Choosing an Easel

When Kindergarten teachers go hunting for furniture for their classrooms, an easel is one of those pieces that strikes high on the priority list (at least it does for us!) When it came time to choose an easel for our classroom, we chose your typical Kindergarten tripod easel – it’s at the eye level of our students, is nicely angled, and is what we considered a lovely venue for painting. Google “Kindergarten easel” and you will of course be inundated with photographs of a traditional, angled easel. We had never challenged this type of easel, and placed one in our classroom for September.


Painting on a Tilted Easel


One day, the idea of a “Flat Easel” was brought to our attention. This was a thought-provoking idea for us. Why should children paint on a surface in which their work would drip? A flat easel (simply a table dedicated to a space for painting) would provide a space for children to paint without the worry of their paint dripping and ruining their pieces.

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We do have both easels in our Kindergarten classrooms, and see the value in both. We often bring pastels to our tilted easel and paints to our flat easel, but this changes often. What type of easel do you think will work best in your space?


Graphic Communication

Children come to Kindergarten along a wide developmental continuum when it comes to writing; some children are writing short sentences, and some are barely ready to pick up a pencil. It becomes clear then that a space in the classroom where children can express themselves graphically in a range of ways and at varying levels is imperative.

This is certainly the case in our classroom. The Graphic Communication Centre is a space in the classroom that provides opportunities for children to communicate thoughts, ideas and experiences by way of dialogue, writing, and graphic representation. In this process, writers move from scribbles or symbols to letters to words and beyond. Materials placed at this centre may include but are not limited to: whiteboards and whiteboard markers, a computer, a mailbox, chalk and chalkboards, different types of paper, a co-constructed alphabet, plain books for each child within which he or she can explore writing, letter stamps and manipulatives, and a range of writing utensils, such as crayons, pencil crayons, markers, etc. Here is an example of one way in which the Graphic Communication Centre was set up on the first day of school.


The following photographs highlight the progression of writing behaviours and abilities in Junior and Senior Kindergarten this year in our context. Children are able to write about topics of interest to them, or engage in writing that supports authentic learning, such as labeling a castle, or creating a menu, for example.

These pieces of graphic representations clearly highlight the wide developmental range represented by our earliest learners across a variety of contexts. Our job as educators is to meet them where they are, and move them forward in ways that are meaningful and authentic to them.



This is the name of everyone in my family.


Dear mom, I hope you feel better.


Teacher scaffolding: Writing the first few words, allowing the child to complete the remainder.

The horse says Nay. The skunk says I am going to stink you. The chicken says stop skunk.




Today I made a paper airplane.



Beginning to write longer phrases and sentences…


The rabbit goes in the hole.


Do you like that you lost a tooth?


I wonder why there’s still green leaves outside.

Scaffolded writing strategy: The teacher draws lines corresponding to the size of each word dictated by the student to support stamina in writing.



Song lyrics to “We wish you a Merry Christmas.”

This child no longer uses the scaffolded writing strategy. The child demonstrates stamina in her writing, and the experience has modelled creating space between words.

Graphic communication in the classroom is not limited to one centre, but rather, must be seen as integrated throughout the classroom environment. Whether your students are labelling racetracks or castles, writing on recently-produced creations, or creating survey questions for their peers, honour the developmental range and the individual abilities of each student. Kindergarten in Ontario is a two-year program!

Move Outside of Your Four Walls

Nurturing a professional dialogue outside of the four walls of one’s own classroom is one of the most powerful things an educator can do. It gives a new context for learning, and observing children engaged in spaces different from your own act as a natural provocation for dialogue. When we visit other schools, just as when we host educators, we aren’t looking to replicate, but rather to be inspired by classroom communities.

We recently had the opportunity to visit the beautiful Richland Academy in Richmond Hill. We were so inspired by their many inquiries, their school’s common aesthetic, the invitations they create for children, and their common language as a faculty. Here are a few photos of their engaging and dynamic space:






Move outside of your four walls and visit a space that will inspire you! It’s free PD and supports the continuing dialogue we all need to push our thinking forward.


