Do You Have People Who Could Make A Stick, A Dinosaur?

I have been thinking a lot about my one word, “perspective,” today. It started during a discussion with my teaching partner, Paula, this morning. She was away sick yesterday, and so during our PA Day today, we reflected on what happened yesterday. In the afternoon, a group of children turned our sponge painting from the morning into finger painting. When we started talking, Paula mentioned that she doesn’t mind finger painting, but with intention. While we do have a few students that are at a dumping and spreading stage, many of our students are beyond this. So did they need to be involved? Not necessarily, but was their involvement for a different purpose?

It was these students that turned this experience into collaborative play. Without them there, most of the other children would have more likely engaged in parallel play. With student modelling, they started to partake in the discussions, ask questions, and extend the conversations even after many children left. This experience was also a great option for self-regulation: while the painting itself was louder and exciting, the children were all much quieter and calmer later as they went to play elsewhere. For some students, it wasn’t necessarily about the painting, but about the sensory experience. As we had this conversation, we both got to see the learning from different perspectives, and realized that sometimes the learning outcomes for the same activity, may vary depending on the child.

Fast forward to later on in the morning and a look at this huge stick that some students brought in from the forest just before the winter holidays. This stick drives me crazy! We’ve had the stick on the stove in the kitchen, on the floor in dramatic play, and on the carpet in the block area. I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve stubbed my toe on this stick. I have told Paula, on multiple occasions, that I’m going to take it back outside, but I haven’t … yet. As we organized a few things for next week, Paula moved the stick into the Book Nook area. I looked at her and said, “I’m taking it out!” That’s when Paula replied, “Don’t. Let’s paint it.” Paint? Why would we paint it? Will the tempera paint even stick to it? Paula thought that it would, and that it might be a way to experiment with different elements of design.

As she lay it on the table, we both looked at this stick differently: it looks like a dinosaur! Our students love dinosaurs. Paula then saw the pine cones under our sensory bin, and wondered if they could be spikes. Could they? As part of our current VIP, we’re examining different forms of art and different artists. This stick could become another collaborative art piece. Paula started talking about a “mindful sight” option for Monday, and about brainstorming ideas orally during our morning meeting and seeing where the students go from there. Maybe we can find some more sticks in the forest for legs or wings. What about texture? All it took was moving the stick and looking at it differently — another new perspective — to make me as excited about it as Paula is.

Today was a great reminder for me that we all need people who challenge our thinking. We need people who won’t just agree with us, but will ask questions, provide a different point of view, and help us see things through a new lens. I used to think that I wanted a teaching partner that saw things as I did, but now I realize the value in some differences. Maybe we all need those partners that have a similar underlying belief system, but also different views and experiences, plus the willingness to speak up and express their thoughts. We need people who question us, that challenge us, and that help us think more about the reasons behind our decisions. Along with this, we need to be willing to listen, to pause, and to reconsider our own views. Do you have these people? What impact do they have on you? Once again, I realize how lucky I am to have Paula, who is one of these important people for me.


When A One-Room Kitchen Is Not Enough: Our Evolving Thoughts On Dramatic Play

The one area of our classroom that is the bane of my existence is dramatic play. I love all of the ideas that I see online for this space. It always seems like such a wonderful plan to co-create this space based on student interests and to really link this space to the larger learning in the room. My teaching partner, Paula, and I have spent a lot of time this year listening to students in dramatic play, and we have tried to create this area with the children. From a restaurant to Lorax Land, we had such big hopes for dramatic play … but our reality has yet to be as spectacular as it first seems.

There are many components to this problem.

  • The interests do not seem to last. Maybe the issue is that the interests are not as big as they first appear to be. Or maybe the issue is that different conversations take the learning in a new direction, and the space becomes a lot less popular.
  • It’s beneficial to have an adult in (or near) this space, and when that doesn’t happen, the play changes. This is when the cats come out … quite literally. I have taught Kindergarten at multiple schools, and somehow, there are always cats. Maybe the cats are the interest. It seems as though the bigger interest is to crawl around, follow each other, and purr, and when the room becomes full of kittens, my instinct is to stop the play. Recently, I told Paula that I was tempted to post an “I’m allergic to cats” sign, and while I haven’t done so yet, I have been close. 🙂  I think it’s the wandering that I find the most problematic about these cats, and with a lack of oral language too, I question what the value of the cats may be.
  • The dramatic play extends all around the classroom. It’s so funny, as we actually love when children move items around the room and combine them in different ways. This is when we tend to see such rich, thought-provoking play, but our exception to this rule is dramatic play. As it moves to the Book Nook area, a quiet, peaceful space no longer seems as calm. Then we start to feel as though we’re policing areas, and that is never fun!

With all of this in mind, what do we do? For a while, we just left this space alone. Some children used it as a house. A few children used it as a theatre for plays. And some other children brought Lego over and used it as a creation space. The problem was that for most of the day, this area sat empty. With a small room and large numbers, having a wasted space was not beneficial, so as Paula said, “It was time to revive dramatic play!” We noticed that many of our students were playing house at the Before Care program in the morning, and some children, even made our Book Nook area into a house, so we decided to set-up a house again. 

