Learning occurs when children are engaged in collaborative activity about something that deeply interests them…the teacher’s role is to collaborate with the children in their exploration so their knowledge can scaffold (build upon) their understanding.
–Lewin-Benham, NAEYC Beyond the Journal, March 2006–
Looking back on my childhood, I can clearly remember my preschool years. I remember the comfort and love I felt from my teachers and the fun experiences within the classroom. I also remember feeling safe. I come from a broken home and have many memories that I wish I could forget. Preschool, however, is one of those memories that I want to remember forever!
Preschool is a magical time in a child’s life where SO many things are new. This is the opportunity for teachers to embrace, honor and cherish!
Entering the classroom should be a moment of wonder and excitement. As I prepare each week, I literally walk through the door of my classroom on my knees to see what the children see. I stop and look around me to think about where they will look, walk over to, and ask about. The learning starts in the doorway, so I greet each child by asking, “How shall we greet each other today?” They are learning healthy communication skills! If they are too sad or upset, honor that. Allow them time to decompress before circling back to a morning welcome.
Designing the classroom to be a place of wonder comes not only from knowing the interests of the children, but also what they already know and what they have yet to discover.
For example, at the beginning of the year, I do not know the children or what has already been modeled for them, so I make sure that everything is in the exploration phase. This allows me to take the first several weeks to model everything in real time as the children are engaged. This also provides the opportunity to observe and document any common interests the children may have.
The photos below show a common interest that this group of children had from August-May one school year; these are all the bugs they could find, and God blessed us big that year. There were so many incredible discoveries, questions, and observations made this year that blew me away, and none of it was “on the lesson plan.” God’s plans are always way cooler.
The children found this moth outside that had seen the end of it’s life cycle. Like a literal moth to a flame, the children couldn’t get enough of all this creature had to offer. One of them suggested we take it inside, and so we did.
The same week, a caterpillar was discovered and a similar conversation unfolded. Many of the questions the children had for me, I was unable to answer on the spot, so we needed to dive a little deeper; this is where the magic began.
It turns out we had found the caterpillar of a Sphinx moth! When I said God blessed us tremendously, it’s because we also found a cocoon! We had an almost complete lifecycle; it was incredible.
A table was set and there was something for everyone. I knew some classmates would love to view our critters up close, while others would need a barrier. Others would draw, while most verbally shared their observations. I couldn’t write fast enough as I documented all their thoughts, “I wonder” statements, and questions.
The lifecycle of the hornworm was just the beginning as each month brought new creatures and new discoveries. That year we investigated multiple different life cycles (including hermit crabs) and none of them were in any of my plans for the year.
Taking the lead of the children can either be stressful or freeing, but remember that the best laid plans aren’t always the best. Enjoy the moment and embrace opportunity!
Things to remember:
- Try not to have your idea of how something should be played with be more important than how the children choose to. There is always a method to their play. Observe, observe, observe!
- Help make their memories worth remembering!
- Be their cheerleader
- Be the teacher you wish you had
The classroom, in my opinion, should be a place to come as you are. To be however you are feeling that day; no judgement. Be happy, be sad, be frustrated, be dressed as a superhero, be shy, be so excited you’ll burst!
Your classroom should always be a place of unconditional love, where the love of Jesus shines through you.
As the children play, explore and discover, they also are very perceptive of what is happening and being said around them. They carry that home.
Be the light that shines so bright it gets carried to the homes of each family in your class.
Fantastic resources to inspire wonder:
- The Powerful Pedagogy (with Lynnette Arthur)