I have heard the phrase “hope you are healthy and well” or “may you be healthy and well” a lot in the past few months. Once I got to thinking a little more about this particular phrase, it makes a lot of sense to me.
In these unprecedented times of COVID, many people are focusing (and rightfully so!) on staying physically healthy – not getting COVID or any other illnesses/ailments. However, truly ‘being well’ (or wellbeing) is much more than the physical health of your body. Wellbeing is connected to Indigenous ways of knowing and the Medicine Wheel, where one must balance physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual health.
The graphic above is one that I use with my Grade 1 students in Health and Social Studies to begin to explore this holistic mindset of wellbeing. If we only tend to our physical health, our wheel will be lopsided and only 1/4 full.
During this global pandemic, it is essential that we continue to focus not only on being healthy, but also being ‘well,’ by tending to the other areas of wellbeing, not just physical health.
It is my hope for my friends, family, students, community (and the world as a whole) that we continue to not only be healthy, but also be well. I even made the conscious decision to sign my Christmas cards with wishes that loved ones be ‘healthy and well’ throughout the holiday season and beyond.
I’m curious what things you have been doing during the pandemic to ensure that your holistic wellbeing is a priority? What specific activities do you do to focus on each of the 4 areas?
This school year is shaping up to be full of ‘new’ things: new surprises, new learning, new challenges, new adventures!
I am grateful for all of the ‘newness:’ it is helping me grow as a teacher and keeps things from feeling stagnant. Although being in my fifth year of teaching may not seem like very far along in my career, I have now taught the same grade levels for several years in a row and it has produced both a sense of comfort and repetition. While it’s nice to know the curriculum and feel confident in what I am teaching, it’s also refreshing to add some new things to the mix to keep things exciting. I also want to avoid ever feeling that I’ve reached the peak of my teaching practice; learning and trying out new things ensures that I continue to grow as an educator.
In essence, as I gain more experience as a teacher, I also want to ensure that I am continually engaging in new experiences.
Here are a few of the new things that are expanding my horizons this year:
New Class Pet
Our Pre-K classroom has always had a large (6 feet x 3 feet x 2 feet large!) tank in it. Before this year, it was always home to various goldfish. When schools closed in March, we had to rehome our goldfish, as no one was going to be in the building to take care of them. This provided an opportunity for our Pre-K classroom to get a new pet, and luckily my EA was gung-ho to try out our newest critter…
a bearded dragon!
“Sandy” (named after the Great Sandy Desert in Australia, the native home to bearded dragons) has been an amazing addition to our class! While the fish provided a calming environment to look at, Sandy is teaching our students so many new things about pet care that they simply didn’t experience with fish. We are keeping a class book about Sandy as a living documentation piece, which continually grows as we learn more.
Learning to care for an exotic reptile baby has been a fascinating learning experience for me too. I have learned a lot about what reptile care entails, and have also become proficient at maintaining our live insects that provide Sandy’s diet.
2. New Students
This title may seem a bit silly, as most teachers get new students every year. In Pre-K, however, I have the unique privilege to teach many of the same students 2 years in a row (when they attend as 3 and 4 year olds in consecutive years). This year, however, I’ve had my smallest number of returning 4 year old students, with only one. I usually rely on my ‘returners’ to help our new students (3 year olds or newly enrolled 4 year olds) learn the routines of our day-to-day classroom life, and this was not possible this year, as virtually all of my students were learning about life in Pre-K for the first time! In addition, this is also the largest number of 3 year olds that I’ve ever had in my class in one year.
I was initially worried that this year would have to look a lot different, but I have to say that my group of Pre-K students has continually surprised me with how well they’ve learned our classroom routines. They are a bright, eager-to-learn group of kids that I am feeling so blessed to teach!
