Taking On This Four-Letter Word One More Time!

Play. It’s a four-letter word that continues to have a negative connotation, or so it seems. I’m not talking here about teacher-directed play, or contrived play scenarios. I’m talking about free play. Truly free. Letting children do what they love to do, and watching them, talking with them, and trying — when appropriate — to extend this play or make links to other expectations. In Ontario, we have a Kindergarten Program Document, and it’s one that I absolutely love, for play is at the forefront of it. The second sentence on the first page of text makes it clear that this document is about more than expectations, but also pedagogical approaches.And yet, as clear as this message is, as wonderful as it is, and as amazing as this program can be, I find that there are so many of us out there that find the need to justify the value and importance of play. This truly makes me sad, for I wonder what impact these pedagogical approaches would have on ALL learners: not just the ones in Kindergarten

Yesterday afternoon, I read this wonderful blog post by Janet Raymond: a fellow Kindergarten educator and one of the terrific people who teaches next door to us. I love Janet’s focus on “building brains,” and the value in open-ended tasks that are beyond just memorized learning. Please don’t get me wrong: I believe in the importance of teaching children how to read, and supporting them in developing their academic skills. I also think that when we teach these skills in context, their ability to remember them and apply them in other situations, increases. The Kindergarten Program Document actually discusses the importance of this contextual learning, and I observe the value of this every single day in the classroom. 

So how can we combine this risk-taking, problem solving, whole body movement, and academic expectations? I can’t help but think back to this example from Friday. While I published this post on our class blog, I’m also going to share it here, for I think that it helps outline how problem solving and gross motor play can also connect with reading, writing, math, and meaningful mini-lessons happening ANYWHERE.

The Bug Graveyard

(Note that the comment that’s in this video happened after the initial comment that I wrote in the PicCollage. I asked Evan to explain it to me again, and his word choice changed slightly.)

Next Steps??

This whole experience is such a wonderful example of empathy. I wonder how we can get these children to inspire others — even in different grades — to be just as empathetic.

From a literacy viewpoint, I see the possibility for more mini-lessons on vowel sounds and comparing different vowels (in both reading and writing). In terms of math, we can look at how to form different numerals, and provide even more number printing opportunities in meaningful contexts.

Making these links isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t always look the same for each child. But when we teach skills in context, students don’t just learn the rote knowledge, but they understand the importance of these skills and can apply them in different situations. I think of this fantastic conversation that happened a few days earlier as the students made their initial bug graveyard. They had another sign on this graveyard, but then they had to engage in a lot of problem solving to determine where and how to affix the sign. During this discussion, you can hear the concern over other people not being able to “read the words.”

A day later, and in a different situation, reading is what inspired this same student to create pictures to go with the words.Our classroom program is just about as play-based as you can get. We spend our day playing outside and inside, and we only meet for a short period of time as a class. That said, we don’t expect that our students learn by osmosis, and we do support learning, but without sacrificing play. In the end, I hope that our children will leave Kindergarten with strong problem solving skills, independence, a willingness to take risks, some “major grit” (as this previous student shared with us last year), as well as the foundational skills in language and math. I keep reminding myself that for academics to continue to flourish, students also need these other equally important skills: problem solving, independence, risk-taking, and perseverance.

Real learning happens in Kindergarten, and play is an important part of this real learning. This is not my first time blogging about play, and I’m sure that it won’t be my last, for I think that it’s a conversation that needs to continue. When we share concerns about play, do we do so because of our fear of students not learning enough or our own discomfort on what this learning could look like in the classroom and/or how to support this learning in unconventional ways? Sometimes it’s good to be uncomfortable. What do you think?


New Learning For A New Year!

Earlier this week, one of my favourite bloggers, who also happens to be a principal with our Board, wrote a new post on her blog. Kristi shared an experience at a recent administrator’s meeting, and how this experience has led to some new, exciting September learning for her. She encouraged us to reflect and share about our new September learning, and as I mentioned in my comment, I said that I would do so this weekend. This post is my promise. 

I always find September to be full of a lot of new learning, and even just new thinking about old learning. While I had a couple of different ideas to blog about, it was actually a passing comment (or, more accurately, a question) from my teaching partner, Paula, earlier in the week that helped me decide. At the end of the school day, the two of us always reflect on our day and discuss changes/additions to consider for the next day. One thing that I mentioned is that we have a few students that like to do one of two things:

  • wander around the room.
  • flop down on the floor.

While we tried to add some “reading road blocks” to help with this flopping and contain the wandering, some children continue to do both. 

