Life Cycles in Kindergarten

For the past few weeks, we have been exploring Life Cycles in my Kindergarten classroom. First, we started off by learning about plants. I read some stories to my class including The Tiny Seed, and we discussed how a plant is created. We also discussed the different parts of a plant. This lead in nicely to some discussions about various life cycles.

As a Kindergarten team, we ordered caterpillars (from Boreal) so that we could watch the life cycle of a butterfly occur.Our caterpillars will turn into Painted Lady Butterflies. We watched some youtube video clips so students could see what it was that would be happening in our classroom during this process. We also read a lot of various books, both Fiction and Non-Fiction, about butterflies. We were able to observe our tiny caterpillars turn into bigger, fatter caterpillars, form into their chrysalis and then into butterflies. The students really enjoyed seeing this process first had, authentic learning at its best! I allowed my students to have opportunities to observe and even read to the caterpillars. We also kept a butterfly journal, where students would record daily what stage it was in.


After a few days of having living butterflies, we were able to go outside and let our butterflies free into the environment. This also helped our Eco School status. Overall, my students really enjoyed this! They loved coming in each and every morning and checking on the progress. I would highly recommend any kindergarten teacher to use this in their classrooms! It was also a wonderful tool to use at the end of the year when the students are a bit “over” being at school. I felt that by studying the life of a butterfly was able to keep their excitement and engagement right up until the end of the year.

Reading in Kindergarten

Literacy is woven into our day. We do not have “literacy centres”, but we do have learning centres that include literacy. We have shared reading, independent reading, formal writing times that look like a Writer’s Workshop, and purposeful writing that happens around the classroom such as writing cards, letters, making books and recording observations.

There is no “language block”, instead language is used in our morning circle to share our feelings and connect with one another. It is used during read a-louds to teach conventions of books, visualization, sequence, and voice. We learn how to spell familiar words and we learn how to use rich language to describe and express our ideas. Books are connected to our math lessons and science inquiries. We share books that enjoy reading over and over again, and we read new books on the computers and listen to stories using BookFlix.

When I started my new classroom in September, there were limited literacy resources. I acquired a variety of picture books from family and friends and I used the books from our school library to fill the shelves and reading bins. To organize the books, we designated one display rack for hardcover books and another for softcover books. I remember the day that we discussed how to tell the difference. Even now, some children knock on their book to determine which shelf it should be returned to. This also provides a daily opportunity for sorting – see how literacy is never a stand-alone in Kindergarten!

One of the first things I noticed was how rough the children were with the books. It took months of reminders and practice for the children not to throw the books, step on them, or pull at them and rip pages. You would assume that by Kindergarten children would know how to handle books, but for many children in the class handling the books in a gentle and respective manner was not familiar to them. To assist in their practice, we modelled then asked the children to “close your books gently, carry them like a cake, and place them face out on the appropriate book rack”. Now the children are much more aware of the condition of the books, and often come to me with concern that a page has ripped or torn, and ask that it be fixed with tape.

Back in September, there were no (maybe a few) levelled readers for the Kindergarten classrooms. This was the biggest concern for me, as I believe in the consistent use of levelled books to develop readers in the classroom. Through the suggestion of an instructional leader, I was able to order paper copies of what are considered replacement books and use these for a book borrowing program and for work with individuals or small groups in the classroom. These books have been invaluable for my students. Although I do not assign homework in Kindergarten, I do set up a book bag program that allows children to take home a book at their level and write about their book in an accompanying journal. There are not assigned days to take or return a book, therefore it is a program that can suit the families and their schedules. I have some students who return their book bags every day or every other day, while other students may return their bag within a week or two. All of the SK students (and a few JK students) have moved up in levels, but most importantly they feel successful as readers. The levelled readers have not been a “requirement” of the childrens’ day or have they felt pressure to read. By providing them with a book at their level (mostly all at level 1 in September) they felt excited to take a book home and then felt successful because they could actually read it. This encouraged them to continue with the program and become independent readers!






