Birds of a Feather….

….FLOCK Together!!

In preparation for the Spring Equinox, which is usually held in the Rainbow Garden, I started to think creatively about how we could gather as a whole school community and respect COVID health and safety protocols. I wanted to incorporate dance, and then I remembered about flocking.

WTF?
Flocking is a type of movement improvisation, where the whole group mirrors each other’s movement. Students can be organized in a straight line or in the shape of a diamond. In flocking, there is one student who leads a movement, which is followed by the other students.

Different students can become the leader, just like birds do when they are flying together, by changing their position. In a diamond formation, the student at the top of the diamond is the leader. When everyone rotates a quarter turn, there is a new leader at the top of the diamond. Flocking can be inspired by music that is played, but I wanted to integrate text and embody the Land Acknowledgment.

Thanksgiving Address:
We are learning that many Indigenous and First Nations communities offer greetings and gratitude at the beginning of every gathering. The Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which includes the nations of Cayuga, Onondaga, Tuscarora, Seneca, Mohawk and Oneida, share The Thanksgiving Address. Here is a video that describes the importance of this text.

In the Thanksgiving Address, all parts of creation are recognized with honour and respect. Here is a link to the text we used. We have been deepening our understanding of this important protocol by speaking and listening to the words, drawing, writing and reflecting. This was our first time exploring the text through choral movement and mindfulness. It was very powerful.

Bear Song:
As educators, it is important to build relationships with First Nations and Indigenous families, which includes consultation and collaboration, and invitations to share knowledge with the community. At our school, we are fortunate to have several parents who have shared songs, drumming and dancing at different events. After gathering in the field, Archer and Ansley sang the Anishinaabe Bear Song to welcome Spring. Here is the song performed by Turning Point Women’s drum group from Skownan, Manitoba.

Medicine Wheel Teachings:
In the article, “Teaching by the Medicine Wheel: An Anishinaabe framework for Indigenous education,” Dr. Nicole Bell (2014) describes how schools might integrate Indigenous knowledge, and create a process of education that is respectful and culturally relevant for Indigenous families. Bell explains that while there are some variations of teachings and representations of the Medicine Wheel, there are common threads of understanding, including the importance of appreciating and respecting the interconnectedness and interrelationships of all things.

I wanted to incorporate Medicine Wheel teachings into our Spring Equinox gathering. The Medicine Wheel is a circle that is divided into four parts, which represent the four directions (East, South, West, North) using four different colours. Each of the directions include teachings that are interdependent, including the four seasons, stages of life, times of day, medicines, life givers, and learning process.

We organized the students into four sections, from youngest to oldest, starting in the East. Everyone was standing in the field, facing the same direction. As the Junior students read the Thanksgiving Address, everyone followed the movements of the Junior leader at the top of the diamond. The refrain, “And Now Our Minds Are One”, was repeated in chorus, and was the signal for everyone to rotate a quarter turn to the right together. Then, we started to follow the movements of a new leader. The rotations and the movements continued until the Thanksgiving Address was finished.

It was flocking amazing to welcome the new season with movement, gratitude and respect. Happy Spring!!





A Tree-Mendous Learning Opportunity

 

Outdoor learning is becoming an increasingly important and celebrated element of the Kindergarten program. As more and more teachers are beginning to embrace true inquiry and play-based learning, time spent outdoors is becoming a focal point of the Kindergarten day rather than a “break from the learning”. Outdoor time IS the learning.

My Kindergarten class spends upwards of two and a half hours outside each day. We begin and end the day outside, which helps us arrive at school smoothly, eliminate transitions (especially with those pesky winter clothes) and get valuable physical activity before entering the classroom. Unless there’s a cyclone, we’re out there.

The school I teach at is very lucky to have an amazing outdoor learning space. Designed by a natural playground company, our outdoor space is filled with sand boxes, stumps, giant logs for climbing and trees. It is an outdoor learning lover’s dream! Not one primary coloured, plastic thing in sight. I really love the pedagogy behind forest schools or completely outdoor schools, and while we aren’t quite set up for that here (or ready for that amount of norm-challenging!), I think our outdoor space comes pretty close.

