The First Day of School

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Waiting for children…

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the first day of school lately. Even as an experienced Kindergarten teacher, the first day/few weeks of school are always a bit daunting. In August, I often still have my wonderful “June kids” in the front of my mind. It can be hard to remember where we started in September and just how far we came in our year together. If you are new to Kindergarten, I hope this post will give you some practical strategies for how to approach your first days with your new students. I should also be honest and say that I am also writing this for myself – to help me get my mind back into “beginning of the year” mode.

First…organization. Prepare a clipboard. The style of it doesn’t matter as long as you have a place to record anything important you’ll need to remember as you meet and greet your students and their parents before the bell. I like to have a class list where I’ll make note of who is staying for lunch and who is going home. Any important information that the parents need to share – like who might be picking their child up after school (daycare, bus, etc.) can also be recorded here. I actually use this all year long to record info that is relayed as children are dropped off. Both my partner or I may receive a child and the clipboard also helps us communicate with each other important details about our students. I always think I’ll remember when a parent says something like, “I’m picking Sarah up today at 1:30 for a dentist appointment…” but the reality of our busy day often means I will forget. Write it down.

Entry time. We always start our day with extended play in our outdoor play yard (I highly recommend this if you can arrange it in your schedule) but when it’s time to go in, I’ll blow a whistle and have the class line up. After we line the kids up, I usually give a little pep talk about what the children need to do when they move inside: Find your cubby, hang up your backpack, change your shoes, take out your lunch bag, go to the carpet (in the first week we will co-create an anchor chart with the class with these “to dos” on it and post it in the cubby area). Returning children are usually excited to see where their cubby is located. My verbal instructions serve more as a reminder for them about what they are expected to do. New children will obviously need help with the entire process. Many Year 1 children have never worn a backpack before and will stand helplessly unsure of how to get it off once we get inside. Many children will never have had to take off or put on their shoes by themselves before. Some children may have difficulty separating from their parents. All of this is the work of September…being patient, teaching the children what they need to do when they arrive, and helping them learn how to do it themselves. Be prepared for entry time to take a bit of time. It will become more streamlined as the days and weeks go on. It’s pretty amazing how quickly the children learn what they need to do each day!

Gather on the Carpet. Some teachers prefer to do a “soft opening” where the children go straight to centres. Others may have reading time or meeting time. I opt for reading time (later in the year, we will move to math bins, but at the beginning of the year we keep it simple). I place name cards in a circle on the carpet and ask the children to find their name and look at a book. Year 2 children are familiar with this routine, so I let them choose a book from the bookshelf (you can put a book at their spot if you wish). Year 1 children will have a book already placed with their name card. Again, new students may not recognize their name yet, so a staff member should be on hand to help them locate their spot. Students read until most if not all the children are seated and then we begin our day by putting our name cards and books away. I usually do so by holding up a letter of the alphabet and asking the children whose name starts with that letter to put their name card in the basket and their book on the shelf. My partner will help children identify their starting letter and put their book away. If you have any shy/nervous children you can always ask a classmate to help them out by putting the materials away for them.

Morning Circle. Our welcome circle in the morning is very brief. On the first day we will warm up with one or two easy songs or finger plays. I have included a few here you can download: Sticky Bubblegum, Roly Poly, Shut the Door, and Great Big Sneeze.  You can also read a brief story (perhaps a song book, pattern book, etc. I usually pick something light and fun – this year I’ll be reading You’re Finally Here! by Melanie Watt).

Centre Time. It may be tempting to do a “tour of the room” but in my experience with a large class, it’s pretty much impossible. You can’t crowd 30 kids around a centre and expect that anyone will be able to see what you’re talking about. Most kids will be too excited and overwhelmed to pay attention and might just start wandering around or go right to playing. Skip the tour and let the kids explore on their own when it’s centre time. In our class, we set up centres with materials that will be familiar to the children and activities that don’t need teacher assistance or explanation. When a child arrives at a centre, I want them to look at the materials and know what it is they can do there. I steer clear of activities that require teacher assistance like a special craft or project because we need staff free to supervise and observe the children. We might have children who are crying or upset and need comforting, children who need help with toileting, etc. We need all hands on deck!

