Why Does Printing Matter?

After school on Thursday, my teaching partner, Paula, and I were chatting with some parents, and actually stayed outside for a little extra time talking with one mom. We were discussing some learning options for her child over the summer. This is a child that is an incredibly strong reader and writer: decoding almost anything, comprehending even more challenging texts, and sharing numerous thoughts and ideas through writing. But this child prints almost exclusively in capital letters, and usually quite large. Looking ahead to Grade 1, we suggested to mom that her child (I’m purposely avoiding the use of ‘he’ or ‘she,’ as it doesn’t matter if this child is a boy or a girl) work on some printing over the summer: writing with the use of more lowercase letters and in a smaller size. Mom mentioned that printing exercises are not something that her child enjoys doing (which we’ve also noticed at school), and we provided some suggestions that might be more enjoyable and meaningful for this child. This parent was open to the ideas, and while the conversation ended on a great note, it was one that I couldn’t stop thinking about for the rest of the day and even days later. Why did this discussion stick with me? Because I continue to ask myself, why does printing size and the use of uppercase and lowercase letters really matter?

I know how hard it is to break the habit of printing in all uppercase letters. Most students learn how to print in uppercase before starting school, and once they do, they seem to continue. Even if they can form lowercase letters, most don’t. Paula and I have been trying to change this habit throughout the year. Just this week, Paula worked with numerous students on this very thing.

On one hand, I love that these students are becoming more aware of what they’re writing and how they’re writing it, and that they are pausing to consider the use of uppercase and lowercase letters before writing. On the other hand, I worry that students will get so caught up in the printing that they’ll miss the important focus on the ideas

As a Kindergarten educator, I see value in students …

  • identifying the names and sounds of uppercase and lowercase letters. This is a skill they need to have in order to blend sounds together to read words or segment sounds in order to write words.
  • knowing how to form the letters of the alphabet. At some point in time, we all need to print something, be it a grocery list, on a label, on a test or exam, in an agenda, or on a sign-in list. 

I realize that some of these printing options require students to print in smaller spaces, but I can’t help but wonder if the size of most students’ writing would change with just repeated opportunities to write. I also wonder if some of these “places to write” could change to meet the diverse needs of students. What if there were fewer questions on a page, bigger labels, larger spaces in agendas, and bigger boxes on sign-in lists? I can’t help but think of myself. As much as I use technology for almost all of my writing, I do still print To Do lists. I always write these lists on blank pieces of paper, usually with a marker, and in large print. Does this really matter? 

In terms of capital letters, I understand the issue if students cannot recognize lowercase letters. Almost all of the printing in books is written in lowercase, and this would certainly impede on reading. I also understand why students need to use lowercase letters when composing emails or texts to people, as writing in all uppercase implies screaming. But this is not something that our students are doing: they tend to type almost exclusively in lowercase letters, and usually need reminders about capitalization. 

So I’m wondering, why do capitals matter that much when it comes to printing? If it doesn’t change the message of the text and doesn’t impact on how others interpret the text, then does it really need to be a focus for us?

I keep coming back to this question because I think about all of the writing that we do in class, almost all of which is done on paper.

  • I love how our students are eager to write during play.
  • I love how they understand the importance of communicating messages in this way.
  • I love the excitement that they experience when writing.

I worry though if correcting capitalization and size will change this eagerness. Will it negatively impact on an important “love” that we’ve seen growing all year long? I know that there’s a time and place for everything, and we will continue to model smaller print and the correct use of uppercase and lowercase letters, but thinking back to the conversation we had on Thursday, I question “why” this has to be a focus for this child … or any child. 

Then I ended the day on Friday with this great conversation with one of our students. Two children created a new form for our vet office, and after school on Friday, we photocopied the form together. While we photocopied. I spoke to one child about her printing on the form. Paula mentioned to me that this child didn’t like how part of it looked. Here is our conversation.

As I listen to this conversation, I realize how metacognitive our students have become. 

  • They reflect.
  • They solve problems.
  • They approach tasks differently in the future.

This child recognized the problem, thought about why it was one, and figured out a way to make it better without re-printing the sheet. I know that she will be even more aware of the size of her writing as she continues to write at school and at home. Maybe getting students to regularly reflect on letter-size and why uppercase and lowercase letters matter, is the best way to approach these issues. Let them own it, and then support them as they start to change. What do you think? With a new Kindergarten Program Document that does not encourage the use of worksheets (for good reason), should we even be considering them — or similar alternatives — for home use? 