Our students have made their own “house spaces” around the classroom, so on @paulacrockett’s suggestion (& a great one), we’re redoing dramatic play and bringing back the home. I went to @michaelsstores today to buy some Perler beads, & found this. It was a sign! 🙂 Now we have a new way to make food for dramatic play, & align the interest in beading with the interest in drama. I also found a big white board (for some possible phone messages) and made a class phone book: a little more math through play. Some new dishes, mugs, and glasses, a little cutlery, and even some pretty napkins may bring subitizing and counting into drama. Yippee!! Now let’s see what the children do come Monday. I can’t wait! #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #earlyyears #fdk #art

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

A lot of wonderful happened in this space yesterday (even with a few cats 🙂 ) …

Writing with a purpose. So focused! #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

and continued today.

But the problem was, it didn’t take long for dramatic play to extend beyond the play space.

Then I came back from the second nutrition break today, and a group of students were in the Book Nook area. They took the cushions off of the chair and made it into a bed. They used the tablecloth as a blanket, and they brought the books over to read quietly. They made a bedroom! I looked over at Paula and said, “I thought we didn’t want dramatic play to go over here.” We chatted briefly, and ended up having the students clean up and move back to the kitchen space.

The end of the day came though, and we had second thoughts. Children were being very purposeful in where they created the other rooms of the house. They made the Book Nook area, a quiet bedroom, and the carpet full of toys, the play room. Since a little drama is really involved in every space in the classroom — from the character roles that children take as they play with dolls, use action figures, retell stories, and engage in sensory bin experiences — maybe we have to rethink our space concerns. Would this learning also be richer if it was not restricted to a single area? 

We decided to wait and see what the children do tomorrow. Maybe we don’t stop the movement, but if there are problems in the different areas, we pose them back to the students, and see if they can help solve them. We use this strategy in many other cases. Why not use it here? We somehow managed to go from no dramatic play to a room full of it, but maybe this is what an evolution of thinking and learning is all about. What are your dramatic play experiences? How would you address this problem? The cats may still need to “live outdoors,” but I think that we can live with, and love, the rest.


Do Math Manipulatives Equate To Play?

On Thursday night I wrote this tweet …

and before I get down to working on my Communication of Learning comments today, I need to expand on my thinking.

Education is full of edu-jargon, and while I’m not a fan of it, I will say that I’m sometimes guilty of also using these terms. Lately, two terms that I hear the most are “play-based learning” and “inquiry.” Due to a renewed focus on math, these words are often used in conjunction with this subject area. My struggle here is two-fold.

  • As often as the terms are used, they rarely seem to be accompanied by specific examples of what this actually looks like in math. Please note that I know there are exceptions to this rule, and I do follow and interact online and in-person with some people who share amazing examples of meaningful math in a classroom environment. But far too often, I think I hear, “these skills are reinforced through ‘play and inquiry,'” but without a look at what this actually means.
  • Hands-on learning with math manipulatives is so often the way that “play” seems to be defined, but does the use of math manipulatives equate to play-based learning? I feel as though this second struggle is my biggest one, and maybe it’s because of my interpretation of the new Kindergarten Program Document that I continue to question this.

Our updated program document explicitly states to start with the child’s interests and make the links to the expectations. I know that this is contrary to much of what we’ve done in the past. “Noticing and naming” is such a huge component of this. It’s as we observe the students and see the math, that we help them see it too, and give them the math vocabulary to explain their experiences and understand their learning. So much math happens during student-initiated play, and so rarely does this play involve your typical math manipulatives. Does this matter though? I think of this experience in the forest yesterday.

We could have taught sorting in a different way. I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve given students sorting circles, sorting trays, and buckets of various manipulatives. We have a whole cabinet full of loose parts and plastic bears, dinosaurs, and an assortment of other animals that could all work for sorting. If we put these out on a table or on the floor, students might sort them into groups and count them. We might even encourage them to do this. Technically, I guess that they’re “playing” with the manipulatives, but does this make the play meaningful to them?

This doesn’t mean that we can’t — and don’t — use manipulatives to teach or reinforce specific concepts with students when the students are ready to explore these ideas. A group of children helped me make a rekenrek in our outdoor classroom. We’ve used this since then in different ways through play. 

And while using these different tools can sometimes help solidify (or teach) specific concepts for students that can then be further explored through play, I think that this kind of “play” still varies from play-based learning. 

I know that this is an argument around language, and does the word choice matter? I think that it does though. If “play” is just being seen as hands-on learning with math manipulatives, are we missing the richness that comes from the meaningful math that happens during free play? I know that there’s always a fear that if we don’t use certain tools, teach certain strategies, or instruct in a certain way, that we won’t prepare our students for the future. But I look at some of the math that’s happened in our classroom, through play, in just this past week alone.

