I Yearn For A Day …

I yearn for a day …

  • when every sneeze and sniffle doesn’t make me wonder if I should call home,
  • when every little cough or throat clearing doesn’t make me jump back,
  • when the presence of kids from other classes doesn’t make our children stop, freeze, and/or move to the side of the hallway for fear of coming close to those in a different cohort,
  • when we don’t have to stop the wonderfulness that involves big and little kids playing outside together, for fear of mixing cohorts,
  • when we can have an eating table again, and the social connections that happen as a result,
  • when we might have a few independent spaces around the room, but not a whole classroom of tables and desks,
  • when my teaching partner, Paula, and I — along with so many other educators — don’t have to spend much of our day sanitizing, monitoring for social distancing, and ensuring adequate mask wearing,
  • when the independence that we love is not overtaken by micro-managing student behaviour, as we realize the possible safety repercussions if we are not as vigilant,
  • when “cohorts” and “social distancing” are not words used so frequently in play,
  • when the Coronavirus doesn’t become an evil villain in dramatic play, even when it is so very evil,
  • when the wonderful play and socializing that happens outside can happen again inside, without fears around distancing,
Find out more in our class blog post.
  • when we can just appreciate the creative ways that kids are connecting without worrying about if they are far enough apart,
  • and when maybe even just a smidgeon of what life was like before COVID can return.

I still love my job, our amazing kids, and everything that has been possible even in this very different school year. But some days I yearn for more. Blogging helps me process these feelings — beyond the screaming and crying that are sometimes also a part of me working things through — and then accept reality. For you see, right now, I am healthy, I am safe, and considering the health and safety of others in our care, we will continue to move ahead and do what we have been doing. Not because it’s easy. Not because it always feels right. But because safety comes first.

And so for now, I will get excited about these multiple pylons and buckets that are coming our way today, for it’s supposed to be a very rainy weekend with freezing temperatures on Monday morning. We think that we’ll have lots more ice and water to investigate then …

Coloured buckets and pylons are bringing me joy today.
Find out more in our class blog post.

and it was the incredible outdoor play this past week that brought with it a little bit of normal and a whole lot of joy. What do you yearn for right now? I hope that you find it as cathartic as I do to put these ideas out there. This might not change anything, but it does make me feel better. What about you?


When Was The Last Time That You Lay In A Snow Bank?

When is the last time that you lay in a snow bank? I mean flat out, on your belly, lay there and dug. I don’t think that I’ve done this since I was a child … until Thursday!

It was a beautiful, sunny, snowy day, and children were working together to create tunnels in a huge snow bank. I was standing alongside watching them and recording a few conversations, when a child asked for help. Could I do this? I thought, why not?!

  • I had snow pants on, so I wouldn’t get soaking wet and freeze.
  • All of the kids were either right around me or near my teaching partner, Paula. Everyone was safe.
  • I had a picnic table nearby for my iPad.

I was ready! I climbed onto the snow bank, lay down, and started digging. We got into a jump/dig pattern. We actually had many awesome conversations as we dug, which made me tempted to grab my iPad and record them, but I resisted the urge.

The next day — not captured by Paula this time — I ended up digging again with a different group of students. I know that school is about more than digging tunnels, but I can’t help but think that in this crazy COVID year, we all need a little more joy in our lives. A little more fun. These are the memories that kids will recall later, and these are some of the special ones that will also last with us.

When we were teaching online in January, I blogged about how remote learning is definitely making me better at playing with kids. We’re now back in-person, and I find myself behind that iPad screen more documenting learning, recording thinking, and reflecting on what comes next. I realize that I’m a teacher, and that this documentation is a huge part of my job, but both Paula and I know about the value in strong relationships with kids. Our practice is based on relationships. Lying in a snow bank, working through the problem of digging a tunnel together, and laughing so hard that you cry, are all components of this relationship piece. I will most definitely lie in a snow bank again and/or find other joyful moments to play and connect with kids. What are your “snow bank experiences?” Do we need these moments now more than ever before? No matter what grade you teach, or what age your own kids might be, I really hope that this week includes a few of these fun memories. These experiences are good for our mental health, and give us countless reasons to smile.


Could “less is more” be key to independence?

Yesterday afternoon, just as my teaching partner, Paula, was returning from her lunch, Mrs. Wendy captured and shared this photograph with us.

Bonus points for anyone who can spot me … πŸ™‚

I’ve returned to it a few times since then, especially as Paula and I later reflected on the play in the classroom. Here are some points that made it into our discussion.

