Lions, Tigers and Kinders, Oh My!

Let’s face it. We all have preferences when teaching a specific grade or division. For me, it’s the Juniors. I find that students in grades four to six have a degree of independence regarding task completion, while still being excited about school and learning. What sometimes feels out of my league are the students who are in kindergarten. Sure, I’ve walked past and seen the magic that is a kindergarten classroom and have even entered a time or two to engage in the fun but there’s always been the opportunity to retreat into the comfort of the Junior classroom. But not this year! I’m teaching STEM to 2 kindergarten classes and I’m learning so much. As learners, kinders are: capable, creative, and excited.

Capable

I’ve heard it said that you don’t know what you don’t know. I started the year off with all my classes learning about design thinking. With differing projects for K-2 and 3-5, it was an opportunity to see what students know and what they are still learning. For my K-2 students, we started off with magical envelopes that were dropped off and in them, we found different animals. Now we all know that an envelope is not a home for an animal so we quickly got to building habitats for our animals, learning along the way what each of them needs to survive.  When it came to the build, I quickly realized that some students already knew how to hold scissors and cut, while others needed support. But let me tell you, they quickly got on the scissor-learning train because there was a task to complete and they were eager to do the job. What I’m learning about kindergarten students is that when given a challenge and support with learning, they are capable. While building their habitats, I saw students that were giving each other ideas and supporting friends who needed a hand with glueing or cutting. At the end of our build, they were so proud to share their creations with each other. This was an excellent reminder for me that although they are little, they are capable of so much.

Creative

Kinders are creative. They design something and the stories they can tell based on a picture alone are wildly imaginative. We started our year reading some of the books from the If I Built Series. When asked to let their imaginations flow, students designed playscapes that would rival any playscape on the planet. Equipped with swings and slides that were inclusive of a variety of needs, they thought of their friends and family members and what they might like. While many used the ideas from the books, there were a number that made their own designs that were unique and out of this world. I enjoy so much that students at this age have not yet attached being “good at” art or drawing to their level of creativity. Everyone got a sheet of paper and everyone excitedly started drawing their creations with their crayons.  

Excited

These little people are excited about school and learning. Every challenge laid before them from building their habitats to coding our robots has been met with great excitement. They are eager to jump in and give things a try. I love the fact that they don’t yet feel as though they have to be perfect at something to be excited about doing it. I know that this happens much later in the lives of students and I often wonder how the process happens. At what point does the excitement of learning become scary and daunting or dare I say exhausting for students? It’s so refreshing to work with our youngest learners because of the excitement they bring even to tasks that I may perceive as simple. 

The start of the year has been filled with much reflection and learning for me. I’m looking forward to the other lessons I will learn from the kinders and to the experience becoming even more familiar.

Virtual Goodbyes

Last June, Will Gourley posted Before you click “End the call” after his experience with virtual learning in the 2020-2021 school year. I thought about this post often during the 2021-2022 school year as I wore the hat of Virtual Kindergarten teacher.

The thought of clicking “end the call for everyone” for the very last time leaves me with an unsettling feeling. Though we are ending on a high note in our class and filling the day with games, stories, songs and sharing, I can’t help but feel like something is missing.

I hope my students know how proud I am of them for how hard they’ve worked despite the many challenges that come with learning online. I told them daily how much they meant to me, but I hope they felt it in their hearts. I am not really great at goodbyes, I much prefer a “see you later” – as many of us do. I recently saw a post on social media (of which the author I cannot find), reminiscing on how educators work tirelessly to create a classroom family, only to say goodbye to their family each June.

Is this something that gets easier with experience? Or does it sting just the same 20 years later? As a new teacher, I cannot answer that question. Reflecting on my latest experience teaching virtually, I hope I have given my students closure and helped to co-create a happy ending to the virtual world we lived in each day together.

Virtual goodbyes feel different.

As I say goodbye to my students virtually this June, I am also sending out a virtual goodbye to the ETFO Heart and Art Blog readers as I type my last post. Thank you to the wonderful community of educators who come together to critically reflect on their practice, share their experiences and build connections with others. As I continue on throughout my journey in education, I am forever grateful to be surrounded by such passionate and inspirational people.

And to those people I say,

“Goodbye”

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.
ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

The Butterfly Conservatory

A few years ago, I visited a butterfly conservatory. It wasn’t my first ever visit, but it was my first visit through the lens of an educator as I was a teacher candidate at the time. I left the conservatory in absolute awe. Of course, the butterflies were beautiful, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the facility that housed the butterflies and the dedicated and knowledgable staff members that kept the butterflies safe and content.

