Mud Play Beyond K: What Happens When Other Grades Join In?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about our outdoor portable mud kitchen. Even though I might teach at one of the lucky schools that has access to green space, these grassy areas are not always available for us or way too wet to use. With some chalk and water from the Fairies of Dundas, along with buckets of old cooking and baking supplies, we can still make a mud kitchen work on any surface.

As I was reflecting on the benefits of this outdoor cooking and baking in my previous post, I wondered what might be possible beyond kindergarten. This seemed like some wishful thinking, until this past week. We were up on “the mountain” on Wednesday, and other classes happened to be out at the same time as us. Soon, students from these different classes came to join in our cooking play.

It was amazing to hear the kids talk ingredients, write recipes together, explore different vocabulary, measure and count amounts, and just connect with each other. This was such a positive connection across grades and brought joy to every single child.

As we soon enter our final month of school and classes consider play days or field trip options, I have to wonder if something as simple as some unstructured sensory play, might also be something worth considering. Yes, this could be extended with these older students by creating media texts for restaurants, writing menus, and even exploring fractions as they measure. We could find expectations from every grade, and learning could also be documented, reflected on, and extended for each child. But maybe this doesn’t need to be a full class option and maybe it doesn’t need to be overly organized in advance. In our class, we always plan for these baking provocations, and welcoming a few additional friends along the way, brings extra smiles to us and to kids.

With mental health being a big focus in schools right now, I have to wonder if these moments also help support this goal. What do you think?


“Baby Dunsiger And Kid Crockett”: Our Changing Role In Play

It’s a wonderful time of the year in kindergarten, but it’s also a strange time that has us re-thinking our role in the classroom. All year long, my teaching partner, Paula, and I have been working hard with kids to develop and support independence. Consistent routines have helped students understand the flow of the day and take ownership over their own schedules. It’s now when the classroom almost runs itself.

As an educator, this is an exciting time. Paula and I feel a huge amount of happiness and pride seeing what our kids can do now, and the confidence that they have in taking the risks that they do. Paula recorded a moment the other day that had both of us realizing just how much the students have grown in critical thinking, academic, and social skills. This was actually an accidental recording, as during the group time (which is actually during first nutrition break), she noticed something that a child was doing with his magnet letters. She walked away from the video provocation that was playing, so that she could record this moment. Unbeknownst to Paula at the time, she also recorded a conversation by kids in the classroom that was led and facilitated by students.

I keep thinking about this moment, as without any hands up or any adult to lead the conversation, the students responded to each other, and even began to ask each other questions. Yes, Paula did chime in a little, but she didn’t take it over. It’s almost as though the kids need us in a different way now.

I’m not saying that we won’t continue to enter play, extend learning, or ask questions, but there’s also something wonderful about sitting back more and seeing and hearing what kids are doing without us. I keep thinking about this blog post by Melissa Turnbull, which Doug Peterson featured in his This Week In Ontario Edublogs post yesterday. While our kids are not necessarily taking on that facilitator role in the same way that Melissa describes, their interactions with each other and the feedback that they offer each other throughout the day, allows play to extend even as we move in and out of it.

I keep thinking about a moment from the other day, when two SK students decided to turn their fairy house pictures into a combined picture story. Creating a “Dunsiger baby” and a “Crockett kid,” had the story moving from time at home to time at daycare. Yes, in the video recordings you can hear me talking with both students, but you can also hear kids commenting on the artwork and even reading what others wrote.

I share this story for as much as we captured here, there was so much more that we didn’t. I’m finding that more and more each day. While we still upload and share a lot of documentation every day, there’s often less than there has been in other weeks. This is not indicative of a bad day or a lack of interest in documenting learning, but it is indicative of a changing classroom environment. It is indicative of the role that Paula and I are now playing more frequently in play: as observers and reflectors from the outside instead of always being on the inside. Maybe this means that our daily stories should share some of these reflections, even if they’re not always accompanied by photographs and videos. Or maybe it’s okay to share a little bit less, for it’s indicative of student growth and independence, and that’s a wonderful thing. How have your students grown this year, and what impact has this had on your documentation and reflection practices? We couldn’t be more proud of our amazing kids, and look forward to each and every day that we have left with them this year.


What “Not Knowing My Retirement Date,” Means For Me …

This week, I had an unexpected interaction with an educator that I just recently met. As we were chatting, he asked me how long I’ve been teaching. I said, “I show 21 years of experience on the seniority list.” He replied, “You must be getting closer to retirement then. How many years do you have left?” This is when I said, “I actually don’t know.” Now don’t get me wrong here. I know that we have the 85 factor, and I can do some math to figure out when I reach this factor, but at this moment, retirement just isn’t on my mind. My step-dad has always said, “Just because you can retire, it doesn’t mean that you have to.” This has stuck with me.