I said to Paula that these two things were driving me crazy, and we needed to figure out a way to change things around for these children. That’s when she asked me the question: do these things really matter? Well, of course they do, or they should … right?! And yet, the more that I think about this, the more that I wonder, could I be wrong? Do I need to reconsider why they matter so much? This second question led me to consider two different answers.

  • I don’t want children to get hurt.
  • Do “wandering” and “flopping” equate in my mind with disengagement, and is that what I’m trying to fix?

Over the course of the week, Paula and I chatted more about these possible problems. We found that the flopping happened the most on the pillows, and while having the books and pillows there helped stop running, it didn’t help stop flopping. So as pretty as the pillows look, we put them away and replaced them with two small chairs. The chairs also help prevent the running, and the children are regularly stopping here to sit and read. Success!

We also felt that some flopping (and rolling) happened in the block area, but particularly when the students used the Lego in this floor space. We decided to create two small Lego tables over by the eating table. While children will still take the Lego over to use in conjunction with the blocks, more students are sitting and standing over at these tables instead of flopping on the floor. More success!

Having tackled the safety concerns, it’s the disengagement piece that’s continued to have me thinking. Are students that wander disengaged? Why else might they wander? I was brought back to these two big questions when at school yesterday. As I was observing children during the day, I noticed one of the students that tends to wander. I saw how he often sticks close to an adult when he is not wandering. I was going to ask the child to pick an area to play, when I thought of another idea. We sat down together and wrote this list.

A good reminder and a little learning for me today … #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry

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For him, maybe wandering wasn’t about being disengaged, but being inundated with possibilities. He still has lots of options on this list — and on the outdoor play one that he wanted to write — but now he can access them independently and make his own decisions. Will this idea work for everyone? Even if it does — or a similar option with visuals does — I’m wondering if it’s always necessary. 

  • When do we decide to co-create plans?
  • When do we just let children take the additional time they need to make their own? 
  • Is wandering always a problem for the child or just a problem for us?

My September learning isn’t over yet, but this deeper exploration, thinking, and reflecting on wandering will definitely continue to be a large part of it. I try to see learning through children’s eyes, but my initial response to the wandering and flopping made me realize that I was thinking about my own uncomfortable feelings first. Thanks to Paula for my necessary reframe, and to Kristi, for pushing me to think more about this September learning. What’s yours? What insights can you add to my thinking about wandering? Here’s to an exciting new school year with lots of new learning ahead!


Is Boredom A Good Thing?

It was a recent conversation with my teaching partner, Paula, that inspired this post. She has helped me reframe “boredom.” Let me explain.

For years, one comment from parents that I always found hard to hear was, “My child’s bored.” As an educator, I prided myself on creating engaging lessons and follow-up activities. I always included lots of choice and was open to students creating their own options. How could somebody be bored? I think that I took the comment personally, and felt the need to speak up against this apparent “boredom.” But now I’m wondering if I went about this all wrong. What’s the learning value in being bored?

I’m not necessarily talking about all kinds of boredom here. I don’t want to create conditions where students are bored because the work is …

  • repetitive.
  • too easy.
  • or lacks any apparent value. 

This is not the kind of boredom that creates the conditions for learning, but I think there’s another kind of boredom that does.

I think about our outdoor learning time each day. Our time begins with two Kindergarten classes outside together, and then slowly leads to one class heading indoors while we stay outside for longer. During this long block of time, we usually begin with a selection of materials outside (from cars to hula hoops), and then when the first class goes inside, we put away many of these items. This makes it easier for clean-up, but I also think that this is when we get the more creative, deeper learning. It’s when less is outside that students have to work through a little “boredom.” 

I even think about when Paula takes some interested students out to the field to give them more space to run around and explore. She often brings with her a ball and sidewalk chalk. It’s the lack of materials that get students to slow down, explore nature more, use items in creative ways, and engage in more meaningful conversations with peers. I can’t help but look at our outdoor learning time from this morning. Below is a collection of photographs and videos that highlight the amazing creativity, thinking, and collaboration that happened with a few less objects and a bit of productive boredom.

Math and #problemsolving in this boat construction today. #ctinquiry #teachersofinstagram #iteachk

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Loved this learning that happened outside this morning! #ctinquiry #teachersofinstagram #iteachk

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The interesting thing about this boredom is that even after only a week in school, students will rarely say that they’re “bored”: they’ve learned to get creative with what’s there. I can’t help but reflect back now on how I approached teaching and learning in the past, and the amount of micromanaging that I used to do. Did I truly believe in kids? Did I give them enough opportunities to get creative? When boredom happened, did I solve the problem for them, or allow them to work past the boredom? I think that the fear of “being bored” worried me so much that I never embraced it for the value that it has. My thinking is changing now though. Maybe we all need a bit of this good boredom. How do we create these opportunities for our kids? As adults and children, how do we become okay with being bored? Our Board’s tagline includes “creativity,” and I wonder how much more creativity we’d see if we put out less, sat back more, and let students turn “boredom” into “possibility.”


