When Should We Put The Devices Away?

I was just looking through Lori St. Amand‘s tweets when I caught sight of this article about screen timeWhile the article really focuses on parents and their use of devices with kids, I can’t help but wonder if so many of the points could apply to the classroom as well. My use of technology in the classroom has evolved over the years, and sometimes I feel as though I’m caught in a cycle where I continue to go full circle. These past three years in primary grades (Kindergarten and Grade 1) has really had me thinking about how I use devices with students, when we use them, and when we put them away. This year, I’d say that we largely use devices for research purposes and to document learning: as students and as educators. For most of the day, the children don’t use devices at all, and when they do, they tend to take photographs and use PicCollage to write about classroom happenings.

We’ve tried other options, including coding apps, but have really noticed the change in our children’s behaviour and started to reconsider their classroom use. I was actually thinking about these coding experiences when I read this screen time article.

The first example shared in this article is of parents handing their four-year-old child an iPhone so that they can enjoy a restful dinner out. Do we attempt to do something similar in the classroom?

  • Maybe it’s when we hand children iPads to play games during “free play time.”
  • Maybe it’s when we give an iPad as a “reward” for completing their work.
  • Maybe it’s when we put on a short video as children eat their lunch.

I share these examples as somebody that has done all of the above. These choices made sense to me at the time, and students have always loved these options. But as I think about my Self-Reg learning, I wonder about the impact that this technology has on self-regulation. Even when attempting to calm children down, are we actually dysregulating them? I also start to wonder why I made these choices. Was it about what I thought was best for kids, what I thought was easiest for me, or a combination of the two?

Reading about the impact that these high-tech games can have on children makes me think about coding. I wonder if children respond much as they do with a video game. I struggle with this, as despite my reservations about coding, I also see the value in developing these thinking and problem solving skills with kids. This makes me think of a conversation that I had with a fellow educator, Enzo Ciardelli. We spoke about the need to foster design thinking in children. Maybe we need to consider more low-tech ways to do this.

  • What are building options for all grade levels?
  • How can students use loose parts beyond Kindergarten?
  • How might we use our outdoor spaces to foster these skills?

This last question is one that really stuck with me after reading the article: we cannot underestimate the value of this time outside. I see this every day in our outdoor learning time, and I’m thankful that the Kindergarten Program Document really emphasizes the importance of this. I know that recess gives all children some outside time, but what about outdoor learning options beyond Kindergarten? How might we use outdoor spaces to develop some of the skills (e.g., perseverance, problem solving, and design thinking) that we might now be attempting to develop with the use of technology?

Yes, I’m a huge user of technology. I never have a pen, but I always have at least a couple of devices on me. I read on the iPad. I journal through my various blog posts. I connect with people using social media. But I also get outside, converse with people face-to-face, and think critically about my use of screen time, especially before bed. I’m an adult, and I can work through these choices on my own. But as an adult, and an educator, how am I supporting children in making these choices? What could I do to help reduce some of the problems outlined in this articleThis is not just a “parent problem,” and I wonder if we need a more united front. What do you think?


Do We All Need A “Dance Tidy” In Our Lives?

Since September, we have made many changes to our classroom routines to help better meet the needs of students. One of these changes involves the continuation and extension of play, even during my prep coverage. Reducing transitions and extending blocks of play … 

  • have allowed children to better settle into play. 
  • have allowed us to dig deeper into inquiry topics and work more with smaller groups of children.
  • have helped to create a calmer classroom environment with a more consistent routine. 

I share all of this though because these changes mean that children are playing for about four hours a day. (I know that this seems like a long time, and it is, but as I explained in this previous post, there’s a lot more to it than that.) As you can imagine though and likely see in our daily blog posts, four hours of play equates to a big mess on the floor. Tidy up time is definitely not my favourite time of the day!

Yesterday, my teaching partner, Paula, and I were talking about this clean up time. I think that we were both feeling stressed after the day’s clean up experience. 

  • Why did it take so long?
  • Why was it such a challenge?
  • What could we do to make clean up time less stressful?

