Body ABC


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How many lines and curves make up the letters in our upper case alphabet? JK students are collaborating with their peers to discover the way that letters are made using their bodies.

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The 3’rd Teacher

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The Classroom Environment


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 best suits the needs of children. The materials are intentionally placed to inspire and elicit learning. Children are encouraged to initiate and be in control of their learning, therefore, materials are easily accessible and managed by students. Materials are organized into clear bins at student level allowing them to self-select materials as needed and maintain the organization of the space. The space is aesthetically pleasing and comfortable, utilizing natural tones and allowing artifacts created by the children, documentation of learning and co-constructed resources to bring the colour to the space. The walls of the classroom reflect the learning that takes place within, evolving based on the ongoing interests of the students, inspiring them to reflect on and partake in learning that is authentic and engaging.


Inquiry Centres


 

When creating our classroom environment, the room is arranged into several learning spaces, or Inquiry Centres. 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; yet, the open-ended framework allows students to explore the materials freely. Within this structure, educators can clearly identify where each child is, and push them further and deeper in their thinking.

Children’s interests are valued within the classroom environment, thus, we invite them to choose which Inquiry Centre they would like to visit each day. Choice allows for more meaningful exploration and engagement in our youngest learners. In their Junior Kindergarten year we have observed that students are not as able to sustain their inquiries for long periods, and tend to change centres more frequently. As students progress through the two year program, they are encouraged to stay at one centre for a longer period of time, in order to go deeper in their learning, and to collaborate with peers and teachers. Tacking the centre choices of each individual student allows us to develop an understanding their interests, and note patterns in the centres to which they gravitate. With this insight, we are able to meet with students to promote learning in areas where they are most interested or comfortable, encourage new choices, and invite students to visit a variety of learning spaces and engage in different opportunities.

The Kindergarten environment is organized into several Inquiry Centres, however, we allow for flexibility and anticipate change. Responding to how our students interact with the space, centres may be physically moved from one area to another. Additionally, new centres may emerge throughout the year, for example, a fashion design centre is co-constructed with students to allow them to further explore an interest in designing clothing. As educators, we reflect on how student interests can be nurtured as we facilitate learning in a way that will encourage the development of skills and reflect a curricular focus. Inquiry Centres allow children to extend their learning in collaborative, creative and innovative ways.

For a a more in depth look at our Inquiry Centres please visit our previous post. Centre descriptions aim to illustrate the learning that takes place in each space. Materials are suggested, not limited, and change periodically throughout the year. 

The Little Prince: Inspirations for a New School Year

We’ve all heard of the lovely tale of “The Little Prince.” Recently, when one of us on mat leave stumbled upon a sidewalk quote that highlighted one of the most superb lines, “only the children know what they are looking for,” we were re-inspired to read this classic.

The first two pages of the story, for those who may forget (I know I did), highlights how a child was discouraged when drawing a snake that had swallowed an elephant, as the adults could not understand the thought behind his depiction.

I showed my masterpiece to the grown-ups, and asked them whether the drawing frightened them. But they answered “Frighten? Why should anyone be frightened by a hat?” My drawing was not a picture of a hat. It was a picture of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. But since the grown-ups were not able to understand it, I made another drawing: I drew the inside of the boa constrictor, so that the grown-ups could see it clearly. They always need to have things explained.

For us, this quote guides our every day in the early years classroom. So often do we place assumptions on what children might be thinking, or that every drawing they create has to be what we think it is, or should be.

We’ve all seen the disappointment on a child’s face when we say “what a lovely tree!” and they reply with: “that’s mommy.”

We encourage you to take a moment to observe a child as they draw, instead asking questions such as:

-Can you tell me more about what you’re drawing?

-How are you deciding on the colours to use?

-Why did you include this part of the picture?

We HEART the Public Library

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The Toronto Public Library hosts many free classes for early learners to participate in. There are a wide variety of ‘Ready for Reading’ programs geared towards babies, preschool, families etc. The librarian runs a session filled with engaging rhymes, songs, finger stories, picture books, puppets and more! In addition, the librarian explains the purpose of reading and singing to your child as it connects to their development. As a teacher, I was so happy to hear the message we give to parents echoed in the librarian’s session.

We hope this post provides a reminder to encourage the families you work with to connect with their public libraries and for you to hopefully bring your students to the library when possible!

Check out what programming is offered in your community and share these fabulous resource with your families!

Takaharu Tezuka: The best kindergarten you’ve ever seen

In this TED TALK, architect Takaharu Tezuka walks us through the design process for a unique Kindergarten space that “attempts to change the life of children”.

http://www.ted.com/talks/takaharu_tezuka_the_best_kindergarten_you_ve_ever_seen?language=en#t-5745


 

Pedagogical Documentation Blog

We’d like to thank Ellen Brown for featuring us in her amazing blog,

http://pedagogicaldocumentationconnections.blogspot.ca.

Her inspiring blog thoughtfully features educators in a Canadian context, sharing best practices in the early years and bringing educators together to learn from one another.

Thank You Ellen!

The Details of Grass

Each girl in our Kindergarten class is given a “Wonder Book” at the beginning of the year. This acts as a sketchbook, or a special place for our students to draw or write about the things they are wondering about.

One beautiful morning, we brought our students outside and asked them to simply sketch the grass. Concentrating and observing from above, they stood in a long line and sketched the grass. Most of them drew straight lines and stereotypical drawings of grass without really examining the details of each blade. When they were finished, we asked everyone to lie down in the grass, turn the page, and begin to sketch the grass again, lying on their stomachs. We wondered, “Would their sketches change? Would their detail be greater?” What we noticed was in fact closer attention to detail, more thoughtful observations, and students taking longer looks at the grass.