3. New COVIDRestrictions and Protocols
This was one that I was worried about all summer, and had me feeling apprehensive and reluctant to return to school this fall. I have to say, though, that this new ‘way of life’ in schools has provided a lot of new learning and growth for me as a teacher. I have had to tweak many routines and learning experiences for my students, but I am focusing on the new opportunities this has provided, rather than the limitations.
There is a common understanding in the teaching world that you only have to do your first year once, and then it’s over with and all up from there. This year, in many ways, has made my fifth year of teaching feel a lot like my first, with lots of unknown and learning on the fly. While this can be overwhelming, disconcerting, and frustrating at times, I choose to embrace the great things about the first year of teaching: the novelty of learning things for the first time, the thrill of taking risks and trying something new, and the joy of seeing the journey unfold.
What is new for you this school year?
What are the new opportunities that COVID protocols have created for your classroom?
This is just a short post to share a quote I came across while doing a reading for my class.
This quote from Milton Friedman (1982) struck me right away as having many links to the current COVID-19 pandemic. It gives me hope that these trying times are paving the way for many positive changes for the future!
What positive changes might come out of this crisis? Have you made positive changes in your everyday life, or your outlook on life as a result of this pandemic?
A student’s request of “Can I paint?” this morning sparked this beautiful play experience, as we brought out finger paint for the first time.
Several students were interested in trying out this new medium, and tried out various different techniques (fingerprints, handprints, swiping to make lines and doodles) on their paper. However, after a few minutes, they were all ready to move on to something new. The student pictured here, however, finger painted for more than 25 minutes, and would have happily kept at it all morning!
I was so intrigued to watch this young artist explore this new medium with such joy; it was such a privilege to watch this beautiful sensory experience unfold.
This student continued to apply more paint to her hands and spread it, slap it, and swipe it across the paper. This special finger paint paper has a slightly glossy finish to allow a gliding motion while applying paint, and really adds to the sensory experience as your hands can easily drift across the page. The student told me that she was going to cover every part of the white paper with paint, and continued to smear more in all of the bare edges. After watching for a while, I asked if she minded if I join in (I had to get my hands dirty too; she made it look so fun!) and she happily agreed.
As we painted, we continued to talk about the methods and colours we were using. The student shared that she paints a lot at home too, but uses paint brushes. It was clear to me that she did not mind the mess one bit; she now had paint halfway up both of her arms and covering every part of her hands and fingers. As she continued to apply more paint and glide it across the paper, she commented that it felt ‘slippery.’ I continued to sit in awe of the wonderful learning and play-based exploration taking place.
What struck me about this experience was how freeing it is to know that you are allowed to get dirty and make messes. My EA and I did not require this student to keep the paint only on the paper (as some got on the table) or try to keep it on her hands (as it spread up her arms); she was given full freedom to explore this messy play as she pleased. This made me stop and ponder how often adults try to regulate children’s play to minimize mess and inconvenience.
I then began to question why this messy play so intrigued this child, but had only briefly held the attention of others. There are certainly many possible reasons for this, but the two that I find most thought-provoking are:
That some children like the sensory experience of being messy, while others find it uncomfortable and unpleasant (I can be this way myself; I don’t like the feeling of having sticky/dirty hands, especially if I know I don’t have a means to clean them). How can we continue to offer rich sensory experiences for children who don’t find this pleasant?
That, perhaps, children don’t engage deeply with messy play because they are not used to being afforded this style of play. I wonder how many adults (unintentionally) squash children’s interest to get messy by constantly sending the message that mess is negative. Even I am guilty of this in my classroom at times. As adults, we often find the mess inconvenient or annoying to clean up, but we miss the learning or intentions that children had while creating the mess. I’ve noticed that children don’t usually make a mess simply to make a mess or be “naughty;” they are usually engaged in some play or exploration that led to the mess. How can we be more mindful of the learning implications involved in ‘making a mess’? How can we allow messy play that is meaningful and rich?
