Dynamic Kindergarten Duo Develop Delight in Distance Learning

Shelly Orchard (left) and her daughter, Annie Orchard (right) stand in front of their elaborate homeroom recreation.
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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the majority of Oregon’s K-12 educators would not have identified as online instructors. This month, they will ALL be delivering instruction through distance learning. It is possibly the most drastic change in teaching and learning that we have ever witnessed.

This COVID-19 reality is causing stress and panic statewide. Teachers and students are heartbroken that school has been canceled. Many hopes, dreams and celebrations have been put on hold. But right here in Tigard, Oregon, two kindergarten teachers are working on a glimmer of delight. Shelly Orchard and her daughter Annie are a mother-daughter kindergarten team. They teach in two metro Portland districts and have decided to make the sweetest lemonade scenario education has ever seen. They have embraced online schooling and are doing what is best for their little learners.

They began with online campfire storytimes and reached out to students and families each morning. Soon they added bedtime readings from bunk beds in their home. They enlisted extra family members to become characters in reading playdates where each story comes to life through play-acting. And last week, they began the best idea of all. They took a spare bedroom in their house and created a replica of their classrooms. When they invite students to learn this month, the children will feel “right at school.”

Both teachers had themed their kindergarten rooms as a campsite. Every day, school began with a campfire sing-along and story. This routine will continue for their Happy Campers! Props and materials that were at school are now in the new location. Everything is in place to put a young learner at ease. When asked what fueled this decision, Shelly Orchard stated, “We are attempting to make our at-home ‘classroom’ feel like school. This is an unsettling time for children, so we think it’s important to make it feel as normal as possible. There are so many unknowns, WE want to be a solid ‘known.’ We’re trying to make the most out of this unprecedented situation. We both want our kindergartners to look back on this time and smile at all the fun learning experiences we can bring to them through technology.”

Navigating online instruction is a difficult journey. Equity to learning opportunities is paramount. Each district has been working on technological delivery methods and materials. Schools have provided families times to pick up computers, chrome books and iPad devices. Mobilization for online teaching has happened at record speed. Changes for teachers and students could not be more drastic.

With some happy stuffed animals, the Orchards created a room where they can be ready to adapt to a new type of learning environment.

Annie and Shelly Orchard are ready for this new age of instruction. They could never have imagined this abrupt career change, but they are ready to embrace it for the good of the students they both love and miss. Both teachers have found that leading students on a scientific exploration can develop learning in all areas. This month they will be introducing the study of insects to their learners. Do you know that telling someone they are as sweet as bee spit is a compliment? Have you heard that the common ladybug has seven spots and that not all ladybugs are red and black? Did you ever hear that a firefly is not a fly at all…it is a beetle! These and many more facts will become daily discussions for kindergarten “entomologists.”

When asked, “Why science?” Annie Orchard responded, “We chose science as the base of our lessons because it is the natural gateway to all of kindergarten learning. Through science, we can link reading, writing, math, social studies and social-emotional instruction. We are taking advantage of natural curiosity and the observant nature of kindergartners to create meaningful and lasting connections through scientific learning experiences.”

Just this week, the teachers had a special delivery. A box arrived in the mail and it was filled with five tiny caterpillars. The Orchard duo opened the box in a live segment and shared the critters with their students. They will spend the next month watching as these little crawly bugs transform into flight filled butterflies. They will sing all about the process in an original tune, “Metamorphosis.” You are guaranteed that there will be art projects, story writing, math problem solving and sheer vocabulary advancement included in this daily learning adventure.

In all of her thirty-two years of teaching, this is Shelly Orchard’s greatest educational challenge. Annie, in her third year agrees! The children in Mary Woodward Elementary in Tigard and Boeckman Creek Primary School in Wilsonville will not experience stress at all. They will continue to learn with joy and song. They will advance in academic skills amid a global pandemic. These super teachers will make the best educational lemonade an online campsite classroom has ever served!

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