What’s possible beyond Kindergarten?

A combination of unrelated events on Friday have me thinking about teaching, learning, and just how much control we can give to kids. Let me explain.

Friday morning started with some letter investigations. This child-driven, letter interest is happening indoors and outdoors, and even leading to letter-talk as students solve problems among the trees. 

This letter interest continues to evolve. A. started this morning by showing me the Y stick she found. Then E. found a U that he turned around into a C. F. joined in with an L stick, and then other students found and discussed additional letter sticks. They even started combining them to make new letters like X and a “lowercase y,” as E. mentioned. Then individual sticks were used to make an A, and we discussed words that have A in them. M. found an L stick too. Compared it to the number 1. So we could then discuss letters versus numbers. After school today, @paulacrockett and I discussed a way to further this letter-stick interest indoors and connect it with more letter-sounds and words. SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry

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As you can hear in our conversations, we are trying to move from identifying individual letters to making connections with sounds and words. We extend this learning differently depending on the child and his/her strengths and needs. But for the first time in my life, this reading and writing exploration is not being pushed by me. Paula and I waited for the students to notice what they could do with the sticks and the letters that they could find in our natural world. It’s really quite amazing to hear the letter-sound talk that is part of our forest play almost every single day. Students are inspiring each other to look at sticks differently, and see how they can even use their bodies to create letters and words. Being a part of this experience this year makes me wonder if given enough time, enough experiences, and enough opportunities to interact with each other, if students may naturally land on some of the academic areas that we often push. Will student interest take this learning to a richer, deeper level if coupled by our questioning and direct teaching (when and if necessary)?

I contemplated similar questions during some math experiences on Friday. These experiences started out in the forest, when two children had a problem sitting on a stump. One child felt as though he almost “fell off the stump” because of another child joining him up there. These two looked to me to solve the problem. Instead of doing so, I presented it to them as a possible math problem. Is there enough room on the stump for two people? This led to a great discussion around measurement, and some math thinking that continued even after I left. 

One of these children was involved in another math problem in the afternoon, when he wanted to help cover part of the bulletin board, so that students could continue to share some of their thinking around the planets and the environment. He told me that he wanted to cut the paper, and I asked him, “How are we going to know how much we need?” This led to choosing a non-standardised tool to measure (he picked straws without me leading him there), estimating the length required, stapling the paper up, and then reflecting on his estimation to the actual length of paper needed. As seen in one of the videos, I did do a little direct teaching around which way we measure, and we talked more about this later: exploring length versus height. While I knew that my question around comparing the actual length to the estimated length would lead to a conversation about fractions, I did not expect another child to chime in and talk about “a quarter” versus “a half.” His fraction knowledge exceeded my expectations. This was a great reminder to me about the point in the Kindergarten Program Document that children are “competent and capable of complex thought.” We always need to remember this!

All of these experiences made me think of some conversations I’ve had over the years about the play-based Kindergarten Program Document. Often educators have expressed to me concerns that I’ve also had in the past.

  • What if children never choose to do math?
  • What if they don’t show an interest in reading or writing?

I’m starting to wonder though if this would even be possible. While we don’t direct the children to do specific activities or engage in specific tasks, we do help set-up the environment to naturally connect with reading, writing, oral language, problem solving, and math opportunities. There really isn’t a way to avoid these options. And since we try hard not to solve problems for kids, children often need to engage in meaningful problem solving opportunities if they want things to change or they want to get certain things done. 

  • Do you want to save your Lego creations? Write about them.
  • Do you want others to know what you’re thinking? Make a sign.
  • Do you need more materials or different materials? Make me a list.
  • How are we going to know which person gets what milk? Get a Sharpie. Read the list of names. Write one name on each carton of milk.
  • Do you want to help hand out the pizza? Read the list of names. What kind does each person get? How many slices?
  • Do you want to create artwork? Title it. All of the professional artists do. 
  • Do you want to change around dramatic play? Do you have a new idea? Tell us about it. Write it down. Make me a list of what we need, and how to rearrange the furniture. Where will everything go?
  • Did you create a house in the block space? How will we know what everything is, and why it needs to stay there? Make us a list. Label your creations. Create a floor plan. Or make a PicCollage, so if the house is destroyed, you can always rebuild it the next day. 

