In a time when everything is ‘unprecedented’ and ‘new territory,’ I just finished up my first days of Face-to-Face teaching in my new (old) classroom with my class of 20 kindergarteners. I thought it might be interesting to share a little bit of what I did to prepare to come back to school in my part of the country, and how it went.
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Location is Everything!
First of all, location is everything right now. Living in Northern Lower Michigan, I am at a very distinct advantage when it comes to returning to school. While much of Michigan was reeling from booming COVID numbers this spring and summer (I mean at one time, Michigan had the third-highest cases of COVID in the country!), Northern Michigan remained in good shape. Even now, my county has seen only about 100 cases of COVID since this whole thing started. As a result, we are in what is referred to as Phase 5 in Michigan, but my district is adhering to many of the requirements of Phase 4 just in case we happen to move in and out of phases. (You can check out Michigan’s Safe Start Plan HERE if you’re interested.)
And just because I figure this may be a question, our district is offering virtual instruction for those students and families who would rather NOT return Face-To-Face. I did have a hand in working on some of that content and curriculum for kindergarten this summer, but during the school year, we have a teacher dedicated to managing those students. If students decide to return to campus, they will be dispersed amongst the classes in their home school.
In a nutshell, my district is requiring elementary students to wear a mask on the bus and in any common areas outside our classroom. When we leave for Art or PE or the cafeteria for lunch or dismissal, students will need to wear their masks. They are not required to wear their mask in our classroom. So when they come in, we are clipping masks to lanyards in order to keep them from ‘walking away.’ I’ve still had to replace a handful that disappear before they make it through the door or after they leave for the day. But all in all, they’ve done really well keeping them on for the short periods of time they are expected to wear them.
I, on the other hand, am required to wear a mask (or shield) in our classroom at all times.
In my classroom, although not required in Phase 5, I am practicing limited community materials, assigned seating (that one is a killer for me) and no flexible grouping at this point, plus frequent cleaning of common surfaces plus cleaning materials between student use. I am not required to keep my kiddos 6 feet apart, but I am working very hard to provide them with activities that will allow them to spread out in my room.
Frequent cleaning isn’t anything new in my classroom. I feel like we are always wiping things down in my classroom throughout the day as a general rule. But now I’m actually documenting when I use a specific cleaning agent, and I’m also cleaning materials in between use which is different and very time-consuming. I am definitely getting out of work later and using some valuable prep time and lunchtime to get it done. But . . . I want to stay safe and I want my students to stay safe while also being able to use the tools and activities necessary to teach kindergarten they way I think it should be taught . . . hands-on and engaging.
The other thing that is really difficult for me is the whole assigned seat thing. By nature, I am not an ‘assigned seat’ kind of teacher. I love flexible grouping and having students work with a variety of partners and groups. But the need to be able to ‘track’ students and who they have come in contact with, has made that difficult. I am keeping copious notes of which children are seated near each other and working together so I have that information just in case I ever need it. (Pray I don’t!)
While this is a lot, I do realize just how fortunate I am that I am not having to corral kiddos into tiny boxes to keep them 6 feet apart or wrangling them to keep masks on while in class.
Planning For Re-entry
In order to meet these requirements, I needed some good planning and organization. Here are a few things I am doing.
I don’t like the idea of assigned seats, but seeing as I have to track students, I knew this was going to be a non-negotiable safety measure. But here’s the thing, I absolutely HATE clear packing tape on my table. It’s not very convenient for when you want to move kids around, and I knew that I was going to need to move kids around eventually and inevitably.
Using these FREE desk tags I have from my Virtual Fine Motor Home Kit, I was able to make it happen. I found these little sticker magnetic pieces and placed a magnet on the back of each card and it works perfectly.
I can wipe up over the metal sticker piece when I need to clean tables and it also allows me to move kids quickly and easily as needed.
The other thing I did was to then stick a number sticker (that could be removed if I needed to change it) onto that desk plate.
That number would correspond to wear the student would be sitting on the floor during whole group time using SitSpots.
Initially, I was a bit concerned that they wouldn’t know their numbers and many don’t, but they were able to quickly recognize their number as it corresponded to the SitSpot on the floor. This helped me make sure that the same person they sat next to at their table was sitting next to them on the floor.
Those SitSpots have been a lifesaver for many reasons. Of course for whole group they have been absolutely necessary and essential to keep kids in place and at a distance.
I have like 26 numbers down right now and have spaced these out even further since this picture, but I only 20 students so I can add a few numbers between kids to make more space.
They are also used to color-code where students should sit if they are doing floor work during Morning Work Stations (That would be the light blue dots.) and indicate where a good place to ‘read to self’ would be when practice building reading stamina. (That would be the white dots.)
The SitSpots for social distancing are also coming in super handy for morning breakfast. Everyone knows that standing in line and giving the students ahead of you distance is a challenge for little people, but by having these visuals on my carpet, my kiddos know where to lineup, where to wait and where to stop and grab breakfast. It’s made it so simple.
You can find out more about SitSpots by visiting HERE. I encourage you to purchase only the original SitSpots if you’re interested from this link because not only is the creator of SitSpots a former teacher, but her shipping speed and customer service is unparalleled. Check out their entire selection. It’s awesome.
