Thursday, 31 August 2017

The Importance of the Learning Environment in Education



(The Kindergarten Program, 2016)   


This will mark my fourth year being in the same classroom. It's a small space but over time it has evolved with the support and input of the children. It is inviting and enticing, provides flow, allows for large group, small group, and independent learning, and the materials are stored and placed in ways that promote independence and self-regulation. But with all that said, I also like to add a bit of change at the start of every school year. I browse books, resources, and photographs for inspiration on various layouts and set-ups of learning environments and there are so many amazing ideas, but as you know, what works for one space doesn't necessarily work for another. 

One thing that has helped me immensely when I struggle in the type of change to make is to re-read excerpts from "The Kindergarten Program" and the resource "How Does Learning Happen?". These two resources brings it all back to basics and highlights important aspects of setting up a learning environment that acts like the third teacher.



Below are a few key points from both resources which I found to be very informative when contemplating the set-up and creation of a learning environment. Sometimes we can become caught up in the aesthetics and forget about function. Questioning what is most important and what is the purpose is critical and can really help with decision making and keeping one focused on the main goal which is to develop an environment that promotes learning. I have attached some photos of my new classroom set up for September with some explanations for my rationale.

 (How Does Learning Happen?, 2014)

 Materials to start the year at the Light Table Area.

Materials to start the year at the Construction Area.

(The Kindergarten Program, 2016)   


Sand Table Area


Light Table Area


Art Studio Area


Discover Area


Math Area


Reading and Calming Area

Simple and Inviting Open Ended Provocations


Addressing self awareness.


A bit of fine motor challenge using the chopsticks to pick up cubes or thimbles to build a tower using discs and/or tongue compressors. As children build their tower, comparing the size and/or counting the discs used allows for an element of math.


Using tongues to select magnetic letters that match the magnetic board.


Building a structure on a mirror surface allows for another dimension to be explored. A semi-sphere can become a sphere when seen using the mirror! Animals and wooden numbers were also added to explore the creation of storytelling.

 
(The Kindergarten Program, 2016)   


Construction Area


Math Area
Blank walls and open ended materials at the beginning of the school year allows for the children's input and support in co-creating the learning environment.



 (The Kindergarten Program, 2016)   



A new Dramatic Arts Area in our classroom! It may seem obvious as to how the children will engage in this space, but while observing the children in play, various strong interests arise which guide the educator in further supporting the children's interest by adding specific materials and dialogue to encourage learning at a deeper level. I like to think of learning spaces as living creatures that constantly need attention as the children interact with it.

Overall Curriculum Expectations

The overall curriculum expectations can be found in many learning areas in the classroom environment! As you read through them scroll back up and view the photos to get a better perspective.

(Twitter: @Kelly_M_Wright)   

I hope to create another blog post in a few months to demonstrate the changes that took place once the children placed their mark on their learning environment. 

Have a great year!






  




   

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Raising our caterpillars into butterflies: An example of how I progress through an inquiry

It was one of our gracious parents that asked me if I was interested in getting some caterpillars for the class. I agreed as this was a great opportunity for the children to have first hand interactions and observations with the little creatures. In my experience from previous inquiries, it doesn't so much matter where the spark comes from but rather the interactions that the children are able to have that really extend the longevity and engagement of an inquiry. Also, the component of empathy is very powerful in an inquiry especially when children are given the opportunity to care for something.  

Below is an example of how I progress through an inquiry with the children. It is a very unstructured method that seems to work well for the children and I. It is by no means a set way to run an inquiry nor does one really exist. It is rather a look at a few components that support the inquiry process and may be helpful with planning.

From caterpillars to butterflies...the beginning of our learning journey

I mentioned to the children that we were going to have some caterpillars in our classroom. We had a few weeks to wait for their arrival so in the meantime I got many books for them to peruse. I also placed some art materials at the Discovery Area enticing them to become more familiar with caterpillars and butterflies by means of sketching what interested them in the books they perused. Sticky pads were also available for the children to write/draw any observations, wonders, and theories they had and place them on the chart hung on our wall. 















The arrival of our caterpillars!