 

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My students are always engaged when we are outside. Whether it’s finding interesting pieces of nature, building forts, dramatic play or digging in the sand – all of my students are learning.

We love to introduce new and interesting nature activities. In the fall, we began to hone our skills at wood whittling. This can be done safely with proper adult supervision, some potato peelers and freshly picked sticks off a bush or tree. My students always feel so empowered when we allow them to engage in “risky” play!

After the holidays, we asked our families to donate their discarded Christmas trees to our playground. We were so impressed at the response when we returned to find about 30 pine trees laying in our yard! This began the most engaging experience we’ve had outside yet.

 

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Other than a quick chat about making choices that are safe and kind, we didn’t assign any rules to these new materials we had to explore. The children quickly put them to use by moving them around the space, rearranging them into walls, forts and mountains. They climbed on, under and between them. The dramatic play that happened was so rich. Children demonstrated perseverance and grit when they couldn’t lift a tree or got stuck. There was a huge amount of problem solving, communication and collaboration as the students negotiated how to safely move the trees and build different structures.

After a few days of exploring the trees, we interrupted the play by suggesting that we all work together as a class to build a fort. This is when we brought out the hand saws! Saws?! Many people panic at the thought of Kindergarteners using saws. In our program, we are working to empower and build confidence in our students. We want them to have applicable, real world skills. What better time and place to learn how to do “risky” things, than when you have several careful adults supervising and guiding you? So, in our class… we saw!

 

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Students had the opportunity to saw branches off the trees under 1:1 supervision. Once we have enough loose branches, we plan to use sticks and twine to build a large fort in the corner of our playground. We will learn about how to make the structure walls and roof, and our students will take the lead in all of the design and construction process. Talk about a hands-on, authentic project!

 

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We are all at different comfort levels with outdoor learning and exploration. I hope this post might inspire you to rethink and challenge your outdoor play norms to turn it into something valuable and authentic for your students! After all, being outside is our Kindergartener’s natural habitat!

 

 

 

Mud Lake in June

Now that the weather is nice, and the water has receded from the spring flood, we have been able to take groups of 5 kindergarten students to the forest behind our school every day for about an hour. It’s a wonderful way to start the day, especially when the temperature is hovering around 24 degrees Celsius.

I told the Dragonfly group it was their turn today. They checked that they had proper footwear (usually rubber boots, but if it’s dry, we make sure they have running shoes rather than sandals at this time of year, because there is poison ivy along the trails). After a quick visit to the bathroom, they were ready to leave. As we left the school yard, I let them run across the field behind the school and wait for me up ahead at the soccer goal posts. That way, they got some energy used up so that they wouldn’t feel like bolting along the trails in the forest.

Before we entered the gate to the forest from the bike path, I got them to prepare themselves as Nature Detectives, making sure their eyes, ears and noses were switched on. (I like the way a colleague of mine tells her students to use their ‘Rabbit Ears” and “Deer Eyes” when they are outdoors observing). Touching and tasting are not permitted in the forest, which is a nationally protected bird sanctuary, although not picking up sticks is really hard for some students. Generally, if it doesn’t change the landscape, a twig or leaf occasionally may get moved from one place to the other by some students but they know to leave empty handed, because we are “observers not disturbers” in the forest.

Due to the prevalence of the poison ivy, plant identification is really important so that the students are aware but not afraid to venture into the forest. “Leaves of three – let them be” is the helpful rhyme which many have used to stay clear of the nasty effects this noxious weed can produce (not a sting, more like a blistering burn which can last days and be serious enough to require hospitalization for those who are particularly sensitive to the toxic oil). Once informed however, students can make better choices about how they access a forested or natural environment, rather than simply avoiding it. So lately, my groups have been learning about different 3-leaved plants which are commonly found along trails – poison ivy, wild strawberry and purple clover. This is what our kindergarten students noticed;