Levelled books for Book Bag Program

Kindergarten Learning Buddies

In January, my Kindergarten class began regular weekly meetings with another class in the school. I was new to the school this year, and Reading Buddies were not formally assigned as they are in some schools. The first few months of the school year had been hectic, as I was new to the staff, the FDK program was just being introduced (with wrinkles to smooth out), and the students were adjusting to the demands of a full day of routines and a new environment. As I got to know the staff, I found that I shared a similar teaching style and inquiry approach with the Grade 6 teacher, Mrs. Robinson. In early December I approached her with the idea of bringing our classes together as “Learning Buddies” – an idea that she welcomed. We made our plans to start meeting in January on a weekly basis for a double period.

The initial meetings were mostly unstructured. It allowed time for the students to get to know one another. Mrs. Robinson and I had previously matched our students based on their needs. I have a few students with communication needs and others with behavioural concerns who would benefit by being matched with empathetic, patient and consistent students from the older class. There were adjustments in the matches that we made, and when students are absent we casually add their partners to another grouping. This relaxed approach makes it easier for the little ones to adjust, and we find the students in the classes are getting to know more than just one student. They tend to team up into small groups now, and we provide opportunities to allow for this development of relationships.

After a few meetings with the students sharing books and getting to know one another, we introduced a project that would integrate language and technology. It included the following:

  • brainstorm/create a story with your Learning Buddy
  • use the graphic organizer provided to record the topic, setting, characters, problem and solution (Grade 6 students write and Kindergartens can write or draw pictures to represent their ideas)
  • use 4 to 8 box organizer to draft story into a comic strip, adding speech bubbles and caption
  • create comic in Bitstrips program using laptops provided
  • teachers print one page comics in colour and take photos of Learning Buddies
  • arrange original plan, completed colour comic strip, and photo of Learning Buddies on bristol board for display
  • participate in a Gallery Walk of the completed work
The outcomes of this project were positive for all involved. We found that the students were engaged at all meetings. We noticed that the older students respected the input of the younger children and there was observable collaboration in their work. The Kindergarten children were able to retell the stories that they created and in addition to understanding the beginning, middle, and end – many also understood the concepts of setting, characters, problem and solution. Mrs. Robinson has noticed how her Grade 6 students have taken on a more responsible attitude with this role and they are genuinely interested in working with the younger students. We plan to meet regularly until the end of the school year. We have just started a topic/project about the environment that will hopefully include some outdoor gardening. This connects to the curriculum that both classes can extend separately in their individual classrooms.






Integrating Arts, Language, and Science

In my last post, we left off with an inquiry about snow and ice, which ultimately led to water. It wasn’t that the students were particularly interested in water, but it seemed a natural segue from ice to water, and I had a particular book in mind that I wanted to read to the class. We had also learned about cycles (big idea) in various forms since October, such as the cycle of the seasons and the weekly cycle and daily cycle. To initiate our topic about water, I first asked the students, “Where does water come from?” Some of the responses were:

“Water comes from sinks.”

“Water comes from waterfalls.”

“Water comes from the sky.”

I then read the book titled, All the Water in the World by George Ella Lyon. It is a book that captures childrens’ imagination and interest. I read it to the class a few times. Each time we discussed the descriptive words. We also created a diagram of the water cycle.

At the end of the week, I selected materials that I thought they could use to demonstrate their understanding. The materials were shades of blue paint, white styrofoam, straws, small beads, and construction paper in blue, brown, and black. The children could select from any of these materials, but by controlling the palette I knew the outcome would resemble their intentions.

I asked the students to show where water comes from or where water goes. Their finished works showed their learning and understanding about the water cycle, it also demonstrated their use of language and how effectively they use materials for visual arts.






Water comes from the clouds into the lake. Then in the pipes, then in the house.”  (JK student)






When we wash our hands it goes from the washroom to the lake through the pipes.” (SK student)






This is the cloud. The rain drops are coming from it. Down into the lake, into the tubes to the bathtub.”  (SK student)

These small projects integrate many subjects and provide the children with authentic learning that they can relate to in the everyday world that surrounds them.