Observation Books

Once the caterpillars arrived the children were given their own observation booklets (coloured cover with a few blank pages inside) to further support them in documenting any changes they may have observed throughout each day. There was no set time for the children to document in their observation books. Most of the children preferred to write in them during exploration time when they had more time to observe or they had the choice to use them during Log Book writing time. They documented as much or as little as they wanted. Of course whenever something exciting was noticed this sure increased the entries!

You may notice in the photos that the children had written the observation day number in their entries. This started from the use of a calendar to mark the arrival of our caterpillars and other important observations that were noticed. I was not at all concerned with the correct observation day number. I was just very pleased that they were aware to even make this an important item in their entries.  















From chrysalis to butterfly!!!

I wish I videotaped the screams of excitement from the children and myself when we saw the first butterfly emerge from the chrysalis! As K. C. stated, "It was a miracle!". Within a few days the other butterflies also emerged. The children were ecstatic and quickly wanted to name them and make them welcome cards. Among the many names chosen by the children were Lucy, Willow, Zack, Spot, and Mrs. Ralph. How lucky am I!














































Extending the learning through the arts

Aside from writing in their Observation Books, I wanted the children to have a tactile experience. Sketching with sharpies, and using plasticine, buttons, shells, pebbles, sequence, and wire, encouraged them to look closely at the detail of the butterflies and chrysalises we had or ones they found in books. The children paid close attention to symmetry, shape, colour, and texture. They mixed plasticine colours to achieve their desired shade, and figured out that by rolling the plasticine into a small ball with their palms warmed it up and made it easier to spread with their fingers onto the canvas. A lot of experimentation and innovation was involved in this provocation. 









Knowledge Building Circles

I do not have set times for Knowledge Building Circles. Rather I try to meet with the children and have these group discussions about once or twice a week. It really depends on whether something pivotal happened and the children have a lot to say or if I see that our wonder chart is getting full and we need to discuss some of the children's questions and theories. At times I also meet with children in a small group depending on who is interested in a certain discussion that has come up. It is a very unstructured and organic process that allows the children to dialogue with each other and move our thinking along. These gatherings are also very helpful in supporting the direction that our research will go as the discussions highlight common interests the children may have which helps me as an educator to figure out what resources I will need to have or set up to build on and extend their knowledge.

Below are short excerpt examples of two Knowledge Building Circle discussions. The first is about the children's curiosity pertaining to the chrysalises and the second is just after a few of the butterflies emerged out of their chrysalises! It was an exciting time to say the least.

Chrysalis Discussion

"I think the caterpillars' bodies make the wings inside." C. T.

"Their legs turn into their wings and they grow bigger and bigger." J. K.

"I think that caterpillars lose legs and grow wings where their legs were." P. M. C.

"They are metamorphisizing!" J. B. 

"Caterpillars have to lose ten legs because sixteen minus ten is six and butterflies have six legs. I think the legs turn into wings." D. F.

"I think the chrysalis has a magical wand and turns them into butterflies and then they can fly away." W. C.

"I agree with W. C." A. K.

"I wonder how do the caterpillars change inside the chrysalis?" S. F.

"I saw that the caterpillar has fur and I think the fur makes the wings." A. M.

"But how do they make the chrysalis?" M. N.

"How do the caterpillars get in the chrysalis?" J. B.

"I wonder why they turn into butterflies? Why can't they stay caterpillars?" J. K.

"I think the butterflies push out to get out of the chrysalis." Em. B.

"I think they have to become butterflies because caterpillars cannot fly to a leaf." O. L.

 Butterfly Discussion


"I saw one of the butterfly's wings moving!" MK. K.

"I seed it when it just hatched! I named it Sally because it's a nice name" P. S.

"The butterflies have yellowish blond spots on their wings." S. F.

"I saw the butterfly this morning, it was flying!" C. W.

"I wonder what inside their bodies looks like?" J. K.

"How do their wings give the butterflies their ability to fly?" J. B.

"How do butterflies get their antennae?" J. B.

"I saw the butterfly open his wings!" L. W.

"I wonder what kind of butterflies they are?" W. C.

