Kindergarten 2.0: What Is Your Vision Of Home Instruction?

I’m writing this blog post in the midst of the announcement that school closures in Ontario will continue until May 4th. While I know that we are sure to hear more about what this means from a school and Board perspective, this blog post is not about that. It’s about me trying to work through something that I’m struggling with, and hopefully hearing from others about how they’re addressing these same concerns: what does play-based learning look like at home?

I know that our current reality is different than anyone could have expected. As educators, we’re not sitting here designing an online course that students are choosing to take. Instead, we’re looking at how teaching and learning can continue in a new format when social distancing and increasing Coronavirus case numbers do not allow school buildings to re-open. Maybe this means that programming needs to change, and yet, there are certain non-negotiables for me. Holding true to the pedagogy in the Kindergarten Program Document is one of them.

Now then, comes the challenge of figuring out how we can make this possible.

  • Could we provide open-ended ideas to support home learning, and then allow students to share photographs, videos, and written commentary about their thinking and learning?
  • Could we have class meetings or small group meetings, maybe even through Microsoft Teams, to provide instruction, facilitate conversations, and show provocations for home learning? This could also be a great way to connect with children and families, knowing the value in fostering relationships with both. 
  • Could we provide parents with some question prompts to use to help further extend play at home?
  • Could we share with parents a list of some of the ways that we extend play in the classroom to also link with reading, writing, oral language, and math possibilities, since these seem to be the areas of focus in the coming weeks?
  • Could we provide an online forum — maybe even a class blog with individual student login names — where children could upload and share their thinking and learning in different formats (from text to video)?
  • Could we share provocations through video messages, such as this wonderful inquiry one that Kristi Keery-Bishop shared recently?

These are some of my wonderings. A few came through some recent online discussions with my amazing teaching partner, Paula. Some came from my own contemplations, especially as I look at many online resources and links being tweeted out daily. There is so much stuff out there. While Paula and I continue to share many of these resources with our parents, we also talk a lot about the role that technology has played thus far in our classroom. To document learning. To share thinking. But not to have our young learners in front of a screen all day. If tactile experiences, social interactions, Self-Reg, and problem solving matter so much in our face-to-face classroom, how can we still prioritize and support these experiences at home?

Maybe some of our hopes are Utopian ideals. Maybe we’ll need to make changes that we don’t love and that merely become a reality of the time. I’m not sure that we’re there yet. Online learning doesn’t necessarily need to mean simply screentime and assessment and evaluation don’t need to mean worksheets and typed assignments. What might be possible thanks to photographs, videos, oral recordings, and online meetings? I’ve always been one to appreciate a challenge. This might be one of our biggest, and least expected, challenges yet, but this seems like the perfect opportunity for creativity. We’re game. Are you? What might home instruction look like for your students and families? Let’s share thoughts, wonders, and questions as we all navigate this very “new normal” together.


Fostering Relationships In Front Of A Lens: What Do You Do?

As an educator, I’ve always been inspired by what others are doing. Maybe this is the reason that I love Twitter so much. Through hashtags such as #onted #edchat #kinderchat and #reggioPLC, I can see what educators from around the world are doing, and reflect on what this might mean for our classroom. Then there are also the Board specific hashtags and some of my favourite tweeters, who further inspire my practice. Given our current reality, part of my daily work also means looking at educational ideas on Twitter. It’s not uncommon for me to text my teaching partner, Paula, a link based on what I’ve read/seen, and for these ideas coupled with what we both bring to the table, to extend our conversation and help with our planning. Twitter’s responsible for what we both did yesterday.

We’ve been trying to think of a way to reach out to parents. This was not about sharing resources or providing ideas for home learning. The Ontario government has compiled ideas for these next couple of weeks. Our desire was more to connect with our kids and families, say “hello,” and let them know that we’re thinking about them. We miss them. We could compose an email or share a blog post with our thoughts, but neither seemed quite right. That’s when I saw a tweet as part of a conversation among educators (I wish that I could find it now), where a parent commented on how much it meant to her to receive a brief video message from her child’s teacher. Hmmm … we could do this! Paula and I chatted and came up with a plan. We were going to use FaceTime and a screen capturing app to record a video of both of us talking. Then we could upload it to our class blog and share it with families. Things did not go exactly as planned, when our multiple attempts to record only managed us capturing the video without any audio, so we had to go to Plan B. We did get our video message out there though, and it felt good to find a way to connect.

It was soon after we shared our video messages that I noticed other video examples being shared on Twitter. I was really enamoured by the many videos that educators and administrators are sharing through The Ancaster Meadow Twitter account. Every day, both the principal and vice principal are posting video messages to kids. They’re sharing everything from books that they’re reading to hidden talents. I’m jealous of their juggling prowess! I love how they both talk directly to students, while also opening up about their own experiences and skills. Below are just a few examples, but there are so many more!

