Zip! Zip! Zip! Finding Joy In A Kindergarten Dressing Routine.

Ask a primary teacher about one of the most stressful times of the day, and likely packing up and getting ready for home will make the top of the list. This is especially true during the winter season, where snow pants add another layer of stress to the dressing and undressing routine. Since we spend about 1/3 of our day outside — with a long 1 to 1 1/2 hour play block outdoors to start our day — snow pant season begins earlier and ends later. Even my teaching partner, Paula, and I are still in snow pants due to the damp weather right now. Over the years, Paula’s taught me the importance of letting children become independent at this dressing routine, but even by giving kids the time and space to be independent and successful, this routine was usually still stressful for me. Until COVID.

One of the benefits of students having individual spaces is that they have a big enough area to get dressed and undressed on their own — without too many kids and too much commotion near them. The need to stagger students in our kindergarten hallway, so that cohorts didn’t mix, forced Paula and I to get our children cleaned up earlier so that they could get dressed on time. We then also have the hallway space for a little time if any children need an area alone to get ready. A few choose this option, and it’s like a little Self-Reg in action. With the recent lifting of restrictions, distancing is no longer required, but with our easing in of any possible changes, these desk spaces still make the dressing routine work well.

There’s one recent change though that takes this routine from less stressful to all-out wonderful: students helping with zippering coats. In the past, I used to help children get their items from the hallway, while Paula sat down to assist with zippering coats and backpacks (if required). She has a special song, which kids love, and she connects with them through this singing and dressing routine. This past week though, a few children told her that they can do the zippers now. They pull up chairs beside her and offer up zipper support, while Paula can sit down, chat with them, and even get a shoulder massage from a few children that are eager for this special job. Watching this experience yesterday, led me to an aha moment: this is like our eating table moments of the past.

These are the low-key social opportunities where kids can connect with each other and with us. There’s so much belonging and contributing in these kindergarten dressing moments, where a classroom community is formed around a couple of chairs and a whole bunch of zippers. Kids also learn here about the importance of consent in an age-appropriate way, as they ask for permission to massage and honour the touch preferences shared by adults and by other kids. Look at the smiles, the laughter, and the joy in these little moments of dressing time. You have to wonder, if kids leave the classroom feeling this happy about school, does this make them even more eager to return to it the next day? I never would have thought that I would have been able to reframe this dressing time, but there’s a wonderful sense of calm in the room now that comes from this home time routine and some unexpected connecting around a classroom of zippers. What are a few of your unstructured social opportunities, and how might these times support student and staff mental health and wellness? As important as academics are, the joy and calm that come from this slightly longer dressing experience has quickly become equally valuable for us … even if in a different way.


Choose Kind!

As we head back to school on Monday after March Break, one of the biggest topics of discussion right now is on extending, or not extending, the mask mandate. Our Board has grappled with this decision over the past week, and here’s the latest update.

You just need to read the numerous comments on the Twitter and Instagram posts to know that there are different thoughts about extending the mandate to April 1st. This doesn’t come as a surprise, for during this entire pandemic, individuals have felt differently around masking, school closures, and lockdowns/shutdowns.

I get it. We all make decisions and weigh our risks.

  • I know people that are unvaccinated, go out in public frequently, and have never gotten sick.
  • I know people that are vaccinated, socialize regularly, sometimes remove their masks in public, and have remained COVID-free.
  • I also know people that are vaccinated and unvaccinated that have gotten COVID. A few people have even gotten it more than once.

Just like with masking, going “back to normal” is exhilarating for some individuals, terrifying for others, and somewhere in between for many more. Our lives has changed over the past two years, and depending on a variety of factors, a switch in practices might be easier for some and harder for others.

Here’s something that I think is important to know: mask exemptions have existed for years now, and for students, they have never required a medical note. My teaching partner, Paula, and I have taught students with mask exemptions. Some things that we’ve always tried to reinforce in the classroom though are to …

  • recognize and accept differences,
  • include others whenever possible,
  • and be kind.

Kids look and listen to adults when forming opinions and making choices. This loosening of restrictions provides a great opportunity for us to teach and model compassion, empathy, understanding, and kindness. Yes, Paula and I will both be wearing masks when we greet students again on March 21st, but we realize that some of our students might not be. At the beginning of March Break, I read a fantastic post by Beth Lyons about the easing of restrictions. As always, we’ll be watching and listening to kids, as they slowly help us build spaces and show new ways to connect with each other: masks, no masks, and everything in between.

We might not all be at the same level of comfort right now, but for all of our caregivers reading this post, know that your child is loved and supported as they return to the classroom. Kids need to see and know that we feel this way, as they also extend these same feelings to others. While there might be various opinions about easing restrictions, can starting with kindness allow us to reduce stress and better understand different viewpoints? I’m not saying that this will always be easy, but to me, it seems like a good place to begin.


A Year Later: More Fairy Magic And Reading Growth

March Break often brings with it memories of COVID since it was two years ago that the world shut down on March 13th. Last year, March Break was delayed to an April Break, but once again, it also marked the final time that kids stepped foot in a school building for the year. For me though, the March-Break-That-Wasn’t last year brings with it a happier memory of The Fairies of Dundas. It’s been almost a year since these magical fairies have made their way into our classroom and our hearts. Whether in-person or online, our students look forward to the daily fairy notes, and some amazing intermediate students have made these fairy experiences even better this year. While Francesca the Fairy was around early on, our fairy pen pals have introduced us to other fairies, including Ivy (a favourite one due to the name similarity with a child in our class) and Picasso (an artistic fairy, who shares our love for The Arts).