I like to think of butterfly conservatories as an analogy for classrooms.

The focus in the conservatory is on the butterflies and giving them exactly what they need to thrive. Not all the butterflies got the same treatment, but an equitable environment was maintained by giving each species of butterfly what was required to meet its needs. Much like equity in our classrooms, students do not all need the same resources or supports to be successful, but they are all given equal opportunity to succeed by receiving individualized supports.

The butterflies can co-exist peacefully in the same space. Despite the creatures being of different species, different colours, or from different parts of the word, they live harmoniously. I like to think that within the core of all humans is a desire to co-exist peacefully with other humans. For some learners, this may take practice, repetition and patience, but the human need for connection and feelings of safety and belonging are innate and essential.

Lastly, this butterfly facility does not run itself and it is not run by just anyone. There is so much “behind the scenes” work that happens at places such as this, to ensure the butterflies and their visitors have an unforgettable experience. There were many tests being done to ensure air quality, temperature and humidity were remaining at optimal levels to accommodate for each different butterfly species present. The butterfly staff were not only knowledgable and had received training on how to care for the butterflies, but they were also passionate and proud to share the butterflies with the incoming visitors. Similarly, school staff are the backbone of the education system and put in invaluable time and effort “behind the scenes” to create optimal learning conditions and plentiful opportunities for students.

My analogy sticks with me and comes to mind often. Maybe this is something you’ve thought of before, maybe you have a more applicable analogy for classrooms, or maybe you’re now creating your own analogy for the first time.

Either way, one thing is true…

An ecosystem like the butterfly conservatory is delicate. It’s fragile. It can be damaged. What are the butterflies to do if their environment becomes destroyed or the homeostasis is disrupted?

Unlike the butterflies, we don’t fly away. ETFO members and education workers stand together in solidarity.

Though we may not be “living” in optimal conditions like the butterflies, we continue to advocate for public education, safe learning environments for staff and students, and equitable learning opportunities for all.

E is for Equity (part 2)

I am back again for part 2.

I hope you enjoyed (or planned to enjoy) some of the books from part 1 of E is for Equity.

After reading And Tango Makes Three (by: Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell) to my Kindergarten class very recently, I need everyone to stop what they’re doing and read about the immediate reactions my young learners had to the story.

The story is about 2 penguins in the Central Park Zoo that fall in love and hatch an egg together. This story is so fun and exciting for the listeners as they watch Silo and Roy become the proud penguin parents that they always wanted to be. The penguins Silo and Roy are both boy penguins.

My students burning questions at the end of the story:

  • “What do penguins eat?”
  • “Do penguins eat polar bears?”
  • “I went to the zoo once!”
  • “Can I go to the bathroom?”

N – The Name Jar 

Written & Illustrated by: Yangsook Choi

O – One Love

Adapted by: Cedella Marley

Illustrated by: Brantley Newton

P – The Proudest Blue 

Written by: Ibtihaj Muhammad, &S.K. Ali

Illustrated by: Hatem Aly

Q – Lubaya’s Quiet Roar

Written by: Marilyn Nelson

Paintings by: Philemona Williamson

R – R.J Palacio (Author & Illustrator)

We’re all Wonders

S – Sulwe

Written by: Lupita Nyong’o 

Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison 

T – And Tango Makes Three

Written by: Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell 

Illustrated by: Henry Cole

U – Under My Hijab 

Written by: Hena Khan

Illustrated by: Aaliya Jaleel

V – Susan Verde (Author)

I am Human

Illustrated by: Peter H. Reynolds

W – When We are Kind

Written by: Monique Gray Smith

Illustrated by: Nicole Neidhardt

X – Except When They Don’t

Written by: Laura Gehl

Illustrated by: Joshua Heinsz

Y – Be You!

Written & Illustrated by: Peter H Reynolds 

Z – Zahra’s Blessing: A Ramadan Story

Written by: Shirin Shamsi

Illustrated by: Manal Mirza

E is for Equity (part 1)

I’m a new teacher.

