Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Camping Out in Kindergarten!

One day last week we were talking about staying safe in the sun, and that conversation evolved into a discussion about our plans for the summer. The children excitedly shared what they knew of their vacation plans, and many of them mentioned camping. We started discussing what we knew about camping, did a poll of who has or has not been camping before, and talked about the things we like best about camping. 

We decided that our garden centre  could be dismantled to make a new dramatic play centre. Some of the children suggested that we create a beach in the classroom, and others suggested a camping centre. I created a simple graph on chart paper, where each child placed a sticker to represent their choice. Afterwards, we talked about which option had MORE, and also about how we could tell that everyone had voted (because the number of stickers matched the number of children). 

I then invited the children to contribute their ideas towards what we'd need to put in our centre. This co-creation of classroom centres is a vital aspect of Full Day Kindergarten; the children feel invested in their learning and that they play an important role in what happens in our room. Their ideas are given value when they get to print and draw pictures to represent their thoughts. 

Our list included: a tent, sleeping bags, a grill, firewood, a submarine, a deer, and a thunderstorm.

I brought in our family's tent and assembled it in the classroom, with a crowd of excited children watching! We gathered in the tent to sing some camping songs, discussed the rules to ensure that the tent did not get damaged, and talked about safety when sleeping in a tent. When asked why we shouldn't sleep with food in our tent, some of the children thought that it was because the tent would get messy. Another student thought that it would attract pigs or skunks! Finally, we concluded that a bear would be an unwanted visitor in our tent at night!

I borrowed some camping books from our local libraries, and the Junior Kindergartens worked with the principal to generate a list of things we might bring camping. 

We incorporated the children's interest into the sand table by adding pine cones, stones, and some deer figures. They enjoy creating "homes" for the deer which inspires conversations about what living creatures need to live happily. At the art centre, we created an opportunity for the children to paint a night-time scene of a camp site, complete with a tent and canoe. Their artwork is magically beautiful!

It's amazing to listen to the conversations that take place in the tent, as the children snuggle into the sleeping bags and pretend that they're camping. Imaginary bears and a starry sky fill their imaginations and inspire their play. They roast pretend marshmallows over our tissue paper fire, and cook camp food at the old table I've provided. I hear them telling stories of their camping experiences, and building on what they already know by listening to one another. 

Again and again, I see that inquiry-led, play-based learning is the best way to inspire enthusiasm for learning in young children!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dandelions as Art Tools

The school yard is abloom with dandelions, the first flowers of Spring. Each day I am presented with a wilted bouquet that has been clutched in a sweaty hand all through recess. The other day I saw a post on a teacher inspiration site about using dandelions as paintbrushes and I thought, "Why not?"

This morning when the children had hung up their backpacks and put on their shoes, they approached the table where I had placed plates of paint, paper, and a pile of dandelions. Every seat was quickly filled, but they looked to me for instructions as to what to do next. I smiled and shrugged, providing only a hook: "I wonder what kind of art you can create with the materials on this table?

One tentative hand reached out for a dandelion, dipped it into bright purple paint, then courageously swiped it across his paper. It was like a light bulb came on, and all of the children eagerly began swiping, dabbing, stamping, rubbing, and applying paint in all kinds of ways. They mixed colours, used the stem to make straight lines, and investigated what it looked like when the end of the stem was used for a stamp.

Later in the day we talked about what other items from nature might work as art tools. The children came up with so many creative ideas: feathers, porcupine quills, grass, pine cones, pine needles, moss, twigs, vines, and worms (I suggested that I bring in some cooked spaghetti to have the experience of painting with worms but that we should leave the living worms outside!)

We headed outside and filled a bin with all kinds of bits of nature, including a beautiful robin's egg that Mrs. L found on the ground. The artwork that resulted from this scavenger hunt was collaborative, as I covered the whole table with butcher paper. The children rubbed rocks covered in paint across the paper, wobbled soft pine needles back and forth, rolled a pine cone dipped in paint across the surface, and stamped many leaves.

This is one of those inquiries that may end today, or tomorrow. It started with an invitation to safely play with art materials in creative ways, then a provocation to think a little deeper about what makes a paintbrush. Tomorrow I'll listen to their ideas about what items made the best paintbrushes, then we'll take a look at our classroom brushes to figure out what it is about their design that makes them work. 

If someone suggests it, we may go back outside to make our own paintbrushes out of grass, pine needles, twigs, and tape. One never really knows what will arise next when children let their creativity and curiosity run away with them! I'll hold on tight and go along for the ride, providing them with questions to deepen their questioning, and support as they explore their lines of thought.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Inquiry-Based Learning: Flying Things

The inquiry process is in action at all times in the Full Day Kindergarten Program. Research shows us that the self-motivation, work ethic, responsibility, investigation, and communication skills we want our children and students to demonstrate come naturally to them when they play a role in choosing what they will learn about.