Science in Play-Based Learning

Science in a Kindergarten classroom looks like many different things. There are learning centres such as the sand or water table, where children are using free exploration and where teachers are guiding specific experiments. There are also inquiry projects that may last a day or a few months that evolve with the children’s interests and are continued with the educators’ guidance. I would like to share an inquiry that has evolved in our classroom this winter.


It all started with a fish. The children found a piece of ice on the pavement in the schoolyard. They noticed right away that it was formed in the shape of a fish. One of the children carried it in his arms as we lined up to go back into the school. My first reaction was to tell them to leave it outside, then I realized this could be the beginning of something bigger – an inquiry on ice and possibly how it melts into water – that the children could observe and discover.





So, the children were thrilled and brought it into the classroom. We put it in the empty water table container. Before we left for home, I asked the children to predict, “What do you think is going to happen to the ice fish?” Here are some of their responses after a brief discussion:

  • It will melt in spring.
  • It will melt in one hundred days.
  • It will melt if we put it in the refrigerator.
  • It will melt by tomorrow.

The next morning when I entered the classroom, my teaching partner asked me if I had looked at the ice fish. I hadn’t, and figured I already knew what to expect, a container of water. When I looked, I was surprised to not only find the water from the melted ice fish, but an imprint. This was a surprise for me, something I couldn’t have planned for. We were excited to share the finding with the children when they arrived.






The children were excited to see the shape of the fish made from the sediment in the ice. They instantly realized that it was left from when the ice fish melted. That day, the children observed the dirt and some made drawings. As a group, we discussed the possibilities and the children decided it was the dirt from the snow that had sunk to the bottom of the container.




This inquiry led to more experiments with snow. We talked about the difference between liquids and solids. Through our discussions we wanted to make snow melt faster. The children made suggestions on how to make the snow melt faster and we tried them through various experiments. We set some snow under a lamp in our classroom, and it took all day to melt. We also tried adding cold water and hot water (with adult assistance) to the snow. The students discovered the effects of water and compared these to the conditions outside.
This inquiry has led us to learn more about water…

Math in Play-based Learning

Math is integrated into most of the learning centres in the classroom. Although glancing around the room, it often looks just like play. To ensure that I am continually assessing for math, I keep a clipboard of observations sheets accessible. I prefer observation sheets that have a square with each child’s name that I can fill-in with any pertinent information I want. Then, by glancing at the sheet, I can easily see if there is a blank box and ensure that I seek out that child to observe. Looking around the classroom, I may see children measuring at the water table, sorting in the drama centre, or comparing shapes in the building centre. I approach and listen. Often, I can record their understanding with a phrase or a brief description. Then, I am able to clarify or extend their learning. For example, if a child is counting animal figures and gets stuck at 15, I may direct them to the number line to show them what was missed. Observation and recording them at play allows for assessment of their current understanding as well as an opportunity to support their learning.

At the beginning of the year, some parents may ask about the math program, as they do not see generic math sheets coming home in the backpacks. It is therefore a good idea to take photos of the children engaged in mathematical activities as you are observing them in the classroom. These can be added to a website to communicate to your families what math learning looks like in the classroom. Or you can print them to display in the hallway, add to a student’s portfolio, or keep for a parent interview.

Recording comments during circle time is also another way to demonstrate a child’s understanding of math. Last week, when the children were considering a number line together, one student pointed out that there were kid numbers and teenage numbers. He said, “The 1-10 are like kid numbers and the 11-20 are like teenager numbers!” Another day we did a group activity when reading the book One Monday Morning by Uri Shulevitz. Using connecting cubes we represented the characters, as someone new arrived, each day of the week. When the concrete graph was finished, a student observed, “It looks like stairs going up!” By recording these comments, I am able to add them to their math profile when writing reports or planning for further learning.