The Production Centre 

Visual art is another form of communication. Children show what they know, wonder, and dream about in their creations. They make sense of the world around them, developing their fine motor skills, knowledge of artistic forms, and enhance their creativity. Art permeates the Kindergarten program as a vehicle for children to express their ideas and construct understanding. At this centre, materials of a hundred colours and textures are available. The display of new and recycled materials is both logical and evocative. Materials with plasticity such as paint and clay can be modelled and moulded to allow children to explore their ideas in many forms. Students have the opportunity to be innovative, creating art forms of their choice and are driven by their interests.  The ideas that they come up with are far more inspiring than any ‘craft’ that could be organized and imposed upon them.  Their thinking comes alive in their creations, producing an image of who they are as a child.


If you tell them how it’s meant to be played with, they’ll never veer. – Hirsh-Pasek

It is not uncommon to observe our students struggle with a challenge.  “I don’t know how to make this…”  “Can you attach this for me?”  “What does a ________ look like?”  As teachers, we are here to support our students and to facilitate their learning, understanding that the challenge itself is the learning that we hope for. Instead of fixing problems, or ‘doing’ for them, we celebrate the struggle, suggesting ways in which they may overcome the challenge. “Where could you find that out?” “What other material might work better?”

As adults we tend to look at children’s artwork with a prescriptive lens, seeing only what is obvious, looking for a product that we can make sense of.  It is easier to provide the pieces and give directions about how they will all fit together: a spider with a body, eight legs and 2 eyes, a traced hand becomes a turkey.  Best practices in early years education permits us to let go of the obvious and give the control to our students.  Allow them to be innovative, collaborate and trust that when the materials end up off the shelf and are piled on the floor, something inspiring will result.  If you can’t determine what that resulting creation is …. just ask.

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The letters are loopy because they are laughing. – Kindergarten Student

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 Innovation is Creativity With Purpose – David Weiss

Inquiry Centres

A variety of Inquiry Centres exist within our classroom environment. These inquiry centres provide students with a wide range of opportunities to explore, discover, practice and demonstrate knowledge and skills in all areas of learning. Materials are placed with intention at each inquiry centre to provoke thinking and to uncover curriculum expectations; yet, the open-ended framework allows students to explore the materials freely. With this structure, educators can clearly identify where the child is, and push them further and deeper in their thinking. Inquiry centres allow children to extend their learning “outside of the box‟ as they begin to develop a culture of thinking.


Construction is a creative and collaborative space where intricate communities and habitats are built. It is a place to extend imaginative play, to promote language development and to increase mathematical and scientific understanding. Children are also building gross motor skills, physical strength and developing coordination.

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Materials: wooden blocks (various sizes and shapes), tree blocks, coloured rocks, stars and straws, mirror blocks, boxes, construction journal, writing materials for signs, names, labels, diagrams, pictures and books, props


Visual art is another form of communication. Children show what they know, wonder, dream about, and are afraid of in their creations. While producing, they are making sense of the world around them, developing their fine motor skills, knowledge of artistic forms and elements, and enhancing their creativity. Art permeates the Kindergarten program as a vehicle for children to express their ideas and construct understanding.

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Materials: found & recycled materials (natural & otherwise), paper, paint, writing utensils, glue, tape, mirrors, clay, , wire, scissors, easel


In Drama, complex ideas regarding daily life are played out. Many different ideas and scenarios are imagined and dramatized in this space. The children pretend to be adults they know from their lives: parental figures, teachers, doctors, and members of their own community at large.

