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

a sprinkle of fairy dust

DISCLAIMER: This post is lengthy and focuses specifically on Early Childhood Education topics. It includes my personal reflections on different PD topics that I have explored as part of a conference. If this does not interest/apply to you, please feel free to find some of my more general education posts – no hard feelings 🙂

fairy dust

I think this may be one of the fastest back-to-back posts I’ve done on my blog. I stumbled across Fairy Dust Teaching somewhere on social media (I can’t remember if I first followed her on Facebook or Twitter), and I was constantly inspired by the many posts she had about Early Childhood Education.

When I saw that Fairy Dust Teaching had an online, Winter Conference, where videos with presenters were posted for participants to engage with in their own time (PD in your pyjamas, if you will), I was instantly intrigued. I decided to sign up for the conference, with intentions of watching the videos over the February break. Well, in the true whirlwind fashion of a teacher’s life, I didn’t get to the PD over the break, but decided to put away some time today to start watching through the videos. Boy, am I glad I did!

Please enjoy some of my thoughts, musings, and reflections on some of the sessions. I would love if you had any comments to leave in response to any of the topics in this post.

Session #1: LOOSE PARTS TO PROMOTE STEAM 

If there is such a thing as a celebrity in the ECE world, these ladies are it! Loose parts has become a HUGE buzzword in the early years, and I’m sure that most Pre-K/K educators have seen or looked at one of these books in their travels. Miriam Beloglovsky and Lisa Daly, who wrote the Loose Parts books 1, 2, and 3, were giving an interview-style presentation on how loose parts can promote STEAM education.

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After some wonderful PD this summer, I decided to incorporate a permanent loose parts centre in my own classroom this school year. While this centre has changed locations periodically and the objects found there have been swapped out several times, I have seen consistent play and exploration happening with my students at this centre/with the materials found there. Most often, students will be exploring Encapsulating/Enveloping (putting objects into another container or carrier to transport around –> think putting objects into a purse, box, crate, etc.) and Mixing (putting a variety of loose parts in a large container to mix together –> think creating soups and potions).

The biggest takeaway from this session for me was the role of the educator to relinquish control and the urge to direct the play or jump in to assist (something that I am still working on in my own practice each day). As an organized person, it is often difficult for me to let students create a mess. The part I have to remind myself, though, is that I cannot restrain my students to play in the way that I, an adult, think is appropriate. This session made me reflect on how my actions truly showcase my view of children and their learning. Do I genuinely believe that students are capable, confident, creative if I shut down their play or immediately swoop in to help them? I will definitely be focusing on allowing students the freedom to experiment, problem solve, and get messy when I head back to my classroom!

The other great phrase that was used in this session was “look for the verb, not the noun,” or really pay attention to what big concept or topic the child is interested in exploring, rather than being caught up in the object they’re playing with.

The example that was given was a student playing with purple gems on a lazy susan and spinning them around and around and around. The teacher thought that the student was interested in the colour purple, rather than realizing that their true interest was motion and rotation.

This was a big “Aha!” for me, as, just the other day in my classroom, one of my students had taken all of the loose parts into our upstairs “fort” area and dumped them out on the floor (Hello, alarm bells going off! Mess! Mess! Mess! Must clean!). When I approached, I immediately asked her to clean up, and sort the objects back out into their respective containers. Now, I feel quite guilty about my reaction, and I wish I would have taken a few moments to simply observe what the student was doing with the items to truly understand the intentions of her play and what direction it may have been going – such a missed opportunity to understand this child’s learning better. This is a great reminder for me to step back, watch, and think about what a child is doing before I step in in the future.

The final thing the presenters discussed that I want to incorporate into my classroom is swapping out commercialized, closed-ended objects in the classroom for loose parts that can be transformed into anything the mind can imagine. Lisa discussed how all of the play, plastic food has been exchanged for loose parts such as beads, gems, stones, etc. and dress up clothes have been swapped out for scarves, sashes, and fabrics. I would like to start slowly switching out some of these items and see what the students’ reactions will be (I actually don’t think they will mind at all, as they already use many of our loose parts to make stews and soups and pretend they are foods).

I think this photo sums this idea up quite nicely:

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Session #2: THE THIRD TEACHER: REFLECTIVE PRACTICE

This session, a powerpoint collection of wonderful photos, quotes, and key points by Rosalba Bortolotti, discussed the importance of the third teacher.

For anyone unfamiliar, the third teacher is a widely known practice in ECE, with the 3 main teachers in an early years program being as follows: the teacher, other children/classmates, and the environment. The classroom space, in and of itself, can be a teacher to the children in the classroom, by inspiring learning and collaboration.

