one with nature

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Nature has been on my mind a lot lately. The reasons for this are three-fold:

  1. 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.

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    He doesn’t look it in this photo, but Russ LOVES exploring outside (doesn’t every dog?!)

  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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So, what are my top ‘wishes’ for an ideal outdoor learning space?

  • a green, filled-out lawn
  • plants (trees, bushes, shrubs, flowers, vegetables, vines, etc.)
  • a mud kitchen
  • some type of water feature
  • 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? 

Until next time,

-KKF

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accepting “mess”

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!

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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.

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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!]

How do you honour student learning and play?

Do you find it hard to accept “mess”?

Until next time,

-KKF

new year, new goals

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

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“Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities ” by David Sobel

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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!

Until then,

-KKF

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new year, new adventure

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?

 

Until next time,

-KKF

short and (so very) sweet

I am so very pleased to announce that I have been accepted into an online Masters degree program in Early Childhood Education through the University of British Columbia!

This is a part-time, cohort program, which means that for the next 2 and 1/2 years, I will be taking one or two classes at a time, all with the same group of people.

I am absolutely ecstatic to have the opportunity to further my education in the world of early years, my true passion.

I would like to say a HUMONGOUS thank you to all of my supporters and cheerleaders: my family, friends, and colleagues. I owe so much to all of you for constantly standing behind me and encouraging me along my journey.

#goals

It is times like these where I am reminded of how fitting my blog name is. I initially created this blog to document the journey through my degree, when I was quite literally “learning to teach”.  Through reflection, professional development, and pursuing my Masters, however, I am proving that, each and every day, I am still “learning to teach” and be the best educator that I possibly can be.

Cheers to all of the amazing adventures ahead! I hope you will continue to come along for the ride.

Love,

-KKF

light table eye candy

Our class recently received this brand new tri-fold mirror. The decision to add this piece to the light table was a good one, as it drew students to the centre today.

The addition of this aesthetic element amps up the already beautiful colored blocks on the light table. I was bursting with excitement when students began stacking blocks on top of each other in order to mix the colors and create new hues of purple, orange, and yellow.

While this exploration only lasted a few minutes, other students soon came over and began using the blocks in other ways, such as balancing them on top of each other and building with them.

What would you add to keep the exploration of color mixing sustained?

What are your favourite light table additions?

Until next time,

-KKF

once upon a time…

(if you want to skim/skip the story and get into the meat and potatoes of why I wrote a tale about the history of colonization in Canada, scroll down)

Once upon a time, there was a group of noble and peaceful people living in a vast and varied land. These people lived alone on their land for thousands of years. They were very attuned to the world around them, and they used this respect for the natural world to harness the properties of the plants and animals that lived in their land. The smallest plant could be used as a magnificent medicine. The animals that roamed the land could be used to provide shelter, clothing, tools, and food. Each time a plant or animal was killed or taken from the earth, the people made sure to say a prayer of gratitude thanking the earth for providing them with sustenance. The people traveled their land, learning to live in harsh climates and conquering the many challenges that faced them. In order to keep their way of life alive, they told intricately-woven stories to their youth, so that they could, one day, be the story keepers that would pass their tales on to those that came after them. The people continued to live on in peace and harmony in their untouched and undiscovered land.

 

Until, one day, newcomers arrived from across the fathomless seas. The people were surprised to see them; they had become so accustomed to living in their land alone. The newcomers looked, sounded, and acted different. They were fragile and could not withstand the harsh elements that the first peoples had always known. They did not know how to survive in the land that the first peoples called home. So the first peoples reached out to help the newcomers and show them their way of life. They taught the newcomers to create shelters so they would be warm. They showed the newcomers how to hunt and fish so they would be fed. They taught the newcomers what plants were helpful or harmful so they would be safe. Slowly, the newcomers learned to live in this new land.

