Category Archives: Play-based Learning

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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Spring Brings A Worm Inquiry

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Spring Brings a Worm Inquiry

April 2015 revealed the budding beginnings of a new inquiry. From all our talk on caring for the Earth, the benefits of compost and producing nutrient-rich soil, we have begun to wonder about worms and other mini-beasts. I asked the children if they would like to study worms close up by having worms in the classroom and it was a resounding, “YES!!!”. Madison and I decided we could have our very own earth worm tank to enhance our learning. If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I did this last year and the children not only loved it but also learned so much from it! Even those who, at first, were timid about touching the worms ended up learning the values of bravery and trying new things.

This post will showcase our journey throughout our Worm Inquiry and reveal how it transformed into a broader study of insects. As always, our scientific investigations were used as a means to also tap into math, language and the arts, allowing us to cover many curriculum expectations. The big idea that I wanted the children to understand was that although worms are small, they are indeed very important to the soil, the plants, animals and to us! I can definitely say that this goal was well reached.

Enjoy!

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Math & Proportional Reasoning in FDK

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As a student, I was always afraid of math. To me, it was hard and that was that. I can’t recall too many teachers who tried to make it fun or meaningful to me and instead, I just remember a lot of textbook work and rote learning that never quite ‘stuck’ with me. Math just seemed so abstract and since I relished in creative tasks, math was just not interesting to me and even a bit scary because of how far away from reality it seemed. I can honestly say that I learned more about math after my school years than when I was in school.

The real mathematical learning came when I had to use numbers in everyday situations and when ‘playing with numbers’ took place within authentic experiences. I learned a lot, for example, by simply becoming a cashier at my first part-time job. I had to add, subtract, multiply and divide quickly and on the spot. I learned how to round numbers, estimate but also how to be a careful counter. Being off, even by a few cents, meant I had to do some major backtracking in order to catch my mistake and that definitely wasn’t how I wanted to spend the last half hour of my shift. As I’ve gotten older and began earning money, paying bills and making larger purchases, I’ve continued my learning, now really ‘feeling’ the direct consequences of any miscalculations or poor spending choices. As a result, most of my mathematical knowledge and understanding of numbers has come from my own day to day living – not from school.

But becoming a teacher has made me realize that my experience of math as a student was extremely unfortunate and it’s definitely not how I want my own students to experience math. Had I been given the chance to learn math through play and hands-on investigations, more meaning would have been given to the math facts I was learning about. Perhaps math wouldn’t have been so scary. Better yet, I might have grown to love the challenges math provided.

As a teacher, I want to create learning experiences that can be accessed by all of my students, regardless of their abilities or learning styles. I know that the explorations need to be as authentic as possible for children to ‘connect’ to them and find practicality in them. Rather than frame math as a separate and abstract subject or set of skills, math needs to be woven into all parts of the day to show students that math really is everywhere. For instance, just as I enjoyed creative pursuits as a student, I want to integrate this component into math-based activities to attract and inspire other children who have similar interests. Most of all, when I invite children to participate in math-based activities or when I intend to ‘draw out the math’ in a spontaneous teachable moment, the main thing I want to accomplish is to make it fun. It sounds so simple and so obvious but I think it’s so important.
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In this post, I will highlight some of the math games and activities that my students took part in this past spring. Hopefully you will be able to see how I made special efforts to keep learning about math hands-on, authentic and fun.

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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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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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Polar Learning Flourishes!

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Einstein understood that the ability to imagine is what opens our minds up to possibilities we never considered before. When we imagine the so-called impossible and seek to discover or uncover new truths, we create new knowledge that leads us to more questions. The reality is that we, as a human race, are never finished knowing and understanding all that there ever was, is or will be. We need to keep that fire to search alive by continuing to ask questions. This habit of mind, I believe, is best developed young so that our children – our future – can grow and develop into thinkers, explorers and innovators and go beyond the acceptance of every day facts at face value. This sense of imagination and disposition for questioning is something I aim to instill in my students as young learners. Even if all I do is plant a seed…

Learning About the Inuit Peoples & Culture

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As our Polar Inquiry continued to deepen and as we looked at more and more books that contained pictures or stories about the people who live in the Arctic, the children became fascinated and we became knee deep in new questions that neither I nor Madison could answer.

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Our Winter & Polar Inquiry Continues

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Our Winter & Polar Inquiry Continues

In my post entitled, The Start of a New Inquiry, I discuss the birth of our Winter & Polar Inquiry. You can see how we began our inquiry with an interest in snow and winter and began focusing our investigation with the introduction of our Animals Shelf (a small-world play area with animal figurines and a winter environment). We began delving into questions about the behaviour of animals in winter time and learned that some animals hibernate, some migrate and some adapt to the cold. When discussing animal adaptations, we naturally began to explore many polar animals (penguins, polar bears, arctic foxes, etc.) and discovered their physical and behavioural differences from those animals who hibernate or migrate. Soon, our inquiry narrowed further and became much more of a Polar Inquiry as the children’s keen interest with “the poles” continued to grow. Below I’ve outlined the evolution of our inquiry – how it began, how it transformed with the children’s questions and interests and where it has developed to at this point.
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Now that the children have learned about the kinds of animals and how they survive in the Poles, we have expanded our inquiry furthermore and have put a spotlight on the geography, land, people and cultures associated with the Arctic and Antarctica. As you will see in an upcoming post, from there, we have put an environmental focus on our inquiry and are now investigating the melting of the ice caps, reasons behind the melting and what we can do about it. For now, let me show you how this all evolved.

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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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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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The Evolution of a Project

In my Halloween post, I left off with the image of our class pumpkin and explained how the dripping wet wax made us think of gravity. The children then began asking questions about gravity and the related topic of outer space. In this post, you will see how our newest inquiry has emerged and evolved since that day. Prepare to be inspired…

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Setting the Stage for Investigating & Learning

As I’ve explained in previous posts, Madison and I run a program based on the philosophies of Emergent Curriculum, Project-Based Learning, Inquiry-Based Learning and Reggio Emilia. The melting crayon wax on the pumpkin began a conversation we had no idea would come up prior to the moment. It all started when I posed the problem to the group: How come the wax is dripping down the pumpkin and not dripping sideways or upwards? Many of the children immediately responded that it was due to gravity. I was quite impressed and so to find out more about the children’s conceptions of gravity, I asked them more open-ended questions and invited them to share with me what they knew about the topic. Naturally, some children began to connect the idea of gravity with the subject of space, believing that in space, there is no gravity. I then moved on to remind them about something we had talked about before: Scientists look closely at things but they also ask lots of questions. I welcomed them to ask questions about gravity or space that they would like to know more about. As they asked their questions, I recorded them on chart paper.

The next day when I had Class A, I showed them the pumpkin and posed the same question about the wax. To my delight, they too, were quick to explain the phenomenon of the downward drips with the concept of gravity. A similar discussion arose and we added more questions to the list from the previous day. You can view the collaborative inquiry questions in the photo below.

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