If anyone ever told me that 2:00 in the afternoon would be my favourite time of the day in Kindergarten, I’d tell you that you were crazy! Usually, it’s as the day progresses that Kindergarten children become more tired, the class becomes louder, and there’s a need for more active, gross motor play that happens so well outside. It’s why we originally planned to head outside early, before dismissal, so that children could engage in the play that they need. But then something remarkable happened: the play inside was so focused, meaningful, and exciting that each day we struggle more with how long we can wait before we have to tidy up for home.
My teaching partner, Paula, and I have spoken a lot about why this might be the case. In 15+ years, neither one of us have ever experienced this before. Here are some of our initial thoughts.
- This is the one time of the day that we are both in the classroom together for an extended period of time. We start our day outside, and we usually don’t come inside until around 10:15. Then we group for our VIP sharing and morning planning meeting with the students, and they are just settling into play when the First Nutrition Break bell goes. We have an open snack table all day long, and children eat when they’re hungry, so our students do not observe the nutrition breaks. That said, I do, and have my supervision duties during the breaks as well. This means, that I often leave the classroom just as the children start to play. My prep is usually right after the First Nutrition Break, and depending on the prep time schedule, a couple of times all of the children leave the room, sometimes a group of students leave, and sometimes another teacher comes in and extends the play in the classroom. When I come back after my prep, Paula goes on her lunch, and then she comes back in time for me to leave for the Second Nutrition Break. This means that there is only one of us in the classroom for around the next 80 minutes, and it’s only after this that we’re both in together.
- The children have settled into play. It takes a while for this to happen. Students need to negotiate the use of different materials, change up the environment (sometimes even switching materials on the tables or shelves during the day to better meet their needs), and interact and problem solve with their peers. This is often the time that we can intentionally interrupt the play, and start to change that repetitive play into something a little different. We also find that this is when children are more eager to write, as they have created, discussed, and orally formulated the ideas that they want to share in another way. It is also before we start to tidy up that students want to “save” their creations, and this often leads to a writing opportunity.
- We have a few less students during this time. Since just before the Christmas holidays, we were fortunate enough to get an extra ECE (Early Childhood Educator) that supports students in both Kindergarten classrooms. In the afternoon, she works with a small group of children in the library and outside. These students change on a regular basis, and we are able to plan for this space so that the environment itself best meets the needs of the children in it. (Just like in our classrooms, the students help co-create this space.) With 6-7 students in the library, our numbers reduce to 25-26 children. A smaller group coupled with students that have really settled into the play leads to some incredible thinking, sharing, and learning.
These thoughts around this successful end to the school day makes me think more about the flow of the day.
- Long blocks of play matter. Without giving the children the time that we do to settle into play, we wouldn’t get to where we are at 2:00.
- The individual things that we do and observe, matter. While there is so much that we can do and observe when we’re together, there’s also a lot in what leads up to this point. We both notice different things in the classroom. We both watch and support students in making changes to different spaces in the classroom. And then we both talk when we’re back together again, so that when we are both in the room, we can help extend what children started before.
- There’s value in working past the noise. This was a big a-ha moment for me. Up until this year, extreme noise has always been a reason for me to close down an area in the room, direct students to other areas, or tidy-up the classroom altogether and head outside. This year though, as challenging as it can sometimes be, we do not let the noise stop us. We may encourage “quieter voices.” We may insert ourselves into the play to help quiet things down. We may even intentionally interrupt the play in the hope of producing a quieter option. We know that it’s usually after this noisy interlude, as the play and conversations settle, that “wonderful” happens. We just have to get to this point.
- A big mess can ALWAYS be tidied up! This is something else that is hard for me. Big messes stress me out. I often have to wear my glasses on the top of my head to blur my vision just a bit so that I don’t feel overwhelmed by the mess I see. As Paula and I discussed with the other Kindergarten team at our school on Friday, our children often play inside, relatively uninterrupted, for four hours. I know that this seems like a lot of time. Consider though that during this time, children sit down to eat at least twice, engage in some small group and one-to-one time with us, switch out materials in the classroom to play in different ways, and engage with different children in different parts of the room, connected to all Four Frames of learning. It is because they have this much time that they feel comfortable moving to so many different options in the classroom, as they know that they will always have time for what they love. All of this being said though, you can imagine what kind of mess, 25-26 (and sometimes 32) four- and five-year-old children create in four hours: it’s a lot! It’s why we often clean up the messiest areas first, and even engage in a Dance Tidy (Paula’s brain child) to make the clean up far more fun. The children do clean though, and by the time we go outside, the classroom is tidy and ready for After Care. We’re now down to being able to clean up in 15-20 minutes max, which I think is quite impressive considering the amount of time playing.
I always find that my photographs never look Pinterest-worthy, but this is what our real classroom looks like: with my coat on the floor, as it fell off the chair, a dustpan in the middle of the table because an entire bag of popcorn exploded on the floor, a missing marker lid because “I don’t know what happened to the lid, Miss Dunsiger,” & work in action. There’s a child writing and drawing a “note to my mom because she’s really, really going to like it, Miss Dunsiger.” And this huge structure that K. made, even figuring out “where the people fit without making it fall over.” Math, play, a mess, & all kinds of wonderfulness rolled into one. 🙂 #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry
As hard as it may be to have to clean up at the end of the day, I kind of love how this is often one of our biggest problems. There’s something wonderful about loving the learning so much that you don’t want it to end, and ending the day eager to come back the next day. What’s your favourite time of the day? How does this “favourite time” impact on your thinking about the classroom environment, the schedule of the day, and classroom routines? It’s great to celebrate the terrific things happening in all of our rooms!