Ah, ‘back-to-school’ season. It’s here! Newly polished floors, perfectly pointy crayons, freshly sharpened pencils, warm and welcoming teachers, and school staff …the list goes on. The primary objective of school, you ask? Well, that’s an easy one: to facilitate learning in a space that’s physically and emotionally safe, of course. But there’s a bit more to it than that.
You see, school is a special place where many children are experiencing a structured setting outside of their homes for the very first time. And within the walls of each classroom, something exceptional is happening. Meaningful relationships and routines are being built. A new community is beginning to form and blossom. Carving out time to cultivate an environment where each student takes ownership and feels valued is essential. That community is the firm foundation for all the ‘must-do’ learning to be built upon! But, you may be asking yourself, can that joyful, productive vibe of a caring classroom community really come to fruition in the midst of a lingering pandemic? Absolutely. It can and it must! Here are a few simple, usable ideas to get you started:
- There is no doubt that our children’s learning has been interrupted in one way or another over the course of the last two school years. Rather than solely focusing on what your students can’t do quite yet, make time to celebrate what your girls and boys can do! Maybe one of your students learned to make a mean peanut-butter and jelly sandwich, perhaps another took up gardening, or perfected their knock-knock joke game. The benefits of spotlighting your students’ strengths are multifold: each one will see that you value their unique interests & abilities, that interest and admiration that you’re modeling will be emulated, and the momentum of confidence being built will eventually spill over into learning. Time spent showcasing student strengths outside of academics is not wasted time.
- Your students have likely spent more time with family in the recent past than ever before. Why not capitalize on that by inviting the children to share unique aspects of their family culture and traditions? This could be done during informal classroom conversation, or at home on a poster board that children bring back for you to display around the room, for example.
- Speaking of traditions, rather than scrapping beloved school traditions, consider keeping them around but with a few new, creative twists. Perhaps across-grade-level ‘Reading Buddies’ could continue to go on if you were to meet outdoors (or in the cafeteria when the weather is inclement). Maybe the annual PTO ‘Family Pumpkin Carving Contest’ or school-wide talent show could be held via Zoom if they aren’t able to take place in person.
- Being socially distanced in the classroom doesn’t have to feel militant or drab to your students. If you’ve been asked to keep your students socially distanced in the classroom, make it cheerful! Follow guidelines in a way that feels vibrant and upbeat by occasionally placing hula-hoops, yoga mats, or beach towels on the floors of your classroom to delineate seating, for example.
- No matter your personal feelings about all that’s going on in the world right now, we can all certainly agree that circumstances can move from calm to stressful quickly. Model anxiety lowering techniques for your students, like deep breaths, a moment of meditation, and positive self-talk. When your students can self-regulate, the whole classroom community will benefit.
The GrapeSEED English for Children curriculum values creating a calm learning environment while providing language acquisition lessons that allow young ELLs and older newcomers to be confident, capable, and caring members of their classroom communities. To learn more about GrapeSEED and how it works, contact us!