The Third Teacher: Classroom Layout 2016

I hope everyone has had a lovely summer! Whether you were taking a course, travelling, or relaxing with family and fiends, I hope it was a restful and restorative holiday for you!

I had a wonderful summer in the city with my husband and two boys (4 and 2 years old). I spent a lot of time relaxing , reading, and prepping for the new school year. I had the luxury of returning to the same school and same classroom this year so I didn’t have as much to set up or unpack. I am extremely fortunate that at my new school the caretaking staff are SO AMAZING that everything was put back exactly where I wanted it after the room was cleaned. It was a lovely surprise to find my room almost “first day ready” when I opened the door at the end of August.

That being said, I still spent my first day back trying to rearrange my room. Over the summer I had been thinking about trying centres out in new locations, thinking about the flow of the room, considering what areas seemed “busy” or “crowded” last year and which areas seemed under utilized. After all my lifting and switching around, I actually settled on almost the exact same floor plan as last year with a couple of small modifications. The centres stayed the same but I added in new ways of storing materials or added in tables/new seating to allow for different kinds of groupings.

So this is it! My classroom all ready for a new school year:

Our carpet area/meeting place. This is where we begin our day together, read stories, and reflect on our learning. During centre time, it also doubles as our space for big block play.

The Writing Centre. The materials on this shelf change throughout the year. The children can work at an adjacent table or may take any materials they need to other centres. We are beginning the year by studying different kinds of lines. This is also where we store our journals (they go in the basket on the white cart to the left).

The Math Centre. This is one of the centres that got a bit of a make-over. I moved out some heavy shelving and replaced it with the small tables and stools for quieter table top work with a partner. The children are also encouraged to work with materials on The Learning Carpet. In addition to the materials stored on the cart (which change depending on our learning goals) this is also where our Math Science Investigations materials (building blocks) are stored.

The Drama Centre. I always like to set the drama centre up as a house at the start of the school year. It provides some familiarity for the children and is generally quite an inviting space for young children. We will switch up the centre as the children’s interest change and develop.

Another view of the Drama Centre. Most of the accessories in this photo were sourced at Value Village, a thrift store in my city.

I think it’s the small details that make a space inviting!

The Quiet Centre. Sometimes we all need a cozy spot to rest or calm down. I had a few students last year that would arrive at school in the morning after ‘waking up on the wrong side of the bed’ as they say. The quiet centre was their go-to spot to sit in until they felt like joining the rest of the group. This area has cushions to sit on, books to read, lap desks to colour on, and buddies to snuggle. This space also doubles as a secondary light studio. I simply hang a white sheet on the wall at the back and set up an overhead projector for the children to explore light and shadow.

A closer look at the materials in the Quiet Centre.

I love this small bookshelf from IKEA. It’s just the right size for this small space! We will be spending a lot of time on how to recognize different emotions and the book selection here reflects that topic.

 

A closer look at some of the materials in the Quiet Centre. The light cube is a soothing addition to the space and also gets used when we transform the space into a light studio.

The Light Table. This is adjacent to the Quiet Centre/Light studio space.

 

 

The Sand Centre

 

 

A closer look at the Sand table materials.

 

 

Water Table materials.

The Water and Sand tables.

 

The Small Building Centre. The children use smaller blocks and loose parts to work on more intricate buildings and designs. Lego, small world play, and provocations that support our inquiries in Math Science Investigations happen here. Currently, the doll house is set up. I am hoping to encourage conversations around families and family life in an effort to get to know the children better. 

 

Materials for the small building centre.

More materials for the small building centre.

The Art Studio.

The “Teacher Centre.” Our mini school centre where the children often reenact our daily routines and conversations – storytelling, shared reading, and morning message all get recreated here!

 

 

The Science and Nature Centre. We will be creating our “Wonder Windows” at the windowsill next to the table.

I just love collecting beautiful magnifying glasses! I also have a class set of magnifiers from the dollar store.

