Keep It Local: How to Find Support for Teaching and Learning in Your Community

By Molly Breen

Keep It Local: How to Find Support for Teaching and Learning in Your CommunityI like to fly fish. I love standing in a stream or river, casting and mending my line over and over in a dance with the drift and my fly . . . and hopefully a trout! When I began fly fishing, a family friend coached me through his best strategy for actually landing some fish: “Fish the closest water first and then work your way out.” I think about this advice all the time. All. The. Time. It’s applicable to so many situations: Lose your keys? Fish the closest water first (look in the most obvious places). Want to get a new job? Fish the closest water first (start by asking your closest friends and colleagues). Hoping to create meaningful learning experiences for your students? Fish the closest water first! Believe me, this metaphor does apply to teaching and learning in early education.

One thing we know for certain about students at any age is that learning happens in the context of 1.) relationships and 2.) direct experience. Just ask Lev Vygotsky. Nowhere in the arena of early care and education is this better expressed than in Reggio, Italy in the preschools of Reggio Emilia. Many of us are familiar with what is often referred to as “Reggio-inspired” programs here in the U.S. Hallmarks of this approach and pedagogy include an emergent curriculum facilitated by expert teachers, child-centered and aesthetic environments, a focus on nature-based learning, and a great deal of family and community involvement, to highlight just a few. Founded in post-World War II Italy, Reggio programs emerged when the community rallied around its youngest citizens to provide a wonderful education despite desperate times. The result these many years later is a sustained belief in the power of relationships and experiences to help foster the “100 Languages” of children. What does Reggio Emilia have to do with my fly fishing metaphor?

In our work with young children, we often fish the farthest waters first when we plan our shared learning. And I don’t just mean learning about far-away places. I mean we buy drop-in curriculum and we browse the internet to find far-away resources that will make learning come to life in our classrooms. While these are valuable resources to be sure (internet, I love you), we often overlook the immense and rich resources that are in the closest waters: our communities. Reggio Emilia preschools set the tone by taking children out of the classroom and into the community, not only so that they may explore, learn, and build curiosity about the world around them, but also so that the children may be seen as important citizens. It is possible to build this approach into your own program, even if you are not Reggio-inspired. It’s really just a matter of fishing the closest water first and then working your way out.

Here are five ways to use your local community as a resource for teaching and learning:

  1. Fish the closest water! Work together with staff and your parent community to brainstorm which local businesses and programs would be relevant for your projects and planned learning. Create a personal letter or email which explains the mission of your program (and the evidence-based benefits of early childhood education) to send out, asking for opportunities to visit with children or to invite visitors in.
  2. Make it easy. Create a resource inventory for families to fill out at the beginning of the year/time of enrollment. Ask parents and caregivers what specialty knowledge or skills they might be willing to share as expert visitors in your setting. Create a flexible online sign-up form or calendar that is easily accessible and allows families to participate in your planned learning as visiting experts or just extra hands on deck.
  3. Take preschool on the road. Set up an outdoor classroom for a day in a public place within your community—the library lawn or in a public park (make sure there are bathrooms available somewhere nearby!). Invite known neighbors to come read to children throughout the day or to eat lunch with you.
  4. Invite the community in. Follow up your letter or email with an invitation for business owners, local politicians, and other community members to come visit your school to see what you are up to. Plan a shared activity like an art project or circle dance for your visitors. Then, allow the children to “interview” visitors with a few planned questions. Use voice recordings or take video for the children to listen to or watch the interviews later.
  5. Stay open to possibilities. As teachers and administrators, we are in service to a dynamic and changing set of needs for each new wave of students and families. When we keep our minds open to possibilities that take us out of the classroom and into the community—urban, suburban, rural, wherever you may be—we multiply our resource list exponentially. In my experience, people are always happy to work with us in or out of school, both family members and community members. Get creative with how you fish your close waters, and there is no doubt that you’ll land some big fish.

Molly BreenMolly Breen, M.A., ECE, has worked with kids and families for nearly two decades as an educator. A believer in lifelong learning, her heart is in early childhood, where the seeds of curiosity, character, and community are planted. Through her work with children as a practitioner in the classroom, Molly has developed broad expertise in curriculum development and instruction, behavior guidance, and social and emotional learning. In her role as a program director, she has created innovative approaches to professional and program development, family engagement, and community outreach. She lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her husband and three kids.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Early Childhood | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Enter to Win Living on the Veg and Go Green!

July GiveawayThis month, five lucky readers will win:

With colorful illustrations and easily digestible information, these practical guides show kids the impact they can have on the world and empower them to take action and make positive changes.

To Enter: Leave a comment below describing how you encourage kids to make change for the better.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry. Entries must be received by midnight, July 26, 2019.

The winner will be contacted via email on or around July 31, 2019, and will need to respond within 72 hours to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. Winners must be US residents, 18 years of age or older.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Character Education, Free Spirit News, Service Learning & Volunteerism | Tagged , , | 33 Comments

13 (More) Classroom Warm-Ups for the Beginning of the School Year

Adapted from Classroom Warm-Ups In a Jar ®

13 (More) Classroom Warm-Ups for the Beginning of the School YearAs a new school year approaches, you might be looking for some quick and meaningful activities to get kids back into the classroom routine. Kick off the first few weeks of school with these classroom warm-ups. Perfect as icebreakers or for just getting to know your students and building relationships.

