The Honor of Engaging with Children
By Beth Wise, Associate Director
When we reopened the doors on Sept. 7, 2020, it felt like a holiday of sorts, welcoming children into a carefully prepared oasis ready for action. Smiles, laughter, curiosity and a bit of tentativeness on everyone’s part were the start of a journey into play and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The abrupt closure of the school in March 2020, the months of uncertainty about the pandemic’s course and the extensive planning needed to reopen the school fueled our determination to return to school safely. As the associate director, I had the honor of seeing Bing from opening to closing daily, checking in with teachers, getting to know children, substituting as needed and keeping an eye on all things related to COVID-19. In the process, I experienced what I can now look back on as one of the most rewarding years of teaching in my last three decades as an early childhood educator at Bing. The commitment of teachers, the daily presence of administrative and support staff who worked behind the scenes and above all, the resilience, creativity, empathy and social problem-solving development in children throughout the year was astounding.
Teachers were undoubtedly ready for in-person engagement, but children gained the most from the play-based, open-ended learning at Bing. Although many classroom moments were worthy of documentation since the beginning of the pandemic, a few stand out that illustrate the children’s joy at being in a social group again.
One day in early November, when the trees in Center Room were cloaked in an abundance of brilliant red, yellow and orange, Hana stood, arms outstretched in the sun, a broad smile on her face and shouted for all to hear, “I’m just soaking up the sun. It’s full of vitamin D!” As others ran toward the red playhouse on the classroom hill, they enthusiastically joined in to experience the miracle we call the sun with the kind of unbridled enthusiasm that is so characteristic of young children. This exemplified what we missed most during the six months that we were closed, the honor of guiding and facilitating the children’s play and witnessing their joy and satisfaction in learning and sharing experiences.
In every classroom, new social groups formed while children discovered ways to build, problem-solve, express, iterate and engage with each other and materials. From building a transistor radio following pictorial directions (it even played the Giants game!), to sculpting towering sand domes and deeply dug rivers, to discovering how paint fills the paper, each classroom had many moments of discovery like this.
One day I walked into the classroom to see teacher Lindsay Damiano supporting a group of children who had created a masterpiece of delicately balanced blocks and animals. The group collaboration was apparent from the way they leaned in for discussion and ever so carefully kept working together without blocks falling. I asked a child named Maddy what they were working on, and she said, “I started thinking, and then he said that we can make a roof and a floor. Santiago said it needed decorations and it should have more light. At first, I didn’t think that was a good idea and then when I saw it, I liked it! I thought that when we had teamwork, it would work better.” The ability to work through challenges, articulate differences, accept other people’s ideas and create a final product that was highly satisfying for the group is a complex and multi-faceted experience for young children. Lindsay was highly engaged in the process of facilitating and observing the group effort and learning, and moments like this are indeed a privilege.
When we returned for our summer school program, it was with more confidence and experience than when we reopened our doors last September. We continued to build upon the protocol we established for operating safely, and this reinforced our strong commitment to the power of play. Thank you to the parents, children, teachers and staff who were part of this incredible journey with us.