Water is Life

I have been learning with, from, and about water for several years. In another blog, I shared examples of what decolonial water pedagogy might look like in a Grade 2 classroom.  Whenever possible, it is critically important to invite Indigenous artists, activists, and Earth workers to share their knowledge with students in their own voices.

Water is Life:

This fall, the Grade 2-6 students participated in a workshop with Joce Two-Crows Tremblay and Faye Mullen called “Water is Life”.  They describe the workshop as: “Wondering on water as an ancestral highway, as home, as Medicine and more, through story, song and ceremony.”  

It was a beautiful morning. We gathered in a circle and welcomed our special guests with the song, “Funga Alafia”. Archer Pechawis, a Grove parent, joined us and shared songs and drumming. We offered tobacco and gratitude for their teachings. 

Water as Home:

Joce taught us about the strong connections between language and land. We learned about the Indigenous roots of many words spoken in English. After the workshop, I asked the Grade 2 students to document their new learning on inquiry cards with the prompt, “Now I know….”.

…that Toronto is pronounced many different ways. SOL
…that Lake Ontario in the Indigenous language is “Lake Handsome Lake.” DEMA

Water as Relative:

After a discussion about the importance of water and who we consider to be our relatives, we learned about the relationship between salmon, people, and water. When young children see themselves in relationships with land that are rooted in reciprocity and respect, they might care for all humans and more-than-humans as family.

Water as Ancestral Highway:

In preparation for the workshop, everyone had made salmon puppets, and we re-created water using tarps and blue material. As Joce and Faye paddled up the river, singing an Anishinaabe Water song, our salmon puppets swam upstream to spawn.


…a song about water. GWEN
…that people sing river songs to catch up to salmon. CLEM

At the end of our journey, we learned more about how Anishinaabeg used land as tools and technology in innovative ways.


...how to catch salmon, and when to.  DESMOND

…people put Willows down to trap big salmon.  SVEA

Water as Medicine:

We ended our workshop with a Water Ceremony. We sat in a circle and water was poured into our cup. As we held water in our hands, Joce and Faye invited us to think about how living things can feel and absorb our energy, and that is why we must be aware and intentional about our relationship to land. We were encouraged to send greetings of love and hope and gratitude to the water. After sitting quietly and reflecting, we drank from our cup and wondered if the taste of the water was affected by our ceremony.

…water can hold lots of energy. LOTE
…water gives life to everything. ELLIOT

It was a powerful morning.  We learned many important lessons about land and language, connection and community, technology and teachings.  Everyone enjoyed learning outside with and from the land, through storytelling, movement and music.  Thank you to Joce, Faye and Archer for sharing your knowledge with us.

Eco-Justice: Learning with Water

I was invited to co-host a webinar about Ecojustice Education, hosted by the Toronto District School Board’s EcoSchools team, in collaboration with OISE’s Environmental and Sustainability Education Initiative. 

My inspiring co-host was Farah Wadia. Farah is a Grade 7/8 teacher in Toronto, and she has written about her work raising issues of environmental justice through the study of water with local and global connections in VOICE magazine. You can watch our webinar here.

As an anti-colonial educator, I am actively learning how to centre Indigenous perspectives, knowledge, worldviews, and stories of resistance throughout my curriculum. This integrated water inquiry is one example of what eco-justice pedagogy might look like in Grade 2.

Land as Pedagogy: Welcoming Circle
As I deepen my understanding about how to support Indigenous sovereignty, and actively disrupt settler colonialism, I am coming to know that some of the most powerful work I can do is to build relationships, make connections, and acknowledge land with respect.

Every morning, we begin our day outside. We take a few deep breaths together and pay attention to the land (which includes plants, wind, animals, water, soil, etc.) around us. We notice the clouds, the mist, the frozen puddles, and share our observations with each other. We honour the original caretakers of land, practice gratitude, and promise to care for the land as part of our responsibility as treaty people.

My approach to land education is to honour, celebrate and strengthen the relationships that children have with their natural environment, which includes the urban setting. Inquiry-based learning that is grounded in love and wonder can support children to be curious and critical thinkers. If children feel a strong connection to the land, they might also feel responsible for taking care of the land, and each other.

