Monday, October 27, 2014

An Inquiry into Hunting Culture

In the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten (FDELK) program document, one of the expectations under Social Development is that children will talk about events or retell stories that reflect their own heritage and cultural background. 

In a rural setting, there is not as much cultural diversity as one might find in an urban school. However, the traditions we celebrate here in Eastern Ontario run deep, and are a very rich part of the children's experiences. 

In late September when we were creating a list of "signs of fall", a point that came up several times was that "Daddy is getting ready to go hunting". The boys started pretending to hunt, and it is a credit to the learning journey I am on that I didn't immediately shut down the shooting of pretend guns. 

I gathered the boys together and saw their faces fall when I reminded them of our "no guns in school" rule. Then their faces visibly brightened when I asked if they thought it was time to change things up in our dramatic play area. "Do you think you could help me create a hunting centre in our classroom?"

Immediately, they were engaged. They gave me many ideas of items we'd need, which I recorded as a list (modeled writing): camo and orange clothing, hats, stuffed animals to represent local prey, hunting licenses, and guns. The last item had a big question mark after it. 

We didn't want to encourage gun play in our classroom or in the school yard, but it was clear to me that these children understand deeply what guns are truly for: protecting livestock from pests, and hunting to provide for their families. We agreed that they could build guns from wooden blocks (with the permission of our administrator), but that they would lose their hunting licenses if they engaged in gun play at recess.

We used camouflage wrapping paper and real tree branches to turn our play loft into a tree stand. The children have really enjoyed pretending that they are quietly watching for prey. They were thrilled with their personalized Ontario Outdoor Cards, and have put a lot of attention into packing their supplies for a trip to the hunt camp. 

One day a student offered me some of the moose he'd caught; I asked him if you can eat it right away or if there were steps that needed to be taken before eating our catch. I invited the little hunters to help me create a step-by-step procedure (modeled writing) detailing how to process an animal we've shot. Their prior knowledge runs deep!

One of my students was picked up one afternoon to go see the moose his dad's hunting group had shot. The next day he arrived with a photo of himself standing beside the two moose, suspended from tractor buckets, with their bellies cut. I'll admit, this sounds gruesome. I gave the children the choice of whether or not the wanted to see the picture and they all chose to look. No one said, "Ew!" 

The girls have been less enthused about this inquiry, and it has been interesting to observe the preconceptions the children have about who goes hunting. One day, one of the boys said, "The girls can be the moms". We discussed what that means in hunting families; in general, the moms stay home with the children while dad goes to the hunt camp! Some of the children mentioned that their moms engage in turkey or partridge hunting, and a few of the girls have donned the orange vests and hats.

With Halloween just around the corner, we started to pack up the hunting gear. This worked well with the inquiry; I just told the children that this year's hunting season was over! We clarified that there would be no more shooting guns in the classroom and so far, this has worked wonderfully. We are now investigating pumpkins and measurement! More on that in an upcoming post!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Math is All Around Us

In the early months of school, we present the children with many opportunities to play with many different materials. We create invitations to explore mathematical concepts, without explicitly teaching "the right way". A basket full of mixed rocks placed in the middle of a table with two smaller, empty baskets invites a child to sit down and sort the rocks. She is in JK, and does this quickly and efficiently. The teaching team takes note of this, knowing that she may benefit from more challenging sorting provocations in the future (e.g. buttons of many kinds). 

Another very young JK child plays with a set of farm animals. I approach him and tell him about our farm and how we keep the same types of animals together. The chickens are in the coop, the ducks are at the pond, and the ponies are in the barn together. He absorbs this for a moment, then finds some long blocks. He creates stalls, and begins to sort the animals by type. He pauses when he picks up the spotted pig. He sets it with the Holstein cows, looks at it for a moment, then places it with the other pig. Once again, I take note and marvel at the knowledge this young child brings with him to Kindergarten. 

Patterning emerges in many areas of the classroom in these early weeks of school. I hear the SK students saying, "Look at the pattern I made!", and a few days later, I hear a JK student use the same words. 

 I confess, in my first years as a Kindergarten teacher, I "covered" curriculum in a way that made sense to me. I explicitly taught the children about patterns and sorting, spending lots of time creating "activities" for them to do to "prove" to me that they could do it, and checking this off my list of expectations as each child "performed" the task I'd set for them.

It turns out you can teach an old(er) teacher new tricks.

As we set out enticing, open-ended materials with no real expectation of what will be "covered", we uncover what the children already know. We keep note of children who are not yet sorting and patterning, and make a point of sitting down with them wherever they play to introduce the concepts to them in a playful, informal way. 

Without teaching the whole group at the same time, we meet each child's needs in a way that respects their previous mathematical understanding and provides "next steps" to deepen their understanding.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Outdoor Classroom, Part Two: Crossing the Creek

The children took water from our outdoor water table and poured it on the ground. They watched it pool into a small depression along the cinder block wall, and got some more water. I sat to the side and watched for the next 40 minutes as they played with no adult intervention.

"Let's make a creek!"
"We need more water."

Without asking for permission, she took this problem unto herself and went inside to fill her bucket.

All of the children excitedly grabbed the log slices from the old milk crate by the door, and placed them across the big puddle they'd created. They added some taller log pieces as well as piles of rocks.

They immediately and peacefully lined up to cross the creek. Some balanced themselves with one hand on the wall, others hopped as if they were playing hopscotch. They waited patiently while each person crossed in his/her own way. 

One very quiet child observed the play from a distance.

Other children continued filling buckets to add to their creek. One in particular was very interested in creating an island using poplar branches we'd gathered after a windy day, and a pile of rocks. He was very interested in how the water flow changed as he added materials to block it.

I wondered how long the children would play with the same layout, as their first path was "easy" (in that the log pieces travelled in a line, closely spaced). It didn't take long till they began to relish the physical challenge of moving the log pieces around to make new and more challenging paths.

"'s the problem...this is the tricky part!"
"I can't believe it! This way is even harder!"
"Hey! I have an idea! Let's put a boat in the water!"

The next day, a few children played the creek game, but gradually faded away to kick the soccer ball or paint on the chalk lines they'd drawn on the cinder block wall.

The last child to cross the creek was the shy observer from the day before, who was waiting till the crowd dispersed.

So what was I doing all this time? I sat and marvelled as they shouted, balanced, challenged themselves physically, solved problems, collaborated, took risks, discussed their findings, used the materials they found around them, and had more fun than any adult-initiated, pre-organized game could ever offer. I took photos and detailed notes to document their play, and thought ahead to new challenges I could present to deepen their play and understanding.

Next week I think we'll take a walk to the creek down the road and I'll wait and see what happens.