  • Our materials have stayed fairly similar since September.
  • We don’t have lots of loose parts.
  • Building materials are a staple in our classroom, with individual buckets of blocks, LEGO, dominoes, and tracks. Cars, marbles, and ping pong balls tend to go alongside these other items.
  • Students each have their own personal spaces, but have learned to connect with each other from a distance. It’s about talking instead of touching. Sharing ideas aloud instead of sharing materials together. Not easy concepts for kindergarten, but they continue to improve.

Over the past couple of weeks since returning to in-person teaching, Paula and I are thrilled with the play that we’re observing. We had to wonder, could this growth speak to the value of “less is more?”

Having spent weeks together in a remote learning environment and connecting with kids virtually as they play, we know that our students are fortunate to have access to numerous toys, building materials, and creative items at home. In the classroom, we wondered if children would be quickly passing over one item and heading to the next. Thinking about my post on February Patience, Paula and I anticipated that the staying power in play would require a lot of our patience. We definitely had moments of this. But in the last couple of weeks — even with a long weekend and a Snow Day — kids have settled into play like never before. This had us wondering, why?

  • Could predictable materials make a difference? Children know what to expect, so they can also plan for their play.
  • Could the ability to return to play each day help with settling it? One of the benefits of having independent spaces with desks, tables, and buckets for items, is that children can save their work from the day before. Obviously if they’ve made a huge marble run or car track, they can’t keep it out, but they can keep the bucket of items to go back to the next day. Revisiting some of this problem solving during our meeting times also seems to help with generating interest in returning to the play and extending it.
  • Could the addition of one small item make a big difference? I was really aware of this yesterday when I gave two children some labels for their LEGO story. At first, they weren’t sure about this, but pretty soon they were labelling more than I anticipated. These labels had them also slowing down and thinking more about their characters, connecting with each other over their stories, and even doing a little reading as they played.
  • Could our provocations be key? We are really thinking about this when it comes to the LEGO storytelling. There are some fabulous short LEGO stories (less than 3 minutes) available on YouTube. Some are creative stories told by kids, and others are remakes of different fairytales. The students love listening to them, and the oral storytelling has prompted more LEGO and block storytelling. This distance dramatic play seems to extend the length and depth of the building play.
  • Could learning how to observe from a distance make an impact? At this age, watching often involves touching. Since returning to school though, our students have improved so much with standing back and observing, sitting down and looking over, and giving feedback orally. It’s taken support, and sometimes a few reminders, but as kids are able to reflect more on what others are doing, discuss building plans together, tell stories together (from a distance), and get new ideas based on what they see others trying (we do love the word “inspire”), they also settle into deeper play.

I know that we’re speaking here from a kindergarten perspective, but with COVID restrictions, independence is key well beyond kindergarten. Whether talking play, inquiry, or project work, how are you supporting independence? Do fewer items allow for more creativity, thinking, and problem solving? I have to wonder what this might look like in your classroom or home. I think that there might be more similarities between grades than we think, and new learning opportunities here for all of us.


Spray Paint And Stencils: An Exercise In Stress?

Yesterday, I started my day as I usually do by reading Doug Peterson‘s daily blog post. His regular Sunday Whatever Happened To post had readers looking at how Valentine’s Day has changed this year. Doug inspired me to leave a couple of comments, the first of which was quite a long one. It was actually Doug’s reply to my second comment that inspired this blog post.


Strangely enough, it was the very thought about making Valentine’s Day special, which had my teaching partner, Paula, and I trying something that we never do: a quasi-craft. Readers of our daily blog posts will know that we often support artistic inquiries in class, and even our young learners know a lot about various artists and techniques. Art is seen as one way that students communicate their thinking and learning, but as supported by Ontario’s Kindergarten Program Document, crafts tend to vary from this type of art.

On Tuesday morning, before school started, I stumbled upon this Instagram post by Darla Myers.

While there was a crafty element to this activity, when I shared this post with Paula, we wondered if this could be a way for students to explore colour mixing more, meet some sensory needs, and provide a little bit of special on a Valentine’s Day where there could be few special options.

Unsure of exactly what Darla did, we thought that if we had students create their own stencils for this art option, it would be more open-ended and hopefully lean more to artistic exploration versus a craft. Thank goodness for Amazon’s one day delivery: these two Valentine’s Day Grinches were ready to go with a special holiday option. πŸ™‚

On Thursday morning, I excitedly got the spray paint bottles ready. I even tested all of them out to ensure that they worked. I was actually surprised with how calming this squeezing was for me, and I couldn’t wait to see how kids responded.

