On Wednesday evening, I listened to the VoicEd Radio This Week In Ontario Edublogs show. One of the posts that Stephen and Doug discussed was Lisa Corbett‘s one reflecting on the first month of school. Their conversation around math manipulatives and Lisa’s creative approach with colanders had me sharing a tweet.
Doug’s reply inspired me to move from a tweet to a post … this one being it.
Upon further reflection this week, I think that COVID has not only brought out the inner crafters, but also the inner problem solvers, in educators. Board protocols for safety have understandably restricted some practices of the past, and as my teaching partner, Paula, and I have discussed a lot in the last month, every decision that we make now requires additional thought. Even distributing papers and materials to students have us thinking about how to do so with limited contact and sanitized surfaces. We all knew the value of thinking before, and now our skills are tested on a regular basis.
As a fellow primary educator, and one who teaches kindergarten, we are not all tech-based with our supplies. Not only do we not have the 1:1 technology to make this possible, but we also believe that for our younger learners, manipulating the actual materials and choosing the ones that might work best for what the kids are doing, are also important. This is what resulted in a little bit of crafting/creative thinking to work within the restrictions and still give kids what they need. Here are the things that we’ve done.
Mesh Laundry Bags – A special “thank you” to Tessa Heffernan and her colleague, Heather, for sharing this idea. Kristi Keery-Bishop, a principal in our Board, drew our attention to this post, and it’s been a game changer for us.
We are always looking for ways to reduce cleaning time while also providing safe materials for kids. Our Board has provided us with a 1 minute sanitization spray, and these mesh laundry bags allow for an easy hanging and drying option.
Individual Containers Of Supplies – We tried to create as many individual containers of materials as we could. We knew that for sensory materials, kids would not be able to share items, and that sensory play seems to be incredibly calming for many of our young learners. This meant purchasing personal containers of play dough, creating individual buckets of plasticine and Perler beads, and making up small containers of kinetic sand (way less messier than the other variety, with no water required). We also knew from previous years that most kids love creating with LEGO. We found a fabulous deal on small bags of LEGO with base plates, and we got enough for every child. Now if children are unsure of what to do, or are looking for another option, they can always choose their bucket of LEGO. As I realized on Friday, LEGO also works as a great math manipulative!
Board Books – Thankfully we have many board books from collecting over the years. Knowing what we did about our kids, we tried to find some board book options that we thought would interest each of them. We continue to work with the kids to add more book choices to their individual bins. The board books are easy to sanitize with the spray and some wiping, and the other books can be quarantined for three (plus) days, and then shared again.
An All-Encompassing Clipboard – In the past, we used to make up alphabet charts on whiteboards for children to use to support their reading and writing. Many children also used books on our bookshelf and in our lunch bin of books to find numbers that they needed for different notes, signs, and labels. Now we can’t use these shared resources. We decided to get a clipboard for each child, and add the alphabet and a number charts on each one. Kids have what they need when they need it, and can easily access these anchor charts as they’re writing, reading, and playing.
A Canvas Bag Just For Them – Paula and I quickly realized that sharing materials would also be problematic outside. While we got creative with some outdoor space options …
… we also thought that it would be beneficial for kids to be able to easily transport their individual materials to different spaces. The canvas bags allowed for this. Now they can bring items outside with them that they want (e.g., a clipboard, pencil case, LEGO, etc.), and we know that they are only using items that have been used by them. Keeping everything in the canvas bag also reduces the chance of other kids touching the same items or students losing materials outside or in the classroom.
Natural Materials – We learned that natural materials do not need to be disinfected, so we try to use them as much as possible, especially in our outdoor space. Rocks, wood cookies, and sticks are popular options for building and creating, and there’s nothing like a little snail math! We’ll also take some worm literacy and problem solving, even if at times it involves a dead worm.
Dividing Supplies – Every child doesn’t need or want every item — at least not at the same time — but since kids cannot just self-select materials now as they used to, having easy access to containers and Ziploc bags of divided materials helps a lot. Below are just some of the items that we’ve divided for students. Sometimes children request these materials from us, and sometimes we suggest them based on what students are doing and/or what interests them. Having these items stored somewhere that’s safe from touching hands, but readily accessible, is also key.
Reconsidering The Sink – While we’ve created individual containers of many sensory materials, water bins are harder to create. They spill easily, and for kids to scoop and squeeze water, they need to have a decent amount of it. We’re fortunate to have an extra sink in our classroom, and we use this sink as a water centre. It’s not the right fit for everyone, but for those children that need that wet sensory play, it provides a great option for them. Outside, mud and water combine in our mud kitchen! With some individual buckets, shovels, and baking items that can also be easily sanitized with our spray sanitizer, as well as a few big tires for an additional pop-up kitchen space, the sink idea does not just need to be restricted to inside.
Reaching Out To Home – Our wonderful parents have been thrilled to help us in any way that they can. Collecting nature items for art projects, bringing in examples of environmental print (e.g., magazines and flyers), and sharing their recyclable items with us, have all been valuable. Now children can have their own collections of items for their individual projects, and Paula and I can collect and sort additional items for those kids that need them. We used to look for these donations for the full class, and now families are happy to support us with some single use donations.
Yoga Mats – While we no longer have a carpet for use as a full group gathering space, these individually cut yoga mats have been a perfect alternative. Not only does it draw kids to the floor space, but it becomes a visual reminder of one person’s area versus another person’s one. Children can turn and talk to their friends while still staying physically distant … our hope all along!
While this post is far from a short one, and has moved well past the math manipulative discussion in Lisa’s post, it does share our evolving thinking and problem solving as we try to provide access to what we know kids need in ways that are safe for students and adults alike. We know that we’re not the only ones working through a COVID-19 reality, so imagine the value in all of us sharing what we’re doing. What worked? What didn’t work? What else might we be able to try? For us, reorganization is happening at the beginning of November, and this could mean many educators beginning new positions. I wonder if discussing crafty and creative solutions might allow us to support each other. The school year is far from over, and new ideas are always welcome!