Are You Willing To Bring Out The Adult Scissors?

I remember last year when my teaching partner, Paula, and I discussed putting out some grown-up scissors. Our dramatic play space was evolving into the Build-A-Baby Clothing Store, and we added some felt to this area for children to use to make clothing. Felt is hard to cut with children’s scissors. Try it. We did, and we couldn’t do it. Our fear was that as students attempted to cut the felt, they would end up cutting their fingers. It’s just like trying to chop ingredients with a dull knife. Sometimes a sharp one is better. But could we really add giant adult scissors into a play space in a Kindergarten classroom?

Somehow this became one of the most difficult decisions that we made last year. We had no problem …

  • using screwdrivers with the class,
  • putting out hammers,
  • and letting the kids use knives (butter knives, that is, but they still had teeth),

but we spent days discussing if we could take the plunge and add some adult scissors to dramatic play. Eventually, we decided to try this, but demonstrated how to use these scissors responsibly. Since we couldn’t find an instructional video for using adult scissors, we made our own. I realized later that this child actually had the scissors upside down (oops!), but the key points were still highlighted (even if I did talk a lot).

From January onwards, all of our students used adult scissors … and they did so responsibly. There was not one injury from these scissors. 

This year, the adult scissors came out a lot earlier. This wasn’t intentional. We had them in a bin on the art shelf, and some SK students found them when they were looking for additional scissors to use. They used them last year, so they knew how to do so. And so they did. We kept putting these scissors back into the art shelf bin, but they kept coming out again. Somehow, a pair ended up at the eating table, another in the cutting bin on the carpet, and a third over in the block space. Paula and I wondered again, was it too early in the year to have these scissors out? Something wonderful though happens when you trust students with grown-up materials. They use them even more responsibly.

By adding these items to the environment, you’re saying to them (explicitly or not): “I trust you. I believe in you. I know that you can do this.” The funny thing is that in Kindergarten, there will always be a child (or two or three) that are learning how to cut for the first time, and decide to do a little hairdressing. Usually it’s just a small snip of hair. This is almost a right of passage. You remind the child that, “we just cut paper or tape … but not hair.” This can be upsetting, and even frustrating at times, but it happens. The amazing thing is, this doesn’t happen with the adult scissors. Kids treat these items differently. They know that they’re sharp, and they look more intimidating, so they seem to use them with greater care. The noticeable safety of the children’s scissors make them that much more apt for the kind of cutting that you may not want. 

I can’t help but love these cutting experiences from the past couple of weeks.

They make me think of a tweet that I sent yesterday as I was reading this wonderful Instructional Core article for the Teacher Leadership Course

If we view the child as “competent and capable,” then how are we setting up our classroom to align with these views? Maybe this begins with something as simple as putting out some adult scissors. What do you think?


Giving Life To Emails

I’ve recently been doing a lot of thinking around electronic communication. I’m taking the Teacher Leadership Course through our Board, and one of the modules deals with communication. Through this module, we looked at how much we can communicate through our tone and actions, as well as our words. The Mehrabian Communication Study was an eye-opening one, and made me think about this older post by Sue Dunlop on the value of communicating in person or through a phone call. I totally understand what Sue’s saying, and what others expressed during this module on the importance of reducing or highly eliminating electronic communication, but I wonder if we can still find some reasons for emails to exist.

For most of October and some of November, we had a student teacher in our classroom. While my teaching partner, Paula, and I communicate a lot in person — taking multiple moments to reflect together before school, during the school day, and after school — we also share a lot electronically. It’s common for both of us to text or email each other with new ideas, interesting articles, and questions to consider, in the evenings or on the weekends. We’ve actually increased and deepened our communication with each other through these blended digital and non-digital options. Topics of greater debate are ones that we will definitely discuss in person, but other topics are often discussed online. With the use of emojis, word choice, and tone, there is almost a non-verbal component to this written “verbal” communication.

When our student teacher was in our classroom, we included her in many written conversations. I remember having a great discussion with her at one point about her preference to converse in person. I understand. And I wanted to give her what she wanted, so we tried to arrange additional times to sit and talk about lessons, upcoming plans, and feedback. That said, I remember mentioning something to her that I think is worth considering in this electronic communication discussion: as much as we can discuss in person with our administrators or colleagues, different schedules and meetings, often make emails and texts a reality of our day. I think that there’s an important skill in learning how to communicate clearly, effectively, and at times, even passionately, through an email. I still wouldn’t recommend discussing controversial issues online, but I have used email as a way to set-up a meeting to discuss some of these topics. 

