Saturday, August 15, 2015
You never bathe in the same river twice, and starting a school year (even after 8 years) is always different.
Last week was our orientation week. We start our year a week before the local schools open up and invite only the new children. Because we have more children this year than we've had in the past we decided to dedicate a whole week to orientation instead of 3-4 days like we've done in the past. Orientation week eases us into the school year. We shorten the school day for that week, we remove almost all materials from the shelves except the transition materials, preliminary exercises and a few materials in each area to introduce the new children to. We've found this pays off when in the second week the returning children join us and the shelves are more replete, the new children remember more easily what works are available for them.
Having had them visit the school several times prior to their entry, and having visited each little one at home, typically the new children's separation process in the first days is gentle. It's not uncommon in our school that children come to us at age 3 with no prior school experience so these prior visits are crucial in their developing trust.
On this first week we focus on helping the new children develop a sense of emotional and physical safety with the environment, the staff, and hopefully with each other. To help them connect to their new peers we introduce them to each other and play games so they'll learn each others (and our) names. We play together in the garden, help children on swings, sing together, eat yummy things, give many hugs and try to have a happy time. Developing a connection with the new children is the foundation for any work we want to do with them during this first week. At the beginning, we are all new to each other and wanting to make sure we're safe together.
Routine and consistency (this means limits too) from the start are also helpful in the development of trust and feeling of safety for the new children. We have a picture chart with the school schedule on it (Play outside, Morning Work, Lunch, Go home) to remind those who are missing their parents of what the day looks like and to reassure them their parent will be there for them after lunch.
Having this week alone with the new ones gives us plenty of time to show them the basic routines of the environment: using the bathroom (some of them take some days before they are comfortable using a new bathroom), setting up snack, eating lunch and cleaning up, and how to choose one material at a time and put it back in its place before taking another one. And enough time for them to develop an initial body of work choices to make once the returning children join us the next week.
The materials I put on the shelves for this year's orientation week are the following: Walking on the line, Opening and closing containers, Opening and closing nesting dolls, Opening and closing nuts and bolts, Opening and closing wingnuts, Stringing Beads, Pouring Grain, Spooning large beans, Spooning small grains, Using a dustpan, Pouring water, Pouring into different size glasses, Using a Dropper to fill small bottles, Sponging, Hand Washing, Cloths for wiping spills on a table, Mopping, Wiping a table, Dressing Frames (velcro, snaps, large buttons, small buttons), Drawing on the large chalkboard, Table chalkboards, Coloring with crayons, Cutting strips of paper, Playdough, Puzzles of Parts of Animals, Puzzles of Parts of Plants, Assorted other puzzles, Building blocks, Lego, Magnatiles, Sticky Blocks, Demonstration Tray of the Geometry Cabinet, Color Tablets #1, Rough and Smooth Boards #1 and #2, Sandpaper Letters, Sand Tray, Books, Classification Cards (several sets), Number Rods (for older new children), Sandpaper Numbers.
Because the majority of the new children that join us each year are not native English speakers we gather them for small group lessons and focus on vocabulary using Classification Cards, the Sound Game, Singing, Reading Books, and simply through conversation. We do Tasting Lessons to introduce foods that will be included in our lunch later that day- the children love these and will usually venture to taste the food at the lesson even if they don't choose to eat it later.
Orientation week is over and on Monday we start again with the whole group together and full days of school. Staring again.