I’m always looking for books to add to my library that support the inclusive, equitable and culturally responsive environment I strive to achieve in my classroom. This school year, I have been investing in books that celebrate diversity to ensure that all students see themselves reflected within the Kindergarten program. I have been in search of stories by BIPOC authors, stories that celebrate differences, and stories that share messages of inclusion to add to my collection. I decided to create an A-Z list of stories that I love. This list is far from exhaustive and there are MANY amazing books I could have added. The stories below from A-M are stories that were appropriate for my Kindergarten class, but could definitely be read to students beyond Kindergarten as well.

If you are a new teacher looking to begin your picture book collection, this one’s for you!

A – Alma and How She Got Her Name

By: Juana Martinez-Neal 

B – Black is a Rainbow Colour

By: Angela Joy

Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes

C -Bilal Cooks Daal

By: Aisha Saeed

Illustrated by: Anoosha Syed

D – Don’t Touch My Hair

By: Sharee Miller

E – Eyes That Kiss in the Corners

By: Joanna Ho

Illustrated by: Dung Ho

F – Forty-Seven Strings: Tessa’s Special Code

By: Becky Carey

Illustrated by: Bonnie Leick

G – The Gift of Ramadan

By: Rabiah York Lumbard

Illustrated by: Laura K. Horton

H – Hair Love

By: Matthew A. Cherry

Illustrated by: Vashti Harrison

I – I am Enough

By: Grace Byers

Illustrated by: Keturah A. Bobo

J – Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You

By: Sonia Sotomayor

Illustrated by: Rafael Lopez

K -Suki’s Kimono

By: Chieri Uegaki

Illustrated by: Stéphane Jorisch

L – Love Makes a Family

By: Sophie Beer

M – My Heart Fills with Happiness

By: Monique Gray Smith

Illustrated by: Julie Flett

Students as Teachers: a Culture of Inquiry and Learning

“I am just going to check in on everyone and see how they’re doing” – one of my Kindergarten students said as she led her peers through a step-by-step challenge where they created a DIY ‘marble run’ out of paper tubes and tape. 

My DECE partner and I were blown away by her kindness, patience and commitment to the success of her classmates during this process. 

We have been trying to keep an open invite for all students in our class to have the opportunity to be the “teacher” or the expert on a topic of their choice. Through online learning, fewer natural moments of teaching happen from student to student like they would in a physical classroom. Hands on collaboration between students virtually can be tricky, as they lack the opportunity to share space and materials. We decided it would be more equitable to schedule these student-led activities ahead of time, in order to allow all students time to prepare the proper materials. As I move to in person learning in the fall, it is my goal to continue this practice as a means of supporting students belonging and contributing in respect to the Kindergarten program. It is my hope to further explore the benefits of fostering students confidence as teachers in the classroom as I continue to learn from my competent and capable young learners. Here are my initial thoughts:

The classroom community

  • Inviting students as teachers creates a culture of learning, respect and curiosity
  • Students teaching their peers builds community and invites students to be vulnerable and make mistakes

Through the lens of a child

  • When our students stepped into the role of educators, it provided my DECE partner and I a unique opportunity: to see the world through their eyes. Through their ideas, descriptions and step-by-step processes we were able to develop a deep understanding of the way they view the world, the way they solve problems and the way they persevere through challenges. 
  • Many children enrolled in Kindergarten programs are immersed in their first experiences of formal schooling. For some of my students, my DECE partner and I are their very first examples of educators. The way that children go about giving instructions, gaining the attention of others and providing words of encouragement can be reflective of what they see. It can be very powerful to listen to a student recite an encouraging phrase verbatim, such as “You are a problem solver!”.

Benefits for students

  • Teaching their peers provides students with the space to take risks while gaining confidence in their own ideas and abilities 
  • For the students involved in this practice as the learner, it allows them to explore new ideas or approach learned concepts from a different perspective than my own or that of my DECE partner. 

Inviting students to perform a new role as a teacher is inclusionary, culturally responsive, relevant and meaningful – which is the basis of everything I hope to cultivate in Kindergarten. 

The Kindergarten/Grade 1 Dichotomy

“Control + F” on my keyboard allows me to search the word “play” with The Kindergarten Program (2016) document. This magic word comes up 566 times. 

Five HUNDRED and sixty-six times. 

Play is referenced over and over again throughout the document as a vehicle for learning. Examples of play and the power it holds are woven through the Kindergarten document with references to past and present research from literature around the world that supports play. Play is highlighted as being the highest form of learning for young children and the best way for students to take ownership and responsibility over their own ideas. 

