After a three-year hibernation due to the Covid-19 pandemic, New Beginnings Family Academy’s (NBFA) comfort bears have reemerged. Comfort bears are being distributed to all new and returning students to help children transition to school, process their feelings, display more empathy towards others and even learn to read.
The bear curriculum, which was developed by Bank Street College’s Office of Emotionally Responsive Practice Director Lesley Koplow, allows students to connect with their feelings which can help improve social, emotional and academic skills. While bears can help all children, they can be critical for students dealing with high emotions by giving them a tangible resource to process big feelings so that they can access their learning.
An NBFA kindergarten student hugs his teddy bear upon meeting him in the classroom.
Since 2015, NBFA has used the bear curriculum as a part of its Emotionally Responsive Practice (ERP) model, which is a relationship-based approach grounded in a deep understanding of child development and acknowledgment of the role that students’ life experiences play in their ability to learn. NBFA teachers and staff receive professional development in ERP from Bank Street College of Education, nationally recognized leaders in progressive education.
“We are excited about the return of the bears, which have served children of all ages well over the years,” said NBFA Director & CEO Ronelle Swagerty. “The bears give children voice, build their confidence and encourage them to be kind to others. They also serve as a powerful tool for teachers, who use them creatively to reach students.”
NBFA teachers and staff take part in a school-wide book club to read Lesley Koplow's Bears Bears Everywhere.
Before the bears are distributed each year, NBFA teachers engage in “story-gathering” with families to build strong relationships with the parents and child/ren. This relationship between parents, teacher and student is a key part of the ERP model. Teachers also participate in a school-wide book club to read Koplow’s Bears Bears Everywhere to learn how to best introduce and utilize bears in the classroom.
Once the bears are distributed in each classroom, students will give their bears a name and dress them. This allows the students to bond with the bears and make them uniquely their own. Throughout the school day, students are given the opportunity to interact with their bears in a multitude of ways. For example, after a fire drill, a primary grade teacher may invite students to hold their bears during a discussion on how they and others might have felt when the loud alarm went off. In this case, the bear serves as a comfort tool for students.
NBFA Pre-K students dressing their teddy bears.
The bears also serve the school’s literacy efforts. Younger students may practice reading to their bears while older students may use them as writing prompts or aides to generate topic ideas.
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