Monday, July 11, 2016

Let the Children Play! A Day in the Life of K!

I often get asked...
"What does a 'typical' day in a kindergarten class look like?"

There really is no typical day!
At our school, the kindergarten teachers always say "prepare for the unexpected" - which happens all the time! - and we often sing the song "Let it go" from the movie Frozen - because there may be times in which you hope to get to something but don't - just let it go!

I presented this topic back in April at the Staff Development for Educators Ontario Kindergarten Teachers Conference in Hamilton.  
I will also be presenting this topic again next week at the I Teach K! Conference in Las Vegas.  
Please let me know if you will be joining me!

"Play and academic work are not distinct categories for young children, and learning and doing are also inextricably linked for them."
(Ontario Full Day Kindergarten Curriculum Document, 2010, p.13)

It's important to remember that play can be both child-initiated free play and more structured play-based learning opportunities.

I really love the fact that our students come all day, every day to school.
I just finished teaching my 11th year, all in kindergarten, so I have truly seen how much things have changed.

As educators, we must remember that young children are active learners:
- they move, shake, wiggle
- they are explorers, artists, dancers, musicians
- they are curious, hands-on learners
- they have energy!

Asking a child to sit for long periods of time, whether on the carpet for a whole-group lesson, or at a table, is not expected at this age.
Keeping this in mind while we plan for our day, here is a look at our schedule from this past year.

We try and schedule as many large, open-ended blocks of free time as possible (sometimes difficult when "specials" like health and physical education are slotted into your day for you and cannot be changed).

So how does our day start?
When the children come in, we have a few that are crying to go home and anxious as to what we are doing today so having a visual schedule of what the day looks like helps.

Children can move the magnet along to see how far we have come and what's left before it's time to go home.

They also sign in and take turns pointing and reading a poem while we wait for all our friends to join us.
We meet together on the carpet for a whole-group lesson, usually focusing on language:
- shared reading/read-aloud (book or poem)
- discussion about student interests
- students presenting new findings for inquiries
- writing/drawing lesson
- sharing time (i.e. inquiry, writing sample)
- reviewing how to use materials/class discussion
- hands-on game/activity

*Our whole-group meeting lasts anywhere from 10-15 minutes max. then students are ready to start at centres around the classroom.*

All of the centres in the classroom are open all day for the children to explore.
Throughout the day, both the ECE (Ms. Iannucci) and myself are documenting student learning, assessing, meeting children for small group lessons according to ability, engaging in inquiries, etc.
Here are some centres in our classroom:

We like to use the carpet for building/blocks as it gives children a lot of room and is the focal point in our room, as it is in the middle of the class.  This allows for the children to gather materials they may choose to use from centres all around the room.

Our Discovery/Science area is a place where children often bring in their "found treasures" (including rocks, flowers, sticks, nature items from a family trip, etc.).  There is lots of excitement in the morning, when students arrive, as they enjoy seeing if there are changes to an experiment (i.e. will the seeds grow?) or how our pets are (i.e. we had pet snails last year!).

The light table is always popular as students can use their imagination to create unique things!
Not two creations ever look alike!
This is a great opportunity for educators to have rich conversations with our students, asking open-ended questions, possibly leading to an inquiry.

Then sensory table can hold many things.  Some things we have added this year:
- rice, buttons, sifters (photo above)
- popcorn kernels, black beads, tweezers and small containers to collect beads
- yarn and beads
- water! (with a variety of small objects)
- soil, gardening gloves, pots, seeds
- marbles, spoons and empty wrapping paper tubes
- soap and bubbles
- food colouring and water, eye droppers and a variety of containers
...the possibilities are endless!
This year, we moved our sensory bin near our doors leading outside so that the children can experience this centre during outdoor play.  It worked so well!

Playdough is a centre that can be both free-play and structured.  Here we set up a provocation inviting the students to create their own garden after reading some books on spring.

We placed the overhead projector in the hallway, which allows students from the classroom beside ours to also explore with it.  You can often find small mirrors, colour pallets, and objects at Michaels or the Dollar store, which make for great trinkets at this centre!

Our sand box is another centre that encourages children to use materials around the class to support their play (i.e. often times we see children adding blocks or loose parts from our math centre).  Lots of open-ended play which, again, leads to rich conversations!