  1. Writing prompt: What are you afraid of? What are some fears that you have learned to get over? Why and how do you think fears change as you get older?
  2. Have students come up with a word, phrase, or sentence that describes their best qualities and then have them draw it on a sheet of paper. Have them decorate the page with drawings or more words that further show off these laudable qualities.
  3. Invite students to create a recipe for something they like to do or are good at. Each recipe should include ingredients and measurements as well as directions.
  4. Around the globe, humans greet each other with a bow, a curtsy, a handshake, a kiss on each cheek, and in many other ways. Have students pair up and invent a new form of greeting. Ask for volunteers to share their greeting. Why did they choose it?
  5. As a class, discuss the meaning of “value.” Ask: Do you think you value the same things that kids valued in the past? What might be the same? What might be different?
  6. Writing prompt: Write for five minutes about a person who is important to you. How would you be different if this person weren’t in your life? How can you be similarly important to others?
  7. Tell a story about a favorite memory: a great trip, a beloved friend, an important accomplishment, and so on. Then have students write or draw about a memory of their own and explain why it’s important.
  8. Students trace a hand on paper. In each finger, they write an adjective that describes them, a person who is important to them, or other influences or traits you choose. Older students write sentences. Have students cut out their traced hands, and display them on a string or bulletin board.
  9. As a class, brainstorm large and small ways kids can help others. Have students write about a time they helped someone succeed or feel better.
  10. Writing prompt: You are 100 years old and you’re writing highlights of your life’s story. By writing about major things you have done in your life, you’ll be telling about your goals and dreams. Optional: Have volunteers share their responses.
  11. Have students make a list of five things that are important to them. These could be physical things, personality traits, family members, and so on. Have them pair up and compare lists.
  12. Invite students to make a visual representation of their name by drawing letters and/or adding images they draw, cut from magazines, or print from the web. Can they make a name image that shows who they are?
  13. Have students write about what three items they would want with them if they were stranded on a desert island. Ask for volunteers to read their answers.

Classroom Warm ups JarFor more fun activities and writing prompts to break the ice and get students warmed up during the school year, check out Classroom Warm-Ups In a Jar®.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Preventing Preschool Expulsions

By Michelle Salcedo, M.Ed., author of Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behavior: Create Responsive Environments Where Young Children Thrive

Preventing Preschool Expulsions“I don’t know how to help them. But I do know it is too early for the world to give up on them.”

With those words, a woman recruited me to be a teacher in the childcare center she ran in northwest Detroit. They had started to see an influx of children who came to them after having been kicked out of other preschool programs. Over and over, tearful and desperate families stood in her office in search of a childcare setting for their children. Over and over, she saw firsthand the toll that a preK expulsion takes on families and children.

A report from the Foundation for Child Development shows that children are kicked out of early education settings at (at least) seven times the rate of expulsions in older grades. When looking at these numbers, we are faced with two possible opposing conclusions. The first is that there is something inherently wrong with young children; so wrong, in fact, that they are unfit for early care and education settings. The second is that there is something in the way we are structuring our preschool programs that is not conducive to supporting all children’s developmental and educational needs.

Of course, this is a simplification of a complex issue. But if we are going to shine an honest light on this issue, a good place to start is by taking a critical look at the environments we are creating for young children. We must admit that asking our youngest children to spend eight to ten hours a day in classrooms, following an external routine and sharing space, materials, and attention with a whole bunch of other children, may be hard for many kids. Instead of taming children to fit into the environments we want to create, we can focus on creating classrooms that are more conducive to their developmental needs.

In broad strokes, there are three categories that we can address in creating appropriate early learning environments for our youngest children.

1. Build relationships with children.
For young children, all learning happens in the context of a relationship. We need to pay attention to the structures we create and how they might interfere with building relationships.

  • Simple actions like looping (keeping caregivers and children together for—at least—the first three years instead of moving children to a new classroom based on age every few months) builds strong attachment. These attachments prep the child’s brain to deal with strong emotions, demands, and challenges that will come later.
  • Moving children between classrooms to meet staffing needs or a constant rotation of teachers can also interfere with developing strong attachments. As much as we can, we need to try to keep the same children with the same teachers, especially in their early years.

Teachers should be as intentional about building strong relationships with children as they are about teaching concepts such as letters, numbers, shapes, and colors. When we don’t pay attention to attachment and relationships in the earliest years, we may inadvertently be contributing to children’s challenging behaviors in the future.

2. Create environments that are conducive to children’s learning and development.
An interviewer once asked Dr. Seuss what children want from books. He replied, “The same things we want: to laugh, to be challenged, to be entertained and delighted.” It applies to more than just books. We are less likely to have to expel a child if we pay attention to those three areas as we create learning environments. As we critically examine learning spaces, ask the following questions:

  • Are your classrooms joyful places? How do teachers build in opportunities for fun and laughter?
  • Do teachers plan experiences that truly engage children’s brains in age-appropriate problems that are interesting and hands-on?
  • What materials and experiences do you have that entertain and delight children?

