Meet one of our Kindergarten teachers, Mrs. Stephanie Chung. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology, California teaching credential and Master of Education degree from the University of California, San Diego. This will be her sixth year at The Cambridge School. She is excited to support her students in their development of heart, soul, and mind and to provide them with opportunities to practice loving and serving God and each other. I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Mrs. Chung to talk about the Kindergarten program, what she loves about the curriculum and how she teaches social thinking skills to her students.
What has been your favorite aspect of teaching Kindergarten?
It would have to be the wonder and joy for learning that I see in the kids daily. That has definitely been one of the biggest encouragements to me. They are so easily excitable. For example, when we talk about leaves in our plant unit, students bring edible leaves to make a class salad. We then get to enjoy not only the look and feel of the leaves but a taste of them as well. Even though I’m serving a plate of vegetables, they are excited to have this experience align with what we are learning in class. They tell me it’s the best thing they’ve ever had, and that this has been “the best day” of their lives. I hear that statement so many times throughout the year with our other experiences. It’s so much fun to see them enjoy the lessons and then think it’s the absolute best thing they have ever experienced.
I also love the curriculum. I love how hands-on it is and that everything points to God’s creation and his character. We start off in Kindergarten with the seven days of creation and then everything we do points back to that. We learn that God is a god of order and that he is specific and intentional with his creation. As students learn different languages, we talk about the Tower of Babel and how God is the author of all the different languages. In science, we explore different living things and discuss what God created on different days. When we learn about insects we are also studying the community at the same time and see how ants create communities where they live and work together as we do. I love that the subjects are interesting and integrated in Kindergarten.
In what ways are you intentional with instilling wonder within the curriculum?
One way we do that is by asking questions and teaching the students to ask questions. I often start a unit by posing a question, making our lessons conversational and full of discovery. For example, I may ask at the beginning of a lesson, “What do you already know about insects? Today, we’re going to learn a few more things about them.” Presenting them with a question helps the students to think about what they already know, as well as what they can discover or learn in the lesson. Students can always either learn something new or deepen their understanding of something they already know about.
What makes Cambridge’s Kindergarten program unique?
Definitely the social curriculum that we have. We started the year with a program called The Incredible Flexible You which teaches the students social thinking skills. This program allows us to come alongside the students to teach them certain skills and find strategies to figure out what they are feeling or what someone else may be thinking. The goal is to help them notice positive things that help the group function and feel comfortable, and how they can contribute to that. We understand that at this age, they may not yet know how to interpret another person’s body language, or they may be communicating something with their words or actions that they don’t intend to. For example, some students like to get really close to the person they are speaking to. We talk about how if the other person backs away, you’re probably making them uncomfortable, and so to take a step back. Another example is when a friend runs away from you on the playground, rather than assuming the friendship is over, you can go talk to that friend to ask clarifying questions. He may not have heard you or may simply be playing another game. So by asking a question, friendships are preserved and communication can be strengthened. These types of social skills that are intentionally taught helps them to better function in a group setting and provides strategies to help with things like conflict resolution and problem-solving.
What are some examples of the social skills that you teach?
We focus on several different skills, but one would be the importance of body language. We use phrases like “put your body in the group” and “think with your eyes”. If we are reading a book together but the student is instead looking out the window, I’ll ask them something like, “Are you thinking about our story? Right now I’m thinking with my eyes and I see that you are looking outside so that makes me think you are thinking about something other than our story.” It allows them to assess how their body language communicates something in a concrete way, and that they can either make someone feel comfortable and safe or uncomfortable and confused. It teaches that what they do causes others to think or feel a certain way, whether it was intended or not.
I also teach about expected versus unexpected behaviors. There is a paint strip on my whiteboard that I use to help students visually gauge where they are emotionally and whether that response is appropriate for the situation. We expect students to hover around the middle shades of the strip, but some situations may cause elevations in emotion and changes in behavior. For example, a student may have spilled their crayons on the ground right before recess. They may feel distressed and express it by making a loud complaining sound, getting upset at classmates who don’t help or even just sitting and pouting. That is a great opportunity to say that I would expect the student to feel a little upset and even frustration at what happened (going up a step on the strip), but that their reaction to the problem was not expected (since they went up to the top of the strip). We’d then be able to go over strategies to solve the problem – start putting crayons back and make sure the box is secure, ask for help to clean up, etc.
We also want to teach them how to solve problems. Students so often want help with any hardship or problem they encounter, and so we want to train them that there are some problems that they actually know how to solve on their own without any help. When they encounter something hard like a math problem we often ask them to find something familiar in the problem. We try to figure out what we already know and see how can we use that information to start solving this newer problem. Also, anytime someone asks for help in the class I let them know I’m helping them and not doing it for them. Like if they need help opening a snack I may say, “Well let’s take a look. Over here is a little edge that you can peel back. I helped you by giving you a strategy, but now it is your job to finish the task.” This helps not only with independence but teaches them to take small steps to accomplish something that at first seems too big.