June 2014 Archives

Final Jumpstart Session: Outer Space

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. outer space circle time.jpg

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. outer space centers.jpg

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. LFOAI planets.jpg

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.name cards.jpg


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. 

"What Does NSP Mean to You?"

When Emily Hancock (a lovely woman who works in the NSP office) asked me to send in a short biography form that included “what does the NSP mean to you,” it took me a week to answer her back. I was afraid that I once I started, I would go on for a while, so I kept on putting the task off. After I turned in my final timesheet for the NSP, I told Emily that I would be writing a blog post about my experiences over the past four years – and, several weeks later, I’m finally sitting down to do it. Partially it’s because I’m a procrastinator, but another reason for the delay is that it’s taken me a while to find the right words to reflect on what NSP has meant to me. And, indeed, now that I’ve written it out, I’m going to warn you that this post will be on the long side. 

First and foremost, I can say that working as a tutor in public schools has made me a more empathetic, and non-judgmental person. Partially this is because I work in schools where the students are culturally different from me. While my university is racially diverse, all students have something in common in the sense that we are part of the college-educated elite, and most of us went to top-notch public or private schools. Working in schools where all the students have been black and most are poor means that I learned to think more from the perspective of people who don’t have the same privileges that I had growing up. Moreover, I’m more comfortable now in situations where I am the minority and my background, upbringing, and even the way I speak makes me different from the people around me.

More importantly, however, I’ve realized that the only way to reach out to kids is to admit that you don’t know them. You don’t know what their story is, what challenges they have to face, or what’s really going on behind the attitude. You try not to fall into the trap of thinking about the “bad kids” versus the “good kids.” Instead, you try to get to know them – understanding their hobbies and aspirations, their personality, what special needs they have, and what they care about. Hopefully, this makes them care about the material they’re learning too. Being empathetic has helped me form stronger relationships with the kids I’ve work with.

Another thing that I’ve gained from my experience is that I’ve learned how to be calmer and more patient in semi-chaotic situations. I have worked with various grades, but mostly sixth-through-eighth graders, who tend to be, in the words of an assistant principal I’ve worked with, “spicy.” They’re loud, don’t pay attention, and frequently have bad attitudes – yet I enjoy working with these kids more than any other. Their snarkiness, their humor, and their energy really made my job fun.

One more reason that this blog post took some time to write is that I wanted to reflect on my experience fully, including some aspects of that experience that were very frustrating or disheartening. I’ve felt discouraged sometimes when I saw students who were not motivated enough to even try. For example, one week I was working with a group of eighth-graders on solving inequalities. One boy hadn’t written anything down on his paper except a few doodles. I asked him why he wasn’t doing his work. His main question was: why bother learning this stuff? “You don’t need to know inequalities to work in McDonalds,” he said.

I encountered several students like him over the years, who always smirk and seem to take life as a joke. Dealing with kids who don’t want to try is the most frustrating aspect of my job. Most issues with urban schools seem like they could be solved if they got the same amount of money and resources as the suburban schools. But no amount of money thrown at a school can convince a kid to work hard if he just doesn’t care, and literally refuses to pick up his pencil. When I started hearing the phrase, “This is too much!” on a near-daily basis (said by kids when the teacher assigned them any amount of work above the bare minimum), I started to wonder why my efforts to teach a handful of kids about algebra were worth anything.

It’s extra frustrating because I know that many students do care, and I wish they could be in an environment in which everyone was working as hard as they were. Last year, when I worked in Dumas Elementary in Woodlawn, there was a gang-related shooting a few blocks from the school that resulted in the death of a baby girl. The teacher in the classroom I was working with began to lead a discussion with her kids about choosing the right path in their lives. Her students spoke up, some just to talk about the violence they had seen in their own lives, or how they would feel if their family members were hurt, but many raised their hand to declare that they understood that education was the path to a better life. They said that they did not want their friends to become gang members and exhorted their fellow classmates to appreciate the education that they were getting. Events like that help me to remember that many students do understand why education matters – perhaps more than I do.  

