Category Archives: Sensory Activities

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.

Continue reading

Math & Proportional Reasoning in FDK

 photo IMG_0146_zpsswk9mh4n_1.jpg
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.
 photo IMG_3048w_zpsawipknkx.jpg
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.

Continue reading

Springtime Learning!

 photo IMG_3008w_zpsnwdzpfrs.jpg

As our students create, explore, learn and grow, they are discovering the world around them as well as who they are, as individuals. Through each choice they select, mistake they make and alternative point of view they encounter, our children learn what makes them, them! The more opportunities we give our little ones to explore their interests, the more their spirits are nurtured and soon they emerge as their authentic, true selves. As the year is drawing to an end, we have been so lucky to have witnessed over 40 different personalities take shape and grow. As Spring brings new light to our days, it also brings with it the development of our little ones’ identities. And so with this post, I bring you some of the experiences that took us through our Spring months when we were not involved in our other inquiries. Some of the experiences may be small but they still played roles in developing our students’ personalities along their journeys.

Continue reading

A Vet Inquiry

 photo IMG_2504quotew3 1_zpsvewf3wib.jpg

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.

 photo null-8w_zps7d1ebtr0.jpg

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! 

Continue reading

Our Winter & Polar Inquiry Continues

 photo IMG_9397w_zpsxxpocztg.jpg

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.
 photo IMG_0148w_zpsoyrseeu6.jpg

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.

Continue reading

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.

 photo IMG_9408w_zps5ea2c780.jpg

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.

Continue reading

The Start of a New Inquiry

 photo IMG_7953-1w2_zps2474341b.jpg

 

“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.

 photo IMG_7951-1w2_zps68a64068.jpg

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

Continue reading

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

 photo IMG_7484w_zps1c9e45c2.jpg

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.

Continue reading

Processes, Projects & Possibilities

 photo IMG_7498wquote_zps61fedade.jpg

Well… it’s finished! The project we’ve worked so long and hard on during the month of December and into January: Our space mural! Behold weeks and weeks of learning all rolled into one beautiful masterpiece to showcase not only the knowledge gained, but also the thinking done, the problems solved, and the creativity exercised. Roosevelt truly summed it up so nicely for us. The effort put in is definitely important and where the magic happens. However, when the final result is as wonderful as this – well, the satisfaction is like no other. I think I can speak on behalf of the children when I say: We are SO proud of our mural!

Come and see it in person! From the intricate and captivating multi-media piece of art made by the children… to the facts posted around the mural (in the children’s own words) to enhance each of the features… to the photos, captions and descriptions that document the evolution of our Space and Gravity Inquiry… you will not be disappointed!

So just how did we get here?

A recap and some updates are in order!

Continue reading

Kinderbucks + Meaningful Play = Inquiry!

Kinderbucks Continues; Understandings Deepen

 photo IMG_5093wquote3_zps217d8b01.jpg

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.

 photo IMG_5090w_zps762577a3.jpg

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.

Continue reading