Building Relationships: Sharing our Water Stories
Our water justice inquiry began with an idea that I learned about in the first edition of Natural Curiosity. In September, students shared samples of water that they had collected from different water sources they encountered during the summer. Every day, one student shared what they love about water, and told stories about the water they had collected. We wrote about every experience. This act of storytelling helped to connect us as a community, and created a shared intention for learning with and from water.

A Community of Co-Learners:
Students shared their knowledge and what they love about water in different ways. During MSI (Math-Science Investigations), I asked everyone to build and create structures that connect to water. We used inquiry cards to document what students already knew and the questions they wanted to explore together. These questions provided diagnostic assessment, and will guide our inquiry throughout the year.

Taking Action:
It is critical that young children learn stories of resistance, and see themselves as agents of change. We are reading many picture books to support and guide our inquiry. “The Water Walker” by Joanne Robertson and “Nibi’s Water Song” by Sunshine Tenasco, are two excellent stories written by Indigenous authors. Reading these stories inspired more questions:

Why does Water need to be protected?
Do all people have access to clean water? Why or why not?
How can I take action to protect water?

Students used a Venn Diagram to make text-to-self connections and compare themselves to Anishinaabe Water Protector, Josephine Mandamin. 


Write for Rights:
As students learn to recognize inequity and confront injustice in their lives, they need multiple strategies and tools that they can use to take action and feel empowered as activists and allies.

Every year, Amnesty International organizes a letter writing campaign on December 10, called “Write for Rights”. In 2020, I learned that Amnesty International was highlighting the First Nations community of Grassy Narrows. I decided that the students would learn about the issues and write letters of solidarity. Everyone was very surprised when Premier Doug Ford wrote us back! 

Learning Through the Arts: Water Poems
We are learning that Water Protectors will often sing to the water. This call to action has inspired us to write our own songs of gratitude for water in our local community. In preparation, the Grade 2 students wrote a variety of poems, and we explored the sounds and shapes that water makes through soundscapes and movement. Students expressed their appreciation and love for water in creative ways.

Water Songs:
As we compose our water songs, we will continue to listen to the songs of Water Protectors for inspiration and guidance. Some of the songs that we have been learning are: “The Water Song” by Irene Wawatie Jerome, “Home To Me” N’we Jinan Artist from Grassy Narrows First Nation and “We Stand” by One Tribe (Kelli Love, Jordan Walker, and MC Preach). It is my hope that we will sing our songs to the water, with gratitude and joy.

“The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind….”

This term, I had the honour of working with a Master of Arts student in Child Studies and Education, in his first teaching placement. Working in collaboration as a co-learner and co-teacher is a humbling experience. It is always a lot of work, but I appreciate the opportunity to reflect on my own practice, and remember what it feels like to be a new educator.

Ishai Buchbinder and I had a lot of fun creating an integrated unit about Wind for the Grade 2 students. This inquiry connects to “Air and Water in the Environment” as students “investigate, through experimentation, the characteristics of air and its uses.” (The Ontario curriculum, Grades 1-8. Toronto: Ontario, Ministry of Education, 2005.) This blog post is a documentation of our learning together.

Where Do I Begin?
Ishai asked me to describe the planning process for developing a series of lesson plans and activities that culminate in a summative assessment task. This year, I am trying to integrate Indigenous perspectives through land education and environmental inquiry. I am also trying to center stories of Black excellence and innovation throughout my pedagogy.

First, I look at the expectations in the Ontario curriculum, think about the “big ideas”, and generate a few guiding questions to support our inquiry. Then, I brainstorm several activities that might help us to explore and investigate our learning goals. Next, I gather resources, including: picture books, songs, videos, real-world examples of innovation and creativity. Then, I think about a summative task that would allow students to have choice and demonstrate their understanding in different ways. Finally, I sequence the learning activities in a way that builds on prior knowledge and connects to new learning, while also being responsive and open to following the interests, needs and questions of the students.