Paula said that maybe we had to go back to a “Dance Tidy” to increase the incentive for tidying up. I replied, “I wonder if a Dance Tidy is actually better, or if it just makes us feel better, which creates a better experience overall.”

Let me explain this Dance Tidy to you. Paula introduced me to it this year. Basically, she picks a student that is tidying up, and they request a song for us to play. We play the song over the sound system in our room. When that song ends, Paula picks another child that chooses another song. These songs are not of the nursery rhyme variety that I was accustomed to back in Kindergarten. They’re usually variations of popular music, and they all keep us moving. 

I’ll admit that I was initially skeptical when I heard of a Dance Tidy. 

  • Will the songs be too loud? Will they dysregulate students?
  • Will children actually clean up?
  • Aren’t we supposed to try and encourage silent cleaning?

But for a variety of possible reasons, this tidying up option works really well at the end of the day. 

  • Maybe it gives students the energy they need to move and clean at a time of the day when we’re all sleepier.
  • Maybe it makes a mundane task (cleaning up) more exciting.
  • Maybe it makes us feel better, which changes how we respond to children at a time of the day that can be stressful.

Today we tried our Dance Tidy again. Yes, there were still children that didn’t clean up. Yes, there were still children that needed more support to tidy up. Yes, it still took us a long time to clean. But Paula and I were both still smiling at the end of the clean up, and the classroom looked marvellous. I think there’s something worth celebrating here.

Then tonight, just as I’m about to write this post, I see this tweet from Lisa Cranston that was part of tonight’s #TMCTalks.

I’d also like to add here that “a teacher whose limbic alarm is firing, can’t facilitate tidying up.” But how often do we try to do so? I wonder if a Dance Tidy helps quiet our limbic alarm. What else might work? How do you remain calm so that clean up time ends on a good note? I’d love it if we could all share strategies that work.


One Reading Goal, Two Realities … Now What?

Sue Dunlop, one of our Board’s superintendents, is a favourite blogger of mine, and last night, I was excited to see that she published a new post. Her post is on reading and discusses the importance of having books in classrooms and providing opportunities to really develop a love of reading. Like Sue, I’m an avid reader, and use reading as a way to learn more and to self-regulate. I’m a huge collector of children’s books, and in our classroom, we have a tall filing cabinet full of books, a massive storage space full of books, a reading area full of books, and books spread out around the classroom (on topics that tend to pertain the most to that area of the room). Throughout the year, we have reflected often on how we use books in the classroom, and what changes we could make to get children reading books more. It was actually Sue’s reply to my second blog post comment that inspired this post: sometimes the smallest of changes can have the biggest of impacts. 

Let me explain. Last year, my teaching partner, Nayer, and I started the year creating a large and beautiful book nook. We filled this area with baskets of books, a shelf of books, and even surrounded it by more bins of books. Being that child that spent hours sitting on the floor in a bookstore reading, I knew that I could lose myself in such an area. I couldn’t wait for the children to enjoy this cozy space! So what was the problem? Nobody went there. Nayer and I tried to change this.

  • We sat down with kids to read books.
  • We started the day by getting every child to pick a book to look at.
  • We even modelled how to read a book … but children continued to avoid this area. 

We couldn’t figure out what else to do. This was when I wrote an educator friend of mine that I admire and respect, and asked her for some advice. She suggested that we switch up the books and fill the shelves with simple board books: big pictures, limited words, and a focus on vocabulary. We found board books on a variety of topics. We made all of them accessible to kids. My teaching partner even brought in some simple books from home that were in her first language and the first language of some other students in the class. We added these to the shelf. The change worked!

  • Students started to lie down and look at books.
  • They talked to each other about books.
  • They even started to listen and engage with us when we read them a story, as now the story was not too long and not overwhelming.

Here we were surrounding students by rich texts, but these were not what our children wanted or needed. By making a small change, a big one happened: children started to read. 