 

The newcomers, while strange and other, did have their own special skills to contribute. They had learned to craft materials out of metal and fabric that were beyond what the first peoples could create. The newcomers shared their inventions with the first peoples in return, giving them pots and pans, metal arrowheads, guns, and blankets. Unfortunately, these gifts came at a very high price.

 

The first peoples were not aware, but the blankets the newcomers had shared, while warm and comforting, shared something else: something sinister and deadly. A sickness, brought over from across the seas by the newcomers, was hiding within the blankets. As the first peoples slept tightly bundled in the blankets, the sickness crept into their flesh and bones and began to work its dark magic. The first peoples, though strong and accustomed to their severe weather, had never experienced this sickness before, and they soon began to fall ill in the thousands. The first peoples, desperate to save their sick family members, tried every herbal remedy they had come to know, but nothing worked. One by one, the first peoples fell, their death toll rising into the thousands. The dark sickness continued to creep across the land, laying its icy hands on children, elders, or the weak and ill.

 

While the blankets brought the nightmare of disease, the guns, too, spelled disaster for the first peoples. With this advanced technology, animals could be killed with swiftness and ease. Gone were the days of taking only what was necessary to survive; beasts were killed without care, carcasses piling up. As more of the animals in the land were hunted down, the first peoples’ main food source depleted, leaving them hungry and dying off from disease. A once mighty and proud people were left weak and frightened in their homeland.

 

The newcomers, now quite accustomed to living in this new land, were eager to explore and claim the land as their own, building houses and farms wherever they roamed. As the newcomers gained strength and numbers, the first peoples realized they needed to make a deal if they were to survive.

 

The leaders of the newcomers and the first peoples gathered together in a sacred place to talk. Although some of them had learned the words of the other’s language, they still struggled to understand each other as they discussed. The first peoples, strong believers in cooperation and peace, thought that the agreements they reached with the newcomers would be honored and kept as sacred promises. The newcomers, thirsty to own and tame more of the vast land, did not have the same understanding. They did not see the promises as sacred, and had no value in keeping these promises with the first peoples. They were blinded by greed to have more, more, always more.

 

Years passed, and while the newcomers thrived and continued to claim the new land as their own, the first peoples continued to struggle in the place that had belonged to them for millennia. The newcomers wanted to teach the first peoples their ways of life; they wanted the first peoples to be more like them. To accomplish this goal, they sent the first peoples’ children away from their families to go to school. Many of these schools were places of fright and suffering for the first people’s children. They were not allowed to speak their own tongues, wear their own clothes, pray to their own gods. Some were beaten or abused if they did not follow the strict rules asked of them.

 

Little by little, the vibrant culture of the first peoples began to fade. Being apart from their families and their language, the children forgot their way of life. If they returned home, they were strangers to those they had once loved. Many lived inside constant nightmares from the horrors they had faced in the schools. When the children grew up into adults, they were broken and did not know how to lead good lives, having never led good childhoods. When they had children of their own, they did not know how to be parents, and so their children, too, suffered. Some tortured souls turned to drink or drugs, seeking some refuge from the pain and suffering, if only for a moment.

 

Meanwhile, the newcomers had made themselves quite at home, in a land that was not theirs. They began to take over government and control the land. The first peoples were too weak and sparse to disagree. The newcomers decided to banish the first peoples to their own isolated pieces of land. Many cruel rules were inflicted upon the first peoples. Practicing their own customs or beliefs would land them in jail. Leaving their isolated pieces of land, even to attend a family member’s funeral, was a criminal offense. If first peoples decided to attend a university, they would lose their identity as part of the first peoples. If women of the first peoples married a newcomer, they lost their identity as a first people. The first peoples, full of despair, prayed for a miracle.

 

After a long period of darkness and depression, a spark of light began to grow within the hearts of the first peoples. Though they had been hurt and oppressed, they longed for justice and a return to the peaceful ways of the ancestors. They began to speak out about the horrors they had faced. The first peoples were taking back the power of the stories they had used long ago to share their lives with one another. More and more first peoples began to share the tales of the injustices they had faced and slowly, the spark grew. It was even capable of jumping into the hearts of caring newcomers who realized the evil of what had been done in the past.