Who Has Seen The Wind?
We started our inquiry with an active game called “When The Big Wind Blows…” and a poem by Christina Rosetti called, “Who Has Seen the Wind?” This poem has been re-imagined as a song, which I learned from an Orff Music workshop. There is a simple ostinato that is layered underneath, and patsched on the lap: “Wind, Wind, Passing By.” We chanted and sang this song outside during our Welcoming Circle, and acknowledged the wind with gratitude.

Knowledge Building:
Ishai shared a riddle with the students: “What takes up the most space but is something that you cannot see?” After solving the riddle, the students shared what they already know about air and wind. Then, we asked the students to generate questions about what they wanted to know, using “I wonder…” inquiry cards.  These activities help to honour student voice and position all of us as co-learners,

During MSI (Math-Science Investigations), I ask students to design and build a structure that is moved by the wind. Desmond made a dragon. Ezra made an airplane. Florence made a forest. Elliot made a structure that is powered by the wind. All of these activities provided diagnostic assessment and helped to guide the next steps in our inquiry journey.

The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind
We learned about the true story of William Kamkwamba, who used innovation and creativity to build a windmill out of recycled materials for his community in Wimbe, central Malawi. You can listen to “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” read aloud. You can find William telling his own story by searching his name. His brilliance has also inspired a movie. After reading the book, we made our own paper pinwheels and took them outside. Everyone loved running with the wind and making the blades spin! 

Paper Airplanes!
Ishai told us about the “Super Secret Mysteries of Flight”. We learned about thrust, lift, drag, and gravity, and their relationship to air. Then, he showed us how to make a ten-fold paper airplane. Here are the step-by-step instructions. It was challenging to listen and follow each instruction carefully. After folding our paper airplanes, we tested their flight in the school yard. We experimented by changing the thrust, and adapting the wings to make it fly straight and long. This was another active and fun activity!

Mr. W
After watching this short video, we had an interesting discussion about the main character. I asked: What do we know about this character? How does this character feel at the beginning and the end of the video? What kind of things do we see the character do? Why would they do these things? Who is this character? Why was this video made? This discussion encouraged students to think critically about media texts as part of our learning about Media Literacy.

This video also inspired us to begin writing our own Wind Stories. We used a graphic organizer to organize our ideas using time-order words, (First, Next, Then, Finally). Some students wrote from the perspective of Wind, and others described the movement and impact of wind. We used a collaborative editing and revision process to share our stories and improve our writing.

Testing our Theories:
This year, we are fortunate to be working with Doug Anderson, who is the co-author of Natural Curiosity 2nd Edition: The Importance of Indigenous Perspectives in Environmental Inquiry. After learning with Doug in the Rainbow Garden, several students wanted to know more about the relationship between the sun and the wind. Svea asked, “I wonder how the sun makes the wind?” 

We talked about how we might find the answers to our questions. We could: read books, look on the internet, ask someone. After reading a book called “Air”, which explained some facts, Ishai asked how we might test what we learned from the book. The students had different ideas about how we could prove that warm air rises and cold air is heavy. We went outside to find out. The students worked in small groups and used movement to demonstrate how the sun makes the wind. It was a great opportunity to use our bodies to express our understanding.

Learning Through the Arts
As we explored the movement of wind, we read the book, “When I Get Older: The story behind ‘Wavin’ Flag’” by K’naan. We learned that the song was inspired by his grandfather’s poem. K’naan’s family journey story supported many thoughtful discussions about civil war and refugees, settlement and anti-Black racism, how schools might be more welcoming to new families, and the impact of poetry and music to create community.  We listened to the song many times and went outside with fabric “flags” to wave in the wind. We are hoping to choreograph a dance and embody the lyrics, “Love is the answer”.

We also learned about two artists who have created complex wind sculptures that are moved in the wind. We watched a few videos about the work of Theo Jansen and Anthony Howe. The students were mesmerized and inspired by the movement of these beautiful sculptures.

Another song that we learned was “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan. This is a song that we sing every year during Peace Week and on Remembrance Day. It is an opportunity to reflect on the “big ideas” of conflict and justice. In the past, we have written messages of hope and peace on leaves that are released from the third floor window.

