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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Inspiring young authors: Secret Surprise Eggs!

Riddle writing is always a popular activity in my class from year to year. I first introduce riddles to my students through a “secret in a bag” show and tell project (I try and provide different ideas for “sharing/show and tell” throughout the year, and “secret in a bag” is one of them). Each day, one student takes home our “secret in a bag” bag, selects a special object from their home to put inside, and writes three clues about it to share with the class. The next day, the student brings the bag to school, reads their clues, and our class tries to guess what the secret item is. My students LOVE this learning opportunity.


Since “secret in a bag” is so popular, I thought the children would be interested in another opportunity to write riddles. Last week at the playdough table, one of my students, B.B., kept making eggs with his playdough and burying objects inside. He would bring his “egg” to me and gleefully laugh as I broke it open to reveal his “surprise.” On one occasion, I asked him to give me a clue about what I might find inside and that’s when I had my “aha” moment about what our next riddle-writing provocation would be!

On the weekend, I picked up some large plastic eggs from the craft store. I wanted the jumbo sized eggs so that the children would be able to choose different sized items from the class (my eggs could easily hold an object as large as a marker or pair of scissors). I could only find jumbo eggs that were clear on one side, so I painted them with acrylic paint to make them opaque and keep the secret items hidden from view. I purchased 5 eggs, each with a different colour so that we would be able to know which egg belonged to which student.


When I introduced the centre to the children, I called it “secret in an egg” so that they would immediately know exactly what they were supposed to do (“I know! It’s just like secret in a bag!”). I also credited B.B.’s playdough egg surprises as the “inspiration” for this new idea. We often talk of being inspired by each other’s learning or creations in our class, and it always makes the children so proud to know their “good thinking” is helping their classmates.


I created a recording sheet for the children to write their clues on with the title “What’s in my egg?” and an egg outline for them to draw their answer in. I stapled the clue sheet on top of the egg drawing so that after we emptied the plastic egg, we could still put up the riddles with the answer sheet underneath. You can download a copy of the recording sheet here: Secret Surprise Egg

E.L.: “It is pink. It comes from a bird. You can find it in a nest.” Answer: an egg!

We share our secret surprise eggs every day during reflection time (in the morning and again in the afternoon). I hope you’ll give it a try! It’s been a wonderful motivator for even my most reluctant writers/speakers.

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!

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

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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!

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.

Writing With Worms

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A few weeks ago I posted about some of our discoveries in the outdoor classroom. One of the things that most captured the children’s attention at that time was a collection of worms. What was interesting was that the worms were wiggling and jiggling all over the place and as they did, the children began to comment on shapes and letters that they noticed:

“That worm looks like an e!” Image

“No, it’s a J!”

“Now it’s making a p!”

“The worms are making letters!”

With my camera handy, I was able to snap a few pictures of the worms in “letter formation” and our worm collecting group shared them with the class during sharing time. We talked about rotating the images to see new shapes and letters. The children wondered if the worms were trying to tell us something. This gave me an idea: writing with worms! I gathered up some pipe cleaners, printed out our worm pictures and created a provocation at the writing table: What letters can you make with worms? I even added some googly eyes to the pipe cleaners for a bit of whimsy (despite the fact that worms don’t actually have eyes…). I also placed some clipboards and writing paper, markers, and an alphabet chart at the table. Soon the centre was busy with children manipulating the “worms” into different letters and writing them down.

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Take a look at some examples of what the students created:

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Can you think of some ways to extend this provocation further? What other opportunities do you see for learning?