“Surprise Mother Trucker” … And Other Unlikely Learning Opportunities!

I have two, 40-minute nutrition break duties a week, and without a doubt, they always make me think. This was definitely true of Wednesday’s duty.

The bell just rang, and I was letting the children come in from outside. This was when one student came up to me. She told me about what another child said to her during the line-up time. I thought that his words were worth investigating, so once I did a quick walk through each classroom, I called the child out into the hallway. I explained that one of his classmates came to see me, concerned about what he said. He quickly commented to me, “All I said was, ‘Surprise, Mother Trucker!'” Okay … now what? I decided to reply with, “I can see how your words might have been ‘misconstrued’ (yes, this was my word choice when talking with this primary student, as it’s never too early to develop vocabulary skills) for another phrase. What could we do?”

He thought that maybe he should tell her what he actually said. This seemed like a good start, but I decided to push things a bit more. I said, “But your teacher might also want to know what happened. What if another child mentions it too or what if the principal asks you about it? How could we tell everybody the same message?” He thought that he could say it again and again, but I said, “This could take a lot of time. You might also forget exactly what you said to the person before, and you want to make sure that your message is the same. What if you wrote it down?” He thought that this option made sense, so he went into his classroom, grabbed some paper and a pencil, and started writing. 

I continued to circulate through the classrooms, and a few minutes later, this child came to me with his paper. He phonetically wrote, “Surprise, Mother Trucker,” on the front of it. I said, “Thanks for writing this! I know that this is what you said, but when did it happen? Who did you say it to? If you’re writing down this kind of important information, you need to include all of the details.” We spoke about what these details might be, and then he went back to class to write more. 

About five more minutes passed, and this child found me in another room. I got him to read me his note, and he tracked the words as he read each one of them. We then looked at a couple of the words he used. I noticed that he forgot a few consonant blends, and sometimes he just used an R instead of an ER at the end of words. I decided to do a little mini-lesson, and we played with a few blends and a few ER words. This is a child that does not like to write, but happily experimented with writing over the nutrition break. 

This got me thinking about various learning opportunities that have happened recently over the nutrition breaks.

  • On Tuesday, a child told me that her Grade 1/2 class went inside at the same time as the Speech and Language Class. She asked me, “Did you send us in together?” I said that I did. Why? She explained that there were too many children going through the door at the same time. “Miss Dunsiger, maybe next time, you want to just send in one class at a time.” I replied with, “A great idea! Can you write me a note to remind me about this? I do better with reminders.” And so she did, and on Wednesday, I worked hard at remembering to just send in one class at a time. Meaningful writing and problem solving during recess!
  • Then there is the milk flipping, the shoe flipping, the coin flipping, and any other flipping opportunities that children can think of for some lunchtime fun. Last week, I showed a group of Grade 1-3 students how they can use a tally chart to keep track of results and reflect on them. This is what the children did! I then had students talking to me about totals, differences between the highest and the lowest scores, and why there may have been certain results. Think data management, number sense, probability, oral language, and thinking all rolled into one! (And, as an aside, I do one mean milk flip! 🙂 There are a few Grade 1/2 students that can vouch for me on this.)
  • Every day, students in the primary classes sit down to read while they eat. They love to come up to me and read me funny parts of their books or explain what’s happening on a certain page. Sometimes they even read aloud to each other, which is a great way to work on fluency. So many decoding and comprehension possibilities over lunch!
  • Then there are the students that hand out the milk each day. One of the Grade 2/3 classes counts out the number of chocolate and white milks needed for each class, and then each individual class needs to follow the list to hand out the milks. This includes reading student names, interpreting data (following the chart), and problem solving (if they are short on milks). In Kindergarten, we also have some students write their names on their milk containers with a Sharpie marker, which is a meaningful way to practise printing without a worksheet.

The Kindergarten Program Document has us look for and extend these learning opportunities through play. It has us really concentrate on and celebrate the learning in the everyday. But why must this only be for Kindergarten? Noticing and naming is possible for every student in every grade, as seen in the four bullet points above. I wonder if part of it’s about viewing these break times differently and extending the scope of the learning that’s likely already happening during these times. 

I’m thinking back now to the “Mother Trucker” anecdote that started off this blog post. There are many ways that I could have responded, and have responded in the past.

  • I could have sent both students to the office to figure out which story was accurate.
  • I could have spent the recess talking to both students and seeing if either story changed.
  • I could have just let him explain what he said to the other child, and if there were no more problems, left it at that. 