"Why are they called butterflies?" P. M. C.

"We need to see if they lay eggs or not to find out if it's a boy or girl." E. B.

"How do the butterflies get out of their chrysalises?" C. F.

"Their wings broke the chrysalis and they got out." A. K.

"Their wings are symmetrical." T. D.

"They they come out of the chrysalis their wings are wet and they need to dry them." M. N.

"I wonder why they're opening their wings?" L. W.

"I wonder why all the butterflies are the same?" Em. B.

"I wonder if they're poisonous or not?" M. K.

"What is the red stuff on the bottom of the terrarium?" O. L.

You may be thinking that there are a lot of questions and content that come out of these discussions. How do you address each one? The answer is simple, I don't. I record or the children record their questions and I keep their unanswered questions up on our wall. Through our book readings, videos, other research, and provocations, we may answer a few of the questions over time, but some we may never answer and that is ok. Sometimes the children have amazing theories and we discuss them. Inquiry, in the way I see it, creates and fosters a community of learners that become amazing observers, theory makers, and most importantly, wonder seekers.   

Butterfly Ballet

Using dramatic dance to interpret the life cycle of a butterfly was a channel that the children used to embody the different stages that make up the butterfly life cycle. Movement is crucial for children of any age especially in kindergarten. It's a way for them to explore the many wonders and theories they have. Some of the questions that were asked above are explored through their dancing below.









Unforeseen happenings... 

Sometimes unforeseen happenings may occur during an inquiry. Such is life and I do my best to involve the children and use the situation as a learning opportunity. One morning as the children went to look at the butterflies they noticed that one of them was on its side and not moving. It was a sad moment to say the least. Some children were somber and one even got teary. We discussed briefly what may have caused such a thing to happen and a few children suggested that we may have waited too long to release the butterflies. I would have to agree with them. We were waiting for our last butterfly to emerge so that we could let them all go together. It may have been a couple days too long to wait. But one positive thing that came out from this event was that the children were able to view and feel that butterfly where they never would have been able to if this situation didn't happen. 












Saying our goodbyes...

On the same day as the passing of the butterfly we decided it was time to release the rest of the butterflies and let them go. The last butterfly that took the longest to emerge from its chrysalis surprised us all and emerged during lunch time! We had four butterflies to release! 

Just before releasing them the children had some special farewell messages for their butterflies...


"I wish for you a happy life." M. N.

"I will always like you butterflies." C. T.

"I wish you have a marvelous lovely life." S. F.

"I wish that you didn't have to fly away." M. T.

"I wish that you have a great time!" T. H.

"I wish you could stay forever." M. K.

"I wish you find lots of your favourite flowers and you don't get attacked by a predator." J. B.

"I hope they meet new friends." MK. K.

"I wish that you could fly very free." M. E.

"Bon voyage, butterflies!" J. B.

"I hope that you find lots of friends!" O. L.

"I love you, butterflies." C. F.

"I hope you have a great time!" C. W.

"I hope your wings don't fall off." A. K.

"I want you to stay." D. F.

"Bye bye butterfly forever. I hope you have a good time!" J. K.

"Farewell butterfly." K. C.

"I love you, butterfly!" P. S.

"I wish you don't get hurt." F. W.

"I hope you come visit my garden." E. B.

"I love you, butterflies." I. S.

On the spare of the moment I took the children to E. B.'s backyard as she told me her yard was full of flowers that her and her mom planted. It was a beautiful moment as we had the privacy to say our goodbyes and release the butterflies one at a time.







This was the first butterfly we released and it was perfect! I tried to give others a chance to have the butterflies go on their fingers but they were in a rush to be free. No matter as it was still magical to see each one fly out and land on the flowers. 

Sorry for the blur. I couldn't get my phone out fast enough!






The children experiencing the transformation of the caterpillars to butterflies was magical. I can't help but relate this experience to the uniqueness of teaching kindergarten and being able to learn and grow with the children for two years. Metaphorically, they really do start out like little caterpillars that grow and grow over time and then one day, when they're ready they spread their wings and fly.



Thank you for the magical year!

Mrs. Ralph and Mrs. Kinsey