What Have You Learned From An E.C.E.?

I started my day today by sending out this message.

Happy #eceappreciationday! A special “thank you” to my amazing teaching partners past and present.

A photo posted by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

For my two years teaching Full-Day Kindergarten, I’ve had the pleasure of working with two amazing partners: Paula and Nayer. Watching and listening to both of them, I’ve learned — and continue to learn — how to better connect with kids and support their growth. It really is about all of these little things that are actually not so little after all.

  • It’s in the arms wide open for the “good morning” (and “goodbye”) hug.
  • It’s in the soothing, calming voice when the tears sometimes come.
  • It’s in the extra minutes you take to listen to a child’s story.
  • It’s in finding out all about brothers, sisters, best friends, pets, parents, and grandparents, and then remembering everything you hear.
  • It’s in taking the time to sit down, eat, and converse with kids … small actions that show them how much they really matter.
  • It’s in appreciating when something that may seem small to you is big (and important) to the child, and then giving this “something” the attention it needs and deserves.
  • It’s in remembering who ate their lunch, who didn’t eat their lunch, who doesn’t want to eat their lunch, and who you really need to convince to eat their lunch … and how to do so effectively without causing stress.
  • Take the point above, replace “lunch” with “washroom,” and you have the next point.
  • It’s in appreciating all of the wonder of play, for play’s sake, and knowing how — at just the right time and in just the right way — to make those meaningful literacy and math connections.
  • It’s in knowing, and understanding, the power of the environment, and how changing the learning environment — from the structure and the activities to the colours, lights, and sounds — can truly change the learning for kids.
  • It’s in seeing the outdoor space as more than just a “recess area,” and appreciating the learning — from self-regulation to risk taking to academic skills — that can come from this environment. 
  • It’s in understanding that the students always come first, and as much as we plan with our document in mind, the kids — and their needs — are really what matters most of all.
  • It’s in knowing, without a doubtthat children of all ages truly are “competent and capable of complex thought,” and when we see them this way, we start to recognize the power in letting go, observing, supporting when needed, and watching them shine. 

In Ontario, Kindergarten teachers have the pleasure of working and learning with Early Childhood Educators … but they’re not the only ones that can learn from them. There’s value in seeing things from multiple perspectives, and the experiences, views, and knowledge that E.C.E.s bring to education, are beneficial for all parents and educators. What have you learned from an Early Childhood Educator? What impact has this had on you and your students? Today, and every day, I’m grateful for what Paula and Nayer have taught — and continue to teach — me.


Words I Never Thought I’d Utter, But Glad I Am!

Just before the school year started, I found out that there is Before and After School Care in our Kindergarten classrooms. This totally stressed me out! I like to come to school when it opens — always around 7:00 — and I rarely leave before 4:30. I love knowing that the room is set-up for the next day before I leave, and that the classroom I walk into in the morning will look the same as the one I left the night before. My teaching partner stays late after school, and it’s great to get a chance to plan with her … but now our set-up has to be put on hold each day. Would I be able to cope?

This morning, I realized that something that caused me anxiety a couple of months ago is something that I actually appreciate now. I never thought that I would say these words. I wonder now though if this all comes down to a need to reframe the problem. Let me explain. Even though the Before School Program is not in our classroom but the Kindergarten one next door, many parents and students come by early to say, “hello.”

  • I get to touch base with parents and answer any questions that they may have.
  • I often get some quiet moments with children: sometimes they’ll share exciting news from the night before, talk about how they’re feeling that day, or even check out some of our provocations for the day (and maybe even inspire something new). In a class with 33 Kindergarten students, even quieter moments tend to include an interruption or two, so this 1:1 time is that much more special.
  • I get to connect with the Before and After School Care facilitators. They have lots of great ideas to share, and sometimes even inspire classroom programming.

After school, my teaching partner and I are both in the classroom, and again, we get to connect with parents, students, and the program facilitators. We also get to see the different ways that children use classroom resources. With Kindergarten students from both classrooms in these programs, the interactions with different students, also often leads to different learning. Watching students during these learning times sometimes inspires my partner and I as we finalize plans for the next school day. This program also allows us to connect with students in the other Kindergarten class, which benefits us as we’re interacting with these students outside on the playground or in other combined activities. Relationships matter … and Before and After School Care helps with this!

I’ve come to realize that I can still head to my “office in the hall” before or after school if need be, and with a set-up plan, I still have plenty of time to get everything organized in the morning when I arrive at school. Not only can I cope with this problem, but maybe it’s not really a problem after all. How do you reframe challenging situations or experiences? What’s the value in doing so? I hope that we can all share our experiences, and maybe these stories will help all of us get a little more comfortable with the uncomfortable.