Students are talking about — and working with — math concepts, and we’re discussing math with the students. To me, this is play-based learning in math, but am I missing something here? What does play-based and/or inquiry-based math learning look like for you? As I see the variety of ideas shared online, I start to wonder about my own perspective and want to gain a better understanding of other people’s perspectives … no matter how “uncomfortable” this may be for me. As I tweeted before, “nobody said that One Word Ontario words are easy.”


Why Would We Stop “Mixing A Rainbow?”

Sometimes it just takes a small moment to make you stop and think. This is what happened to me today. As I was packing up to get ready for home, a few students in the After Care Program (which runs in our classroom) called me over to see the puffy paint they were making together. They were making a few different colours, and when the After Care Facilitator, Miss Michelle, asked what colour they wanted next, the students insisted on “rainbow.” Both Miss Michelle and I mentioned that if all of the colours were mixed together, they would just get brown puffy paint. And this was the moment …

It was Annabel’s comment that made me open up my bag, take out my iPad, and record this video. I just had to capture the “rainbow.”

In her three sentences, this Kindergarten student summed up what inquiry and play-based learning are all about. It’s not about the final product, the right answer, or the quick response: it’s about the process!

Inadvertently, I almost took that away from the students in this group.

  • Why did I have to tell them what would happen?
  • Why did I have to stop the experiment?
  • Why did the final colour matter anyway?

Tonight, I’m grateful for some four- and five-year-olds that did not back down. I’m grateful for an amazing After Care Facilitator that heard their words and listened to their request. And I’m grateful for the reminder that we should always make time to wonder, to experiment, and to find out for ourselves. 

At the beginning of the school year, so many of our students just wanted to know the “correct answer.” Now they share and test theories, create experiments, solve problems, and realize the value that comes from owning the learning. Thinking about this child’s wise words tonight, I’m hoping that the “process” always holds as much joy for her as it does now. Maybe we all need to believe that “mixing a rainbow” is possible … or at least honour the voices of those that do. What do you think?


Contemplating Coding Once Again … What Do You Think?

I have blogged a lot about coding before, and this is a topic that I continue to contemplate as I learn more about it. When I read the finalized Kindergarten Program Document this summer, I saw some great connections to coding and some explicit mentioning of it as well.

Since our school participated in the Hour of Code, my teaching partner and I decided to try out some coding apps with the students. Many children enjoyed using these apps, and demonstrated various math skills, including directional language, spatial sense, counting skills, subitizing skills, and one-to-one correspondence. That said, there was something about these apps that bothered me … at the time, I wasn’t sure what, but I knew it was something.

Weeks after the Hour of Code, we introduced coding again when a student asked to use the computer one day. He really wanted to play a game, so instead, we thought that we would give him an opportunity for some thinking and application of math skills. We showed this student to Kodable, and before long, a group of other children came over to see what he was doing. They started to take turns playing the game and helped each other throughout the process. I heard lots of different language that made me happy.

  • “First you have to go across and then up …”
  • “Turn left, then go straight, and then turn right …”
  • “You only have 40 seconds now.”
  • “Yay! We got 10 more points.”
  • “Oh look! I figured out the mistake. I turned the wrong way. This time I have to …”

From the quotes above, you can see the use of mathematical language. You can see the reflection and the willingness to go back and try again. You can also see that coding in this case was “social,” and that’s definitely evident through the videos below.

All of this is wonderful, and yet, there’s still something that’s bothering me

A couple of days after this, my teaching partner gave a group of students an iPad to use. They used one of coding apps on it. There were many similar conversations to the ones shared above. Stepping back and watching and listening more closely, I started to figure out what was bothering me: many of the students using these coding websites and apps were quickly becoming dysregulated. It was almost like watching a child that spent hours playing a video game. They couldn’t seem to bring themselves down from that game high.

  • They were loud.
  • They were interrupting each other.
  • They wanted control over the game: the iPad or computer needed to be in their hands.
  • They were emotional: from huge bouts of excitement to angry cries to upset screams.
  • They struggled with pulling themselves away from the device … even when it was time to clean up and to get ready for home.

It didn’t take long for this to happen either: after 5-10 minutes, you could see the change in the students. 

Now then, I have my conundrum. On one hand, I love the thinking and math application that comes out of coding. I feel as though if we developed these skills at an early age, students could build on them in later years and do even more. But on the other hand, I’m concerned about the dysregulation that comes from this use of technology, and the impact that this has on our learners. Maybe some low-tech coding options would help, and I realize that this is a possibility, but there’s a lot of great learning that can also come from these high-tech options. I know that the children love these apps and websites, and some may argue that this excitement is just a sign of “engagement.” I wonder if it’s more than that though: could this be a sign of dysregulation, and what might this mean for our learners? We’re currently in an educational system that has us exploring the benefits of coding while also learning more about mental health and well-being. It’s where these two ideas meet, that I’m left wondering the most. What about you?