DeKalb County Pre-K and Kindergarten duo, Barry Murphy and Cynthia Hardegree, talk about how they prepare their PreK students for kindergarten and how they think about the big transition into elementary school.

episode 109

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DeKalb County Pre-K and Kindergarten duo, Barry Murphy and Cynthia Hardegree, talk about how they prepare their PreK students for kindergarten and how they think about the big transition into elementary school.


Ashley Mengwasser: Hello, I'm Ashley Mengwasser. Welcome to another episode of Classroom Conversations, the platform for Georgia's teachers. Classroom Conversations is brought to you by the Georgia Department of Education in partnership with Georgia Public Broadcasting. In this episode, we are looking very closely at the transition from pre-kindergarten to kindergarten. That's one small step for feet, one giant leap for child and teacher kind. Yes, much like your host, kindergarten is a word of German origin. Unlike your host, it was born in the mid 1800s. I'd literally be 172. Kindergarten means children's garden. And in Europe, they were sometimes called infant gardens. How very idyllic. And it's true. If you've ever been inside a kindergarten classroom, you know they're so charming, built to nurture, develop young minds. You'll regress right back to age five. Our teacher feature today has even more to say about moving on up from pre-K to kindergarten. Here at GPB studios, I have pre-K teacher, Barry Murphy and kindergarten teacher, Cynthia Hardegree. Both go to work every single day, excluding weekends at Henderson Mill Elementary in Atlanta. Welcome, teachers.

Barry Murphy: Thank you.

Cynthia Hardegree: Thank you for having us.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, I want to start with the basics. I want to know your teacher origin story. So when did you become teachers at your respective grade levels? Barry, you go first.

Barry Murphy: I've been teaching for 20 years, but I fought the teaching bug all through growing up. I'm a fourth generation teacher. My great-grandmother, my grandmother, my mom were teachers. I saw how hard my mom worked teaching growing up and just said, "No, I'm not doing that." But was always babysitting, nannying. And finally, after my first year at Auburn, I realized I can't fight this any longer. I've got to do it. And I was in broadcasting, ironic enough.

Ashley Mengwasser: Ironic. Do you ever wonder?

Barry Murphy: No. I definitely know.

Ashley Mengwasser: She said not at all.

Barry Murphy: Especially seeing what y'all do, I'm like, "No, I could never have done this." But I am so glad that I finally stopped fighting the bug, and it's the best profession. I'm so happy that I stuck with it this long. And it's great. I love it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Answered the call. Cynthia, when did you know you wanted to be a teacher for kindergarten?

Cynthia Hardegree: Well, kind of like Barry, I grew up in a long line of educators, and I decided I was going to be the ballerina. And I went it for it. And then I was like, "You know what? I actually want to become an educator." And so I went down that path as well. And I started my career as a third grade teacher. And I saw a lot of students that needed a lot of foundational skills. And I wanted to be that person that gave them that solid foundation, so they had a great start to the rest of their education.

Ashley Mengwasser: I know your students are really happy to have you, but for the record, you're a legitimate ballerina. Barry and I have seen the photographs.

Barry Murphy: It's amazing, isn't it?

Ashley Mengwasser: It is. Hello, Swan Lake.

Cynthia Hardegree: Thank you. Thank you.

Ashley Mengwasser: Barry and I are both trying to keep our posture up just to match how good hers is. Well, Cynthia, will you share a little bit about your school that you and Barry teach at at Henderson Mill Elementary in Atlanta?

Cynthia Hardegree: Of course. Henderson Mill is what we like to call our triple crown. We were the first STEAM and STEM certified school in the state of Georgia, and we take a lot of pride in that. Our students love to collaborate. They love to be creative thinkers, and they love to share with each other.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's beautiful. Well, the fact that you both teach in the same building, I think, is the very definition of an educational twofer. So what are the benefits of having pre-K in the very same building as kindergarten, Barry?

