Thursday, June 18, 2015

Class Trip to Red Wolf Retreat

We couldn't have ordered better weather for our class trip last week! The occasional cloud cover discouraged sunburns and the breeze kept the bugs away. In keeping with our mantra of "take learning outside", we visited Red Wolf Retreat with our JK/SK class. With an army of parents to help us keep track of everyone, we boarded the bus with excitement. Many of the children are brought to school by parents or are picked up by small vans, so the experience of getting a ride on the BIG YELLOW BUS was a good start to the day!

Upon our arrival, we visited the herd of goats that live at Red Wolf Retreat. The children were allowed to pet a small kid and marvelled at the size of the billy goat. We learned about predators in the area and how the owners protect the goats.

Next we headed to a small pond where the small trout live, and enjoyed watching Bill (our host) feeding the fish. The water "boiled" with splashing fish as they vied for food. Many of the children got splashed in the face which caused lots of giggling! The children got a close look at a beautiful speckled trout when Bill fished it out of the pond in a net. We learned about what fish need to live, and about how Bill and his family keep them and their environment healthy.

We wandered down a path to the lake where we would catch our own trout. The children took turns using the fishing rods, and it didn't take long for them to get lots of bites! The incredulous looks on their faces was worth the trip as they proudly showed off their catch! Every child got to practise their patience and eventually, everyone caught a fish. They were taken to be cleaned and bagged, so we went to have our lunch.

A basketball net, soccer ball, and old canoe kept everyone entertained while we ate, then it was time to catch some pond creatures. The children were given nets and instructions about not touching frogs or turtles with their bare hands (because of the possibility of salmonella and other bacteria). We spied a nest in some cattails, containing four red-winged blackbird chicks. Mama and Papa Bird were not thrilled at our presence, so we tried to give them adequate space.

As the children scooped their nets through the water they brought their catches back to Bill for identification. He placed them in a shallow tub of water so everyone could observe the many kids of critters that live in pond. They got to see tadpoles in various forms of metamorphosis, and heard the frogs singing. Dragonfly nymphs, caddisfly cases, a water strider, and so many other creatures gathered in the tub as the children excitedly gathered around.

Another tub contained some little minnows. The children were allowed to gently scoop them up in their hands to feel them wiggling. This kind of hands-on experience is so rich for small children.

If you live in the Eganville area, I highly recommend a school trip to Red Wolf Retreat! Respect for living things and the natural world as well as a safety around water were focuses of the day, and everything was very well organized. The children LOVED catching a fish and proudly brought their trout home to share with their families for dinner. Everyone found something to enjoy on our trip and everyone was well tuckered out on the drive home!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Take Learning Outside

As the weather warms up, we find ourselves gravitating to our outdoor space. There is always a free-style flow from indoors to out, with one adult in each space to supervise, foster learning, and nurture the children's natural curiosity! 
As a teaching team, we alternate weeks outside, and plan engaging invitations to play. A child who is less enthusiastic about choosing the outdoor centre might be enticed outside by a chance to explore some slime, and a child who usually wants to play hockey outside might be drawn in by a fun math game in the classroom.

Sensory and art activities work equally well inside or out. Literacy and numeracy opportunities arise organically when children are provided with enticing materials (seeds, soil, measurement tools, chalk, paint, and so on). 

We're always interested to note that there is a fairly consistent balance in the numbers of children inside and out. Instead of having a "schedule" of who goes in and who goes out, we encourage self-regulation by encouraging the children to make this choice based on how they are feeling each day.  

Whether inside or outside we ensure that there are plenty of choices for all kinds of play (social/emotional, gross motor, fine motor, dramatic). We also support different groupings (solo play, or in pairs, or in small groups), and marvel at the beautiful flow that takes place as the children drift in and out of play groups.
By taking learning outside (reading under the trees, for example), we easily engage our young learners. They are eager to pack their backpack with a snack and some "just right" stories that they can enjoy all by themselves in a shady place of their choosing. Changing the setting gives children (and teachers!) a new perspective, and offers many opportunities for spontaneous learning (and teaching).

