Category Archives: Dramatic Play

Caterpillars to Butterflies to Goodbyes


Goodbye Worms, Hello Caterpillars

Moving into June, we said, “goodbye” to our worms and said, “hello” to our Painted Lady caterpillars! The entire kindergarten division ordered these ahead of time so we knew they were coming. However, since we had studied our worms so closely , had the inquiry steps almost down pat, and were always full of wonders, we were more than ready for our next study. Having caterpillars also inspired us to broaden the scope of our inquiry from one exclusively focused on worms to one that included the entire subject of insects and creepy-crawlies.

When we received our caterpillars, Madison gently placed them into their new temporary home (a laundry hamper with mesh sides). She showed us the mushy food that we needed to put in the hamper so that the caterpillars could get big and strong enough to climb up branches or the sides of the hamper, attach themselves to something, and form chrysalises.

The caterpillars didn’t lend themselves to as much of an interactive study as the worms did since they needed to be left alone inside of their mesh hamper. However, they taught the children the art of careful observation and patience.

We set our new friends up where our worms used to live. This became our little observatory. Every day the children would come in and check to see how the caterpillars were doing and if any of the caterpillars had formed chrysalises. We made a predictions graph to guess when we thought our caterpillars would form chrysalises and later on, we made another graph to show our predictions of when we thought they would emerge as butterflies.

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A Vet Inquiry

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Our Vet Inquiry reminded us that role-playing is a wonderful way for children to act out real life careers and to quite possibly give us a glimpse into each of our little ones’ futures.

A Democratic Classroom

One way that Madison and I like to promote and maintain student voice in the classroom, is through the use of voting. I think that voting is an important concept to grasp as it is a huge part of our society and something that the children will inevitably have to get used to in later grades and every day life situations. Our dramatic play centre had been an unused corner in our room since we took apart our rocket ship. We didn’t want to just slap something together, rather, we sought to thoughtfully plan our next idea with the children. This time, we gave the children total reign over what the dramatic play centre would be. Last time we changed things up in this centre, the children were still engaged in studying space and so it seemed to be a natural response for them to choose a rocket ship once it was suggested by a few of the children. This time, however, it was a fresh start and a bare canvas on which their imaginations could paint.

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We asked the children what their ideas were for the dramatic play centre and encouraged them to think for themselves and to not just go along with their friends’ ideas. This is another major area of learning we are focusing on lately as many of the children are in a very conformist stage of their development, often wanting to do only what their peers approve of and like. We recorded all of the ideas on a piece of chart paper, guiding them in considering ideas that would be plausible and fun for most of the children in the classroom. We then narrowed down these ideas to the four that seemed to be the most popular and/or the most ‘do-able’: Igloo, Vet, Castle, and Hospital. We took a blind vote (once again, to promote individual thinking) using tally marks to reinforce our newly learned math skill. Lo and behold, both Class A and Class B voted for a Vet Office! We weren’t all that surprised as we know how much children typically love animals and pets and recall the few times the children had expressed their desire to have a Vet Office in the classroom. And so it began… A Vet Inquiry! 

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The Creation of our Rocket Ship

The Importance of Thinking Imaginatively

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Einstein said it beautifully – an imagination can lead to an endless supply of possibilities. While it’s important that young children learn the basics and acquire skills in numeracy and literacy, I believe that the ability to think creatively and imaginatively, is the key to success in the technology-rich, ever-changing 21st Century world. For an interesting article on the Kindergarten approach to learning (the spiraling process of imagine, create, play, share, reflect) and how it’s so crucial that it needs to extend to learners of higher grades as well to continue the process, check out: “All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) In Kindergarten” by Mitchell Resnick (2007). For now, read about how our imaginations worked together to create our very own classroom rocket ship.

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The Start of a New Inquiry

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“How do you start an inquiry project?” 

I get a lot of questions about how an inquiry project starts. To address these questions, I will explain my own understanding of inquiry-based learning  while utilizing one of the best pieces on this approach to teaching and learning that I have ever come across from the Ontario Ministry of Education (find the whole article here).

I think many educators are intimidated or at least, not totally ‘sold’ on the idea of inquiry-based learning because they have the misconception that inquiries always start and are fully led by the students, themselves. “How do students know what’s best for them to learn and know? How can they learn the basics in an unstructured environment” they ask. While the students do have a lot of involvement in the planning and executing of an inquiry, it is the job of the educator to teach and model for them, the tools they need to successfully move through an inquiry project. These tools include: how to contribute and extend others’ ideas, how to formulate good questions and in essence, how to take those ideas and questions and move into the investigative stage. The educator, then, is not taking – by any means – a passive role and the environment is not unstructured, just differently structured. The educator plays an active role, creating a classroom culture where ideas and questions triumph as “central currency” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). As the educator acknowledges and praises students for presenting deep questions and in turn, creates an environment where students come to love learning, she simultaneously assists students in moving from a position of wondering to a position of understanding and further questioning, sending the message that learning is a lifelong pursuit. It should be stressed that inquiry-based learning does not mean the absence of longstanding teaching approaches like explicit instruction of skills and knowledge not naturally acquired through student-guided explorations. It just means that there is a combination of these approaches along with small group and guided learning in order to best support students in moving forward in their inquiry ventures.

