Balloons, Geese, and Worms, Oh My!

Friday, 25 September 2015

     I'm a newbie when it comes to inquiry-based/Reggio-inspired learning, and while I don't know if I'll ever be able to say  "I'm doing it," I do know that I've experienced a big shift in thinking. I'm looking through new eyes, listening with new ears and this has changed everything!

     Today, our PTA organized a hot air balloon assembly, and we gathered outdoors.  I found myself watching and listening to the children closely. I wasn't wondering how long this would take, or contemplating what I should cut from our ELA block. I was really listening and genuinely interested in their reactions.  The "balloon man"  released a helium balloon as a way of signaling that he was ready to begin. The kids were fascinated watching it move through the air. Where will it go? they kept asking as they cheered it on. They followed it with their eyes until it was pin-sized and then disappeared. Some claimed to be able to still see it, even though I know they couldn't (cue up I Believe from The Polar Express).  Meanwhile, the hot air balloon was being inflated and while there was definitely some interest here, it was soon diverted when the geese flew over in a v pattern.  "They're going to Florida," one child said. The hot air balloon continued to get bigger and was almost ready for launching when someone spotted a worm.  Several gathered around to see it. 

They began to place grass over the worm and when I asked why, they said because the worm needs to be underground.   Then, they found another worm and were cautioning others to be careful where they stepped.  The interest in the worms endured. I was hoping to take them back to the "worm spot" in the afternoon, but there was an inside portion to the balloon assembly that didn't make this possible.   At the end of the day,  I asked a student, what "small moment" did she want to remember about September 25, and she drew a tiny worm on the calendar card.
     Today they had front row seats to a hot air balloon. There was fire and they saw their principal being lifted off the ground. But in the end it was the worms they found most captivating.  I only know this because I was really listening, not telling them to simmer down, or get back in line, or stop picking the grass.   The joy, the wonder, the curiosity, the possibilities for learning - I'm loving my new view!

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Discovery Centers

Saturday, 19 September 2015

     A good portion of my classroom space is devoted to centers.  Some are actual areas while others are "nooks" such as  countertops, shelves, or corners (in my dream classroom they would all be studios!).  Here are some pictures of each center:

 Art Center











     While I've been using centers since I began teaching kindergarten, the way in which I'm using them now is different.  In previous years, the children rotated through the centers in pairs, visiting one each day.  This year, the children are given the opportunity to choose where they work.  I  allow them to move freely between centers and do not limit the number of children that work at each center.  This was a BIG leap for me, but what I realized is that by controlling where they work, who they work with, and how long they work, I was robbing them of opportunities to make decisions, explore interests, and most importantly, to learn how to self-regulate.  Also, I was eliminating chances to gather information about children's behavior, friendships, and interests.  
     I also made changes in the way I began centers. I used to spend many days introducing them, while the children became impatient.  My thinking was that I was being proactive.  If I covered all the bases and told them exactly what they could and could not do in each center, then problems would be eliminated.  This year, I let them visit the centers on the first day with very little introduction.  If and when problems arose,  they were brought back to the class for discussion and problem solving.  This has worked well so far and I love that I am able to give my children a voice and model ways to solve problems.
     How are you using centers in your classroom?

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Getting Started in Kindergarten (What Worked For Me!)

Friday, 4 September 2015

     Planning for the the first few days of kindergarten is different than all the others due to the massive amount of routines and procedures that we introduce. It's also a tricky balance between being clear about expectations, yet not talking too much, and making it a pleasurable first experience for the children. 
     For me, Labor Day weekend has always involved sitting down and trying to plan for those challenging days. Some years I’ve used my plan book, others I’ve just typed up a schedule. I’ve also tried creating a grid or working from a list of procedures, checking them off as I go. What has been frustrating about this, is that I have felt like I was recreating the wheel each year. Shouldn't I have this all figured out by now?
     Well, I'm happy to say that last year's attempt, a card deck, worked like a charm and I was overjoyed when I was able to pull it out this year and, with the exception of a few minor changes, be ready to go.  

     Here's how it worked: I typed up a card for each procedure/routine as well as for the different parts of our day.  On each card was a quick description, or in some cases, a script of how I might introduce a material or a routine along with ideas for songs, gestures or read alouds that might help secure the learning to memory.  I printed them out on cardstock and carefully put them in an order that loosely resembled the schedule I was trying to build.  I also tried to strike a balance between active vs. less active times.
     At the end of the first day, I evaluated what we had accomplished (I ALWAYS plan too much!) and reordered the card deck for the next day.  This meant adding in some new cards and removing others. It worked well because everything I needed to remember about introducing glue sticks, for example, was on one card and yet the cards could easily be rearranged at any point in the day, because as we all know, those first days rarely go as planned.
     So this Labor Day weekend, it pleases me to know, that instead of being stuck home planning, I’m headed to a Luke Bryan concert, the NYS fair, and the Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival! Whoopee!  It only took me 10 years to figure it out!
   What works for you in planning for those first few days?

Update: Some have asked if I would share the deck - I worked this summer to put it into a format that could be shared.   You can find it here: 

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