First Week Reflections … What Are Yours?

And just like that, the first week of school is finished. Except it really wasn’t a week long. In Ontario, we start school the day after Labour Day, and as a Kindergarten teacher, our first Tuesday back is actually a meeting day. Students and their families are invited into the classroom to meet with us for one hour visits throughout the day. Not only do they get to see the classroom and meet some peers, but we can also answer any questions that they may have and start building new relationships with the children. With all of this in mind, the first week ended up being three traditional teaching days, but what a wonderful three days they were. I can’t help but sit at the computer today and share many of my reflections — both new learning and good reminders — from the first week back. 

1) We cannot forget that the year is young: it’s only been a few days in the classroom. My teaching partner, Paula, and I came back to this point numerous times as we reflected at the end of each day. It’s easy to remember what the children were like at the end of last year, but what about back in September? For some students, this is the first time that they have ever left their parents for the day, and for others, this is the first time that they’ve done so in the past couple of months. Separation is hard … for adults and for children. So as much as we want to develop literacy and math skills and delve into the Program Document, this week was an important reminder for us that sometimes, just getting in the door, can be a major accomplishment. We also have to celebrate these moments!

2) Tears are not misbehaviour, but stress behaviour. Love is what matters most! As some of my blog readers know, I’ve had many evolving thoughts on cryingBut I think that watching my teaching partner over the past couple of years and considering what I’ve learned from Stuart Shanker, Susan Hopkins, and The MEHRIT Centre, have helped me respond to tears differently. I’ve been tested when it comes to tears over the past week though. Compared to some other school years, we’ve had a few more students that find the morning goodbyes challenging. For some children, the crying quickly stops, and for others, it takes longer. But each day gets a bit better, and often with some quiet words, a little time, and even a hug, the tears are replaced with smiles. 

3) Sometimes we need to get creative! The other morning, I was in the classroom when a parent dropped off her child for the Before Care Program. When I went to say, “hello,” the mom used that opportunity to quietly disappear to hopefully lead to a happier transition for her child. But when her son realized that his mom left, he started to cry. I walked with him into the classroom next door for Before Care, and quietly spoke to him with the hope of stopping the tears. When he said to me, “I never got to see my mom wave goodbye,” I said, “What if we emailed her and asked if she would send you a goodbye video?” He liked that plan, and while he was still a little upset, he recorded his own “goodbye video” for mom, which I emailed off to her. We then worked on drawing a mom picture together, as we waited for her video response. In a few minutes, mom emailed me a quick recording of a “goodbye,” and this was all it took. He watched as mom waved, “goodbye,” said, “Goodbye mom!,” and then went back to drawing before school started. He was all smiles for the rest of the day. Now we have a goodbye video that we can use if he’s upset again. This is not a solution that I would have considered before, but this child’s words, my iPad on the table, and the hope that a little creativity would help, worked. Will this solution work for every child? Maybe not … but hopefully there’s a different option that might!

4) Less is more … especially in September! Last year, we started off by really reducing the number of items that we had out on the shelf, and while we added some more things as the year progressed, we definitely embraced the “less is more” philosophy. This year, we reduced the items even more! Since we didn’t know all of the children yet, we decided to make a simple house for dramatic play. Instead of putting out plastic food or filling the house with loose parts, we started the year without any food. We were curious what the children would do. We’ve loved watching their problem solving in action! A few children have moved items from other locations to use as food (e.g., dominoes or jewels). Other children, found paper, and drew and cut out their own food items. As they started making food, one child thought that a restaurant might be fun, and turned dramatic play into her own restaurant. The restaurant creations have evolved over the past couple of days, and while we’ve supported some of the learning that we’ve noticed, we’ve let the children take ownership over this space. I kind of love how some children use it as a house, and then clean it up, for others to use as a restaurant. It’s like the classroom can be whatever the children want it to be! While you would think that you’d need more to be creative, a little less out can actually lead to more creativity.

5) It’s always worth considering “why” we’re making the decisions that we’re making. While I understand this point in theory, sometimes I need this reminder in practice. Let me explain! Here’s one example. On the first day of school, we put out some paint on our two-sided easel. All day long, the children painted pictures. Most of the pictures were just combinations of lines and dots. Some took up the whole page. Some only took up small sections of paper. There was not enough room on our huge drying rack to keep all of the pictures. By the end of the day, I questioned, Why exactly did we put out paint? What’s the value in it? That’s when I thought …

  • It’s calming for some children.
  • Many students express themselves through paint.
  • Artistic problem solving can start with mixing colours.
  • Learning to hold a paint brush, printing your name, and even switching paper are all good for developing fine motor skills. 
  • Lots of oral language, including storytelling, happens around the easel. 

