How Do You Capture The Essence Of Each Child?

Tomorrow begins the last week of our school year. I’m feeling kind of sad today just thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong: I am looking forward to sleeping in, reading some great books, spending time with friends, and having a little more “me” time than I’ve had lately, at least until Camp Power begins later in the summerBut I’ve also had a permanent lump in my throat for the past week, and have found myself getting teary-eyed more often than I’d like to admit. Why? Because watching our confident, independent, strong, supportive, and caring students makes me realize just how far these children come in the past 10 months, and just how much I’m going to miss our SKs as they move on to Grade 1 next year. I know that they’re ready, but I’m still sad to see them go. 

Looking at our week ahead and thinking about these Senior Kindergarten students also has me thinking about what we share about kids as they move to the next grade. I know that we tell the next teacher about …

  • reading levels,
  • writing skills, 
  • math levels,
  • friendships,
  • and special needs or considerations,

but how do we capture the essence of each child in these short forms?

  • Do we tell about the child who can express all of her thoughts and feelings in great detail through her artwork?
  • Do we tell about the child that becomes even more motivated to read and write if linked with the topic of fashion?
  • Do we tell about the child that really needs the relationship first? Talk about his hockey game last night, his evening with his brother, or his adventures on the weekend. The safety of these discussions will have this child open up to you.
  • Do we tell about the child that needs to build confidence before showing just what he can do? Read an easier book first. Praise high. Let him know that you 100% believe in him, and then, offer the more challenging text. He’ll amaze you.
  • Do we tell about the child that’s going to need a hug at all of the times that you might not expect? Maybe it’s when he’s loud, or silly, or crying. Offer him a hug, and watch him transform. This connection matters!
  • Do we tell about the child that might scream or stomp or cry, but also knows what calms her, and can make these choices independently if just quietly prompted with, “What might make you feel better?”
  • Do we tell about the child that might challenge you, but if you embrace this challenge, she will also show you just how much she is able to do?
  • Do we tell about the children that might start their day at school really early (possibly even before 7:30), who are still yawning when they come in, eating breakfast around a school table, and interacting with peers that may present some challenges for them? Imagine the impact that this might have on the rest of their day. 
  • Do we tell about the children that have just spent the past couple of years connecting with one group of peers, and now, might need some additional time to connect with others?

I realize now just how much I didn’t tell, just how much I could have told, and just how much I need to find a way to tell before the year is through. I remember all of the years where the information that I wanted the most was the child’s academic levels. Then I would have a starting point for September. Yes, I still value this information, but watching my teaching partner, Paula, interact with kids makes me realize just how much I missed by not wanting to know more about the children themselves. 

  • What motivates them?
  • What scares them?
  • What makes them feel happy, sad, excited, and so many other complicated emotions?
  • What calms them?
  • What ultimately makes the difference for them?

Maybe it’s knowing this information that will also help us support academic growth. For kids really do need to be calm and alert in order to learn

I know that this week, we need to say “goodbye” to 11 SK children who mean the world to us. Somehow, I want to help next year’s teacher see everything that we see when it comes to these kids, so that they can love them just as much as we do. While I know that they will, saying, “goodbye,” is never easy to do. How do you deal with this? Here’s to a wonderful last week of school for everyone, and an exciting look towards the future!

Aviva

Is It Okay For Kids To Do “Whatever They Want?”

I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a few days now after hearing a single sentence, which has made me pause. The comment was nothing more than a passing one. In fact, I bet that if I asked the person about making it, she wouldn’t even remember doing so. At the time, we were having a great professional conversation around programming and pedagogy, when she said the words that stuck with me: “It must be hard to program in here as the kids can do whatever they want.” These words made me silent, as to a degree the statement is true, but to another degree, the truth is far more complex than this.

I’ve blogged many times before about our play-based Kindergarten Program. My teaching partner, Paula, and I believe very strongly in the pedagogy embedded in our Program Document, and we really do embrace the value of free playeven though the term itself may concern us. We don’t make children do any specific activity or go to any particular area in the classroom. Or, at least, not as a rule. There are exceptions to any rule though. Sometimes, if we notice that a child is really frustrated, overly excited, or just reluctant to venture out of a particular space, we might invite them to do so. We don’t force this. We do offer some choices though, offer to sit down with them, and even offer to support them, and most times, one of these options work. For most children on most days, everyone moves freely around the room and in and out of different spaces.

While we don’t outline specific activities in any one area of the room, or even do separate times for literacy and math learning, we do embed literacy and math in every space around our classroom: indoors and out.

