Nature Alphabet

To investigate the formations of lower case letters, the SK students were invited to take their learning outdoors and collect as many ‘pieces of nature’ that they could find to collaborate and build all the lower case letters that they new.  As a teacher, there is little prep required for this provocation! Each student was given a brown paper bag to collect their materials and large pieces of white bristol board were laid down as our canvas.  As each letter was created it was photographed to be used later as our collective resource.  The students quickly took charge of their exploration, ensuring that no letters were missed.

How will we know that we have made all the letters? – K Student


We have to count! – K Student


No, We need a list! – K Student

The students were provided with the list of letters that they requested, and marked each letter as it was completed.  Together, they decided that if they duplicated letters they would review the pictures to choose the ones they liked best.  Once all of the letters had been built we moved back inside to decide on the pictures that would be displayed in our classroom.

This provocation allowed the students to take charge of their exploration and investigate lower case letter formations in an active and student-driven way.  Engaging students in this process allowed them to create a meaningful classroom resource to interact with in our space.

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 12.57.47 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-26 at 12.58.01 PM


The Gymnastics Alphabet

To provoke an interest in the way in which letters are formed, children are engaged in experiences that allow them to explore building letters using a variety of mediums.  Such provocations aim to inspire young learners to engage with letter formations in hands-on and meaningful ways.

The Gymnastics Alphabet

Alphabet Photography teamed with Gymnastics Canada to create a human alphabet and support them on their journey to the London 2012 Olympic games. Photographer Jennifer Blakeley  met with high profile Canadian gymnasts to shape their bodies into all 26 letters of the alphabet.  This alphabet was used to provoke student interest.

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 8.37.08 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-27 at 8.37.19 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-27 at 8.37.30 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-27 at 8.37.38 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-27 at 8.37.47 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-27 at 8.37.56 PMScreen Shot 2015-05-27 at 8.38.05 PM

Gymnastics_Alphabet – Click Here for Resouce

These images were printed and posted on the wall in our Senior Kindergarten classroom, responding to an interest in gymnastics that was observed in the play ground.  The students were eager to re-create a human alphabet featuring all 26 lower case letters.


The Best Part of Me

In kindergarten we continue to investigate aspects of our identity.  To provoke thinking we invite our students to participate in a variety of Identity Studies that aim to have students reflect on particular aspects of themselves, their families and their communities. Most recently each student was asked to think about what part of themselves they were most proud. The girls were excited to share their ideas and document their thinking through photographs. Identity studies are documented and made visible in our classroom envionment.


The best part of me is my eyes. Because I can look for anything I want. – K Student


The best part of my is my hair.  It is long and I can put it in a braid. – K Student


The best part of me is my heart. Because it gets me to love and wonder about stuff like playing and going in the bathtub. The things that make you happy. – K Student


The best part of me is my mouth because it gets me to smile. – K Student


The best part of me is my brain.  It gets me to think all of the stuff in my head. – K Student

The Hidden Alphabet

Read-alouds often act as rich provocations to inspire learning and push for thinking.

We regularly read a series of alphabet books that reinforce letters and sounds in meaningful ways and push children to think about their alphabet. A special bookshelf in the classroom “Book Nook,” containing alphabet books and replenished often, serves as a meaningful space for children to engage with their beginning understandings of letters and sounds.

One morning, we presented our students with a book entitled “The City ABC Book” by Zoran Milich.

Screen shot 2014-06-26 at 3.53.33 PM

Upon completion of the read-aloud, one student looked above at the ceiling, and proudly exclaimed…

AN X!!!

The children were bewildered at this interesting find. A camera was given to this student who photographed the image and led a group around the classroom and school for mornings to come, in search of letters in their environment.

We want to find ALL the letters. – Kindergarten Student

IMG_1612       IMG_1611

IMG_1603        IMG_1600

Can you guess the letters found in our environment?