The Grade 1 curriculum gives no such importance to play. These two programs lie at completely polar opposite ends of the spectrum in regard to the varying discourse used surrounding the view of the child.

If you have followed my posts, you know I have a passion for Kindergarten (Celebrating Kindergarten;  Everything I need to know, I learn in Kindergarten) and that I am an advocate for keeping the current model of Kindergarten in Ontario intact (Protect Full-Day Kindergarten). So, what’s the problem?

Bridging the gap

Naturally, those who teach Grade 1 work tirelessly to ensure students continue to have a positive and hands on experience that results in growth and learning. However, the transition between Kindergarten to Grade 1 shouldn’t have to be such a gigantic leap for students, families and educators alike.

The value of wonder

Though we are beginning to see the introduction of social and emotional learning (e.g. the new math curriculum), the Grade 1 curriculum can feel rigid in the sense that students wonder, interests and inquiries are not prioritized within the documents. Educators create this space of wonder for students within their classrooms, but wonder itself is not reflected within the curriculum documents, assessments, or the evaluation of students overall learning (e.g. the report card).

I dream of a world where the Kindergarten and Grade 1 curricula compliment each other rather than repel each other.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if….

  • Play and the benefits of play-based learning were prioritized beyond Kindergarten?
  • Report cards beyond Kindergarten were designed to allow educators space to reflect on the whole child and their development as learners within a classroom community?

The Power of “Thank You”

“Thank you”

2 simple words that mean so much. Especially when they are followed by a reason for giving thanks. 

As an educator of young children, I don’t teach for the “thank you”. I teach for the students, their progress, their laughs, their smiles, and that feeling of sharing a joy for learning. 

However, when I do get those genuine, ‘from the bottom of my heart’ “thank you” ’s, they often bring me to tears. Thank you can feel so reassuring, so comforting and can be a springboard that launches deep and powerful connections. 

An amazing colleague of mine, who is many years into their career, suggested I keep a journal of these kind words of thanks from parents and families. Initially, I thought this seemed silly. Why would I keep these notes and emails? What purpose would this serve me? But, I tried it anyways. Why not? If I didn’t find this practice helpful I could stop at any point and not tell a single soul I had ever done it. 

Fast forward to the present moment, where various letters, cards and printed emails from families live in the binder I stash at the back of my filing cabinet. I spread the word of this practice, as not a way to brag or boast but to share with you the feelings it has brought me.  

First of all, it brings me joy. What better reason to do anything? Why not document these joyful moments in celebration of student success.

Secondly, I find comfort revisiting these “thank you” ‘s when I feel tired, overwhelmed or broken down. It is easy for me to fixate on a lesson that didn’t go well, or the things that I could be doing differently; therefore doing them better. Flipping through this binder of positive thoughts allows me to reframe my mindset and reflect critically on my practice while being kind to myself.

Lastly, the powerful feelings that these “thank you” ‘s bring me are inspiring. I want to pass this feeling on to my colleagues, my students and their families who show up and work hard every day. I am mindful each day to share my genuine “thank you” ‘s out loud.

What is the most powerful “thank you” that you’ve ever received?

What is the most powerful “thank you” that you’ve ever given?

S.T.E.L.M.

STELM: Science, Technology, Engineering (Literacy?!) and Math 

STEM activities are unmatched in our virtual Kindergarten class this year. STEM challenges are the perfect storm for beginning conversations, exploring inquiries, answering questions and challenging new ideas. In addition to the academic learning happening through these challenges, students also have opportunities to practice patience, persistence, problem-solving strategies and critical thinking skills while engaging meaningfully within their classroom community. 

Recently, I have been on my own exploration. I have been investigating how to purposefully incorporate literacy connections into STEM activities. Here are some of our literacy inspired “STELM” challenges students have worked through: 

10 on the Sled – by: Kim Norman, illustrated by: Liza Woodruff

STELM Challenge: Create a sled that can hold ten animals.

Our students were so excited for this challenge. They used materials that they could find around their homes to build a sled and found objects of their choice to represent the ten animals. Students engaged in conversations about the number 10 and how they could group the seats for all the passengers to fit on the sled. In the picture above, the student wrote themselves into the story and shared they would also like to ride on the sled. They shared that now there would be 11 seats because “10+1=11”.

Not a Box – by: Antoinette Portis

STELM Challenge: What can you make your box into?

