from a PK4 or K classroom. However, we do share the same goals and more than likely have the same sense of humor…because a laugh is always necessary in the ECC!
This year I hope to spotlight some of the wonderful things I see each day all around me. I will be peeking into classrooms to see the process of how we engage our students. Best practices will be the focus and (selfishly) how can I simplify these practices to meet the needs of a PK3 room. I hope as you read some of these ideas, they will take root and can be modified for your own classroom. I know some of my favorite activities are “borrowed” from another’s brilliance. So feel free to take, substitute and add your own St. Andrew’s sparkle!
PK4: Kim Sewell
My first ECC spotlight is on former TEAM member Kim Sewell! I chose Kim for many reasons and I can honestly say the main one was not to spy on my own child…however it is one of my greatest pastimes. Kim’s classroom is somewhere I have always enjoyed stopping by…usually uninvited…it’s just who I am . An overwhelming sense of peace comes over a person when they enter her doors. I have “borrowed” many of her routines/rituals seeking that zen vibe. Alas, I am very loud and I love a good polka dot every now and again. Aesthetically, Kim’s decor is welcoming and warm and so I have modified her ideas to make them my own. Come to think of it…I am now blaming her for my impulse basket buys and everytime I must water my 14 philodendron plants.
Kim’s background in educating young children stems from her training in The Catechesis of The Good Shepherd. She leans into the mindful and process driven approach of the Montessori method while also staying true to our PK4 program. Spirituality and being in touch with these feelings are a cornerstone of the Catechesis class. Kim leaves room for feelings associated with these sacred ideas. Students who are struggling to regulate their emotions have the option to calm down at a “Peace Table.”
I learned about the Peace Table on the evening of Symphony on the Green. My own little headstrong bundle of energy had snagged at least three battery powered tea lights from this event. I found him pulling them out of his pockets after arriving home at a very late hour. He was cranky and in no mood for a bath. He began gathering decor from his bookcase as I resisted. “Why do you have your McCarty Lamb? No, don’t take that down..that is Mae Mae’s angel.” He pulled his tiny rocking chair up to his bedside table and slowly started turning on his (stolen) tea lights. “I’m making some peace mama.” He sat quietly in his room for a few minutes and came out smiling. What an amazing tool he has learned from this space! It is disappointing that I am raising a thief, but I am also so proud of how he readily accessed this strategy. I frequently use this language to help squash brother/sister squabbles. Mama loudly proclaiming “go to your peace table Fields!” when a fight erupts may appear counterintuitive to its peaceful origin but it is my own well intentioned spin. This language conveys to Fields he needs to check on his emotions. Is it the blue car that he is upset about or is it actually an overwhelming sense of frustration that cannot be solved by the blue car? This type of check in with his emotions will be very valuable in years to come.
Any article focusing on early childhood these days highlights the importance of outdoor exploration for young children. Kim uses natural elements to make her classroom seem more of an extension of their patio. The room seems almost ethereal because the lighting is exclusively from lamps and sunshine. This sets a wonderful tone for the students entering her room. Her porch door is usually wide open and various activities beckon children outside. Children paint on easels in the sunshine and there is always a fun way to get your hands dirty. She regularly has sand for digging and her sensory table items rotate. Children use shaving cream as an adhesive to create large block towers or the bins might be filled with dirt to stomp dinosaurs through. Children are working on cooperation, fine motor and spatial skills, engaging in colorful language, creating memorable learning experiences all while they “play.”
Inside the room her centers are just as engaging but seem to be more focused on independent fun. Children can work together and play but there are also many contemplative centers that children can enjoy. One of my favorite teaching tools is when children have learned how to consolidate their play. Early childhood rooms have an excess of tiny fun materials that provide wonderful learning experiences but also can make a huge mess. The importance of teaching young children to play using trays or mats helps promote a sense of order. Children are able to have a clear mind in their play and this set area allows for complete focus.
Routines and consistency are key to a well run early childhood classroom. One of my favorite Kim routine’s I stole (oh my… I just realized I exude thief energy) is her clean up song. I never could jive with the preschool “clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere song.” It is super important you jive with a song you must sing multiple times a day. It is also quite exhausting to remind your children it is no longer play time, it is clean up time. Kim uses Jack Johnson’s Upside Down to signal to her class it is time to clean. They understand that once the room is tidy they are to walk to their spot and dance (the best part). My clean up song for the past few years has been Paul Simon’s, You Can Call Me Al but this year I have switched to the much longer version of Hey Jude. My group this year is a little slower to clean and they need time to dance! Modification is key! Kim says depending on the time of year she changes her song up.
Another routine Kim uses each morning is her question board. This helps with role taking and also exposes kids to pre-reading practice. Today, her question was “How does your body feel?” She drew faces to illustrate different feelings. When children arrived they placed their picture under the face they were feeling. As an example my child chose to be sleepy, because he did crawl in my bed at 3am.
This blog could go on and on about all of the things that I admire about Kim. She throws academic tasks into routines like grabbing water bottles or lining up. The language she uses with her students is always prompting them to think deeper and recall information. I encourage everyone to stop by and observe the fun that can be had in PK4! I have already broken the ice by arriving (many times) uninvited.