BEMIDJI -- Heather Sande and Lindsay Potter wear many hats as kindergarten teachers -- educator, mentor, friend, controller, entertainer -- but in the past few weeks they’ve been wearing even more hats than usual, including some adorned with jingle bells and reindeer antlers.
As the two kindergarten teachers on the Bemidji Area Schools distance learning team, Potter and Sande have found ways to keep the holidays fun and spirits up in the kindergarten classroom, even though the classroom looks a bit different right now.
They are making the holiday season special for their around 44 total students with special dress-up theme days and activities leading up to winter break, which begins Dec. 24 for Bemidji Area Schools students.
Speaking to them virtually on day 63 of the school year, the two said they have the routine down and that the children have gotten into the groove of things.
“We are all learning this together,” Sande said of the cooperation between students and families. “That has been a really nice thing having those families in the same boat as you, so you’re not feeling like you’re completely lost.”
Of course, teaching kindergarten online can come with a myriad of challenges. It takes effort to remain equitable -- both with the students who are learning in brick and mortar classrooms, and the other students learning at home. It isn’t always known what materials students have access to at home, making group arts and crafts projects and other hands-on activities difficult to do fairly.
“How do I get each kid a template? There’s no funding to mail it, not everyone has a printer,” Potter said. “You just don’t know what every kid has or doesn’t have in their home.”
“We have to really be conscious of that, and make sure that everybody feels like they’re able to do whatever we’re doing,” Sande said.
“The first thing they had to learn was how to mute themselves and how to unmute themselves,” Sande said, adding that just being in kindergarten and figuring out how to get on at the scheduled time often requires adult assistance.
The classes have three video meetings per day -- a morning meeting, math class and reading class.
“They are just so happy to see their friends and their teachers when they hop on for those half-hour time slots,” Potter said.
“We can see each other’s faces and see each other’s smiles and the kids that are in person are all wearing masks, and so I feel like I am lucky that I can see them smile. That’s a really big positive I think,” Sande said.
Potter agreed, “that’s a huge comfort for kiddos.”
The morning meeting is where the magic happens. Over the past few weeks, the kindergarteners’ themed days have included, “Grinch Day,” “Reindeer Day,” “Pajama Day,” “Candy Cane Day” and “Gingerbread Day.”
A particular favorite is pajama day, of which Sande joked, “I could be in my pajamas every day and they would never know.”
Since the distance learning kindergarteners have Potter and Sande as their only instructors, the two have to wear a lot of different hats.
“Lindsay and I, we don’t have an art teacher, we don’t have a (physical education) teacher or a music teacher, we don’t have a librarian. We don’t have that. We’re supplying everything for our kids. Today one of our activities for our reindeer day was how to draw a reindeer,” Sande explained. “They ended up with a reindeer and they were so proud of it, we had them hold it up and we got screenshots. The kids that are in person are coming home with stuff like this, so we’re trying to provide (an equitable experience).”
“We’ve been doing a lot of drawing tutorials, and they walk away with a candy cane or a grinch,” Potter said.
Sande and Potter commented on how technology can intersect with these fun holiday themes, and explained that on Grinch day, students had an assignment on the learning platform “SeeSaw” to which good deeds they would do to make the Grinch’s heart grow three sizes. Through the platform, the students had the option to “grinch themselves” with green virtual marker, which they said was a huge hit.
“They are getting really tech-savvy at the ages of five and six,” Sande said. “They’re going to be ready for anything. They just love all of these festive things,” she added. “It’s so fun.”
“There are so many things that we’re doing that the kids don’t even realize they are learning because it’s so fun,” Potter added.