During Friday’s PA Day, I had the opportunity to work with my wonderful partner, Mandie Ristic, as we started setting up our Senior Kindergarten classroom for September. When I walked into the room on Friday morning, I was overwhelmed by the stacks of supplies, the amount of furniture, and the size of the room.
The “Before” Picture
I’ll admit that I didn’t really know where to begin. This is one of many reasons that I love having a partner (and such a terrific one at that). Mandie had a much clearer vision, and together, we could talk out what mattered to us and why. We spent the whole day …
- discussing again
- getting feedback
- making changes
- and ultimately developing a plan.
As Mandie was drawing the plan on the whiteboard for our caretakers, I said, “I wish we were recording our conversations today. They would have made a wonderful blog post!” I can’t go back and do this — no matter how much I might like to — but I’m thrilled that Mandie was open to me blogging about our design and asking for feedback. Usually I publish this kind of blog post just before school starts in September, but I definitely see value in receiving input now, so that we can continue to modify our plans before the school year begins. And so, with this in mind, here’s our thinking.
We wanted “zones”: which included quieter areas and noisier areas. We decided to put our quieter area near the door. As you walk into the classroom, there is a large bench area that has cubbies underneath and hooks on top. We don’t need to use these hooks though, as we have lockers out in the hallway. Currently, these benches are full of supplies, but come September, the supplies will be organized elsewhere, and this will become a quiet reading area. We’ll have some bins of books on the benches, along with a few pillows, and Mandie is going to get some see-through fabric to drape above the hooks: creating a calming ambience that very much aligns with Stuart Shanker‘s thinking on self-regulation.
Right next to this area, we have a carpet area surrounded by a couple of bookshelves. Initially, we thought about putting books in the cubbies, but as we added more and more of them, we decided that we didn’t like the look. Now we’re going to put an assortment of books on the bookshelves. We’re also going to put some smaller books (e.g., board books, Clifford books, etc.) in the rows of cubbies that are at eye level for the students. Below these books, we’re going to add some puzzles and a few small toys. We thought about putting our CD player here as well. Calming music can always be played at a low level in the background to again support self-regulation and the need for some quiet time.
There is a small sensory bin area near the sink and not too far from this carpet area. Mandie mentioned that the sensory bins were not too noisy in her other Kindergarten class, and it’s ideal to have them near the sink. We also have our guided reading table over in the corner. It’s pulled back far enough to create more of a nook for reading. While some of our students can be supported in an “over the shoulder” approach, others will need more support. We definitely see using our guided reading table for this support, but we know that when it’s not being used by us, students can also use it to read, write, and/or explore together.
We put a large table on the other side of the reading carpet area. This table will be used for largely visual arts and projects. Mandie is going to fill the cubbies right behind this table with different colour-coded materials, much in the spirit of that which has been shared by Joanne Babalis before.
The other areas in the classroom are likely to be louder ones, and include block areas, a dramatic play area, and a Science area. The SMART Board carpet area can also be for full class gatherings. We don’t anticipate to do this much and/or to do this for long. We actually questioned if we needed an area where all of the students could sit, as we both find that working with small groups of students is often far more effective than large groups. Neither one of us intend on long, full-class gatherings, but the carpet is there if we want to dance together, read together, and/or share together.
We decided on two block areas. When visiting the Kindergarten class at Earl Kitchener, we noticed that these teachers had two block areas. Not only does this spread out the noise a little bit, but it also allows us to target different skills. The block area near the SMART Board is more of a “structure block area.” We have lots of foam blocks and wooden blocks, and we’ve added in cars and small animal toys to help get students thinking about creating structures. They can even look at real structures on the SMART Board, and use these images to inspire their own. We’re also going to add books, paper, and clipboards to this area to get students looking at other structures, reading about them, and drawing and writing about their own. Adding signs to the structures, such as, “Please keep,” also provide opportunities for meaningful writing.
The other block area is more about fine motor development and math skills. We initially wanted to put the hundreds carpet here, but due to space, we had to reconsider. The carpet that’s currently here though has some patterns on it, and may even inspire some other pattern creations. We also have a few small tables around this area, so that students can save their creations. Just like with the other block area, we intend on adding in books, paper, and clipboards to inspire reading and writing, while also building.
We wanted a Science area. Science learning can connect so well with Language and Math learning, and can often help students develop their oral language skills. Mandie has a great aquarium that can be used in many different ways. We thought that the use of provocations in addition to some reading and writing materials (on the little table) will help get students thinking, talking, reading, and writing about science.
Our dramatic play area will continue to evolve throughout the year. Student interests and the introduction of different provocations will help regularly change our dramatic play area. When we were looking at it on Friday, Mandie didn’t like seeing the brown backing of the furniture. That’s when we talked about creating a message area. Mandie has some chalkboard paint at home, and we’re looking at using this to even add some more literacy into this current kitchen area. What a nice way for us to leave messages for students, and them to leave messages for each other. We see the potential for some authentic writing here.
Technology is everywhere. We don’t want technology to be an add-on, but instead, an invisible, but useful, component of our learning environment. Students can use technology to help learn more, share with others, create, document learning, and review learning. Technology is infused throughout our learning environment, in the midst of low-tech tools such as paint, paper, pens, blocks, toys, books, and manipulatives. We have one desktop computer, but our other devices are portable, and include laptops, ChromeBooks, and iPads.
We wanted space. Students need little areas to sit, talk, and work together. We need to all be able to move around comfortably. In a classroom with many students, having space helps reduce the noise and any anxiety (maybe for both children and adults). Coupled with this need for space though, we wanted to ensure that there was a table area and a chair for each student if/when it’s needed. Initially, we had another small table in the classroom, but it was really reducing the movement area around the big art table. We decided that if we look at all tables — big and small — as possible ones for students to use (which they are), then we have enough room for everyone without the extra table. Sometimes less is more … and it definitely seems to be in this case.
I know that it’s hard to look beyond the mess and see what we see. Hopefully though this post provides a clearer picture of what we want and the reasons behind our choices. Our room will surely change throughout the year and probably even when we go back in August to finish setting up, but this post highlights our current plans. What do you think? What might you add or change, and why? We welcome feedback as you imagine with us the possibilities for this Senior Kindergarten environment!