A number of years ago, I remember emailing a principal of mine to set-up one such meeting. I had a few important topics to chat about, and I felt that these topics required more than an email exchange. That said, I knew how busy this principal often was during the day, and I didn’t want a rushed exchange — for either one of us. My hope was that by arranging a time, we could really take an opportunity to converse and problem solve. This is exactly what happened, and my principal quickly got back to me with a time to meet the next day. I remember this meeting though, for as soon as I came into the room, he jokingly mentioned “looking on my blog” to see if he could “determine what I might like to discuss.” 🙂 He knows me well, and in fact, I did blog generally about the issue, just a little later than he looked. This exchange though reminded me of something important: I often take to electronic communication tools — particularly my professional blog — to flush out my thoughts on a variety of topics. This time organizing my thinking, deciding on my word choice, and even getting feedback from others, often helps me see different perspectives and remain calmer (and less emotional) during face-to-face conversations. 

If given the option — assuming that the topic of conversation is not a contentious one — I would far prefer an email exchange. Why? This is where I can choose my words best, format my remarks, and keep the conversation cognitive, instead of with the emotions that often happen in person. Even when engaging in face-to-face or phone conversations, I often make a list of my main points and pre-plan how I want to communicate my thoughts. This keeps me focused on the topic at hand, and helps reduce the possibility of tears (something that is always a struggle for me, especially around more sensitive topics). So while I know and understand the value of these in person conversations, I don’t want to get rid of electronic communication tools. For people like me, who require the thinking, planning, organization, and reflection time around discussions, there’s something to be said for a tool that lets me do this without the need for an immediate response. 

  • I can proofread.
  • I can wait on pressing “send.”
  • I can get input from others first.
  • I can even read the words aloud to see how they might sound, and invite a trusted friend to do the same.
  • I can have a record of my words and theirs, which can sometimes be beneficial if issues do arise. 
  • I can quickly and easily invite other people into the conversation if needed by adding them to the chain of emails. This is far harder to do when trying to work around yet another person’s schedule for a face-to-face meeting.

Am I alone here? Even with the benefits of a human connection, are there times when an electronic option may be preferable? I think there’s a skill to composing a well-written and well-read email that showcases the feelings, actions, and person behind the words. I like undertaking the challenge of mastering — or at least improving — this skill. What about you?


Standing On The Hill Alone …

My teaching partner, Paula, and I definitely believe in the importance of connecting with kids. We spend a lot of time doing so. That said, we try not to make students so dependent on us that they neglect to notice the children around them that can support them or that they neglect to develop their own independence. We have 29 students. While we want to engage daily with all of these learners, we also see the problem with having students that are only intent on following us around or looking to us for solutions to problems. Sometimes when living in the day-to-day running of the classroom, it’s easy to overlook the environment that’s been created over time. Then you stand back, and you begin to see what you might have missed. Paula and I reflected a lot on this environment over this past week. 

The reflections started on a recent trip to the forest. We always begin our day outside, and we spend about 1 1/2 hours each day in the forest that borders our property. We know this environment, and some of the different learning opportunities that will arise as children climb trees, negotiate over the terrain, create in the mud pits, and search for creatures throughout the forest grounds. That said, we don’t plan this forest time. This doesn’t mean that we don’t plan the possible ways that we can extend the learning in this space, but it does mean that we don’t have activities set-up throughout the environment or groups of kids divided into the different areas. The students engage in truly free play in this space, and it’s incredible to see and hear their thinking and learning around math concepts, language concepts, scientific problem solving, and perseverance. This time outside is usually some of my favourite time each day! While Paula and I will often separate and observe different groups of children in this forest space — also engaging, conversing, and wondering with them — we usually start this time outside just standing back and watching. Paula pointed out something wonderful to me that other day, as we were doing just this. Our kids never hang off of us. 

This doesn’t mean that we don’t have groups of children that spend time with us. When Paula said that she was going to the “nesty space” one day, many children followed her there. But once they got there, they dispersed and played, interacted, and problem solved together. 