Poison Ivy

Toxicodendron radicans

poison ivy

Wild Strawberry

Fragaria vesca

 wild strawberry

Purple Clover

(also called Red Clover)

Trifolium pratense

purple clover

Leaves

  • 3 leaves
  • shiny
  • pointy
  • 3 leaves
  • ‘teeth’ around each leaf
  • pointy
  • 3 leaves
  • white smudge in middle of leaf
  • rounded, not pointy

Height

  • low to the ground at the side of a trail
  • NOT a bush or a tree
  • same
  • same
 

Flowers

 

  • Bunches of tiny white flowers (too many to count)

How to Identify Poison Ivy

  • A few white flowers (you can count them, i.e., not too many on a plant blooming at the same time)
  • Single purple flower “like a ball” rising above the plant

 

Can you touch it?

NO!

YES

YES

Role

  • Food for birds and animals but NOT people
  • Food for people, birds and animals
  • Can eat the fruit
  • Food for people and animals
  • Can make tea with the leaves and flowers

As we walked along, someone would point to a plant and ask, “Is this poison ivy?”, and other students would reply, “No. It’s too tall,” “There are too many leaves,” or, “Yep. The leaves are shiny.” Now, apart from helping them to respect the ‘do not touch’ rule, students have started to look for different characteristics on plants, understanding that the forest is more than just a mess of green, and that each plant has a name and a special role to play.

 

Imparting a Love for the Creepy Crawlies

I remember when I was about 7 years old, I worked really hard to capture a huge toad in our backyard. I found a clean pickle jar in the garage then carefully scooped him up and carried him inside to the kitchen to show my mother. It was a classic, “Can I keep him?” moment, but my mom convinced me to let him go because his family would miss him. That made sense to me, and so, back he went.

I learned years later that my mother, who had kept a calm, kind voice throughout our brief discussion, was not at all a fan of reptiles and that she had had a case of the heebie jeebies after I left the kitchen. I had no idea because she never showed it and I imagine that that is one reason why I never had a problem with creepy crawly creatures.

Fast forward to today, and I am mindful of the way I treat and discuss bugs – not just the pretty ones like butterflies and ladybugs, but also the hairy, slimy and alien looking ones –  with my kindergarten students. Many of the students live in apartment buildings and do not often get a chance to dig in the dirt, climb trees or splash in puddles. A few families may have home gardens and compost bins, but the majority don’t have the luxury. So when it comes to getting down with the small creatures that crawl or slither, we are thrilled to see that a few students who used to shriek and recoil at the sight of a spider or worm are now hanging around when someone finds a bug, curious to see what the creature is and what it does. For example, today, a jk student found a curled up centipede. She showed it to everyone and carried it around for most of our Outdoor Learning in the morning. She was so excited when the centipede got used to her hand, then uncoiled itself and started crawling in her palm. She asked for a bucket and carried it around for much of the day, understanding that she would have to put it back where she found it so that he could survive.

April offers many opportunities to teach respect and care for bugs. We have begun to notice tiny ants on the floor in the classroom at this time of year. At first, many were repulsed by the ants crawling around near the doorway to the outside, but the other day, while waiting in line to go out, we noticed that a group at the end of the line had all picked up tiny ants to let them crawl on their hands and arms. Playtime will occasionally come to a halt if someone notices a small bug crawling on the floor. Immediately, space around the bug is cleared of people and toys until a solution is found to save it from being accidentally stepped on. Often, I will grab something handy to scoop up the bug and put it outside (our windows do not have screens). Since the students have seen us do that with spiders, beetles and ants in the classroom, they are now doing it themselves. It was wonderful to see a little girl carefully use the book she was reading to rescue a spider and help him escape outside.

While it is not necessary to have a love of creeping creatures in order to impart a respect for them, it definitely helps. Students will want to show you what they’ve caught, and it is hard to share in their excitement if the thing they crawling in their hand turns your spine to jello. Not all bugs are adorable or beautiful, and some can be genuinely hard to love – especially if there is a serious “Eeeewwww” factor or they sting or bite, but teaching respect for all insects is considered essential for encouraging young children to become guardians of nature. Moreover, it is a small step, albeit an extremely important one, towards having compassion for all living things. The following articles support this perspective and have some at-a-glance information about some common bugs you may find in your school yard;

Teach Your Kids to Love (and respect) Bugs!