So why did I want to stop it? 

    • Because we used additional paper. (Students could create a gallery with these first paintings though. I loved this suggestion that Paula made!)
    • Because it’s messy. (The children tidied up the mess.)

    • Because the paper has to be constantly switched. (The children did the switching.)
    • Because we ran out of paint at the easel. (An SK student offered to fill it up.)

It was Paula talking me through this question that made me realize that it was my own hangups that led me to wanting to make a change, and that if I kept my focus on kids, I’d see things differently (as I did in the brackets). 

6) Daily reflection time is important, and changes are worth making. Again, this is not new learning for me, but I was reminded about the importance this week. As I shared in this blog post, Paula and I did a lot of thinking about our room design and why we made the decisions that we made. At the end of the day on Wednesday though, we talked about how the children used the space, and Paula suggested a change to the eating table area and the dramatic play space. Both of these changes made a lot of sense, and we definitely saw the value in making them. We made other small changes throughout the week: even switching around a writing table space, and putting out paper around the table to invite more children to this space. Sometimes it’s just a small change that can make a big difference.

It was often through our conversations that we decided on these changes, and Paula’s great spatial sense helped with visualizing some changes that I likely would not have considered and couldn’t “see” on my own. This was a good reminder for me that while reflection is key, “social reflection” is just as important. A different pair of eyes, a different set of strengths, and a different perspective often help make the environment and the program even better! An educator team is ideal for this in Kindergarten, but I can’t help but wonder how educators can pair up in other grades to also make this possible. What have others tried? 

I’m now incredibly excited for next week, and interested in seeing how my reflections from this week will impact on what comes next. What might I also add to my reflections next week? Many of this week’s reflections make me think of my “one word” — perspective — and how different perspectives can impact on how we view the classroom, view learning, and view children. I would love to hear your “perspective.” Educators, administrators, parents, and students, what have you learned or been reminded of after the first week of school? How might your reflections impact on what comes next? 


I’m *Not* Sorry …

I’ve mentioned before, that I’m a “creature of habit,” and I am in many ways, including one way that has never made it to a blog post. Every day, after school, I work with my teaching partner to collect the documentation from the day, reflect on it, and share it through our class blog. Depending on the length of our discussions and the amount of documentation to upload, we don’t always manage to finish our nightly blog post before dinner. Dinner is what I use as my guide to determine “lateness.” Thanks to Aaron Puley, a few educator in our Board, we’ve started adding extension activities at the end of our nightly blog posts. We want parents to have a chance to extend our class learning at home, so if we’re not done sharing our documentation prior to 6:00, I send out an email letting parents know that we’re running late, but that they can find examples of our documentation through my Twitter account. It’s the wording of this email that inspired tonight’s blog post.

A wonderful parent pointed out something to me this evening — with the very kindest of words — that made me realize I need to do a little reframing. I have a terrible habit of starting our nightly emails with, “I’m sorry!” You wouldn’t think that apologizing for something would necessarily be a bad thing, but the questions remain,

  • What am I apologizing for?
  • Do I need to apologize?
  • How might a different start change the tone of our message?

This parent wondered how a big, “Hello Parents!” might change the tone. She even spoke about beginning with the words, “What an amazing day we had today!” This mom made me think about my one word goal for the year, and how a change in perspective might have me happily pointing people to the Twitter and Instagram posts: celebrating the sneak peek for the full post that is coming soon enough. This sneak peek is a good thing, and maybe it’s time that I started sharing it in this positive way. 

Years ago, one of my Grade 5 parents shared some similar words of advice, and I also appreciated her feedback. For the rest of the year, I remembered to avoid many of my nightly email apologies. But years have passed, and I think I forgot this mom’s words of wisdom. I’m thankful that another mom offered some similar advice.

Here’s how I’m seeing things tonight: we apologize when we make mistakes. (I make many.) A late blog post — especially one that may be late due to the planning and reflection time that I’m engaged in with my teaching partner — is not a mistake. And so, with this reminder, as hard as it may sometimes be, I’m going to work on reducing the “sorry’s” — at least in this case. Are there others out there that also apologize when maybe a “sorry” isn’t necessary? How do you decide when it is? There’s something to be said about knowing when to apologize, but maybe there’s also something to be said about knowing when not to.