We then started to add some books to our open snack table. Students began to sit around the table and talk about books. They started to read the books. They even sat down happily and listened as we read them a story. Instead of a full class read aloud, we started doing small group read alouds surrounded by food and friends. The change in location made a difference, and children engaged more with texts. 

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reminded again about the importance of location. This year, I moved schools and am working with another fabulous teaching partner, PaulaAt the beginning of February, we made a change to our reading area that we would never have considered in the past: we linked this space with dramatic play. This change worked better than we could have ever imagined, and we have noticed this even more since our dramatic play space has changed from a kitchen/house to a beauty salon. The book nook area has become the “waiting room,” and children just love to sit here, wait for their hair or nail appointment, and read. 

Looking back now, I realize how many mini-lessons I’ve run in the midst of this play. I think about the reading strategies I’ve discussed with kids, and the opportunities these children have had for independent practice as well as guided support. This same approach, in this same way, with these same books may not have worked last year, but it works well this year for these students. 

I share these two different experiences because as we look at our Board’s goal to have “all children reading by the end of Grade 1,” I wonder what might have to happen in each school to make this possible. 

  • Yes, all children need access to books.
  • Yes, all children need to listen to reading.
  • Yes, all children need opportunities to read: be it reading pictures, words, or both.

But could small changes — from the types, length, and language of reading materials to the location of these materials — make a difference for student success? Could these changes look different for different students? How, as educators, do we determine the best possible approaches for all of our students? Tonight, I’m left thinking about two different reading experiences, and how we manage to close a gap so that all children develop a true love of reading.


A Different Spin On Reading Buddies

On Thursday, it was pouring rain, and so the school had an indoor recess. We have three lunchroom monitors, and while they usually only come to the classroom for the last 20 minutes of each break, when it rains, they come for the entire 40 minutes. Our students do not observe the nutrition breaks though. We have a snack table where children go to eat twice a day. They decide when they’re hungry, and that’s when they stop to eat. Some children need more support with this than others, but overall, students have gotten a lot better at listening to their bodies and breaking at the time that works best for them. There’s an important connection to self-regulation here, and we love that our Kindergarten students can demonstrate this independence. This meant that when the lunchroom monitors came on Thursday, many children were playing, and our new Beauty Salon was especially popular. 

I was out of the classroom at the time for nutrition break (I do stop on these two breaks), but my teaching partner, Paula, was in the room, and what she captured was amazing. These three Grade 6 boys decided to go and play in the salon with our students. They did all of this without direction from Paula, and what they added to the play was truly incredible. Here are the PicCollages that Paula created to document this salon learning.

These Grade 6’s left our classroom beaming, and they left us smiling as well. Even yesterday, Paula and I could not stop talking about what happened here. While one of us usually joins this dramatic play at different points during the day, Paula didn’t during this time on Thursday. She mentioned that she considered it, but she decided to stay back, observe, listen, and document instead. I said, “I wonder if this actually led to richer play.” She thought it did, and I agree. Adults socialize differently with children, even when, as educators, we try not to. Sometimes we become too focused on the program expectations we want to address or we become too quick to question. Sometimes our questions may connect to expectations, but not necessarily extend the play. But kids don’t think like this, and when older students genuinely become involved in younger students’ play, their conversations are different, their questions seem more natural, and children respond differently to their extension ideas. These three boys changed up the salon play by unknowingly doing three new things.

  • They made name tags for their hairdresser characters. All hairdressers have name tags. (This provides a purposeful reason to write, explore letter-names and sounds, and blend sounds to read words.)
  • They made money to pay for their salon services. They obviously really liked their salon treatment, and explored money amounts with children up to $100. (This provides a meaningful way to review numbers, print numerals, and explore addition and subtraction.)
  • They added times to the schedule. Our students have really enjoyed the Monday-Friday whiteboard that we put in the salon, but up until Thursday, they just wrote down the names for scheduled appointments. These boys taught our students about digital time to the hour and half-hour. (This provides another meaningful way to review numbers, print numerals, explore the passage of time, understand how a clock works, and learn how to read and write digital times.)

