I’ve been sitting on this blog post for a few days now after hearing a single sentence, which has made me pause. The comment was nothing more than a passing one. In fact, I bet that if I asked the person about making it, she wouldn’t even remember doing so. At the time, we were having a great professional conversation around programming and pedagogy, when she said the words that stuck with me: “It must be hard to program in here as the kids can do whatever they want.” These words made me silent, as to a degree the statement is true, but to another degree, the truth is far more complex than this.
I’ve blogged many times before about our play-based Kindergarten Program. My teaching partner, Paula, and I believe very strongly in the pedagogy embedded in our Program Document, and we really do embrace the value of free play — even though the term itself may concern us. We don’t make children do any specific activity or go to any particular area in the classroom. Or, at least, not as a rule. There are exceptions to any rule though. Sometimes, if we notice that a child is really frustrated, overly excited, or just reluctant to venture out of a particular space, we might invite them to do so. We don’t force this. We do offer some choices though, offer to sit down with them, and even offer to support them, and most times, one of these options work. For most children on most days, everyone moves freely around the room and in and out of different spaces.
While we don’t outline specific activities in any one area of the room, or even do separate times for literacy and math learning, we do embed literacy and math in every space around our classroom: indoors and out.
- There is paper everywhere. Clipboards, markers, and pencils are found in every corner of the room, and we even have a few iPads, which kids will use for PicCollages, researching, and/or Explain Everything recordings.
On our way home today, Milla and Trinity showed me the song that they wrote out today. They both wrote down the words in slightly different ways, and enjoyed singing it as they read it. I love connections between music and writing! (Now to looked at the ed versus T sound.)❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry
- Books, which connect to the different areas, are available in these spaces. They are lying open, they’re sitting on chairs, or they’re in little book boxes down at the children’s level. Many are texts that we have read together already, so the students know them and feel as though they can access them. Some are pattern books. All include detailed pictures and numerous sight words. These are books that students can use for storytelling or reading. Even the eating table has a bin of books on it, and many children read and talk about these texts as they eat.
Brady was going to make legs for his clay centipede out of toothpicks. He knew that a centipede had 30 legs. @paulacrockett showed him how he could break the toothpicks in half. How many toothpicks would he need then for his 30 legs? He quickly replied with 15. How did he know? I kind of love that reading helped him out. Now here is a confident reader now! ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry cc @sandybatenburg
- There are small, wooden people, who students use for storytelling and dramatic play. Some children create their own out of plasticine. Others use wooden people in the block space to tell stories or make their own paper people to use in the sensory bin. The classroom is full of oral language, and students regularly use new terminology and vocabulary during play.
- Math resources are everywhere. There are rulers out to draw lines and measure spaces. There are math books out that connect to the different areas (e.g., a book about shapes and geometry found in structures is open in our building space). There are loose parts, which function well as math manipulatives, and students use them to measure, count, and even fill areas as they play. There is a number chart that a child made on the wall, and children use it to check number formation and for counting purposes. There are even some calendars that students made to record important events, such as the pick-up schedule for the milk.
Abi was so proud of herself for writing this note to ELP 2 to ask for blocks. @paulacrockett worked with her to sound out the words, and she read back to me what she wrote. She’s beginning to blend some sounds together as she reads. Then Edward realized the connection between different shaped blocks. I think my question was a challenge, but he showed me his understanding through his actions. Now to continue with the names of these 3-D figures. Abi and Ella came back from ELP 2 with enough foam blocks to fill the bottom area of the shelf (almost). Would love to explore different shape combinations with them. Or how else could they use these blocks? I wonder if our provocation for tomorrow will help! SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #iteachk #engagemath
- There are also the two of us — not to mention the 26 kids in the classroom — who act as amazing resources and models for each other. We spend almost our whole day playing with, talking with, and listening to kids. This is as true inside the classroom as outside. We use this time to support reading and writing instruction, introduce and reinforce new vocabulary, encourage problem solving, notice and name literacy and math behaviours, and target small group and individual instruction depending on kids and their needs. This blog post here, and my comment on it, shows how so much of what Tracy and Cheryl wrote aligns with our thoughts and practices.
She decided to make some money for her purse. After going through the money amounts she made, I suggested that she look at the number chart to see if she could correct any errors. She found some right away on her own. Then Wyatt went over and they spoke about some together. Love when kids can support each other! SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #engagemath
Cohen saw the arrangement of these logs and he had an idea. He thought it looked like a boat. He worked with Milla and Brooke and he made a log boat, complete with the “two” headlights that Brooke found for the front of the boat. Milla even played some songs on the boat, and Brooke grabbed a clipboard and we did some boat plans together. This was a good way to review initial and final sounds. Milla and I chatted, and we thought of a way to use this log boat as an ELP 1 gift to the forest that would store our memories and words of advice from the year. Stay tuned! ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #ctinquiry #iteachk #teachersofinstagram
While we may let kids lead a lot of their learning, we do ensure — through the spaces and materials that we provide — that children meet expectations and continue to grow academically, socially, and emotionally. From the outside looking in, our Kindergarten classroom may appear chaotic. It may seem as though we lack structure, but in fact, routine is a key component of the success of our program. We are incredibly routine in the flow of our day, and while we may not force kids to do activities, all children know our expectations. And maybe it’s this last point that becomes my best reply to the initial comment. Could kids in all classrooms do “whatever they want,” as long as what they do aligns with program/curriculum expectations? I think “yes.” With the materials that we provide, our provocations, student questions, our regular conversations with kids, and the conversations that they have with each other, there is no way that children can avoid meeting expectations and developing essential skills. These kids are going to be,
- listening and speaking with each other (and with us).
- reading and writing.
- communicating in various meaningful and authentic ways.
- engaging in math talk.
- problem solving.
- working alone and with others.
- collaborating on projects.
- addressing big issues, including those connected to the environment, which has driven a lot of our learning throughout the year.
- learning new terminology and vocabulary, and using these words in different contexts.
- learning how to self-regulate and what truly works for them.
Likely, none of this learning will look the same for every child and/or take place in the same area of the classroom, on the same day, or at the same time. Does this make programming challenging? Maybe. But it also puts kids at the centre of the learning and at the centre of our conversations around programming. I think that this might be what’s most important. It’s for this very reason that I believe that even if I left Kindergarten, I’d still be looking at students, expectations, classroom spaces, and programming through a Kindergarten lens.
Maybe children doing “whatever they want” does not need to be seen in a negative light. Possibly we just need to re-frame what this actually means and become comfortable with the messy, wonderfulness of the rich learning that can happen in this kind of environment. I believe in the value of this kind of learning, and even though it may not be a popular opinion, I want to stand up for it. What about you?