Having studied Reggio Emilia approach in-depth throughout my university career, I am quite familiar with this idea of the environment being a key component of early years learning. The environment should be flexible, responsive, with frequent modifications that are created by adults and children together.

If you are familiar with my Instagram or Twitter accounts, you’ll often see new furniture configurations and learning opportunities I have set up in my space. I often reference the joy that these new transformations bring me, and discuss how much I enjoy changing up my room or the materials offered within it in order to respond to student interests and spark new learning. It is such a pleasure to know that part of my job to plan for and facilitate learning in Pre-K is to simply design an environment that inspires play and exploration.

This presentation was a re-affirmation that my environment has many of the criteria for a quality early learning program. However, as a reflective practitioner, there are always improvements to be made and questions to consider. Some of the questions I came out of this presentation with are:

-What messages is my environment sending to others (parents, staff, etc.)? What thoughts do they have about the quality of education and care that are given to their child in my classroom?

-What enhancements can I make to my outdoor learning space so that it more efficiently addresses student learning and exploration? (In the fall, our outdoor learning space had a large valley filled in and three large, dead trees torn out, and is now filled with gravel/dirt that is not aesthetically pleasing. I am looking to beautify this space so it can be used more meaningfully in the future)

-What are the main purchases or additions I can make to the classroom to make it more aesthetically pleasing and calming? (I would like to add more soft lighting in our classroom, such as lamps – although finding a place to plug in in our classroom is a struggle)

-How can I involve children more in the changes/transformations that occur in the classroom? How can I bring them into this process and give them responsibility and control?

Overall, this session gave me many ideas and questions to consider further in order to make my third teacher as effective as it can be for my students. It also left me with an itch to get into my classroom and switch some things up again. I love my ever-changing classroom. ❤

Session #3: Natural Learning 

The third (and final) session I will be posting about today (as there are still 7 more sessions for me to watch) was put on by Suzanne Axelsson, an early childhood educator in Sweden. She discussed all of the benefits of including nature experiences for early learners, as well as what components need to be present in order to be most effective. Suzanne was absolutely astounding to listen to, and I recommend you check  her out on some of her social media handles below (maybe you’re even interested in joining in on her annual event, International Fairy Tea Party, happening in September).

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The 7 components for her Natural Learning program were:

  • Wonder
  • Joy
  • Curiosity
  • Risk
  • Time
  • Collaboration/Interaction
  • Reflection

Her presentation included a wealth of knowledge, photographs of joyful learning moments captured, and a ton of stories from her experiences.

A few standout moments for me:

  • How social emotional skills of responsibility, self-regulation, comfort-giving, and collaboration were implicitly taught and infused throughout her practice. Suzanne told many stories of how her students showed empathy, compassion, and teamwork in their outdoor adventures. She also explained how she built some of these skills bit by bit through daily interactions and modelling. It was fascinating to see how these little people became caring and involved members of their learning community. This sense of belonging is something I strive for in my own practice.
  • How “risk” involves more than just the physical risk of getting hurt. Suzanne explained that there is an element of  “social risk” (someone being mean to you or hurting your feelings) as well. I see this as very relevant to some of the learners we have in our classrooms today, who may struggle with this type of risk more than any other, especially with the rise of mental health struggles such as anxiety, depression, and trauma (which, yes, unfortunately, begin showing up in early childhood for some). It was a perspective that I have never heard of before, but will definitely consider if I see a child who is reluctant or struggling to engage with others – perhaps they are avoiding social risk. This also involves me, as an educator, explicitly teaching and modelling what to do in these social situations if someone DOES hurt your feelings.
  • The idea of children doing the reflecting. Reflection is so prevalent in education, that it often becomes used to the point of being comical (i.e., “as a teacher, I reflect on my lesson and then reflect on my reflection – an inception of reflections”). While it is true that teachers must be reflective in their practice, I often forget to include students in this critical process. If we are to give students responsibility and ownership of their learning, they, too, have to be involved in the reflective process. Suzanne touched briefly on how documentation, such as photographs, can be a vehicle for this reflection. This is something that I am interested in exploring more in my own practice in the future.

Well, I think that is enough for today. Thank you for coming along with me as I delved into some PD topics of interest in regards to ECE.

What professional or personal goals have you set for yourself this school year?

What buzz worthy topics are you exploring in your own practice?

How do you like to engage in professional development?