  • There is paper everywhere. Clipboards, markers, and pencils are found in every corner of the room, and we even have a few iPads, which kids will use for PicCollages, researching, and/or Explain Everything recordings.
  • Books, which connect to the different areas, are available in these spaces. They are lying open, they’re sitting on chairs, or they’re in little book boxes down at the children’s level. Many are texts that we have read together already, so the students know them and feel as though they can access them. Some are pattern books. All include detailed pictures and numerous sight words. These are books that students can use for storytelling or reading. Even the eating table has a bin of books on it, and many children read and talk about these texts as they eat.
  • There are small, wooden people, who students use for storytelling and dramatic play. Some children create their own out of plasticine. Others use wooden people in the block space to tell stories or make their own paper people to use in the sensory bin. The classroom is full of oral language, and students regularly use new terminology and vocabulary during play.
  • Math resources are everywhere. There are rulers out to draw lines and measure spaces. There are math books out that connect to the different areas (e.g., a book about shapes and geometry found in structures is open in our building space). There are loose parts, which function well as math manipulatives, and students use them to measure, count, and even fill areas as they play. There is a number chart that a child made on the wall, and children use it to check number formation and for counting purposes. There are even some calendars that students made to record important events, such as the pick-up schedule for the milk.

Abi was so proud of herself for writing this note to ELP 2 to ask for blocks. @paulacrockett worked with her to sound out the words, and she read back to me what she wrote. She’s beginning to blend some sounds together as she reads. Then Edward realized the connection between different shaped blocks. I think my question was a challenge, but he showed me his understanding through his actions. Now to continue with the names of these 3-D figures. Abi and Ella came back from ELP 2 with enough foam blocks to fill the bottom area of the shelf (almost). Would love to explore different shape combinations with them. Or how else could they use these blocks? I wonder if our provocation for tomorrow will help! SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #iteachk #engagemath

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  • There are also the two of us — not to mention the 26 kids in the classroom — who act as amazing resources and models for each other. We spend almost our whole day playing with, talking with, and listening to kids. This is as true inside the classroom as outside. We use this time to support reading and writing instruction, introduce and reinforce new vocabulary, encourage problem solving, notice and name literacy and math behaviours, and target small group and individual instruction depending on kids and their needs. This blog post here, and my comment on it, shows how so much of what Tracy and Cheryl wrote aligns with our thoughts and practices. 

While we may let kids lead a lot of their learning, we do ensure — through the spaces and materials that we provide — that children meet expectations and continue to grow academically, socially, and emotionally. From the outside looking in, our Kindergarten classroom may appear chaotic. It may seem as though we lack structure, but in fact, routine is a key component of the success of our program. We are incredibly routine in the flow of our day, and while we may not force kids to do activities, all children know our expectations. And maybe it’s this last point that becomes my best reply to the initial comment. Could kids in all classrooms do “whatever they want,” as long as what they do aligns with program/curriculum expectations? I think “yes.” With the materials that we provide, our provocations, student questions, our regular conversations with kids, and the conversations that they have with each other, there is no way that children can avoid meeting expectations and developing essential skills. These kids are going to be,

  • listening and speaking with each other (and with us).
  • reading and writing.
  • communicating in various meaningful and authentic ways.
  • engaging in math talk.
  • problem solving.
  • working alone and with others.
  • collaborating on projects.
  • addressing big issues, including those connected to the environment, which has driven a lot of our learning throughout the year.
  • learning new terminology and vocabulary, and using these words in different contexts.
  • learning how to self-regulate and what truly works for them.

Likely, none of this learning will look the same for every child and/or take place in the same area of the classroom, on the same day, or at the same time. Does this make programming challenging? Maybe. But it also puts kids at the centre of the learning and at the centre of our conversations around programming. I think that this might be what’s most important. It’s for this very reason that I believe that even if I left Kindergarten, I’d still be looking at students, expectations, classroom spaces, and programming through a Kindergarten lens.

Maybe children doing “whatever they want” does not need to be seen in a negative light. Possibly we just need to re-frame what this actually means and become comfortable with the messy, wonderfulness of the rich learning that can happen in this kind of environment. I believe in the value of this kind of learning, and even though it may not be a popular opinion, I want to stand up for it. What about you?

Aviva

Wishing For A Stressful Father’s Day Again …

Today is Father’s Day. I used to get stressed out just thinking about this holiday. I wanted to be able to spend time with my dad in Toronto, my step-dad in Hamilton, and my step-dad’s family, as we usually celebrated my grandfather’s birthday coming up soon afterwards. The day was always a matter of trying to balance everything.

Sometimes I did a really good job of this juggling act …

  • I managed to do breakfast with one person, lunch with another, and dinner with a third.
  • Occasionally, I tried to celebrate Father’s Day early with some people and on time with others. Everyone had input on this decision, and everyone seemed happy with the results.