In closing, this experience has prompted me to reflect on ways that messy play can live in my classroom so that it is engaging and authentic for children’s learning, while not being totally wild and out-of-control (we still have to keep some semblance of routines and make a mess within reason; this doesn’t mean letting children run rampant like the Kindergarteners from the TV show “Recess”).
I am currently planning to have a “Messy Family Day” this spring, so families and children can engage in messy activities outside together (think mud pie making, tie dyeing clothing, and Jackson Pollock inspired painting). It is also equally important for adults to have an outlet to play and be messy.
Another idea I have to incorporate messy play more this year is to utilize our class set of Muddy Buddies more, especially as we play outside more due to COVID protocols this year. (Muddy Buddies are a brand of outdoor apparel that is like a raincoat-onesie; it covers you from head to toe and is great for jumping in mud puddles or messy art activities – check them out here). Now I just need to get an adult version for me and my EA! Puddle jumping and outdoor painting, here we come!
How do you honour messy play in your classroom? How do you feel about “mess”?
I have recently been trying to ‘plant myself’ during free play time in my classroom; rather than flitting to various areas of the classroom as children play, I sit down at one spot and try to stay there for the duration of free play time.
I have noticed a few things when I employ this strategy:
children are drawn to an area when I am sitting in it
the class, as a whole (even the children not sitting with me directly), seems more calm, engaged, and grounded
I am better able to support and scaffold each individual child’s learning when I focus on one area of the room, rather than all of the areas at once
it allows my EA to engage with other children so more students are getting adult interactions
often, the area I am sitting will end up drawing a large majority of the students in my class (not all of them stay for the duration, but many students will check in for a period of time) –> this leads to more engagement with others
children are able to spend longer periods of time at one centre when an adult can support and extend their play
I feel more productive, efficient, and relaxed as a result
In planting myself, I believe this sets the tone for the entire class. When children see me sitting in one spot for an extended period of time, they are encouraged to do the same. This shows children the value of deep engagement in play, rather than short bursts doing 20 different things. This also visually limits the clutter and movement in the classroom when I (and others) am stationary.
I have tried ‘planting myself’ at the following centres with success: puppets, blocks, sensory table, and, today, puzzles! My students have been quite interested in puzzles lately, partially due to the fact that I often offer this activity as a quiet, calm alternative when play gets excessively rowdy and dysregulated. I recently bought these new crepe rubber puzzles to provide something with a bit more difficulty, and children were quite enamored with them. Learning regarding colours, shapes, spatial awareness, problem solving, perseverance, letters and sounds, and vocabulary all took place.
In following with the metaphor, I am finding that ‘planting myself’ is allowing many new seeds to take root and grow in my classroom! I wonder where I will plant myself tomorrow…
Have you ever tried this strategy in your classroom?
What do you notice about your classroom, yourself, and your students when you ‘plant yourself’?
Hard to believe another school year is already underway! We are in full swing and I’m looking forward to another year of learning alongside the little souls that I’m blessed to have in my classroom everyday.
This will be a quick post; I just wanted to celebrate the fact that I found photo evidence of me achieving a goal I had with regards to free play time in my Pre-K classroom.
I have realized that when I plant myself in a stationary location during free play time, rather than flitting around from place to place, the students follow my lead and are also more grounded and engaged in longer play experiences.
It was my great pleasure to go through yesterday’s photos (taken by my lovely EA, who has become quite an adept documenter herself) and notice myself in the same position throughout our roughly hour-long play block. I plunked myself down in the block centre at the outset of play time and didn’t move once the entire time!
I was even more pleased to recognize that I had engaged with a variety of different students during this time. They literally do “come to you” if you plant yourself in one place. Students ended up bringing a basket of play food from the kitchen over to me to engage with together; this is the beauty of flexibility and ability of children to transport items within the classroom.
Granted, staying rooted in one spot doesn’t happen all the time (or even that often!) in Pre-K, as teachers need to be somewhat mobile to assist students in various areas of the room. But this is definitely a strategy that I would like to explore and employ more in the future. I continue to be so excited by the power of play and delight in the role that I can take in this beautiful learning.
