Building Our Classroom
with Mrs. Vaage's Grade
Each year our school
administration chooses a story for our staff to use as inspiration
and professional growth. The story for this year was "I Wish I Was a
Butterfly" by ... This incredible story is about a cricket who feels
very ugly because he believe what the frog at the edge of the pond
had told him. It wasn't until his friend, the spider, showed him
that he was beautiful to him because of their friendship.
I chose to use this story to
introduce community building for my own classroom. I created a
display on our prayer table with the book, a vase with symbols for
all of the story characters, and a pond made from a blue Pyrex pie
plate with green grass surrounding it.
We read the story, then created a
circle with the pond in the center. Each child selected a stone to
represent him/her, wrote their name on it, and placed it in the
pond. We noticed that every time one new stone entered, it bumped
and touched others. We have used this metaphor so many times this
year to have a visual of "whatever we do affects others." If we say
hurtful thing, we hurt the entire class. If we say caring and loving
things, we improve our entire class.
Following is an
example of how this was used to center our class meetings when any
issues needed addressing.
was Chinese New Year's, but because we were immersed in space study,
I chose not to focus any learning activities for this holiday. Our
class was doing spelling, practicing writing "oy" chunk words, like
boy, toy, and so on. The adjacent kindergarten class came in with
their dragon dance and to wish us a Happy Chinese New Year! I wished
them 'Gung Hei Fat Choy' in return. After they left, we continued
with our spelling, and I added the word "choy" like in Happy New
Year's in Chinese.
One child interjected, "Hey, we
should write it in Chinese characters" and I replied that I had the
materials in a prop box and could do it, but that we would not do it
on this particular day. "Perhaps some other day, " I said.
Three children started to "Boo-oo,"
so I called for a class meeting. We placed the pond in the center
and I asked the children to tell me why I had called the meeting.
The usual answers came up - too noisy, not listening, but then one
child said, "It was because of the boo-ooing."
I showed them my rock in the pond,
and pushed at some of the outlying rocks, which made them all
shuffle and bump into each other. I asked them to tell me if they
noticed what happened to my rock. They all saw that it had moved and
bumped into others. So I asked if it was safe for me to do my job?
Or was it safe for others for learning? The children understood the
impact of their impulsive action.
One child, A., offered to say a
prayer. "I pray that our class can be the best we can be, that we
will all try our hardest, so we can learn."
Another, the initiator of the boo-ooing,
also offered a spontaneous prayer, "I pray that we care for and love
each other, to help us all to be the best we can be."
This metaphor is so strong and so
visual, that it is perfect to illustrate complex and abstract
concepts very simply. Kids get it. Every meeting we have, they
understand to deeper and deeper levels. They also have come to
understand that the frog had been marginalized - their word is
"bumped out" because he had been hurt by someone else before. They
recognize and have used words like "swamp" or "muddy" because our
pond is not as balanced as it could be. Our life lessons refer back
to the pond every single time - the children understand with their
intuitive and spiritual natures how it should be - that we should
all be trying for our best to improve our class, our world.
Involving Children in Choosing our
Topics of Study
Over the past many
years I have come to realize that when children have a voice in
their topics of study, they apply more effort and are more keen and
involved. Following is our initial brainstorming of things that the
children "wanted to learn" before Grade 1 was over.
It seems a dilemma of
controversial pulls - do we teach the curriculum or do we follow the
children's interests and cover the curriculum through these topics.
But in actuality, if the children follow their own interests, they
also become more engaged learners for all topics. They always cover
the curriculum in addition to having a wonderful, extended learning
adventure. For this class, the main topic of interest ended up being
Space. We have been covering this all year long, and the passion for
learning is incredible. We have diverted to cover other timely
topics, but this has been our main study, and cohesive bond.
Guidelines for Behavior
If children are
involved in helping create guidelines for behavior, they are more
likely to have ownership for them. I always share my philosophy for
creating an optimal learning environment. "It has to be safe for
your body, safe for your heart (feelings), and safe for learning."
How the children interpret this came out with the following
We did not rewrite
these statements, to make it look "pretty" because it is a living
document. We have gone back to it several times to ask if anything
needs to be added or changed, so children understand that sometimes
statements need to be brought up to date.
We have a standard song that we use to welcome anyone into our
class. After the first week or so of introducing it to the children,
they are now the conscientious ones to welcome newcomers. "Mrs.
Vaage, don't forget the Welcome Song!" are the words I hear now. The
words are to the tune of Skip to My Lou.
..., come on in,
Welcome, Mrs. ..., come on in,
Welcome, Mrs. ..., come on in,
We're so glad you're here.