“Why Not Me? Why Not Us?”

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Why Not Me? Why Not Us?
By Natalie Stroud

This year in the Green Preschool we have been reading biographies and writing autobiographies in the classroom. This group of children created the curriculum through their genuine interest in the true stories of remarkable people throughout history. As we all know, preschool aged children love telling stories about themselves, so the leap to writing their own biographies was natural.

We read biographies about artists and architects, dreamers and engineers, fighters and flyers. Each of them added something of substance to the world. Each of them had a story to tell and many of them overcame great obstacles and hardships to achieve their dreams. Through our studies we came to believe that if they could do it, so could we. And that’s what I hope the children would come to believe: why not me too?

We started writing our own biographies to recognize and celebrate the multitude of things that they have already accomplished in their young lives. I often start our one-on-one writing sessions by asking a child to recount a time when they felt proud of themselves or a time when they were brave. With these prompts, I intend to inspire the children to see their accomplishments as important and meaningful. If they can believe that they are capable of greatness now, there is no limit to what they can achieve in a lifetime. We have studied the humble beginnings of some of the world’s greatest leaders, who were all kids once, too. We have learned that even the most amazing people had to start somewhere. So in our class, instead of saying, “I can’t do it,” we say, “I’m learning how,” or “I am learning, but I still need help.” This slight change in the language of our classroom, accompanied by the tales of their accomplishments, helps build positive self-confidence and self-esteem. We assure each child that there is no limit to what they can achieve based on gender, physical characteristics, or their background. We are helping the children build a world around them where everyone has an equal opportunity to make something of themselves.

Why not me? Why not us?
While writing biographies we have also discovered the many similarities we all share. We have found so much joy in unearthing these parallels and talking about them together. For example, we learned that most of the kids in our class were born at the same hospital here in Vermont. We also learned that most of them had no hair when they were babies! And we have learned that every child loves telling stories about their families. Magnifying these shared human experiences has helped us create a feeling of cohesion as a classroom community and helped the children forge deeper feelings of connectedness to other people.
Even though the children may have similar experiences, each biography is a personal anthem that uniquely reflects the child who wrote it. I have learned so much about these children by engaging in this process with them. I learn about the places they visit, the people the love and the activities they enjoy. We are able to see our differences and what makes each person exceptional. With this knowledge, I can connect with each child on a deeper and more personal level. This is one of my favorite parts of my job and it is a vital part of my relationship with each child for both of us. The differences may lay in the way they remember something, or the way they felt about a certain experience or the way they choose to tell their story. I help them hone in on their voice by writing their words verbatim on the page and then reading it back to them. Together we edit the page to look and sound the way they envisioned. This methodical process helps the children develop their personal voice. Learning how to channel their inner voice will help them as they continue to develop as writers and storytellers. Every person, no matter how young, has a story to tell and can be celebrated for what they have in common but can also be appreciated for the things that make them different.
Each biography we read tells us the story of what made that person exceptional and we have attempted some of those talents as we go along. We sketched new inventions like Leonardo da Vinci. We challenged ourselves to stand up for what is right like Sonia Sotomayor. We learned to paint over photographs like Frida Kahlo. We attempted gymnastic feats like Nadia Comaneci. We talked about our dreams for the future like Martin Luther King Jr. We practiced drawing nature like Georgia O’Keefe. We measured our heights in comparison to Michael Jordan. We appreciated the tenacity of Muhammad Ali. We pushed for fairness and equality in our class like Annette Kellermann.

If each of these children continues to bravely tell their story and continues to courageously try new things, there is no limit to what they can achieve in a lifetime of hard work and perseverance. If all of those people could do it, so can we.

Why not me? Why not us?

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Letter from Kat, Infant Teacher

Dear Becca Mack,

It is so good to be back at BCS! Words can barely do justice to how good it feels. I am especially excited to be starting back in the baby room ­ it seems fitting, back at the beginning. Learning about, and from, a whole new group of children ­ it makes it that much more exciting. Since I have been in the baby room almost two months our afternoon curriculum is very open. Of course I get excited thinking of all the things I want to bring to the classroom, my love of baking, the outdoors ­ especially exploring the community, gardening, painting, and gross motor skills ­ however I realize that right now what is most important is to get know who each and every one of these children are. Creating relationships through play is the focus of the afternoon curriculum right now. It seems basic yet is the building block for all interactions, a key part of development and a big part of one’s ability to have healthy relationships in general. This curriculum thread lends itself to evolution, and as the children grow, so will their relationships, with themselves, their peers, the teachers, the school and the greater community.

We are constantly engaging in play and from this I am learning so much about these people. What their favorite games are ­ throwing the ball and racing to see who gets it, or wondering where it is and laughing when we find it. How each plays as an individual and how each engages with friends in the classroom. What they are working on whether it is negotiating physical space around others or negotiating with friends in play. A big part of the classroom culture and therapeutic curriculum is community ­ which blends seamlessly with the afternoon curriculum. Not only am I learning about each child, they are learning about me, and through this dance we are constantly in stages of learning. Our classroom is active in so many ways right now. It is exciting to see these soon­-to­-be-­tots pushing their boundaries and growing together.

At the end of every day I try to reflect on what happened during the afternoon ­ as it can feel and go by like a whirlwind at times. I write down documentation that could not happen in the moment, or things I want to be aware of in the classroom, and what exciting things happened that day. I find the Infant room really lends space to focus and close attention, whether it be snuggling one of these sweet babes for rest, or making them laugh while changing diapers, and I try to bring this attention full circle by creating an afternoon curriculum that will engage and foster creativity, exploration and healthy development. They are communicating in so many ways and I want to validate them by showing them I am listening.

Cheers,

Kat

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Dear Kat,

We are so lucky to have you return to Burlington Children’s Space.  I feel, as you said in your letter, that building relationships is the foundation of all the work we do, and that play and community-building are the basis, even the medium, for all the cognitive and intellectual learning that follows.  So, we are lucky to have you back in the community to continue building on the relationship, and therefore the learning, that began years ago!

I like that BCS uses the term, “therapeutic curriculum”, calling attention to the emotional skills that are used by all BCS teachers to work with the whole student. Especially with the youngest of students, the intellect can not function separately from the physical and emotional spheres.

Your letter reminds me that we, as adults, also learn immensely from engaging in play. My mind opens to lots of unexpected learning when I am working with art materials, or playing soccer or marbles. You mentioned that engaging in play with the infants in the afternoon gives you the chance to learn about them as individuals, which puts everyone in an open space to build the therapeutic curriculum we value here at BCS.

“It seems basic yet is the building block for all interactions, a key part of development and a big part of one’s ability to have healthy relationships in general.”

I also appreciate how you highlight the skills children use in pre-verbal communication. It’s so important that we recognize their hard work, and yours as teachers, in the growth of language, which comes so far ahead of the development of words!

Thank you for writing.

In work and play,
Becca Mack