When “What The [Bleep]?!” Becomes A Learning Opportunity

I’ve sat on this post for a while, but it has such a good title that I just had to publish it before the year was through. There are some topics that kindergarteners find particularly intriguing. Number 1 on the list is anything to do with the bathroomAs adults, we want kids to leave the bathroom words in the bathroom, but the forbidden nature of these words and the grossness factor, makes toilet talk the best kind of talk for three- to five-year-olds. My teaching partner, Paula, and I try to stop a lot of this talk, but we also ignore some with the hope that it will go away on its own. If not, a sign always works well. 🙂

And number 2 on the list is bad words. I’ve learned over the years that these words can vary depending on the students. I’ve been told that hate is a bad word. Understood. Other kids have seemed to create a scale of bad words. Many years ago (and a few schools ago), a kindergarten child came up to me to tell me that a friend told him to, “Sh** Up!” When I called the child over to find out what happened, his first words to me were, “I did NOT tell him to F*** Off!” Good to know. He did own up to the words that he said — and why he said them — but he certainly knew that his words were not the worst ones that he could have uttered.

I would like to believe in the innocence of young children, but in a world that includes YouTube, social media, and adult conversations (trust me: kids will always hear and remember the one thing that you don’t want them to), most kids have heard a variety of swear words by the time that they come to school. Some have experimented with saying them. I’ve heard stories before of the two-year-old who hears the F Word, and has to say it to every person he/she meets, regardless of the embarrassment that it might bring to parents. It happens. Live and learn. Kids learning where and when to use different vocabulary is important. Think about media literacy and a focus on audience. We need to be aware of the people in front of us and the choices we make. As kindergarten educators, part of what Paula and I do is help students understand this audience component … and words that belong at school and those that do not. 

Keep all of this in mind then for my little story. We were heading outside one wintery morning with the class. Paula went at the front of the line, and I was helping a few stragglers get their mittens and hats on at the back. When we got outside, I had already missed the excitement … if you want to call it that. A child took one look around, glanced at a few friends, and said, “What the f***?!” Oh my! Thankfully the words were uttered quietly enough that just a couple of children in the vicinity of the child, heard. Paula got kids off to play, and then called the child over to talk. She asked, “Why did you say that?” The student replied, “Because look at all of that snow!” When the kids came inside this morning, it was just starting to snow, but a few minutes later, the back playground was covered in it. A surprise … and the word choice was indicative of this surprise in the student’s mind. Paula went over with the child some other things to say instead, like, “Oh my goodness!” or “I wasn’t expecting that!” They spoke about the importance of not uttering these other words at school, and the problem was resolved.

The interesting thing about this is that the friends that overheard the comment were less focused on the statement and more intrigued by the spelling. What?! Paula overheard these kids talking about how they might spell “f***.”

  • “We hear the /k/. Is it with a C?”
  • “Maybe it’s a K.”
  • “You know those words that have a C and K together. Could this be a CK word?”

To think that group of four- and five-year-old boys were chatting about spelling rules. I’m not suggesting that we make our next inquiry about profanity or even extend this kind of spelling, but it’s interesting to think that their interest was around word formation. Could all of our signs, writing, and reading be making a difference? Quite possibly! I kind of love how this became a mature chat about writing, even if it’s not the kind of mature chat that we’ll be extending anytime soon. 

The message is still out there not to swear, and this child never did so again, but there’s this little unexpected rainbow in the midst of the rain. How might classroom and home learning positively present itself in some unexpected circumstances? Paula and I are all about finding learning in all that kids say and do. I just didn’t expect a swear word to lead to literacy learning, but you just never know. Do you? As school begins again in another week, listen closely. What might you hear and see? Kids, like adults, are always learning.


“Best Books”: What Would Your Kids Choose?

Recently, I saw a tweet by Sue Dunlop about Pernille Ripp’s Best Books of 2019.

This post is full of some books that I’ve read, others that have yet to be released, and a lot that I’m eager to check out. I love storybooks, and I appreciate the diversity of Pernille‘s picks. Pernille’s post got me thinking about what our students would choose as their “best books of 2019,” and why.

Since we’re currently on holidays from school, I can’t ask them for their feedback, so I’m going to base this post on my observations and reflections thus far. When we return to school, favourite/memorable books could become a great topic of discussion.This is going to be an unconventional list post, as instead of writing a list, I’m going to start with the why. What might draw kids to these favourite books?

For our kindergarteners, there seems to be a collection of reasons behind “best books.”

Kids love books that they can read …

The Elephant and Piggie books with the short speech bubbles and big sight word component are often the longer books that our students can read first. Mo Willems writes so many great children’s books, and when given a chance, these are usually the texts that students seek out to read.  