I know it was my experience as a Grade 1 teacher that led me emphasizing what I did on Thursday, but knowing what I know now, I wonder if I would see things differently, even if I was teaching Grade 1. 


What’s Your View Of The Child?

I don’t usually keep drafts of blog posts for very long, but this post has sat in the Drafts Folder for almost a year. There are questions in here that I continue to contemplate, as every classroom has students in it that are at different developmental levels. How do we help all students realize just what they’re capable of doing, and provide the conditions to allow success for all? A year later, I think about Karyn‘s talk from last year, and decided to publish a long overdue post. This is that post.


This morning, I had the opportunity to listen to Karyn Callaghan speak as part of a Kindergarten Networking Session in our Board.  Now that I’ve had the chance to listen to her once, I hope that I’ll be able to do so again. Many things that Karyn said really resonated with me, but the words that I kept coming back to throughout the day were around our view of the child. As mentioned in Think, Feel, Act: Lesson From Research About Young Children“The Ontario Early Years Policy Framework presents a view of the child as competent, curious, and capable of complex thinking” (page 13). This is a view that I believe, but as I nod along to these words, I also have a questioning voice in my head that is causing me to stop and think. If I view students as “competent and capable,” how does this mesh with any questions/concerns that I may have about “struggling learners?” Can these two thoughts co-exist, or if I’m saying that a child is “struggling,” then am I not viewing this child as “competent and capable?”

Kindergarten is a child’s first experience in school. Some JK students are just turning four. They just became toilet-trained. They’re just learning to make it through a day without a nap. This may be the first time that they go somewhere without their parents. Children may be biologically four- or five-years-old, but developmentally, some of them may still be like toddlers. What happens when biological and developmental ages don’t align? If we think about children at their developmental level, then instead of seeing a “struggling learner,” would we see them as “competent and capable” at the level at which they’re at? 

I know that for us, we strive to program with each child in mind, and support the learning at each child’s developmental level. We try to make learning meaningful, and pose problems to get children to think more. I wonder though, is this enough? What more can we do to show children that we view them as “competent and capable,” and to ensure that all children see themselves in this same way? Karyn’s talk left me with more questions than answers, and I pose these questions to you here with the hope that we can make sense of them together. I know that as I go back to school tomorrow, I’ll be looking at our students through fresh eyes and asking myself, does our view of the child align with our classroom practices? What more could we do?


Beyond The “Meow” And The “Woof! Woof!”: Unexpected Learning From Our “Vet”

If you asked me before, I would have said that there was no way we would have considered opening a vet office in our dramatic play space. Both my teaching partner, Paula, and I would say that “meowing cats are the bane of our existence,” and somehow, this cat play happens so often in this space. Thankfully this changed when our dramatic play area changed into a beauty salon, and we didn’t want to bring back the cats. But then April 18th happened.

Just as we were getting ready to go home, a student in our class approached us. She’s in the After Care Program that happens to run in our classroom. She had a question for us. “What if we changed the beauty salon into a vet?” What?! A vet would certainly lead to meowing children. That said, a child was coming to us with an idea. There’s such value in students owning the learning and owning the classroom space. How could we stop this?! Instead, we replied with, “There would be planning to do. You would have to think about what we need for a vet, survey students to see if they want a vet, and then figure out where the vet would go, as the beauty salon is still popular. Maybe the vet would have to wait. Plus, we cannot have any ‘people pets.’ What could we do instead?” Right away, she suggested bringing in stuffed animals from home to act as the pets. A friend of hers was there, and already began naming stuffed animals that she could bring in. They thought that they could set-up the vet office next to the salon, in the block space, as then “people can go and get their hair done while they’re waiting for their pet.” Now we’d have two dramatic play areas? We weren’t sure how we felt about this, but reminded these two students that there was planning to do first, and left it at that. We thought that we’d wait and see what happened the next day.

These students didn’t forget, and as soon as it was time to play on the 19th, they started planning.

We could not ignore these students’ dedication to creating a vet, and the data showed that there was definitely an interest in having one. Meanwhile, Paula and I noticed that the beauty salon was not being used as frequently as before. We changed up a few things with the help of the students, but even with the addition of some student-created nail polish and some special visitors to the salon, for the majority of the day, the salon was empty. 