Limiting Community Supplies
This was a huge one because it was costly, but necessary. I knew that I needed to find any and every way to avoid when possible the use of community supplies. In the past I could buy a dozen boxes of crayons and we would all share, but now I needed to not only supply individual items, but also find a way for students to access them when I didn’t have desks for them to hold these items.
So what I did was grab a boatload of pencil boxes and all the existing Big Lot totes that I currently possessed and created individual ‘boxes’ for my students. These boxes were housed in three, 2×4 spaced cubed shelves. (They are from Amazon if you’re interested. You can find them HERE.) That would give me 24 boxes, plus I had another 4 in reserve if I needed them.
The boxes were labeled with the students’ name which also matched the label on their pencil box inside. (Editable name tags found HERE.) Additionally, I had their calendar books, a pink pencil case for math/calendar which would eventually hold math mats and manipulatives, a clipboard, and an empty poly envelope to put all unfinished work in.
As I introduced new tools the first week of school, I would add more items to the box (like play-doh because they need their own) and pencil box (scissors, pokey pin, glue, dry erase marker, eraser and such). I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out, but I have to say, it’s gone remarkable well. Everything has it’s place and students have done an amazing job of staying organized and being responsible for their own items.
What Does Learning Look Like?
When it comes right down to it though, what does my learning look like? Even without social distancing, this would have been an unprecedented year just because our little ones have been home for so long and have not been in the routine of school and all the demands and independence that comes with it. So with that in mind, I knew that the first couple of weeks needed to be about building community, making sure we all felt safe, practicing and perfecting routines, and teaching all the little things of who, what, when, where, and how . . . along with introducing and practicing all the different kinds of tools, they would be using.
I literally went over finger names, how to hold a pencil, how to tear, how to use play-doh, hold scissors and cut, use stickers and pokey pins . . . and all the other little things we assume kids know but don’t.
It’s a lot. It can NOT be rushed. However, if you put the time in at the beginning, it will make your life so much easier and so much quicker as they become proficient and independent.
And that’s really was my focus those first four days . . . and it was GREAT. We did it!
What about stations . . .?
Yes! I am doing stations of every shape and kind. Morning work stations are happening. We are training for Daily 6 Stations and Math Stations as well. And I also have end-of-the-day ‘learning stations’ which are like exploration and integrated play.
They look very much like they did last year in a lot of ways. (If you’re not familiar with Morning Work Stations and how I run them, you can check out this ‘Getting Started with Morning Work Stations HERE!). Students will attend one station each morning with the same partner they have at their table and every other activity. Most of the activities I selected from my Getting Started set can be easily cleaned each day by using a simple disinfectant spray that you spray and let dry. I do tend to wipe down any laminated cards with a clorax wipe because it’s just easier. If the activity calls for something like play-doh, students will grab their individual supply of play-doh from their box.
Activities like legos can be sprayed or dunked in a cleaning solution using small laundry bags between use. So far, it’s worked out really well. I keep any papers they may need, extra supplies to replenish after each day, or cleaning items in a bucket below the stations.
It works much the same way for our ‘learning center’ (exploration play) stations as well. I use lots of stem materials that are easily disinfected with spray or dunked in a cleaning solution. And in answer to everyone’s questions, ‘yes my kitchen area is open.’ It has taken some time to get into a routine, but we simply wipe down and spray between student use. I’ve removed all the babies and soft goods for now. There isn’t any ‘money’ to work with or paper that I usually like to incorporate or any fancy decorations and manipulatives that I usually incorporate, but we will hopefully be able to pull those in as our restrictions get lifted more and more.
As new activities are introduced little by little. We can expand what we do and how we keep things clean in between use. If I would have tried to introduce all these things at the same time, I might have gone crazy. But I’m learning quickly that this isn’t like other years. We need to go slow. There is a need to take the extra steps to make sure everyone understands our safety rules. Finally, we need to master the general expectations of our kindergarten room. It’s a lot.
What’s next . . .
This week we start learning how to transition between Daily 6 stations with a forcus on mastering our names and our first letter sound. (Yes! we are going slow!) We will also start to build stamina for self-sustained reading. My students each have their own book box with books. I know this has been a concern for many teachers, but from what I have read, the CDC does not feel that paper is a very risky material for transmitting COVID. So we will read. Students will get the same box of books for a week.
After that week, we will put all books that have been used into quarantine for 3 days. Then students will be able to shop for new books by indicating topics of interest. I will select some books from our library based on their ‘menu’ and place them in their book boxes for the next week. This will let them still ‘shop for books. However, it will keep them from rummaging through and touching every book in the entire library.
We also start working on completing some initial assessing (I’m iching to start differentiating!) and begin phonics this week. That means I will have to either wear the shield my district provided or the clear face mask. I have to admit, I’m not nuts about a shield that opens from the bottom where all my little friends are looking up and coughing and breathing. I would have been much happier with a top open shield, but I’m trying to stay positive. Because when it’s all said and done . . .
I’m just so dang happy to be face to face.