Sunday, 18 September 2016

Hand on your Hip, Finger On your Lip: Line Up Procedures in Kindergarten

"Decide what behaviours are appropriate in line. Some teachers, particularly of younger children, have to specify where hands and feet should be while students are lined up. Some teachers have students clasp their hands behind their backs; others have students keep their hands at their sides. Line leaders can be helpful, and students enjoy the privilege. Because noise disturbs other classes, talking is usually forbidden while the line is passing through the halls." 
- Carolyn M. Evertson and Edmund T. Emmer, 
Classroom Management For Elementary Teachers 8th ed., 2009, p. 31

As we enter into our third week of school I have been reflecting on some of the procedures that we have been teaching in our room as part of our September start up. We have been focusing very heavily on teaching social problem skills, clean up routines and line up procedures. Our thinking is that if we focus on these skills early, children will be able to focus more on learning and playing for the rest of the year.

We practice lining up when we line up to go to the gym for PE, when we line up to go outside, and when we practiced for the fire drill that we had in the first week of school. 

Last week, we went on a walk of the school so that we could show the new students (the JK and new SK students) where the office is for taking down the attendance. We have not allowed any of the JK students to go yet, only the SK students who were at the school last year, partnered with a new SK student.

For our trip through the school the SKs from last year came with us too... because everyone else was going. We started our walk with the old adage, hand on your hip, finger on your lip. We made sure that everyone was standing in a nice straight line with their eyes and feet facing forward.

One student was standing beside the line, so we told her to go to the end of the line. She looked around and joined where she was standing. We corrected, "go to the end of the line". She stepped out, looked around and stepped right back in where she was. This repeated a few more times before I showed her where the end of the line was and told her to stand there. Finally, we were off.

We moved maybe 5 feet and several students put their hands on the wall to run their fingers on the painted cinder block as they walked. I told them to put their hands down. This repeated several times as we made it down the hallway. Again and again, "put your hands down" or "don't touch the wall".

Some students began to point and whisper as we walked past open classroom doors. I corrected with a louder Shhhh.

One of our smallest JK students began to walk off set of the line so our nice straight line was interrupted. I corrected again and told her to walk in line with everyone else.

We continued like this for a few more feet and then I had a thought, "What am I doing?????"

I was really disturbed by what I was hearing coming out of my mouth. I was really bothered by the way that I was feeling as we walked down the hallway. I was feeling frustrated and annoyed that they weren't walking in a nice straight line and that they were talking. But why was I doing this to myself, why was I doing this to them?

The Image of the Child

I took a step back from this experience and took a closer look at what the students were doing when I was correcting them.

  • Why did the returning SK students come with us when they already know where they are going? Did they need to be part of this experience? What could they have been doing instead?
  • Was finding the end of the line difficult because she couldn't see where the end of the line was? 
  • Does she know what 'the end of the line' means? 
  • Were they touching the walls because they had never seen walls like that before? 
  • Were they running their fingers along the wall to feel the grooves and bumps? 
  • Were they walking offset because the person in front of them was too tall and they couldn't see where they were going? 
  • Were they pointing and whispering because they saw a teacher they knew? A friend? A sibling?  
  • How does their view of me change as I constantly correct them? 
  • How does my view of them change as I become frustrated?

So why do we teach line up procedures like this?

During the summer I had a conversation with the wonderful Ellen Brown about lining up. She made the really good point that we spend a lot of time and energy to teach children to line up like this, especially in the primary grades... but when they go to middle school, high school and then as adults no one lines up like this. We walk in pairs or groups, we discuss and laugh as we walk. So why is this behavior 'forbidden' in the primary grades? Despite having this conversation in the summer, why did I try to teach line up procedures like this?

I understand that line up procedures are important for safety. We have to know how to line up for fire drills and other emergency situations.

Line up procedures are also important because we have to be respectful of other classrooms and not be running and shouting in the hallways.  But are we teaching respect in the hallways or are we teaching compliance?

It has been suggested to me in the past that if we don't enforce these line up rules that our class will become "that class" and we will be judged by other teachers.

As I think about it now though, why is the teacher with a curious class judged but the perfectly silent children following an equally silent teacher not judged? Further more, why are we judging each other at all? Are we not all colleagues? Peers? Co-teachers?

Rethink, Repeat, Remove

A common theme that seems to be emerging in my reflections on this blog is the idea of everything in moderation, the right time in the right place.

Yes, line up procedures are important but do we really need to come down hard in the first few weeks before offering an opportunity to explore? Is it really appropriate to teach line up procedures in such a strict way in kindergarten?