This one feels like a classic. So simple, but so open-ended and thought provoking. The experience of creating something from “nothing” seems to come so naturally to Kindergarten students. No matter how many groups of students I do this activity with, I am always learning from them. I feel like this challenge gives me a window into student’s imaginations and undoubtedly strengthen’s my view of them as competent and capable learners full of wonder.

The Most Magnificent Thing – by: Ashley Spires

STELM Challenge: What is the most magnificent thing you can make?

Similarly to the challenge of creating something from a box, students thoughts and ideas were not limited to using a box. We did however, challenge them to use recycled materials found at home. Before beginning the process, we listened to the story ‘The Most Magnificent Thing’ by Ashley Spires and asked students to draw a plan before beginning construction. Students entered this activity at their own level. Their plans consisted of pictures, words and symbols to represent their ideas. Not all of their plans matched their finished products – but this was part of the process. The changes and challenges students faced while building their magnificent ‘things’ were a springboard for conversations about different ways to solve problems. One of my favourite moments of learning that happened during this task occurred after I shared my own frustration with my tape that “just would not come off the roll in one piece”. “That’s ok Ms. Turnbull” one of our students shared, “That happened to me once too”, “me too!” other students exclaimed, as we talked about different ways to solve this problem effectively.

The Very Cranky Bear – by: Nick Bland

STELM Challenge: Design a bed for the cranky bear to get some rest in.

We have all experienced the feeling of being tired, cranky, upset or frustrated. So many wonderful conversations of empathy and understanding came from this challenge. Students amazed us with their kind words towards this cranky bear as they constructed cozy beds. They were excited to test out their beds made from LEGO, Play-Doh, blocks and more by using their stuffed animals or dolls. They began acting out the story, snoring and roaring like the bear.

The Mitten – by: Jan Brett

STELM Challenge: How many ‘animals’ can you fit inside a mitten or sock?

The story ‘The Mitten’ by Jan Brett has endless possibilities in regard to follow up activities. For our group of Kindergarten students, we challenged them to think about capacity after listening to this story. We asked them to find something to use as ‘animals’ (with some of the top choices being LEGO or toy animals), and a sock or mitten to put them in. Students explored concepts of counting, spatial sense, and sequencing while they created their own versions of the story.

I am excited to continue thinking about ways to provide my students with meaningful and literacy rich learning opportunities while they engage in hands on experiences that challenge their thinking.

In what ways are literacy experiences imbedded into your STEM activities?

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.

Process Over Product

Have you ever used cars to make works of art?

No matter how old you are – it’s awesome.

In our Virtual Kindergarten class this year, my DECE partner and I have been trying to incorporate as many creative, open-ended and hands on experiences as possible.

One of our favourite ways to offer these experiences is through process art. 

Process art, by definition, emphasizes and appreciates the process of creating art or manipulating art materials rather than placing value on the final or finished product.

Process art invites students to get messy, get creative and make mistakes. The experience of engaging with materials like paint, is sensory and exploratory. There is so much learning taking place while students are creating an understanding of cause and effect relationships, engaging multiple senses and applying their problem solving and critical thinking skills.

Process art provides students with the opportunity to be successful. There are no examples, there are no rigid expectations of the final product and there are no limits. The learning that begins with process art activities has the potential to grow and blossom into the experimentation of other theories, ideas and challenges. Process art is personalized, developmentally appropriate and inclusive. It’s a provocation that students can enter at their unique stage of development and can be transformed to meet individual needs. In regard to The Kindergarten Program (2016), process art aligns with a wholistic pedagogy in the Early Years. As students explore concepts of math, test theories of science, respond to literacy experiences, practice patience, persevere and gain confidence in their own abilities – they are playing, collaborating and falling in love with learning.

Upside down drawing? Absolutely!

The invaluable learning that occurs when students feel free to express themselves has inspired us to integrate the “process over product” approach into experiences outside of the arts. 

Our most recent attempt was the exploration of composing and decomposing numbers through a game of cup bowling. Students brought 6 cups to their screen and placed them upside down in a triangle formation. Then, they rolled a ball to bowl for their cups. We had many conversations of how much/how many, using words like less and more to describe our game play. Some of the students even discovered that the cups were 3D shapes, and put a ball on top of their cup to create “ice cream cones”. We continue to look for ways to imbed this process focused and play-based learning into our daily routine.

Do you invite older students to explore “process over product” activities?

In what ways does emphasizing “process over product” influence your students and their learning and understanding?

Please note: ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students.

ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.