Our classroom is full of clipboards, labels, Sharpie markers, pencils, coloured markers, crayons, books, and paper. Students know where to find our few iPads if they want to create a PicCollage to preserve their work or search for information online. We’ve modelled for them and taught them that we “write to communicate,” and so students do just that! 

We also try to show students that math is not something we do in isolation, but a way that we can share thinking and solve problems. Math talk (and wonders) happen everywhere, and are often driven by kids. 

I’ve taught older grades (right up to Grade 6), and I know that the increased number and complexity of expectations can make this kind of play-based approach a more challenging option. But I wonder what happens when we watch and listen to kids, and take their lead to explore meaningful math problems and authentic reasons to write.

I can’t help but think about many of Rhonda Urfey’s blog posts. Rhonda is currently a Grade 6 teacher in our Board, and as you will see in her posts, she takes some of the Kindergarten philosophy and extends it to this older grade. Everything may not be play-based or inquiry-based, but she definitely connects a lot of the learning to topics that matter to kids. She elicits some great thinking and problem solving in the process. There’s something to be said for this. What about you? Our Kindergarten students amaze me on a daily basis with how they think and what they can do, and I can’t help but wonder if given the time, the support, the diverse experiences, and an educator’s thorough understanding of the curriculum, if the K philosophy could extend well beyond this two-year program. Anybody else trying this or willing to give it a try? Let’s continue to believe in kids, as they have so much wonderful to share!


6 thoughts on “What’s possible beyond Kindergarten?

  1. Okay, I need to start by saying that I laughed out loud at “you want me to crawl?” and your hilarious interaction with Trinity. I’m so glad she was there to help you.

    There’s so much in this post, Aviva, that I feel like I’m going to need to sit with it, and dig into it. I’m involved in some math PD right now that I’m really enjoying, but one of its premises is the idea of a scheduled approach to math clusters, which can make inquiry-based learning tricky, but not impossible. I want to think about how inquiry and student-led questioning might fit within those constraints.

    I’m starting to think that what might be really beneficial is putting some experienced kinder minds together with some intermediate minds, and seeing where the kindies think this kind of integration might work best with the big kids. Science structure creation and measurement seems like an easy integration, but what other ones might not be as obvious?

    As ever, thanks for much to think about.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lisa! And thank goodness for Trinity that got me through the bushes to help a child that wasn’t really stuck, but led to some great morning interactions for all of us. 🙂

      I would love to hear more about your PD. We have some math PD on Friday as part of our PA Day, and I wonder if this scheduled approach will be a part of what’s shared. The Kindergarten Program Document looks at an approach to math that is quite contrary to that. We link what the child is doing with the math expectations, but start with the child instead of the expectations. Would this work in older grades? Maybe not as the only method, but I think that degrees of it are possible.

      I look at the stump math that happened on Friday. If we moved from the more general math talk to adding values to the size of the stump and the size of the children on it, what other grades might benefit from this kind of math? Measurement is definitely a strand possible for this kind of approach in all grades, but I’m also seeing the number sense and geometry that could come out of these kinds of experiences. Then if we link probability to some real world applications/issues, you could also see a link between this strand and Social Studies or Science. This is what I did when I taught Grade 5. And when we deal with real issues, there are all kinds of reasons to collect and analyze data. Maybe the analyzing part is even better, as the issues matter, so we’re thinking more about the numbers, instead of just graphing them.

      I haven’t taught intermediate before, but you bring up a great point about thr value in having educators talk and share ideas among different divisions. How much might we all learn? I think back to my great conversations with Jo-Ann Corbin-Harper when she taught Grade 8, and I taught Grades 1, 5, and 6. Sharing ideas benefitted all of us!


  2. Hi, Aviva –
    You’ll find lots of examples of “a pedagogy of play” across the elementary years at opalschool.org.
    I hope that what you find there inspires you – in the same way that your readers are inspired here!

    • Thanks Matt! I will check out Opal School’s website for sure. I’m always interested in finding examples of play in different grades, and seeing how this helps kids learn.


    • Thanks for sharing this, Melanie! What a great connection. I didn’t even think about this school, and I follow the person on Twitter that opened it. I will check this out for sure.


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