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Creating Culture in a Cafeteria Classroom – Staying Positive and Negative during a Pandemic

Week 3

In our Summer Enrichment program, I chose to read a chapter of L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz to the children each day. During Chapter 1, the group was very interested in the cyclone. Several children had never heard of such a thing and were full of questions. This led to an afternoon full of Internet searches for pictures and videos. One insightful first grader commented that “it is scary that a cyclone can show up out of nowhere and ruin everything.” 

Seeing as this was the Summer of 2020, and our program was operating in the midst of this pandemic, it was hard to not create a parallel from this child’s sentiment in my mind. It was scary that we were (and still are) caught up in a COVID-19 whirlwind that just showed up out of nowhere and essentially “ruined everything.” 

Everything was not ruined, though. Everything appeared to be ruined…at first. Everything just needed some critical assessment and attention. With a positive growth mindset, we are weathering this storm. We need to continue to seek out and accentuate the good stuff, putting a positive twist into this coronavirus twister.

In Week 2’s blog, I shared a plan for creating a strong sense of continued camaraderie via social media hashtags. It is a simple (and free) way to foster connection even though current circumstances have made us feel quite disconnected. Since I discussed tornadoes above, which are forces of nature, this week’s Positive Outlook will examine our afterschool communities’ opportunities when it comes to the outdoors.

Week 3-Positive Outlook

The CDC and other health, safety and program licensing agencies strongly encourage childcare programs to spend more time outdoors with students. This is an opportunity for children and staff to connect with nature in classic ways, but also in new, innovative and exciting ways. 

First Grader: “ChaeChae, the grass is white!” *touches the grass and quickly flinches* “Ack! It’s cold. I think this is snow grass.” *looks out at basketball court* “But there isn’t any snow on the other ground? *spins in a complete 360 then stops to look at the grass again* “ChaeChae, I think that white grass is snow grass. Wait! Is it called snow grass?”

Clearly, we have a very contemplative first grader in our program (who does most of her best contemplating out loud). When she encountered that “snow grass,” that was a “teachable moment” opportunity for staff. Even though the word “frost” was not yet in this child’s vocabulary, she was able to articulate a pretty-solid hypothesis as to why it was there when asked. Then by answering our guiding questions, she was able fill in the gaps by herself and explore some more.

She searched the surrounding areas further, noticing the white layer wasn’t elsewhere. As she surveyed, spun and spoke, steam came through her mask. “Wait! ChaeChae, am I making frost on the air?” 

“Frost” had become a part of her permanent vocabulary, from our short outdoor interaction. Now, we just had to have a quick discussion about “steam.”  That morning was obviously a chilly one. In a non-pandemic school year, our staff team might have made the decision to stay inside, but since we have been encouraged to spend more time outdoors, we pulled on our coats and, as a result, were able to officially teach a first grader what frost is.

Our role in OST education is to provide children with opportunities that spark their curiosity, foster their interests and reinforce their existing knowledge. We are there to validate what is true and accurate about what they know or believe, while also dispelling what is not true and accurate. From there, we can inspire a desire to seek out more learning.

WOOT WOOT! *Educator Air Five* 

Teachable moments are so rewarding. They don’t take hours of planning. They don’t require money for fancy curriculums or materials. They are spontaneous. Oftentimes, they are fun and exciting. Here, let me show you:

In the comment section, please submit your personal and professional stories, anecdotes and advice that fit into this week’s Positive Outlook theme. How have you made intentional and increased use of your outdoor spaces? Have your students had any insightful comments or unexpected reactions to your recent outdoor experiences? Share with other OST professionals by using the comment section below!  


Chaelyn Lombardo is the Character Development Resource Director/Site Director at, Macdonough School Kids’ Korner Before and Afterschool Program, Middlesex YMCA


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