Our Fairies of Dundas routine usually includes reading two notes each day: one before going outside in the morning and one during our indoor meeting time. The fairies leave us with provocations to inspire classroom learning, and sometimes, special surprises to further support this learning. Recently though, the fairies made a small change. In addition to the two notes, they often leave a short, four-line note on top of one of the supplies that they leave out for us in the morning. The greatest thing has happened thanks to this extra note.

Students have started looking for this note when they come in each day. A few of our SK students are particularly excited to find this additional letter. While I’m out on duty, my teaching partner, Paula, supports the reading of this fairy note. While a combination of kids will come around to listen to this note reading, and maybe chime in with some of the oral blending with Paula, it’s just a handful of students who look to read this note. This is the perfect challenge for them! By videotaping the initial reading of the letter, and then any additional reads of it, Paula and I can later reflect on how the Fairies of Dundas might further support this oral reading. Maybe it’s with the addition of new sight words, an emphasis on certain vowel sounds, or possibly a repeat of a more challenging word.

I can’t help but look back on a couple of these note reading experiences from last week.

It was incredible to see how kids could support each other, and how opportunities for repeated reading helped build fluency. These students are not just reading the text, but through conversations with Paula, thinking more about what the text is saying.

This Fairies of Dundas experience has reminded me of some important things in the past few weeks.

  • Set high expectations for students, and provide them with the background knowledge and skills to meet these expectations. Many of the students reading these notes, started JK just recognizing a few letters by name. No sounds. Their growth has been incredible, and these authentic — and regular — opportunities to read and write have helped further develop their skills and confidence.
  • We can learn a lot from observing students and reflecting on these observations. There’s often a lot of talk about standardized forms of assessment, but what about the power of pedagogical documentation? Every word in these notes is placed deliberately to support the students reading them. Listening to the reading from the day before and reflecting with Paula on where to go next, allows us to deliberately target certain vowel combinations and specific sight words. While these notes could be picked up by any child, we know the children that are drawn to them and can then plan accordingly.
  • Provide opportunities to read and write in many different settings. If children are only supported in reading books, they are unlikely to tackle reading opportunities that present themselves in other ways (e.g., through notes, text on the SMART Board, text on signs, etc.). We need kids to see that they can apply their skills in different contexts. Reading is about risk-taking, especially for young readers, and I wonder if they will take these risks if they don’t see themselves as readers.

There’s nothing fancy about these fairy notes, and the set-up is hardly Pinterest-worthy, yet every day, children are drawn to them and excited to make sense of the text.

These notes help get our kids eager to read, and as educators, this is something that brings Paula and I joy each day. What are some different ways that you support reading and writing in class? How do you reflect on growth as part of this process to help further develop reading and writing skills? Maybe we can all share different ideas to inspire each other for when we return to school after March Break.


What Is Our “Why?”

When we returned to school in September 2021, I would have given anything — anything — to be able to set-up a kindergarten classroom environment that was similar to set-ups of years past. My teaching partner, Paula, and I really had to challenge our thinking to create a forward-facing, desk-heavy classroom that still prioritized relationships, play-based learning, and social connections. This wasn’t easy, and it continues to be a work in progress … even a year-in-a-half later. But neither were all of these changes bad ones, and I think that we both came to appreciate what is possible when challenged to re-think our “normal.”

I share this now because we’ve recently found out that COVID protocols in schools are changing, and we could start to move back to the creation of a pre-COVID classroom … or something that largely resembles one. Now what? Back in September, I think that we would have jumped on this offer, but now we’re a little more hesitant. Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins from The MEHRIT Centre have taught us both the importance of the why, and while we’re asking ourselves why we might be reluctant to change, we’re also asking ourselves, why make these changes and why make them now? Every decision that we make in the classroom is based on kids. Unlike with other grades, our students have never had a “normal school year.” The only kindergarten experience they know involves desks, individual spaces, masks, and restrictions around some shared materials. These restrictions often make adults feel sad about the move away from “normal,” but they also bring many of our students much comfort. Our kids love their spaces. They like having ownership over an area and a place that belongs to them. They still play together with others, but with the knowledge that they can also move away and play alone. The balance of both reduces stress for so many of our kids.

January to March is a magical time in kindergarten. The routines that have been established since September are so well-known to our children now. They’ve all grown so much socially and academically. In many ways, the classroom runs itself — still with our involvement of course — but in a way that varies from how it ran back in the first part of the school year. Completely overhauling the classroom design, especially at a quick pace, could not only dysregulate both kids and adults, but could bring us back to September in March. Is this what we’re looking for right now?

There are also various degrees of comfort when it comes to COVID restrictions and the easing of these restrictions. Some kids and adults can’t wait to connect more with others, and some are more reluctant to do so. With an uncertainty about masking requirements in the coming months, we could be looking at addressing another stressor fairly soon. All of this is weighing on Paula and I as we think about what to do and when to do it.

With all of this in mind, we’ve decided to take things slow. At first, we might just be supporting a few social connections with some different groups of kids. Any changes to classroom design will be made with the students and based on observations and conversations with kids, families, and among ourselves. We want to know that all children and adults feel safe, supported, and challenged in the learning environment, and that the changes are happening for a reason and not just because they can. How are you approaching these changing protocols? What is your why? We would love to hear your thinking as we grapple with our own.