Dr. Harrison has been at Perkiomen Valley School District for 18 years. She currently teaches fourth grade at Schwenksville Elementary School and has been building relationships with her students and the families of the students she teaches. When she returned to in-person learning from the pandemic, she noticed a need for more practice on social skills, creating lasting friendships, resolving conflicts, and positive peer interactions.
One of her solutions was to apply for a mini-grant to provide a “soft start” to her ELA Blocks. A soft start would allow students to take a few minutes to explore their interests, find an activity they didn’t know they enjoyed, and, most importantly, connect with people they wouldn’t have interacted with otherwise. Activities could include coloring, LEGOS, puzzles, origami, using Play-Doh, WikiStix, matchbox cars, Magna-Tiles, or reading a book with a friend.
The Foundation was proud to support her project in September 2022. Once all of the items came in, Executive Director Kristin Craven and Board Member and Assistant Superintendent Laurie Smith presented Dr. Harrison’s fourth-grade class with the launch of the Soft Start program. Her students were very excited to see all of the activities they could explore.
The Foundation received an update after Dr. Harrison implemented the Soft Start for a few months. This is what she had to say:
Soft start is AMAZING!!!!!!!!!! The kids absolutely LOVE it. I don’t do it every day because I want to keep it new and fresh. We do it about 3x a week and the other days we do other “easy entry” work. I have set areas of the room that will have a center. Then I find a way to have kids go a few at a time (by birthday month, favorite color etc) to pick a center. One challenge the kids have had is to deal with the disappointment of having a center being “full”. If that happens, I make sure to have that center out the next time and let the person know they can use it on that day.
I have been FLOORED at what these kids like. Two of my kids that see themselves as very “cool” were the first to try out the play-doh. They needed some prompting as to what to create and then they got INTO it! They were building and concentrating and laughing together. It was so much fun. What is so great is that the favorite things keep changing! The wooden plank blocks are a hit. I often have kids ask me to take their picture with their creations and send it to their parents. I happily oblige and it’s really helped parents get a glimpse into the classroom and share in the fun. Kids also love the wiki sticks and magnatiles! The best items seem to be the items where kids can work collaboratively and keep their hands busy.
The groupings have also been exactly what I have been hoping for. The kids in the groups are kids I do not normally see hanging out and working together. They mix genders, friend groups and sometimes are even alone at a center rather than following their friends if it’s something they want to try! One student in my class has some behavioral challenges. He has been gravitating toward origami which is very challenging! We have been having him “finish” his creations as a reward later on in the day too. My favorite thing to see is how the kids love the little matchbox cars I brought in and are using them with the magnatiles to create garages and tracks. It reminds me how little fourth graders really are.
Thank you SO much for helping me bring my vision to life. My class this year is really hard and I was really nervous to start this project. But it truly brings so much joy to the kids. Some so many kids need support and so many kids with rough home lives. This is exactly what they needed from you and me to help them with friends and to bring happiness to their morning at school.
With the start of the new school year, we checked in with Dr. Harrison to see if her Soft-Start was continuing to make an impact on her class. Here’s what she had to say on November 8, 2023.
These kids ADORE the soft start this year as well! You literally see the kids breathe a sigh of relief on days that we do this start to the class. I did one today to get us back into the swing of things after the kids’ day off yesterday.
This year, just like last year, I see kids going to areas that they wouldn’t normally go to with kids they wouldn’t usually interact with which is incredible. I see them problem-solving with materials and with peers about disagreements. I see them working with materials and combining materials in ways that I didn’t think of and feeling so proud of themselves.
The plank blocks are an absolute favorite this year as well as the Play-Doh! I was skeptical about asking for Play-Doh last year but these kids are all about it! Today students were making a “five-star meal” for me. It was absolutely adorable and I loved that they were working together for a common goal.
This is a highlight of my classroom and something I am super proud of.
Support projects like Soft Start
Teachers don’t always have access to materials, technology, and other resources that can make the difference between a lesson forgotten the next day and one that lasts beyond graduation. That’s where you come in. Your contribution to the PVSD Foundation helps ensure that the Foundation can continue to support teachers in delivering enriching educational opportunities for all students when tax dollars and traditional revenue streams fall short.