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!


2 thoughts on “Standing On The Hill Alone …

  1. I just love this post, Aviva! So much of what you describe is very similar to our classroom. I haven’t found a good climbing place yet since this is a new school for me this year. Something I find myself saying a lot of the time is, “Oh, really. So, what are you going to do?” I never take ownership of the children’s problems. But I really actively listen when they bring them to me. I support and encourage them but ultimately let them know that they are the owners of the problems. I can display empathy by saying, “something similar to that happened to me (or someone else) a few days ago. And this is what I (or they) tried.”

    Sometimes, problems can’t be solved. You might have to let it go. But life goes on. You’re still okay. Or you might not be okay. You might be feeling some pretty big feelings. Also okay.

    I believe that this approach in a caring and active listening environment is really what builds resilience and self-regulation.

    • Thanks for your comment, Cathy! I absolutely love your blog posts, and see such an overlap between our environments. My teaching partner, Paula, reads and enjoys your posts as well, and they often stimulate some great conversations between us. I love the way that you respond to many student comments, also with a great question. It’s wonderful to get students thinking. You are so right about problems and solving them. Learning to deal with these big emotions is really important, and it’s great that students can be there to support each other, while we’re also there to support them. Your comment reminds me again that our role as educators is about so much more than academics, and supporting students in developing these other skills will help them far beyond kindergarten.


      P.S. I really hope that you do find a great climbing spot! Our kids do love these climbing opportunities, and they can be self-regulating for so many students.

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