The play dough centre. I always have play dough available in my classroom and it is by far one of the most popular centres during discovery time! We have currently set up a self-portrait provocation with loose parts.

 

 

The view from the doorway.

So, that is our room this year! I’m excited to greet my students next week (old and new!) and am most looking forward to seeing where their interests and discoveries take us this year!

Wishing everyone a wonderful start to the school year!

 

New Year, New School, New Classroom for Inspiring CURIOSITY…

As you may know from reading my About section, last year I was at home on maternity leave after the birth of my second child. This year I’m returning to the classroom at a new school (closer to home, yay!) with a ton of ideas I’ve collected from the books I’ve recently read and the conversations I’ve been able to participate in online via Twitter. If you aren’t on Twitter, I highly recommend joining if you are interested in connecting with other like-minded educators. There is a strong PLN network online which you can access by searching #kinderchat and #ReggioPLC.

In preparation for set up, I spent some time making a list of the centres I wanted to have in my classroom. I then set about drawing some floor plans to give myself an idea of how the room might flow and to figure out what made sense based on where preexisting elements (sink, windows, doors, outlets, etc.) were located. Then I started moving furniture around. I went through a few placements before settling on what I have now. I anticipate making some changes as the furniture that has been ordered for my class begins to arrive (sometime in September) and I am able to observe how the children view/use the space.

Here is how things look at the moment:

House Centre/dramatic play.

House Centre/dramatic play

A closer look at the kitchen hutch filled with lovely wooden items from the thrift store.

A closer look at the kitchen hutch filled with lovely wooden items from the thrift store.

Light Table (currently stocked with Magformers - one of our new favourite materials). The overhead canopy creates a really quiet and cozy space for exploring.

Light Table (currently stocked with Magformers – one of our new favourite materials). The overhead canopy creates a really quiet and cozy space for exploring.

Playdough centre/multi-use table.

Playdough centre/multi-use table

Sand Table. Only one sensory table has arrived, but I plan to make due with one by placing the lid on top of the sand and using a large rubbermaid container on top for a water table.

Sand Table. Only one sensory table has arrived, but I plan to make do with one by placing the lid on top of the sand and using a large Rubbermaid container on top for a water table.

A closer look at some of my new materials for the water table (also from the thrift store). My son played with these all summer, using herbs and plants from our garden for "tea parties" and "soup" - excited to see what the children do with them!

A closer look at some of my new materials for the water table (also from the thrift store). My son played with these all summer, using herbs and plants from our garden for “tea parties” and “soup” – I am excited to see what the children do with them!

Art Studio

Art Studio

Science and Nature centre. Currently set up with rocks and shells from the beach ("What do you notice?"). I will also be providing the children with jars of water and small brushes for them to experiment with how the water affects the look of the rocks and shells.

Science and Nature centre. Currently set up with rocks and shells from the beach (“What do you notice?”). I will also be providing the children with jars of water and small brushes for them to experiment with how the water affects the look of the rocks and shells.

Blocks and building materials. The rainbow is from Grimm ("Rainbow Stacker") and provides endless opportunities for open ended play. The basket is full of carpet squares (different sizes) from Arts Junktion, there is also a basket of playskils (not visible).

Blocks and building materials. The rainbow is from Grimm (“Rainbow Stacker”) and provides endless opportunities for open ended play. The basket is full of carpet squares (different sizes) from Arts Junktion, and there is also a basket of play silks (not visible).

"Teacher Centre"  A quiet place to re-enact classroom routines, read books, and play with literacy materials.

“Teacher” Centre.
A quiet place to re-enact classroom routines, read books, and play with literacy materials.

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Math Centre: This is an area I see getting rearranged in the near future (the platform will likely be moved to a new location for small building). However, in the meantime I’m sure some children will enjoy having a raised surface on which to explore some of the materials I have laid out. The white cube in the corner is a light cube. It creates a soothing and cozy glow when illuminated.

Math Centre materials

Math Centre materials

Writing Centre

Writing Centre

Writing Centre materials.

