Since I entered the classroom more than a decade ago, winter weather has always affected my plans. During particularly bad winters, I would entirely recreate assignment calendars for my students, printing new copies several times during the season. I learned that flexibility is even more important from December through March than it is during the rest of the year.
My plans for preschool have been similarly adjusted these past few weeks. My hopes to see at least a full week in each classroom, experiencing the continuum of lesson design and delivery, have been stymied. With the snow of last week, I did not get to say goodbye to my new four-year-old friends, but I had planned to move to a new classroom this week, and it was time to see some three-year-olds in action. With more hurt in my heart than I would have expected, I wrote a thank you note to my January friends, hoping to drop it with my mentor teacher in the morning so that she could read my goodbye to her class.
On the way to the preschool yesterday, as my kids jammed in the backseat to "Triangle", the Music Together CD that was currently in the queue, my phone rang.
"Mrs. T, I need a favor," said the school's office administrator. "I know you are supposed to change classrooms today, but can you help out in the four-year-old class until the substitute arrives?"
My heart flip-flopped.
"Sure, no problem," I said. I smiled, thinking that I would see my January friends one more time after all.
This change of plan proved to be just the first of the day that became a whirlwind tour of preschool life. Several teachers and administrators were out, and the office administrator was struggling to cover classes. I spent 20 minutes in the 4-year-old class before heading to the 3s. About an hour into my stay in that room, I volunteered to cover for a teacher who had to leave the 2.5 year class. In one day, I observed three different levels, and though it was a bit of a whirlwind, I noticed key differences in the literacy development of these preschoolers.
As I walked into the 4-year-old class, I saw several children huddled around the wall calendar. They pointed to the new month, February, and shared their excitement about it. They told me that January had taken its place on the wall, and we laughed together when the sticky tack failed, and January came tumbling down. One boy announced that Valentine's Day was coming soon, now that it was February, and he pointed out the date, which was adorned with an appropriate picture and accompanying title. Before I left the room, I saw children writing their names on their artwork and their various compositions at the writing table. A few of these friends sat together on the carpet and shared books with each other before settling down to read alone. Nearly every task was completed independently in that first 20 minutes of school.
In the 3-year-old class, I watched with a smile as the teacher created a menu, with the children's input, for the class "Cafe." With offerings such as bananas, oranges, spaghetti, and lemonade, "The Cafe" and its menu became the center of much play that morning. A boy came to me, across the room, handed me the menu, and invited me to "The Cafe," where he acted as waiter and another child acted as cook. A rotation of children mimicked the game, always using the menu to select and serve the items in "The Cafe." At one point a child picked up the pretend phone, answering it officially, "Hello, 'The Cafe.' We are open at..."
He looked at me. "What time are we open, he stage whispered."
"Nine," I replied, not missing a beat.
"Nine," he said into the phone. "Tonight?" He turned to me again. "What time tonight?"
"Ummm, seven," I threw back at him, delighted with the game.
At closing circle, this little boy told the entire class how much he liked "The Cafe," which started with the teacher's act of literacy - the writing of the menu. [NOTE: The cafe was actually named after my daughter, who was acting as the cook when the teacher wrote the menu. For anyone who knows her name, feel free to re-read this section, replacing "The" with her name in the possessive form. It was too cute.]
In addition to this wonderful play, I observed several children at the art easel, one who proudly wrote his entire name and another who was experimenting with "Ms" in his art. I asked the teacher if these boys were representative of the three year old class, and I learned that most children will be able to write the first letter of their name this year.
Names played a big part of literacy in this class. Children were dismissed to snack time as the teacher held up their names and asked them to self-recognize. She prompted them with sound-letter correspondence and gave examples of other words that began with the same sound. It was clear from watching this activity that the children were developing name recognition, a skill the four-year-olds seem to have mastered.
I entered the 2.5-year-old class at the beginning of snack time. Like their 4-year-old counterparts, they follow a routine that demands manners and respect. Unlike the older children, however, they are not completely independent.
The children sat quietly during story time, listening to a tale about a groundhog, which they had learned about earlier in the morning. They counted groundhog cut-outs together, and they sang as their classmates popped up out of a groundhog "hole." The children followed the teacher, who was definitely the leader. Some of the children followed the "pop up" and "go back down" commands of the song. Others needed her guidance in this task.
The atmosphere was so different in the 2.5 class, partly because of the support the children need and partly because the class was smaller. I was only with them for half an hour, but I'm looking forward to seeing this age for an extended period. My plan is to hit them in March. Hopefully the winter weather will not require too many revisions to my plan!