Barry Murphy: There's so many. I mean, the first thing that comes to mind is just that they are exposed to the kindergarten teachers. They see them every day. We say their names. We make sure that they are on their hallway often, so that it's not such a culture shock coming from pre-K, being with us all day. The pre-K teachers, we're with them from the time they walk in to the time they leave. There's no breaks from us. And so in kindergarten, to have all these different kindergarten teachers, and it's just a different day. So being in the same building, them seeing the teachers, them knowing their faces and knowing that we're friends, I always say, "Oh, here's my friend, Miss Hardegree." So it just creates this kind of like family environment where they're not so nervous when it's time to go to kindergarten.

Ashley Mengwasser: But do they know she's a former ballet dancer?

Barry Murphy: I mean, I'm going to leave that for her to answer.

Ashley Mengwasser: I was going to say, a missed opportunity otherwise.

Cynthia Hardegree: I mean, sometimes you might catch me in the cafeteria dancing to Nutcracker. It's happened before. It'll happen again.

Ashley Mengwasser: I want to be there for that. What benefits have you seen, Cynthia?

Cynthia Hardegree: I would say getting to see potential future students and start to build those relationships that matter so much with our kids. And then also getting to talk to Barry about what she's noticing in her classroom and what we're seeing in kindergarten and how we can close gaps if we need to. Or if we know that we have this student last year that struggled with something, we have someone to turn to say, "Hey, what did you do to help this student? And what can I do to help them now?" So us being able to work together is the biggest benefit.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's a mutual resource.

Cynthia Hardegree: Yes.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, I need to understand what your teaching looks like. So Barry, tell us about Georgia's pre-K program in general to start.

Barry Murphy: Okay. So Georgia's pre-K, we're under Bright from the Start. So we are kind of like on a different island from the rest of the school. Although we are in the building, we definitely have our own set of GELDS, which is Georgia Early Learning Development Standards that we assess the kids on. We try to cover all this, do the GELDS every day. But we are truly trying to get them ready for kindergarten. But our program is really focused on the whole child. So all the domains and all the things that we want them to go into kindergarten ready for, we're preparing them.

Ashley Mengwasser: You're preparing them for that.

Barry Murphy: Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Are there differences in your experience between private programs that happen in centers or churches versus the public school program approach?

Barry Murphy: I think there are really some big differences. So I taught public school for a long time, and then I went into the private sector at a church and taught pre-K there. I'm so proud of Right from the Start and our Georgia pre-K program, because we really protect that age and making sure that all their needs are being met, academically, socially, emotionally, all of those things we're trying to get them ready for.

Ashley Mengwasser: So in your experience, the accountability is the difference.

Barry Murphy: I think so. And then also a huge one is being in the same building as kindergarten. I really think it's so beneficial. And not all Georgia pre-Ks are in public school, or in a building with K through five. So the fact that we have that at our school and in DeKalb is really huge. I think it's super beneficial. And all the pre-K programs, whether they're in a private, what am I trying to say?

Ashley Mengwasser: A center.

Barry Murphy: Yeah, a center. That's it. Thank you, Ashley. They're doing the same things I'm doing at the center. Because that's another really great thing about Bright from the Start is that each pre-K class, no matter where it is, we look very much alike because we all are being held to the same teaching standards, and we get so much great professional development through Georgia Bright from the Start and Georgia pre-K. So we're all being taught the same things. And like I said, it's just a great program.

Ashley Mengwasser: You speak very highly of it. I know I personally actually ... what am I talking about? I don't know. I had to call my mom yesterday and ask her if I ever went to pre-K. She was really offended. Like, "Do you not remember any of your childhood?" I've somehow repressed all of it. But she said I went to a church pre-K. And I was like, "I really don't remember it." She said, "Probably because you were just having a good time." And at that age, that's really what you want learning to be, regardless of where it is.

Barry Murphy: Huge. Yes. Yeah. I'm so glad that you said that.

Ashley Mengwasser: That makes perfect sense. Well, how is the typical pre-K day structured? I want to hear that just briefly from you Barry, and then I want to hear what Cynthia's kindergarten day looks like. So tell us, Barry, how's your pre-K day go?

Barry Murphy: Well, I feel like it's pretty rigorous. It's fast. It goes by super quick. So they come in, they journal, we go to breakfast together. We eat together every day. Sometimes that looks different. It was in the classroom for a little while. Now we're back in the cafeteria. But little things that you don't think are a big deal are huge. Some of them don't know how to hold a fork.

Ashley Mengwasser: Wow.

