Is Any Day A Good Day For A Change?

This morning, I started off my Monday as I often do: reading Diana Maliszewski‘s recent blog post. Diana publishes a new post every Monday morning, and I really enjoy starting my school week with her views. There’s a lot that I enjoyed about today’s post, but it was a couple of sentences in particular that stuck with me and led to this tweet. 

This is the post that I promised to write. 

It was these two sentences that I could not get out of my head.

Now that (hopefully) all the curriculum requirements have been covered, evaluated and reported, we still have a few weeks left with our students. Instead of playing DVDs for them to watch, why not try some activities that you’ve heard about but never had the time or inclination to try before?

I am not a fan of full-length movies, and I definitely believe in the value of routine. I know that the students crave it as much as we do. I also know that this is the time of the year when risks seem that much safer, and easier, to take. 

  • Students are older.
  • They are often more mature and independent.
  • Report cards and/or communications of learning are done (or almost done), and there is less pressure now around assessment and evaluation. 

I think it’s this last point that has me wondering. Would we view the end of the year differently if we didn’t view expectations as things to cover/meet/report on, but instead, as a lens to view the learning that is continuously happening in the classroom? In this case, does the learning ever really slow down or stop? 

This makes me think of a conversation that I had months ago with an educator from another school. She said, “I still have so much to teach. How will I ever finish? How will the children be ready for Grade 1?” Her questions really got me thinking because for the first time ever, I wasn’t worried about this. Our new Kindergarten Program Document really emphasizes the importance of viewing the whole child, observing their actions, understanding their interests, and constantly making links to program expectations. If we’re doing this, I wonder …

  • Will we be more apt to make changes at any time of the year?
  • Will our excitement, and our students’ excitement, about learning continue to exist no matter what month it may be?
  • Will it be easier to view “the child” (versus “the expectations”) first?

Yes, the school year is coming to an end. Classroom routines are more regularly interrupted by field trips and special events. Completed report cards and/or communications of learning make us feel more relaxed. And in many ways, this is the ideal time to try something new! But, I wonder, in a play-based and inquiry-based learning environment, does the “year-end slow down” not slow down quite as much? Is any day a good day for a change? As we once again transformed our classroom today, I started to think this might be true.

For the first time, students took COMPLETE ownership over this change, and maybe this shows just how ready they are for next year. Could letting students have this much ownership be our latest risk?


How Do You Find Balance Between The “Creative World” And The “Real World?”

Our students are like other children their age. They love everything from unicorns to transformers, and speak often about Pokemon, My Little Pony, princesses, dinosaurs, and even Minecraft. When we think about interest-based learning, it would be easy to choose any of these topics, and dig deeper … but how deep could we get? I am not suggesting that we ignore these interests, or even stop children from discussing them in a Kindergarten classroom, but when it comes to inquiry-based and play-based learning, maybe these are not the topics to extend.

I was further reminded of this today when I woke up this morning to a lovely email from a parent. This mother discussed how much her child has grown this year, and the difference she’s noticed in her child’s maturity. Now her child speaks about “being mindful,” respecting the environment, noticing litter, and commenting about the impact that litter can have on the health of animals. This email made me think about my first reading of the updated Kindergarten Program Document, and some questions I had regarding a chart in it on “traditional planning” versus the “inquiry-based approach.”

I wondered if “inquiry-based approaches” could still include some topics under “traditional planning,” like dinosaurs, as I knew that in the past, I attempted to go deeper with them. This year, my teaching partner, Paula, and I even further explored this thinking when we quickly saw an interest in dinosaurs, and we wondered what else was possible. We felt optimistic when students shared a strong prior knowledge on this topic.

While there was a little bit of research and some initial discussions with groups of students in class, this inquiry topic quickly died, as it was hard to push beyond the concrete.

Students shared what they knew, and learned a few more facts, but applying this knowledge in a meaningful way proved challenging. While some dinosaur play has continued throughout the year, it never goes beyond play: with maybe a few connections to social skills, oral language, math (measurement or counting), and possibly some reading or writing. This kind of imaginative play has a place in the classroom, and can be very valuable for kids, but as we work with groups of students to develop critical thinking skills, questioning skills, problem solving skills, and plans for action, are these really the best topic choices? I think that this is when learning has to be “real.”

I actually thought a lot about this yesterday morning when I received an email from a colleague (and friend) moments before the bell. This teacher noticed that a branch was breaking on one of the younger trees in our school yard. Our students love to swing from this tree, and while they can’t reach this particular branch, they could definitely break other ones. This teacher wondered if the Kindergarten Team could talk to the students about not swinging from these branches. She was around to plant these trees, has seen them grow up, and wants to have/see them for many more years to come. I totally understand. We could have told the students to just “stop swinging from the branches,” but instead, we presented the problem to them and asked for their help in solving it.

These tree branch solutions dominated our outdoor learning time yesterday.

In retrospect, it’s these kinds of experiences that result in deeper learning. This teacher’s concern allowed students to problem solve, own the problem, and own the solution. I think this will change how they play outside, how they view the trees in the forest, and how they talk to others about the use of these trees. When we’re outside in the morning, some classes of older students also come out for phys-ed or D.P.A. (Daily Physical Activity). They often play with our students in the forest. I wonder if Friday’s conversation and call to action will change how all of these students use the trees and the discussions that they have about them. Even some teachers in the staffroom were talking positively about the signs on the trees. While students spelled most words using letter-sounds, the use of these sounds coupled by picture cues made their message clear, and both students and adults, are taking notice of it. 

Looking back at the chart from the Kindergarten Program Document, I’m given an even better appreciation for the content on the right. I’m also reminded that as Kindergarten educators, we have many jobs to do. I think that one of our responsibilities is to expose children to meaningful topics that can provide concrete learning experiences while also allowing for deeper learning. Will students always articulate these interests first? Maybe not. But if we provide children with diverse learning opportunities, will some of their interests change and connect with topics beyond the creative world that so many of them know and love? How do we help students extend their interests while not ignoring the ones that already exist? I think of the mom that wrote me this morning. Her child now talks about something else beyond stuffed animals, cats, and princesses. There’s something to be said for that. What do you think?