Monday, 4 September 2017

Environment as Third Educator

As I enter into my seventh year as an educator in Kindergarten and my fourth year in the same classroom, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the changes to our learning environment over the years and share some of my thoughts as to why these changes have been made. To help with this comparison, I will use photos from the first year classroom layout and our current classroom setup. 

September 2014
September 2017
This is our whole group learning space. In the past, this space has been used to gather for whole group activities and sharing. When we are not all together in the space, it was sometimes used for extending building or playing math games. More often than not, it was left empty and took up a large space that was unused during thinking and learning time. This year, we decided to move the carpet to the corner of the room and incorporate it into the reading and calming space. As we are challenged to consider organizing the space to accommodate for multiple purposes, such as brief group meetings and opportunities for small-group and individual work (The Kindergarten Program, 2016), we wanted to make use of this large space during thinking and learning time. We can now briefly meet as a large group when needed and provide alternative seating (i.e., logs, mats), use the space for yoga and meditation, book browsing, listen to reading on the computers, and exploring our feelings and emotions.    

September 2014
September 2017
September 2017
Our creative area originally began on the opposite side of the classroom, but was moved closer to the sinks and art supply cupboards in more recent years. We always appreciated the large space for students to create on, and that has remained a staple in our classroom. This year however, we removed one of the four tables from the creative art area, and placed another two tables together for more focused small-group work. We are working with a new prep coverage model, whereby one teacher covers all kindergarten preps to support minimizing the number of adult transitions for our youngest learners (YRDSB, 2017). This teacher will be helping to build literacy behaviours with small groups of children as well as support them in play based learning experiences (YRDSB, 2017). With this in mind, we created a space close to our literacy materials to support this learning. It currently has a provocation (invitation to learn) which invites students to make their name using magnetic letters or window writers on mirrors. 

September 2014
September 2017
September 2017
The math area has evolved over the years. In the beginning, we had it placed in a corner but found that students were using the materials all the way on the other side of the classroom in the drama area. We then moved it beside drama and building so that the materials could be used interchangeably in all areas. This year, it remains in the same space but we added a carpet to the area, as we found students would sometimes use the larger carpet to explore math materials in the past. We didn't want to remove the table entirely, so we placed one beside the carpet for provocations and small-group work. We also started with an invitation that was available to explore during Welcome To Kindergarten in the spring, so that new students feel a sense of familiarity with the environment and materials when they enter on their first day. 

September 2014
September 2017
The building area has always been a favourite in the classroom and requires a big space for planning, creating, and constructing. During the first year, we had the building materials facing the large carpet. The space was nice and big, however we often found ourselves having to break down structures when transitioning to prep coverage, which in turn would interrupt the children's play. Having an area where they can save their work throughout the day was very important to us, so we used a smaller carpet to define this area. We also moved it closer to the drama and math areas, again to extend play and use materials interchangeably. This year we also added a table for various reasons and opportunities including planning, building on another surface/level,  and to display provocations. 

September 2014
September 2017
The drama area has been an area that often ends up being too crowded for the amount of interest it receives from the children. This year, we are very excited for the initial layout of the drama area. Because we gained more space by moving the large carpet to the corner, we were able to open the drama area up to allow movement and creativity. We added bins with pots and pans, scarves, multicultural dolls, and healthy foods to start and can change them as interests change throughout the year. We also added greenery and a mirror for a more home-like feel. 