They look for books that make them question …

We run a very play-based and inquiry-based classroom, and try to model and support this questioning with kids. I Want My Hat Back is a favourite book for inspiring questioning and theorizing, especially at the end. We even try to support more questioning and theorizing when discussing this book again with a small group of students. 

They love books that get them talking …

Our students adore Jory John and Pete Oswald’s books. Not only have we read The Bad Seed, The Good Egg, and The Cool Bean as a class, but children look to read them on their own. Even when the words are challenging, they use the pictures to talk about the books. Usually their reading of these texts include a combination of decoding words and retelling the story. Some of these books have started to rip because they’ve been read and re-read so many times.

They adore books that make them laugh or seem so very silly …

Often it’s how kids read books to each other that makes the difference. All of our students know that one child has voices for the Elephant and Piggie characters, and they love listening to him as he reads. 

And they really like books that relate to topics of bigger interest/inquiry. 

We have really seen that this year when looking at The Recess Queen (and the connection to bullying) as well as The Lorax (and the connection to the environment). Students have been retelling this second book for months now. It also connects well with Plastic Planet: a wonderful media text that explores the impact of plastic on the earth. Both at the end of last year and at Christmastime this year, we received some gifts connected to Plastic PlanetStudents could watch and talk about this online text every single day. 

Writing this post has got me thinking about how much we want our kids to want to read. We love that they’re searching out books and often spending additional time at the eating table reading and talking about books. (Yes, some get dirty and others have ripped, but they are well-loved, well-used, and have certainly inspired a love of reading. We’re okay with the mess component.) The texts featured in here are ones that even our youngest JK students can recognize by sight, and they will even ask for books such as, The Bad Seed. The title of this book — and other favourites — almost become their own examples of environmental print. We love that our kindergarteners are now talking and thinking about books. Repeated readings really help with this. Paula and I tend to read books and talk about them until we are beyond bored, but guess what?! The kids are not! They crave this repetition. The Lorax continues to be a favourite book, and we’ve read and talked about this one since September. 

My “best list” really isn’t about being the “best” or “not best” books. There are hundreds of amazing books left off of this short list, and lists like Pernille’s are far more comprehensive. But these “bests” are what have gotten our kids reading and loving books! They’ve brought our students joy and gotten them thinking and talking about topics beyond princesses and superheroes. Shouldn’t books build knowledge and joy?! What books have done this for your kids? We’re excited to slowly introduce some new texts to these favourites in the new year. Which books will you add to your classroom library and why? As someone, who’s spent much of this holiday reading, I can’t think of something I like talking about more than books!


When The “Y Me” Became A “Y Did I Never Think Of This Before?”

This year, I moved to a new school. Just like at a few previous schools, Before and After Care share our kindergarten classrooms. When I started teaching at schools with Before and After Care programs, the thought of losing my space to them was incredibly stressful. Or, at least, I perceived it as losing my space to them. I like to come to school early. I’m usually the first one there at 6:45. I’d come even earlier if I was allowed. I enjoy the quiet of the morning, and the ability to get things done in the classroom when the school isn’t busy. I like this quiet time after school too, and while I usually stay at school late (at least until 5:00, and usually until about 5:45), I’m far less productive after school. There are more people in the building, I’m tired after a full day of teaching, and once my teaching partner, Paula, and I have done some planning and reflecting together, sometimes I just want to sit there and be. With all of this in mind then, I guess it’s not surprising when I wrote this Before Care Program reflection last year. But my change of school this year came with one other change that I wasn’t expecting: having both Before and After Care in our classroom for 3 1/2 months. What?!

I will admit that with all of the changes that this new school year brought, this knowledge caused me the most stress. Recently, a conversation with the Y Program facilitators made me aware that they were stressed by this news too. They see me in there early, and they know that I stay late, so how could they share a space with us when they know that I never leave? Their honesty made me realize that as I was working through my own stress, I never even considered their perspective. I wish now that I did. But, strangely enough, we were both in for a surprise: sharing space was actually far better than either of us thought. 

  • By being in the room together, we were able to talk more. We could both lend some insight and share some strategies for different students, and in the end, we are now both able to support kids better. 
  • Interests can now span the school day. The holidays had all of our students talking. When the Y Program facilitators are in the classroom each morning, they usually do some planning together before the students arrive. I was able to listen in and observe some of their plans in action, and some interests from the early morning, spanned into our room during the school day. We began to share materials. Conversations that kids had in the classroom — about the environment and the care for the earth — extended to the Y Program. Students also began to comment on their learning during the school day with their friends in the Y. One child shared about different holiday celebrations, and how she learned that not everyone celebrates Christmas, and that’s okay. Acceptance. Diversity. Friendship. A little bit of all three spanned the school day. Paula and I even have some new ideas for next year, which are always appreciated! 