What do your line up procedures look like in kindergarten? What can you rethink, repeat or remove from your procedures?

Let's talk,

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Colourful Commercial (Plastic) Toys VS. Neutral Loose Parts in Kindergarten

Yesterday I posted a link to my post about constructing my new kindergarten classroom environment for September (read New Year, New Beginnings HERE). When I posted the link on one of the Kindergarten Facebook groups that I have joined, an interesting conversation was started in the comment section that has inspired this post today (thank you to the wonderful thinkers that participated in the conversation!)

The conversation started with a discussion about the use of colour in Kindergarten classrooms and morphed into a bigger discussion about commercial (plastic) toys VS. loose parts in Kindergarten. Here are some of my thoughts:

The Use of Colour in Kindergarten

With the roll out of the Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) Program in Ontario, Canada about 6 years ago, there was a massive shift in thinking about the way that Kindergarten should look and feel.

Previous to FDK, Kindergarten classrooms were an explosion of colour. The floors, the walls, the furniture, the toys... everything was bright and colourful. The toys were almost exclusively commercial (plastic) and the walls were covered with patterned borders and teacher made/purchased posters. These rooms would often be compared to toy stores in their colourful 'busy' appearance.

When FDK started, there was a large push from the Ontario Ministry of Education to do away with all of this. The colourful walls were painted a light neutral off-white, the floors covered over with neutral wood tones, the furniture switched over to wooden, posters and borders were torn down and the commercial (plastic) toys were thrown out.

The rationale for this shift in thinking was this: colourful everything is overstimulating to a child's brain and negatively impacts learning.

FDK classrooms have now swung to the opposite end of the spectrum: colour everywhere to no colour at all. The thinking is that the neutral tones are calming and provide a background that showcases rather than competes with, student work and thinking. Bright colours have become the enemy.

I can't help but wonder if we have gone too far in the other direction? As you can tell from the picture above, our classroom is very much neutral and wooden... except for the bright colourful floors and carpets. But are these floors really that terrible?

It depends on who you ask. If I were to answer this question I would say a little bit of yes and a little bit of no. I will admit... I hate the colourful carpet.

The reason I don't like this carpet is simple... it is impossible to see student thinking when it has all of the colours and pattern as a background. Documentation in FDK is a highly visual practice which becomes very difficult to do when the learning gets lost in the sea of pattern.

That being said, I think that intentional use of colour is not a bad thing. We strive to make our classrooms feel like a home away from home for our students.... the homes that our students are coming from are colourful. So why can't there be a little bit of intentional use of colour in Kindergarten?

Colourful Commercial (Plastic) Toys VS. Neutral Loose Parts

This leads me into the next debate, plastic VS. loose parts. These two debates go hand in hand because the plastic toys are colourful and for the most part, loose parts are not.

Loose parts are "materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials." (The Reading Play, 2011-2016) Basically, loose parts are anything that you can think of: blocks, branches, buttons, rocks, pine cones, shells, corks, thread spools, glass beads, mosaic tiles, tooth picks etc.

Commercial (plastic) toys are simply anything that you can buy at a toy store that prescribes or "tells" children how to play with them. These include plastic play sets like doll houses, Lego, dinosaurs, train sets, Barbies etc. 

The danger with including the commerical toys in your classroom is that they limit children's play by stifling creativity and imagination. Doll houses, castles and tool benches can only be played with in one way and for one purpose... the purpose that was decided on by someone else. When children play with loose parts they have the freedom and creativivity to play with those parts in any way that they can think of. This now involves problem solving skills and the design process. Children are then challenged to build structures to be used as doll houses, rather than be given one.

That being said, Lego is technically a commercial (plastic) toy but it is used as a loose part. Dinosaurs and dolls are commercial (plastic) toys that encourage loose part play. So are they really that bad?

Everything in Moderation: Finding A Balance

I think that there isn't really a definitive answer to this debate. Colour VS. Neutral, Plastic VS. Loose Parts. I think that it is all about moderation and balance. 

There are definite benefits to having intentional use of colour to draw children in and create a comfortable environment. There are definite benefits to having neutral colours as a backdrop to highlight the work and thinking of the children. 

There are definite benefits to having plastic toys at the beginning of the year because they are familiar and some types of plastic toys can be used to encourage creative play. There are definite benefits to using loose parts to develop strong problem solving skills and to engage children in the design process.

