WSC member Victoria, serving with Tiny Trees Preschool in Seattle

My name is Victoria and I’m a Washington Reading Corps Tutor serving with Tiny Trees, an outdoor preschool based out of Seattle. My classroom’s location in Carkeek Park gives us a unique space with access to the Puget Sound, streams, wetlands, and forest, and it’s in a patch of this forest where I teach 100% of the time. Outdoor preschool means we are teaching social-emotional, cognitive, language, physical, mathematical, and pre-literacy skills rain or shine in the woods. We have a total of 33 students in our classroom, split over a combination of half-day classes, and my role with them is one of an Assistant Teacher with an emphasis on building foundational pre-literacy skills.

Considering the literacy aspect of my position, in preschool we practice what’s called “pre-literacy”, which is the practice of building foundational skills for learning to read. I help students to begin recognizing letters, learning the sounds each letter makes, recognizing rhyme and alliteration, and “reading” books (holding books right side up, looking and flipping pages left to right, etc.). We practice these skills in various ways, for example by using foam letters to spell their names, telling stories by looking at pictures in books, transcribing stories they tell us then acting them out together, and more.

It’s been such a joy watching our students grow both emotionally and academically this past semester, and witnessing their individual challenges and successes. As the year progresses, I’ve had the time to better get to know my students, and watch how they are learning and maturing. The area of growth I find most impressive is in social-emotional behavior. At the start of the year Noah* required one-on-one attention for the length of the school day, and showed signs of developmental delays. During his time at Tiny Trees he has shown immense improvement in communicating his needs and boundaries, joining in play scenarios, engaging in imaginative play and symbolic thought, showing independence and ownership over his belongings, and displaying a sense of empathy towards his peers. Another student, Charlie*, started the year becoming very easily upset, distancing himself from teachers and peers and being unwilling to problem solve. He has also made great leaps, and is now excelling at recognizing his emotions and self-regulating, and increasingly showing flexibility in play and play partners. Teaching these students has helped me to be a more patient, empathetic, well-rounded teacher—through helping them problem-solve in the classroom, participate in classroom activities, and engaging them both in ‘work’ and play.

Serving with AmeriCorps this fall and winter has stretched my teaching abilities and opened me up to many facets of the educational world I had not previously experienced as an outdoor educator. I’ve gained skills teaching ELL (English Language Learner) students, have been able to critically observe students’ strengths with SPP’s documentation program, and have created and taught preschool-specific curriculum. I’ve learned how to better navigate conflict resolution in the classroom, bettered my classroom management skills in the preschool setting, and have been able to implement the anti-bias curriculum Tiny Trees teaches. Moving into spring, we’re all a little uncertain to how things will roll out with COVID-19, but I hope we will be able to reopen safely soon to continue this important work.