Here are some of the centres we have set up for the first week:

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Simple cut and paste materials are available for the children to create with at the Art Studio.

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We set up the dollhouse at the small building centre. We like to provide ample opportunities for the children to engage in dramatic social play. When the children see this set up, they know exactly what to play here.

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This is our water table, but with the lid on it creates the perfect space for Lego creations. This is another material most children will be familiar with.

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The Drama Centre is set up like a house to provide comfort and familiarity. We don’t have too many materials set out on the shelves at the moment so it will be easier to clean up at the end of the play block.

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Sand table materials.

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We have a number of returning students this year. We will be starting with monarch caterpillars. I usually try and set up something from nature for the children to explore with magnifiers and clipboards; in other years we’ve put out rocks, shells, or flowers. Magnetic items are always a popular material that doesn’t require too much explanation.

 

Before the children choose their centres, tell them how you will get their attention when it’s time to stop and clean up. Many teachers use a saying like “1, 2, 3, Eyes on Me” or “Hands on top, that means stop.” Maybe you have a rain stick or plan on turning out the lights. Whatever your method of getting the children’s attention, make sure you explain it to the class and practice once or twice before the children go off to play.

To choose centres, start with the kids that absolutely know where they’d like to go. Most Year 2 students will have an idea of what they want to do during their choice time. You can go centre by centre (“Hands up if you would like to visit the play dough table today. We can choose 5 children”) or just have children raise their hands and tell you where they’d like to go. After you’ve gone through this process, you will likely have children still sitting on the carpet who have no idea what they want to do. At this point you can offer some suggestions or take a walk around the room with them to help them find an activity that interests them. Remember to remind the children to visit the washroom during this play block. Many children get engaged in their activities and forget to answer nature’s call. Also, don’t be surprised if the children quickly move from one activity to another. They will be excited and want to explore many different things! During this time, my partner and I are on hand to make sure the children are making good choices, using materials appropriately, and cleaning up their activities before they move on to something new.

Tidy up time. Use the signal you practiced earlier to get the class’s attention. In our class, after I signal the children to tidy up, I usually put music on the CD/iPod player. Eventually the children will learn that when the music is on, they need to tidy up and head to the carpet. You can use the same song as a “tidy up song” (one year we used “Mama Mia” by Abba) or mix it up. When several children have gathered at the carpet, one staff member will join them and lead the class in some action songs with the CD. The children will likely need the opportunity to jump some jiggles out. I also find that the songs and games we play at this time are so engaging that the children want to tidy up and join the fun. It’s a bit like playing the role of the Pied Piper.

Snack/Nutrition Break. Normally in our class we have an “open snack” which means the children can choose to eat their snack any time they are hungry during their extended play block. In fact, we’ve even had students who needed to eat their snack when they first arrived at school in the morning. We are flexible on that. However, there are a few routines that are required when eating snack so we opt for a group snack time for the first week of school so that we can teach the children what they need to do: how to wash their hands, get their snacks, eat, tidy up their spot, put their snacks away. When the children know how to get this done on their own, we move to the “open snack” system at a designated snack table.

After snack our students will go for a prep – to gym or library depending on the day, so after they eat we will show them where they need to line up. We use this time to talk a bit about “line behaviour” and how we need to move quietly through the school.

Reflection. When the children return from their special program we meet briefly on the carpet for reflection time. On the first day, I will only choose one child to share their learning from our play block. I will use this time to talk more specifically about a particular centre and show the class what kind of learning can happen there (for example, I may choose a child who created something at the art studio and highlight the materials that were chosen, how the student put their creation together, etc. The student will model talking about their work and I will model how we ask them good questions about what they’ve accomplished). You can read more about reflection time here. After we reflect we might do a brief message (the special helper of the day helps me do this). My first message of the year is:

________ is the Special Helper.

________ is in [SK/JK card].

________ is [dice number card] years old.

________ is feeling [emoji card]

This message highlights the word “is” and also focuses on the name of the child, which is an excellent way for the class to learn each other’s names and also begin to associate letters of the alphabet with the names of their classmates.

Children going home for lunch (check your clipboard!) will go with a staff member to the cubby area to get ready for home. The rest of the class will get ready for outdoor play before lunch (at our school the children play first and then eat).

After lunch meeting/play block/snack. In our class, whichever staff did not do carpet time in the morning will lead carpet time in the afternoon. We like to make sure we share leadership duties so the children get used to working with all staff on a regular basis. We usually begin the afternoon with attendance, a brief story, and some mindful minute exercises. Our afternoon closely mirrors the schedule from the morning. The children will have another opportunity to choose a centre/centres during the play block, practice tidying up, and revisit the procedures for a group snack.  As a staff, we will decide if any centres need to be closed or changed for the afternoon depending on how things went during the morning session. We have a few “back up” activities prepared to put out in the afternoon (lacing beads, colouring) – if not on the first day, maybe later in the week. I find that novelty is important in all-day Kindergarten. It’s nice to have some new materials/activities to offer as the week goes on to keep the children engaged.

Home transition. Getting ready for home means changing our shoes again and packing up our backpacks. Again, this will take longer on the first day/first few weeks as the children learn what stays at school (you would be surprised at how many children do not want to leave their indoor shoes behind. We tell them their shoes “sleep at school now” and we’ll see them tomorrow!).

We try and end the day with an extended play time in the outdoor play yard. The day is long and we find the children need the time outside to run around or sit under a tree. Parents will begin to arrive to pick up their children and before we know it, the first day is done! I hope my students go home on their first day feeling like school is a safe, fun, enjoyable place to be.

Remember, it is the slow, patient work of September that will set up your learning for the rest of the year. Try not to get discouraged if things appear to be moving slowly. Establishing routines and classroom expectations are the main priorities at the beginning of the year. It’s important to take the time to really get to know your students and for them to get to know you. Relationships are everything!

For more information on our classroom layout you can read: The Third Teacher: Classroom Layout 2017.

For more information about setting up your weekly schedule and day plans you can read: Planning for A Full Day of Inquiry Based Learning.

Wishing you all a wonderful start to the school year!

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The Third Teacher: Classroom Layout 2017

I can’t believe we’ve arrived at another September. This year I moved rooms so I had the opportunity to design a new learning space – which is really one of my favourite aspects of teaching. I take classroom set-up pretty seriously, because I know in the end, the way the room is designed is going to do a lot of teaching for me. When I’m setting up a learning space I’m thinking mostly about how I want the space to feel – homey and inviting are two adjectives that come to mind. I want my students to feel comfortable, to feel the space is theirs and ours together. I also want the space to communicate to anyone who comes in that we believe the children are capable, creative, respected, and valued.

The first thing I do when I’m laying out a new space is make a list of all the centres/learning areas we’d like to include (large gathering space, big blocks, writing centre, play dough table, snack table, water table, sand table, science centre, art studio, small building area, drama centre, math centre, quiet centre, light table, computer area, guided reading table). Then I take out a pencil and paper and start drawing floor plans. There are always elements in every room that dictate where certain things have to go – outlets and internet drops determine where computers will go (although I have been known over the years to use 20 foot cords and duct tape to make things fit where I want them to…); flooring (if you have carpeting and tile) will often dictate where sand and water will be located. I prefer to have art spaces and science areas near windows, so I try and arrange that in my planning. Once I have a few plans worked out, I get started moving the furniture. My partners and I had to move the furniture around a bit before we got everything where we wanted it. Some days I went home knowing it “wasn’t quite right” only to go in the next day and know just how to fix it. It’s a process.

Once the furniture is in place, it’s time to decide what materials we will offer. At the very beginning of the school year, I prefer to have most of my centres open, but with limited materials (the exceptions are: water and sand are not open at the same time, and I tend to leave the paint easel closed the first couple of weeks). I generally select materials that are inviting, but familiar. I steer away from anything that will require teacher help (like art projects or work we will put up) simply because the first days can be unpredictable. We want all staff available to observe the children, help them find learning opportunities that interest them, model tidying up, etc. Sometimes children are upset and need comforting, leaving one staff member to manage the larger group on their own. For this reason, I want the materials and provocations to be safe, easy to tidy up, and accessible to the children. We don’t put anything out on the shelves that the children are not allowed to play with. I also lean towards more open-ended materials such as loose parts and materials that encourage social play and interaction. Since writing is such an important skill we want to encourage, I try and include writing materials (pencils, crayons, paper and clipboards) at most centres. This sends the message that writing is important and it also helps the children develop independence by having the materials they need at their fingertips.

So here we go! A photo tour of the new space…

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Our main meeting space. This space also doubles as our big blocks area during discovery time.

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The Small Building Centre. We have the doll house, people, and furniture out at the moment. This centre will need no explanation to the students and is always a popular choice during discovery time.

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The Writing Centre. We have it set up with mirrors on which we will write the children’s names with a whiteboard marker; the children can cover the lines with loose parts.

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Writing Centre materials. We have beads with laces for fine motor development, magnetic letters, paper, markers, pencils, crayons, glue, scissors, letter tiles, and letter stamps.

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The Art Studio. Simple materials for making and creating are out right now. My students from last year were very interested in creating with recycled cardstock that a parent donates regularly. They love the stencils and making books with tape/washi tape. All of those materials are out for them to use as they wish and I’m confident the returning students will model for their new classmates how to use these materials creatively!

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I love this simple shelving for storing supplies. We can easily switch out or add new materials as interests arise.

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I like to have these guys on hand at the Art Studio. We will be getting to self-portraits this month and I find them helpful for that process! You can also see one of my many plants in the room. This one is fake, but I have a number of real plants as well. I think the greenery adds a softness to the space. Plants are also supposed to be calming.

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This shelf at the Art Studio doubles as a divider for the drama centre. I attached the bamboo trellis to the legs of the shelf for stability. Sometimes you have to get creative!

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Drama centre. I always start the year with a “home” set-up in the drama centre for comfort and familiarity.

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Home is where the heart is! This shelf has homey knick-knacks now, but I hope to add some of the children’s creations to it later.

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Tea, anyone?

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Math Centre. We have materials for sorting and counting out at the moment. I love my number line cards from Right Brained Mom – you can download them for free on her website: https://rightbrainedmom.com/2017/08/28/free-printable-numbers-1-10/

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Close up of math materials. Sorry for the fuzzy photo – it was particularly sunny when I took the picture!

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The Quiet Centre. A space for children to “get away” and have a moment to themselves. I introduced a quiet centre to our class last year and it was absolutely invaluable for encouraging the children to self-regulate. We have a number of children with special needs and they also found comfort in having a spot in the class to go and “take a break.”

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Science Table. I have a few monarch caterpillars at home so I will be bringing one in to school. We had Painted Lady butterflies in our class last year, so I thought the children would enjoy seeing another species of butterfly. We also have some milkweed plants in our outdoor play space so I hope to teach the children how important the milkweed is to the monarch species.

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This is actually our water table, but we are choosing to set out Lego for the beginning of the year. This is another centre that will need no explanation to the children. Lego always inspires  creative work and the children often work collaboratively on these green building mats.

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Here is a picture of the whole space. You can see the snack table and the play dough table in this picture.

So there it is! A new space for learning together. Today while I was working, a family who was registering their child came in and exclaimed, “Wow! It looks just like a home!” I hope our students feel the same way when they see their new home away from home next week. Happy weekend, everyone!

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:

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