I think that our reflection at the end of the day on stress, sums up how many of our students felt.

While this is only a snippet of the conversation, most children reflected on how frustrating they found it when,

  • the spray bottles wouldn’t work,
  • the paint was hard to get out of the spray bottles,
  • and the paper ripped.

Our students are usually incredibly independent, but on Thursday, Paula and I heard many requests for “Crockett” and/or “Dunsiger.” In fact, we were so busy supporting children in cutting out stencils and fixing spray bottle issues that we hardly documented any of the learning. This is not like us.

The interesting thing about this experience is that the special came when students moved past the frustration and into open-ended options that worked for them. This didn’t mean that the struggling stopped. Learning how to deal with stress is important learning, even for young kids, and a few students made some incredible discoveries despite some earlier frustrations.

Like Doug, Paula and I still think that “special” might be more important than ever before, but we wonder if it’s finding that balance between special and independence that might be key. Maybe this is where we need to return again to knowing our kids, and in our attempt to do something exciting for Valentine’s Day, we forgot to reflect on prior experience and tool difficulties. Learn more. Do better. If it wasn’t during the time of COVID, and kids could work together around a small table space, maybe we could better support a smaller group of students, or they could better support each other. But COVID, once again, changes things, and somehow spray paint and stencils led to frustration and tears. Not our intended Valentine’s Day plans. Is this a case where we should have stuck with routine? Or do we just need to support special with some more open-ended options? For now, I’m grateful that one holiday is over, and maybe we can wait a little while until the next one begins. What about you?


When It’s Not About The Academics …

While I’d like to believe that every conversation that my teaching partner, Paula, and I have with students varies slightly depending on the child, we do tend to have a rhythm to our discussions. Many educators, parents, and administrators that have listened to our video recordings over the years, hear how we often make connections to reading, writing, and math. The Kindergarten Program Document strongly supports these types of connections, and they’re not ones that we want to end. This week though, we had an aha moment when reflecting together during our outdoor playtime.

On the last day of school before the Winter Break, some snow issues in our kindergarten pen area had us going to the big field as a full class. We ended up loving this plan even more than we anticipated.

  • There’s more room out here for students to spread out and socialize with each other.
  • With a lack of materials in the big field, students can become much more creative with their use of nature items and their response to the environment.
  • This area often supports inquiry with tracks through the snow, a fence that looks onto a forest area, and a big grassy space full of sticks, leaves, pinecones, and insects.

Prior to this day, Paula and I normally separated in the morning with half the students staying in the pen with me and half of the students going to the field space with Paula. We realized that if we all made the move to the big field, then Paula and I could also be together in the morning and benefit from two different perspectives on the same play. We decided to make this change for after the Break, and while returning to the classroom took longer than expected, we stuck to this new plan when returning on February 8th.

This week, both Paula and I have been trying to observe students closely: saying less and watching more. This is not an easy thing to do, but it’s the very thing that led to our educator discussion outside on Thursday morning. Here’s a short snippet from this discussion.

While we’re both regularly tempted to suggest getting a clipboard, creating signs, and/or making our own labels for them to read, we’ve tried to stop ourselves from saying anything. Why? With COVID restrictions, socializing and collaborating is a lot harder to do than it was in the past. Especially inside. Our students are probably more independent than ever before, which is a wonderful thing, but we also know that at this young age, learning how to …

  • initiate social interactions
  • and problem solve in social situations

are incredibly important skills. With mandatory masking outside, we can more easily support and observe this skill development, especially in such a great outdoor space. Paula mentioned that this approach might allow for more physically distant social interactions in the classroom, which strangely enough happened on Thursday afternoon, when two students shared their wonderful discovery.

We noticed this even more on Friday afternoon, when a child appeared to be standing around watching another student create a car ramp. Why? He was actually doing more than watching: he was commenting on the design and helping the child — from afar — problem solve when the ramp wouldn’t work.

While the classroom conversations were not necessarily extending on the outdoor play, were the opportunities to connect outside allowing for more interest and confidence in connecting — from a distance — in the classroom?

As kindergarten educators, we might be able to lead this physically distant socializing in the classroom and outside, but I think that we have an obligation to do more than that. How are we allowing kids to own these social interactions: safely, but also freely, without us controlling them? I’m not saying that children won’t need our help at times and/or a few distancing reminders along the way, but students this week reminded us of just how creative they can be when they have the time and the opportunity to make the impossible, possible. I’m excited to see what connecting might look like for them in the week ahead. What about you?