But I know this child, we’ve connected before, and I realize that a silly, and somewhat funny comment, like “Surprise, Mother Trucker!” is something that he probably did say through play. Why assume the worst? Is our intention to ‘punish’ or to ‘teach?’ I know that recess time is not “instructional time,” but as the new Kindergarten Program Document has shown me, there are so many curriculum connections to everyday interactions, and it’s amazing what happens when we view learning through this complex lens. I had to make this nutrition break comment into a different kind of learning opportunity, with literacy and social connections. I’m now left wondering …

  • What if mini-lessons happened anywhere at any time?
  • How might we support the learning of any child in any classroom?
  • How might we communicate this learning to home room teachers?

I’m not sure that there are easy answers to these questions. I think about the Kindergarten Program Document, and the complexity in figuring out how prep coverage teachers support assessment when there are Four Frames with overlapping expectations instead of six individual subject areas. Coordinating an even bigger sharing of observations across all grade levels might be a Utopian ideal, but I continue to wonder what’s possible. Maybe just having opportunities to discuss our observations and dialogue more with colleagues from all grade levels could be a starting point. What do you think? 


8 thoughts on ““Surprise Mother Trucker” … And Other Unlikely Learning Opportunities!

  1. “Is it our intention to punish or to teach”? I live by this question daily. A follow up for me is that your punishment will teach something you may not have intended. Even if the student were lying he learned so much more than the writing lesson. He learned that he is valued and will be heard. He learned he can trust you. He learned that he can learn to be careful of where and when he uses words. These lessons would be lost sending him to the office.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kit, and the kind words! I’m a big believer in the power of relationships with children, and I try to think about this when I respond to problems. I’m not going to say that I always responded in the way that I did on Wednesday, and I have used the office route for different reasons in the past, but I’m glad that I decided on a different approach. In the Foundations 1 Course through The MEHRIT Centre, I learned that punishment is not the ultimate goal. I try to remember that when I view students and behaviour. In the end, I felt a lot better about my response on Wednesday than I think I would have felt if I sent him to the office.


      • Our team lives with “When we know better we do better” Being a reflective teacher means learning and growing. I try not to cringe when I think of how I handled some behavior in the past.

        On another note “surprise Mother Trucker” has had me giggling all day.

        • Excellent point, Kit! I also try to remember that we need to be kind to ourselves. We all make mistakes, and even when we know what may be best, we still sometimes respond differently in the heat of the moment. We have to forgive students, and we need to forgive ourselves.

          Glad you found the title amusing. The phrase actually made me giggle when he said it to me, and while I tried to suppress it, maybe that’s another reason why I really couldn’t punish him.


  2. You’re my hero! I really appreciated the fact that your relationship with the student was what helped you figure out the best solution for him. That really resonates with me.

    I also admire your ability to turn the flipping into data management. My son’s 7/8 gifted class went to the original video, worked on their technique, and then started tracking their results. I can’t cap a water bottle worth beans, and the repetitive noise of flipping makes my ADD brain go wonky. Still going to do it as data management this year though (adding in how water displacement affects the flip).

    Thanks for the reminder that learning can happen everywhere, if we are open to it.

    • Thanks Lisa! You are so incredibly kind. I think that relationships matter a lot, and it was my connection with this child that helped me figure out what to do. I keep wondering if I would have responded as I did if I really didn’t know the student. The only reason that I might have is that I would be intrigued to know if writing could make its way meaningfully into a nutrition break time. 🙂

      As for the bottle flipping, I will say that I find the milk flipping a little less noisy. The shoe flipping is interesting too, but it can be loud as well. I wonder if bringing in one of those gym mats to put on the floor would help cushion the noise. I think about students that may be similar to you, and having all of that flipping happening at once may set them off. I think I can handle it better in the classroom when only a few students are engaging in it … or when I’m on duty and can walk into another classroom. 🙂 The learning potential helps me out too, but I need to remind myself of this.

      I’m a big believer in the fact that learning can happen everywhere, and I love how our new K Document supports this very thought.


  3. I’m thinking that I’ll make bottle-flipping one station as we’re managing data – we have our beep test baselines, and our monthly boot camp results, and some other data to work with, so that would be more do-able in terms of noise. Mats are a good idea, too. One thing I want to work on a lot in future is how we create spaces where “noisy learning” can co-exist with those who might need less noise.

    • This is a great idea, Lisa! Your comment about noisy and quiet spaces co-existing makes me think a lot about Stuart Shanker’s work on micro-environments. This is what we try and do in Kindergarten. Sometimes spaces close to the floor, facing a wall, or surrounded by shelves can help with creating these quiet spaces. Even having centres, as you’re doing here, can help, as then the noise is being controlled by only having some students bottle flipping at a time. Mats help too. Good luck! I love how you’re always looking out for what you can do to support all of your different learners.


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