Category Archives: Family Engagement

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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From Melting Ice Caps to a Global Warming Inquiry

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Here, M wears a hat she made with a word bubble that says, “Stop Polluting!” – all her idea! She, along with many of her peers, have become passionate environmentalists over the past month. Read more to find out why!

From Melting Ice Caps to a Global Warming Inquiry

In my last post, Polar Learning Flourishes!, I shared our learning experiences throughout our Polar Inquiry, which had taken place during the winter months. One finding that intrigued the children, was that the ice caps were melting. We talked about what the possibility of melted ice caps would mean for the animals, people and the land in these regions and concluded that polar animals would need to either adapt to the new conditions or they could die off. We were sad to think that the Inuit and other people living in the Arctic would be affected negatively in various ways as well (e.g., the animals they used to hunt could be extinct, their traditions would be changed, etc.). I could tell by the children’s keen interest in this topic that I had to plan some interactive lessons and learning experiences to help the children better understand the situation. And so began our month-long investigation on Global Warming…
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Valentine’s Day Week

Valentine’s Day Week in Room 209 was eventful in many ways! We took a short break from our Winter and Polar Inquiry to focus on some other learning adventures. We added in some Valentine’s Day-inspired invitations to play, we visited Winterlude as a class, we held a “Colours of Love” Healthy Snack class party and we participated in the school Dance-a-Thon – whew!

Join us in reflecting back on memories of this exciting week!

Valentine’s Day-Inspired Invitations to Play

Although I’m not big on themes, I don’t mind throwing in more “themey” activities every so often so long as they are culturally meaningful to the students, are open-ended in nature and do not flood the entire program or room. The children in our room almost always have options and have many opportunities to practice making choices. Alongside the Valentines Day activities you see in these pictures, were many other activities or invitations to play and learn that coincided with our Winter & Polar Inquiry (those photos will be reserved for the following post!). In my opinion, it really is all about balance when it comes to planning and setting up invitations in your classroom. You want them to reflect the interests, values, realities and abilities of your learners. If you’re going to present something that is not culturally-familiar to the children, you need to introduce it properly and with sensitivity and ensure they understand your reasoning for presenting it to them. In my case, the children in my room all celebrate Valentine’s Day and are quite familiar with it. Moreover, they all expressed significant interest in Valentine’s Day, in preparing for it and in looking forward to it, which is why these activities ‘made sense’ for us. Of course, each classroom is different.

To clarify for those who aren’t familiar, “invitations to play/learn” are simply displays of toys, play materials, sensory tubs/bins/tables, loose parts, art materials, etc. organized in inviting ways that attract children and provoke creativity and open-ended play.

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Behold: Our classroom Love Potion! Children were presented with this new sensory invitation early in the week to bring in the spirit of Valentine’s Day, which is coming up that weekend. Inside the bin was pink coloured water, red and pink water beads, plastic heart-shaped accessories, heart-shaped boxes, a heart-shaped muffin container and heart-patterned buckets.

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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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Christmas, Hanukkah and Much More!

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” – Maya Angelou

To celebrate the holiday season in Room 209, we did our very best to be as inclusive as possible and to expose the children to new and different cultural celebrations including: Christmas, Hanukkah, Eid and Kwanzaa. The month flew by and I admit, with all of the excitement and projects, I got a little behind on my photo taking. Read this post to see what I did manage to collect and to get a taste for how our holiday season celebrations and learning played out.

Starting Off the Month…

Elf on the Shelf: Requesting an Elf from Santa

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After telling the children that I had once heard if you requested an elf from Santa, he might send one, they were excited to give it a try! I did an interactive writing lesson with both classes in which we wrote a letter to Santa, asking him for an elf. We used our sound board to remember letter sounds as we went along. After both letters were complete, I put them both in the mail addressed to Santa.

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Blasting Off Into Inquiry!

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I may have gone a little overboard there but you get the idea: Our Space & Gravity Inquiry has not only taken off but has become a richly engaging learning opportunity with limitless possibilities for our SKs. I must say, this inquiry has been one of my favourites to facilitate. I can shamelessly admit with a sense of pride and honour that I have been learning alongside my students every step of the way and it has been utterly rewarding.