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Materials: clothing, writing materials, message pads, child sized furniture, full-length mirror, building blocks, scarves


This is a space that urges children to ask scientific questions about the world around them. It is through these questions that children grapple in their thoughts, develop theories, and ultimately come to conclusions based upon their own actions: sifting through sand, examining a variety of shells, sketching the veins in a leaf, hypothesizing about life cycles, etc. As we take the children outdoors, we focus on nurturing their relationship with nature and a love for their own world, consequently, bringing an understanding of the outdoors into our classroom environment.

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Materials:  plants,  books, magnifying glasses, baskets for collections, recording materials, observation journals, found & recycled materials


Graphic Communication provides an opportunity for communicating ideas, thoughts, and experiences by way of dialogue, writing, and graphic representation. In this process, writers are required to multi-task as they draw upon the many necessary skills needed in the development of their printing and writing for purpose, (for example: moving from scribbles to letters and words, and beyond).

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Materials: variety of paper, pencils, crayons, markers, personal writing books, alphabet books, alphabet letters, computers, iPads, manipulatives


Due to students’ strong sensory orientation, they have to physically manipulate and explore in order to make meaning of mathematical concepts. They begin taking risks with their learning and continually are challenged with problems throughout their inquiries. Students work collaboratively, developing their social-emotional selves, while extending on each others’ creative thinking and ideas. Through this process they are developing their 21st century thinking skills.

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Materials: math manipulatives for sorting, patterning & counting,  writing tools, 5 and 10 frames, beads, dice, geometric figures and 2D shapes, sorting trays, 100 square carpet


At Light, a light table or flashlights and an overhead projector invite children to experiment with light. These instruments provide experiences with cause and effect, shape, color and silhouette. The light source shines underneath the children’s faces, from below rather than above and creates a new relationship with light. This is a new way to perceive light and experience transparency, luminosity and opacity.

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Materials: overhead projector, light table, jewels, number, letters, translucent & opaque paper, stones, tracing paper, transparencies, markers, watercolours, prism block, geometric figures and flashlights


A cozy and inviting nook is just the place for children to foster a love and interest in books. A variety of texts will be available to students to engage with throughout the year. Looking at pictures, sharing a book with a friend, chanting a poem, and retelling stories with puppets are some of the events that will happen here. In addition to books, audio recordings are available for students. The Listening and Reading area is always available as a place to slow down and snuggle up with a book.

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Materials: picture books, class made books, pointers, non-fiction, big books, retelling materials, poem charts, audio books, French and other language books


Rich sensory experiences are essential during the primary years, as children rely on these opportunities to make meaning and gather information. The touch and sound of these materials is powerful as children take risks to overcome challenges in their learning-based play. For example, filling and refilling a variety of containers to meet an ultimate goal allows children to explore concepts of volume, mass, weight and conservation. It is here that they will discover the abilities of these mediums and their capabilities.

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Materials: sand, water, snow, variety of plastic containers, lids, dishes, funnels, sieves, scoops, shovels, rakes, combs, spoons, molds, pails, shakers, props (sticks, stones, shells, magnifiers, cars, flowers, trees, animals), measuring cups & spoons, plastic tubing, plaster, wire whip, water wheels & pumps

The centres in our classroom are flexible and do change from time to time, in response to the interests of our students. Materials placed are changed regularly to provoke thinking and elicit learning that meets curriculum expectations. This is just one way of setting up a classroom into spaces that invite learning that we have found to be successful in promoting an optimal environment for kindergarten students.  This is not a formulaWe hope you can be inspired by our classroom environment and implement what you take from us in your own context.

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Environment as the Third Teacher

In the schools of Reggio Emilia, the environment is thought to act as a “third teacher.” As such, it is highly organized and arranged in such a way that the materials are intentionally placed to inspire and elicit learning. The space is aesthetically pleasing and comfortable, utilizing natural tones and allowing the children to bring the colour to the space. It is an inviting and encouraging space.The classroom is flexible, evolving based on the ongoing interests of the students, inspiring them to partake in learning that is meaningful, authentic, and engaging.