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This nesty space was a popular one for climbing today. With smaller trees and more protection with additional sticks and vines, this is a great space for beginning climbers. Cohen had to do a little problem solving when his jacket was stuck on part of the tree, but with the help of a friend and being so close to the ground, he could safely work this problem through. Joshua even reflected on his growth in climbing since last year. And he did manage to swing with his feet off the ground. Mya enjoyed some swinging too, but on a lower branch. Great that this space can allow for such varied entry points as kids develop their #grossmotorskills. ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry

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Even when there are problems outside — from children that are sad to those that may have tripped and fallen down — many of the kids look to each other for support. They soothe their friends and worth through issues with peers.

Inside the classroom is often the same. The other day, I recorded a video of the flow of the room just as some kids came back from Phys-Ed. While one child wondered if I was “talking to myself,” most students were so immersed with each other that they didn’t even notice me. I was the one that initiated the conversations with them.

We love that students will seek us out with their notes to go and get the milk or call us over to see some of their special work, but we also love how they’ve become independent enough to solve many of their own problems or to know which classmates can assist them. 

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Leah and Mya wrote me this milk note today. I really wanted Mya to work on reading my reply. She read the first sentence on her own with just help with one word. Love this increased confidence. Then Leah chimed in more in sentence number two. Leah showed Mya how the word for the answer was in my response. I wonder if with a little more time, she would have found it on her own. Then Olivia wrote me a note. Carly chimed in with reading it. She figured out “could” and “return,” and I almost gave her both. So glad I didn’t! ❤️ this growth in reading skills and confidence. The note writing is really helping. ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #iteachk

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While it’s nice to feel needed, it’s also wonderful to know that the students have developed the skills and confidence to operate without constant adult support and validation. Imagine the impact of this kind of independence as they continue to move up in the grades. How might this align with risk-taking, problem solving, collaboration, and the creative exploration of ideas? I often hear educators talk about their students being “unable to do anything without them.” Is the first step in changing this, giving students enough time, skills, and tools to function alone? Is it also helping them see that others can assist them? One of the best things that Paula taught me was answering a non-urgent request for help with a question. If a child says, “I need help opening this container,” I now try to respond with, “Who might be able to help you with this?,” or “What could you do to solve this problem?” Then children begin to own the solutions, and this is when wonderful happens. How do you support this wonderful in your classroom? Our classroom numbers might be large, but with 29 little supporters and teachers, life at school is pretty amazing!


When The Tumbling Starts, Do You Stop It?

Usually my teaching partner, Paula, and I spread out around the classroom and outside working with groups of kids. Sometimes though we stand back, watch, and talk together. Our conversations are always about kids and pedagogy. These discussions that take place in the midst of students — with children all around us, but immersed in their own play — are sometimes some of our best ones. They are often the discussions where we pose questions and become engaged in those uncomfortable conversations that have us thinking. We had one of these conversations this week as we stood on top of the hill outside, and watched almost our entire class involved in rough and tumble play. It was this discussion that has me wondering, even days later. 

The play outside seemed very different today than it usually does. Maybe it was because the weather changed, and it was wet and cold. The kids couldn’t climb trees out in the forest, and they were looking for gross motor options to explore and to keep them warm. We watched a group of boys roll down a hill again and again, and pile on top of each other. While we tried to interrupt this play with a Rock, Paper, Scissors Tag Game that we taught them the day before, they still wanted to tackle each other as they played.

As this group of boys engaged in this way, we watched and wondered, should we stop the tumbling? Is this what they need? While we decided to stand back and observe, it wasn’t long before more and more children joined in. This play no longer involved tag, but was all about the “dog piling.” Initially, Paula and I were ready to go down and break up the play, but then we looked more closely. It wasn’t just the boys involved in this play. It was boys AND girls. This made us pause. 

  • All of the children were smiling.
  • They were laughing and squealing with joy.
  • Children were respectful of each other, and taking safe risks as they played.
  • Students that usually engage in parallel play were starting to socialize with each other. 
  • Different students interacted with each other through this play.
  • Kids moved freely in and out of this play: feeling as though they were welcome, but knowing that they were also respected if they chose to leave.

