What Would You Do With The Blocks?

I’ll admit it: I kind of have a love/hate relationship with the blocks. Students build amazing things with the various blocks in our classroom. They use the blocks in ways that I would have never considered. While at times the loudness of the block area can bother me, my biggest problem right now is that students use this space and these materials in the same way every single day

My teaching partner, Paula, and I spoke about this briefly on the last day of school before March Break. We also noticed this same problem earlier in the year. Students regularly built dinosaur hotels or museums. While their structures were great and often led to exploring math concepts and engaging in writing, the structures themselves rarely changed.

Even when we had children tidy up what they made, they often packed the structures up on the shelves, and then resurrected them the next day. 

While I do love the math thinking that goes into these shelf structures, when the block buildings continue to look the same day after day, I wonder how much thinking and learning is going into their design. Before Christmas holidays, Paula and I chatted about this, and we decided to add some new materials to the block area to see if that would interrupt the playIt did! 

We added the Q-BA Maze 2.0 marble run that students initially used independently from the blocks to make marble runs. Then they used the pieces in conjunction with the blocks to create some block marble runs.

It didn’t take long for a group of students to realize that they could use these marble run pieces to make robots, and now they have included them in their block structures.

But now the dinosaur hotels/museums from September are being replaced with robot structures that tend to resemble each other day after day. Now what?

I was doing some thinking over the March Break, and that’s when I thought back to this Rube Goldberg Machine that Darla Myers shared on Instagram. 

I asked her today if she had a video to share of the process, and she generously shared this one.

Even though this Rube Goldberg Machine isn’t working, seeing what other Kindergarten children have tried and maybe having our students engage in some problem solving of their own, could lead to a new use of old materials (i.e., blocks, Lego, dominoes, ramps, and marbles)Could this be the intentional interruption that our students need? 

Paula and I have not had a chance to talk about this idea or brainstorm other ones yet. As the March Break comes to an end, my brain is busy thinking about possibilities, so I thought that I would bring this question to my blogging community. What have you tried before or what might you try in this case? We know the children love to build. We want to explore different ways to use some favourite materials that will hopefully lead to increased problem solving and innovation. All ideas are welcome!


THAT Child

This is not a story about one of my students. It is not even a story about a child in the same grade that I teach. It is a story though about a child that continues to change me. 

I met this student at recess one day. There was a problem in the lunchroom. My suggestion to have him come and walk with me, seemed to make a difference, and by the time that we both got back to class, he was a lot calmer. 

  • Maybe the physical movement helped.
  • Maybe the change of scenery helped.
  • Maybe connecting with someone who understood him, helped.

This child went from screaming and crying to smiling, and there was something about that smile that stuck with me. I think it was knowing that my tone and actions helped result in a positive change. It was the realization, that as educators, we can make a difference.

This was back in September. This child and I have interacted many times since then. Over the past seven months, he has reminded me of numerous things.

  • That tears are a stress response.
  • That those that hit do not always intend to hurt.
  • That we would “use our words” if we had the words to use.
  • That sometimes, when we feel the most angry and upset, the offer of a hug is the best offer of all.
  • That we all need to feel loved and know that there are people out there that love us.
  • That we have to seek to understand a child’s perspective, even when that perspective may be hard to understand.
  • That fewer words, a quieter tone, and getting down low, almost always make a big difference.
  • That our end goal is not to punish.

As I continue to learn more about self-regulation, I will admit that I make many mistakes. I often react as I shouldn’t or say things that I wish I didn’t. But this child is the exception: with him, I remember what I need to do. I remember what he needs. And I see the power of Shanker‘s work in actionreminding me that this is what I have to remember when working with every other child. 

I am far from perfect, but this child continues to change me, and for that, I’m grateful. Who is your “child?” May we all have stories to share of those students that help make us better.


March Break Wonders: How Do You Avoid The Guilt?

I love March Break! We have a longer break at Christmastime, but with family celebrations and Communications of Learning (or report cards) on the horizon, I never seem to take as much time to relax. Our summer break is the longest of all, but for years, I’ve taught for at least a month over the summer, so again, my “me time” is less. March Break is different. The end of the year is still too far away to start Communications of Learning or report cards, and while I always have a little planning to do, most of the break can truly be used as a break. 

Last year, I blogged about my need for March Break, and this week, I’ve been thinking about this as well. But today, I started to also feel a little differently: I began to feel guilty about taking this much time for me. 

  • I haven’t blogged since the weekend. I haven’t even thought about blogging since then.
  • I’ve slept in every day. Usually my alarm goes off at 4:30, and this week, I haven’t gotten up until at least 8:00.
  • I just started my fourth book of the break, and every one of them has been a mystery/suspense novel. I usually try to read at least one professional book over the holiday, and thanks to Cory Jobb, I have one to read, but I haven’t even thought about beginning The Play’s The Thing yet. 
  • I’ve tweeted far less than usual. Most of my tweets are actually conversational ones with Lori St. Amand about the books I’m reading versus professional ones and reflective posts.

I know that taking this “me time” is beneficial for both me and our students. When we feel calmer, our interactions with children change, and that’s good for everyone. But as I see posts about planning and professional reads, I begin to wonder if I should be doing more. How much time do you take for yourself over the holidays? How do you avoid the guilt that sometimes comes from focusing on “you?” I’d welcome some words of advice as I continue to read, relax, and enjoy March Break!


What’s Your “Wonderful?” Celebrating The Experiences That Make Us Say, “Wow!”

Fifteen years. For that long, I’ve been a teacher with the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, and this is the first time that I ever experienced what I did yesterday: a look at what play-based learning can really be. 

