I always blog at least once a week, but this past week, I didn’t write anything. I have all kinds of ideas swimming around in my head, but I knew that I needed a break. With changes in routine, special days, excitement about the upcoming holidays, and uncertainty around COVID (and what the newest variant will mean for education and schooling come January 3rd), the last week of school passed in some kind of holiday fog/swirls of crazy. When Friday finished, I shut down my computer and didn’t turn it back on until today.

The last week of school before the holidays, I realized that I was exhausted. I slept until my morning alarm on most days, and I rarely wake up with an alarm clock. Hardly ever. Apparently I needed a little extra sleep. In alignment with my #oneword for October and November, I spent a lot of time observing in the classroom. Yes, I observed kids, but I also observed adults. I watched my teaching partner Paula, our principal Tracy, and even our teacher candidate Miranda, interact with students. I saw them getting down with kids, talking with them about what they were doing, extending learning when possible, and not necessarily having a device there to capture it all. While I still documented as I often do, I found myself putting down the iPad more frequently and even plugging it in at times. Sometimes I would take photographs and videos that captured the whole classroom instead of just small groups of kids.

A video clip of the whole classroom.
Photographs and videos of play in action.

Our daily blog posts still contained many photographs and videos, but maybe a few less than in the past. Even on days when I had meetings or other appointments, I found us publishing these posts earlier than usual, and me even getting into bed and opening a book, much earlier than I usually do. This made me wonder, am I craving some extra quiet and a little me-time right now?

And so, for the month of December, I’ve decided to prioritize quiet. For the first few days of the Break, all that I’ve done is read, watch movies, get in some extra doggy time, and try to book a booster shot — which proved to be far more challenging than I anticipated.

I’ve currently read 160 books this year — check out #avivaandfriendsrecos on Instagram for many of them — and maybe with a little extra quiet time I can make it to 170 before the new year. It’s hard to know what January will bring, and with stories of Omicron and additional closures around the world, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried/anxious/stressed with all of the unknowns. Will a little extra quiet, some more reading (sans social media), and a much-needed Break help with whatever comes our way in the weeks ahead? I hope so. How are you finding your quiet this month? Never have I been so happy to be a reader, as good books will definitely put me in a great mood for the remaining days of 2021. What about you?


Guided Reading At The Bathroom Door?!

My teaching partner, Paula, and I are all for supporting unconventional learning environments. We also believe that mistakes happen, and opportunities to learn from those mistakes, are so important. Strangely enough, both of these beliefs intersected this past week.

As I’ve blogged about before, bathroom stress is real in kindergarten, so it’s no surprise that I’m pulled to the washroom door on a daily basis. This past week, the biggest stress for the kids came in the form of a floor covered in toilet paper. Think of an indoor toilet paper snowstorm … πŸ™‚ When the child got the toilet paper going, they didn’t want it to stop (I’m purposely choosing the pronoun “they” here for privacy reasons). It took a little bit of detective work, but Paula and I figured out who was unravelling the toilet paper, and I spoke to them about why this was problematic. I suggested that they make a sign for the door to let others know that toilet paper doesn’t go on the floor. The child drew an X to go with their picture to really make the message clear. I remembered from our last bathroom writing experience that it was stressful for students when they didn’t understand the message, so I wrote above their random letters, the words that they told me: “no toilet paper on the floor.” I then moved onto some Lorax block building storytelling with another group of children. The humour over the “baby diaper Thneed” had me doing some list making with this group to slow down their storytelling.

They were in the middle of adding prices to the Thneeds — and reading the list as they went along — when a child came to ask me about the sign on the bathroom door. What does it say? I suggested that she, “Go and read it.”

The conversation about the bathroom sign happens at the 1 minute and 14 second mark.

As you can hear, this discussion was so brief that I didn’t think anything else of it, until the child and her friend came back to tell me that they “read the sign” and it says, “No toilet paper on the floor.” What?! I had to go over and see this reading.

Before long, other signs were added to the door. I figured that students enjoyed making the signs, but I never really thought more about the reading potential here, until the two children that read the sign on Thursday, returned to the bathroom to read the new signs on Friday. Soon other children were gathering around to help read the words. We then explored letter-sounds, sight words, and blending, all around the bathroom door. Will re-reading help with fluency? The best thing about a washroom in a kindergarten classroom is that children will always return to it. Imagine the number of times that these signs can be re-read.

Fast forward to the end of the day. As Paula, our teacher candidate Miranda, and myself were sitting around the classroom laughing, reminiscing, and planning for Monday, our principal Tracy came by. Tracy’s gotten very involved in our Fairy Village, and yesterday, she left some super small scissors and paper snowflakes sprinkled over the village. She wondered what the children said when they saw this. The truth was that with the wrapping excitement, nobody noticed the snowflakes. Wait a minute: what if we added a note about them to the bathroom door? This is exactly what we did!

