In February early childhood educator Kailyn Angella and principal Jennifer Le Varge organized Global Play Day at Seoul campus, a full day of play. Participating schools from around the world took a step back from traditional classroom instruction, workshops, and screen time to invite students to play in new ways. Students enjoyed an unstructured day that gave way to engaged play and conversations between friends while developing students’ agency, communication and cooperation. For Kailyn and her fellow early childhood colleague Kate Van Oosten, Global Play Day was an extension of their own classroom philosophy – both appreciate the value of play in their daily classrooms, often collaborating to help their pre-kindergarten and junior kindergarten learners grow.
Kailyn arrived to KIS Seoul Campus after a year solo backpacking South America and Asia. Before that she taught special education preschool in Washington state, working with three, four, and five year olds. As a special education teacher with a small group of learners, Kailyn developed a rich, personal relationship with the families, helping each to begin their child’s schooling with support. Kailyn began to consider what more she could do in her classroom. She earned her masters degree and continues to research best practices. After three years in Washington Kailyn decided to explore the world before returning to the classroom. “Patagonia,” Kailyn says, “Was jaw dropping. It was like Morgan Freeman was narrating. I was backpacking and camping in Torres del Paine for five days in December when it should have been summer, but it was a white out blizzard.” While backpacking, Kailyn carried everything she needed one place to the next, and met people traveling from around the world.
If babysitting was Kailyn’s first draw to working in an ECE classroom, perhaps her backpacking experience determined her next professional step. This is Kailyn’s fourth year at KIS. She loves the sense of community at Seoul campus, and the autonomy to create an early years program pulling from her previous Head Start and special education experience and emphasizing play as learning, following Reggio Emilia approach. Kailyn also incorporates yoga movement and breathing in her students’ daily routines to encourage mindfulness. Both Kailyn and Kate are proud of their shared work too – because there is a range of learners in their classrooms, students often move between rooms. And Kate adds that working with Kailyn sharpens her own educational perspective.
This is Kate’s second year at KIS, arriving after fourteen years at Singapore American School and a few years in New Zealand launching an upper years PYP program. Kate’s first pre-kindergarten class at KIS was two students, with two more students arriving a month later. “We had time to sit and talk, really build the language. We had so much fun,” Kate says of that first semester. And she continues to have so much fun! Her small class size allows Kate to worry less about behavior management and pour more into building classroom relationships – she has students from Korea, Saudi Arabia, India and North America. “I was fascinated by the Reggio approach. The indoor and outdoor flow of a classroom,” Kate says, “I hadn’t taught in that way before.”
Both Kate and Kailyn learn alongside their learners, modeling the process for their young learners. Together Kate and Kailyn have chosen standards to complement their play based classrooms, to better report progress to parents. Neither educator wants to become complacent. Both continue to research best practices, attending conferences on inquiry learning, readers and writers workshop, and the growth mindset. All of this knowledge shows up in Kate and Kailyn’s teaching, a great supplement to what each understands matters most to their students. “You can be authentic with me,” Kate says. She and Kailyn are empathetic and responsive educators positively shaping Seoul campus’s youngest learners’ ideas about school.
Interview and post by Sarah Marslender. Photos from Kate Van Oosten and Kailyn Angella. Learn more about Global Play Day, Reggio Emilia, and Kath Murdoch’s perspective on inquiry learning! Both Kate and Kailyn are leaving KIS at the end of the school year: Kate will teach at the International School of Bangkok and Kailyn is moving with her husband to Rome. We wish them well!