This all started back in September, when we had some sunflowers delivered to our classroom. Students shared a lot of prior knowledge about sunflowers, and we linked this flower to some of Vincent Van Gogh’s work. The more we spoke about Van Gogh, the more interested students became in his work. One child had some unframed Van Gogh prints at home that he brought in for us to explore. We moved from sunflowers to Starry Night. The children loved this painting, and all year long, they’ve been creating different representations of Starry Night.

As I mentioned in this previous blog post of mine, we moved from exploring Van Gogh to exploring other artists, including Kandinsky, Picasso, and the nature artist, Andy Goldsworthy. It was as this art interest continued to develop, that my teaching partner, Paula, and I decided to make our next round of VIP presentations about visual arts. What the children shared with the class is truly incredible. They each learned more about different artists, and they encouraged their classmates to dig deeper and create their own artwork inspired by these artists.

Not only did the children create like artists, but they thought and spoke like artists. Artwork inspired everything that they did. Students were reading, writing, and thinking more around artwork. Meaningful math also came out of these art experiences.

K. is helping prepare for the #art gallery. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry

A post shared by Aviva (@avivaloca) on

Just before the Christmas holidays, Paula and I spoke about this art interest, and we wondered about creating an art gallery, so that children could share their work with others. We decided to approach the idea after Christmas. Before we could share the idea though, the students thought about it themselves. When we once again spoke about the hard work and incredible sharing that came out of a VIP presentation, one of our SK students said, “Maybe we should make an art gallery with all of this artwork.” What a wonderful thought!  This is when we began brainstorming as a class.

This child went home and started to create some of her own plans.

It took just over a month, but the gallery plans grew from there. The children owned this learning. As difficult as it was for both of us at times, we let go and let the students take charge of this. There’s something amazingly perfect in the perfect imperfections.

  • They covered the boards to display the artwork.
  • They divided the boards so that there was enough room for all of the artists.

  • They decided where to place the artwork in the room and how to place it.
  • They hung up the artwork, and learned how to use tools such as a stapler and tape (successfully) to make the work stay in place.

  • They even chose which artwork to display and why, and ensured that all artists were well-represented in the gallery. 

Yesterday was the day of the art gallery. Prior to our visitors coming, we talked about what we might discuss and what we might show our parents, the principal, and our Arts Consultant.

Touring the room inspired a couple of students to create maps for the gallery, and once again, we had another literacy and math connection.

And then, an hour before the end of the school day, on the last day before March Break, we had our art gallery. It was incredible to see the children share their learning with all of our visitors. 

What and how much the students shared, varied, but as parents noted, their children were talking about art at home. They were even coming in with additional artwork to add to our gallery and share with the class. One JK student is determined to turn his house into an art gallery, and he wants to bring home his artwork after the break so that he can do so.

Now this wonderful experience is over, and as I asked Paula after school yesterday, “What do we do now? Do we have to take everything down?” She said that an SK student asked her these same questions. This child was almost a little sad that the gallery day arrived because she didn’t want it to “all be over” after that. Maybe it doesn’t have to be. This art gallery happened because of the children, and what happens next will be because of them as well. Maybe we will replace the gallery with something new, or maybe it will extend into something else. We have to wait and see.

Looking back at the evolution of this project, I’m reminded about what happens when we really look and listen to kids, believe that they are “competent and capable of complex thought,” and give them opportunities to show us exactly what they can do. I think back to some of my experiences from the past, and how I could have done things differently: exposing the children to more diverse experiences, developing new vocabulary, and giving the time to allow ideas to naturally develop. I can’t change what I did back then, but I can change what I do now. This art gallery was one of the most amazing moments of my teaching career. I want more amazing! What are some of your terrific teaching and learning experiences? How have they influenced your future practices? Let’s celebrate together!


Does it all start with a strong vocabulary?

My mom is a retired Speech and Language Pathologist. I grew up in an environment where I learned about the importance of oral language. This thinking was further reinforced when I started teaching, and my mom has spoken to me about this a lot over the years. Yet somehow, even with all I knew, or all I thought I knew, I forgot about something important until this year.

It all started with an inservice that I went to over the summer. The inservice was on early literacy, and many of the ideas were a review of phonemic awareness skills and the alphabetic principle. During this inservice though, a Speech and Language Pathologist for our Board spoke about vocabulary development, and she reinforced the importance of introducing new words, and using these words, repetitively, in meaningful contexts. She said that it was with this repetition that the words would stick, and the students would start to develop their vocabulary. Oral language, vocabulary development, reading, and writing are all connected, so this increase in vocabulary could lead to improvement in other areas. 

While I realize that this idea may not be new to many of you — and it was something that I’ve also heard numerous times before — this year, I approached things differently. My teaching partner, Paula, and I purposely worked on developing our students’ vocabulary. Some children came to us with a strong vocabulary already, but for all children, we introduced new words.

  • We spoke about their meaning.
  • We used these words, repeatedly, in different contexts.
  • We incorporated them into play.
  • And we listened excitedly as so many children started to use these words correctly.

We had experiences like these ones.

While I’m thrilled with the success that we’ve noticed this year, I can’t help but think about my experience last year. I was at a different school last year with a different teaching partner, and many of our students did not come to school with as strong a vocabulary and as many diverse experiences. While we tried to change this by focusing on oral language and introducing our students to new experiences, I’m left wondering if we did enough.

  • How could we have developed stronger vocabulary skills?
  • What impact might this have had on our students’ reading, writing, and oral language skills?

I may not be able to change the past, but I hope that my new learning makes me approach the present differently. What do you think?