Can You Really Have The Best Day With Indoor Recess AND A Full Moon?!

When I got to school early yesterday morning, I was worried about our day. I almost sent out this tweet.

A full moon and it’s too cold to go outside today. Plus, reports are due into the office. Not the makings of a great day for teachers. 🙂

I resisted the urge though, despite feeling like it might be a challenging day at school. Yes, I stayed up late the night before to proofread my Communications of Learning, as I really wanted to get them into the office before the weekend (we actually have until Monday due to some glitches with the program). So yes, I was uncharacteristically tired, and really hoping that the coffee would do its magic and make me feel more awake. I could have used some fresh air … and I was guessing that our kids would feel the same. We usually start our day outside (for about 1 1/2 hours), so this would be a big change to our program which is incredibly routine. We’ve had a couple of similar days lately because of yet another polar vortex, but we always get outside at some point. The windchill values for yesterday made me doubt that we’d be making it out at all. Could we do this? Could our kids make it through?

And this is when something incredible happened: we actually had our best day ever! Even after 4 1/2 hours of playing, it was actually sad to tidy up. After school yesterday, my teaching partner, Paula, and I poured over documentation for hours. We watched videos. We discussed our observations. We talked about plans for next week, and how to extend the learning. We also tried to figure out what made today different. Here’s our thinking.

The room design worked well for our kids. Just before heading to the staff room at the start of the Second Nutrition Break, I stood over by the door and took some photographs of the classroom. Students used the classroom so well. A group of children sat down with Paula to eat their lunches and chat about the day. They got involved in a discussion around measurement, and began to compare their heights to their friends. Lots of great math talk happened here! Then another group of students worked on perfecting the backdrop for the Photo Shoot at the Build-A-Baby Store. A few students worked on turning the dollhouse into a Donut Shop … complete with a sign. Other children created structures and marble runs with the various block choices on the big carpet. A few students continued to mix colours and add to our Rainbow Collaborative Art Piece. They decided to add a Jackson Pollock-inspired layer. Then there were the children behind me at the time: adding components and building structures for Lego City, and creating miniature works of art together in the shelves. There were also a few students beading at the creative table, and some children exploring gravity and the movement of water at the sensory table. One child was even sitting down to enjoy a good book over on the sofa. The spread of students around the room definitely helped decrease the volume of discussion, and lead to groups of very engaged children working and learning together in our classroom space. 

 

There were lots of options for kids. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: we don’t direct play. We do spend our entire day playing with kids though, and we extend the learning through play. We both do a lot of mini-lessons: sometimes in small groups, sometimes in large groups, and sometimes 1:1. Knowing our kids though and having discussed their next steps together on a daily basis, allows us to plan for how to insert ourselves into play, and how to give the direct instruction that the children need, while not sacrificing the value of inquiry and play. It’s a delicate dance, and some days, it works better than others. We’re very deliberate in the materials that we put out in the classroom though, and we reflect daily on how students use these materials, and what we can add or remove to have them engage with items differently. Yes, we have a few students that wander at times … but the items that we had in our various spaces seemed to grab these wanderers. As they walked by, they stopped, and found something new to try. 

 

Different social groups emerged on Friday. Maybe it’s because they were inside and they found each other in various spaces of interest. But as these different children played with each other, they also changed the repetitive play that we sometimes see. This led to children supporting each other in new ways, but also extending some of the play that might have ended earlier on another day. 

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As they were playing in the LEGO today, Trinity and Tommy decided they wanted to make a “YouTube LEGO video.” I said that they needed a plan. They wrote a quick one first, so then I did a mini-lesson showing how to using a beginning, middle, and end organizer to plan our thoughts. Trinity and Tommy worked together to do this. While Trinity did the writing, the amazing thing is that Tommy was the one that read it back to me. Then Brayden chimes in with some feedback. They recruited some help to do the recording, and took turns as they moved from their plan into action. Think this plan could be good for developing more storytelling as well. SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry

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We split up the block play. A few weeks ago, we noticed that our big carpet remained empty for most of the day. Not only is this central space a perfect place for running — something that we try to avoid — but it’s also a large, unused area, which we don’t want to have in what is already a smaller classroom. We decided to move some block bins over to the carpet, and students used these blocks incredibly well with the marble run pieces to create great structures and marble runs. When we added the wooden blocks to this space though, the area became too loud. On Thursday, some students took the big blocks over near the Lego table, and created a Lego City on the floor. A child convinced Paula to let him keep Lego City intact at least until Friday, even though it was central in our classroom and hard to avoid. Yesterday though, Paula worked with a few students to relocate Lego City behind the Lego table. This kept the wooden blocks in this Lego space, but also spread out the block play, so interested builders split up between the carpet and the Lego table. For next week, we moved some foam blocks back to this Lego table space to maybe change up the block play even more.

 

We had a lot of sensory options. We know that sensory play is calming for many of our students, so we’ve considered different sensory choices in the classroom: from painting to water to plasticine to bead work. Having these various choices for kids seemed to create a calmer environment for the day. We also put out the bead work a little earlier than usual, when we noticed that students were not using the creative table as much, and the classroom noise was increasing. On a day when we couldn’t go outside, a little more time to bead seemed to make a difference! (Plus students don’t stay at these choices all day. They go there, they feel calmer, and then they move somewhere else. They come back when needed.)