  • We can support students before the school day even begins. When the Before Care Program was in another classroom, I often overheard some of the conversations, but I missed many. Kids may have come in upset. Possibly dysregulated. But Paula and I never really knew until the children showed up in our classrooms. Now we get a sneak peek on how things are going, which students might need some more support during the school day, and what’s working best for kids. This helps as we continue to support our kids once the Y Program ends. 
  • I get to connect with new students. It’s easy to get lost in Kinderland. All of my duties are down the kindergarten hallway, I don’t leave the room much, and while I know the names of all of the kindergarten children, I have very few connections to the rest of the school. Many parents and students though come through our classroom doors each morning on their way to Before Care. By observing and connecting with the Y Staff, I now know the names of these students and what matters to them. Yesterday I was surprised with a few presents — one of which I photographed and shared — that came from children not in our class. Why did I receive these gifts? It turns out that these connections each morning, matter. Thanks to the Y Program, I’ve gotten to know more students in the school, made a few more connections with parents, and was even reminded that sometimes it’s the smallest things that can make the biggest impact! 

Yes, our 3 1/2 month stint with Before and After Care means that my quiet mornings are a little less quiet. I have figured out though that most students don’t come until after 8:00. The Y Program facilitators also like quiet conversations, and not loud screaming, so they really support these types of interactions with kids … just as Paula and I do. The noise then is far less than I thought it would be, and I’m actually getting used to this quiet hum. I’ve also formed some relationships with the Y Staff that I don’t think that I ever would have formed if we didn’t share a space. I actually look forward to our discussions each day. After school, they also take the kids outside for about an hour, which gives Paula and I a chance for some kid talk, group reflection, and planning before they return. I’ve found that the little desk area near the door, which we never use as a desk for us but as an independent work space for kids, is perfect for me once the Y returns. A few kids still come over to chat, but I can block out some of the noise over in this little corner area, upload some documentation, and get things organized for the next school day. Plus I get to connect with many parents and kids before they go home. A win! 

I realize now that I made assumptions before having the experience. The next 3 1/2 months may not be my old normal, but it is my new normal, and I’m okay with that. There’s often talk in kindergarten about a seemless day. We have the potential to have this happen more as we connect and plan with the Y. I’m excited about the possibilities. How do you make these connections at your school? What might be the benefits for kids? I know that I’m speaking now about the Before and After Care Kindergarten Programs, but our school is full of programs for multiple grades. I wonder if teacher connections in these other grades would be just as valuable. There’s so much that we can learn from each other.


Parent Presents: How Do You Do Gifts?

Over the years, I’ve approached holiday gifts for parents in different ways. When I taught the junior grades, I didn’t worry about having kids make them. Many made presents for their moms or dads at home. Some went out and bought them. But I no longer felt the need to give class time for gift creation. Kindergarten is different!

When I started teaching 19 years ago, I spent a lot of time preparing gifts for children. I remember one year when we made felt wreaths for the doors. The children’s handprints went on each wreath. I spent hours cutting out the wreath outlines, and working 1:1 with students to make their handprints. I think that our whole program went down for a week to get the gifts completed. Then I had to wrap each one of them, add the names, and get the presents ready to go home. In the end, the kids spent about two minutes on the project, which was largely my work. This didn’t sit well with me back then, but I didn’t know any differently. This is what people did. And I did, and still do, strongly believe that parents deserve something special from their kids for the holidays. So how do we make this possible, but have the kids own the work?

A few years ago, my teaching partner, Paula, and I purchased canvases, and had the children create a painting for their parents. This painting option worked so well that we continued with it the next year. Sometimes our painting provocation changed, but the idea stayed the same. Kids definitely owned the creation of these gifts, and we even taught them how to wrap their own presents. Some children made additional gifts for their parents, and wrapped everything up to bring home. The only problem was that there were still children not interested in making a painting for mom or dad. We could force it, and often did, but this kind of forcing is so contrary to an emergent curriculum that’s supposed to align with the interests of the child. I’m not necessarily saying that there’s a problem with teaching students that sometimes we have to do things that we don’t want to do, but when the push for a present comes from us, do kids do their best work? If not, what’s the point?

It was with this thinking in mind that we tried something different this year. Paula and I looked at what our children love to do. There’s a definite interest in plasticine work as well as drawing/painting. We decided to provide some different provocations around the room to meet with these different interests. We also added in some loose parts, so that children could get creative and also make something entirely different on their own. Paula and I know that not all of our students celebrate Christmas, so we wanted some open-ended present option that would truly align with different holidays and maybe no holiday at all. Kids can always give people a gift just to say, “I love you!”

With many different gift options, it’s harder to keep track of which children have made presents and which ones have not. Right now, we have baskets full of gifts for children to wrap this week. We thought about wrapping earlier, and some children found some wrapping paper and looked to wrap just about anything for their parents …

but does this have them slowing down and really considering their present choices? 