Some very special visitors at the salon today. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry

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Maybe it was time for the salon to turn into a vet. This was a scary prospect for both of us, as we continued to envision meowing children and loud play, but we agreed to give it a try. We started by bringing the idea to our class during a morning meeting time, and inviting students to look at what the two children did already and add more ideas. One student was determined to turn dramatic play into a mall instead, and even looked at how to merge the “mall” and “vet” options, possibly creating a Pet Shop. But in the end, the vet was still more popular, and we went with this option.

Even when we made the final decision as a class, it was challenging to get things going. We thought that students could brainstorm ideas before we purchased materials, asked for donations, and set-up the space. Unfortunately, one of the two students that helped inspire this change was away sick, and without her there, other children got less involved in the planning process. Then our additional DECE was away sick with no supply, so we had larger numbers for a couple of days. We didn’t get into the vet space as much as we wanted, and while some students went there to plan, dramatic play largely remained empty. Paula and I talked, and decided that if we could bring in some materials, students could start setting up, engaging in the play, and planning during the process. So with the help of a small group of children, we got this note off to parents and shared some initial brainstorming with the class.

Having materials come in definitely helped, but we quickly realized that many students liked the idea of a “vet,” but lacked the schema about them. There was just a lot of excitement about the stuffed animals, but that’s where the play seemed to end. This is when we used our morning meeting times to have conversations around vets (and animals that go to them) and watch some YouTube videos to generate more ideas and increase vocabulary related to vets. 

These discussions helped, and a look at some X-Rays created a new opportunity to write and draw in the vet, but we still thought that there could be more to this dramatic play.

Initially we planned to model some conversations and writing opportunities during our morning meeting, but we often ran out of time to do so. It was then on Wednesday, as I returned from First Nutrition Break, that I saw Paula sitting in the vet as a receptionist. I captured one conversation that quickly led to more, and created an incredibly meaningful reason to read and write at the vet. She intentionally-interrupted the play, and changed it in the most wonderful of ways.

It was amazing to see so many students — even some reluctant writers — reading and writing thanks to our vet office. 

Some students have now even moved past the form, and continue to explore different reasons, and ways, to write at the vet. 

I share this rather long story here because this vet experience has given me a lot to think about.

  • Modelled and shared reading and writing do not just have to happen as a full class. Paula showed the value of engaging in these types of activities in small groups. It was through play that she worked on developing these reading and writing skills. When she left this play, and other students took over, they were able to engage in independent practice. 
  • There is so much value in learning how to be authentic when playing with kids. I have been thinking about this point a lot after watching Paula in action, and even when listening back to the video recordings of me as the receptionist compared to the ones of her. She sounds realI think her interactions helped convince children about the importance of this role of the receptionist, and the need to read and write in this type of role. That’s why they continued to do so, even when she left dramatic play. If children see us modelling a “job” to do, they may make us happy and play along while we’re there, but I wonder if they would still engage in this task, even when we walk away. I’m not so convinced that they would, and I continue to work on ways to sound as authentic as Paula does when playing with kids. 
  • We have to listen to kids, even when what we hear makes us uncomfortable. Neither one of us really wanted a vet, but the students came to us with the idea. They worked on planning for this space, even when we didn’t remind them about it. They did what we asked them to do, and got the support of their classmates in making this change. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have some expectations here. We both felt strongly about “no people animals,” and this was a requirement that our students could live with. There is still so much dramatic play, as students pretend to be everything from concerned pet parents to doctors and nurses. Some students have gotten involved in dramatic play for the first time this year thanks to the vet, and that’s something we can’t ignore. If the vet matters to our students, there’s value in having it matter to us. Seeing what’s happening in this spaceI think has changed both of our perspectives. 
  • Passionate play matters. When children care about a topic, they will delve deeper into it. They will explore it more, and maybe even share their learning, in a way that they wouldn’t have before. We have definitely noticed this about the vet. It’s been incredible to see some of our most reluctant readers and writers, eager to do both because the topic is one that matters to them. They’re being inspired in ways that they weren’t before. This is so powerful to see, and totally worth putting our reservations aside. 