Barry Murphy: They've never had to sit at a table and have food with other people. It's crazy.

Ashley Mengwasser: Like family style. Yeah.

Barry Murphy: Yeah. So we eat together. Then we go back to this classroom, we have morning meeting, and then we move into small groups, phonemic awareness, math. We don't have specials like music. I mean, we have that at my school, but Georgia pre-K, they don't switch from their pre-K teachers. So they're with us literally from the time they walk in until the time they leave. It's a long day.

Ashley Mengwasser: They get you all day, Barry. They are so lucky.

Barry Murphy: And then we do the rest time, the nap, which is huge because they all fall asleep.

Ashley Mengwasser: I miss naps.

Barry Murphy: Yeah. And that's our time to go online and enter our WSO and do the things that we have to do as a pre-K teacher to maintain the standard, the GELDS and all that. So that's when we do that. And then we have some more small groups, and then of course music and movement is sprinkled all throughout the day through all of that. And oh, an hour of center time, which is huge in pre-K because that is their time to explore and create, and they get to pick where they want to go. So they have the ownership of, "I want to go here and do this." And that time, all throughout that time, we're questioning them and asking, trying to get them to go further.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's like a rotation of activities? Is that what center time is?

Barry Murphy: Totally. And it's like what kindergarten was 20 years ago when I first started teaching. We're doing that now in pre-K. So they have that time to just explore and be with their friends and play and interact, and they get to use their hands, which is so huge in pre-K. They need to be using their hands all day.

Ashley Mengwasser: All that tactile learning the. Cynthia, tell us about your kindergarten regime.

Cynthia Hardegree: Yes. So kindergarten, we start the day running. They come in, they have learned how to be independent from Barry, so they're unpacking their things. They might go get breakfast and eat that. And then they might be working on a tablet or an activity or a center. It kind of changes. Whatever they need is what we're working on. And then currently this year they get to head to Connections. So my students might go to music, art, the STEM lab, which they love, PE. And then they come back in and we do a math workshop. So what Barry introduces them to with centers, we build upon that in kindergarten, and they do different activities and rotations on standards. And then they have lunch, family style, similar to Barry's kids. And then they have recess that they get to play and build relationships with one another.

Cynthia Hardegree: We come back in. We might do social studies lessons on geography or multiculturalism or a variety of GSC standards. And then we might also have a science lesson, currently learning about living and non-living things. And then we go into our reading ELA workshop, and we spend most of our afternoon working on reading centers, phonemic awareness, phonological skills, writing workshop, where they're creating books for the first time, which they love. And then we end the day with a read aloud and sharing with each other. So rigorous, like Barry said, very academic focused, but we try to have fun throughout it.

Ashley Mengwasser: You're building on that foundation that she's laid in pre-K. You said studying living and non-living things?

Cynthia Hardegree: That is correct.

Ashley Mengwasser: Ghosts came to my mind. I don't think that's what you meant by that.

Cynthia Hardegree: Yeah. With the Halloween theme coming up, that might come up in conversation.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay. I didn't know if that was a legitimate thing in classrooms.

Cynthia Hardegree: I would accept it.

Ashley Mengwasser: Okay, good.

Cynthia Hardegree: If you could support your answer.

Ashley Mengwasser: I probably could find a way. I am a media person after all. Are there key differences, though, in your day? Who wants to take this one?

Cynthia Hardegree: I'll say the biggest one for me, and I think what can sometimes be the most shocking for the kids is no nap time in kindergarten. We try to incorporate moments of mindfulness throughout our day, but we don't have that designated nap time.

Ashley Mengwasser: That you have in pre-K. What's your take, Barry? Key differences?

Barry Murphy: I agree with Cynthia, and I also think the center times is huge because I've heard my babies go from me to Cynthia to kindergarten and they're like, "We don't have centers anymore." But they do, they just don't know it. 

Ashley Mengwasser: It's repackaged.

Barry Murphy: Yeah. It's different. But they're still getting all that great hands on learning, exploring, all the things they do in centers. It's just different. And it's like Cynthia said, it's sprinkled throughout their day in kindergarten. But I don't know. I think with pre-K too, there's a lot more flexibility and there's within the classroom, like where they can move and where they can go. And I feel like the older you get, there's more you stay at your seat.