Our favourite moment throughout this investigation occurred when a student decided to search for the “A.” She worked tirelessly to find it, looking under tables, in corners, at block arrangements, and so on. When it was suggested to her that she perhaps work to find another letter, one more simple to find, she simply dismissed the thought and persisted to search for “A.”

Shortly thereafter…


There, in the structure of our class easel, was the letter A. A great cheer and celebration ensued.


As a class, we worked together to find all of the letters of the alphabet, a “Hidden Alphabet” in our school environment, hung at the children’s level to engage with year round.

Screen shot 2014-06-26 at 4.05.43 PM

Here are a few of our favourite alphabet books:

Animal Babies by Chuck Murphy

Animal Alphabet by Bert Kitchen

The Butterfly Alphabet by KJell Sandved

Wildflower ABC by Diana Pomeroy

From Albatross to Zoo by Patricia Borlenchi

Light Table Stories

The Light Table provides a unique opportunity for students to select, explore and intentionally arrange materials. Thoughtfully placing each inanimate object down on the illuminated surface, students are invited to create their desired image. Once satisfied with their completed piece, teachers engage with students to provoke thinking and invite students to orally explain their visual narrative.




We go to the beach and then we go swimming. After that we go back to the hotel. The orange ball of string is the sun. At the beach there is rocks, water, fish, and seaweed. The beige string all at the bottom is the sand. The rocks is where the hotel is. My family is inside. My dad is blue, then my mom, me, my sister, my big brother and the tiny one is my baby brother. – K Student



The fish got swept into the whirlpool by a big gust of wind. The jewels were thrown into the whirlpool by all of the people standing around to get the fish to hold onto them… to help them. But inside the whirlpool there are fish traps whirling around because the whirlpool wants all of the fish to stay inside. The fish cannot escape because there is sand that swirls and they can’t see the jewels. The fish whirl down all the way and no one can tell where they will go – K Student


In Kindergarten, we offer children the opportunity to complete self-portraits throughout the year. They usually complete 6 self-portraits on a piece of white paper. These pieces are a powerful tool for us as educators to observe the growth and development of each child.

Screen shot 2014-05-30 at 2.20.26 PM

We display these in our halls for everyone to view. Each piece is dated and attached on top of the last one completed. This allows us to easily view the growth and development of each child.


Mirrors offer the chance for children to see what they look like and who they are becoming. This experience can be very captivating. Through looking at their features they begin to develop a sense of their identity. Through drawing themselves, we have the chance to see how they view themselves.


In addition to a traditional self-portraits that are completed with pencil and paper, we have offered a variety of other mediums for children to explore. As they transform these materials, they express their unique perspectives of how they view themselves.



Self-Portraits with Nature



Self-Portraits in Clay

Screen shot 2014-05-30 at 2.39.05 PM

Found Materials

* please see source by clicking here to see our Pinterest page

Screen shot 2014-05-30 at 2.39.17 PM


* please see source by clicking here to see our Pinterest page

See, Think, Wonder

See, Think, Wonder is a thinking routine we use often in our classroom to explore works of art, photographs, and other thought-provoking pieces. This routine comes from Harvard’s Project Zero: Making Thinking Visible, and it encourages children to make thoughtful observations and interpretations. Project Zero states that this routine “helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry.”

When we noticed that our students were consistently creating mazes using blocks in our Construction Centre, artful materials in our Production Centre, and outdoors using nature, we pondered ways in which to encourage our students to look even closer at the elements and criteria of mazes. After creating collaborative class mazes and placing photographs of mazes in the classroom, the See, Think, Wonder thinking routine was an effective way for us to allow our students to develop their abilities in observation, theorizing, and reasoning.


A photograph of a maze was placed on our projector, and students were asked: What do you see? What do you think about that? What does it make you wonder?