This year, our Visual Arts teacher, Shannon Greene, made powerful connections to Treaty Recognition Week. After learning “A Treaty Poem” by Melissa MacLennon and students, Shannon encouraged the students to write promises of peace on paper leaves to keep in the classroom. Copy of Land Acknowledgement and Dish With One Spoon Resource

Squirrel Nests:
As the leaves continued to fall, the students began to notice piles of leaves in the branches. We learned that they were nests made by squirrels, and we started to think about how animals might protect themselves from the wind. We went on a walking excursion to a local park, and Ishai challenged the students to build their own squirrel nests with leaves, sticks and air.

After building with natural materials, we did a “Gallery Walk” and visited all of the squirrel nests. Students were asked to describe one thing that they were proud of and one thing that they might do to improve their nest next time. These “GLOW” and “GROW” comments allowed us to practice self-evaluation, and provided valuable formative assessment.

Finally, it was time to test our squirrel nests. Each student was given fluffy goldenrod seeds to represent the squirrel, which was placed inside the nest. We used straws to simulate the wind, and to test the strength of each structure. Everyone had an amazing experience learning outdoors together!

Wind Machines!
As our final summative task, the students were invited to plan, build and test a structure that can be moved by the wind. Before building, students were encouraged to think about what they had learned about wind and apply their knowledge to their structure. Everyone drew a plan and labelled the materials that they would need. We spent several days in the classroom building and revising our structures, based on descriptive feedback.

On the day that we tested our wind machines, each student had an opportunity to share their structure and make predictions about how it might move. After testing, Ishai conferenced with each student to document their thoughts and ideas about how successful their wind machine had been, and how they might improve their design next time. It requires more time to connect 1:1 with students, but conferencing provides strong summative assessment data, and supports every student to feel successful about their learning.

Journey through Inquiry
Working with a Teacher Candidate was refreshing and reminded me about the importance of play, storytelling and movement in our lesson planning. Throughout our inquiry about Wind, the students were very engaged, and they had multiple opportunities to explore and demonstrate their understanding.  As an experienced educator, I am still learning about how to integrate and make connections across the curriculum in creative ways.  I am also learning that when we trust our students and follow their natural curiosity, the journey through inquiry will be deep, meaningful and fun!

Community Immunity!

COVID-19 has turned everyone into a first-year teacher.  It doesn’t matter how many years of experience you might have, because this year is unlike any other that we have ever experienced.  All of us are re-imagining new ways to connect with students, whether you are learning together on-line or in-person.  It is a very humbling experience to be starting from scratch.

I have chosen to teach in-person because I crave community and collaboration.  The weeks leading up the first day of school were frustrating and stressful.  Everyone was scared and nervous as we struggled to create new routines and protocols.  As soon as the students arrived, I began to relax.  There is still so much that is unknown and unpredictable, but I know how to play and learn with children.

Here are some of my insights from the first few weeks of teaching Grade 2.

Sign Language:

Wearing masks makes it very difficult to communicate clearly.  We cannot read each other’s lips or facial expressions, and it is hard to hear each other.  For those of us who are teaching outside, our voices are struggling to project.  I grew up with a father who was deaf-blind.  As a child, I learned about barriers, disability justice, and how to communicate with my hands.

I worked with my students to develop simple signs that we can use to help us communicate.  We have symbols for: turning up the volume, sharing the same idea, making connections, asking to use the washroom or get a drink of water, and letting someone know we are smiling underneath.  I made a short video, which I shared with my families after the first day of school.  Send me an email if you would like me to share it with you.

I also bought myself a voice amplifier, which helps everyone to listen, and makes me feel like a rock star!

Drama and Play:

Drama is a powerful way to teach and create community.  I have been using role-playing and charades to practice and reinforce new routines, and problem-solve different scenarios.  I believe in the possibilities of play, and I am holding space for us to play together.  After months of isolation and loss, we all need to connect and have fun!

Every morning, after pre-screening and sharing our connection to land, we play a few cooperative games.  We have been learning each other’s names by clapping out syllables, using gestures or wordplay, such as “Very Velvet”.  We ask questions and “Step into the Circle”.  We change places with someone else “When the Big Wind Blows….” and we try to guess who is leading the action in “Follow the Leader”.

