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District Administration: Community IS Curriculum – Building the Connection Between SEL and Academics

Posted By KinderLab Christina On April 7, 2021 in Media Coverage

In this District Administration article, Theresa Maves from KinderCare Education discusses this past year, the center’s challenges, and refocusing on children’s SEL and Learning Loss from COVID-19.

The article reads in part:

“The last year has been a time of upheaval and uncertainty for children and families—not to mention educators. The COVID-19 pandemic forced KinderCare to temporarily close most of our 1,500+ centers in 40 states and Washington, D.C. (We kept some centers in strategic locations open to serve essential workers.) While the majority of our buildings were closed, we took the time to consider what children were missing the most by not being able to learn and play alongside their peers. As we planned how to reopen safely, we decided to focus first on building a sense of resilience using the principles of trauma-informed care.”

Through our “Rebuilding Our Learning Communities” program, we’re helping students learn to adapt to new experiences and rebound from challenging circumstances by creating a positive classroom culture through five themes:

– Practice problem-solving
– Build optimism
– Reveal empathy
– Establish a growth mindset
– Cultivate ingenuity

How hands-on projects combine SEL and academics
To help students feel confident and excited about learning, teachers led them in two-week focused projects related to different skills that cultivated resilience. Because project-based learning is so authentic to each student, it’s an effective way to integrate SEL with academic skills. For example, in our after-school program, our Tech Track helps kids develop collaboration skills as it teaches them the basics of coding, game design, and robotics.

One recent project used a robot called KIBO to deliver positives messages from one student to another. Understanding that kids have been isolated more than they were used to, we encouraged them to connect by sending the robot to deliver a positive message to a classmate. First, they used a little billboard we attached to the robot to write the message, which could be as simple as “I like talking with you, Annika.” Then they programmed KIBO to follow a route to Annika. When she got her message, she then wrote another message to someone else and reprogrammed the robot to find the next classmate.

Another robotics project connected with a community-focused activity of talking about feelings. KIBO has a Marker Extension Set that you can use to make the robot draw. Teachers started by asking kids how they felt and then asking how they would represent that feeling in their drawings.

Kids then programmed their robots to draw how they were feeling, whether it was short and jagged for anger or wide, sweeping motions for happiness. They could also choose colors that represented their mood. We then posted their artwork to validate every emotion. This sort of lesson not only teaches coding but underscores that we have to let out our feelings.

In our documentary project, we asked students to look beyond their own feeling and use their interviewing and directorial skills to create a brief documentary by interviewing friends, neighbors, and relatives about what makes them feel hopeful for the future. We began by asking students key questions such as, “What types of questions might you ask to understand what makes someone feel optimistic? How can you incorporate a variety of perspectives into your work when you may not be able to visit with people in person due to social distancing?” In the end, students used their tech skills and their social-emotional skills to connect with others, despite the challenges of social distancing.

In all of these projects, we followed a design model that tech and design professionals use to innovate. Kids shared ideas, offered feedback, asked questions, and gave compliments. The hands-on, real-world experience of solving problems together helped them become creative and critical thinkers as well as stellar team players.

During this tumultuous year, reality has evolved for educators across the country, and how we care for one another and our children is evolving, too. Secure in the power of human connection, we’re rebuilding our learning communities by teaching our children the skills they need today and for the future—and how to use those skills to go beyond surviving to thrive, individually and within their learning community.”

See the full article.