I know that education can be stressful right now. COVID added another layer to teaching and learning, which has at times, made the school system more complicated. But even with different COVID restrictions, pivoting, and some uncertainty and change along the way, I still love teaching. Being in the classroom brings me joy. Interacting with kids makes me smile. Seeing and hearing their remarkable growth makes my teacher heart burst on a daily basis. Working with the best teaching partner in the world makes me feel like the luckiest person each and every day!

Just a few, of many, joyful moments from this past week at school.

And so for now, I’m not counting down the number of years I have left in the classroom, but instead, grateful for the wonderful experiences and connections that I have on a daily basis. If and when, I don’t feel this joy, I will know that it’s time to make a change, and hopefully, find my spark again. What brings you happiness at school? I’m not trying to dismiss the stress or frustration here that others might feel, or that at times, I also experience. But maybe it took an unexpected conversation to remind me that I’m lucky to not be thinking about when school is over, but instead, delighted about what I get to do day after day. Unrelated, but on what I know is going to be a very difficult day, I think that I needed a reason to smile.


All You Need Is A Little Chalk And Water …

Our picnic tables at school probably don’t look as beautiful (or clean) as they once did, but sometimes we want to be prepared to apologize for the mess in order to embrace the learning. As all of my blog readers know, outdoor play is a really important part of our program, and we always start the day outside. We’re usually out for about 1 1/2 hours. Children lead this play. They collect the materials that they want to bring outside, and they plan what they want to do. We’re fortunate to have a huge outdoor space at the side of our school, but with some drainage issues and lots of rain, it’s not uncommon to have the field space closed. As the weather gets warmer and Track and Field Day looms, there are certainly more classes outside with us, but our students have found creative ways to work around “big kids,” and sometimes even connect with them when the situation presents itself.

Having taught in many schools across our Board, I know that I’m fortunate to work in a school now with green space. Downtown Hamilton schools are often largely blacktop playgrounds, which can present some challenges. That said, field closures at our school often have us primarily on the blacktop space with a little time in the world’s smallest “forest.” 🙂

Looking back at our outdoor learning in the past number of weeks, I’m reminded about how planned provocations and just a couple of materials can produce something wonderful! As the title of this post implies, all you need is “some chalk and a little water.” Our most consistent provocation is around cooking and baking. Students love to use mortars and pestles, muffin tins, bowls, and ice cube trays to create outside. For months now, we’ve been looking at a few recipes together before heading outdoors. A focus on colour mixing has also led to listening to stories about mixing colours. It’s amazing to see children reading and thinking about the text in the recipes, using some of the vocabulary in their play, and connecting reading, writing, and math with their baking outside. On days when it rains, there are always puddles on the playground, so the Fairies of Dundas just need to supply us with some chalk — a little can go a long way. On drier days, the Fairies of Dundas tend to refill old water bottles and soap bottles with water to bring outside. Kids love when there’s a little extra soap left at the bottom! As long as they keep the lids, these plastic bottles can be reused. One day, the Fairies surprised us with an old Yeti, which the kids loved too! 🙂

This truly becomes the greatest sensory play ever, and even extended to some dramatic play this week. I love how you can see the older students practising for Track and Field in the background, but a picnic table, water bottles, chalk, and old kitchen equipment, still engages and inspires our learners.

Paula and I loved our mud kitchen at our last school, but with help from some students, a portable mud kitchen is possible anywhere.

And while the picnic table makes for a lovely kitchen preparatory area, we’ve seen our students set-up along the wall when the picnic table is in use.

Maybe the biggest consideration of all is, can everyone let go of the mess — coloured chalk, flower petals, water, mud, and all? Paula and I think it’s worth it, for never have we liked dramatic and sensory play as much as we do outside. This outdoor experience makes me wish that I reconsidered play possibilities outdoors when I taught at different schools, and saw what might be possible with just a few materials and the time to settle into play. What about you? As another week begins, all I can think about is what recipe could inspire kids first. Now imagine if this pretend baking and cooking happened past kindergarten. Consider the measurement, counting, reading, and writing possibilities with the play itself, as well as the media, language, and math connections with the advertising, pricing and paying, and running of the store. Maybe a mud kitchen has school wide potential! Where might you go with this? As the weather gets warmer and more classes spend time outside, there could be different learning possibilities with just a couple of old items from home and some Dollar Store finds.