Here is an excerpt from the ensuing conversation:

I see different lines in different directions. ­– J

And there’s stops. If you go down there or there and here, you stop. – H

I think each line is a different path. – C

I see some patterns. There are parts that look the same. – E

I wonder if you go in the path, would you see colours like a rainbow? – O

I wonder if it starts here. – H

I wonder… how do you get to the end? – S

I wonder how you keep track of where you’ve gone and where you haven’t, because then you could go one way and you might go back to the start without knowing… – L

 This knowledge building conversation supported the students in thinking more deeply about a topic of interest to them, allowing them to be re-inspired to investigate mazes with a new lens. It also gave us as educators a window into what our students were thinking and wondering about, and supported us in providing further questions and provocations afterwards. Whether this routine is used near the beginning, middle or end of a project, it is sure to provoke thought and dialogue among our youngest learners.

Copies of this text are available online through Chapters Indigo at:

Artful Provocations

From time to time we will place a provocation at the Easel or Production Centre to inspire student interest.  If they choose, students have the opportunity to visit this space, observe details, sketch and paint artful representations of what has been intentionally displayed.


Peacock Feathers



 Spring Tulips


The Beading Tree – Co-Constructed by Students




The Beautiful Stuff Project

Beautiful Stuff! Learning with Found Materials by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini provided us with an inspirational starting point in our first year transforming our Kindergarten Program.  In response to the Full Day Early Learning Curriculum Document, many teachers are beginning their journey towards the implementation of play based programming.  However, abandoning traditional lesson plans and allowing room for our students to take the lead can be an overwhelming and, at times, intimidating endeavour.  The Beautiful Stuff Project, allows educators to feel prepared and anticipate learning outcomes while allowing our students to actively participate, engage and  control the direction of their learning in ways that are meaningful for them.


Materials are very important to the kindergarten classroom. Hundreds of colours, shapes, and textures are found within our room. The students explore, examine, and take care of these existing materials. The Beautiful Stuff project aims to investigate what it means to children when they have sought out, discovered, and collected materials themselves.  Does this affect the way they use and care for those material?  Are they more thoughtful, focused, and pleased with their efforts when they have been engaged in the process right from the beginning? What learning can come from this experience?

Beginning the Journey 

We began by gaining an understanding of what our students understood about the word ‘beautiful’.  Gathering as a class our students (all girls in our context) where asked the question  “What is beautiful?”  Their answers were documented:

a sparkly pink jewel, a princess, a ballerina dress, butterflies, a sparkly diamond.

To challenge and expand their concept of beauty, they were presented with a bag of ‘beautiful stuff’ consisting of materials such as: muffin wrappers, string, sticks, leaves, cotton balls etc. The found objects were displayed, passed around and manipulated. The students then co-construct of other things that they could collect that are beautiful.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 9.10.43 PM

Writing a Letter

The students are invited to write a letter to the parents explaining our project and asked them to assist with the collection of Beautiful Stuff:

For our classroom, we need help finding things that are beautiful.  We need to bring it in to share and work with at our ‘Production Centre.  We can find things that are beautiful but not from a store.  We have made a list that has some ideas.

Creating Anticipation

The bags were collected and displayed at the Discovery Centre while the girls waited in anticipation. We slowly began to open the bags. Bags were selected at random, opening one or two each day.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.36.56 PM   Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 9.11.54 PM

Sharing Materials

Each student is given the opportunity to share her own bag of Beautiful Stuff. Great pride is apparent while they carefully pulled the selected items out of their brown bag. The group waited in anticipation and orally shared their appreciation for the beautiful things.  The sharing of meaningful materials from home demonstrates social-elmotional development as each student is asked to share an item that is personal to them and allow it to become a part of our communal materials.  On occasion, students will be surprised by their peers glowing reactions to what they have brought, deciding that they would instead return the material home rather than share it where their peers … it is all a part of the learning process.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 9.11.40 PM

Sorting our Beautiful Stuff

Hundreds of beautiful things were brought into the classroom. After the materials were shared, they had to be organized. The girls took on this challenge confidently and with minimal guidance. Together they worked at sorting, classifying and organizing our beautiful stuff.  The girls were thoughtful and creative when suggesting and deciding upon their own sorting rules.  As each student opened their bag and displayed their materials the items were organized into several clear bins.  As new materials were presented our students debated whether the items belonged in existing bins or if a new sorting bin would be created.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 9.10.55 PM

It is exciting to see how the ideas of students differ from year to year, guiding the direction of the project in different ways.  We continue to see the materials collected during the Beautiful Stuff Project sorted and organised in a varierty of imaginative ways.