We need to be mindful of what is best for our children in our own contexts. What is best for one room is not necessarily best for another room. Who are we to judge?

I challenge you to experiment with some changes in your room this year:

Take out some plastic and replace it with loose parts. Observe your students, how does their play change? What are the benefits, what are the challenges? 

Add in a little more colour... maybe a plastic toy or two. Observe your students, how does their play change? What are the benefits, what are the challenges?

If we are intentionally and thoughtfully making choices about materials and play with our children at the centre, can it really be that bad? If our children are intentionally and thoughtfully making choices about their own materials and play, can it really be that bad?

Let's talk,

Saturday, 3 September 2016

New Year, New Beginnings

It has a been a very long and very busy week of classroom preparations, but it has been so worth it. On Monday we gained access to the building to start creating our physical environment and meet our teams! When we arrived the room was a beautiful blank slate. The perfectly clean floors and surfaces (HUGE thank you to the custodial staff!) gave us the opportunity to get started right away.

A First Look

I arrived that morning before my teaching partner did, so I took the time to take stock of the room. I recently attended a course offered by the Ontario Reggio Association as part of their Emergent Curriculum Certificate Course series. At this course, Andrea Bolton, an amazing educator who until recently worked in Peel too, spoke to us about the idea of spaces and places.

Andrea suggested that when you arrive in your new place you need to experience it at different levels. Sit in the middle of the room and look up, look down, look all around you. What do you notice? Where are the natural little nooks? What areas are the brightest? What areas are dark?  So I did just this.

I noticed that the amazing huge windows on the far wall let in afternoon sun that lights up (and heats up) the far side of the room. I noticed that the former cubby area in the back of the room was the darkest area. I noticed that the ceilings were very high and that there was a lot of tempting space to place documentation and student work that would be out of the sight lines of children (I made note of this so that I could be careful to not display anything too high up). I noticed that we had a huge magnetic white board and a projector screen off in the corner next to the very bright window (I wondered if the white board might be better to use than the projector screen?)

The Before: First look at the classroom

When the amazing Mrs. C arrived we had a chat to get to know each other before we dove into the environment. We talked about our previous experiences in Kindergarten spaces, we talked about our approaches and our hopes for our partnership for this year.

We then switched gears and focused on our incoming children. What areas would they need? How could we create a space that would support the learning of routines and social skills in the first week? What materials would we need in order to create a calming, home-like feel in the space?

Getting Started 

To start we focused on furniture and materials:

We moved furniture to tentatively set the learning areas (writing, fine motor, art, math and loose parts, dramatic play, construction, Community Meeting space, discovery, reading and a quiet area).

Next, we went through the materials to decide what would be available in these areas and to make some hard decisions about the type of materials that we had.  We went through each cupboard and washed and arranged the materials.

Our next focus was deciding which materials we wanted to be available to the children at all times and how we could arrange these materials in the space to promote independence. We asked ourselves, what materials would we put away for the first few weeks so as not to overwhelm the space and the children?

We ended up rearranging the space twice before we decided on a layout that we felt would suit the needs of the children. We had two mantras for the move that informed our arrangement,

1. "A place for everything, and everything in it's place." (How can we teach clean up routines if there isn't a clear place for materials to go? How will the children know when an area is clean?

2. The room is a flowing, living space. Nothing is nailed down so we can always change it! (We will be spending the first few weeks observing and documenting the children. Which areas are they going to the most? Which areas are they not going to? Why? How are they using the materials? We will use this information to work with the children to rearrange and make changes as we go along).

The Reveal!

So without any further ado, here is the big reveal of our room and activities for the beginning of September:

The After: Ready for students to create and explore! The bulletin boards have been purposefully left empty so that student thinking can be displayed rather than teacher thinking.


The Tall Counter: This space is for our educator team so we can house our clipboards and organize forms and information.

Writing and Fine Motor: Writing happens everywhere so writing paper and pencils will be added to all areas of the room, however we created a more central space where children will know to look if they need more materials for their writing and representation of their thinking. For the first week, we have set out playdoh for the children to explore. In the background is the eating table. Students will be free to eat their snacks when they feel hungry. To build independence, we have included scissors at the table to help children to open their packages without needing an adult.
Art Area: We chose this area because of the access to sinks and counter space. For the beginning of the year the materials are limited but as the year progresses, this area will be more robust. For the first week we have set out markers and photo paper for children to draw pictures of their families... or anything else they want!

Art Area: The easel, drying rack and sink in close proximity so children can be more independent when they are creating.