Now we can’t wait to see what the kids say on Monday.

As we head into the last week of school before the Winter Break, children are bound to be both excited and stressed. Probably learning at all schools will be accompanied by changes in routine and a plethora of special days. Could moving some reading instruction to a new location in a new way, help increase excitement, engagement, and participation during what is sure to be a different kind of week? Maybe this is a good reminder for all of us that learning can — and does — happen everywhere, and authentic opportunities to read, write, and engage in math learning can change perceptions — for the better — around these subject areas. Guided reading at the bathroom door? I’ll take it! What about you?


Make Your Own Fairy Magic!

Last year, the Fairies of Dundas made their way into our classroom (and our hearts) at a time when I think that we all needed them the most. Thank goodness for Kristi Bishop, a friend of the fairies, who saw this need and helped us get things started with a little fairy house and a note.

My teaching partner, Paula, and I had no plans for bringing the fairies back into our classroom — or at least not at this point in the year — but the kids have been talking about them since September. When a tree on the mountain became a fairy house, the fairies had to come back.

Initially they just left a note or two up in the tree. We didn’t think that they would continue coming, but when the notes stopped, a few of our children were upset. Why did they stop writing? How could the fairies not come back and see what they did? Of course, the fairies then had to return. With colder weather the wind moving some of the fairy creations around outside, the Fairies of Dundas wrote a note about moving the fairy village inside. Children eagerly began to fill this space with settings, signs, and houses for the fairies.

While they loved that the fairies were visiting the classroom now, they still wanted them to visit outdoors, so soon one daily fairy note became two with provocations for inside and outside.

Every day, the fairies leave notes for the class in special colourful mailbags that they manage to fly up onto the board. It’s the first thing that most students notice in the morning. They often comment on the size of the mail pouches — sometimes the fairies leave us presents — and regularly remind Paula to read the notes during group time. Every new piece of paper or writing material that kids find at their desks “must be left by the fairies.” While the excitement over these fairies is palpable, they have also resulted in some incredible learning and connections.

This started when children began to write notes back to the fairies. They had questions. They left their notes up on the board space by the envelopes, and soon the fairies wrote them back. There were only a couple of notes at first, but Paula and I wondered if the creation of a fairy mailbox could lead to more. Of course, the fairies provided us with the materials for this mailbox, and creating it was as wonderful a project as what the kids put inside.

The key learning for many of our children happened when the fairies explained that they could “help the baby fairies learn to read.” What?! They could be teachers. Soon they were slowing down as they formed letters, sounding out words to add along with their pictures, and blending sounds back together again to ensure that what they wrote was what they wanted to say. I truly believe in this tweet that I sent out a couple of weeks ago.

The mailbox idea though came with a slight problem. Soon we were going to have A LOT more notes to reply to. We needed help. And so we reached out to staff to see if anyone could assist. Thankfully one of our intermediate teachers asked his students, and they replied with a “yes.”

While our fairies usually write in rhyme and communicate as “Francesca and the Fairies of Dundas,” this has slowly started to change with some students responding in prose and all kinds of different fairies introducing themselves. The kids can’t wait to see the fairy notes each morning, and often discuss them with each other while reading them with us.

The topic of gender even came back into play, as some students began to reply to fairy notes with ones of their own. We love how our classroom learning is starting to present itself in different ways.

These amazing fairies are not only responding to our many notes and works of art, but also encouraging more note writing.

The fairies are also playing with word choice and different writing forms, as they create beautiful poems and prose for our eager kindergarteners. How lovely and thought-provoking is the poem at the bottom of this letter?!

Based on what our students share, these fairies are also learning how to respond to artwork and consider the elements of design in their responses. There are learning opportunities here for everyone and every subject!

But maybe best of all, the Fairies of Dundas are as excited to write to our kids as our kids are to write to them. In fact, we now have fairies from two different classes, as more students asked to write. Yesterday, one of the intermediate teachers told us that a parent emailed him to say that being a fairy is what’s getting her child to school each day. She loves it! This makes me want to cry happy tears and never have this fairy magic end!

As the holidays are upon us, and the Elves on the Shelf make their way into classrooms around the world, what about making your own fairy moments instead? These fairies celebrate multiple holidays, write back to everyone, connect in a COVID-safe way, inspire reading and writing by even the most reluctant of learners, and continually seem to sprinkle joy without fear. Maybe they will even make my Grinch heart grow a couple of sizes bigger! πŸ™‚ Could we all use a little magic in our lives?