Providing a variety of materials supports the growth of the many different learning styles. Art supplies blend as easily into our outdoor space as does sports equipment. There is truly something for everyone, and every learning style is considered valuable and relevant. Loose parts such as log slices, thick branches, and smooth stones offer limitless opportunities for open-ended play.
Being outside nurtures a child's imagination. Today a Year One student found a big branch and declared it a dinosaur bone. His friend found a smaller stick, craggy and twisted, and they worked to piece together their fossil skeleton. This led to a "tall tale" about how the first boy came across the bones, complete with dramatic pauses and shifts in volume. A plain old branch inspired this young child to create a story full of drama on the spot, and he clearly demonstrated his developing adeptness with oral language while sharing his growing awareness of the structure of a story. Each time I watch the video I took of his retell, I notice more and more (e.g. his use of connecting words like "so", "then", and "next").
Through experimentation and exploration, the children learn about their world. One day while we walked in the wooded area of our schoolyard, I came across some berries. I pretended that I was going to pick them and eat them. "Wow, look! Delicious berries! I'm going to eat some because I'm really hungry!" "No, Mrs. Pinkerton!" came the cries of my vigilant charges. "Those are Mother Nature's berries!" Another student corrected, "You shouldn't eat them because they might be poisonous". 
Al fresco learning reduces behavioural issues. Children who need a lot of movement and space get the physical activity they require to help them settle later in the day. Splitting the students into smaller groups reduces crowding in the classroom. We educators enjoy more  rich time with individual children when we are supervising less students, and are able to engage more deeply with learning explorations.
Being outside offers a sensory experience. Today we found Lily of the Valley blooming in our wooded area, and lay right down on our bellies to look closely at their tiny bell shapes. The children thought they looked like fairy hats, or fairy tea cups. My fairy-loving daughters will notice some of their fairy storybooks missing next week when I bring them in for the children to explore!

They were enchanted by the scent and sight of these beautiful little flowers. The apple blossoms that are in bloom perfume the paths we travel, and we listen to the bugs, birds, wind, and frogs that surround us. I suspect that these early experiences with the wonders of the outdoors will influence these children as they grow; I hope they will always seek the outdoors as a place of interest, exercise, and peace.
I've noticed an improvement in the overall physical health of the children in our class, in terms of their stamina, coordination, and endurance. There is also much less whining when one gets a little scrape or scratch! They are learning the limits of their bodies and what kinds of risks are reasonable. They are learning to pick themselves up when they fall down, assess what caused the fall, and try again. In addition to improving their physical health, I notice their emotional development: they are more confident, resilient, and calm when they have plenty of time to explore and play outdoors.
Any learning experience can be brought outside! We've done Circle Time, Math/Numeracy, Literacy, Art, Physical Education, Science, and Snack Time outside. The sky is literally the limit. Take your class outside and see what benefits you can add to this list! 
Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Rainy Day Fun

Some days fly by in a flurry of fun. We had one of those days today, where the rain kept us inside and made us get creative about setting up a few centers to provoke the children's interest and curiosity.

Our ECE noticed the Year One children showing a great interest in rocks they found in the school yard. On Friday they filled a bucket and enjoyed washing all the rocks. One of their ideas involved painting the rocks and selling them (for forty-one cents). My team partner set up a table with their rocks, paint, and some "rock" labels.  

I took the opportunity to work on the "ock" word family with the Year Two students! 

During our long inquiry block in the morning, I set up a fun chemistry experience after having observed the children creating "potions" in our creative center by cutting up bits of paper and fabric. 

I made the Borax solution ahead of time, and found this experiment really quick and satisfying because of the ease of the steps and the level of involvement I could give the children. 

You can find a run-down of the process here (on my personal blog).

Finally, I pulled out a bag of elastics I had from last year when the children went through a rainbow-loom phase. I'd learned how to create simple bracelets using only our fingers (no looms needed) and it sparked all kinds of wonderful engagement: measurement, patterning, counting, oral communication, procedural writing, and so on.

Basically, you create a figure-8 with an elastic on two fingers of one hand. The second (and all subsequent elastics) go on just in a circle (no twist). Pull the first (bottom) elastic up and over the second one, allowing it to slip in between the fingers. Then repeat by putting on another elastic and pulling the bottom one up and over. Secure with a c-clip to create a bracelet, or make it longer to create a necklace.

It was great to see the Year Twos (who found this too hard last year) teaching the Year Ones how to do this! 

What tricks do you have to get you through those rainy, indoor-recess days?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

free to take risks

When the weather is fine they choose to spend our gym period outside. We race to the back corner of the school yard where the trees grow wild and there are so many hiding places.

 I've learned to relax about rules, and to deal with making them with the children when the need arises. When a child asks me to boost them up into the tree higher than they can climb on their own, I kindly decline. 

