I started my new adventure today, teaching at a new school. I have been wanting to teach at this school for a while because the educational philosophy of the school is very closely aligned with my own. It has never worked out until now, and I am very excited to be a part of a new school community.
My first impressions of the school were made when I was sitting in the parking lot waiting for the time to come for me to go to work. There were kids already out on the playground, this early! And what a playground it was; this was the first place I visited during my day. The playground has gardens, loose parts, a sand pit, and many other wonderful features. Children are encouraged to engage and explore all of the elements of the playground, and generally aren’t held back in any way. It was a wonderful sight to see.
The classroom was pretty typical, which surprised me. After looking at the wonderful playground I guess I expected more, but the teachers are wonderful. Respectful and calm, inviting and engaging, they acted every bit the teachers that I have been wanting to work with my entire career. The lead teacher and I had a wonderful conversation about how the class flows and what to expect, and she let me know that she is open to collaboration and working together. She also said that she is not that familiar with how to approach the project approach of teaching, so this may very well be a journey that we can go on together. I am looking forward to it.
I have seen a couple of very interesting articles in the past twenty-four hours that remind me how important movement is to learning. And not just to learning, either, but to productivity in general. It brings back to mind the story that Sir Ken Robinson told about Gillian Lynne, where she entered the dance school and was so excited to find people like her, who “had to move to think.” And running into these articles has made me realize that it is true – we really do need to move to think. Right now, I am sitting at my kitchen table typing this, and my foot is tapping to some sort of music in my head. Every once in a while I have to shift in my seat, and if I find myself not moving, my attention will drift to the tabs at the top of the page, two of which are inevitably Facebook and Twitter. Yes, I am on Facebook and Twitter. My Facebook page is Project: Preschool and my Twitter “handle” is @sccriley. But I digress… (probably because I wasn’t moving…)
The first article deals with children and energy, and how parents (and teachers) talk about taking children outside in order to burn off their energy. The article states that outdoor play is a chance for children to explore their bodies’ limits, go through emotional play as they either conquer goals or try and try again. It also helps the wiring between the body and the brain because the body’s movement helps the brain stay focused, and possibilities become endless. And I have noticed something about children and the great outdoors, at least on the playground where I work: For the first ten minutes or so, the children are wildly and crazily climbing on everything and yelling and screaming and having a grand time (especially if it has been raining and they haven’t been able to go outside), but after that a calm seems to settle over them and they actually begin to explore their environment. It is actually quite different from indoors, where children can get bored with the same things and you have to systematically add something new to the equation to keep them engaged. It is as if the environment of outdoors is engaging on its own, and the children have to get over that AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH moment of actually being outside before they can settle down and get down to business. When I think about outdoor play in this context, I think that the thirty minute play time that the state mandates is hardly enough time for children to be outside, because half of that thirty minutes is spent just settling into the new environment. It is the last half of that time that true learning begins within the environment.
The next article is about how a teacher transformed her indoor classroom to make it a more relaxing and inviting environment for children. How did she do this? She took out the desks. She still had a few tables available for children to work together at, but for the most part the children could work wherever they wanted and could collaborate together however they wished. The article says, “She knew she wanted her classroom to have a similar feel as the children’s section in Barnes & Noble or a creative play space in a museum.” She had clipboards available for children to write with if they wanted to sit on the floor (or even lay down if they wanted), and did what she could to make the space as cozy and inviting as she could. The article also says that she saw improvement in the children’s behavior after the improvements and their productivity went up because they had the freedom to move around while they worked.
It is amazing what can be accomplished in a classroom with a little bit of freedom, and remembering that movement is key to learning.