The great thing is that after they left, the children continued to play with the new ideas that these older children added to the salon. 

These three boys were teachers, and actually gave me a new appreciation for buddy time. I’ll admit that I’m not a big fan of reading buddies.

  • I find that there are often too many children in the room, it’s hard for many children to concentrate, and the break in the flow of the day often leads to more issues either during the buddy time or after it.
  • Even when splitting into two locations, I find that there’s rarely enough space for positive interactions between buddies.
  • Some Kindergarten children are too scared to interact with unknown, older peers, and there’s almost like a pressure to interact because of the format of reading buddies.
  • We also never expect all students to do the same thing at the same time, and this is almost what seems to happen during reading buddies. 

But with these boys, the buddy time was different.

  • Children have developed a relationship with these three Grade 6’s, so they were comfortable with them entering play.
  • The interactions were genuine. The Grade 6’s were not thinking about how to increase literacy and math skills, but by entering a dramatic play space that had these elements embedded within it, they naturally extended this learning. 
  • The small number of older students did not negatively impact on the calm classroom environment. When we bring in too many additional children, the noise often becomes dysregulating and increases behaviour, but this was not the case with just three Grade 6’s. 

Maybe we don’t need to have buddy time, but instead, capitalize on our classroom environment that does not include a sit-down lunchtime, and continue to support our buddies in entering play when they come in each day. I wonder what kind of impact this might have on our students and their learning. I think it could be time to take a different spin on reading buddies. What do you think? What have you tried? A special “thank you” to Michelle Fawcett‘s three Grade 6 boys that have shown Paula and I the “awesome” that is possible!


How Do We Help All Children Realize Just What They Can Do?

In fifteen years of teaching, I don’t think that I ever had a moment like I did today. And this moment surprised me, as when I watched this child climb up the fallen tree, I did not expect to record something that would later lead to this post. But it did.

It all started when I saw two students at the bottom of the fallen tree, and I heard one child say to the other one, “I’m going to climb up the tree.” Usually children slide down this tree, as the slope of the trunk and the curve at the top, make it a challenge to climb up. When I saw these two JK students about to embark on such a challenge, I decided to move a little closer to see what would happen. One child had a lot to say about her climb, and she spoke to me as she continued to make her way up the log.

It was only in listening back to this video tonight that I realized that she really did answer my question the first time on “the most challenging part.” She just didn’t answer it in the way that I expected it, so I asked her again. That led to her final comment about “swimming lessons,” and that’s when I decided to stop recording. I thought that she would slide down before climbing to the other side of the fallen log, as it is incredibly hard to get around the bend, but she persevered. When she made it to the other side, she got so excited that I had to record again. That’s when this four-year-old said something that caused me to call over my teaching partner, Paula, and listen to this video recording out in the forest. 

I love that the other child mentioned in this video feels confident enough in his skills to speak about his strength, but I also love, how her own accomplishments — like the climbing of this fallen tree today — make her believe in herself and articulate just what she can do. I almost wish now that I didn’t make any comment at the end of this video, or that if I did make a comment it was a more profound one than, “You’re right.” I was just so moved by her message that I felt the need to say something and I didn’t know quite what to say. 

Then this evening, a parent emailed me and asked me if I could send her the link to a video that I shared just after International Women’s Day about “raising brave girls.” This TED Talk is one that the other Kindergarten teacher at our school, Janet, shared with us. I couldn’t help but make the connection to today’s climbing experience: our forest time is what’s encouraging this adventure in both boys and girls. 

It’s helping children realize what they’re capable of, and encouraging them to take risks in all areas of their learning. When the year started, Paula told me that the forest would change all of us, and once again, today, I’m reminded of just how right she is. 

I know that we’re incredibly lucky at our school to have this forest space, as I came from a school last year with only blacktop. I know that the environment is different, but I can’t help but reflect and wonder, could we have used our space differently? What adventure play might be possible and what might this mean for children? I’d love to know more about how you support this risky play at home and at school. May we all have experiences where students realize their strength and feel as proud as this child did today!