As a child I did not have much exposure to this topic area and I’m not sure scientific concepts were ever explained to me in ways that captured my interest and motivated me to explore more. As an adult I’ve come to understand how much of that was partially a result of the kind of education I received. Back in the early 90s when I began my schooling, inquiry-based learning was definitely not “on trend” nor understood by Ontario’s education system. I learned primarily from textbooks or chalkboard lessons and rarely participated in interactive activities. The topics covered were the same ones that were covered the last 10-20 years and were delivered in mostly the same way. To me – and probably many of my classmates – school was where you went to listen to and then remember information being presented by your teacher. I was marked on how well I retained that information and was expected to demonstrate it and “prove” my understanding at the end of each unit in some form of a test or big assignment.

Now, coming from a family of artists, I loved art. I loved drawing, colouring, painting, crafting, experimenting with line and texture and form. My teachers often took notice of my talent and that began to define me, as a person and as a student. As much as I loved art, when I reflect back on my childhood, I question whether or not my abilities outside of art were ever noticed and nurtured to their fullest potentials. In fact, I would argue that they simply were not. I was that kid who made the eye-catching art displayed in the hallways. As I grew older and entered University, I started to feel that my art was not all I wanted to be and began exploring what else I was capable of by pursuing a degree in Sociology – completely shocking my friends and family who assumed I would’ve went into the Arts. I learned so much about myself in those years but what was most life-changing was my realization that: I was, and could do, more than one thing; I could use my mind in other wonderful ways. I found out that I got so much personal fulfillment from learning about the world, researching, reading, analyzing, teaching and creating through my writing as opposed to exclusively through my art.

All of this to say that – what I want for my own students is something more than what my childhood school experience offered me. I don’t want my students to go through school being pigeon-holed into one area of strength in their abilities – or worse, being labeled based on their weaknesses. I don’t want them sitting and listening to my voice all day long. I don’t want them being forced to learn things that are completely irrelevant or uninteresting to them. I don’t want them to be afraid to ask questions and to question even their own teacher when they’re unsure. I don’t want them being assessed only at the ‘end’ of a unit or inquiry and in only one way.

What I want is for them to be thrilled about going to school to learn new things. I want them to be inspired to share their own ideas, thoughts and opinions and to allow these to evolve. I want them to realize that they have a ton of knowledge, understandings and potential within themselves and to offer the world. I want them to ask questions – lots of them. I want their understandings of curriculum content and larger concepts to be assessed using authentic strategies that recognize the many ways and opportunities people can demonstrate their learning. I want them to learn to think about their own thinking and to push their thinking further. I want this to happen while they are still young enough for it to all make a difference and shape their future. This is what I want.

So now, as we begin to unravel and witness the magic and wonderment that has been made possible by this Gravity & Space Inquiry, I encourage you to consider how all of us – in each of our different roles – can contribute to the educational experience I’ve described above. Educators, administrators, families, community members – we can all teach children to love learning. How can you help to shape a child’s vision of herself as a strong, capable and courageous learner?

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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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Welcome to Kindergarten City

And so it has arrived… The unveiling of weeks’ worth of learning, discovering and inquiring about the city.

Behold, Kindergarten City.

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This photo was taken in 3 shots because of the enormous size of our mural and the angle at which I was able to stand in the hallway. The only way to truly take in the full effect and true beauty that this piece has to offer is to come for a visit and admire it in person.

This photo simply does not do it justice. I encourage parents to come in, read the documentation panels that explain how our inquiry emerged and the path it took, find their sons and daughters within the city and take some photos.

How was it made? Over the last couple of weeks, as you know, we have been studying the city – exploring what makes a city a ‘city’, how it compares to the countryside, what types of structures exist within a city and what kinds of places make a city run. Students were then able to brainstorm a long list of places: hospitals, airports, dentist offices, grocery stores, coffee shops, pet shelters, schools – the list goes on. Both classes of SKs then got to choose which place/building they wanted to create for our mural. Some children did some extra tasks such as painting the backdrop. Students used construction paper, Sharpie markers, crayons and markers to create their buildings. We discussed adding texture (e.g., bricks), the use of signage, aesthetic additions (e.g., garden in the front) and other details (e.g., window and door details). To create the ‘residents’, children designed their bodies and we glued photos of their faces on top so they could find themselves in the City.

All of the children far surpassed our expectations and worked for long, concentrated periods of time on creating quality pieces for the mural. Madison and I purposefully did not make any of the colour or style choices for the children nor did we do any of the cutting or printing. We wanted their individual abilities and personalities to shine through and make it something they could be proud of themselves for. We love how each building is so unique and allows us a glimpse into each child’s imagination and collection of knowledge. I think the very fact that it was not handled as a prescribed cookie-cutter craft activity and that the pieces are not perfectly [teacher-cut] shapes is what makes it so magical and full of character and charm.