Upon reflection, the children agree that getting up and down safely, confidently, and independently is more important than getting higher up with help (and possibly being afraid or getting hurt).

They express their personal experiences of the outdoors by pretending to camp or hunt. Stories are told around these camp fires, and hearts pound in a game of chase-and-find.

They experiment with the spring of a low branch, and only go as far as they can reach without falling or breaking the branch. This they do without instruction or warning. By taking risks, they learn to assess the ways they might damage themselves or their environment. Their confidence and coordination grows, and they file away this experience for future use.

Sometimes they want to just gather and chat in small groups.

Sometimes they find a place to hang out all alone.

One little hand explores the marks left behind by tiny creatures and wonder at the paths she finds there.

A huge boulder just outside the boundaries of the school yard, combined with a part of the fence where they can squeeze through invites them (with permission) to scale its side and pose for some artsy photos. I wish all children could experience the sheer freedom of a play space without boundaries!

Suddenly, a hand-full of leaves tossed into the air is plastered to the fence by the wind. "The fence is magnetic!" The cry goes up and several run to join in covering as much of the fence with leaves as possible before the wind dies down. They marvel at how they can defy gravity with the help of the wind!
Another rule arises when the girls decide to create a shelter. Long limbs pivot and fall heavily, and one ill-timed swivel results in one of the boys being "clotheslined" at full speed. We discuss the use of long branches and decide that it might be safer to limit ourselves to only using branches that are the same height as the children.

They work hard and play hard, and I'm always reluctant to tell them that it's time to return to the four walls of our classroom. They are growing right before my eyes, in their strength, coordination, endurance, confidence, and ability to set safe boundaries for themselves. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Shadows: An Inquiry Begins

This morning during our play and inquiry time, many of the children chose to play outside. I noticed one girl up on the hill, dancing slowly and concentrating carefully. It soon became clear that she was watching the movements of her shadow, so long and clear in the bright morning sun. I quickly shot a brief video of her, along with a boy who had joined her to squirt water from a bottle. His shadowed wiggled and shifted with his enjoyment of his play, but did not draw his attention.

As soon as the children returned to the classroom I shared the video on our screen. I asked them what they thought M was doing. "dancing", "karate kicks", "ballet", and "wiggling" were some of their responses. I asked them to watch the video again, this time noticing what was happening around the girl and boy.

Right away someone called out, "Shadows!", so we watched the video one more time with the shadows as a focus. The children noticed how the shadow was long, dark, and imitated the movements of the students.

We generated a list of their thoughts and ideas about shadows:
  • Shadows are bigger than we are
  • Sometimes they go away when the clouds come
  • The clouds block the sun and it has to be half clouds and half sun. 
  • My shadow does whatever I'm doing. It's like a video outside but it's not on a screen.
  • The sun is very bright and the back of you reflects the sun.
  • It makes the same shape as you.
  • The sun shines down on your back but not in front of you so that's why your shadow is in front of you.
  • There are all different shapes of shadows.
  • When you're driving, the car has a shadow too. When I stuck my hand out of the car I saw its shadow!
  • The sun shines on your belly and the shadow is on your back.
We explored our knowledge of shadows by using the bright sunlight that pours into our classroom! Someone just donated a box of dinosaurs to our class so we used these to create shadows, and traced them. This was challenging because the children had to work around their art without blocking the sunlight!

When they finished, they filled their shapes with black paint. Some chose to cut their shapes out. Later in the day we went outside and two of the children noticed that their shadows were holding hands! We observed that our shadows looked smaller than the one from this morning had. Tomorrow I think we'll trace our shadows through the day to make some conclusions about how they change according to the sun's position in the sky.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Learning About Mammals

Our ECE gets some Goat Love.

Action shot...I get nibbled on the chin by a loveable goat baby!

Each child got a goat high-five when it was time to say goodbye.

One of the benefits of teaching at a rural school (and of living on a hobby farm) is that there are always so many creatures at hand to be brought in to the classroom. My principal once joked that she was going to have to start patting me down at the door because of my habit of bringing animals into the classroom. Chicks, ducklings, and baby bunnies are just the start of the list.

Children are naturally curious about living things, and I have always felt that modelling the gentle and compassionate treatment of animals while sparking the children's sense of connection with other living things is an essential component of what we teach in Kindergarten.