Teach them to love the insects

In the yard last week, a student found an enormous dew worm after a big rain – the worm was as long as a garter snake and almost as thick – not as cute as the wee red wrigglers we have in our vermicompost because the student needed both hands to hold all of it – but fascinating, nonetheless. The worm/snake was gently carried and cared for, and although there was a request that we put him in our classroom worm compost bin, the big guy was finally, but reluctantly, left outside, “Because his family would miss him.”

Here we go with the snow

Monday morning, we went to school in the first blizzard of the year. It was bitterly cold, and the wind howled around, blowing the 20 centimetres of snow into small drifts. Was there ever a question that our outdoor learning block at the beginning of the day would be cancelled? I am not comfortable just automatically calling for an indoor morning during inclement weather, and usually tend to have a Big Think if I do. So, making sure that all my students had the requisite cold weather clothing, we set out in the morning as usual.

In a previous post, I mentioned how baking hot the kindergarten playground is during the warm and sunny months, but I had no idea how miserable it could be in the cold. With the cold weather, it turns into a wind tunnel, creating a crusty surface of snow and ice. WIth the climbing structure now closed, there is little to do when the conditions are so unfavourable. The only shelter is a small plastic playhouse in a corner, and the rest of the area is open to the elements as the wind whips up the hill from the river and blasts the yard. If a student drops a mitten, it creates mayhem as they run squealing after it before it gets pinned by the wind to the chain link fence at the other side of the yard. Hilarious.

So, I admit that while I was hollering the students’ names into the wind in order to be heard while I took attendance, I began to have second thoughts about the idea of staying outside for the morning block. I am glad to say that we decided to stay outdoors, but not in the kindergarten yard which was so inhospitable. We decided, instead, to go on a walk in the snow around the school where we could at least get out of the wind and allow the students to have some fresh air and fun. Having taught in an Inuit community at the top of Hudson’s Bay, I remember recess time on the tundra where it was often cold and blustery and staying indoors was not an option. You dress for it, and without making a point of whatever opinion you may have of winter, you get out into it and enjoy yourself.

As we trudged through the drifts, I was so impressed with the children’s resilience in spite of the cold. There are some students who have never been through an Ottawa winter and who have to borrow warm clothing each day for our outdoor block, and yet, there they were, laughing as they would try to walk in the deep snow and fall into their friends, or as they made snow angels for the first time. We climbed the mountains of snow the plow had pushed to one end of the junior yard, then rolled down the hill at the back of the school into a field of fresh drifts.

It took us over half an hour to navigate the complete school yard and make it back to the fenced-in kindergarten yard. The wind was still howling and a couple of mittens had fallen off during the climbing adventures, so, looking at the rosy cheeks and running noses, my ECE partner and I started a slow filter indoors for any students who were ready for a change of environment. While most children filed into the classroom, a handful wanted to stay outside and asked me for the toboggans. Since we were all well-dressed and well-prepared to continue staying outdoors for a little while longer, the tobogganing was a bonus activity that saw the students continue to independently explore a host of different ways to slide down the hill. Reflecting on what the students were learning, I easily made anecdotal notes for all for the Four Frames, excepting LIteracy and Mathematics Behaviours. What’s more, the students looked out for one another before heading down the hill, patiently took turns, and helped each other up the hill if they struggled with their sled. They were a very happy crew, and when we made our way back to the classroom, although many of them would have preferred to stay outside a while longer, everyone brought their sled back to the shed and stacked it properly without a complaint.

When we got inside and they were peeling off crusty mittens and snowy boots, you could hear sighs of, “That was so much fun!” from the cubby room. It’s only the first snowfall, but I am really happy that it was a positive experience for all the students. I will remember that the next time we get walloped by winter weather.