September 2014
September 2017
Our self-regulated snack area remains close to the cubbies for easy access and clean-up. In the morning it also serves as a sign-in area, where students can find their names and place it in the basket to show they are here. The same names are later used to show that they have visited the snack table throughout the morning. The cubbies hold picture frames, that will later be filled with pictures of families/children. The framed art work is from my first inquiry with my kindergarten students. These watercolour paintings are close to my heart, as they are a reminder of where I started on my inquiry journey and how far I have come in the last five years. We often keep pieces of past documentation displayed throughout the classroom to spark curiosity, wonder, and interest from our new and returning students. I learned the importance of preserving history through my Kindergarten AQ course that was instructed by Joanne Babalis

September 2015
September 2017
Our science and light exploration area has always been close to a window in order for the children to observe the outdoors from inside. This year, we have opened the space up to include a shelf with loose parts (i.e., feathers, rocks, seashells, and pinecones) and writing materials, a table to explore these materials closely or for provocations, and a light table with mirrors to explore materials on different surfaces and dimensions. My personal favourite addition is a four shelf science cart that comes apart to provide different visual and touch observations. It is also on wheels so that it can easily be taken outside during our outdoor explorations. 

September 2017
September 2017
Our classroom environment also includes learning in the outdoors. A previous post of mine; Outdoor Learning, will show you a glimpse into our outdoor learning area, which has also been updated this year. I look forward to blogging about it soon! 

 
We need to think about creating classroom environments that give children the opportunity for wonder, mystery and discovery; an environment that speaks to young children’s inherent curiosity and innate yearning for exploration is a classroom where children are passionate about learning ...
(The Kindergarten Program, 2016, p.29)

Saturday, 1 October 2016

The Sunflower

We often set out still-life art provocations for students throughout the school year. Through these experiences, we encourage students to look closely, touch, and smell the subject; to form a relationship and transfer their understanding of the subject to paper (The Language of Arts). 



I enjoyed documenting our youngest learners first experience with still-life portraits during the first month of school. The following are some of the panels I put together using the program Pages. I enjoyed watching each child's interpretation of the sunflower, as they worked side-by-side. I was also impressed with the uniqueness of each child's interpretation of the sunflower, which led me to explore the development of children's art.   

                 

 

There was a special moment during our time with the sunflowers that I look forward to sharing in a later post. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks


I was excited to receive an e-mail from Tegu asking to partner with them this year. This company, who own their manufacturing plant in Honduras, provide not only a high-end specialty toy to customers, but also living-wage jobs to people and nations of the Developing World, plant trees by the dozen, and help at-risk kids get off the streets and into school.



The company was started for social mission reasons; to provide for job creation and holistic employment in Honduras, the third poorest country in the western hemisphere. Starting with 20 employees, Tegu now employs over 300 workers!



In addition to the main reason Tegu was created, I absolutely love how the magnetic wooden building blocks were developed and came to life- in the classroom! They tested ideas, made prototypes, and most importantly, they observed play

Their Education section reminds us of the importance of free playtime and offers connections to support children's development over time in the areas of fine motor, pattern recognition, balance, scale, imaginative play, problem solving, and story telling.  



I cannot wait to introduce this new twist on an old classic to my students in September! The wooden blocks are eco-friendly and the finishes are 100% non-toxic and water based, making it safe for our youngest learners. This highly developmental toy is both educational and imaginative, and I can already see how beneficial it will be to all areas of the classroom. 



If you would like to add a set to your classroom or home, you can use the coupon code Kindie20 when you order online to receive 20% off your entire cart! This offer will expire at the end of the month, so be sure to order in time for back-to-school! 

Don't forget to also check out my YouTube Video, where I have fun reviewing the Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks 14 Piece Set!




"Boundless Play is playing without an agenda and delighting 
in the joy of the moment. It's a race to explore and discover."



Friday, 29 July 2016

Outdoor Learning


I am thrilled that The Kindergarten Program includes a section on Learning In The Outdoors where "learning in the outdoors is included as part of the instructional day, and the educators play an active role, engaging with children in an inquiry stance as they play, explore, and learn together outside the classroom." (The Kindergarten Program, pg. 34, 2016)


This past year, our teaching team made a commitment to include Outdoor Exploration to our instructional day. We dedicated time each week to play and learn outdoors. We took nature walks in the forest behind our school, used Sit Spots to build connections with nature, and created opportunities in our "backyard" to explore and create. You can visit Rose Marcelli of Educate.Invest.Inspire and Lucas Serper of Play.Create.Inquire for more information on our Outdoor Exploration


  
As part of my commitment to outdoor learning, I created a proposal for adding learning materials to enhance the space we have in our kindergarten pens. I also incorporated ways in which we could use those same materials beyond the fence. The proposal was well received and approved by our supportive Administration and School Council. 


