Making Sense of a Changed School Environment

As we prepared for re-opening this fall, we had many of the same underlying questions that many educators of young children have shared:

• What will distancing look like for preschoolers?
• Will many children struggle with the necessity of wearing a mask?
• How will children feel about the need to connect socially with teachers and peers, but keep a physical distance?
• Will the program still look and feel developmentally appropriate, joyful and driven by the interests of each group of children?
• Will small and larger group project interests grow organically within each group, even within new constraints and protocols?

It turns out we didn’t need to worry as much as we did, but to trust the children and see them as the capable and resourceful individuals they are. We can confirm that taking the time to set the environment carefully with our values in mind, and taking the time to watch and listen to the children has led us to a multitude of engaging beginnings and projects. Through this process, we have re-discovered that some of the important developmental business of the children is to move towards mastery of the environment, even an environment with new and unfamiliar constraints, using all the opportunities offered as experiences unfold.

Our meetings may look different at first glance, but still offer opportunities to greet and listen to each other, share informal conversations and think together about “big ideas” that come up in our days together. Opportunities to investigate, ask questions, share our theories and knowledge, and then document our current thinking about the world are a part of every day, indoors and outdoors. We see projects unfolding in every classroom – around self and family, seeds and plants, seasonal changes, insects, owls and other animals that share our environment outdoors, story-telling, and story writing. Children are listening to each other, learning from each other, and following each other’s lead as they play and learn together.

Now that the children are settling into our new routines, we are beginning to see that children are becoming able to spontaneously maintain the protocols of distancing for safety even as they develop their play themes and share experiences. Under the play structure outdoors, where children often meet for pretend games and conversation, we see spontaneous small groups settling in at an appropriate distance as pretend themes are developed each day. We are beginning to observe that when one child goes over to play an instrument on the playground, it’s now common for others to join at a different instrument – connecting the idea and the music at some distance. When children run together, or wait for a turn on the balance beam or to use an obstacle course, we see them giving each other space without a teacher’s reminder more and more. Children create their own small groups to read, share photos or talk together, giving each other appropriate space. When investigating a sunflower, we see one child at each end of the table more and more. In other words, by setting up a clear expectation and interest in considering each other (it’s kind to wear a mask and give each other space as it shows we are thinking of each other), children are beginning to move towards mastery of their environment here at school, and are increasingly able to find their own creative and thoughtful ways to connect, share, learn and grow together.

As you look at this set of photos, all chosen to illustrate how children are connecting and learning together, I hope you’ll consider how this evidence of competence and resilience is unfolding after such a short time (just 4 or 5 weeks) together.

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