 

A new age is on the horizon. First peoples and newcomers together, passionate about righting the wrongs of the past, fight to restore the peace and harmony that was once common in this land. They strive to keep the promises that were made by their ancestors many moons ago and find forgiveness for what has been done. This does not mean that all is well; there are still many battles to be fought and many newcomers who do not support the spark. There is a long journey ahead and the ending of the tale is not yet written. What part will you play in writing it?

 

 

THE CONTEXT 

I was inspired to write this “fairy tale” after a troubling discussion in my Grade 6 Social Studies class today. Over the course of the year, the students have often griped and groaned whenever we have to learn about First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people and their culture. This has never sat well with me.

The students’ main complaints are:

  1. “We learned this already.” They have learnt the same things about FNMI people many years in a row and they are bored of it. (understandable)
  2. “Why do we have to learn about them? We want to learn about our own people.” While I absolutely understand the craving to delve into our own ancestors’ culture (which students will have an in-depth opportunity to do at the end of the year during our Culture Fair), I find it deeply unsettling that students in our school system, though well versed in traditional FN culture and residential schools, still do not grasp the importance of learning about the first people who lived in this land.

When I entered the classroom today, ready to start our new unit on Global Interdependence, all plans were thrown out the window. Students, inquiring on what the new unit would be about were asking, “Is it about First Nations people again?” (inner cringe). One student piped up, “Why don’t we call them Indians anymore?” and the teacher within me was rip-raring to go. Cue a crudely hand-drawn world map, and I told a summarized version of how early European explorers, mistakenly, called First Nations people “Indians,” thinking they had landed in India.

This began to spark many other questions among students, such as “Why do First Nations people get so many extra perks that we don’t?” (namely, “not paying taxes,” “hunting whenever they want and as much as they want,” “getting scholarships or getting accepted into university over others,” and “getting monthly cheques from the government” – those are, indeed, loose quotations of what the students believe or have been led to believe). The social justice warrior within me had to calmly continue taking questions and jotting them down on the board to discuss, while making quick and curt explanations to shut down insensitive questions such as, “Why do they go (insert offensive war cry here)?” [yes, that really happened, and it caught on to half of the class]. I have to say, I am rather proud that I didn’t start preaching halfway through and was able to stay composed. What did become clear to me, however, was how deeply these misconceptions are rooted in the students’ home lives, with many comments beginning with, “My mom/dad told me __________.” How can I blame students for having these grossly misunderstood ideations when they are being reinforced (and introduced) in their home lives?

From some graciously thoughtful students (bless their souls), I was able to coax out some ideas about why these “privileges” (can anyone smell the irony here?) might exist for First Nations people? Surely, the government didn’t randomly decide to bestow all of these perks upon them for no reason? Two students were able to come up with the opinion that these things were a way of making up for the wrongs that had been done against First Nations people in the past (**inner cheering that I have reached someone**).

After we had run through most of the questions and comments, I left the students with the knowledge that I’d find some information regarding their queries and we would reconvene next class (hence, the story). I hope that we can follow this tale with a discussion that shifts the focus from, “It’s not fair FN people have things we don’t,” to focus more on what we have/had they they do not.

  • What privileges do the newcomers (European settlers) have that First Nations people do not?
  • What problems exist regarding how the newcomers entered the new land? What could have been done differently?
  • Why do you think the newcomers did what they did?
  • How would the story of your ancestors be different if the First Nations were not welcoming and helpful when the settlers arrived?
  • What is the moral or lesson of this story? What can we do, today, to continue to heal the wounds of the past?

 

Clearly, this is a topic of passion for me. If you share my passion, or have an opinion on this important, reconciliACTION work, please share with me in the comments below. Feel free to share my “Once Upon a Time…” cautionary fairy tale with your class/other teachers if it can be of use to you – see PDF file here –>  (Once Upon a Time…)

 

Until next time,

-KKF