My teacher friend, Peyton Leung, shared this link of Socially Distant Outdoor Games for Kindergarten-Grade 8.  Check it out!  Also, here are some Drama Games that will work on-line and in-person.

Outdoor Learning:

All the educators at our school are trying to spend as much time outside as possible.  We know that learning outdoors is safer, and we are transforming our pedagogy by teaching and learning outdoors.  There are many challenges to overcome, including city traffic and construction noise, carrying the materials you need everywhere you go, the lack of shelter and easy access to washrooms, etc.  We are embracing the “big ideas” of change and adaptation and using our imagination to co-create new possibilities for education.

Kindergarten-Grade 6 students have been exploring measurement and mapping, as we connect with the different areas of our school yard.  Inside our “portable desks” are materials we can use for documenting our learning.  We are all learning how to keep our knapsacks organized and take responsibility for the extra masks and layers, hand sanitizer, “sit-upons” and school supplies.

This year, we will be deepening our understanding of land education and collaborating with Doug Anderson, who is one of the co-authors of Natural Curiosity 2nd edition: The Importance of Indigenous Perspectives in Children’s Environmental Inquiry.  We will explore a pedagogy of relationships, and honour land as first teacher.

There are extensive resources that connect Outdoor Learning to the Ontario Curriculum.  These Kindergarten-Grade 8 activities were created by the Peel District School Board Field Centre Instructors.  Please share other resources that are supporting you to do this work.

It’s Spring! Let’s Talk About the Environment!

  It’s spring! As a classroom teacher, who taught grade 4 for a number of years, it was always my favourite time to teach our unit on habitats and communities. As nature comes back to life after a long winter of hibernation, I’ve always found it to be the best time to be outdoors, observing changes that are happening and having the opportunity to wonder. For this post, I’m writing about the great opportunity that we have as educators to teach about the environment and climate change.

With Earth Hour upon us and Earth Day coming up, there’s so much already being said about our environment and the classroom is a great way to have students consider their role in being great stewards of the earth. In my quest to find resources to share – and there are numerous – I happened upon some great resources on the ETFO website.  I’ve taken some time to dig into 3 that I liked and would absolutely use in my classroom.

World Water Day 2019

Screenshot 2019-03-31 at 5.18.14 PMMarch 22nd, 2019 was World Water Day. The theme for this year was Leaving no one behind which speaks directly to the UN’s Sustainable Goal #6 – Water for all by 2030. The goal was for everyone to be thinking about tackling the water crisis and considering reasons why so many people – mainly marginalized groups – are being left behind.  There I found a link to a great fact sheet that I think would be a great tool to get the conversation going in many classrooms. Used as an informative texts, groups of students could engage in finding out some of the reasons why equitable access to water is something that we all need to be fighting for. With calls to action at the end of the fact sheet, I could see students engaging in activities to bring awareness and even thinking about potential solutions to problems in their local, national and global communities. With print resources and short videos, there are so many different ways in which we can help students understand the disparity that exists and create our own calls to action as we think about our impact.

Green 2 Go Project

Screenshot 2019-03-31 at 5.18.46 PMThis project reminds me of a great investigation that the students in Barbara Robson’s Class. A truly inspiring educator who worked with her students around issues of environmental concern, particularly in the area of recycling.

This project, The collaborative Green 2 Go Project, aims to assist Vancouver in its goal of reducing landfill-bound solid waste by working with city restaurants and the public in dialogue and support in reducing take-out container waste. With engaging infographics created to share powerful research, I can see great connections that can be made in both Math, Science and Language. While the information speaks to what’s happening in Vancouver, it might be nice for students to be able to use some of these ideas to see what’s happening right here in different communities in Ontario. The information on this site has changed some of my views on dining in locations where containers with black plastics are used, I wonder how this information, in the hands of our students, might bring about even more change.

Earth Hour Kit

Screenshot 2019-03-31 at 5.18.24 PMEarth Hour is an international event usually held on the last Saturday of March between 8:30-9:30pm. During this hour, citizens around the world turn off their lights in support of addressing climate change. Schools typically participate on the Friday prior to the official Earth Hour by turning off all non-essential electricity for one hour during the school day. Yesterday was Earth Hour and it’s always so much fun seeing great tweets about how people are working to do their part for the environment. It’s also fantastic to see big cities all around the world, turning off the lights on prominent buildings, showing that their citizens aren’t alone in the fight but that government also has a role to play.  

This Earth Hour Kit has great ideas for activities both in the classroom and school-wide. I like that there are a variety of grades represented in the lessons and it appears as though some have been written by or adapted from the work of educators. I also really like some of the ideas laid out in the letter to parents.

These are just 3 great resources available as you consider working with students around themes of environmental importance. What will you try?


photo by Sebastian Ganso CC0
photo by Sebastian Ganso CC0

It’s Spring. At least that’s what the calender and the weather are telling us. Dust has replaced the snow on the playground. Tell that to our playground grass fields still resisting the urge to grow too soon. Judging by the pale straw colour a field of green is still 6 weeks out. Somehow nature has equipped itself for a chilling frost or Spring blizzard that could be only a Colorado Low or Polar Vortex away.

Hopefully, March exits like a lamb and not like a lamb being chased by a lion. At this time of year, hope, like the temperature rises and with it the rain to wash away the remnants of Winter. Hope is the promise of Spring. Warm temps, more sunshine, daylight savings, chirping birds, sap running, and buds bursting on trees cannot be missed. There are great things waiting outside the doors of our classrooms. Teachers need to enjoy them. Our students need Spring and all of its promises even more.

To no one’s surprise since the Vernal Equinox, the classroom has become a livelier place each time the warm breezes blow. Students are absorbing the Vitamin D and converting it into boundless energy. It’s like an alarm goes off the moment the snow melts and the clocks move forward. March Break has come and gone and the realization that nearly 70 percent of the school year is in and out of the books. It’s as if that once the weight of snow suits and winter boots is shed, our students have been given permission to chirp, run, and burst with energy. It should not be missed.

With all of this vivacious vim and vigour I am planning ways to take advantage of outdoor learning, walkabouts, and a little more time in the fresh air. Along with this re-invigoration comes opportunity for distraction too. How we make use of our time outdoors can be a balancing act of classroom management amidst chaos. How we harness that natural energy with our students can lead to effective outdoor fun, positive mental health activities, and memorable learning opportunities.

What this looks like can depend on a number of factors: location, mobility, and volition. In my class we are taking advantage of the good weather by shifting some of our time outside. This is not limited to Physical Education either. Sure it’s fun to do, but there is also room for book talks, journal writing, guided reading/Math groups, and Science.

What I have enjoyed sharing with students on our walk and talkabouts are the changes going on all around us. It has been fun to ask them to comment on something they’ve noticed and to create a broader awareness of the habitats and spaces they occupy at school.

As we venture out, the eyes, ears, and lungs of learners are filled. It may appear that they’ve become distracted by it all, but it is not a distraction. It is more of an awakening of the senses instead and students are excited to discover it again for another year.

In my class, we are playing social games where everyone is involved. This includes our version of Manhunt; now known as Person hunt, SPUD, Chain Tag, Kickball, and Grounders. If possible I try to play in every game rather than watch because it engages students even more to see their teacher(as able) running, laughing, getting caught, and playing alongside.

You’ve read enough. Time to go outside and get distracted with your class. Happy Spring.

Please share how your class enjoys its outdoor time in the comments section below. Thank you for reading.

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.




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.




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!




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!





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!




The Changing Nature of the Outdoor Classroom

With the warmer weather, we have arranged it so that every day of the week, a group of 5 kindergarten students can trek with either a teacher or Early Childhood Educator to the Mud Lake bird conservation area across the field from our school. During the winter, when weather was less predictable, and often times uncooperative with temperatures plunging to -30 degrees celsius, or fields of sheer ice to navigate across with 4 and 5 year old students, we could not plan on going out every day. With the arrival of spring, however, everyone is happy to have the chance to move beyond the school building to do some outdoor learning.