Cynthia Hardegree: Structure.

Barry Murphy: Yeah. So that's a little different too.

Ashley Mengwasser: I've heard of "Ready? Okay." Because I'm a former cheerleader. But I'm new to Ready4K. Okay. This is a new concept. What does it mean to be Ready4K from a teacher perspective? I'm sure having good spirit still plays a part but what is Ready4K?

Barry Murphy: Always.

Ashley Mengwasser: Always. You want?

Barry Murphy: Yeah. I feel like with pre-K, my main objective, sending them to Cynthia, sending them to kindergarten is making sure that there is mastery in all those GELDS, is making sure that each domain I've covered, and we've covered it really well. And that when I look at the student going into kindergarten, I know for each objective or however you want to look at it, GELDS objective, they have mastery. They know what to do. They're not afraid to make mistakes. That's a big one. We learn through making mistakes. And so, so much of being young and learning is, "I don't know. I don't want to be wrong. I don't."

Barry Murphy: So in pre-K we really try to say, "No, there's no wrong answer. Just say what you think, say how you feel." And so really fostering that environment that they're able to say what they want, and there's not going to be a wrong answer, and that they feel comfortable, so that when they go to Cynthia and she's ready to hit the ground running, like she said earlier, they're comfortable. They're like, "Okay, I've done this before. I know I can raise my hand or I can answer the question and it's not scary."

Ashley Mengwasser: What's Ready4K mean to you, Cynthia?

Cynthia Hardegree: Well, Barry does a fantastic job getting our kids ready for kindergarten. And I'm lucky to have some of her kids throughout the years. So first off, that's fantastic. And what she really hopes our kids do to be ready is exposure with vocabulary, also exposure with letters and numbers. Not knowing all of them is okay, but just recognizing, "Oh yeah, that is a number, or that is a letter" and having interactions with those things. And then also increasing their independence, making sure they're independently able to take off their coat when they come in, or they can follow a one or two step direction independently. That makes such a difference because then they're ready. They're ready to get all the knowledge that they need.

Ashley Mengwasser: They're Ready4K.

Cynthia Hardegree: They're Ready4K.

Barry Murphy: And actually all the things that Cynthia just mentioned, those are the GELDS. Those are the things that we're trying to prepare them for. So it's awesome to hear her say the exact same things that we're trying to do.

Ashley Mengwasser: Your perspective is so valuable. Now, I'm thinking about the kids, though. We know that the leap to K can be trepidatious for kids, their parents alike. What are some of the biggest challenges that kids face when they enter kindergarten? Cynthia, do you want to take this one first?

Cynthia Hardegree: Sure. I would say if they are overwhelmed at first, if they haven't been in a pre-K program, that's kind of a shocking experience to walk into a room of 20 other people, and they're looking at you and talking to you and with you. And so sometimes I see that first it's that overwhelming feeling and I would say how we manage those emotions. So that could be the biggest thing is, "Okay, I'm feeling this way. What can I do to express this feeling in an appropriate way, and how can I help myself begin to feel better?" would be a big thing.

Ashley Mengwasser: What do you see, Barry? Challenges that the kids face?

Barry Murphy: I think it's just getting used to being in a routine and sticking to an order of the day. That their schedule is huge, and once they get used to it, I think they really thrive because they know what to expect, what's coming next. But getting them used to that, right? Like, "Okay, so this is what we do now. And these are the expectations I have for you to get things done." It's as simple as lining up. Some things like that are just, you think it's so ... "Okay, everyone, line up." Oh, no.

Ashley Mengwasser: Really?

Cynthia Hardegree: No.

Ashley Mengwasser: Describe the melee.

Barry Murphy: Herding cats. That is what it is. I mean, just different. We try to spice it up. We try to make it fun. But "If you're wearing red, please go in. If you're wearing ..." Is that what you're saying?

Ashley Mengwasser: Oh, I like that.

Barry Murphy: Yeah. Just so that it's not like a herd of cats lining up.

Cynthia Hardegree: And that's super awesome because they're learning colors, they're learning numbers at the same time.

Barry Murphy: Active listening.

