Classroom Improvement: The $15 Summer Retreat that Cost Me $4000

Forming a community classroom should be one of our biggest goals as educators. This is one of the reasons that I have continued to strive for the “in home” education feeling even though my preschool is in a big building with many students. Children learn better in an environment where they feel emotionally secure and form genuine relationships with teachers and other students. Viewing educational facilities as a daytime placeholder for children is very dangerous. That viewpoint can lead to disconnected children who do not enjoy the school atmosphere, and an overall effect that can cause disruptions, defiance, and all around icky feelings in the classroom.

I began my preschool at home, and it was pretty easy for me to attempt to “control” the environment. This isn’t really what is best for children because it doesn’t enable them with very important life skills.

We transitioned to being a center based preschool in 2014. If you are like me, you are never quite satisfied with what you have. While we have many good aspects to our program, there were some things that never quite settled with me.

First was the state required “big room”. This is part of whether or not the rules provide what is best for children. The state mandates that we have to have 35 square feet of play space per child. This leads to most centers being one large open building (maybe with half walls). This creates a cacophony of children, not the ideal environment for learning.

Another issue created with the “big box childcare” is the difficulty in creating relationships with children in large groups. Not impossible, but were we making sure that each child felt connected to their environment? This is something I contemplated for two years.

How $15 turned into $4000

Don’t underestimate the power of one interaction, or meeting, or seminar. These types of events have changed my life over and over again.

I recently attended the South Dakota Association of Child Care Directors summer retreat in Brookings, SD (my cost as a board member, $15). The first part of the day was on the South Dakota State University Campus, and we received information on the Sanford Harmony Program. As described by their website:

Sanford Harmony is a research-based, highly effective teaching strategy that strengthens classroom communities by helping each child understand and appreciate diversity in others.

It is a free program for pre-k through elementary school students. It includes unbelievable resources, books, cds, a stuffed “mascot”, and accompanying curriculum, all based on extremely important social emotional development. This could provide materials for expanding our focus on social emotional development! All. For. Free.

Hang in there, because we haven’t gotten to the part where I spent $4000.

The next part of our day was spent at the Children’s Museum of South Dakota and Bright Horizons Learning Center. The Children’s Museum of South Dakota reminded me of what process based learning looks like, and fired me up to implement more of it in our school. The tour of Bright Horizons on the other hand is where the problem came in. They had classrooms, sections the size of our building that were configured in a way that we could make work. So I went home and spent four grand on portable sound buffering dividers (with windows), moved our staff room into a smaller space, and solved a problem that had bothered me FOR YEARS.

You probably won’t have to spend $4000 to look at ways to streamline your classroom. I encourage you to look around and ask yourself what you can do to improve the environment for your students. Look for creative solutions to problems. Also, look for extended learning opportunities in your region. Every time I go to a class or a seminar, I always come back with at least one resource that we can use. The prospects are out there, but they won’t always come to you!


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, 401(K) 2013.

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