 

Until next time,

-KKF

fossils of play

A quick little jot about some exciting happenings in my teaching life (which, let’s face it, is a large chunk of my life most days – haha!):

1.I have officially applied to take my Masters degree in Early Childhood Education (online, through the University of British Columbia). Thank you to all of my wonderful mentors and supporters who were my references! I will ensure to keep you updated as soon as I hear back if I have been accepted. I am so excited to be taking this next step in my educational journey.

2. I have been sharing lots of our amazing adventures in Pre-K on Twitter (@kfidelack) and Instagram (@kfidelack). Please feel free to check out what we are doing in our classroom! Unfortunately, this means my blog has suffered some neglect, but each of these social media and technology outlets serves a different purpose. My blog is for more general educational musings, whereas specific stories and learning with students have been posted on my other spaces.

3. I just updated my blog’s header image for the first time since its inception over 5 years ago! This photograph was a behind-the-scenes learning moment that, while I did not see happening live, I stumbled across after-the-fact.

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I love these “remnants of play,” or the little signs that the tiny hands in my classroom have left behind after play. I feel like an archeologist or anthropologist reflecting on what these snippets of a play experience could mean and what possible directions the play could have been taking.

These numbers were haphazardly thrown into this otherwise empty sensory bin in a jumble. It was a joy for me to realize that one of my little learners had, unbeknownst to me, come along, and thoughtfully organized the numbers for me to find later. It still remains a mystery to me who left this fossil of play (did I just coin a new term?!) for me to find, but I do have some ideas as to who was responsible… I think there is some beauty in the mystery, though, don’t you? Regardless, it made a beautiful cover photo for my blog and encapsulates so much of what my pedagogy as a Pre-K teacher stands for – the capability of a child, independence, the wonder and magic of play and learning… (plus the fact that some of the numbers show common reversals is so stinkin’ cute!)

4. I have officially made it through 1.5 years as a teacher! My mom asked me the other day, “Which year have you enjoyed more so far of teaching, your first or second?” It was an interesting question that really got me thinking… In many ways, I can see how the years can blur together and become mixed up. But at the same time, I feel that each of my years of teaching so far (all 1.5 of them – haha) have been unique and offered their own victories and challenges.

>My first year was a whirlwind of new experiences – everything was fresh and exciting, as I not only settled into my new career, but also a new school, community, and lifestyle. I was coming straight out of university, and many of my ideas about what teaching would be like were either affirmed, or evolved with real-life experience.

>>My second year has seemed much more relaxed in many ways. I have been through much of the curriculum once and have started to settle into my own personal teaching style. I am getting to experience everything for a second time. I have become familiar and at-home in the school and community, which have both welcomed me with open, friendly arms. Needless to say, this year has had its own unique struggles and challenges. And, I truly think that sometimes I feel like I know what I am doing even less than the first time around, but I like to think that that is a result of me constantly wanting to learn and refine my practice. Reflection and growth, baby!

I am interested to see where the rest of this school year takes me. Wouldn’t it be a nice little tradition if I continue having mid-year reflections each school year to compare how the year has gone in comparison to those in the past? (Now to actually try and follow through with it). My own little digital journal and scrapbook. 🙂

 

How has your school year been going so far? What is unique about the successes and struggles? 

How many years do you have under your belt? Are there any that stand out more than others? Why?

 

Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time,

-KKF

graduation vs celebration

Pre-K gradAlong with the end of the school year, June also marks graduation season. I have seen posts and photos of Pre-Kindergarten/preschool and Kindergarten grads all over social media the last week or so, and it prompted me to examine my beliefs and views on graduation ceremonies in ECE.

First, I felt guilty for not having a formal graduation ceremony for my Pre-K class, especially because the two preschool programs in the community had beautiful and elaborate decorations and programs for their students and family members. Many of my friends and colleagues are also involved in early learning and they, too, were busy planning songs to perform, power points to show, and speeches to share. Was I cheating my students and their loved ones out of an important milestone and experience?

My viewpoint then shifted, in order to defend my lack of a Pre-K grad. I was ready with an arsenal of justifications for opting out. I thought things like…

  • my students are already students within the school, only moving one classroom down within the same building (while the preschool programs’ students will be new to the school, so their graduation ceremony is marking the end of their time at their EY establishment)
  • the Pre-K teacher before me didn’t have a grad ceremony, and neither does the K teacher at the school
  • my cooperating teacher in internship (who taught Kindergarten) didn’t have a graduation ceremony
  • I have some students who are moving to Kindergarten next year, and some who will be returning for a 2nd year of Pre-K

From there, I began to question and reflect on what exactly a ‘graduation’ meant to me. After some thought, I came to the conclusion that, to me, a graduation is intended to mark the end of a significant portion of one’s life in education; it is a finale.