Even teachers from the school are getting involved in these video tweets! One of the phys-ed teachers, Paula Mataseje, shares some incredible balance in her DPA (Daily Physical Activity) experience, and even challenges kids to give this a try. A good reminder that learning at home can (and should) include physical activity, which might help alleviate some child and adult stress. The daily OPHEA challenges are perfect for this!

Then last night, I saw this wonderful video message from Kristi Keery-Bishop: a principal in our Board. She decided to record a video for her school community.

I appreciate how she’s sharing her dislike of being in front of the camera while also her willingness to continue with these videos if her school community finds them beneficial. Kristi unknowingly made me reflect on my video message, for instead of just saying that she “missed everyone,” she extended this to include the many things that she misses. It’s clear that she connects with kids, and knows about their school and outside interests. In true Kristi style, her hard questions will surely have families thinking while also navigating this new normal. I know that my next video message will definitely include more specifics as another way to hopefully connect with children and families!

With many school boards closed around the world, we’ve all seen the way that online options are being used to educate students. Thanks to Simon, Jeff, the Ancaster Meadow staff, and Kristi, I’m thinking even more about how we can use technology to connect. To build and foster relationships. We know the importance of these connections, and given the COVID-19 reality, maybe we all need these strong relationships even more than before. How are you connecting with your classroom and/or school community? Thanks to the sharing from these educators and administrators, who are helping me think differently and maybe increasing my own willingness to stand in front of the camera instead of more commonly behind it.


Will Hugging Happen Again?

This morning, I was looking back over some of our documentation from this past year. I was really taken by these photographs …

… especially in light of our new COVID-19 reality. I couldn’t help but notice how in these photographs and many others, physical closeness is certainly evident. Between kids. Between adults. Between kids and adults. In many ways, most of us crave this closeness.

  • Maybe there’s a security in having others around.
  • Maybe touch has a calming effect.
  • Maybe this is just another way in which we connect. 

But these reflections on human contact have me thinking, as what will “six feet apart” look like in a school context? Right now, kids are at home with their families. They can still hug their parents and stay close to their siblings, as they’re all within the same household. Going out on walks might have them learning more about “social distancing,” but when students get back near their friends again, reality changes. What happens next?

  • Will children stay away from each other?
  • Will play be farther apart?

Transitioning back to school — whenever that occurs — will be hard for kids and adults. Young children may need those hugs more than ever before. In our new world, with our new knowledge, what will hugging look like? I want to stay safe, and I do take social distancing very seriously, as seen by the huge amount of time that I’ve spent at home recently. But I’m hoping that we have a time again where hugs can be given without fear and closeness remains. When that will happen, I’m not sure, but I have to believe that it might. What about you? As the world comes together again, I wonder about the impact that the Coronavirus will have on play and social interactions, and I think that distance might be part of the way that it does. 


Maker Play: Does It Help Us View Play Differently?

The week before the March Break was an interesting one in our room, for on two different days, we had quite a few additional adults in our classroom. I’m involved in NTIP (New Teacher Induction Program), and groups of various new kindergarten teachers decided to come and visit our room for part of the day. They were interested in how we could support the development of language and math skills within the context of play. While we provided the teacher teams with a guide sheet to have them reflect on some of their observations, we also spent time in the afternoon reflecting together. It was a passing comment from one of the other mentors who came, which inspired this blog post. Her words were, “Play in your room looks different. It’s almost as though every space in your room has become a Makerspace.”

This has me thinking, for one of the questions that my teaching partner, Paula, and I get asked most frequently about our room is, “How do you get kids to play so well for so long?” A few days ago, I finished reading Lisa Murphy‘s latest book about child-centred classrooms

Early in the book, she shares a couple of templates for classroom schedules. (Now she is focused on pre-school rooms and our students are in kindergarten, but the play-based aspects definitely overlap.) What I loved about her final open schedule, where indoor and outdoor play merge fluidly and schedules are not divided into 20 minute chunks, is how the long blocks of uninterrupted play also mimic our daily plan. With 28 students though and only two adults, I think it surprises many people that this schedule does not result in classroom chaos. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Why?

Maybe there is something to be said for this Makerspace idea. When I started to look more closely at the different spaces in our room, I could see how “making” becomes a part of each area.

  • There’s our art area, where we’ve made links to famous artists like Norval Morrisseau and Jim Dine. Students are creating in their styles and discussing the techniques used in their artwork. They are even applying some of their knowledge in different spaces throughout the room.

  • Then there’s the dollhouse area, where students are creating everything from outfits to furniture. A child who couldn’t find a doll to dress, used this space to also create one of his own. On the Friday before the Break, we introduced sewing using small pieces of burlap, and one student, even became the teacher to support novice sewers. 

  • Next comes our construction area, where students are experimenting with everything from creating structures to building marble runs. There is even an overlap here to some Rube Goldberg Machines. It’s interesting to see the connection between the building done with blocks to the building done with LEGOs. Some of this building even extends further into the Learning Commons space, where similar materials allow students to apply learning in new environments.