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It was really interesting to watch this today. @paulacrockett and I noticed a large group of kids interested in this rough and tumble play. It was both boys and girls: different than usual. Usually students settle in the forest, but some of these rough and tumble players would usually be climbing trees. @paulacrockett told them to watch their height in trees today because of the recent snow and ice, and slippery branches. Mrs. Crockett wondered if their play was disrupted because of the cold. Did this different play option meet their same need in a different way? Brooke did mention to Mrs. Crockett that she did this “because I was cold.” This warmed her up! While they were involved in more rough and tumble play, it was in a safer way. They were careful how hard they pushed, and even how they fell on each other. It was done mindfully. @paulacrockett and I struggled with this. How long do we let this happen? If/when do we interfere? Just getting closer to the play actually broke it up. But we think of this “Day of the Girl” Ted Talk that addresses this kind of play. The fact that it involved boys and girls, and equally and respectfully, changed this play for us. What do you do? How do you respond? Even the fact that this got some different kids involved in social play weighed on our decision. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what to do. SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry #iteachk

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Paula and I stood on the top of the hill completely taken by this respectful rough and tumble play experience. We’ve stopped similar experiences in the past, but it was the diversity of students involved that had us reconsidering this time. We couldn’t help but think about this TED Talk by Caroline Paul.

Outside on this chilly day, were girls excited to engage in the play that we usually see the most in boys. We have a lot of girls that love to climb trees, but this is often where the adventure ends. Jumping in on something that may lead to some scraped knees, falling down, and getting back up again, is so wonderful to see, and it’s not something that we want to stop. Maybe this even gave us a little more appreciation for this same type of play that many of our boys are eager to engage in.

I can’t help but think about this great blog post by Lisa Cranston. Out in the forest on Thursday, we saw our girls participating in this type of risky, physical play, that they often do through their tree climbing (or even some snowball climbing), but were now doing so in another space and way. 

When, how, and why do girls disengage in this type of play? Should we be stopping all risky and/or rough and tumble play or responding differently? A few days ago, Paula and I stood on top of a hill contemplating this last question. Eventually Paula started walking down the hill, and this was all that it took to have the kids spread out. I know — and understand — why schools have “no fighting” rules, but is this play actually “fighting?” By stopping it, are we putting an end to something that benefits kids? We continue to wonder if this rough and tumble play can have a place in schools, and what this place might be. What do you think?


Is this a sign of progress?

I vacillated on if I should publish this post, but I think it’s an important one, so I’m going to press the “publish” button. The post was inspired by a conversation I had with a student on Friday. My teaching partner, Paula, just went on her lunch break, and I noticed a group of children sitting down at the eating table. I decided to join them. With our open eating time, I love that we can sit and eat with the kids. Some of the most interesting conversations happen in this space.

As I was sitting down with them, a few children went off to play, and another child went to the bathroom. When he came back, he sat down beside me, and quietly asked, “What do girls have for their private parts?” I thought that I heard the question wrong, so I said, “Pardon. What did you say?” He replied, “What do girls have for their private parts? Not penises.” Okay, I was not hearing the question wrong. Now what should I say? I looked at him, and I realized how serious he was being. He was talking in a quiet voice, with sincere interest, and no thought of a laugh. That’s when I replied, “Vaginas.” He then said, “My uncle lives there, or somewhere like there.” I said, “Regina,” and he commented, “Yep! That’s the place.” With that, the conversation was over, but it really had me thinking.

I couldn’t help but reflect back on some discussions from last year. Our class was involved in the Roots of Empathy Program. In preparation for our first visit, Paula spoke about the first lesson, which included, “what makes a baby cry.”

Hunger came up. Many of our students had younger brothers and sisters, so it didn’t take long for someone to mention “breastfeeding” (not recorded in the video above). Just like with the conversation around the eating table the other day, the students spoke with Paula about breastfeeding in such a grown up and responsible way. They know the value of the mother’s milk, and that this is just another way that a mom feeds a baby. I think that I’ll forever remember a few sessions into the program, when a child asked a question about breastfeeding. Not one child laughed. There was not one suppressed giggle. This is in a class of three-, four-, and five-year-olds, where bathroom talk is just about the funniest thing around, and yet, when we teach children terms and the need to respect this language, they do. 

I’m left wondering now though, for I have not always taught primary. I spent a couple of years teaching junior grades. I still remember introducing my Grade 5’s to the human body. I had the most wonderful plaques to share with them, and was so excited to get them talking, but all I got were squeals of “that’s gross!” It took a lot of time to move beyond the grossness to the point in which we could discuss bodily functions without guffaws and embarrassment.

The Music Connection 

I think about some of the topics that our kindergarteners have already brought up, and I wonder if this will later lead to less embarrassment, fewer laughs, and more mutual respect, as challenging topics are discussed in later years. What impact might this have on how these students communicate about different topics (from bodily functions to puberty)My recent experiences have me thinking that the conversations could sound different, but will the comfort with these topics naturally change to discomfort as students get older? Is there a way to prevent these changes? What do you think?