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Mini-School Planning Process

This school year, I'm going to be continuing to lead Tinkergarten and family yoga classes, and I'm going to be doing "Mini School" with HG (2yrs) and a friend (4.5yrs). I'm super excited because, especially right around the start of the school year, I REALLY miss teaching in my own classroom, and I like a challenge. And this is not simply one challenge, it's quite a few. I'm excited to figure out how to ensure that I'm offering learning tasks that engage both learners AND help both learners grow. Adjusting to formal schooling takes some transition, one of the main reasons my friend and I are excited to do mini-school - it will offer her daughter a chance to ease in to a kindergarten environment a little bit more gently, and it'll show HG what structured, more formal classrooms are like. My background in teaching is predominantly in upper-grades, yet I camp counseled and worked with new teachers and their students in lower-grades - I'm sure there will be a giant learning curve :). I still remember the first time I subbed in a kindergarten classroom and wrote my name on the board and the kiddos told me, "Miss, we can't read"... To get ready for this year of mini-schooling, I am...

Little learners a year ago!

...Surveying pre-kindergarten and kindergarten learning standards in a few different states (as military families, we never know where we'll end up next, and it's simply interesting to see what different states do differently). A summary of a few standards is for learners are, by the end of kindergarten, learners should to be able to: decode some words; communicate in different ways; do a lot of math work with lower numbers; work together to collect and use data; know that English is confusing but know how to make it less confusing with context (ie duck can be a bird or a verb); identify their senses; figure out what comes next in a pattern; measure with nonstandard units of measure; use location descriptors (near/far); list different ways people can earn money; share materials; create imaginative art together with emphasis on exploring the medium (ie playing with paint). I chose to look mainly at kindergarten standards so that we can focus on playing with the steps toward those standards this year (as that's what the prek standards do with a focus on social emotional learning).

...Looking back on what worked in my classroom that I can pull from for this year. I loved using projects and stations for learning. This gave me opportunities to move between students who were truly engaged in their work and to talk to them and identify what they were understanding and where they could use extra help or a little shove further :). I also liked using a five finger contract as the basis of our classroom expectations (pink = safety, ring finger = loyalty, middle finger = respect, pointer finger = accountability, thumb = positvity). My research for my MEd focused on the reflective practices teachers engage in, so this step is crucial to me. Moving forward without looking back makes our hard work, blood, sweat, and tears less worthwhile by a lot.

Kitten's First Full Moon dramatic play tools from random supplies on hand :). Keep it simple, silly!

...Keeping it simple! It took me a while to truly trust that I didn't have to plan every second of every day and that learners would still get to the same point (in fact, even though I know this now, I still plan like crazy). Providing larger blocks of time for a small amount of open-ended play and exploration options will be a big part of how we learn this year. For example, tomorrow we're reading Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes (yes, I'm literally obsessed with this book), then kiddos can choose to act out the story, read other books about cats and moons, shine flashlights on rocks and color moon phases, or draw a map of story events. How this turns out will probably look different than I expect, but when I start with this wide array of ways to play, learners will come back with awesome questions, frustrations that lead to a knew understanding, ideas to test, and work they are proud to share - then, I can take what they bring to guide another activity. Keeping it simple also helps me avoid going completely nuts in school supply shopping areas. For our stations tomorrow, we are using flashlights, rocks, cat cut outs and ears (Halloween last year), paper and markers, and books from our home collection. I also embed pre-literacy skill practice with stories we are reading to avoid purchasing expensive learn-to-read programs. For example, we'll read certain lines of Kitten's First Full Moon together, sort words that rhyme/don't rhyme with "moon" into different piles, and more. SOOOO this plan is actually maybe really complex, but it all started with one simple book :).

...Going with the flow. Toddlers and preschoolers are young kids who are growing really fast. The world is full of so many new things, and that can be joyful and wonderful and exhausting. If there are days where all we do is build a fort, we'll go with it. Then, the next time we meet we might draw our fort and name the shapes that were part of it, rebuild it and make improvements, read stories featuring forts, etc. Seasons and weather patterns are fascinating to kiddos - so if we get a day with rain showers, we may ditch our plan and go hunt for a rainbow. A downpour might lead to some boat building/floating/catching or rain splatter painting. Perhaps we'll plan a trip to a botanical garden when flowers start blooming in the spring.

...Maintaining structure while incorporating learner interests. I have an outlined agenda for what our day will look like, yet the content and play that occurs in each block of time will be driven by learner interests. We've already started building a giant KWL for the year. I have monthly themes chosen, yet these are very likely to shift as we identify what our interests are. One of my favorite themes is writing our own "how to" books in November :). Here's what a day might look like:

  • 9:30-9:45: Free Play (blocks, books, art, etc)

  • 9:45-10:00: Morning Circle (day of the week, weather, sing ABCs, etc)

  • 10:00-10:30: Stations/Daily Tasks (read a story, play with the story in different ways)

  • 10:30-10:50: Snack and Walk (hunt for the colors of the rainbow, look for different shapes)

  • 10:50-11:15: Long Term Project Work/Return to Favorite Station (work on How To book)

  • 11:15-11:20: Clean Up

  • 11:20-11:30: Reflection and Journaling (draw your favorite moment from the day)

Part of the reading nook with easily-accessible books featuring cats and moons :).

...Setting up our learning space. This has been one of my favorite summer projects :). HG has been helping me (aka coloring on our table) while I turn our guest room into a space with a building area, reading nook (in the open closet), drawing area, and more. We talk about how this is our place to learn and we go up there to color, read, and build towers. HG loves talking about her learning space now which I hope will make the time that we spend in there joyful and exciting. Additionally, our learning spaces serve as a "third teacher" - children learn a lot from simply how a space is designed. If materials are inaccessible, we communicate we don't trust learners with materials. If the walls are overly plastered in premade work, we show that our work (or a poster company's work) is more important than that of the child's. Our space is small, yet I'm trying my hardest (as a not-really-recovered hoarder) to keep the space bright and open with nooks for quiet time.

...Hosting a kindergarten kickoff day! Y'all! I AM SO EXCITED :). Tomorrow, our 4.5yo friend and a friend starting kindergarten this year are coming over for almost the length of a school day to learn and play together (cue Arthur music in your head). We are going to go over some class norms, read stories, play with words, shine flashlights on rocks (see above), create glue-resist pencil cases while mixing paint colors, write letters to our parents and teachers, go on a scavenger hunt for different school supplies, play "Would you rather...?" school edition while we eat lunch, and plan what to do when we have big feelings at school. I was fortunate to work at a school and in a district where we were able to hold and fund a kickoff program for our students, this way our 9th graders came in already knowing rules, locations of classes, styles of different teachers, and their peers. We got to hit the ground running with academics. I am thrilled to be able to give these kiddos' mamas a chance to practice what it's like with a kiddo at school, to gauge how I might need to change our daily structure or monthly themes, and to help these kiddos move into a year of playful learning with confidence.

Open my "Ready for K in a Day" notebook here! Play "Would you rather?" at your dinner table with these cards to get ready for school.

...Taking a break :). Next week, HG and I have a three day art camp. I am NOT teaching. I get to go be mama. I also get to learn from another early childhood educator. We learn so much from being in learner mode and from observing others. I am excited to hit the ground running the week after feeling refreshed :).

If you are an educator, how did you prepare/how are you preparing for the school year? Are you teaching something new? What are you excited about this year? If you are a parent/caregiver, how do you invite learning at home? Share your thoughts, take pictures of your learning spaces, ask questions, and more via the "Get in Touch" page or via instagram using #watchwonderbloom or @watchwonderbloom. I can't wait to learn from you!

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