Despite these frustrations, in the end I remember why I love tutoring and love my kids. When I work with a kid, I tend to make the student’s struggle my struggle, and their success my success. I get satisfaction not so much in the fact that a student got a difficult concept, but in the fact that now their self-esteem might be a little higher. The best thing of all is when a student starts asking me a million questions about the subject I’m teaching and we get completely off-topic – because then I know that, beneath the daily grind of classes and standardized tests, there is real curiosity, wonder, and a love of learning. Experiences like these at the NSP will always have a fond place in my heart. I cannot thank the NSP enough for giving me this opportunity and deeply enriching my four years of college in a way that no class ever could. 

Sharon Lurye is a fourth-year in the College. She tutors at Fiske Elementary. 

Ocean Life and Languages with Preschoolers

A few weeks ago, my Jumpstart team and I had a successful dinosaur session with our preschoolers. They loved the centers: puzzles, art, and even Let's Find Out About It. We left the fossils they made with air-dry clay out and here are the charming results! The leaves ended up sticking onto the clay, but still left an imprint on some.IMG_1602.JPG

After such a great session, we were really excited for the next session we designed: a circle time focused on different languages and ocean life themed centers.


A few weeks back, we read a book called The Ugly Vegetables, about a Chinese family that planted vegetables in their garden instead of pretty flowers like their neighbors. At the end of the book, there were some pictures of the vegetables they planted and their names written in Chinese. We noticed that many preschoolers weren't familiar with the fact that people from all around the world speak different languages than they do. The Chinese characters might as well have been scribbles.

My team and I wanted to change that perception and introduce some other more "accessible" languages. For circle time, we chose some Spanish and French nursery songs because they were at least written with letters they've seen before. Then, we followed up with a short, simple poem in Chinese.PicMonkey Collage.jpg

The first time we read and sang in these languages, I was a little worried about how the preschoolers would respond. Would they think speaking different languages is like mumbling in jibberish? Chinese does sound pretty odd to people who don't speak it. And what about the Spanish and French? They're written like English more or less, but would it confuse the preschoolers even more?

In the beginning, the kids seemed just as wary as we were. The second time we went over the songs and poem, we went slower.

'Los pollitos dicen' means the little chicks say in Spanish.

'Alouette' is little sparrow - a type of bird - in French.

‘小手拍拍’ means clap your hands in Chinese.

Slowly but surely, some of the preschoolers in the class started to get it. They sang along with us and we saw smiles all around. In fact, afterwards in the centers, I noticed that they were chanting "小手拍拍" and laughing with each other while writing and drawing. Imagine a class of twenty preschoolers - none of whom are Chinese - just chanting along. I couldn't believe my ears.


We wanted to do an ocean-themed center time because we noticed that almost all the preschoolers have seen Finding Nemo and would point out the clownfish and anemone in different pictures, but we wanted them to have a deeper understanding of what the ocean is actually like.

In Let's Find out About It and Writing, we printed some photographs of eels, clownfish, octopi, and seaweed. Some of the preschoolers drew schools of fish and anemone. Then, in Puzzles, they put together an under the sea jigsaw. We also had some preschools in art gluing little tissue paper squares to fish templates to make their own little rainbow fish.PicMonkey Collage1.jpg

The most popular center by far was Dramatic Play. We made a sandbox with shells from a plastic file holder and had some goggles for the preschoolers to put on. Another Jumpstarter had a snorkeling set and lent it to us for this session so we could expose them to things kids from high income backgrounds would be more familiar with. It was nice to see our preschoolers engage with these new and possibly foreign things. PicMonkey Collage2.jpg

We were really ambitious with this session, throwing in languages and ocean life. We didn't expect our preschoolers to pick up and retain everything we put out there, but we were happy to find that they had as much fun working in our centers as we had making them.

Daisy Lu is a second-year in the College, majoring in sociology. She is a member of the Jumpstart program, a group serving preschoolers in the Woodlawn area.