Early Learning
A Teacher's Perspective

A conversation with Angela Gray, Pre-K Teacher

Background

I’m an early education teacher and have been on this site for 13 years. When I started in the district, I was part of a team parenting program. I’ve been in the field for a while and have worked in the private industry, nursery schools and lab schools prior to this.

What makes CCUSD unique? As a teacher my focus is developing young children’s gross motor skills and risk-taking abilities. Playgrounds should aid the development of these skills and be geared toward sensory development. Improving sensory skills and helping children learn to take risks is important. There should be more sensory components in the play areas such as sand boxes, gardens and mud. I would love to have a big tree for the children to climb on. Sensory education is a large part of early learning. Children need to experience and create. Integration of nature is something that we try to do as a way of teaching children how to experience and exist in the world. 

If it was to be designed where four of the Pre-K learning studios surrounded an outdoor area that was very well appointed. Would that work? Yes, that would be my dream.

Describe your vision for the early childhood learning experience: I’m working on it gradually towards a Reggio influence (Emilia Reggio). There are certain skills that they need like cutting and developing the hand graphs to write. Material wise and the ambiance of the room looking for a more natural, subtle and soothing color scheme. Tinkering table and woodworking area, things where children can manipulate a multitude of materials. More space. Small space is limiting the way that I work.

Describe the process of facilitation: One of the challenges is developing creativity, and the ability think for themselves rather than simply citing from the box. It’s a challenging process. Many areas can help with this skill. Painting is one thing that can develop creativity among other artistic activities including working independently and in group activities that include participation.

What does project-based learning look like in your class? This one is a three-day project. It’s a Dr. Seuss rhyming project that will end with a party on Friday. We use this to incorporate patterns into the learning. We break it down by adding two elements in each session until we finish. They understand the process at this point in the year. Here, I put a whole bunch of things out so they can build what they want. We have many different types of blocks like foam and wood. Building their names for literacy is good.  I feel education is too constrictive, too data based, and not appreciative of what and how children can learn and know.

How should the environment change or look different in the future? I took out technology because I’ve seen and observed what happens. It was overriding natural things that should be happening in the classroom. I see children walking up with their phone. It’s so overwhelming. We used to have a computer, but then all the children wouldn’t use the other areas. Instead they would all be gathered around one student using the computer. Instead, we have an iPad and the children know that it’s only for research purposes. For example, they saw a white spider and wanted to know more about it, so they used the iPad to research white spiders. I’ve seen classrooms where the iPad is out for free use and they put stories on it, but to me, nothing replaces the personal element of reading a story to humans. 

More research is coming out on how children need to develop their fine motor and gross motor skills for the brain to make connections. This aids the ability to write and develop other skills. We have these little girls who don’t know how to blow bubbles. I gave them straws to practice blowing. This affected their speech skills and speech development because of certain muscle deficiencies.

During the interview, Angela shared this video. She explains:

While the video focuses on autism, sensory rooms and similar spaces can accommodate all children. In today’s society, children walk into school with issues such as poverty, homelessness, domestic violence,etc. which cause anxiety and restlessness.

Is there anything preventing you from achieving your vision, if at all? I want to go to other programs and observe what we can improve in our classroom. For me, this could be going to the UCLA Lab School and Santa Monica College. I would enjoy opportunities to learn from programs like the Growing Place in Santa Monica. It is an amazing outdoor place for the children to learn. It illustrates why I would like to see swings here for the kids.

What would working in an environment like that be like for you? I’d be in heaven. It’s not for me, it’s for the children, all those experiences they could have, all that learning… to be able to swing. Without swings they aren’t getting the same quality.   Getting out of the classroom and outside of the district would prompt much more learning. Some teachers don’t like the kids to get dirty which can affect the children’s behavior. I think they should be allowed to get dirty as part of their sensory education.