Cynthia Hardegree: Active listening. So it all builds upon each other.

Barry Murphy: And I also think waiting, patience is really hard. It's really hard for this age.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's so hard for adults too.

Barry Murphy: Oh, thank you. I know. And so creating that right now is, "You have to wait." There are processes we have to go through to get to the end product. Or even where we want to go, there are things we have to do in a certain order to get to that place. And so that's really hard for them. And so just every day, it's just the repetition, the repetition, the repetition, and redirecting, not so much if they're not doing the right thing but "Look at so and so who is," so they know what, "Oh, that's what she's expecting right now."

Ashley Mengwasser: Modeling.

Barry Murphy: Yeah. And positive reinforcement. That's huge. "Oh, I love the way." And so that they know that "I want to hear that about myself." So yeah. All that takes a lot. Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, this is true for adults and for students as well. But I know when you have something to look forward to, something to be really excited about, it's easier to keep moving ahead, right?

Barry Murphy: True.

Cynthia Hardegree: 100%.

Ashley Mengwasser: 100%. I'm thinking of things I'm looking forward to right now. Fun weekend. We're about a year and a half into this super fun pandemic that we've been going through. And there's been a lot of discourse about the impact on little learners, specifically the really younger ones, maybe having an even more adverse impact on them in terms of virtual learning than older learners. What have you seen and how are you addressing that?

Barry Murphy: I really, this year in the fall, the first couple weeks of school, struggled. It was like nothing I've ever experienced in 20 years teaching. They came to me so emotional, like half of them crying all day long, I'm not even exaggerating. You saw it. You're my witness. And a part of my heart broke for them because it was a realization that they have been with their families or caretakers for their whole ... they've never known different than not being with their family and being in their house all day, every day. So to come into this huge building with all these people and all these kids and all these colors and all these stimulating things that they're not used to, it was totally overwhelming. And I would go home and cry every day too because it was just so-

Ashley Mengwasser: In solidarity, of course.

Barry Murphy: Of course. When I walked out of the room. No, I'm just kidding. It was very apparent and aware. I was very aware of, "Whoa, this is way different than it's ever been." And the great thing is by now, we're three months in, what is it? And so they're fine. They're fine.

Ashley Mengwasser: That's great.

Barry Murphy: Yeah. But there are also some things that I've never experienced before too. Like I realized almost all of them have never held a crayon, a pencil, a marker. It was just astonishing. They all had a horrible grip on whatever they were holding. Whereas usually I would think a two year old, three year old, that's where I was starting as far as fine motor and also emotionally, right? Because they were just so, "I want mommy, I want mommy" all day. So the big things were things in their hand, they were completely not used to. And even, "Let's go play this game or explore these manipulatives," they would just stand there. They have never been given free reign over manipulatives or things that they're not used to. And I would, "No, come play." All of that was just completely foreign to them.

Ashley Mengwasser: What was your experience, Cynthia, getting virtual learners back in your kindergarten classroom?

Cynthia Hardegree: So it's kind of a different situation I think because a lot of my students were at home, but a lot of my kids were getting a lot of one-on-one attention, more so than they'd had in previous years, due to the pandemic. They were home with mom and dad all day. So I'm seeing a lot more fine motor skills that are further developed than I'm used to because mom and dad were there to see it. But at the same time, that all also resulted in a lot of crying and sadness being away from their parents. So I experienced a lot of that emotional development. They hadn't really been around people that weren't their family before. "How do you talk to a friend?" was a big conversation we have. "How do you say hello to each other?"

Cynthia Hardegree: And you could tell at first they were unsure of, "Who is this other person, and what am I supposed to say to them?" And now we're at a point that they're working in their centers together. They're excited. I would say that's the other thing, a positive thing is they're excited about school. They're excited to be with each other and learn because they live with this knowledge that that wasn't always the case for other kids. So they kind of, I think, almost appreciate it in a way and love being at school. So there's definitely some downsides to what has happened. But I think it's kind of regrouped some of our kids to be like, "School is awesome. I want to be here. This is important."

Ashley Mengwasser: And they're flourishing again.

Cynthia Hardegree: Oh yes. 100%. My kids have made so much growth in these past three months. I would say this might be one of the hardest years, but one of the most rewarding.