We have received so many compliments from administration, teachers, students and parents and have been so proud to say that it is a true student-made piece of art. We hope that you like it and will come in to have a peak!

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Learning About ‘The City’, Learning About Life

Happy Thanksgiving Weekend everyone!

Something to Contemplate…

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Carlina Rinaldi is the President of Reggio Children – the International Center for the Defense and Promotion of the Rights and Potentials of All Children – and has worked closely with Loris Malaguzzi, pioneer of the Reggio Emilia Approach to teaching and learning (the approach that inspires my own work). You can learn more about the Center and this approach by visiting www.reggiochildren.it

Essentially, this quote captures nicely, how adults – parents and educators alike – need to slow down and simply listen and observe children. Rather than demand responses from children, we need to give them the time they need to process, ponder and ask questions, themselves. Likewise, rather than immediately provide answers to children’s questions, we need to give them the time and space necessary for them to come up with an array of possible solutions and to consider where and how they can search for answers that make the most sense to them. Giving children these opportunities sets them up for a future of lifelong learning and teaches them how to function in a 21st Century world where so much information is available. By doing so, they learn to consider multiple perspectives and solutions, to sift through those possibilities and to choose which ones speak to them. Like my website’s slogan states, it is our duty as those that watch and guide our future generation, to find ways to ignite the spark for learning within children. This approach empowers children in becoming courageous learners – learners open to taking risks and appreciating the various pathways to seeking answers. You can read more about this within my post, A Little Bit of Courage

Now, keeping all of that in mind, onto this week’s learning…

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Inquiry of a Castle (Part 1)

After the worm inquiry, my SKs explored castles and Medieval Times. The journey we went on together was magical and filled with wonder and awe. Along the way, I kept digital documentation of how it all came to be and what unfolded. To give you a sense of my documentation style, I will insert clips from my “castle file” for your reading pleasure. Enjoy!

The Provocation:

Since the release of the Disney film, Frozen on DVD, I observed my students routine engagement in role-playing games involving princesses, knights and Medieval Times castles. One day, I put on a video clip of the movie’s theme song, “Let it Go” and watched in awe as all of my students sang along word for word, drinking in the colourful images of magic and castles found within the scenes. My students’ interest in this subject matter did not diminish and it was days later that they were still fully inspired by the movie, singing the theme song and integrating ideas of princesses, knights and castles into their dramatic play, drawings and construction (some of the boys were even constructing shields and swords with building materials). I finally asked them the question that sparked our journey, “How can we make our “princess” and “knight” play more ‘real’?” The children almost unanimously replied,  “Let’s build a giant castle!”. 

Making a Plan & Engaging Families:

After presenting the question, I asked the class how we were going to go about building this giant castle. We made a list of things we might need and decided to send this list to our families to ask for donations. Items on the list included: large boxes, paint, fabric, costumes and books that could help us with developing a better understanding of castles. I sent the letter out to all of the families in an email that night and the response was overwhelming. It seemed almost everyone wanted to contribute or be a part of our giant castle. Throughout the weeks, parents volunteered their time to come in and assist with our inquiry in various ways (helping to construct, reading to the children, helping children with their designs, etc.). One parent donated a book that was precious to her and her family called, “The Story of Castles”. She explained how wonderful the book was and even wanted to read a chapter to us one day.

Donations poured in over the next couple of days after the letter was sent out. While we waited, I asked the children who were interested to begin drawing ideas for our castle. These were pinned up on a collage-style board in the middle of our room.

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Left: Children filtered in and out of the drawing station at will to create elaborate pictures of castles and plans for our giant classroom castle. Right: This child sat drawing her castle for an impressive 40 minutes! She was so careful and precise in her design and utilized books for accuracy.

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This is a shot of our collage-style, “work-in-progress” Castle Board after the first couple of days into preparing/planning for our giant castle. It was interesting to see each child’s initial idea of castles before much teaching had been done. I didn’t see this as my inquiry board, rather just something we threw up there as children were completing drawings quickly. I wanted to show how excited the prospect of this inquiry made the children. The actual documentation board that highlighted the focus of our journey began a few days after this was put up.

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