Here is an example of a recent inquiry that is taking place in our classroom:

Initial Engagement

A child comes to school with a paper airplane in his/her backpack. I observe the other children asking questions about it, asking for turns to try it out, using vocabulary about how it flies, making statements related to math concepts (high, low, fast, slow). This is the beginning!


At this point, I don't do a lot of direct teaching. I may leave paper out on the art table with a casual invitation that some students might be interested in trying to make a paper airplane. The children ask for help and I give it, while listening closely to what they say. This isn't about me telling the children how things fly. It's about digging a little deeper to find out what they know about flight. During circle time, I might say something like, "Some of you are interested in paper airplanes. I wonder why they fly?" This sparks a discussion between the children during which I record their ideas, and gather information about what the children already know. 

I notice another child has created a kite at the art centre; she has taken a sheet of paper and taped a string to one corner, as a tail. The next day she mentions that it doesn't really fly like a kite. Once again, I do not tell her why it won't fly, but say, "I wonder how you can add to your design to make it more like a real kite". She goes back to the art table and later I see her adding popsicle sticks to her kite. Later, I bring in a real kite from home and she tells me that the popsicle sticks were "like these", indicating the framework of the real kite.


The investigation stage takes many forms depending on the child and his/her interest. For some it might involved creating flight suits for an action figure. For others, it might be looking at pictures of flying insects. Videos of hummingbirds flying in slow motion, DVDs about the different shapes of birds' wings, and videos like this further their understanding. As we learn and investigate, we continue adding to our lists of things we know and things we wonder about, and communicate our learning through conversation, photographs, videos, drawings, and writing. My role as your child's teacher is not to deliver information about flying things, but to act as a facilitator of learning. I provide relevant learning resources (books, movies, videos, etc.) as questions arise, and ask thought-provoking questions to encourage the children to answer their own questions. Another important aspect of inquiry-led learning is that the teachers must not think of it as a theme! The line of inquiry twists and turns which requires the teacher to think on her feet. 


This is not the "end" of the inquiry process, as often when the children communicate with one another about their discoveries, it sparks whole new lines of questioning and thinking, which of course begins the inquiry process all over again! When something really cool happens or I hear a really interesting coversation, I might record it and later ask the children to share it with their classmates This in turn inspires more questions. Communication takes place every day in big and small ways. The inquiry is never really over but shifts towards different directions.

There may be lots of inquiries taking place at the same time. Some of the children are still very interested in our garden and plants, while others still play with blocks every single day. Some inquiries last for ten or fifteen minutes, and some carry over for weeks. Others fade away only to pop up again months later, and the children then build on some of the knowledge and expertise they gathered long ago.

This approach to learning and teaching is challenging, fascinating, and exciting for both children and educators. Mostly, it has a far-reaching impact on the children when they are made the masters of their educational pathways, with an educated professional guiding their way!

In the comments, please feel free to share any questions you might have about how the inquiry process is changing the way Kindergarten students learn! 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

From Seed to Plant

"Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up, and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that."
~Robert Fulghum, "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten"

Planting seeds with Kindergarten students is the most natural thing in the world. It has all the elements that most enthrall children: dirt, water, getting messy, and magic. From the first day when I showed them a simple dried bean, we have wondered at the magic of seeds. We plant it in dirt, water it, put it on the windowsill, and in a week or so, the green shoot can be seen!

Planting seeds with children's introduces them to many life skills that can be challenging to teach on chart paper. 
  • Patience. My goodness, do they have to be patient! Nothing can rush a seed to grow faster than it will naturally grow, nor should it be rushed!
  • Self-control. When those first shoots appear, little hands want to touch! I reminded them that their tiny plants will break easily if handled too much when they are new. So little hands are held firmly at their sides, demonstrating growing self-control.
  • Gentleness. Once those first leaves start to spread out and the stem gets longer, the children are encouraged to very gently stroke them. The same little hands that push in line and knock over block towers and throw balls at recess become as gentle as a mother's hands touching her newborn babe.
There are lessons for parents and teachers, in the wonder of the bean plant in the recycled milk carton. Just as these small children must demonstrate patience, self-control, and gentleness, so must we. 

With our words and actions, we can model these life skills as we tenderly nurture the precious children in our care. Just as no two bean plants grow and develop at exactly the same rate, our children will bloom in their own time. Some will walk before others, others are early talkers. Some come into JK knowing their letters and numbers, and others need time to listen to lots of rich language. Some draw detailed pictures while others scribble and paint with wild abandon. 

One thing I know for sure, is that I am always astounded by how much each child grows and develops in the two years of Kindergarten. Just as we cannot rush a seed to grow, we cannot rush the beautiful process of brain development that takes place in the early years. 

I am filled with wonder at every seed and at every child!