Have you tried “planting” yourself during play time?
Have you noticed differences in how the children play when you do?
What other strategies do you employ as a teacher during free play time?
Nature has been on my mind a lot lately. The reasons for this are three-fold:
Two months ago, I got a new dog. Russ has been such an awesome addition to my life, as he has gotten me out and walking two times a day. Before I had him, it was much easier to make excuses and be sedentary. Now that I have a little guy to care for, I am motivated to get outside and it’s been a wonderful change in my life to get my daily dose of the great outdoors.
He doesn’t look it in this photo, but Russ LOVES exploring outside (doesn’t every dog?!)
I recently attended a Saskatchewan Early Childhood Education Council (Sask ECEC) workshop, which featured the expertise of Trina Markusson. She is an expert on Mindfulness (check out her website, Present Moment Living). I could go on about her presentation for a while (perhaps in a separate post), but the biggest thing I took away was that mindfulness is a practice that has to start within your own life first before you can share it with students. I have been actively practicing mindfulness in my personal life since the workshop, and being in nature is one of the best ways for me to stay present in current moment.
One of my classes in my Masters course this semester is about Supporting Learning the the Preschool Years. This week, the module topic is the outdoor classroom. I just read this piece by Randy White, which I highly recommend taking a look at (it’s a quick read) and it re-ignited my desire to incorporate nature and the outdoors into my practice as an early years teacher.
So what implications does this “green thinking” have for my practice?
While I am extremely lucky, and have a gorgeous indoor classroom, I do find that the outdoor space for our program is rather lacklustre. During my first year in Hudson Bay, our outdoor space featured a large valley, four established trees, and an emerald green lawn.
Unfortunately, the “valley” (really just a big divot or hole) filled up with several feet of water in the spring, which was a drowning risk (several students took unintentional swims in the water), so it had to be filled in. The trees were also taken out because they were dying. The biggest heartbreak of this development, however, is that the holes were filled in with a gravel-like material. The grass in half of the playground was subsequently lost, and replaced with an overwhelming sense of brown where there once was green. Admittedly, our playground has seen a lot of new developments and play structure additions since the photo above, but I don’t find it looks as natural as it first did.
So, enough of my griping and onto what I want to do about my dissatisfaction with this pivotal learning environment that is currently full of untapped potential…
This is an area that I would like to put conscious effort into improving in the future. For my current Masters course, our textbook (below) offers countless inspiring examples of early childhood environments that I would like to attempt to incorporate.
Curtis, D., & Carter, M. (2015). Designs for living and learning: Transforming early childhood environments (2nd ed.). St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.
I’m also taking inspiration from a final project I did for a fourth year course during my undergraduate degree. I was interested in outdoor learning spaces back then, too, and created a WordPress site with a smattering of resources and ideas for an outdoor learning space.
Check out the dream outdoor learning space design I created. Even though this was created before I was ever a teacher and had some practice with designing a learning environment, I still think this design holds up fairly well!
So, what are my top ‘wishes’ for an ideal outdoor learning space?
natural play features (boulders, logs, stepping stones, etc.)
natural loose parts offerings
I want to utilize our outdoor classroom more, and I truly believe that these changes will allow more nature-based learning to occur. The ultimate goal would be to spend entire days outside in all seasons. This would allow the children to experience, first-hand, the daily and seasonal changes that occur over the course of a year and build a meaningful relationship with the great outdoors in their community context. As White (2004) says, “the more personal children’s experience with nature, the more environmentally concerned and active children are likely to become.”
I look forward to attempting to tackle these changes in the coming school year(s). Wish me luck!
If you could have a dream outdoor learning space, what would it look like?
If you could only add one thing to your outdoor learning space right now, what would you choose?
What are your thoughts on nature based learning? How much of it do you currently do in your classroom?