Writing Centre materials

Carpet Area (with soon to be arriving carpet...). I have really enjoyed having a couch to share with the children in the class. It is a perfect spot for children to sit and share their thinking/learning with the class during reflection time, a great place to curl up with a book, and has been a comforting spot to sit amongst the pillows when students are feeling out of sorts.

Carpet Area (with soon to be arriving carpet…). I have really enjoyed having a couch to share with the children in the class. It is a perfect spot for students to sit and share their thinking/learning with the class during reflection time. Many students also enjoy curling up here with a book. Since I don’t have a “teacher desk” I find myself sitting here when the day is done to reflect on what I saw and heard during the day.

So this is what I have set up for now. I’ll keep you posted on any changes/developments as they unfold. I am SO excited to meet my new students and begin our learning journey next week!

Planning for a Full Day of Inquiry-Based Learning

Lately I’ve had the opportunity to work with educators who are either teaching Kindergarten for the first time or are moving from a half-day Kindergarten to a full-day Kindergarten program. I get a lot of questions about how to structure a full day for our early learners. In this post, I’ll try and give you an idea of how we’ve arranged our weekly schedule to work best for our program and student needs. Please keep in mind, this is just one way of organizing things and that our schedule does change as the year progresses and as we find things are either working well/not working at all. Also keep in mind that “prep” times are periods on our schedule that are assigned by the school.

Here is our current weekly schedule. Click on the image to open a PDF file.

Sample_FDK_Schedule

When we were arranging our schedule, we felt it was important to make sure that the children had ample time for working at discovery centres, both in the morning and in the afternoon. In the morning, our discovery time runs from 10:10 a.m. to 11:25 a.m. This time includes a self-directed snack (children stop to eat if/when they feel the need though most opt out of a morning snack) and reflection time. During centre time, the children self-direct their own activities. This was a big change for me initially. When I taught kindergarten half day, I was that teacher with the clipboard who assigned children to specific centres each day. In full day, I let go of making choices for the children and let them choose the activities that are most interesting and important to them. If I encounter a student who only ever chooses the block centre, I may suggest an alternative or invite him/her to see what is happening at the Art Studio. And I have never been turned down. Generally speaking, most children are interested in trying new things and are interested in the provocations that pop up around the classroom.

Reflection time is a crucial part of our day. Reflection time is when we gather as a group to share our learning from Discovery time. I jokingly refer to reflection time as “free advertising” because it is the time when we can highlight the important learning goals/behaviours/discoveries we want the children to be demonstrating, through the children’s own work. The decision about which children share is not random, but purposeful. Perhaps it might be a student who made a breakthrough or did their personal best, or it may be a child sharing an interesting way they interacted with materials at one of our provocations, or it may be a child sharing a problem they encountered while working and the class is invited to help them brainstorm a solution. The reflection process is interactive. When a child is sharing, the class is given the opportunity to ask questions and give feedback. I continue to be amazed by how thoughtful the children are in their questions and comments. They often speak of being ‘inspired’ by things they saw their classmates doing. I am often inspired too! And remember that child I mentioned earlier? The one who chooses the same centre day after day? Reflection time is one of the ways we can inspire that child to try something new, or at the very least, stay connected to all the interesting things that are happening in the class.

In the afternoon, we try to mirror the morning schedule as closely as possible. We usually begin the afternoon with writer’s workshop, a focused three-part lesson on writing skills. When I have prep in the middle of the afternoon, we sometimes opt for a shorter group time on the carpet with no writing so that the children still get ample time for exploration at centres. The afternoon is also when we run our “special programs” such as Math and Science Investigations (which you can read more about here) and Art and Fine Motor Instruction (which you can read more about here).

In our class, we try and make the most out of every moment of our schedule. For example, if I am leading a group lesson on the carpet (e.g., during Focused Instruction) then my ECE partner is working one-on-one with children for guided reading. Similarly, if my ECE partner is leading Reflection time, then I use that time to pull students for guided reading. In this way, we are able to achieve a balance between whole group instruction and still target the individual needs of our students.

For those interested in my day plan format, I’m including a sample day from my day plans. I’m always tweaking my day plan format each year, but this style has served me well. Click on the image to open a PDF:

sample_day_plan

As always, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!

 

Fostering partnerships between home and school…

One of the things that most inspires me about schools in Reggio Emilia is the connectivity they have to the families and the communities they serve. Something I am striving for this year is a stronger link between home and school. Some of the questions I have been pondering are: How do I make my students and their parents feel welcome in our learning space? How do I develop a learning partnership with my students’ families? How can I tap into the rich knowledge, skills, and experiences each family possesses?

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This is a picture of our classroom family wall – a dedicated spot in the room that holds photographs of the children and their families (and pictures of my family and our ECE’s family too!). As the photos have been brought in we have taken time each day during our sharing circle for the children to introduce and talk about their families. We’ve learned about brothers and sisters, moms and dads, grandmas, papas, opas, and bubbis (and even a few family pets!). Throughout our discussions, we’ve encouraged the children to think about what makes their families special. After sharing, I also photocopy each photo and use it for an interactive writing activity with each student which gets posted on our author’s wall. The children have been so excited to take turns sharing their families with us and can often be found gazing at the family photographs on our family wall during centre time.

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Another way I am trying to connect with parents this year is by sending out a weekly email which highlights some of the ideas/concepts/discussions that occurred in our class during the week. The email includes photographs which demonstrate the children’s thinking and learning. The hope is that some of the discussions we are having at school will be carried on at home.

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What are some ways you celebrate your students’ families and involve parents in your program?

A new year, a new classroom!

Our classroom Art Studio - the hub of our classroom.

Our classroom Art Studio – the hub of our classroom.

Currently stocked with beach related natural materials from my summer adventures. A lot of students have been inspired to share their own summer beach experiences while visiting this centre.

The Science and Nature Centre. Currently stocked with beach related natural materials from my summer adventures. A lot of students have been inspired to share their own summer beach experiences while visiting this centre.

Where our students try their hand at playing teacher. Also a cozy spot to curl up with a book.

The Teacher Centre. Where our students try their hand at playing teacher. Also a cozy spot to curl up with a book.

A magical place to creatively experiment with water.

Buddha Boards! A magical place to creatively experiment with water.

Math Centre

Math materials have been chosen purposely to encourage counting and sorting.

Math materials have been chosen purposely to encourage counting and sorting.

Natural materials appear in the math centre too. The numbered blocks are coasters I found at Winners!

Natural materials appear in the math centre too. The numbered blocks are coasters I found at Winners!

Labeled bins contain building materials for our Math Science Investigations building program.

Math Centre. Labeled bins contain building materials for our Math Science Investigations building program.

An important centre at the beginning of the year. The familiar homey objects here often create a cozy atmosphere in the classroom.

The Drama/House Centre. An important centre at the beginning of the year. The familiar homey objects here help to create a cozy atmosphere in the classroom.

House Centre

We chose to put out familiar sand tools and continue our extension of summer experiences with sand castle molds. All the materials are placed on a mat so children know where to put them when they are finished.

The Sand Centre. We chose to put out familiar sand tools and continue our extension of summer experiences with sand castle molds. All the materials are placed on a mat so children know where to put them when they are finished.

I opted for a large variety of materials here - scoops, cups of various shapes and sizes, squirters and pumps as well as whimsical objects like boats and rubber duckies.

The Water Centre. I opted for a large variety of materials here – scoops, cups of various shapes and sizes, squirters and pumps as well as whimsical objects like boats and rubber duckies.

Playdough Centre

Big Blocks

Small Building Centre

Writing Centre

Meeting Area

Teacher Area

No More Teacher Desk!

*Update: I get a lot of requests for wide-angle shots of my classroom which show what it looks like mid-year (after the children’s learning has taken over!). Here are a few pictures from the middle of the year so you can get a feel for the actual set up and space in our room:

DSC03265 DSC03263 DSC03264