Math and Loose Parts: Math happens everywhere in the classroom, but just as with the writing materials, we created a space where students will know to look if they need additional materials that are not in the area they are exploring. We will be encouraging students to move materials in the room and to independently select the materials that they will need to be successful. To start the year, we have put out puzzles and a limited selection of loose parts to encourage counting. This area will also become more robust as the year progresses.

Dramatic Play: This area is currently set as a home for the children as it will be comfortable and familiar. We have limited the amount of resources in this area to help make clean up routines easier and to promote social skills development. The back of the easel is accessible in this area where we hope to promote literacy through the making of menus and grocery lists. Paper and pencils will be added to this area in the coming weeks.

Construction: This area is an intentionally open space with a large counter that is clear. Students will be able to build on the carpet, the hard floor as a more sturdy surface and the counter top. They have access to the entire block collection at the beginning of the year as well as cardboard tubes. As the year progresses, more materials will be added to encourage more elaborate structures.

Construction: Visual prompts and book resources have been made accessible to students for inspiration. As students create and explore, pictures and drawings of their own structures will replace the pictures that we have put up.

Construction: The long low counter is perfect for children to use as an additional space for building. As the weeks progress, we will be adding baskets of additional materials, loose parts, clipboards and pencils.

Carpet: This area is multi-purposed. The students have access to puzzles, bin activities (Lego, snap cubes, train sets etc.) and the computer. We have limited the bins at the beginning of the year to help with clean up routines and to promote social skills development as students will be more likely to play together with less materials. This area will also be used for our Community Meeting time. The white board will house our schedule and be used during the Community Meeting to support learning. At this time, it is fairly empty as we will be observing the students before the schedule is finalized. I wish the carpet wasn't so busy but we will make do!

Discovery: Science and discovery happens everywhere in the room, but this area is the hub. On the shelves there are natural materials the children can explore as well as books to support exploration and to be used for research. At the beginning of the year, we have this area set to encourage looking closely at materials. We will also encourage to ask questions about what they are seeing. As we observe how students are using the materials, we will add additional materials and encourage students to make their own additions. Paper, pencils, clipboards and empty baskets and specimen containers will be added as the weeks progress.

Reading and Quiet Area: This area is our naturally dark and naturally quiet area. I have lightened the pictures quite a bit to make the space more visible but the low lighting is much more soothing. We will be adding in a lamp in the corner to add softer lighting for reading.

Reading and Quiet Area: In this space we have added a carpet and some pillows (freshly washed!) to make a cozy reading experience. The books on the book shelf have been intentionally limited at this time to help with learning clean up routines. We will be encouraging students to use this space when they need a more quiet time to re-set and re-charge. In the first few weeks we will be focusing on deep belly breathing and learning yoga as a means to regulate ourselves (click HERE to read my blog post about Yoga in the Early Years). We will use the empty walls to display student made documentation about ways they can problem solve and regulate themselves.

Family Wall: Children miss their families a great deal everyday... but especially in the beginning. We will be encouraging families to send in pictures of themselves to display in our quiet area. If the children are sad or feeling lonely, they can come into this area and look at the pictures and cuddle up with a book. The pictures that the children will be drawing of their families will go on this wall too, that way if a family doesn't send in a picture they will still have something to look at.
Reading and Quiet Area: We will be putting a variety of quiet activities in this space as the year progresses. The louder areas (dramatic play and construction) are on the opposite side of the room so it is ideal for children to work quietly. At the beginning of the year, we have put out magnetic letters for the children to explore letters and their names. Name cards will go in the basket but it is empty for this picture for privacy reasons. We will observe the children throughout the coming weeks to help us choose activities to go in this space.

Now all we need are the children! We are so excited for them to arrive so we can all work to change and add to the space. The room is a flowing and living space, it is never finished.

Further Reading and Reflection

The ever inspiring Karyn Callaghan wrote a beautiful article "The Environment is a Teacher" (you can read it HERE) which has a list of questions to consider and reflect upon. She reminds us that "the word 'environment' usually refers to the physical environment, inside and outside. It will serve us well if we can expand this perception to include the context in general, including the relationships among the people and between them and the materials, the rules, the schedule."(Callaghan 2013, p. 1)

I encourage you to read her article and consider her reflective questions in the coming weeks as you continue to make changes and co-construct the environment with the children. This question in particular is important to revisit as the year progresses:

"Are children's words and work visible in the environment in a way that communicates respect and value for their meaning-making and communication?"(Callaghan 2013, p. 4)

Let's talk,