Something my ECE partner and I are developing is a more general structure to our week so that the students know what to expect on certain days. We have the usual special activities throughout the week such as Reading Buddies and going to the library, but we have begun to look at having a theme for certain days. So far, we all now look forward to Fridays – not only for the obvious reason, but also because it happens to be our weekly Construction Day (Jour de la construction). We got the idea from one of our colleagues who mentioned that she had heard about a kindergarten teacher who had a building day where the students exercised their burgeoning engineering skills. Given just the general idea of a day dedicated to building stuff, my partner and I jumped on the idea and are now constantly building on (no pun intended) ideas and activities for the kinders as designers, builders and artists.
All week long, boxes are delivered to my classroom from other teachers, from the breakfast program, from the office administrators, and even from the construction workers who were on-site for several weeks putting in a new accessible toilet in the school. In the classroom during the week, the creation station might not be set out, but is always an option if someone asks for it. We do hold on to some special boxes so that there is plenty of variety to be brought outside during the first block of outdoor learning on Friday morning, if the playground is dry. Typically, masking tape, scissors and markers are brought out as well to be used with the cardboard. From our shed, large building blocks, buckets, shovels and sometimes pylons, are also hauled out and presented as possible building materials.
Before we get building, however, we usually have a book and a discussion on the topic, just to stir up the creative energy and to garner ideas of things that are built – either by people or by creatures. Last Friday, we made a list of planes, trains and castles, until one JK student with a fascination for spiders, put up his hand and said that he wanted to build a giant spider web. Great idea! I thought for a moment, then told my ECE partner that I needed to get a few things from inside the classroom. I found 3 different small balls of yarn in various colours and textures for the giant spider web. I attached one end of the yarn to a spot on the chainlink fence, and gave the ball to the student. He easily picked up the idea of how to weave the yarn through the links, and the spider web started to grow. Other students became interested and soon I had fished out 5 more balls of yarn. One side of our school yard began to bustle with children who were pushing and pulling yarn through the fence, trying to attach pieces of cardboard or rocks, some of them even getting ‘caught’ in the giant web as they tried to pass over or under someone else who was weaving. It was a huge success. The web stayed up for about a week, until the arrival of heavy winds and rain, then it soon came unravelled and blew away.
Every Friday, when we come into the classroom, we continue construction activities with whatever we can gather up from our art supplies and toys; playdough; blocks; Duplo; popsicle sticks and white liquid glue; or, chairs, tables and table cloths. We ask the students to draw a diagram of what they plan on building before they get started. For the SKs this is an interesting challenge, while only a few JKs at this point are able to see the connection between what they are drawing and what they end up building. Nonetheless, they like to talk about their ideas, whether the final project looks anything like their ‘blueprint’. Midway through the day, we have a circle so that students can share their creations and hopefully inspire others to build different things than they usually build, like the spider web.
Construction Day offers great opportunities for inquiry and it touches on key aspects (the Four Frames) of the kindergarten curriculum, namely, demonstrating mathematics behaviours, problem solving and innovating. What we like most about it is that it is largely a student-lead day. We have to do preplanning to be ready with a variety of opportunities for building, but we are at our busiest in the midst of a variety of projects, as we try to produce materials that the builders ask for.