In 2021, we will using our Staff Spotlights to learn more about individual staff, their inspirations, and their incredible resilience in adapting to Outdoor Learning in a pandemic.
Spotlight on Melissa Lennon
Melissa is a teacher in the Yellow Room, and currently serves as Teacher Representative to the Board.
Q: Why do you choose to be a teacher at Playschool?
A: I worked in the Yellow Room most of the years my kids were here. I subbed in the Yellow Room the first year none of my kids were here. So when an opportunity to teach in the Yellow Room opened up, it just seemed the perfect fit. I couldn’t imagine not being part of this community; Playschool has made my family happy in so many ways.
Q: What is your professional education/experience?
A: I have a degree in Psychology and teaching was suited to my interest in child development, so I went to graduate school for my certification. I started as a fourth grade teacher in a private school and really believed in what I was doing but took time off to have children until I began working here.
Q: What are some of the developmental expectations of children in the Yellow Room, and how do you foster these?
A: We are all about fostering independence in the Yellow Nest and helping the kids navigate the transition from parallel play (stand near someone else who is playing) to interactive play (both kids playing the same thing together). Independence is really easy to encourage. For example, we remove snacks from backpacks, but the Yellow Nest children are responsible for finding theirs in the carrier, choosing a place to sit, and opening as much of it as they can without assistance. At the end of snack, they return containers to the carriers in the section with their name and photo. For children out of diapers, we encourage them perform as much of the process as they can unaided. Do they perform these jobs perfectly? Of course not, but giving them the opportunity to try and putting them in a situation where they practice what they CAN do helps build a growth mindset. Try it at home!
The development of more advanced play skills comes in tandem with age, but giving children plenty of opportunity to interact with peers, modeling healthy conflict resolution, and giving them words helpful in play (“Can I have a turn with that when you are finished?”) fosters that development.
Q: How has the Yellow Nest adapted to Outdoor Learning? What is something you changed?
Everything and nothing! The “everything” part is the physical. While we always took the kids out, our focus was heavier on the classroom activities. This year we have worked very hard to not just bring the toys outside, but to create a learning environment that is fed by nature. Not surprisingly, the children have been the biggest help. One thing we have discovered is that less is truly more; string and dried leaves, for example, became a morning of “flying kites”. The “nothing changed” part is our philosophy; it remains the same whether we are in the building or not.
Q: What are the kids, and you, doing in order to feel good outside this winter?
A: Layers and wind resistant fabrics like snow pants. Wool socks really make a difference, also. I have been so pleased with how well our Yellow Nest kids have been dressed for the weather! I have started bringing a warm beverage in a travel mug, and that’s been much nicer to drink than cold water.
Q: What has the shift to Outdoor Learning taught you?
A: Flexibility. There is no precedent for what we are doing this year, so often there are no answers to questions. It has been a lot of being able to adapt to new things. It has also taught me that, as someone who is cold until the temperature almost hits 80, that I can do this.
Q: What have you learned from the experiences of teaching in the pandemic?
It’s not as fraught with fear as I thought it would be, being out among people and touching things. It’s actually lessened my fear of having my own kids leave the house to learn.
Q: How have you seen your students respond to the pandemic (social distancing, masks, cleaning, etc.)
A: They are so resilient. To them, it’s just the new normal and as long as they can play, it’s OK.
Q: What is one thing that has helped you get thru the last year?
The Headspace app.
Q: Anything else we should know about you?
I keep bees, I love to cook and am on an Indian kick right now, I am the handywoman in my house, I am a compulsive reader, I like to do the NYT Sunday crosswords on the beach, I have random and odd hobbies and skills, and I am a huge introvert despite how you see me act in public.
Q: Something you have learned about teaching/education/kids from another teacher/staffperson?
A: One of my first days of teaching after being hired at the private school, I was teaching a kindergarten gym class with another, far more experienced, teacher. We had set up a very basic activity for the kids that just could not have been more of a disaster. My first instinct was to stress and worry about what I could have done wrong. The other teacher just laughed at the disaster, took a breath, and tried it again. That really stayed with me. Just breathe, laugh if you can, and move on. I think I must do this 10 times a day between work and raising my own kids, and it probably has saved my sanity.