This morning a goat-farming, soap-making friend was gracious enough to bring her baby goats in for a visit! Before they arrived, we had a discussion about goats as mammals, in comparison with humans. With a few "leading" questions, the children were able to deduce from their previous knowledge that mammals:

  • have fur or hair
  • give birth to live babies
  • are warm-blooded
  • make milk to feed their babies
Many of the children have baby siblings and were able to relate to the notion that baby mammals nurse from their mothers. One of the children said, "Even YOU, Mrs. Pinkerton?" (they know I have a toddler) and they took it in stride that I also make milk to feed my baby! I also mentioned that many farm babies as well as human babies are bottle-fed. 

We discussed the uses of goats: for meat, for milk, and as pets. We talked about what can be made from goat milk. One of the children brought up the fact that there are also wild goats who can climb mountains. 

We were asked to create a "play structure" for the goats as it would encourage them to stay in one place. We had generated a list of ideas last week (one of which was that we should put the goats in buckets and pull them up into the loft using rope). We settled for some large cardboard pallets leaned on our upturned recycling box. 

The children did so well containing their excitement in order to be calm and quiet when the goats were with us! The little fur babies pranced from child to child, wagging their little tails, nibbling on ears and fingers, and trying to climb on everything and everyone. They were certainly adorable! 

When it came time to write in our journals, every child wrote about our visit from the baby goats. 

Tonight we'll be getting our piglets to be raised as meat. I suspect I may be bringing one (or two) of them in for a visit soon! I also have a tame chicken but my principal has asked me to draw the line at bringing our ponies to school. Too bad, isn't it? :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Have You Seen Birds?

Inquiry can be a funny thing. Like a flock of birds, it can start off in one direction but before you know where it might be going, it changes direction. Some of the birds go one way, while others go another way. It can be challenging to keep track of them all, but exciting to witness!

Our students had so many questions and conversations about birds. We always start our inquiries with some little activity or book to spark the children's interest, followed by co-creating an "I think I know" chart. We call it this because it allows the children to "change their thinking" if the knowledge they gather through the inquiry contradicts a preconception they may have had. It also allows us to get an idea of the children's background knowledge and previous experience with the topic we are exploring. 

Once we have an idea of the kinds of questions the children have (by creating an "I wonder" chart), we create a "map" for ourselves of ideas for discussions we might have, resources we can gather, and ways to link their explorations to the Kindergarten Document. This is an exciting task, revealing the vast possibilities presented by following the children's interests. We don't write anything in stone, because as I mentioned, the direction can change quickly (and often in ways that we can't anticipate!). 

A combination of books from our classroom, school, and community libraries ensures that the children have many resources to explore!

The books we gather inform much of our inquiry, and inspire the children to ask deeper questions. Themes of diversity, compassion, healing after loss, caring for the environment, and the connection between humans and animals flow through the rich literature we read aloud to our students, and we're continually amazed at the children's ability to grasp of deep topics.

Activating prior knowledge is a powerful tool before we read a rich text.

Soon, the exploration spills into other centres around the room, particularly the creative centres. Without prompting, the children create play dough birds complete with feathers, eggs in nests, and mama birds to sit on them. As they create, we circulate and discuss their work with them to learn more about their understanding of the topic of inquiry.

"Why do you think the mother sit on the eggs? How long do you think it takes for the eggs to hatch? Do you think the father bird help? Is the baby bird in the egg when the mother bird lays it, or does it grow?"
A key component of inquiry is that we do not GIVE answers to the children, but discuss questions with them and help them find information they need. The end result is not necessarily the RIGHT answer, but a deepening of their ability to ask questions about the world around them.

As the days and weeks pass, the children widen their exploration into dramatic play (by building nests with blocks and flying in search of food), science (by observing the birds that visit our feeders, studying our field guide, and enjoying non-fiction texts and videos), language arts (through read-alouds, poems, and fingerplays), and mathematics (keeping track of bird visitors on a tally chart, graphing types of birds we've seen, and learning about egg sizes). 

The word family list on the right arose spontaneously as the children noticed the rhyming words in this poem. They were very excited to think of lots of "est" words!

We investigated bird behaviour through the seasons when we read this beautifully illustrated fiction text while learning about how a bird-loving boy takes care of the wildlife in his backyard. We also enjoyed reading Riki's Science Journal as we read the story.

With the warm weather, we've observed the return of the Canada Geese, and are starting to hear a greater variety of birdsong! This is an exciting time of year to delve into the feathery world of birds!