How Do We Breed A Culture Of “Can?”

Last night, my teaching partner, Paula, and I texted back and forth for a while about my latest blog post. When chatting about positivity versus negativity, and the roles that both might play in our lives, these words of Paula’s really resonated with me.

Over the years, Paula’s taught me many things, including the importance of asking children, “What CAN we do?” It’s like a positive spin on classroom rules. Instead of having students list everything that they can’t do — whether outside or inside — we try to get them to focus on what they can do. Even in the time of COVID, and with numerous protocols for us to follow each day, there’s a lot that’s still possible. Children CAN …

  1. take off their masks when outside and socially distant from other kids.
  2. run races with their friends on the big field.
  3. take their clipboards over to the big rocks to draw and write.
  4. collect acorns and leaves on the field.
  5. look for worms and snails.
  6. walk around the field space and the rock space if there are no children from other cohorts outside.
  7. build with the wood cookies, large rocks, and the logs.
  8. roll the tires.
  9. make their own tire obstacle courses.
  10. create with the bins of blocks and LEGO.
  11. paint on the plexiglass.
  12. draw pictures and write stories.
  13. create in the mud kitchen — with their own shovels, pails, and cupcake trays.
  14. write words and draw pictures with the chalk.
  15. get a snack (inside) when they’re hungry, as long as they’ve washed their hands first and are sitting at their individual desks/tables to eat.
  16. pick up the bins of blocks, markers, paint, plasticine, dominoes, racetracks, and/or other building and creating supplies that they need and that are individually portioned for use.
  17. use any of the materials in their bins and bags (e.g., LEGO, books, drawing/writing options, kinetic sand, play dough, etc.) at their desk/table and floor spaces.
  18. go to the bathroom.

This list probably does not include everything that children CAN do, but it does share a lot. Interestingly enough though, as Paula mentioned in her text, almost always kids start these “can” discussions by sharing things that they “can’t” do. Why is that? Are restrictions so ingrained in them that they need to mention them first? Do educators, parents, and/or kids focus on “no” more than “yes?” How might we change this?

Paula and I have worked hard at continuing to model, support, and create a culture of “can.” We keep bringing kids back to what is possible. We also push ourselves to do the same. I thought about this after school on Friday, as we were discussing plans for Monday. I mentioned something that I’ve been reflecting on a lot recently. While many of our JK and SK students are becoming more and more comfortable with letter-names and sounds, I’m noticing some children that are struggling with where they hear the sounds in words. While we continue to work with these kids on listening for sounds at the beginning and end of words, I wonder if they need some more practice with orally segmenting and blending the sounds in words. We’re making lots of connections to print, but we also know that the oral comes first. This oral word play is also where we could reinforce rhyming skills and syllable counting with children and differentiate depending on the child. We did this a lot last year, but singing helped us reinforce many of these skills, and we can’t sing with kids right now. (We could sing outside, but from a distance of 3 metres, which is a challenge in our kindergarten pen space.) While we’ve found an alphabet chant, we keep thinking about some of the rhyming songs and word play songs that we used in previous years that would be more challenging to use at school this year. Seeing the “can’t” at play here, we began to discuss how we might we still be able to play with words, sounds, rhymes, and syllables within the parameters of our COVID guidelines.

Paula began to suggest options.

  1. What if we did some of the Phonological Awareness Games that we’ve used in the past at the start of our meeting time? No, I don’t think so. There’s so much movement as children hang up their belongings and wash their hands that it would be hard to engage students during this time.
  2. What if we looked at reinforcing these skills more during play? No, I don’t think so. It’s not that we can’t do this at all, but because so much of our instruction happens 1:1 based on the classroom set-up, having enough 1:1 time to really instruct on these skills might be harder. Plus, how do we build enough momentum that children start to explore this word/sound/rhyming/syllable play when we move onto another child?

I was starting to find myself lost in the “can’t’s.” Was it time for my trajectory to also change? Then I had an idea. What if we played with some of these skills as we group together outside each morning? There is always a few minutes as kids gather outside in our pen space each morning. A few children take longer to unpack inside, so usually, children sit down and I chat with them as we wait for everyone to come out. We could do some of these Phonological Awareness Games in addition to the talking time. I will admit that I’m not sure if this will work perfectly. Students need to be spread out due to COVID, and I worry about the impact that this will make as I lose the value of proximity. What about those few children that wander? Do I let them do so, or get them to come back and sit down? Will I lose the others by redirecting a few back to this full-group Phonological Awareness play? Could they participate from afar? All questions that come to mind. Maybe all reasons for another “can’t,” but instead, Paula and I thought that this could be a “can” option. It could be a start for us to make things work, and then we could reinforce these skills during play in a 1:1 setting.

I share this story because every day, we’re all faced with can’t’s, no’s, don’t’s, and impossibles. But often, with a new perspective, some talking time with a trusted colleague and/or friend, and a few small changes, a lot of these negatives can be replaced with can’s, yes’s, maybe’s, and possibles. How do you reframe the negative into a positive? What might be the value in doing so? I keep thinking back to this tweet that Karen Tigani shared with me today in response to my last blog post.

Kids need it, but I wonder if we, as adults, do too. Maybe there will still be some can’t’s in our lives, but I’d like to challenge all of us, myself included, to see what could change into a can.


2 thoughts on “How Do We Breed A Culture Of “Can?”

  1. I always enjoy reading your posts, and it really helps ground me in my practice knowing that we are covering the same ideas in similar play-based manners. I too teach phonological awareness outside, esp since writing mid-winter is hard. I want to connect more with educators who go outside, and I suppose following blogs may be the way to go. Who else should I be following?

    • Thanks for the comment, Eileen! I know that you’re also on Twitter, and I would highly recommend that you follow @laurelfynes and her school account @Rm19FairviewKs. I would also check out Diane Kashin and Seneca Lab School, if you’re not already following both. They’re on Twitter, but also have blogs. Outdoor learning is important for both of them. They might also be able to suggest other connections for you. I love hearing how our pedagogy is similar. I know that I always appreciate connecting with you through Twitter and the blog.


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