As educators in other grades talk about embracing some of the Full-Day Kindergarten model in their programs, I started to wonder about what dramatic play might look like in these cases. I began to wonder about the link to curriculum expectations. But then I see this vet office in action, and I realize that meaningful links to oral language, reading, writing, math, health, social studies, and science are all possible through dramatic play. Investing time, such as Paula did here, can make a huge difference. How do you use dramatic play in your classroom? How do you make the links to various curriculum expectations? I’ve definitely learned in the past couple of weeks that a “vet” can be about a lot more than “meowing cats.”


What If “No” Sharing Food Became A “Maybe?”

“Don’t share food!” This is the rule that elementary students especially seem to have instilled in them from the first day of school. I know why we have this rule. We’re worried about food allergies and food restrictions. This makes sense. But lately I’ve been thinking about what message a stringent rule such as this one sends to kids. 

I think we want to teach all students to be safe when it comes to sharing food. Children need to know if they’re allergic to food items, and classmates need to understand the importance of not sharing certain foods because of these allergies. But in the same regard, I also think that something wonderful happens when we share a little food.

  • My teaching partner, Paula, goes to Tim Horton’s for lunch most days, and she always brings back an extra large bun. The students are excited about the “Tim Horton’s bread,” and a couple of them always gather around her for a few small pieces of bread with butter. As they eat, they talk, they sing, and they laugh. 
  • I rarely manage to finish my lunch, and our students always know that I’ll often have a piece of fruit left after the second nutrition break. Sometimes the students will ask for “an apple,” and just like with Paula, this is when we sit down, talk, and eat together.
  • Every Wednesday is Popcorn Day, and I’ll always purchase some extra bags of popcorn each week. Why? Because there’s something special about sharing popcorn, stories, and smiles.

One more lunchtime selfie with our fabulous Grade 3 milk helper. #fdk #earlyyears #iteachk

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Food connects us! I’m not suggesting that we share sweet treats or carelessly give away lunches, but I’m wondering if there are exceptions to every rule, including this one.

  • We share toys.
  • We share tools.
  • We share space.
  • Maybe there’s something to be said for sharing the joy that comes from sharing food.

What do you think? I continue to wonder if sometimes the “no sharing food” rule could become a “maybe.”


How Does Play Change Reading And Writing?

There are many things that I really appreciate about my teaching partner, Paula, but one of the biggest ones is that we connect at the end of every day to discuss our observations, share reflections, contemplate changes, and make future plans. We engage in a lot of “kid talk” and “program talk,” and these conversations often inspire my professional blog posts. I had an epiphany during our discussion on Friday, and as I said to Paula at the time, this thinking would definitely make its way into a blog post. This is that post

For the first time ever, all of our academic skills are taught and reinforced through play. I’ve come close to this change over the past couple of years, but this year, it actually happened. I know that this comment is going to make some people uncomfortable, and at first, it made me uncomfortable too. I definitely see the value in this approach for our students. Here’s what we do, and don’t do, in regards to reading and writing.

    • We don’t do guided reading, or at least, not the typical guided reading. There, I said it! We don’t pull students to a special horseshoe table and work through the same text with each child. We do read and write with our students every single day, and engage in focused mini-lessons that target the next best step for each child. We discuss what these mini-lessons may be, and then we look for opportunities to insert them into play. Sometimes they happen outside. Sometimes they happen on the ground in the midst of block play. Sometimes they happen in dramatic play. And sometimes they happen around a table. Sometimes we just work with a student or two at a time, and sometimes we invite other children to come and join us. Working with students in the midst of play, also means that other children tend to come around, hear what we’re saying, chime in with their own thoughts, and even extend this learning in a different way. Students also see the connection to the play that they’re doing, so when the mini-lessons are over, they are more apt to continue to explore what we were working on. It’s amazing to see, and I don’t know how else to describe it to you, but it truly works!

    • We try to link reading and writing. Just because a child wrote something down, doesn’t necessarily mean that he/she can read it back to you. Having children read their own writing, and the writing of their peers, helps them practise blending sounds in meaningful ways. It allows us to work with them on sound patterns. We still have levelled texts in the classroom, and students still read them — sometimes with us, sometimes with a parent volunteer, and sometimes at home — but the children often focus so much on the picture cues and the predictable pattern that they don’t pay attention to the words. Having students read their writing, our writing, and the writing of their classmates, has them working with letter-sounds more and decoding far higher texts than I’ve had many Kindergarten students decode in the past. 

