Thursday, August 16, 2012

Impact: Head Start Stories

This week we’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our 2011-12 AmeriCorps Museum Educators as their service year comes to a close. These stories were shared by Abbey Jones and Sarah Bonawitz, members of the team that served 975 Head Start preschoolers in 55 classrooms with fun-filled Museum explorations and a year-long series of imaginative activities to help them understand and value diversity.

Kassie and Abbey during a Head Start classroom visit.
Bringing a Story to Life
As part of our pre-visit orientations to the Museum for children at Head Start centers, we read a book about Nori the Dragon and Tortellini the Tortoise.  The book, in line with our theme for the year, teaches about diversity and approaching the Museum in different ways.  Tortellini, the smaller friend, wanders through the Museum slowly, taking in all the details, while Nori dives into play.

After visiting a classroom at Manton Head Start Center, the children came to the Museum to explore and play just like Tortellini and Nori.  Upon arriving in Discovery Studio, the boys and girls met Tortellini himself.  One girl excitedly gathered her friends around her and selected a book similar in size to our Tortellini and Nori story." And now friends," she announced.  "I'm going to tell you a story about Nori and Tortellini at the Museum!"

Carefully, she took the book and showed it to the circle, ensuring all of her friends could see the pictures.  Then she began to narrate Nori and Tortellini's trip to the Museum, but through the lens of her own Museum experience. "First, they got on a bus," she said.  "Then they went outside and climbed in the green thing!"

I watched as the girl practiced her literacy skills by imitating me.  I saw her excitement as she traipsed through the other exhibits, reliving the story of Nori and Tortellini.  She continued commenting on her play, "just like Nori and Tortellini."  And she finished her visit with a big smile, as she finally met Nori, who peered down at her from the roof of the Museum as she boarded the bus.
– Abbey
Abbey reads the pre-visit story.
But Does it Stick?
Developing a diversity curriculum for preschoolers is no easy task. Diversity is a concept so dynamic and abstract that how could we ensure the children both comprehend and enjoy our lessons?  Despite in-depth planning and preparation, there is always a shred of worry that the lesson won’t be received well or worse, that it won’t last beyond our classroom visit. While we see the immediate impact of our lessons, we don’t really know if the content of our lesson sticks.

We implemented one of our first diversity lessons in Lori’s classroom at Dean Head Start Center, about how we all have similarities and differences in the ways we look, in what we like to do, and in what we create and bring to the classroom.  After reading The Color of Us by Karen Katz, a story of a little girl who learns about the beautiful variety of skin shades through mixing paint colors, we played a game in which the children sorted objects by color and shape.  The game challenged the children to understand that while two objects can be the same shape, they can also be different colors, and even when two objects may both be blue, they can be different shades of blue.  The children were both accurate and creative in their answers and observations. At one point Lori said, “Oh, I like this activity.  I really get it.”  Short, sweet and simple, her comment meant so much and validated the activity that we had planned with such care.

The Head Start team also helped with this year’s teacher workshop, “Embracing Diversity in the Classroom Through Storybooks,” where Head Start teachers responded to different case studies by discussing diversity in their classrooms.  One teacher explained how a child in her classroom wished he could change his skin color because he didn’t like it and sought advice from her colleagues on how to help him.  Lori suggested reading The Color of Us – a resource we had brought to her classroom.

Lori’s few but meaningful words revealed a sense of reflection I had not imagined our activities could prompt. It is teachers like Lori and moments like these that reveal the impact of the Head Start team's  curriculum development and that it does, in fact, stick.
– Sarah
Rebecca, Sarah and children during a playful diversity activity.

No comments: