Spring cleaning

Spring Cleaning CC BY-SA 3.0 NY
Spring Cleaning CC BY-SA 3.0 NY

Aaaaah, fresh air! It’s like the earth turned on an air purifier and sun lamp to awaken us from our annual hibernation. There is excitement all around and almost everyone at my school seems to have a bounce in their steps. This is probably because we are not getting weighed down by clunky boots, toques, scarves, mittens, snow pants, and parkas.

Spring has arrived, and the classroom has come alive again.

Is there anything like a fresh breath of air that comes with Spring? From our class window we watched a stubborn, dirt-laden snow pile melt into oblivion. We beat you this year Winter! And now we wait for the field to dry so we can, once again, run free over our own school savanna without fear of a mud bath.

Now that it’s official, it means there are a little more 9 weeks of school left for 2015-16. Thoughts of changing classrooms, grade assignments, or moving to a new school are popping up like the buds on a tree and returning Canada Geese. And then it hits – the sudden realization that reports cards are due in 7 weeks…or less.

This post is not intended to scare you, but to encourage you through what are some of the most incredible chances to teach, learn, and grow your classroom community. Have you taken advantage of planning some lessons that include the great outdoors?

One of my favourites is called Survivor – School Perimeter. In this lesson teams of students must complete Math challenges for a chance to win the choice of measurement tool they’ll use to find the perimeter of our building. Tools range from a broom handle, ruler, metre stick, rope, and Popsicle sticks. Students get to enjoy the time outside while sharpen their measurement and team skills in a large scale task. The activity culminates with students drawing scale diagrams of the school based on their measurements.

photo by Nero K. used with permission
photo by Nero K. used with permission

The great weather has also lead to community service projects. Last week our school celebrated Earth Week and spread out through our neighbourhood collecting trash from the lawns, sidewalks and side streets. Students were given gloves, a few trash bags and a half hour to tidy one block of our subdivision in Markham. This activity promoted civic pride, community outreach, and good environmental stewardship. Students could see the visible difference of their collective efforts and felt a sense of ownership and pride by their actions.

So with the weather warming, and the instructional days flying by faster than geese with jet packs heading north it’s time to get outside, take a deep breath, and enjoy some incredible outdoor learning opportunities. Thank you.

By Muffet - flickr.com, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16416451
By Muffet – flickr.com, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16416451

Do you have a favourite outdoor activity or go to lesson now that the weather has improved? Please share it in the comments section below and help keep the conversation going. See you out there.


Stewardship/Sustainability in SK

With our winter inquiry coming to an end, the biggest challenge in my mind was how to facilitate the opportunity for my senior kindergarten students to use what they have learned so that they can become valuable stewards of the planet.

To provoke an understanding of the need to care for and respect the environment which related to our winter inquiry and hoping the students would automatically spring into action, I wrote a note from the creatures the students have observed living in and around our schoolyard. In the note, the creatures complain that the snow is so dirty, that it is making them sick: “Chers Amis, Our homes are not healthy any more! When the snow melts, the water we need to live is making us sick. Many of our friends have already left to find a cleaner place to live. We don’t want to leave! Can you help us? Signed, your friends – Earthworm, Chickadee, Rabbit, Crow and Cardinal. I folded the note and tucked it into a space between the bark and trunk of one of our maple trees growing along the fence in the schoolyard.

During the morning Outdoor Learning period, we started off the lesson with a turn and talk activity to review some of the things we learned about What Happens in Winter. Information flowed as the students chatted with their peers. When they had finished, I gave them the challenge of looking for and finding evidence of living things in the schoolyard. I was beginning to wonder if anyone would find the note, when finally, a group of students came running back, all talking loudly at once about something they had found in a tree.

I gathered the students together and read the note aloud to them, ending it with the question, “What do you think?”  They turned and talked with their neighbours excitedly. “Rabbits can’t write!”  “Yes they can.” And about the message of the snow being unclean; “It’s true! There is sand in the snow. I can see it.”  “Snow looks clean but it’s actually really dirty.” Others mentioned the microbes and the dirt from cars as well as the dogs that dirty the ground. So I asked, “Can we drink the water if we melt this snow?” to which came the answer, “Ewww! No way!”

At this point, I was hoping the students would acknowledge that humans played a part in the messing up of things and that, consequently, it was up to all of us to stop it. However, I was quickly made to realize that, of course, how to clean up the planet is a gazillion dollar question that nobody can fully agree on, let alone a group of five year olds. At this age, they are very capable of figuring out how to help in such a situation, one animal at a time, by giving a bowl of clean water to drink, which is what they do for their pets at home. And what did I really have in mind as far as stewardship goes? Petitions? Posters? Protest marches? It became clear to me that rather than ask HOW we might help the creatures, a better question was, WHAT IF? So I started over again, asking them, “What Would Happen If There Were No Winter?”,  and I explained that, “There is something called Climate Change which is making our Earth warmer than it should be. Scientists think this is happening because of pollution caused by people using cars and airplanes to travel around, and building factories to make things.”

At first, the group was rather quiet, but then one of the students made the comment that a warmer Earth meant that the snow would melt. RIght away, more students began to add their thoughts as a conclusion began to form itself:

“If the snow melts, then the polar bears would have no home.”

“And the seals and foxes, too.”

“There would be no habitat for the animals.”

“All the animals would lose their habitat and then they won’t have anything to eat.”

“Their habitat is broken and the animals would get dead.”

Losing habitat is something the students could visualize and understand, and so I was able to ask them, “How do you think we can be habitat helpers, then?” They were so happy to articulate how they have bird feeders in their backyards, how they compost and recycle garbage, how they plant gardens with their families, and how sad they are when they see destruction of habitat such as trees being cut down, or dried up worms on the pavement. While five year olds may not independently engage in activism on a large scale, when we finished this inquiry, many of them realized that they already do have a positive impact on the environment. My own learning came when I had to acknowledge that Stewardship and Sustainability in an SK classroom are, of course, tied very closely to the five-year-old developmental stage and the way children at this age perceive the world, with themselves firmly at the centre of it all. I was reminded that everything does, after all, start with the individual.

That Chickadee Feeling

This classroom field trip is based on a book written by Frank Glew. It is a regular part of my classroom in the winter. Each year in my attempts to keep my students winter active I use this read aloud as a focus for my students to connect to their natural world in all seasons. The precise of the book is about how a young child is bored and has nothing to do. So the parent decides to take them on a hike. The child experiences for the first time that Chickadee feeling.

Finally the day has arrived where my class and I will be heading to our local outdoor education centre where we will try and experience in real life what we witnessed in the picture book. The snow is gently falling and the forest is covered in white with only the underside of branches showing their natural colour. It is a perfect day for what we are wanting to do as there are very few natural food sources available for our winged hosts. As we hike toward their feeding area, the Chickadees know we are coming and they start to follow us, knowing that human presence means it will soon be feeding time. My students start to both hear and see the tiny birds as they stay close to cover to avoid any natural predators.

Finally we arrive at the location where we will attempt to experience that Chickadee feeling. I take a few moments to talk about the best techniques to try and get the tiny winged marvels to land and feed from their hand. One-by-one the students collect some black sunflower seeds (Chickadees are very fussy eaters) and move to a location where we will serve as a human bird feeder.

Within minutes the word has spread somehow in Chickadee language and it seems like dozens of birds arrive and carefully scout out the sudden feast that awaits them. Then, it happens! The first Chickadee lands and perches on my student’s outstretched hand, grabs a seed, looks at my student and flies quickly away. This first landing creates a chain reaction of the same scenario and they feast for the next 10 minutes. Like a proud father I carefully observe my students to ensure that each and everyone of them have that opportunity to experience the Chickadee feeling. The smiles, the chorus of oohs and ah that echo in the forest tells me that they know they have just become a part of the infamous Chickadee Feeling Club. I hope you do one day as well.P1050784 P1050792 P1050786