Colours, Shiny Things, Things from Nature, Soft, Slippery, Made from Paper, Size, Shapes … Things that Make Noise

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 9.11.03 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.39.29 PM

What should we create?

The true ‘beauty’ of the beautiful stuff project emerges at the completion of our organization.  Once the materials are sorted, each clear bin is labeled by the students and is placed for exploration at the Production centre.  The provocative new materials elicits the creativity of our youngest learners who are innately curious and eager to create. Their interests and creative thinking guide the direction of their exploration and we, as teachers, observe and facilitate the ideas that emerge. We have seen a variety of different projects arise from the creation of our Beautiful Stuff – visual representations, oral narratives, names, alphabets, 2-D and 3-D structures, self-portraits, and most recently a collaborative city!

Transforming our Beautiful Stuff

These students were observed  arranging materials on the flat surface of the Production table.  In response, we lay white bristol board on top of the table to act as a blank canvas for their creations.  We documented as students thoughtfully placed the materials they selected on the paper and documented their oral narratives that described the scene.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.37.38 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.40.11 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.40.37 PM

I put the little stick on the red ribbon so that I could make it beautiful – Kindergarten Student

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.38.48 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.39.00 PM

Building an Alphabet

Several students collaborated to create the letters in their name by arranging materials and setting them with glue on recycled cardboard that was stacked at the Production centre.  These students inspired their peers to join their learning, listing the letters created and determining which letters of the alphabet still needed to be created.  Their completed alphabet built with found materials was displayed in the classroom and used by our students as a resource.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.40.58 PM

The Beautiful Stuff Project was documented, the panels on our walls telling the story of the learning that took place in the space.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.41.36 PM

The Co – Constructed Alphabet

Recognizing the importance of developing essential skills for reading and writing, we aim to present letters and sounds to students in a way that is both meaningful and student-driven.

Be inspired to Co-Construct an alphabet with your students.

The Process

We began by introducing each child’s written name and identifying as a group the first letter and sound. Once familiar with each name in the class, we proceeded to co-construct an alphabet with the students. We wanted to engage them in all aspects of the development of this project, from first painting a background with watercolours, to attaching letters to each card, then ordering the letters as a group, proceeding to photograph environmental images, and having students determine their placement on the alphabet.



Making it Meaningful

With the background intact, photographs of the children’s faces acted as a provocation in order to make this a relevant and meaningful experience. Students discussed what letter each photograph should be placed on the alphabet based on the beginning sound of each name. This proved to be an effective strategy as they brought with them a strong connection to their name and the names of friends. Environmental images were then photographed at the request of the children. As the students collaborated in building their alphabet, they in turn built upon their phonemic awareness and extended their language development.

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 7.22.25 PMScreen Shot 2014-04-28 at 12.42.29 PM


Engage and Explore

By giving children access to all letters and sounds and not limiting them to one letter a week, they were granted the freedom to engage, explore, and express themselves in many authentic ways. The alphabet they constructed is posted at student eye level at the Graphic Communication centre and acts as a key resource for them while at work.

Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 7.22.01 PM

This alphabet was co-constructed during our students Junior Kindergarten year.  As these students moved in to Senior Kindergarten the following year they were situated in a neighbouring classroom.  This alphabet moved with them and was placed in the Graphic Communication centre awaiting their arrival.  The relationship each student had with the alphabet they themselves had created was evident as they arrived in their new classroom, and exclaimed “OUR alphabet is here!” Their excitement,  once again, reaffirmed the power in providing meaningful opportunities for student learning.