This is going to come off harsh but it is from the heart. What does a progressive school teacher do at the start of the school year? Well, I could go on and on about what there is to do. The fact is that the list would never end. Just like your list it is endless and always in need of some TLC. But, I can tell you what I do not do. I do not waste my time with “cute” curriculum and displays. I could continue about why I don’t create bulletin boards that say “we are a ‘grape’ bunch” or “Reach for the Stars” reader reward display boards. I am not saying you are wrong for doing them. I get the reasoning behind it: welcoming children, displaying their name to make them feel honored or a part of the community, visually rewarding them with a hypothetical pat on back, etc. I hear your voice defending your practice. But, I think that when we start our year we have to think about how we value children. Is my three hours spent on a “cute” bulletin board really showing I value the children? Is it worth the investment?
For me – I say no. I need those three hours – I need them to learn the names of the children and families that are new. I need to make sure the returning families feel welcome when they return. I need to worry about the relationships that are going to be built the first week including the trust required, the risk of leaving home, and the challenge of diving into a new place and new learning experiences. These pieces demand more than a welcome board or a cute display. I need to know how I am going to interact, play, and bond with the children. I need the environment to show the children that I value who they are and what they will do this year – I need those three hours more than I need just another welcome board. The environment should scream – you are important! You are not just another academic tea pot spilling over. This is your home! Think about how many hours they (and you for that matter) will spend in the classroom. Do you think the owl on the wall under “hoot’s here?” is going to really show the children how you value them?
I need to make sure that there are clean pillows and a new look to the reading area so that it says COME SIT HERE and READ, that I have inspiring places for displays and creation work, that the play-dough is fresh, and my apron is stocked with all the right materials for documentation (because the children’s words are more important than a catchy welcome slogan). I do make sure their name and picture is around the room – on a journal that is all their own – not just on the wall. But, I need open and inviting wall space (not cluttered and used up) that I can say “this is your space”, “make some art to put here”, “write a story to hang”, “engage in a deep exploration” so I can document and post it up, etc. I need the room to feel cozy and home like. If I plaster the walls with another paper cut out then it takes away from that.
I need to make sure they find themselves in each area. Do they have a book to draw and write in that is just for them? Do they have a name plate in the pile at the writing table? Do they have a cubby space? Do they have their favorite book in the library? Are there trains, fish, dollies, and any other favorites that fit their interest? Will they be inspired to learn? I don’t want a child to feel just like another grape in the bunch. I want them to explore and explode with passion when they find their place. There is only so much passion handed out on a paper cut out display full of slogans and names. It calls them to be a part of the crowd and instead I want them to be a part of a community (while still being an individual).
So simply out of love and not judgement… I challenge you. What will your three hours be spent on? Another bulletin board?
I will be helping my fellow teachers re-stage the reading area: less books, more soft fabric, and changing the feel to a cozy cocoon like feel – a private place for books and reading. I will be designing a blank garden display board – waiting for the children to choose what project and documentation should go up there. I will be printing new picture labels for portfolios that are stored empty and ready to be filled and set accessible at child reach. I will be meeting with my fellow teachers to study new rosters, plan for the first week, and set goals for the year.
We will be putting their pictures on new journals. We will use their names and pictures for creating keyword cards that help with name writing and signing in but not for a “cute” cookie cutter display board. If I want the children to feel their presence I will display photos taken from classroom experiences or brought from home. We have “about me” books with home pictures and stories available for the children to browse. But, I have also seen in other classrooms a beautiful set up of empty picture frames that get filled with pictures of the children and their families the first week. I have done family collages on the wall at eye level for toddlers in the past. Yes, it is important to welcome and include the children. But, how we do that is a value based statement. We value the whole child and each child’s individuality. We are a community or better yet a family so at school we create the environment to be as comforting, personal, and as natural as possible. If we value each child personally for who they are as a member of the community then there has to be more than just a cut out on the wall with a name and there has to be space they can call their own. Aiming for aesthetically pleasing attributes, authentic inclusion (real photos or personal materials), and inviting blank spaces (that they can fill) are key when the year begins.
For more on staging beautiful environments – visit a past post: https://noproprogressiveed.com/2013/02/12/aesthetically-pleasing-enviroments/