Monthly Archives: July 2014

A Worm Inquiry (Part 1)

Introduction & Pre-Inquiry

The worm inquiry developed from smaller inquiries surrounding the topics of farm life, dirt/soil and mud. It grew into something we had never expected, integrating so much of the curriculum and developing, within our students, a tolerance and respect for other living things, an understanding of the careful balance of systems within our environment and for some, the courage to step outside of their comfort zone and open their minds and hearts to these tiny (but important) creatures. This post will set the stage for how it all unfolded. 

As we moved into the spring this year, I read the story “Stuck in the Mud” by Jane Clarke as directed by the Early Literacy Intervention Program (ELIP) that my school’s Kindergarten team was taking part in. The program and the books utilized are geared towards improving language development for Kindergarten-age children.

Both of my classes of students really enjoyed the book but seemed to be most interested about the subject matter – the farm, farm animals and farming in general.

We found an old farm toy in storage and brought it out along with some farm animals to see what the children would do with it. They absolutely loved these toys and said that we should build the rest of the farm like in the pictures from Stuck in the Mud (the fields, landscape, etc.). We asked how this could be done and some children suggested putting the farm toys in the sandbox.

That evening my teaching partner and I emptied the white sand from the sandbox and filled it with real potting soil to make it more like a real farm. We also thought it may be interesting to add soil to our water table and let the kids mix in some water to discover what would happen.

The children were ecstatic over the more ‘realistic’ farm landscape and brought other materials over from around the room as they saw fit (e.g., tree/wood pieces, rocks, etc.). They set up the farm in various designs over the days. They were also over the moon about adding water to the soil at the water table. They easily predicted it would become mud and played for days at this table, mushing it between their fingers, using different mixing/measuring tools and molding shapes with it. I also read them a book about mud and after, we made a word web of words that describe mud. They began to use many of these words at the ‘Mud Table’ while playing. A DECE from another Board visited our classroom to learn more about inquiry and took careful notes about what the children were saying/doing. She concluded that surprisingly, many of the children had admitted to never actually playing with mud before and told her how interesting and fun it was for them.

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Top Left & Bottom Left: Our water table/sensory bin filled with mud. Top Right & Bottom Right: Our sandbox filled with soil and farm toys

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A Little Bit of Courage

It was during a class meeting one afternoon that S.S. piped up out of nowhere with her realization that blew me away and practically moved me to tears. Prior to this, I had invested so much time and energy ensuring that I got across to my students, that each of them was uniquely special and smart. So far in the year, various small and large inquiries surfaced and the curriculum emerged as children came in with questions, shared their experiences, or joined in discussions that we had together during class time. At this point, we had experienced a Restaurant Inquiry, small Chinese Culture Inquiry and currently were involved in a class-wide Shape Inquiry (very popular!). During these inquiries, I allowed each of my students to explore the topics and to participate in the projects in ways that most interested them as individuals. None of my students were ever forced to be a part of an inquiry unless some aspects “spoke to them”. Entry points into the inquiries were therefore vast and everyone felt welcome, included, and capable of being a successful contributing member.

And so it was on this day, after showing the class various photographs of themselves participating in the Shape Inquiry – some painting 3D shapes, some constructing them, some creating diagrams with words – that S.S. exclaimed with gusto and insight, “Hey Ms. Fleras, I just realized something – everyone learns in their own way and with their own talents!”

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Hello & Welcome: My First Post!

Hello world! 

Welcome to Spark the Learning… A place meant to provoke deeper thinking and inspire other educators and parents alike.

This blog was created as a space for me to share some of the highlights and reflections I experience as a Kindergarten teacher in an Ontario public school board.  Being influenced by a plethora of educational theories and research, including the Reggio Emilia approach to early learning, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning and emergent curriculum, I utilize each in ways that make sense for my unique groups of little ones.

My hope is that readers will gain insight into the new play-based and inquiry-rich, Full Day Kindergarten program within Ontario, find ideas for their own children or students and begin to share with me, a similar passion of student-centered learning that has driven me along my journey.

This is a safe place for others to share their own ideas, ask questions (even the difficult ones!) and advance as educators to 21st Century learners. If there is one theme that has remained central for me over the years, it is that continuing to learn and grow as a professional (and as an adult) is just as crucial as expecting the same from my students. Cultivating a genuine love for learning within my little ones is made possible by modeling this quality as their teacher but also by truly living it and allowing it to permeate my very persona and become a part of my identity. By reaching out and never simply accepting traditional teaching methods, I actively seek out ways to make connections to each and every one of my students, honouring their varying learning styles, needs and strengths.

As they all move on in their educational adventures, I am optimistic that I have given my students reasons to be excited about learning as well as the tools and skills they need to be confident and courageous learners, to ask questions and to find answers but to never stop there.

Please feel free to use my site as a source of inspiration and as a starting point for your own teaching and learning journeys. Comments and questions are always welcome!

* Note: All children who appear in photos on www.sparkthelearning.com have attained signed permission from their families.