Instead of a final for First Year Seminar we had the opportunity to teach elementary school students about the fairy tales we had learned about in class. Every Friday, for four total weeks, we went and volunteered at the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster. My class was divided up into four groups. My group members were Laura Maurer, Christine DeClue, and Katelyn Chewning. Each week we were given a small group of kids to teach. We came up with a lesson plan several days in advance, and each plan consisted of a story, several activities, and a lot of fun.
There were many advantages to having this project as our final instead of an exam. First, I did not have to start studying for an exam several weeks prior. I have never been a strong test taker and I do not particularly enjoy sitting in a classroom for several hours to take a test that could impact my grade quite a lot. Second, I got to work with kids as a part of the exam. I plan on becoming an elementary educator, so this was a great experience. I really enjoyed working with the kids, teaching them about fairy tales, and seeing their reactions to what we were teaching them. I have never enjoyed a final so much! The final advantage to having this project as my final was that I got to work with an amazing group of people for several weeks. We had a lot of fun planning out the lessons, working together to make the lessons and activities work, and finally putting together this project. This project, I believe, was much better than a final exam. Not only did I learn more than I would have if I had just taken an exam, but I also was given a first world experience that I could not have had if I were to have taken an exam.
I learned a lot from this project. I learned more about patience. I have had many experiences working with children in classroom settings and have always been extremely patient. However, working in a setting where the students knew they did not have to pay attention like they did in school was very different for me. I learned of a new type of patience and I believe this will definitely help me in the future. I also learned more about lesson planning. I have never had first hand experiences with lesson planning, so learning how to plan my own lessons was a bit of a challenge at first, but in the end it added to the fun of the entire project. Finally, I learned that bribery is not always a bad thing. Its understandable how teachers in actual schools think that bribery is a negative reinforcer. However when you are given a group of kids that you know will work better with an incentive, than bribery is not the worst thing you could do.
There were a couple of large obstacles or problems that my group encountered. We dealt with them to the best of our ability and I believe that everything turned out very well in the end. Overall, the first week was great. The only problem we encountered in the first week was the fact that we had one boy in a group of all girls. This not exactly did not excite him, nor was he happy when he found out he would be learning about Cinderella. The second week was definitely our most challenging week of volunteering. To start we were given ten kids. Only having a group of five the previous we, we were not expecting this at all. Second, the book we had been provided with by Dr. Esa did not have the story we were planning on teaching in it. This was a problem because we could not continue with the lesson without the most important aspect missing. So Katelyn quickly looked up the Grimm’s version on her phone and we were set to go. The most difficult part of this week was the fact that the kids were not very well behaved. It took a lot of prodding, but eventually we got them to settle down and listen. The third week was a major change from the second week. Not only had we planned a lesson for more than five kids, but we had also come up with a couple ideas to help them pay attention and listen more if they became rowdy at any point. When we arrived however, we were only given three girls. We definitely liked the small group size because we could keep them more under control, however we planned activities that were supposed to involve more than just three children. We had to improvise a lot more than what we would have liked, but it all worked out and it was a fun week. The final week I was unable to attend due to a prior commitment. But from what I heard it was our most successful week. My group used everything we had learned from the previous three weeks and made sure to put it all into consideration as we made the lesson plan.
There a few things I would advise the new generation of first year students on about community service. First, over plan! I cannot put enough emphasis on how important it is to over plan activities. My group was fortunate enough to realize this before the first week, so we were able to come up with several activities incase another activity was too short or did not work as well as planned. Second, be sure that what you are teaching the children is gender neutral. Going in with the plan to teach Sleeping Beauty and learning that you have to teach five boys is not going to turn out the way you hope. Almost every activity you do, should appeal to both boys and girls. Otherwise, you will loose their attention fast and it will not be fun for either party. Next, plan your lesson for groups of all sizes. Anywhere from one person to twenty if you have to. Showing up prepared to only have five children is not showing up prepared. You at that point are extremely ill prepared. It’s never a bad thing to be a little over prepared! And finally, do not be afraid to bribe the kids. Most children these days need some sort of incentive. Anything from candy, to playing a fun game works. They need something to be excited about. If they are not excited, why pay attention?
If I were to ever do this project or something similar again I would change the length of time spent at the Boys and Girls Club, the number of times we went to the club, and finally the students we were grouped with. Although we were only given an hour I would have liked to have spent a little more time with the kids. The hour went by so quickly sometimes that when we ended, it didn’t feel quite right. Also, I would have liked to have spent a couple more days with the children. I really enjoyed this project and I looked forward to going to the Boys and Girls Club every Friday afternoon. Finally, I would change the group of students we worked with. As much as I liked working with different students every week, I would have much rather liked working with the same group of students every week. This would have made it easier to get to know the students and we would have been able to make the necessary connection with them so they themselves would feel more comfortable with us.
This truly was a great experience. I recommend this to every First Year Seminar professor. I learned more through this experience than I would have sitting in a classroom. It only made me realize how much I really do want to teach elementary school children and it made me excited for what I have coming in the next four years. This project was most definitely the best final exam replacement I have ever had!