 

We made small changes throughout the day instead of a full re-start. Before school started, Paula and I discussed the possible need to clean up, have a Brain Break, and then start playing again … maybe with fewer choices. We were prepared for this. Instead of doing so, we decided to make smaller changes in the environment when needed. Sometimes we suggested other choices to kids. Sometimes we went into spaces and inspired a change (e.g., when Paula spoke to the children in the Build-A-Baby Store about a photo shoot). Sometimes we switched around materials (as we did at the creative table with the Perler Beads). By not stopping the play, but changing and extending it, students settled into play even more and had a far more successful day!

 

We figured out what engages those few students that don’t always seem so easily engaged. We actually did this by accident the day before. We had a plan to hopefully help engage these kids for a little longer, and get past their desire to regularly wander from one place to the next. When we put this plan into action though, it was actually another activity that got them, and then gave them that feeling of success that allowed them to explore other, more open-ended areas with a greater willingness to persevere. After reflecting on this on Thursday, we put some similar options into play for Friday, and these choices grabbed them. Other children that also tend to follow them, were equally interested in these activity options. Win/win! 

None of the areas require us to be there in order for students to use them. (Paula reminded me of this benefit.) This is something that’s always true in our classroom, but was especially beneficial on a day like yesterday. We want to be able to go into any space, observe children, ask questions, and support extensions of learning, but we don’t want to be held down in any one space. The ability to circulate, to settle in different areas of the room, and to make changes depending on how students use the classroom, are all critical components of our program’s success. Some days require more circulation. Some children require more support. But in a classroom where kids — even our youngest learners — are independent and know classmates that can also support them, gives us the opportunity to be flexible. This flexibility might be needed even more on an indoor day WITH a full moon. 

 

We cleaned up gradually. Four-and-a-half hours of play in a Kindergarten classroom produces quite a large mess, and tidy up time can be stressful for everyone. So when I came back from the Second Nutrition Break, we slowly started to get kids to clean up some of the larger messes in the classroom. Paula then called a full clean up when most of the room was already tidy, so that we could re-group quickly and with a minimal amount of stress.

We took care of our own Self-Reg needs. Indoor days are not easy ones for adults, and they can often be stressful … my tweet that was never sent at the beginning of the day highlights this! 🙂 We know though that our ability to self-regulate impacts on kids. So on Friday, we also made our self-regulation a priority. Paula made sure that I took at least some of both nutrition breaks (something that I don’t always do): to leave the classroom, to decompress, and to make sure that I could do it all again! Paula also left for her lunch, and then came back and had some quiet time at the eating table with a group of students. The table provides a perfect view of our whole classroom, while also being a little removed from the hub-bub of activity. This quieter time, then allowed her to insert herself into play, and record some amazing advertisements for our dramatic play store. Sometimes we all need a little break to give our best to what comes next!

 

I’m still not sure that we could do a fully indoor day every day, but yesterday made me realize that even some scary conditions (i.e., a full moon and indoor recess), don’t always need to be that scary after all. How do you make indoor recess work for you and your students? Windchill remains as one of the most frightening teacher words that I know, but thanks to a fantastic teaching partner and amazing kids, maybe we really can make it through this polar vortex and come out on top!

Aviva

4 thoughts on “Can You Really Have The Best Day With Indoor Recess AND A Full Moon?!

  1. Aviva: what a powerful post. You really have me thinking a lot about what a difference my state has on my students. I know that I’m finding that I’m a more patient mom of teens these days as I’m not carrying work stress. I know that when I eat well and exercise, I’m a nicer human overall. That affects my classroom, and I am really thinking about what I’m going to need to put in place to help me help my students! I’m thinking fondly of the year a friend ran a before school yoga class on the stage.

    • Thanks Lisa! Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins have taught me a lot about the impact that an adult’s ability to self-regulate has on the kids that they support. Even so, I did need a little push from Paula to leave for at least a little time during both Nutrition Breaks. I always leave during one, but rarely both. I think that ability to decompress made a difference. And while I went to the staff room, looked through some documentation, uploaded some videos, and engaged in a couple of quick conversations, that break from the room and the students helped. It made me feel happy and ready to go back in the classroom after the breaks: genuinely enjoying my time there as much as the kids. As educators, we often feel as though we have to do it all. Or maybe there’s just that little bit of guilt over leaving … especially since we don’t stop our program over the breaks, so Paula’s taking on a lot on her own. But she’s amazing, takes it on with ease, and empowers students to do so much on their own. This all matters. How do we feel comfortable enough to take the breaks that we need, and not experience the guilt that sometimes comes with this? It’s a good reminder that educators don’t need to be superheroes, and we can often do more and be better, if we look after ourselves first. (I’d argue that the same can be said for administrators and parents. We all need some “me time,” even in the midst of a busy day.) It sounds like the yoga class did that for you. Maybe something to start again when you go back to school in September?

      Aviva

      • The best part of that yoga class was that Julie was on staff. She needed yoga teaching hours as she qualified as an instructor, so that class was on the stage in the morning, for half an hour before our day started. It just centred me, and I know (and I loved the list of possible helpful behaviours that you and Kristi linked in your co-post) that meditation ideally has to be moving to be effective for me. It might mean that I bring my mat, and set an alarm to let me do a 20 minute video before the kids hit the room in the morning. Genuinely feeling as ready as possible is another piece of the puzzle for me. I’m doing a lot of work on this right now, as I really want to be the best possible teacher for my students, and I can’t do that if my anxiety is cranked up.

        • Lisa, it sounds as though you’re thinking a lot about this Self-Reg piece and what works for you. I’m very curious to hear what you decide to do (once you’re back at school), and the impact that this has on you and your students. Thanks for the great conversation!

          Aviva

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