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This Week in Kindergarten

This week in kindergarten: Making friends from six feet away

Educators call it “social emotional” learning. Parents call it “learning to get along with others” or, less formally, “stop hitting your brother.”

During a normal school year, Mrs. London’s kindergarteners would share the playground  with older children.  In the classroom, they’d sit around tables, working on activities together and sharing suPhoto - headshot of Mrs. London, Kindergarten teacherpplies.

Not this year. But here’s the thing: Teachers have always taught social emotional skills in a variety of ways. For example, many teachers use the “bucket filling” story with kids. Parents take note—you can use this at home.

Here’s the premise: Everyone, everywhere, is carrying an invisible bucket. When we express appreciation and love, and act with kindness, that helps fill up another person’s bucket. It also makes us feel good about ourselves. 

Bullying, and thoughtless or mean speech dips into another person’s bucket and depletes it.  Kids, and grownups, too—know what depletion feels like: It’s a sinking feeling that settles in the middle of your chest, and it comes with a sense that you are less cared for and less valuable than you really are.

Grownups can moderate those emotions, children cannot.

Many parents worry that their kids will miss out on the “learning to get along” aspect of school because of COVID-19 restrictions. But strangely enough, those restrictions have become part of being a good friend. 

On a sunny day last fall, one little girl offered her friend a hug. Her friend looked uncertain.

Then the little girl said, “Just kidding! I like you! Everybody has to be safe!”
Not only was this smart, but it was also, apparently, very funny, because they both laughed really hard, from six feet apart.

This week in kindergarten: Supporting kids from a distance.

Kindergarteners are huggers. They’re high-fivers and hand holders. But this year, hugs are out, as are high fives, encouraging back pats, and holding hands.

Elbow bumps, while affirming, aren’t the same, especially when a kid is having a bad day. Feelings of affirmation, support and caring come in other ways too.

Praise from teachers makes a student smile, sit up a little taller and return to their work with renewed effort.

Teachers tend to use pre-emptive strikes. Mrs. London, kindergarten teacher at Adams Elementary has an uncanny ability to hand out kudos the moment they’re needed. Instead of waiting for a child to have a meltdown, she’ll praise a child for continuing to work through their frustration or difficulties.

Those pre-emptive strikes also take the form of praise for following the classroom rules. Mrs. London will say “Thanks for pushing in your chair, Lucas.”  Lucas is happy, and the other children respond by making sure their chairs are pushed in, too.

Parents take note: This trick works at home, too.

Until Covid-19 is over, high fives and hugs are out, and parents will need to fill the gap with extra high fives and hugs at home.

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