The photos show what math looks like in a play-based learning environment:



This child is using 1:1 representation with counters on the light pad to represent each individual in our class photo (her idea!)






This child has sorted the animals into two groups and is then counting them as she places them on the top of the drums (her idea!)






These students are measuring volume by filling a larger container with a smaller one.






The children grouped like objects, sorted them, and displayed them on wood blocks using 1:1 representation.




There are also opportunities for children to write mathematically throughout the classroom with pencils and paper provided, as well as number lines and number displays of quantity. They use magnetic numbers to put in order on white boards and they learn to recognize their phone numbers at the carpet (after learning their first and last names), then write their phone numbers at entry during sign-in. Children enjoy songs with counting and books with sequences. Math is happening all around the classroom and children are intuitive with math. When teaching Kindergarten, it is important to see it, name it, and record it!



Social Justice Begins in Kindergarten

I am using the literature-based resource kit, Social Justice Begins with Me (ETFO), to introduce various themes to my Kindergarten students regarding social justice. In the first lesson lesson we used the book, The Colors of Us by Karen Katz. It is the story of a little girl that paints a self-portrait and wants to use brown for her skin. Her mother takes her on a walk in their neighbourhood where she learns that there are many different shades of brown.

Before reading the book we compared and discussed the sources of colour used in the book, such as cinnamon, chocolate, and honey. After we read the book, we used red, yellow and black paint to mix and create various shades of brown. The children were engaged in the process as they observed then commented on whether their shade was a light or dark brown. Some children were using the words from the book in their descriptions, such as “It looks like cocoa!”

For the final activity, each child looked at the shades of brown and selected the one they identified with as the colour of their own skin. We made a display of “handprints” for display in our classroom, one for each child. As they picked the shade of their choice, they made comments such as, “My hand looks like honey” or “She is that shade of brown (pointing).”

During the week we spent on these lessons, we were also asked to paint a canvas for one of the Character Traits that our school recognizes throughout the year. The canvases are hung with pride at our school entrance. Our class was given the task of creating a canvas for the trait, Co-operation. The ECE and I thought why not have the children use their selected handprint not only as a symbol of identity and self-esteem in the classroom, but as part of one panel to demonstrate how respect for one another is the first step that leads to co-operating with one another. Our canvas became a culminating activity for lessons we learned about social justice.

Integrating Art in Kindergarten

As mentioned in my previous post, I have been working on an Art Studio for the classroom that will provide enough space and materials to meet the interests of all the children in my class. Even though I have set up a physical space called the “Art Studio” there are other centres in the classroom where representational art is also taking place. At the Messaging Centre, many children are graphically representing their ideas with pictorial images, and in the Building Centre children are using the blocks to create designs and structures. We have a table where play dough is often provided, and this too allows the students to represent their ideas in 3-D form.

By integrating art throughout the classroom, I can access many areas of the curriculum in a way that is engaging and accessible for the children. For example, one of the first overall expectations in Science that I like to plan for is “demonstrate an awareness of the natural and human-made environment through hands-on investigations, observation, questioning, and sharing their findings.” Children need support to develop their observation skills and really notice what is around them, rather than assume an image that they picture in their mind. When you ask a child to draw a tree, they often draw the same straight trunk with a round green top on it! By taking students outside to touch the bark, notice the texture and observe the branches, children will develop an awareness and reflect their observations in more accurate representations.

Strengthening visual discrimination in young children can be done at the art centre by providing an object to observe and represent. I often select a natural and aesthetic piece such as the vase of hydrangeas pictured below. A basket of leaves could also be used at this time of year. Then provide a controlled palette of materials. So for the hydrangeas I only set out pencils for drawing and coloured pencils that match the shades of the actual flowers, stems, leaves and vase. The children still have choice, but their selection is from a realistic palette that they will identify as they look at the object with discrimination.







































Rather than make art for art’s sake, planned centres can be used to support skill development for visual discrimination, fine motor, and representational as well as integrate many subjects such as Science, Language, and Math.