Today we switched up this little table. We still have magnetic letters, but added chalk and black paper. A few students saw it when they came to before care this morning and started writing. Selina started with the alphabet in the middle. She sang her way to each letter and wrote by memory. When she got to a J, she said, “I don’t know how to make that letter.” Avery offered to help, but Selina persevered and said, “I can try.” She looked to the documentation on the shelf facing the little bench. She said, “Is there a J in here?” She started to point out the letters she saw. Then she looked down on the tray (on the floor beside her) and said, “There’s a J!” She looked at it and wrote her own. “I did it!” Avery started with “at” words on the left side of the alphabet. She then experimented with writing other words phonetically, including silly ones. She then said, “How can I read these? I know!” She blended the sounds together and read even her silly words aloud! I invited Brayden to join in on the right side of the alphabet. He wrote some “at” words. I love how he isolated each letter-sound and wrote down what he heard. He initially wrote “mat” without the “a,” but when prompted to listen for the sound in the middle of the word, he figured out that the A was missing. Then Selina said, “I wrote some of those words yesterday.” I said, “Can you read what Brayden wrote?” So she sounded out each word and read it! Love these quiet learning opportunities that happen before school starts! 💛❤️💙💜💚 #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry

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    • Reading and writing happens everywhere. About three weeks ago, I sat down one day with a group of students eating their lunch. I brought over a clipboard and a marker. I decided to write a lunchtime story. We wrote the story together based on what the children were eating. Other students heard our story and came over so that they could add to it. A JK student even decided to extend our story and add her own couple of sentences. The next day, students requested that we write another one, and we’ve continued with this story time routine. We have the stories on our bookshelf, and a few weeks ago, I caught a couple of students reading one together. This has happened more since then. Some children even bring the older stories over to the snack table to read while they eat.

I share the points above because they’re what led to my first epiphany and later led to a second one. As Paula and I noted in our conversation yesterday, since all of our students write through play, none of them seem to use pattern sentences. There’s voice in their writing. I think about my time as a Grade 1 teacher, and the “I see …” and “I like …” sentence starters that I used all the time. I know that these sentence starters can be a great way to reinforce sight words and encourage some struggling writers to write, but it can be a challenge to have students move beyond these pattern sentences. I remember this struggle when I taught Grade 2. The student writing was often stagnant and lacked voice, but encouraging students to experiment with word choice and extend their thinking was hard, as conventions always seemed to trump ideas. Writing through play is all about ideas. It’s about capturing these ideas in writing, and extending student thinking. Sometimes in Kindergarten, that’s done through writing down more ideas, and sometimes that’s done through artwork, building, drama, music, dance, or conversations. Writing is about communicating, and when we teach and support writing through play-based learning, I think that we also show students the power of the written word and the voice that it carries. 

It was then later on last night that I had my second epiphany. When we teach and reinforce reading skills through play, we produce readers that understand that reading can happen anywhereI’ve noticed that a lot this year. Our students read everything. They want to find out what things say, what they mean, and how they might share similar messages: linking the reading and the writing. This point was driven home yesterday afternoon. It was a beautiful day in Southern Ontario, and we were outside for most of the afternoon. When we went outside, one of our students noticed a new sign on the other side of the gate. He wanted to read it. He asked me if he could go out and have a look at it. A JK student joined him out there, and together, they read the sign with very limited help from me. We then discussed what it meant. What I love about this particular example is that the SK student started the year telling me that he could “only read a Level 2 book” and the JK student started the year just learning the letter-names and sounds. Neither one of them would have considered themselves capable of reading a sign on their own, but now they do. They’re not the only ones! I think that part of producing good readers is helping children believe in themselves and seeing just how much they can read. They need more than levelled texts to do this.

I know that the updated Kindergarten Program Document supports reading and writing in this way, but what about beyond Kindergarten? What have educators and parents tried in other elementary grades? What are the benefits and/or drawbacks to this approach? As the year quickly comes to an end, I think about what play-based learning has done for all of our students, and I wonder about what else is possible. Play doesn’t mean ignoring academics, but approaching it differently. I think there’s value in this beyond Kindergarten. What do you think?