Last week marked not only the end of Jumpstart for the year, but the end of the sessions my team and I had the pleasure of creating. Our final theme was outer space. I recently took Astronomy (PHSC 11900 and 12000, highly recommended if you haven't completed your physical sciences requirement!) and had a blast. It was the only class I've read the entire textbook for, cover to cover. I learned that there are so many things in the universe, but we know so little about them. I was in utter awe by how incredible the cosmos is. I wanted to somehow share this with my preschoolers, but how do you get twenty 4- and 5-year-olds to understand that our universe is infinite?
The short answer is that you can't - it's not an intuitive concept. I still can't even wrap my head around it. But what you can convince them of is that our solar system is large and expansive, and that is a part of our universe. That may not be telling the whole story of the cosmos, but our goal was to leave behind the impression that there was a lot out there. Lots of strange things - different places that you couldn't walk to or even take the bus to, like planets you couldn't even stand on. Maybe even aliens far, far away. We wanted to convey that the universe is mysterious.
It started with circle time. I found two songs online and used those as a springboard to talk about some more complicated concepts.
The first song "Climb Aboard the Spaceship" was sang to the tune of "Itsy Bitsy Spider." To explain it, I used the pictures in the middle. I showed them the first picture and asked them what the bright dot in the sky was. Then I showed them the second picture and explained that the moon was very, very far in the sky and we needed something special to get to it: a spaceship that has a lot of fuel so it can go really far.
The "Space Action Song" was sang to the tune of "London Bridge is Falling Down." It had three main ideas: the planets orbit the sun, the sun is in the middle of the solar system, and the stars are very far away. To explain an orbit, I had all the preschoolers stand up and walking in a circle around a yellow ball. I told them that they were orbiting the ball, just like the planets orbit the sun.
For center time, we set up an oobleck station, art station, and a writing station. Many of the other Jumpstart groups were experimenting with oobleck, a non-Newtonian liquid. When we mixed some up for our preschoolers, they were very excited. They'd take a glob, pack it together, and watch it burst. At the art station, we had bags and bags of googly eyes, feathers, pipecleaners and more for them to glue onto templates and imagine what aliens on different planets would look like.The writing station was full of photographs of asteroids, nebulae, and the solar system. We tried to make it a reinforcement of things mentioned in circle time, and offer a bit more, too.
The Let's Find Out About It for this week featured making planets. We poked coffee-stirrers in styrofoam balls and let the preschools take free reign on how to decorate them. We wanted to take all their planets and create a mini-solar system, but unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to put that together.
Finally, at the end of center time, we gave out little name booklets. Since Jumpstart is concerned primarily with literacy, we wanted to make sure that they all understood a few simple things: how to identify and spell their names and how the first letters of their names were not exclusively theirs. In fact, other words began with the same letters as their names! For each preschooler, I made booklets that read for example "S is for" and had flip pages with their names on one page and other words on the following. I also wanted the preschoolers to get the idea that sometimes you can see letters in nature and in everything around you, so I took great care in finding some pictures with letter shapes in them. I found windows and door frames, trees, and tops of buildings to form all the different letters.
Thinking back, I realized that working with this group of preschoolers taught me several things. The first was that differences appear in the classroom as early as preschool. Some kids can write their names, and some kids can't. Some can sit still in a circle, with their legs criss-cross applesauce, and some kids can't help but restlessly play with their shoelaces. These small things really make a difference. Reading and learning is more exciting when you're good at it and when you have the patience for it. But if you're already starting off with difficulty, it's hard to gain momentum.
Being in Jumpstart put me in the middle of the classroom and challenged me to help the kids who were struggling catch up and inspire the kids who caught onto everything to stay curious. It's a difficult balance to strike and I wish I could end this post with the thought that I've felt like I've drastically enriched the classroom, but the most important thing I've learned so far is that change is slow. Your preschoolers may not know how to identify their names on the first day, but if by the last, you've taught them how to write the first letters of them, then you can say that you've made a difference.
Daisy Lu is a second-year in the College, majoring in Sociology. She is a member of the Jumpstart program, a group dedicated to serving preschoolers in the Woodlawn area.