And other times, every ball seemed to come crashing down. It was during these years that I either didn’t make it into Toronto until the next weekend and/or missed one of the family events closer to home. While my dad, step-dad, and grandpa always seemed to understand, I still worried that I might have disappointed someone.

One year, my mom and step-dad were away for Father’s Day, so I celebrated beforehand with them. The Saturday before Father’s Day was also better for my dad, so I went in early to Toronto to have a Father’s Day breakfast with him, and then I had Father’s Day all to myself. Would you believe that my grandfather’s birthday festivities were also delayed that year, so that my mom and step-dad would be back from their holidays first?! I remember thinking that this was the calmest Father’s Day ever! I didn’t feel the stress of trying to see everyone, and I even got a wonderful, quiet Sunday just for me. But then this year came …

This is my first Father’s Day without my dad. I miss him.

  • I miss our nightly talks even if they were short.
  • I miss going to see him, and watching him get so excited to attend and help lead the Saturday synagogue services.
  • I miss hearing him say, “I love you!”
  • I miss his hugs.
  • I miss the little kiss on the cheek he always gave me when I arrived and before I left.
  • I miss his excitement, and genuine interest, over my teaching experiences.
  • I miss our conversations about world events.
  • I miss his love of bridge, and his many references to Master Points(This is a game I still don’t understand, but I know that he adored.)
  • And I miss the connection that we forged in those later years when our relationship truly changed.

I have an amazing family, with an incredibly supportive mom and step-dad, whom I absolutely love. I know that the two of them want desperately to make today easier for me. To think that even a year ago, I was overwhelmed with so much to balance on Father’s Day, and now I would do anything in the world to have these problems again. For everyone out there having a difficult Father’s Day, know that you’re not alone. And for others, remember to hug your dad tightly, give him a kiss, and tell him just how much you love him, for when the time comes that you can’t do this again, you truly do wish that you did so more often.

The Photograph I Have On My Desk At Home To Remind Me Of My Dad.

Aviva

What Are Your “Shelf Spaces?”

No doubt about it: the school year is coming to an end, and while educators may be feeling more relaxed now that report cards are in and some additional paperwork is done, this can be one of the most challenging times of the year for kids. Some children are really excited about summer coming, and others, are stressed knowing that routines are going to change and unsure about what the next few months will bring. New classes and teachers for next year also bring additional stress for some students, and kids present this stress in various ways. While some children can talk about their feelings, others act out in response to what they’re feeling. My teaching partner, Paula, and I have noticed both responses in our class, and we knew that we needed a plan.

Since about the middle of May, Paula and I have spent a lot of time talking about a couple of students in particular. We started to notice some new behaviour in the classroom.

  • A couple of kids were colouring on items other than paper.
  • A couple of kids were destroying other people’s work.
  • A couple of kids were blaming other children for problems they caused.
  • A couple of kids were yelling more, crying more, and interrupting more.
  • The wandering, which has not been a problem since the beginning of the school year, was starting up again.

Thinking about Stuart Shanker’s question of, “Why this child, and why now?,” Paula and I wondered if some student talk of the year coming to an end might have prompted this change in behaviour. Our classroom is really routine from the first day of school until the last, and with some special activities and assemblies, a few routines were starting to change. These couple of kids in particular really need this routine, and so were these small changes leading to bigger behaviours? 

While we’ve really considered what makes children feel calm, and how we can incorporate even more Self-Reg options into the classroom at this busy time of the year, we also recognized that it was the social component of play that was further increasing the stress response. These few children really needed a quieter, independent space. How could we create this space though when we teach in a small classroom, with no full wall between our room and the one next door, and many children in both rooms? We needed to get creative!

This is when we remembered how much our students love the shelves. We’ve even removed some of the dividing shelves to create little sitting and playing spaces in our shelves. Kids write and draw here, build here, and even chat quietly with their friends here. The safety and security of the shelf really seems to comfort our students, and many of the children choose these shelf spaces when they want and need the illusion of quiet.

What if we created another shelf space for these children that need it? 

We thought about what makes these kids feel calm.

  • Lego
  • Drawing and writing
  • Reading
  • Eating

And so, at the front of our classroom, right by the door, we put two chairs in front of the little shelf. We added some small boxes of supplies on the shelf, and we even create a “shelf eating space.” While we initially suggested that the children go here when problems arose, we quickly changed this plan, and helped those few kids that need it, choose this space after our meeting time. This way we could be proactive. 

  • The shelf allows for some small, predictable, social time.
  • It allows for preferred, open-ended activities, that children can easily do on their own or with a friend.
  • It has space for children to bring other materials to it that they want or need.
  • It’s near a garbage can, so “shelf eating” is possible, and even keeps some kids focused on their food instead of on everything else that’s happening in the room.