Barry Murphy: I agree.

Ashley Mengwasser: You do such great work with them, Barry, in pre-K all year long. And then guess what comes in the middle of the calendar year? Summertime. Summer fun. Had me a blast. I bet they do too. And that might be a concern for learning loss. So how do you deal with that? Is there any fear about learning what the knowledge they've gained during the year with you?

Barry Murphy: Definitely. I think when they leave me, one of the main things I try to do with parents especially is, "Okay, so we've worked really hard all year and we've come so far. So please, over the summer, keep them engaged, keep them active, keep a schedule if you can. That's really huge. Let's not stay up till midnight. Let's try to keep a great sleep pattern." But asking questions. I send a few things out right before summer to try to give them ideas about things to do. I know not everyone has the money or whatever to go different places. But it's so simple as just when you're driving down the street, asking them questions, "What do you see? What colors?" Playing games like Cynthia was saying earlier. You can play so many games in the car driving that keep them engaged and keep them thinking.
That's the main thing. Just keep them thinking, and asking them what they think about things, so that they really stay in that practice of expressing themself and they don't clam back up or feel like everything that we've talked about all year long is just now stopped. They're going to keep engaging and keep learning and keep expressing themself. And also, I think too, if parents will take some accountability in that they can do the same things we were doing in the classroom, just they're going to do it at home over the summer, I think that's huge. And it really helps it. There is a huge loss over the summer. So it would really help if everybody did their part.

Ashley Mengwasser: Cynthia, when you receive the little learners back into your classroom for kindergarten, how do you address summer learning loss?

Cynthia Hardegree: So the first thing we do as a school is we've came together and created a bridging program almost. So a couple weeks before the school year starts, we invite some of our pre-K students that have signed up to come to their camp. And we essentially get them used to that schedule and how we do math centers and reading centers and calendar together. And it reminds them, "Oh yeah, this is how we walk in a line. This is how we raise our hand." And it sets them up for the first day of school. They're like, "Oh, I know how to do this. I've got it."

Cynthia Hardegree: And that really benefits a lot of our learners, which is something special we get to do because we have a pre-K in our building. We know these kids and we can also help those specific students and say, "Hey, we really think you should come to this" that we're more worried about. We provide that opportunity for these families at no cost, which is really important. And then when they come into the classroom, we do spend the first six weeks reteaching a lot of those GELDS that Barry has talked about. We are focusing more on that whole child development and we reassess them on those things to make sure they're ready for kindergarten.

Ashley Mengwasser: What are some strategies you both use to keep excitement for learning high and to keep your kids motivated?

Barry Murphy: So in pre-K I think I just try to make it fun.

Ashley Mengwasser: Make it fun.

Barry Murphy: I mean, I've sat in so many professional developments where it was not fun and I really did not have huge takeaways. So in everything that I plan, when I'm planning, "How can I make this more fun?" When we're in the classroom and I'm actually acting out what I've planned, "How can I make this more fun?" Because they learn best when they're playing and having fun. And when you're laughing and everybody's engaged, that's a lot of learning going on.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's irresistible.

Barry Murphy: Yeah. So planning, I mean, having fun. I also think too, establishing really cool creative things just for your class. It creates this family environment where there's certain things that only your class does. Like we sing the Friday song on Friday.

Ashley Mengwasser: What's the Friday song?

Barry Murphy: Oh, my God. You want me to sing it?

Ashley Mengwasser: I would love it if you would sing it. 

Barry Murphy: Oh, yeah. Give me a beat.

Ashley Mengwasser: Here we go. I don't know if it's the right beat.

Barry Murphy: It's Friday, it's Friday. It's the end of the week and the last day. Hey, Ashley, it's on you. What are you going to do? And then you tell me, "I'm going to go to Disney World" or whatever you're going to do.

Ashley Mengwasser: And then it goes on and on?

Barry Murphy: And then I go to the next child. But they love it, first of all. And I've heard from parents, this is what I'm talking about, creating that one thing that, "Oh, in Miss Hardegree's class or Miss Murphy's class." They're like, "We still sing the Friday song in the morning on Friday."

Ashley Mengwasser: Do they?