The Pre-K program and its students have taught me so much about life, both as a teacher and just as a person in general. 🙂
As I reflected on my day while looking through pictures taken during play time, I realized that one of the best skills I’ve acquired as a Pre-K teacher is the ability (especially as a highly organized person) to accept “mess.” I put the word “mess” in quotations marks because, while many people would look at my classroom on any given day and think it’s a disaster, I am able to see through the mess to the learning happening within the “mess.”
I will honestly admit that I do still struggle with this at times, and there are definitely days when I am less accepting of the “mess” and immediately kibosh the mess-making, but today’s interactions make me think that I have made miles of progress. Here is what happened…
[A little background information: I put out a sensory bin full of scraps of paper for students to practice their cutting with. Also, we read a book about fall leaves at Morning Meeting today.] When play time rolled around, I walk over and see that, through several trips back and forth, this motivated student has transferred much of the scrap paper from the sensory bin onto the carpet and mixed in fabric leaves and plastic people. Cue my initial cringe at the horrible MESS!
Thankfully, my Pre-K teacher brain kicked in right away after my first gut reaction (which only lasted a few milliseconds, I am proud to say). I asked the student what he was using the items for. He replied that the people were jumping in the leaves (just like in the story we had read earlier).
Rather than squash this play experience and demand he clean it up right away, I accepted the “mess” and entered into the play myself. I suggested students rake the leaves into a pile so they could jump in, which drew more classmates to the play.
Jumping in the leaf pile
Finally (and this is how I REALLY know that I am a Pre-K teacher and have accepted the “mess” as it relates to students’ learning and play), I actually suggested that students throw the leaves up in the air, as that is what I like to do with the leaves. So yes, you heard that right, I actually encouraged students to make more of a “mess!” This made for some beautiful action shots that capture the joy of this full-body experience.
The best part? Both students easily agreed to help clean up after their play experience had come to an end (Don’t expect me to completely change my nature, okay?!)
Tidying up with teacher help (it’s only fair – I helped make the mess!)
[I would like to say that this acceptance of mess translates somehow to finding meaning in my enormous pile of dirty dishes that sometimes accumulates, but, unfortunately, there is no learning happening within that mess, just laziness! Haha!]
Well, hello again! Sorry for my extended absence from this little slice of the internet. I hope these few snapshots help to explain my neglect of my blog.
That’s right! The highlight of my summer was traveling to Egypt and Jordan and taking in a TON of ancient history! Egypt has been an obsession of mine since I was a little girl, so it was a surreal experience to cross off the #1 item on my bucket list. If this was a travel blog, believe me, you wouldn’t hear the end of it – haha!
After a fantastic summer (that FLEW by!), I am feeling ready and excited to begin my third year of teaching and to be back in Hudson Bay. I am extra eager to get started, as I have a new role in half of my job this year: I am still teaching my absolute passion (Pre-K) in the mornings, and get to teach one of our homerooms of Grade 1 in the afternoons!
I am really looking forward to using play-based and place-based education in both of my roles this year and continuing to explore authentic early learning with my students in Pre-K and Grade 1, as well as furthering my knowledge of Early Childhood Education in general through the start of my online Masters program through UBC! It is gearing up to be a busy, but fulfilling, year full of growth and learning!
My new teaching strategy interests of Place-Based Education and Walking Curriculum came from 2 professional reads that I explored this summer. Both of these were quick and easy reads, with lots of detailed examples of how schools around North America have implemented Place-Based learning and a great collection of ideas for curriculum-linked walks. I would recommend either of these books to educators looking to involve their students more meaningfully with their natural surroundings and communities outside the walls of the school.
“Walking Curriculum: Evoking Wonder and Developing Sense of Place (K-12)” by Gillian Judson
“Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities ” by David Sobel
In a nutshell, I can’t wait to see where this year takes me on my learning journey as an early years teacher! I hope you will continue to follow along on my escapades. I’ll leave you with some snaps of my classroom set up, which is also fresh and new this year! More pictures of the students actually exploring the space are coming soon – promise!