Our outdoor order was placed with Louise Kool & Galt who "are the leading supplier of learning materials, furniture and equipment to the Canadian early childhood and elementary school markets (Louise Kool & Galt, 2016)." Having had the opportunity to visit their showroom last summer and tinker with their products, I knew that they were the right company to trust with our outdoor space. 






Photo Credit: Joanne Babalis

The products from Louise Kool & Galt enhanced the outdoor space that was previously designed with the help of Linda Naccarato of Art With Linda. Linda worked with our students to create a natural environment that included a painted mural, waterfall, stepping stones, and wooden house, as well as a bike path, and tire garden. She provided hands-on activities throughout the entire process, which engaged the students and further connected them to their environment. This included planning the environment using loose parts, painting the mural, planting flowers to attract various insects, exploring ramps and loose parts play, and engaging in dramatic play experiences. 





Photo Credit: Joanne Babalis

I look forward to continue using the outdoor space with our students, as well as taking our new materials beyond the fence, in the upcoming school year! (We will be doing this with the help of our newly purchased Mac Sport Wagons from Costco). I am excited to continue documenting students learning and having it available for them to observe from the outdoors and I am most excited to foster our students curiosity and sense of wonder and contribute to their mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health and well-being (The Kindergarten Program, 2016). 



The following are three of my favourite children's books and educator resources to inspire learning outside!


The Other Way To Listen by Byrd Baylor



If You Hold A Seed by Elly MacKay


The Listening Walk by Paul Showers


in the Primary Grades by Georgia Heard


by The Laboratory School at the 
Dr. Eric Jackman Institute of Child Study 

  
by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter


"It's a good thing to learn about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it's even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it's a lot more fun."
Richard Louv


Friday, 22 July 2016

Ontario Focused Intervention Program


"Ontario Funding Intervention Program (OFIP) Tutoring supports school boards in initiating or extending programs that help students in Grades JK to 6 to strengthen their literacy and numeracy skills beyond the regular school day. This includes programs such as before and after-school tutoring, homework clubs and cultural programs that focus on literacy and numeracy skill development. Partnerships with existing community-based programs that provide tutoring for students are encouraged." (Ministry of Education, 2016) 

I came across the YRDSB's posting for OFIP and thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for our youngest learners to strengthen their literacy skills. My teaching partner, Rose Marcelli, and myself created a proposal for the program and had it approved by our Admin and Superintendent. 

After conducting observations and assessments in the area of literacy, students were selected by their educators, and we developed an Early Learning After School Program that aimed to support and strengthen literacy skills based on their individual needs. 

As a team, made up of six educators, we planned and implemented play-based literacy activities that connected to areas of focus in the classroom. We included provocations that targeted sight word recognition and recording, created stories using story props and texts that were familiar to the students, and explored wonders through fictional and non-fictional texts. We also conducted small-group guided reading and writing lessons, as well as whole group oral language opportunities to share our learning.





As an educator team, we used Google Drive to share our weekly plans, anecdotal observations, and next steps for learning. We communicated our students progress with parents and guardians, as well as provided a package to educators with student work samples, anecdotal notes and observations, and assessments, to inform next steps in the classroom. 

I found this program to be extremely beneficial for our youngest learners. In the two months of focused instruction, we were able to see an abundance of growth, not only in their literacy skills, but also in their attitude towards learning. We strived to instil in them a growth mindset, where each student believed that their abilities could be improved over time through hard work. 



Click here to read more about the program from 
Rose Marcelli of Educate.Invest.Inspire.