Barry Murphy: And they're in fourth grade. I'm like, "Fourth grade?" Yeah. So I'm like, that's a cool little.

Ashley Mengwasser: Look at you. You need a record deal.

Barry Murphy: I don't know about that. I'm not a singer, but I do sing a lot all day.

Ashley Mengwasser: Any other strategies you employ with your pre-K-ers?

Barry Murphy: I think when walk into my class, it's a lot of, "Hi, Ashley. Great to see you. What did you do?" It's a lot of conversation and a lot of asking questions.

Ashley Mengwasser: Engagement.

Barry Murphy: Yeah. Because I want them to walk in and know, "Oh, she really cares about me and wants to know what I did." "And then what did you do?" And they're just like, "Oh, okay, well then I." So a lot of conversations. I am really big with my parents. Communication, yes, always, but I send 10 pictures every day through Dojo. And I feel like that holds me accountable because I know the parents are seeing what we're doing in the classroom, so I better make it good and I better make it exciting. And then it's great conversation at home that night. The parents have seen the pictures of, like yesterday we carved a pumpkin. So then I know the parents can ask, "I saw you carved a pumpkin today. Let's talk about it." So really showing them, not just saying, "Hey, next week we're going to be talking about this," but showing them the pictures every day on Dojo, I think, is a really big one too for me, for my class.

Ashley Mengwasser: I bet the parents love that too.

Barry Murphy: Oh, they eat it up. They love it. And I also feel like it gets the parents more involved because they have an eye in the classroom now and they know, "Oh, they're really doing cool stuff. I want to send something for that." So it's really cool in that way too.

Ashley Mengwasser: And I'm sure as a kid, you feel like your parent isn't missing out on your learning experience because they're tuned in.

Barry Murphy: And I'm a parent too. I have three. And I eat that up. When my kid's teacher posts a picture, I'm looking for him, and I'm like, "Is he paying attention?" Or whatever.

Ashley Mengwasser: I used to feel that way about, I don't have kids, but about my dog at daycare, I felt the same way. I felt so invested just to see what she was doing.

Barry Murphy: It's huge. Yeah.

Ashley Mengwasser: It's big. Good metrics. Good ways to judge. Okay. What do you have for us, Cynthia? What are your strategies?

Cynthia Hardegree: Well, I totally am on board with having fun. I think that's so important as they transition into kindergarten. They're still kids. They're still little. So we still want to make everything fun. If I can turn anything into a game or even just calling it a game, that seems to get them super hyped up and they're all wanting to participate.

Ashley Mengwasser: Who doesn't want to play a game?

Cynthia Hardegree: Exactly. And then I say when I'm planning, I always think, "Make it hands on and keep it simple." Those are my two big things because we do have a lot to cover in kindergarten. They have so much to learn, which is so fantastic, but we don't want them to get overwhelmed, and we want to make sure they understand it. So I really try to break things down into digestible chunks for them. And then whenever I get the chance, I love to ask them or I tell them, "I have a challenge for you." Because in kindergarten, just like in pre-K, challenges are scary, and they don't want to do things at first. But then they have to respond back, "Challenge accepted," and then everybody cheers.

Ashley Mengwasser: I love it.

Cynthia Hardegree: And we all work together. So there's no longer that fear of being wrong because you accepted the challenge. I wish it was my idea, but I heard it at a fantastic PD a long time ago, and it just works really well with my young kids and just telling them, "Hey, can you help me? Can you show me?"

Ashley Mengwasser: Kids love to do that.

Cynthia Hardegree: "Show me how to do this." That's something I always say because I want them to show and explain, get them to talk more about their thinking. She allows them to talk about their life and express themselves. And so we try in kindergarten to say, "Okay, well, can you explain to me how you know that two and two more is four? Or why is this a living thing? Can you show me how you know this?" So those are my strategies.

Ashley Mengwasser: All these ideas are game changers. Thank you so much, Barry Murphy, Cynthia Hardegree.

Cynthia Hardegree: You're welcome.

Ashley Mengwasser: Well, spread the word to teachers because there's a lot more goodness where this came from. Thank you for listening to Classroom Conversations, the platform for Georgia's teachers. Let's conclude with our weekly dose of affirmation. You're a great teacher. Goodbye for now.