I love it here. Let’s shop!
Last week, I visited a kindergarten classroom with two new teachers. I walked straight to the reading area and promptly fell onto a beanbag. We all laughed. “I love it here!” I said. The puppets were interspersed with books. The area communicated fun. Reading felt joyful, accessible and comfortable. “Can I invite another teacher to view your classroom library, Ms. Erica? She smiled ear to ear.
We were on a “classroom walkthrough” while the children were at gym. Ms. Erica* and Ms. Dee* were classroom neighbors in a Brooklyn, New York City Public School. Visiting classrooms is an interactive way for teachers to share ideas and view all areas of the classroom with purpose. I was visiting as an instructional coach to support Early Childhood teachers.
Together we scanned all areas of the classroom and stopped at a big empty space. “How is that area being used?” I asked. It must have been the winning question because both teachers excitedly began buzzing about how they were going to buy a $300 sensory table and share it. I got swept in their “new teacher” enthusiasm. Then I asked, “Have either of you tried out sensory experiences with your children?” There was a pause. “Not yet. We were waiting to get the sensory table…” “Okay then, let’s look around your classroom and see what you have. Let’s shop your classroom!”
Ms. Erica led me to the cabinets over her classroom sink where I found spoons, cups and a big bin. I located toy animals in another section of the room and spilled them into the bin. “I have a bag of rice in my classroom!”, Ms. Dee said going to find it.
“Let’s hide animals in the rice. We can ask some children to dig for them. Some can explore. Some can use tools and some can count. I dug in the rice and scooped up elephants on a spoon. Which students will like this?” I asked. Both teachers immediately listed names.
We discussed how the curriculum tells us what to do, but our students are the real teachers who tell us what they need. Our job was to create experiences that invite curiosity. Trying things out on a small scale first gives us the information we need. It’s more important to spend time engaging with children with what we have than engaging with costly ideas of what we “think” we’re supposed to have. Learning to “shop” the classroom, even a kitchen can remind you that you have everything you need.
For early learners, not everything needs to have the expectation of a finished product. It can be open-ended exploration. Using a sensory bin can provide children with practice in number sense, language development, fine motor skills, exploration, critical thinking skills, social skills and many other concepts. Sensory play provides opportunities for children to learn in concrete meaningful ways. If we need ideas, ask the children. You’ll hear some amazingly creative ideas. After all, our children are our real teachers.
Written by, Jodi Ader
Ms. Ader is an experienced educator for NYC Public Schools. Currently, she is an Early Childhood Specialist, workshop presenter and mentor coach.
Here is a user-friendly, free resource: New York State Early Learning Guidelines, which describes how children develop and learn, from birth-5 years old. https://www.ccf.ny.gov/files/7813/8177/1285/ELG.pdf
*Teacher names were changed.