Based on that definition, here is where I have some qualms with a Pre-K or Kindergarten graduation:

  • I view Pre-K and K as the pivotal introduction to formal education in a child’s life; it is the beginning of their journey as a learner in our school system. It seems counterintuitive to have a ceremony that marks the end, when it is really only the start of their adventure in education. Donning the cap and gown in Grade 12 or the final year of university signifies the end of a student’s time in that establishment; it simply doesn’t make sense for Pre-K and K students to wear the same outfit when they are not leaving us quite yet.
  • I assume that Pre-K and K graduations originally came about because these two programs are viewed in a different light than the ‘traditional’ school set up, especially because Pre-K and K were not originally part of the school system, an entity all their own. I think it is problematic if finishing Pre-K or K is viewed as entering the ‘real’ years of schooling. Certainly, Pre-K and K are, in and of themselves, set up and run much differently than the numbered grades beyond. However, this mindset minimizes the importance of early learning and the strategically designed environments and learning that takes place there.
  • I can still remember one of my favourite university professors telling an anecdote of visiting a local elementary school in March and seeing bulletin boards covered in (you guessed it!) leprechauns. She went on to explain how disappointed she was in this, because the leprechaun creations had no meaningful tie into learning. They were created as merely a craft to fill time. That story has stuck with me ever since, and I vowed to avoid ‘crafts-for-craft’s-sake’ or ‘time-fillers’ at all costs in my practice. In the same vein, I see Pre-K/K grads to be an event for the sake of having an event to some extent. Similar to how teachers feel obligated have their students create Christmas, Valentine’s, Mother’s and Father’s Day trinkets simply because it is EXPECTED, early years teachers see posts of “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” themed decorations, toddler-sized caps and gowns, and adorable graduation songs and feel pressured to keep up with the Joneses [Exhibit A: the second paragraph in this blog post]. While I wholeheartedly believe that the early years are a time of utmost importance and growth in a child’s life, and they should be documented in order to be remembered later on down the road, I feel that the commercialized, cookie cutter Pre-K/K graduations can be merely a photo opp to put into a picture frame with no authentic connections for the child and their loved ones.

Now, if you are a proponent of early years graduations, I’m surprised you’ve made it this far, because you surely have a few choice words, points of view, or arguments to share after I singlehandedly shredded EY grads to pieces. But stick with me just a little longer, because this is all coming to a culminating point, I promise.

My biggest takeaway from my inner reflection on this topic is that we have to, ultimately, ask ourselves:

Why am I REALLY having this ceremony/event? What is the purpose?

We have to take a critical look at if the ceremony we are planning authentically celebrates students and their learning, or if it is simply an opportunity to tout the cuteness of 3-5 year olds in caps and gowns (which I cannot argue IS, indeed, cute).

And so, here is my suggestion of a substitute to a “graduation” ceremony:

Celebrations of Learning

Hosting a ‘celebration of learning’ event ensures that the most important factor of ECE – the students and their journeys as learners – is sitting centre stage.  This format also allows for so much flexibility and personal tailoring to truly fit the needs of your ‘clientele.’ In its most basic form, a celebration of learning is a time for students and their loved ones to come together to share pride in the learning that has taken place over the course of the year.

While I didn’t host a year-end “Celebration of Learning” this year (because this idea is brand-spankin’-new), we did have a final Family Day, where students and their family members hopped onto the school bus and drove 15 minutes to Ruby Lake, the local regional park. We enjoyed a day of exploring the playground and shoreline, eating fire-roasted hot dogs, and each other’s company.

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I did make an impromptu thank you speech to the families for their support and involvement in their child’s learning in Pre-K and sent home a book of “Learning Stories” I had collected for each student over the course of the year, but I am already crafting plans for what I would like my ‘Celebration of Learning’ to look like next year…

Rather than sugar plum fairies, I have visions of a Memory Walk dancing in my head. While it would certainly require a lot of paper, ink, planning, and work, I would LOVE to print pictures from each month of the school year and then hang them up in chronological order on the walls of the school hallways (along with quotes, observations, student artwork, etc.) for students and their parents to walk through. Think self-guided tour/art installation/giant documentation panel! It’s a literal walk down memory lane!

Check in with me in a year’s time when, hopefully, I will post about what kind of “Celebration of Learning” actually transpires.

  • What are your thoughts on graduation ceremonies for early years students?

Until then,

-KKF