For the first few visits, everything was wonderful with buds on trees, a small variety of plants coming up through the mulch and moss, and the Canada Geese filling the air and the waterways with their boisterous presence. Then it started to rain. The run-off and the rain soon created flood conditions that were catastrophic for some people along the Ottawa River. The flooding was so severe that the paths were impassable and our students and staff were prohibited from visiting the area because the water levels were so high. Birds that nest along the shoreline most definitely lost their clutches, and we are not sure how the female beaver, who a week before the flood could be observed proudly grooming herself on top of the fortified lodge, was managing now that the lodge was almost completely submerged.

The flooding offered to all the students at our school, not only an opportunity to observe the transformation of an area they had come to know very well in previous seasons, but also a goldmine of inquiry-based learning which was opened up as students wondered about how flooding affects animals and insect populations, where flooding happens, where the water came from and where it eventually goes. It also gave us a chance to explore around the fenced off, protected conservation area of Mud Lake. This meant that the children could climb the trees beside the bike path that lies between our school yard and the forest, and they could learn about a completely different collection of medicinal plants that grow best in disturbed soil with exposure to full sun, such as mullein (Verbascum thapsus), shepherd’s purse (Bursa pastoris), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and the rather abundant and pesky, but with rich medicinal properties, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), and burdock (Arctium lappa). We even found some stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) which irritates more than stings – and is not toxic like poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). The students have been able to get up close and personal with these plants because the habitat they grow in is easily accessible. In the forest, we do not touch or pick anything because it is a protected area, and because there is so much poison ivy along the trails. However, in the fields and ditches which are frequently mown, these plants grow in abundance as long as there has been no pesticide treatment.

This Spring, the flooding of the shores of Mud Lake has really exemplified the benefits of the outdoor classroom which is neither static nor predictable like a classroom within a building can be. With the changing nature of the forest and pond that make up the bird conservation area, our students have been able to experience how powerful, dynamic, and full of life a small area in their neighbourhood is. As the waters recede, we will soon be able to return to the trails and waterside that the children have come to know so well, and explore the changes that have occurred over the past few weeks, but now we will add a stop on the way to climb a tree and notice a plant or two.


Organizing the Flow of the Day

We have clocked in three months in our kindergarten class so far, and on the whole, my ECE partner and I feel there are some really strong aspects of our day – the outdoor learning blocks at the beginning and end of the day, for example, and weather permitting, outdoor time in the middle of the day for a small group activity (today it was raining and the puddles were the big attraction).

Since we are with the students for the majority of the day, the two of us have worked at creating a ‘flow’ to the day. Nonetheless, we find we are still constantly making adjustments to the classroom set up, to activities, and to the overall schedule. For example, we have trimmed our circle times considerably since our students sit as a large group for music and games in French with their two other teachers each day. What we occasionally do now is have a quick everybody-to-the-carpet for a regrouping or a message before an event or activity, with the time spent sitting limited to about one or two minutes maximum. Sometimes it is just a chance to have a ‘huddle’ for a reminder that we are about to do something together as a class – tidy up, wash hands, get ready to go outside, or line up for library. The message is simple and clear and helps the students prepare for a transition, and we have sometimes used it as an opportunity to ground the group if the energy has risen towards the rafters.

Considering that the model of Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) is mandated to reflect the structure of the preschool day rather than a Grade 1 classroom, we often have to remind ourselves of the board directive for a play-based program as we leave behind longer, teacher-lead, large group lessons. However, this can sometimes lead us to feel as if we are not adequately preparing our students for reading and writing activities in the Grade 1 program. Thus, we are at odds as to the delivery of our program – preschool exploration or preparation for seatwork using alphabet and number systems, or a possible blend of the two? (for insightful articles discussing this conundrum in kindergarten, please see, “The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergarteners of Finland” from The Atlantic, as well as the blog, “Why I Don’t Like Play-Based Learning.”).  