At the math centre, the manipulatives are often changed depending on what the students interests are or what we plan on focusing on are.  Everything we offer here is hands-on, open-ended and lots of fun!

Our dramatic centre physically changes often - it has relocated in our classroom several times!
The students have co-created so many things over the years including a Pizzeria, Grocery Store, Bakery, Florist Shop, and Ice Cream Shop.

A couple of years ago, we had such a high interest in "taking things apart" that we created a 'fix-it" centre.  Parents donated many things to help us - including old laptops, telephones, remote controls and stereos.  We purchased small tools from the Dollar Store and an EA at our school was able to find safety goggles for our students.

The library area is another area that changes locations in our classroom often, depending on what else is happening.  We want this area to be a quiet place for students to not only read, but they can bring an iPad over, write with a clipboard, engage in small world play, etc.

At the writing centre, we offer students many different tools including picture dictionaries, sight word rings, vocabulary flip books, different writing paper (coloured, lined, blank, stapled, etc.), stencils (my absolute favourite!), and lots more!
It's important to remember that if your students are not necessarily drawn to the writing area in your classroom, ask yourself why? Perhaps adding something new (like coloured paper or fancy scissors) will encourage them to write!
We expect all of our students to do at least 1 piece of writing each day, ranging from a drawing to practising his/her name, to writing a story or adding a few sentences to his/her picture.
This is certainly a popular area in our classroom!

We want children to express their creativity in many different ways, so the art centre often houses a variety of materials for the children to use, and it's located near the writing centre.

Many students love to paint!

This year we turned our snack area into a "bistro" - similar to a restaurant where students can eat and chat with a friend.  We loved using these small round tables!

I hope you will be able to join me next week in Las Vegas to hear all about how children self-regulate at these centres and see different examples of materials we set out to explore.
You can find out more about the conference by clicking {here}.

Stay tuned for more blog posts this summer about provocations, some of our favourite materials to use and where to purchase them, troubleshooting centres, examples of small group lessons and lots more!

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Exploring ramps and speed

A few months back, Wintergreen Learning Materials sent me a new product that they thought would be of interest to my students...
These rubber and wooden ramps, stands, plastic connectors and various balls by Kodo Kids sparked a lot of interest!  I just left them out near our building blocks, using the carpet as a large space for the children to explore.
Look at what happened next!

The children began exploring just how long the rubber ramp was (25 ft!). They were amazed at how long it stretched across our room!
Instantly they knew that they wanted the various balls to rolls as fast as possible down the ramp so they raised the beginning of the ramp, and even began using other materials found in the classroom to elevate their project.

They experimented quite a bit with using the smaller pieces - stacking them, placing them side by side, and spacing them in different ways to see if the balls would move along faster.

Over the course of the next few weeks, more and more students had taken an interest in created a "very long roller coaster"!

A.M.:  This roller coaster is going through lots of tunnels!

J.M.:  I think we need to put something at the end to make it stop!
We began to research various roller coasters and how their tracks are designed.  We are very fortunate to have an amusement part so close by that many students could relate to the experience to themselves.

M.R.:  I know this roller coaster!  I see it when I drive sometimes!

J.F.:  My sister went on this roller coaster - not me, because it's only for big people.

Many of the children took an interest in creating the "roller coaster" with hills and bumps, like the various ones we researched.  They soon realised that this was more challenging than it looked!

A lot of conversations revolved around the fact that if the beginning of the roller coaster started higher, the balls would make it all the way to the end.

 M.M.:  It has to be very high so the ball can go faster!

Some students discussed which ball went the fastest and why...

S.P.:  The white ball (plastic golf ball with holes) goes the fastest!

Mrs. Albanese:  Why is that?

S.P.:  It has lots of holes in it that push the wind through!

J.F.:  Yah, and this white ball (regular golf ball) is heavy so it's slower.

Mrs. Albanese:  What about the brown ball (wood)?

S.P.:  It's medium speed.  It's faster than that ball (regular golf ball) but not as fast as this one (plastic golf ball with holes).