Happy To Share My “Office In The Hall”

Last week, I was sitting out in the hallway one day during the first nutrition break — in my favourite spot between the water fountain and the front door — and I saw (and heard) a student running past me. I looked up and recognized him. I quietly called his name, and he stopped. I said to him, “You look angry. Would you like to sit with me in my quiet space?” He said, “Yes.” He slowly walked over to me, and he sat down beside me. For a little while, neither one of us said anything. I asked him if a few deep breaths might help, and he said that his “mom has him try this at home,” so we took some breaths together.

That’s when he started to talk. He told me about what happened and why he was angry. He even spoke a little bit about home, and his pets. I told him that I have two dogs, and pulled up some pictures of them on my iPad. He wanted to hear a few dog stories, so I shared them with him. He laughed a few times, and you could tell from both the tone of his voice and his body language, that he was calming down.

One of the dog photographs I shared. This one made him smile.

As we were talking, I was eating my snack: an apple. He mentioned that he had an apple in his lunch bag. I asked if he wanted to go back to the classroom and get it. I said that we could eat together in the hall or that I would stay with him in his room. He said that he would like if we went back to the room together … so we did. 

When we got back, we had to work through a few problems together. He wanted to sit in a chair that he couldn’t, but we compromised, and moved a different chair to the space that he wanted. I helped him choose something from his lunch to eat. I even sat down for a few minutes, and the kids around the table spoke to me about their snacks and their day so far. For the time being, everyone was calm, and that was a wonderful thing!

A few days later, the teacher on duty that day spoke to me in the staffroom as I was heating up my lunch. He said to me that I have a really good connection with this child. I explained that we’ve done some problem solving together already this year and that seemed to help. I also said that this child’s spoken to me a bit about home and what he likes, so I can use this information to help him calm down. And it was as I uttered these sentences that I was reminded of something so important … Before anything else, children need to feel safe and loved. How do we help students feel this way? What value might this have on their school performance? I may use my “office in the hall” as a quiet place to regroup over the nutrition breaks, but on this day, I was glad that I could share it with a student that needed this environment even more than me. 

As we head into a new week, I like to remember the importance of connecting with kids, and maybe helping that one child that needs this connection most of all. What might you do to reach out this week? May we all have that terrific feeling that comes from making a difference for kids!


Is it about “watching” instead of “asking?”

Last week, our superintendent visited our school, and as part of his visit, he went around to the different classrooms to talk with students and observe some learning in action. As our principal and superintendent came in and chatted with our kids, I found myself standing back and watching and listening to the conversations. The next day, I had a similar experience when our instructional coach came in for a visit. I found myself once again wondering, What do others see? What do they think? 

That’s when I started to think about a change that I made recently. I used to always approach groups of students and ask, “What are you doing?” (I’ll admit that sometimes I still do.) But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve tried hard to instead, walk quietly up to groups of students, watch, and listen. 

  • What are they saying?
  • What are the students doing? Are they all doing the same thing, or are they doing different things?
  • If the play is similar to the play that I’ve seen happening many times before, how might I “intentionally interrupt” the play to extend the learning?
  • How does this play connect with some of the Kindergarten Program expectations? What Frames?
  • What might be my next best move to build on the learning or to create some new learning opportunities for students? (Sometimes my “next best move” is to do nothing at all, and just keep listening and observing. Reflecting on this documentation later and discussing it with my teaching partner, often helps us determine what to do next.)
  • What possible literacy and/or math learning is already developing from this play, and what learning could develop with the right prompt or provocation from me? In our new document, literacy and math learning is not supposed to happen in its own block, but throughout the day and through play. Sometimes this happens naturally, and our job may just be to help “label this learning” for students (e.g., giving them the right math terms to align with what they’re already doing), and sometimes, students benefit from a gentle nudge (e.g., If you want to turn our dramatic play area into a restaurant, what might we need? What if you made a list with some of your ideas?).


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These two boys were employees at a Chocolate Shop, and they had money (rocks) from selling their chocolate. They estimated how many they had, and then counted with Mrs. Crockett.

It’s as we stand back and answer all of these questions, that I think we start to see the learning happening and the potential for more learning as well. If I’m not thinking in this way, I could look around the class and think,

  • The students are happy.
  • Everyone is doing something.
  • The children appear to be engaged.
  • Some children are working alone and some children are working together.
  • There’s at least one mess somewhere — usually more than one.
  • Sometimes the children can talk about what they’re doing, and sometimes they can’t.
  • There’s a quiet hum in the room. It’s louder in some areas and quieter in others, but there’s definitely always some noise.
  • Students move freely around the room. From an outsider perspective, would that mean that there appears to be a “lack of structure?”