It is important that we look at our learning spaces through the eyes of the children we serve. If we are not paying attention to what children need, they will communicate that to us through their challenging behaviors.

Bonus! Download the Classroom Factors Observation Form from Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behavior: Create Responsive Environments Where Young Children Thrive. Use this form to record your observations of ten critical classroom factors that might be contributing to challenging behavior.

3. Be aware of implicit bias.
Dr. Walter Gilliam and his team at Yale University have provided the early childhood field with some important and disturbing research about the role of implicit bias in preschool expulsions. From the very minute they enter some of our classrooms, young children of color, especially boys, are at a disadvantage. They are more likely to be singled out for monitoring, their behaviors are likely to be judged as more aggressive and problematic, and they are disciplined more often and more harshly. We owe it to all children to examine what drives our behaviors in the classroom. We are all human beings and we all come into the classroom with biases, hot buttons, preferences, and beliefs. As early childhood professionals, we are called to be reflective and to constantly challenge ourselves about these beliefs and work to not let them negatively influence our interactions with children.

This topic of preschool expulsion is deep and complex, and we will not solve it in one blog post. But maybe we can agree on this: There are children who are more challenging, but while they sometimes can turn our classrooms into chaos, they are too young for the world to give up on them.

Michelle SalcedoMichelle Salcedo, M.Ed., is the chief academic officer at Sunshine House Early Learning Academy, a chain of over 120 childcare centers located across the United States. Her articles on young children frequently appear on the Sunshine House’s website and in the popular childcare journal Exchange. She has worked in the field of early childhood for over thirty years, starting as a “teacher’s helper” in her younger brother’s center. She has served as a teacher, director, trainer, and family educator in numerous childcare settings across Michigan, South Carolina, and Spain. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina.

Uncover the Roots of Challenging BehaviorMichelle is the author of Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behavior: Create Responsive Environments Where Young Children Thrive.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Early Childhood | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Summer To-Dos for First Year-Teachers

By Otis Kriegel, author of Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know
This post was originally published on July 16, 2014.

Summer To-Dos for First Year-TeachersWhen I think back to the summer before my first year of teaching, I remember a lot of things I did—and later wished I hadn’t done. New teachers need as much energy as possible for their first three months in the classroom. I forgot to rest up, and I paid for it. By the end of October I was beat.

Here are a few tips I wish I had gotten as I prepared for my first fall as a teacher.

Recharge
I don’t mean you should sleep all summer, but take care of yourself. Do things that will revitalize your system, whatever that means for you. I wouldn’t advise spending the summer riding your bike across the country, ending at your classroom with three days to set up. That might be cutting it close. But do plan activities and experiences that will rejuvenate you and give you something fun to share when you arrive at your new workplace. One colleague who loves to cook tries out new recipes over the summer when she has the time and energy. The meals that turn out well she sticks in her freezer to eat during the school year when she’s too tired to cook. Pulling out one of those premade meals always puts a smile on her face. Do things for no one else but you, and you’ll arrive at school feeling excited, energized, and both happy and ready to get to work.

Read
Become an expert on books at your students’ grade level by reading both classic and contemporary titles while you sit on the beach or picnic in the park. Also, check out some of the titles below and above your grade, because you’ll most likely have some readers who are far ahead or behind. If you do this, you’ll be able to recommend an appropriate book to anyone in your class.

Write
Start a victory log. Write down the positive experiences you’ve had as a student teacher or in other practicums. Include notes about successes you’ve had in other walks of life. Add goals you want to achieve during the school year. When you feel lost in the weeds during the school year, look back on this journal for inspiration. It will help keep you on track and feeling positive in what can be a very challenging year.

There are many more things you could do to prepare for your first year in the classroom, but in this case, less is more. You want to be filled with energy and enthusiasm rather than exhausted from all the work you did over the summer.

Have a great summer, and may it be the first of many!

Teachers: How are you preparing for the school year?

Author Otis KriegelOtis Kriegel is a seventeen-year veteran teacher, having taught in dual language (Spanish/English and German/English), monolingual, and integrated co-teaching (ICT) classrooms in the public schools of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, and Berlin, Germany. For the past three years, he taught at the JFK School in Berlin, where he also developed a teacher coaching program. He received his M.S.Ed. in bilingual education from the Bank Street College of Education and has taught at the Steinhardt School at New York University. Otis has also been a guest lecturer at the Bank Street College of Education, City College of New York, and Touro College. He created the workshop, “How to Survive Your First Years Teaching & Have a Life,” which was the impetus for his book. An experienced presenter, Otis has conducted this workshop with hundreds of preservice and new teachers and continues to present in universities and teacher education programs. Otis lives in New York City.

Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to KnowOtis is the author of Everything a New Elementary School Teacher REALLY Needs to Know (But Didn’t Learn in College)


We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.


FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2019 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

Posted in Teaching Strategies | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment