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!

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Snowflake Loose Parts

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Before the winter break we set up this loose parts provocation at the science table. The children thoroughly enjoyed touching and combining the materials to make stunning snowflake designs. I watched with interest to see how some children randomly placed their materials on the snowflakes (by clumping, stacking, and piling materials together) while others were meticulous about creating symmetrical designs. All you need for this provocation is a selection of colourful loose parts (I went with blue, silver, clear and white pieces. The children particularly loved the gems!) and some snowflake designs. I found these wooden and cork snowflakes at my local dollar store, but printed out templates would also work. This activity would also be beautiful on the light table!

Take a look at some of the children’s stunning designs:

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Happy winter!

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!

 

In the Art Studio: Plasticine Art Inspired by Barbara Reid

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This month we have been inspired by renowned Canadian author and illustrator Barbara Reid. Barbara Reid has worked on some of my class’s favourite read-alouds: Picture a Tree, Perfect Snow, and Subway Mouse. When reading, we often discuss how an artist may have created their illustrations. My students were very interested in how Barbara was able to achieve such realistic and detailed pictures using Plasticine.

Lucky for us, Barbara Reid has created a series of tutorial videos which you can find on YouTube (links below). In her videos, Barbara talks about how she goes about creating her artworks: from the planning stage (researching, sketching a picture), to creating a background, to adding fine details and textures to her work.

Video: Making Plasticine Pictures with Barbara Reid Part 1

Video: Making Plasticine Pictures with Barbara Reid Part 2

Video: Making Plasticine Pictures with Barbara Reid Part 3

For this project, I cut our Plasticine into very small pieces so it would be easy for the children to manipulate (and because a little goes a long way!). I arranged the pieces in small containers by colour. I also included some of Barbara Reid’s books and a non-fiction book about Barbara Reid herself. We also had dry cloths for wiping our hands (as Barbara suggested) and some tools for adding texture. For the planning process, the children had pieces of cardstock and pencils for sketching. We made our Plasticine pictures on small canvas boards I found at the dollar store. The children were extremely excited to do their work with “real artist materials.” For me, it is very important to give the children beautiful and authentic art materials to use and work with. Their art is more than deserving of quality materials and in my experience, they seem to take their art more seriously when they perceive materials to be “special.”  For this project, the strength of the canvas boards was an added advantage, as it made it easier for the children to spread the Plasticine.

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During the planning process, I really didn’t meddle too much in what the children were sketching or wanting to create, thinking the children would figure out on their own what was going to work and what wasn’t. For example, the first group of children who visited the studio realized that creating people with Plasticine was a big challenge, and advised their classmates accordingly during reflection time. Spreading the Plasticine was also a challenge for some (and a great fine motor muscle workout!). Some children took a few sessions to complete their backgrounds, pausing and coming back later to give their fingers a rest. Other children wanted to persevere and complete their backgrounds so they could get to adding their flowers or bugs or animals. If you’re wondering how long it took the children to complete their pictures, it varied between one session (about half an hour) to a few days, depending on each child.

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Y.A.: “I want to make a picture of a cat.” 

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A.J. spreads the Plasticine to make a sky. “I’m mixing the colours. A little bit of dark blue and a little bit of light blue.”

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Y.A.: “I’m making my grass like Barbara Reid. I’m rolling snakes and making them flat like grass. I’m doing a pattern: light green, dark green, light green, dark green…”

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R.A.: “I’m making a little mousey like Barbara Reid. It’s just like The Subway Mouse.”

Here are some of the children’s completed art works. I have them displayed on a low chalkboard ledge in our classroom and the children can often be found admiring them!

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S.C. “I made a rainbow and a little girl is camping in the tent.”

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Honestly, the children were SO proud of their completed art works. They loved showing them off during reflection time and talking about the process they used to make them. During one reflection session, we started talking about how Barbara Reid gets her Plasticine pictures in the pages of her books. One student remembered that Barbara’s husband photographs her art for her so the pictures can be used as illustrations. One student suggested that we take photographs of our work and use the pictures to make a book by writing our own stories. I loved that the children were inspired to create their own stories, so we set up a story-writing invitation.

At the writing table, I gave the children some mini easels to place their art on. I put out plain paper and some black pens. The children could choose to write about their own work or a classmate’s work that inspired them. This proved to be a popular invitation! Some children returned each day to write a new story! We loved listening to each other’s stories during reflection time – some children’s stories were so popular, the class asked them to read it aloud more than once.

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E.H. “Once there was a little ladybug. She wanted to rest on a flower. The red flower was wet but the purple flower was just right. The End.”

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“I went out on a stormy day.”

We are still in the midst of our story writing. I was interested to see the emergence of a narrative voice in the children’s work and am curious about exploring this further with the class. Stay tuned!

The Mystery Object Inquiry Project

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Don’t you love a good mystery? I know whenever I’m reading a book or watching a film with an element of the unknown, I am always SO curious to see how things will turn out in the end. This year, I decided to spark some interest in a new inquiry by adding in an element of surprise: a “mystery object.” I started with an amaryllis bulb. You can really use anything for this project, but a plant was a great option because of the fact that a plant is always growing and changing. I knew the focus of this inquiry was going to be on building the children’s capacity for making good observations and predictions, and I wanted them to be able to revisit their predictions as the plant grew and changed. An amaryllis blooms in about 6-8 weeks from the time of planting so the children had plenty of time to practice their inquiry skills!

I introduced this project with a game that our music itinerant taught us: “What’s in the box?” I placed the bulb, pot, and bag of soil in a box marked with question marks. We passed the box around the circle asking each child in a sing-song voice, “What’s in the box?” and the children sang back their guesses in turn. After everyone had had a guess, we opened the box to reveal what was inside. I passed around the bulb and each child tried to guess what it was. I recorded their predictions in my notebook. After we had all had a turn at guessing, I asked the class what they thought we should do next. Since there were no instructions with our mystery object, we would have to figure out for ourselves what to do. Right away, many of the children suggested putting the object in the pot with the soil. One child suggested that we need to put water in it too…because that’s what you do when you put something in a pot of dirt.

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Our Mystery Object in its bed of dirt. One student suggested we leave it on the windowsill at the science table so it could catch some sunshine!

We placed our mystery object at the science table. It was the first place most children visited when they entered the classroom each day! Every time there was a change in the mystery object, we took time to discuss our observations as a group. The children had access to our See Think Wonder and “My Prediction” recording sheets throughout the project. It was interesting for me to see which children changed their predictions based on new information and observations as the mystery object grew (and which children held fast to their original ideas).

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A.R. records her thinking about the Mystery Object on a “See, Think, Wonder” recording sheet.

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Some of the children’s predictions about what the Mystery Object might be/grow into: beans, a blueberry, a beanstalk, onions, an apple, salad.

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Our object changes! The students were excited to see these “sprouts” emerge – first one, then two, then three, then four!

One of the interesting questions that arose from one of our reflection discussions was “Is our mystery object a living thing?” This was a question that divided the class! We decided to do some further research to find out. Our librarian gave us a book called “What is a living thing?” which we read in hopes of answering the question once and for all. Again, some children could see right away evidence that our object was indeed living (it was growing, changing, requiring our care and attention) while other children had difficulty connecting the information from the book to their observations of the mystery object.

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The discussion this day revolved around the growth coming from our object. Many children noticed that the new “sprout” looked different than the previous growth. I was encouraging the children to be specific with their observations and descriptions. The leaves were described as “smooth,” “flat,” “pointy” and the new growth as “fat,” “curvy,” and “round.” Many children felt there might be a surprise inside the new growth which caused them to rethink their original predictions.

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The children measure the mystery object to keep track of its growth. J.T. visited the science table every day to measure the mystery object and update the class on how much it had grown!

The day our mystery object bloomed was incredibly exciting! We decided to google “bulb plant that blooms after 8 weeks” and found a matching image for our flower in our search! Giving our plant a name (Amaryllis) was quite satisfying to the children. Every visitor to our classroom was immediately shown to the science table and told about our mystery object – “Do you wanna see our mystery object? It’s an AMARYLLIS!”

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Our beautiful amaryllis bloom. We were shocked to discover that each pod (we ended up with two) held not one, but 4 blooms inside! Amazing!

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Taking a closer look with the magnifiers…

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Counting the blooms…and wondering what might be inside this little pod??

Overall, I feel like the mysterious element to this inquiry was an asset to piquing the children’s initial interest and keeping it sustained throughout the project. My goal from the beginning was to provide an opportunity for the children to practice their inquiry skills – and in that, the mystery object inquiry was very successful!

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Documenting our work

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We thought we’d add a little element of mystery to our hallway display…

Have you ever tried teaching with a mystery object? I’d love to hear what you used as the spark for your learning!

 

 

 

Winter Expressions: Exploring Winter Experiences Through Art

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“This is a snowman and me. I drew snowflakes and wind and trees. My mom threw carrots everywhere; even on the tree – for the animals!” (J.A.T.)

After finally getting a proper dusting of snow, the children were extremely interested in talking about all things winter. Our morning circle time was dominated by stories about snowy walks to school, wet mittens, and plans for play in the snow later in the day. However, I still have quite a few children who are hesitant to share their thinking during our large group conversations or reflections, so I wanted to find a way to provide all my students with an opportunity to talk about their experiences with winter. I have often found that some children are more willing to open up when they are engaged in some sort of activity – be it building, drawing, or even cleaning up. I remembered a beautiful blog post I came across last winter when I was at home on maternity leave that documented the winter conversations children were able to share while creating art about winter in their atelier (you can find my inspiration here: Conversations About Winter, Solstice, and the Changing Light). I decided that art was definitely the way to go.

This exploration was done on acetate sheets (I placed a white sheet of paper underneath each acrylic sheet for better visibility) with permanent markers, tempera paint, and glitter paint. Tempera paint will peel/flake off the acrylic paper when dry, so you must use the glitter paint (mine was a washable tempera glitter paint, but dried like plastic) with the tempera together if you don’t want the paintings to fall apart when they are done. I didn’t try using acrylic paint, but that would likely work as well. Perhaps even finger paint….but I suggest you test your materials before you try it with the children.

First, the children drew their pictures with the permanent markers. As they drew, many children looked out the window for inspiration. Most of the children talked openly about what they were drawing. For the children who are more hesitant to talk, I tried to guide the conversation by asking open-ended questions about the weather, winter activities, and family life.

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“That’s me and my snowman. I see wind out our window so I’m adding swirly wind. And here are the trees with no leaves. The sun is shining on my snowman so I put something special on it so it won’t melt.” (R.A.)

When the children were done sketching, they used the paints to add colour and extra details to their work. When I introduced this centre, we talked about why we were using tiny brushes in the paint – specifically, how the small brushes allow us to add fine details to our work. This idea recently came up in another painting project we had done and the children are beginning to understand how material choices can affect what they are able to accomplish. By highlighting that small brushes make for finer details I find that the children go into the project with the mindset of adding special details to their work.

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I noticed that when children are engaged in detailed work they really “lean in” to the project. You can tell by this student’s body language that he is extremely focused and engaged in his work.

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“This is me and my dad and my brother. I like shoveling the snow. This is my shovel.” (C. P.)

Each day we took some time during reflection time to share some of the children’s finished art pieces. Either I read my notes about what the children said while they worked (their “stories”) or the children presented it in their own words, or both. It was definitely a celebration of learning!

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“I was outside playing in the snow. The wind was almost coming! I see the sun up in the sky. I think the sun is shining on the snow. I wonder if the snow is going to melt?” (F.M.)

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“I like that it’s snowing in winter – that you can catch snowflakes with your tongue. We are playing outside. We’re going to [the school] to slide down the big hill.” (J.T.)

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“I like snowflakes because I get them on my tongue! I made LOTS of snowflakes. Look at my snow! I’m outside with my hat. I have snow on my head but it’s okay.” (C.G.)

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“I’m in the snow. I like that it snows in the winter. I love it to be snowing. So sparkly!” (E. H.)

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Butterfly Inquiry: Inspiring Young Authors with Tap the Magic…Egg?

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As mentioned previously on the blog, my students were totally inspired by the book Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson (you can read about it in Books That Inspire Young Authors). When it came time to design some provocations for the writing table for our butterfly project, I was thinking about how I could give the children an opportunity to show their learning about the butterfly life cycle. Since the children were already familiar with the cyclical nature of Tap the Magic Tree, it seemed like a good jumping off point for talking about the cycle of how caterpillars grow and change. As a class, we brainstormed a version of Tap the Magic Tree called “Tap the Magic Egg” (which, of course, the children were completely excited about!). After some modelling with the entire class, we placed some inspiration books, book covers, newsprint, and sample vocabulary at the writing table. As with our other Tap the Magic Tree experiences, this centre was immediately jam packed with children creating their own life cycle stories. I was able to assess the children’s understanding of the concept, but each story was unique to the child who wrote it. We certainly got a lot of enjoyment out of hearing the stories read aloud at reflection time!

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You can read more about our butterfly project by clicking here.