Our Kindergarten Program Document though is changing the way that learning happens and the way that we plan for these learning opportunities. Instead of starting with the expectations, we start with the interests of the child and align these expectations to those interests. Sometimes children will articulate those interests to us, and sometimes, we have to watch and listen closely to figure out what they may be. Students can also show their learning — for all expectations — in one of many ways: saying, doing, or representing. This gives a lot of freedom in what children can do, and it means that we have to watch and listen even more closely — and sometimes for an even longer period of time — to see this learning happen. According to Growing Success — The Kindergarten Addendum, parents can also tell us about learning that happens outside of the classroom, and this can become evidence of meeting expectations. The learning environment then is much bigger than the classroom walls, and the time needed to truly understand it becomes much bigger as well.

I’m so glad that we share our classroom learning online, as then even those people that come in for quick visits — be it educators, administrators, or parents — can gain a more thorough look at the learning that happens each day. Play-based learning is still a new approach for many people — myself included. Each year, I get more comfortable with what this approach might look like in the classroom, and how I can help others see the learning that happens through play. What do you think when you watch play in action? How do you make the learning explicit to children and to others? I would love for all stakeholders in education to chime in here, for as our new Kindergarten Program Document rolls out, I think these are discussions worth having. 


What If We All Took Some Lessons From Kindergarten?

Today, our Board was inservicing instructional coaches on the finalized Full-Day Kindergarten Program document. A friend of mine, Bill Forrester, is an instructional coach, and he mentioned me on many tweets from today. Bill asked a number of great questions, and while I tried to reply to some of them during my prep and nutrition breaks today, I realized that some answers require more than the 140 characters allowed by Twitter. I told Bill that I was going to blog about some of my thinking, and this post is a result of that promise. 

The first question that caught my attention was this one.


I think that are are many things that we can do to help with this.

  • Make math and literacy meaningful and purposeful. Help students see some real world connections to what they’re learning. Remember too that in many ways, their real world is the play that’s happening in the classroom. This real world learning may include creating signs to save structures, counting money collected (whether it be for Terry Fox, popcorn, or pizza), discussing topics that matter to them and building new vocabulary as a result of this, and reading facts about topics of interest.
  • Creating open-ended activities where all students have an entry point. It’s important to remember that there is a continuum of learning for math and literacy skills. If students feel as though what’s being expected of them is too challenging, they will stop seeing themselves as mathematicians, writers, readers, and communicators, and instead see themselves as failures. We need to create learning opportunities, where all students can show what they know. While our view of children is as “competent and capable,” they also need to see themselves this way. 
  • Celebrating successes. Students often need to feel successful in order to keep working and enjoying what they’re doing. We try to celebrate success with kind words of encouragement, specific examples to show how their skills have developed (e.g., “Last week, you were writing with just random letters. Now you’re using first sounds.”), and opportunities for students to highlight their own growth and feelings of accomplishment. Sometimes this happens as a full class, and sometimes this happens during a small group or one-to-one sharing time. It’s these kinds of experiences though that lead to students sharing what this child shared a few weeks ago.

  • Whenever possible, trying not to make literacy and math separate from other learning. We want students to see that all day long they can develop these skills. When literacy and math skills are developed/supported through play, students see the value in these skills because they can make more connections to why we’re using them. 
  • Looking beyond a level. This very topic came up when I blogged about levelled texts earlier in the month. If students only see themselves according to a level, they may not always feel positive about what they can do. This connects to my second point about honouring all students and providing meaningful play opportunities with multiple entry points. 

The second question that intrigued me was this one.


I happened to read this tweet shortly after I took these two photographs today.

A large part of co-constructing an environment with children is believing that students will tell us and show us what they need, and then we need to be responsive to what they say and do, even if this may be contrary to our initial plan. I’m thinking now about the changes that our classroom environment has undergone since September and the reasons behind these changes.

  • We moved a large table out of the dramatic play area to create a bigger writing/drawing table because students wanted more room to draw and write.
  • We pulled our sensory bin away from the wall and out into the middle of the floor because more students wanted (and needed) these sensory experiences.
  • We moved the big pillows away from the carpet because they were restricting the room on a small carpet, and students wanted more space to sit. 
  • We moved the light table into the dramatic play area because the students were not using it in the Book Nook area, but wanted a table space, for various purposes, in dramatic play.
  • We’ve sometimes created a second snack table because more students are hungry at the same time of the day, so this additional table provides more eating room. It’s flexible depending on hunger. 
  • We added a table for painting because there is so much interest in painting that a two-person easel does not provide enough room. 

These are just the big changes. Small changes — like the ones we pictured today — happen every day in the classroom.

I realize that these topics are being discussed because of the roll-out of the finalized Full-Day Kindergarten Program document, but I almost feel as though the questions asked here and the answers provided should be considered for every grade. What impact might this have on how students perceive school and how students perceive their own abilities? How might this impact on their attitude towards school? It was when I moved from primary to teaching Grades 5 and 6, that I finally realized (and appreciated) the value in play-based learning. I learned a lot from my Kindergarten PLN in these junior years. I can’t help but wonder if all of us couldn’t learn a little something from a “play-based Kindergarten model.” What do you think?