We helped kids see that this can be a quiet, calming, independent space. It’s not a punishment to go to the shelf. In fact, while we initially created it for a few children, we notice many other children seeking out this space throughout the day. Usually children choose it on their own. Sometimes we suggest the shelf, and many kids eagerly go.

As the year comes to an end, sometimes those little quiet spaces are needed even more. In a busy, small classroom, it’s hard to find independent areas. Have others considered the shelf? We put two chairs in front of this shelf space. Kids create here, draw here, read here, and sometimes, even choose to eat here. It’s a space for some alone time, some quiet time, or even some time with a friend. We initially created it for a child that needed this space, but it really does benefit so many … and on some days, even more than others. It’s not punishment. In almost all cases, kids choose this spot. Sometimes it’s suggested as a quiet spot. But it really works. Shelves can truly be used for so many things! ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #selfregulation

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It has truly worked wonders, and has made us realize that even in a small, busy room, there can still always be a space for quiet and independence. Imagine how many other kids — in other grades — might benefit from a shelf.

The other day, somebody placed this quote by Stuart Shanker on our staff room table. 

These simple, but profound words, I think align so well with the decisions that we made based on our observations in the past month. We could have punished children for misbehaving, but instead, we tried to reduce the stress that might be at play. Here’s to the shelf that saved these kids and our classroom! How do you provide these “shelf spaces” in your room, and what benefit might they have for children? In the remaining days of school, it’s these independent, quiet areas, which might just make the difference for kids and adults alike. What do you think?

Aviva

Along With What We Change, What Stays The Same?

On Friday morning, I received this lovely tweet from Marialice B.F.X. Curran: an educator from the States, who I first had the pleasure of connecting with online many years ago.

When I clicked on the link to Marialice’s blog post, I realized some different things.

  1. I’ve been teaching for a really long time. 🙂 
  2. My classroom set-up and core belief systems have really evolved over the years. 
  3. No matter how many different grades I’ve taught, at no matter how many different schools, this “welcome to our classroom” video tradition has remained the same.

Our Kindergarten classroom now certainly doesn’t reflect the same spaces, pedagogy, and technology focus that my Grade 1/2 classroom of six years ago did, but there are some things that remain constant.

  • The classroom is ours. While my teaching partner and I may spend hours setting up the room at the end of August, we know that the space will evolve once the students enter. We’re excited to see the changes that they make, and the changes that they inspire in us. Back in 2012, I didn’t have a teaching partner, but I still had this desire to share the learning space with kids. 
  • The bulletin boards are still empty. We want students to own this space. Now though, we often use the bulletin boards as a way to share pedagogical documentation, and an evolution of a bigger classroom inquiry. While student work still exists in these spaces, so does the documentation that shows the process of this learning and indicates where we’re going next.
  • Technology is used to share thinking and learning. Six years ago, I was much more focused on student technology use than I am now. When people come to visit our classroom now, they’re often surprised about the absence of devices. We do have some children that create PicCollages to document their learning or use an iPad to record their thinking, but the focus is even less on the tool than it was back then. We now use technology to document learning, and while we almost always have an iPad with us, kids spend a limited amount of time on these devices. 
  • Connections between home and school are still paramount. It’s for this very reason that we continue to record a welcome video each year. We want to open up our classroom to families, both in a low-tech and a high-tech way. This first video shared with parents and students is an important part of that.
  • We want kids to love school! Starting back at school in September can be stressful for students of all ages. A quick video can help alleviate this stress, showing students what they can expect on the first day. The hope is that this will make them excited to come back. I love school, and my hope is that kids will have this same positive feeling towards our classroom space. Fast forward to a time that I now get to share a classroom with an amazing teaching partner, and it’s our love of school that also propels the recording of these videos.

So while these welcome messages might not sound exactly the same as they did six years ago, and may include a new face or two, they are a tradition that I plan on keeping for many more years to come. 

A Look At Just Some Of These Video Tours

A few years ago, I worked with a principal, Gerry Smith, who used to always say, “Change is the only constant.” I agree with this quote, and as someone that embraces change, I’m constantly trying to reflect and consider what we might want to change to better support kids. That said, I think we also need to consider what we want to remain the same. These videos fall into this second category for me. They may vary in length and message each year, but I still see the value in recording them. 

  • What about you: year after year, what’s something that you want to keep as part of your program?
  • How might this something still change slightly?
  • What are your reasons for these changes? 

As the school year comes to an end, this becomes the perfect time for reflection. I hope that others share some of their tweaked traditions as part of this reflective process. 

Aviva