During the last few weeks of class, we experimented with the concept of speed - which ball really did go the fastest and why?
Some children set up a simple ramp and timed the various balls going down.  They used the wooden ramps for this.

Be sure to check out all the other amazing products from Kodo and Wintergreen Learning Materials!  This project could have kept going well into the summer had school not ended!  I can't wait to revisit these ramps next school year, possibly even take them outside and see if our theories change!

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Las Vegas Teacher Meet-Up ... July 2016

It's that time again....will YOU be in Las Vegas next month attending some amazing conferences?
We hope that you will join us for a night of fun!

Mark your calendars....
When? Tuesday, July 19 @ 6:30 pm
Where? The Venetian Hotel (conference room to be announced)

This event is sure to be HUGE!
(And did I mention we have LOTS of prizes to give away!)

A big thank you to our sponsor, Staff Development for Educators (SDE).
If you haven't already signed up for one of their fantastic conferences happening next month in Las Vegas, you can click {here} for more information.
Use code PR10 and save 10% off your registration!

The meet up is open to all educators, so we hope to see lots of administrators, educational assistants, early childhood educators, and, of course, teachers!
This year we are planning to have the biggest...the BEST....PAJAMA party!
Yes, you read that right!
After all, it's Las Vegas...and what happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas (or on our social media).

We have had many fun meet-ups over the years, in Las Vegas and other places too!
Here are some pictures from the pajama party at the 2nd Annual Spring Teacher-Blogger Meet Up hosted by Ehle Kindergarten.

Okay, so how can YOU sign up for this amazing get together?
- Click {here} to take you to the Facebook page and click on "going" to RSVP
- OR... you can write a comment on this blog post (down below) if you don't have Facebook and let us know you will be there!

Remember, this will be an evening full of passionate educators - get ready to laugh, have fun and WIN SOME PRIZES!

Don't be shy...come on by!
Join us for a night of passion, pajamas, and prizes!!!!
Hope to see everyone there!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Our Rainforest Inquiry

Several weeks ago, we noticed a few children building a structure using blocks and the acrylic lid from the sensory bin.
S.P.:  This is a forest.
A.P.:  No it's a rainforest!
Mrs. Albanese:  What's the difference?
A.P.:  A rainforest is far away.  It rains there a lot!  
S.P.:  Yah but I think the animals are the same.

So we went down the hall to the library and searched for books that could possibly help us find out the difference between a forest and a rainforest.
Several children became intrigued with our new books and wanted to draw some of the animals.
We read this particular book, The Magic School Bus In the Rainforest, to the children over the course of the week to see if there was more interest.

A.R.:  I think the toucan is a cool bird.
Mrs. Albanese:  What makes it 'cool'?
A.R.:  It is so colourful!

The large structure the boys built kept growing taller and taller so I suggested we move it to the hallway where there was more room for all to help out.

One particular boy, A.P., took such an interest in the rainforest that he brought in books from home as well as small creatures to add to the creation.
The more we read and researched, the children began to tweak their project.
They found out that a rainforest has 4 layers, lots of moss, rocks, vines, waterfalls, etc. and animals live on different layers.

I left out a large map for the children to compare to the one they found in a book.
They wanted to use the map to label the rainforests from around the world.
We borrowed the globe from the class next door to get another idea of what the world looks like and try to find the rainforests.

While we were researching the various animals that live in the rainforest, we noticed that the children were so excited to read and learn more about the anaconda snake.  We read that this snake is about 6 feet long, on average, so we decided to see how long that really was!
The children began making their own anaconda to add to their rainforest!

Students were hard at work researching other animals and drawing them to add to the rainforest.

Making the vines was probably the best part!
Everyone wanted to help paint and cut (we left the hanging part for the educators!).
This particular student was very keen on recording his new found knowledge on a documentation wall.  This display was created by the students, as they added their drawings and pictures throughout the inquiry.

We watched several videos of a rainforest and some students were captured by the many different sounds you can hear!  This student tried to re-create all of the sounds with found materials.

This rainforest inquiry lasted for several weeks, as many children delighted in playing with the animals and adding to it by drawing and researching the animals that live in the rainforest.
It's still in our hallway as we hope that parents, staff and other students in our school will pass by and see the wonderful creation and learning that has taken place!