So, I’ve been sitting on some exciting news for a while that involves my teaching assignment next year…
As many of you know, I currently teach Pre-Kindergarten in the morning and an assortment of prep classes in Grades 4, 5, 6, and Kindergarten in the afternoon. There have been some changes in class sizes and staffing next year, and I am extremely excited to have the opportunity to keep my beloved Pre-K in the a.m. and teach Grade 1 for the other half of my job next year!
With the end of the year in sight, this news has finally started to truly sink in and become real for me (even though I have known for quite awhile already). I am starting to picture what teaching Gr 1 will look like, and how my job next year will be drastically different from the last two.
I seem to recall saying that June is a time of reflection and reminiscing on my blog this time last year, and I find this go around to be no different. As I think back on my last two years of prep teaching, I can’t help but count all of the ways that prep teaching has been a blessing to me as a brand new teacher:
It made me step out of my comfort zone and teach 3 grades that I had never even thought about teaching before (Gr 4, 5, 6). I never envisioned myself in upper elementary, so this was an adventure in getting to know what students at these ages are like. I think I can affirmatively say, now, that each age level offers its own unique challenges and joys.
It helped me get to know the staff and students a lot better, a lot quicker. I came to Hudson Bay as a brand-spankin’-new teacher straight out of university and didn’t know anyone in the community. Teaching a variety of grades helped me to learn about the student population and put A LOT more faces to names than I would have been able to if I was strictly in one grade. It also allowed me to build relationships with many different colleagues that I teach prep classes for. I truly believe that I wouldn’t be as connected to the staff and students here if I had been in a single-grade teaching assignment.
I got to learn a lot of new technology that I couldn’t have used in Pre-K. As an early years teacher, I believe that my young students are capable of a lot, but some things are simply not realistic for them to do. Teaching older grades allowed me to try out many tech tools that are not developmentally appropriate for 3 and 4 year olds, such as Recap, Plickers, Google Classroom, Kahoot!, Padlet, QR codes, Garage Band, etc.
I got to navigate teaching more “traditional” curriculum and discover how to assess it. The Pre-K curriculum and environment is vastly different from a numbered-grade set up. Getting to teach some of the older grades helped me figure out my personal teaching style and assessment practices. I can proudly say that I have stuck true to one of my teaching philosophies coming out of university and have yet to give a test in any of my prep classes, opting instead for a variety of different assessment strategies that are more product-based than rote memorization and regurgitation (although, those certainly have a place in other subjects that I do not teach in those grade levels).
I had many new and diverse experiences. Getting to organize the Culture Fair (a Grade 6 Social Studies tradition), working with Public Health nurses to facilitate Puberty curriculum in Grade 5 Health, video chatting live on Skype with a Saskatchewan-born musician for Gr 4 Music, the list goes on and on! Teaching upper elementary provides a lot of different opportunities than an early years classroom for sure!
It gave me a taste for and appreciation of prep teachers! Much like my views on the general public and serving/waitressing, I think every teacher should have to get some experience with prep teaching during their career, just to understand what it is like. Prep teaching is a very unique and diverse teaching assignment that, while not usually sought-after, is absolutely essential! At the end of the day, I could rest easy knowing that my job is providing my colleagues with their much-needed and well-deserved prep time!
To sum this all up, I have enjoyed my time prep teaching and tried to take all the learning out of it that I possibly could. I have to be honest and say that prep teaching, along with all of the benefits that I listed above, also includes a list of challenges and struggles, and boy, did I have my struggles!
While I look back fondly on my time prep teaching, I am also delighted to see what next year looks like when I am teaching Gr 1 and have more of a “home,” rather than bouncing around from place to place. I know that this new teaching assignment will have many more new lessons to teach me!
Do you have a new teaching assignment next year?
What is the role of change and evolution in your teaching practice?
Have you ever taught prep classes? What was your experience?