  • Even our reading and writing spaces allow for “making” as students create their own books to share with us and with friends. I particularly love watching this JK student as he uses letter-sounds, familiar words, and storytelling to turn just a couple of words into an amusing story. 

He’s not the only child writing though. It’s great to see some of our students expanding on their storylines, and thinking more about beginning, middle, end, problem, and solution as they write.

One of our students even used his desk space to create an evolving story throughout the week. He started to think about emotions and point of view as he added speech bubbles to his dinosaur comicstrip.

  • Finally there’s the making in our plasticine space, where initial plans change to new ones and storytelling becomes a part of the process. This collaborative plasticine work was first focused on the environment. The thought was that kids could use this field and ocean space to teach our school about the impact that litter has on the earth. We were going to move from the art piece to a media one, where children could write and record a video to share with others in the school. In some ways, we’re still focused on this plan, but the creation of an ice cream store on the last day of school before March Break might lead to some small world dramatic play instead. Still making, but in a new way. 

  • It’s also interesting to see how the indoor and outdoor spaces merge with some unexpected making outside. I really saw this connection on the last day of school before March Break when students noticed the water level rising in the sewer. If they could get the water level up a bit more, could they also get the garbage out from inside? Not only did this lead to some incredible problem solving, but it also led to a great discussion between Paula and I about what happens when we have fewer materials for kids. You see: we could easily bring out balls and bikes into this space, and maybe there’s value in both, but if there were some additional items out here, I think that this great learning opportunity would have been lost. Students would have missed the sewer as they lined up for a turn on a bike, and while this might mean less mud, I think it might also mean less thinking and problem solving. (I’ve been the one who’s offered the bikes before, and now I’m seeing equipment differently. What about you?)

In each of these spaces, the projects that happen are inspired by the children. Kids can move freely between these spaces, and where they go and what they do, are decided by them. But with a making element to each area — be it due to the materials that we provide or the provocations that we share — I begin to wonder if learning becomes richer, thinking becomes deeper, and focus is for longer. I keep thinking back to Lisa Murphy’s book, and her words around controlling the environment versus controlling kidsIf we see our room through the lens of a Makerspace, and play as a way to create, do the materials that we choose then help with the focusing and settling of these long play blocks? Maybe seeing play as “making,” also changes our view on the value of play for kindergarten and beyond. As social distancing becomes our new norm, I wonder what this Maker Play might look like at home and the impact that this might later have at school.


Our COVID-19 Reality: What Shows Would You Recommend?

Yesterday, I posted a list of ten play-based learning activities that could help support kindergarten learning at home during our extended Break. While there are only 10 ideas in the list, each idea is full of other suggestions, so these 10 are likely to keep you well past a three-week quarantine. In the midst of writing this blog post, a parent emailed not only asking for activity suggestions, but also some educational TV show options for the Break.

Let’s be real here: while I’m sure that none of us want kids in front of screens all day long, extended periods of time at home may require some additional screentime. Having options of educational shows that will appeal to your child and support learning are always great! Here are five of my favourites that my teaching partner, Paula, and I have used in the classroom during “get ready for home” time or sometimes during a quick transitional time. They are all available on YouTube. This list is in no particular order, and certainly not an exhaustive collection, but definitely something that could get you started.

  1. Wild Krattz – I will admit it: the fact that the main character’s name is Aviva makes me particularly partial to this show. I love all of the connections to our classroom learning, particularly around ocean life and living things. This show also provides the perfect balance of cartoon and drama, as well as being an informational text. Find an episode that connects with a topic of interest, and then use this show as a starting point for further discussion with your child.
  2. Alphablocks – Paula introduced me to this show. It’s a great one for reinforcing letters and sounds as well as reading smaller words. Kids love the different superhero-type alphabet characters, and they can’t help but read as they watch. You could always follow-up watching this show by reading or writing different words together or focusing on the letter-sound combinations highlighted in the episode.
  3. Numberjacks Numberjacks is like a math equivalent of Alphablocks. Kids enjoy the cartoon number characters and the exciting storylines. The show also gives them lots of opportunities to recognize differerent numerals. Some students have started making their own Numberjacks characters after watching the show, or even telling their own stories involving these characters: a nice tie-in between math and literacy.
  4. Peep and the Big Wide World – These short episodes have some wonderful connections to science. Kids can learn more information about everything from colour mixing to seasonal changes. Just like with Wild Krattz, the episodes each contain a cartoon and real-life component. You might even enjoy watching an episode before or after going on a nature walk to help link your child’s learning outside with different scientific concepts. 
  5. Storybots – I love the diversity of Storybots: with episodes on everything from outerspace to handwashing. Most of these episodes include catchy songs that students love to sing. They may even inspire children to create their own songs. You might find an episode or two that connects to a topic of interest, and then you can link the learning from these videos to other home projects. 

While I realize that there are many more things that children can do online than just “watch TV,” sometimes an educational show can be beneficial and a great starting point for further discussions. What shows might you recommend to parents and why? As we all partake more in social distancing and spend additional time inside, a list of some favourite shows might go a long way.