This week then, will mean a lot of sorting, a lot of wrapping, and probably some gift creating for those that have not made something yet. We also have a special video message idea, which will hopefully provide a present option for those that are not as drawn to the artistic choices. Maybe art isn’t for everyone.

This holiday decorated city might be our best video background.

There’s a slightly more chaotic, less controlled feeling to this approach, and yet, I think there’s something special about kids owning these gifts. Shouldn’t holiday sentiments be coming from the children because they also want to send them? I hope that all of our parents feel loved and appreciated this holiday season — as they certainly are — but also in a way that is unique to each of their children. We support this creativity during the rest of the school year … why not during the holidays? How do you handle holiday presents for parents? Why do you make the choices that you do? As school comes to an end this week, I think that there will be a lot of gift wrapping and card creating in your local classrooms. Hopefully, no matter what the choices, there will be much joy in the making and giving of gifts.


A Stick Tree, A Water Bottle Menorah, And A Land Acknowledgement: Can The Holidays Be Done Differently This Year?

We are about to embark on our last week of school before the holidays. This week is full of many assemblies, performances, and present making and wrapping, mixed in with hopefully some routine and learning. Don’t get me wrong! I think that we can all learn a lot from these special days — from patience and flexibility to social skills and independence — but I also think that kids and adults crave normalcy during these more stressful times of the year. There’s no doubt about it: I’m certainly one Holiday Humbug, and happy to embrace a little normal. It was the Humbug in me that had my teaching partner, Paula, and I doing some creative thinking when it comes to our holiday assembly.

When we found out that there would be an assembly, we knew that we needed to do something. Everyone loves to see the kindergartners perform. Having taught up to Grade 6 in our Board, I can say that kindergarten is the one year where children can just stand there and smile, and they still tend to steal the show. But Paula and I are big believers that if kids are going to perform in front of a school, they should be prepared to do so. Preparing though, sometimes means weeks of song singing, which can increase stress for kids. Understanding that a concert is a month or more away is hard for many children of this young age to grasp, which means that each day becomes another recap of how many more days until we perform. We wondered then if there was a way to do something different.

Last year, Paula and I taught at a different school, and for the holiday assembly, we started by sharing The Turtle Island Welcome with the rest of the school. I learned this land acknowledgement from a Mohawk Language teacher with our Board, and for the past couple of years, we’ve started each day in the classroom reading this acknowledgement with our students, reflecting on the words in it, and thinking about what we can do to make a difference.

It aligns so well with our bigger classroom focus on the environment, and our thinking that even young children can make a difference.

Last year, this presentation was not our only holiday performance, but this year, we wondered if it could be. Could we connect The Turtle Island Welcome with the holidays, and how we might consider our environmental footprint during this season of gift giving? Almost a month ago, our students inadvertantly gave us an idea, when they started to say The Turtle Island Welcome outside, and began to collect litter as a way to help “save the earth.” It was only a few days before this that our principal, Gerry Smith, suggested adding a giant menorah to the front foyer to go beside the Christmas tree. Maybe we could make this menorah out of water bottles, turn it into a statement on the use of plastic, and connect it to environmental considerations during the holiday season.

We also added a weaving tree to our classroom space around a month ago. We took this tree with us from Rousseau when we left, as our kids created it there, and it became a special part of our room. Maybe in addition to some weaving, children could start to add environmental messages to this tree, and both Christmas and Hanukkah could be part of our holiday performance.

This is not your typical assembly performance, but there was something special about making the “normal” into our holiday sharing option. The kids loved it! I worked with a student to brainstorm ideas for a short speech to add after The Turtle Island Welcome. 

Students also continued to work with Paula to create the water bottle menorah as well as add items to the weaving tree. You can see the evolution of both through our Instagram account, but below is a peek at the final products.

This is the most creative, non-traditional performance that either one of us has done before with kids, and yet, as we listened to students practice yesterday, we know that we made the right choice.

It’s not only how they performed here, but it’s also the conversations we had before and after this practice.

The kids really understand and have truly reflected on this topic. They are making this more than just about learning at school. The environmental concerns are becoming a part of their play and their interactions at home. Our hope is that this knowledge will impact on their confidence in sharing with the school and the bigger community audience. We shall see what happens on Monday.

For me, this has been a good reminder that assembly performances don’t always have to be an add-on. There can be something special about learning something new and embracing the holiday spirit. But maybe there can also be something equally as special about embracing this holiday spirit in the every day. What do you think? How do you handle these holiday assemblies? My biggest worries for Monday now are will the tree fit through the gym doors without falling apart (or poking someone) and will the water bottle menorah stay intact on its trip across the hall? People may want to stay clear of me during this movement time on Monday … have I mentioned my less than stellar spatial awareness skills?! 🙂 (I really should come with a warning. 🙂 ) Here’s to hoping for no real need to worry, and a fun non-traditional holiday share.