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Afterwards, photographs of the grass were printed and placed at our Production Centre, where students used a range of utensils to create illustrations that reflected these  observations.

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The grass is so pointy it could pop balloons… – JK student

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 This opportunity reinforced with us the importance of asking children to look closely, and providing meaningful opportunities for them to refine and develop their skills in observation and communicating their thoughts and ideas.

“Most children are naturally curious about their surroundings. They have an interest in exploring and investigating to see how things work and why things happen. Children have an innate sense of wonder and awe and a natural desire for inquiry. The Full-Day Early Learning–Kindergarten program capitalizes on children’s natural curiosity and their desire to make sense of their environment. However, curiosity on its own is not enough. The guidance of a thoughtful Early Learning–Kindergarten team is essential to enable children to learn through inquiry. The team should use inquiry-based learning to build on children’s spontaneous desire for exploration and to gradually guide them to become more focused and systematic in their observations and investigations.” Ontario Ministry of Education, FDK Document

Vowels

Vowels are tricky letters. Long vowels, short vowels, silent ones on the ends of words and of course sometimes ‘y’. Each year in grade one I struggle with how to introduce these letters in an authentic way.

Using the thinking routine, ‘See, Think, Wonder’, developed by Harvard’s ‘Project Zero’, offers an authentic entry point to discuss and think about vowels. We structured our conversation in three parts ‘what do you see, what do you think and what do you wonder’.

The provocation was a box of magnet letters.This box had individual compartments for the letters. Consonants were blue and vowels were red.

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What do you see?

“I see a pattern red, blue, blue, blue, red, blue, blue, blue.”

“I see different letters.”

“I see some letters have different places for them.”

“I see different colours.”

“I see stickers with letters.”

“I see different boxes, like little places.”

“I see 28 boxes.”

“Nooo… I see ummm… 25… no… let’s count again”

Children count to 18 and then recount again to 26.

“26 boxes!!” shout several children

“Like the number of letters in the alphabet… 26 letters.”

“How many boxes are blue and how many boxes are red?” – Teacher

“5 boxes are red.”

“21 blue boxes.”

I Think…

“The red ones are important.”

“what makes you say that?” – Teacher

“because they have a special colour”

“I think that the red ones are vowels…see … a,e,I,o,u”

“A vowel is a letter that you use in the middle of the word and its important that is why they are red because they are important”

“Red ones are vowels and the blue ones are not.”

“The blue ones are consonants.”
The children were then given the chance to play with the letter and make words they know. 

“What do you notice about the words you made?” – Teacher

“I notice that my words have blue, red, blue.”

“I have a row of three letter words and a row of two words and they have blue and red letters.”

“I notice that I have ‘id’ and ‘id’ and these words rhym – sid and lid. ”

“I have three in a row that are blue, red, blue.”

“There are ‘at’ and they rhyme. ”

I wonder…

“What are vowels?”

“Do all words have vowels?”

“Are vowels always in the middle?”

“What would happen if we didn’t have vowels in our world? Would all the words be hard to read?”

“I wonder why the ‘y’ is a half vowel. It means it’s kind of a vowel. If its on the end of a vowel”

“I wonder if all words have vowels in them.” – Teacher

“No… there are words with no vowels I am sure.”

“Hmmm… I wonder… does every word has a vowel?”


This experience of playing with vowels allowed girls to develop a relationship with these letters. From this experience, I have noticed they are more aware of the presence of vowels in their reading and writing.

The Importance of Sensory Play

 How important is sensory play?

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Stimulating the senses sends signals to children’s brains that help to strengthen neural pathways important for all types of learning. For example, as children explore sensory materials, they develop their sense of touch, which lays the foundation for learning other skills, such as identifying objects by touch, and using fine-motor muscles. The materials children work with at the sand and water table have many sensory attributes — they may be warm or cool, wet or dry, rough or smooth, hard or soft, textured or slimy. Discovering and differentiating these characteristics is a first step in classification, or sorting — an important part of preschoolers’ science learning and discovery – Gainsley, 2011).

In our own classroom context, we have often grappled with the ‘discomfort’ of the sand and water tables. Located beside each other in our own classrooms, a child cannot help but blend the two together on a regular basis. In time, we recognized that we were spending significant amounts of time policing this area and talking more about the ‘do-not’s’ than the ‘do’s.’ After much frustration and conversation among teachers, we decided that we would let happen what was destined to happen anyway: The sand would become a part of the water table, and the water would become a part of the sand table.

What ensued was rich, sensory learning. Safaris, lakes, deserts, lemonade stands, and much, much more. What benefits were there to allowing children the control to follow their sensory interests?

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The article entitled: “Look, Listen, Touch, Feel, Taste: The Importance of Sensory Play,” by Suzanne Gainsley (2011) highlights the very importance of these opportunities. However, teachers can come up with many reasons for why the sand and water tables may remain ‘closed’ in the early years classroom…

There isn’t enough room for art projects or a sand and water table.

It’s too messy.

The sand and water table (or art area) is just a boring and empty space.

(Gainsley, 2011).

Sometimes, new provocations placed in these tables can inspire rich and interesting thinking. To see the article and to gain new insight about the importance of sensory play and ideas for your own sand and water tables, visit:

Maximizing Mathematical Thinking

The Capacity Building Series published by the Ontario Ministry of Education has wonderful resources for teachers. We like reading the published articles, as the ministry of education pulls current research from a variety of sources and presents the information in one manageable read.

 

We are excited to see a variety of topics that address best practices in early learning and have posted articles below.

 

Enjoy!


 

 

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