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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hands on is, hands down, the way to go

Internship is drawing (very quickly!) to a close – only four days left 😦  I realized that I have a lot of recapping to do. Here are some pictures of my lovely little learners engaging in some of the activities I have planned over the past month… (Never again will I put off posting this long – lesson learned!)

One thing I am extremely proud of is creating this Word of the Day program during my internship. This idea was taken from a Kindergarten teacher from Kindersley (check out @PamelaSawatzky‘s Twitter handle – she is a wonderful K teacher!) during a Phonological Awareness PD event at the beginning of the school year. It involves breaking down simple CVC words into their individual sounds and then placing a dot into a box (these are called El Konin boxes and are great for students to visualize the breaking down of words into sounds) for each of the sounds heard.

In the above example (“tack”), students identify the sounds they hear:

/t/  /a/  /k/    Then, Leaders for the day get to drag a dot into a box. We then practice pulling the sounds apart and putting them back together to create the original word. We also discuss which letters make the corresponding sounds.

Nest Making

As part of our Bird Inquiry unit, I was constantly adding to and changing our authentic nest centre. It ended with this evolution, where students had the chance to create their own nests. It was so interesting to see what students came up with and what strategies they used to make their nests. On one of my observation days, some of my students were eager to teach my faculty advisor how to make a nest. Such a cool thing to see! Nest Making 2

Here are some of the finished nests:

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Another endeavour that was on my internship bucket list was Outdoor Winter Centres. These were a lot of work (and took up a lot of freezer space – haha) but SO MUCH FUN! Take a look…

I filled spray bottles with coloured water for students to ‘spray paint’ the snow with. This was definitely the biggest hit. I wished I had had more spray bottles!

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Students also used the cookie cutters to create coloured shapes in the snow.

I also made ice cubes in every colour of the rainbow for students to create snow castle creations out of. This was also very popular. The spray bottles also become a tool for decorating the castles (of course the students thought of something I didn’t).

The students above are trying to save some ‘frozen’ animals (plastic figurines I froze into clear water) using warm water. Students also tried to refreeze the animals by adding snow into the water.

Frozen Animals

 

This is a fun activity that can cover a lot of Science outcomes, but those icy animals melt a lot faster than they freeze, so have A LOT on hand.

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I thought a frozen treat was appropriate for our ice and snow themed centres. Some apple juice, ice cube trays, and popsicle sticks did the trick real quick!

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Lucky for us, this December has included GORGEOUS weather, so it was cold enough to keep the snow on the ground, but still nice enough outside that mitts could be taken off for periods of time without frozen fingers. The perfect medium!

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I loved doing centres in my Math Patterns unit, so tried to do some hands on work for our Number unit as well. Some of the centres pictures in the slideshow above are:

  • putting the correct number of eggs into nests (to tie in with our Bird Inquiry unit)
  • putting the correct amount of coloured tiles into a ten frame
  • counting objects and finding the corresponding numeral to match up
  • building block towers of a specific height
  • playing a board game with a partner and moving a specific number of spaces using 10 sided dice
  • counting the number of stars in a ‘parking lot space’ and parking a car with the corresponding number in that spot

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I also added some centres to our letter learning work. Students could choose if they wanted to do work in their ABC books, draw items that started with the designated letter, make that letter out of play dough, or trace that letter on sheets in page protectors. Although this made Learning Time pretty hectic, I think it really affirms that students all learn in different ways and that these different learning styles are represented and planned for. This also gives students choice to try several centres that suit their interests, or hone in on a specific one.

One other cool thing we did for our Bird Inquiry unit was research on the iPads using QR codes that I created for websites, photo galleries, and videos all about birds. We were lucky enough to have the Grade 6 class come in and buddy up with our K’s, who loved this! 21st century learning at its finest!

 

 

To learn about the colour Blue in November, we discussed Picasso’s blue period and tried our hand at creating masterpieces using only shades of blue.

Picasso Blue Period

 

And just to end on a sweet note, here is an adorable Snowman and Reindeer cupcake that we all had (messy) fun making.

 

Stay tuned for a post in the future that sums up my internship experience.

Yours truly,

KKF