Throughout these inquiry projects, the educator, with her expertise of the curriculum, is able to locate and pull out curriculum expectations from the children’s investigations. So – in response to those original questions often asked by educators – the students are able to explore topics and problems that mean something to them while the educator ensures aspects of the curriculum are being covered (bonus: students’ wonders often exceed curriculum expectations!). This is not as difficult as it sounds, especially when the educator focuses on the “big ideas” found within the curriculum and picks up on students’ interests or questions that, if explored further, would likely lead to the achievement of overall curriculum goals (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013).

It’s important to understand that inquiry-based learning is not letting go of the class and allowing complete self-direction by the students. After all, “Students’ thinking can be limited when confined to their own experiences. Educators have the privilege of introducing students to ideas that do not emerge spontaneously and from discovery alone, and similarly, they must assume the role of helping children notice things that would not otherwise be seen” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). Therefore, sometimes this means that the educator may also be involved in the initial ‘sparking’ of an inquiry project by presenting the students with topics, questions or materials that could potentially grab the interests of the students and give them some direction for their next set of wonders and investigations. Educators “play the role of “provocateur,” finding creative ways to introduce students to ideas and to subject matter that is of interest to them and offers “inquiry potential” or promise in terms of opportunities for students to engage in sustained inquiry of their own” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). The idea is to keep things as open-ended as possible and to allow the students to interact with new stimuli in their own unique ways. The educator may assume that by presenting particular “sparks” the inquiry will unfold in a certain way. However, most often it never quite evolves as the educator imagines and the children end up swaying the inquiry in unexpected directions according to their interests, backgrounds or strengths in abilities.

The Birth of our Winter & Polar Inquiry

Encouraging Thinking About Winter

After coming back from Winter Vacation, we found that the students just needed some time to relax and get back into their routines at school. There wasn’t a whole lot of burning questions or major wondering going on at first. Instead of waiting, we offered some new learning centers and invitations to play that we suspected would get them back into their “investigative” frame of thinking. We knew that “Whether inquiry begins with the student, teacher or a shared classroom experience, what matters most is that the initial query sparks student interest and provides the opportunity and resources for in-depth student investigations” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2013). Since we had quite a bit of snow now (as opposed to before Christmas), we decided to work with the topic of “snow” and see where it took us.

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One of my most favourite quotes related to the power of the Arts.

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Kinderbucks + Meaningful Play = Inquiry!

Kinderbucks Continues; Understandings Deepen

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Shaw was an Irish playwright and socialist during the 1800s. In his text, Treatise on Parents and Children, Shaw claims that formal education of the time was deadening to the spirits of children and detrimental to their intellectual development. He advocated for an approach that was child-directed and inquiry-based.

Kinderbucks continues to be a popular spot to play, explore and learn. As the children play, I try to simply observe as much as I can. When the moment seems appropriate, we sometimes enter the play and expand their understandings by having them draw on their own experiences at coffee shops to help them better focus their role playing.

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Here you can see how neat and tidy the children have been keeping Kinderbucks. They take pride in keeping it this way because of the sense of ownership they have over it – it was their idea in the first place and much went into it’s planning! You can also see children taking on various roles such as ordering, serving, baking, and making receipts.

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Fallin’ for Fall

The past two weeks can be best summed up using the following quote by marine biologist and conservationist, Rachel Carson:

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In addition to all of the wonderful learning related to our city inquiry, children were presented with a provocation of fall-related items. In our sensory bin, Madison and I put gourds, pumpkins, dried maize/corn, strawberry corn, stones, pine cones and magnifying glasses. At first, only clipboards with paper and markers were set beside the table to encourage recording of exploring, wondering and representing. As you will see in the photos, these two clipboards were not enough and this centre seeped onto other tables and even onto the floor as children needed more room to do their exploring.

Now, if there’s one thing one would need to know about teaching young learners, it is this: you can make almost anything sound amazing and fun if you present it that way and truly believe it yourself. Many people would assume children would find this learning centre boring and be done with it after just a few minutes. By modeling our excitement to look closely at the items, admire their imperfect beauty, and draw/write about what we see, many children kept busy with the centre for days (and weeks!). I told the children that they were all scientists because they were doing exactly what scientists do by observing, examining and asking questions that lead to discovery. The children LOVED learning that they were real scientists. Have a look at what happened…

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Inquiry of a Castle (Part 2)

Let the Building Begin!

After the art show, we had the time to focus more on our giant castle. We had also collected enough larger boxes and felt confident that the students were ready to construct a castle that could reflect their learning. Different students contributed at various times along the process and we could proudly say it was a collaborative process in which all students thinking and skills were involved.

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Top Row: Children painted boxes black and stamped grey bricks on with a rectangular foam block. Bottom Left: It was sometimes difficult to get this boy to participate in classroom activities and we were looking to find something he could connect with. The creation of the giant castle sparked his interest more than anything I had seen all year. He painted boxes outside in the hall for three days straight. Bottom Right: Children went inside of the castle to consider the arrangement of the boxes and what details needed to be added. Here, one boy runs in with his plan that he has drawn on a piece of paper.

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