In our classroom, I guess you could say we have attempted a blend of large group circle time for music and games balanced with opportunities for individual inquiry and play-based (i.e. student-driven) learning. Keeping in mind that managing to get a whole group of jk and sk students to sit quietly in a circle while we deliver a lesson does not necessarily mean that the whole group will learn what we are delivering, we have found that we are more successful gathering a small group of students for a smaller, more intimate and focussed lesson where we can attend to and assess each one of them individually for a shorter amount of time. Expectations for group learning are still met and we can easily target what we want to achieve. To do this, we have designated a floating time during an exploration time block where we will invite a few students at a time to come and visit us for a short activity or task. We try to select the students who are ‘free’ to dedicate their attention to the activity, that is, those who may be travelling from one centre to the next, or those who are just finishing up a snack, so that their play is relatively uninterrupted. We have found that when we are set up for a task we regularly get visits from other students who may not have been invited but are curious as to what we are doing and ask if they can join in. As we observe them, we can see that this curiosity and voluntary participation is ideal to include on a report card as evidence of Problem Solving and Innovating.

So while we seek to achieve a balance between true, play-based learning and the expectations of a program ‘aligned with the curriculum’ in our classroom, my partner and I feel as if the flow to our day has genuinely begun to reflect the most positive aspects of both, offering the students as many opportunities to learn how to learn.

Walking in the Woods with Kinders

With our weekly walks in the woods, I’m trying to come to terms with having a planned lesson versus just letting my kindergarten students explore the space in their own way. On the one hand, presenting a challenge to them as we enter the forest is a good way to target curriculum expectations and to focus their attention on things they may not yet have the literacy for, i.e., certain kinds of plant characteristics, the change in seasons, or evidence of animals, even the habits of relatively common ones such as the beaver, woodpecker, or wood duck. On the other hand, it is so true that real learning can happen when the teacher steps out of the way. We often think we are doing our students a favour by helping them inch towards enlightenment with guided questions, but sometimes, it is much better to turn our voice off and turn up our listening skills to hear what is being said without interrupting. While our responsibility is to make sure everyone is safe, we don’t always have to be in charge of learning – letting the students lead their learning is a rich experience we need to foster as much as possible, even if we feel to do so is not really teaching.

So, the obvious choice for me is to do a bit of both with some teacher-lead learning, followed by me following the students. With the hour that we spend in the forest each visit, we have a goal upon entering that helps remind the students that they are there to use their senses as ‘Nature Detectives”, after that, comes the free-association part of our forest ramble. As we start on our visit, I am ready with one teacher-lead activity that draws their attention to some new aspect of the forest that they might not have noticed before, such as, “Find a yellow flower,” or “How many different colours can you see in the forest?”. As we walk along and they point out the yellow flower, that gives me the opportunity to talk about the plant’s (goldenrod) properties, or when they notice different colours, it opens up the discussion about why leaves are not staying green any more. With the natural environment all around us at that time, it is amazing how much deeper students listen and how much more they remember. They are relaxed, it is calm, and there is just a small group of them, so learning comes a little easier because they are, in a sense, using all of their body to learn.

After a few minutes of teacher-lead learning, I am ready to follow their lead about which paths to trek down, or which fallen tree trunk to climb under or over. I look forward to hearing what they notice and listening to their talking. When we take the time to stop and just hang around in one spot for a bit, they are quiet at first, taking everything in. Some wander a bit and focus on the ground just at their feet, others crouch and look under branches. While it would make sense for me to point out the big things like the beaver lodge, or the dead birch tree full of holes made by various woodpeckers, the Kindergarten Nature Detective draws my attention to the smallest orange and black, fuzzy caterpillar on a leaf about 2 feet off the ground. Or crouching down, in a mess of mud and twigs, someone spies one red berry, or a toad stool the size of a fingernail. Our perspectives are completely different – I am taller, look farther into the distance, and know the space and what can be typically found there. With the 4 and 5 year olds, some of whom are very tiny, the forest they see is new and the area they are comfortable exploring is on the ground around their feet.

When we are walking back to the school, I try to recap some of the things we experienced so that they can write or draw it in their journals, share it with their classmates or talk about it with their families when they get home. Do they readily remember the yellow flower they learned about? Sometimes. But the student who found and gave a pat to the fuzzy orange and black caterpillar easily recalls every detail.