Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Painted Ladies

We received a surprise in the mail this week! Our Painted Lady caterpillars arrived! The children were so excited to see them crawling around in their little cups! It's interesting to learn about why they spin a web (to help them move around) and why they seem to shed their end (because they are outgrowing their exoskeleton and are growing bigger). We passed them around the circle and examined them up close!

The children have been helping create our interactive caterpillar display. Many children wrote their name on our June calendar to predict when they thought the caterpillars would emerge from their cocoon. Some of our children read about the Painted Ladies to see how long their transformation would be so they could have an accurate prediction!

The children drew pictures of what they thought the caterpillars would look like as butterflies. We had not yet done research on Painted Ladies when the drawing were made so it's interesting to note that many children appeared to use their prior butterfly knowledge and made theirs look like Monarchs.

We have many books about butterflies, caterpillars and lifecycles in an appealing rustic basket. The stages of the lifecycle are pinned to the sides for easy display and access by the children.

Fun mini manipulatives showing the different stages of the caterpillar/butterfly have been fun to play with in our mini playscapes as well as sequence to tell the story of the lifecycle.

Similar to our planting journals, the children are recording their ideas and observations in the form of communal butterfly journals. Whenever a child would like to share their thoughts they are invited to add a page to these booklets.

We also have lifecycle specific vocabulary cards that the children can access when writing in the journals. These have pictures on one side and kid print on the other for easy writing support. Children can copy the word directly or refer to it after sounding it out independently.

We can't wait to add more child-created materials to the centre as the caterpillars develop and we have deeper understandings of this wonder!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Subitizing: How to engage children in playful opportunities that build confidence and interest in number sense

It was such a pleasure to participate in the ETFO Math Conference this weekend in Toronto, Ontario. The presentations, resources, energy and networking was phenomenal and I have returned home feeling inspired and ready to take on the remaining weeks of the school year with an even more renewed passion for and commitment to math learning. Please visit https://storify.com/McLennan1977/etfo-math-conference for a Storify article collecting all tweets with the hashtag #etfopleymath.

My presentation 'Subitizing: How to engage children in playful opportunities that build confidence and interest in number sense' was on May 28. I was so excited to share the rich math learning that has been happening in my classroom for the last two years!

It was wonderful to meet so many interesting and engaged educators from all over Ontario who share the same vision of enriching math experiences and potential in their learners! For those interested, please visit the following links to access...

A video screencast of my presentation 

A PDF version of my presentation slides

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

How Many Petals? How Explicit Math Instruction Transitions to Child-Centred Learning

In my experience as an Additional Qualifications instructor, one of the most commonly asked questions is how to find a balance in FDK between teacher guided and child-led activities. In an emergent program is it okay for the teacher to take the lead and initiate activities? Do whole group times always have to revolve around the children's interests or is it okay to veer in a new direction? How do adult created invitations for learning transition into child-centred explorations? What does this look like in a real classroom?

Today I set up a beautiful math invitation for children drawn from the text Reggio-Inspired Mathematics (Novakowski, 2015). From our recent experiences discussing nature in our yard in our Beautiful Tree Project I know that our children gravitate to interesting living things. This weekend I did some gardening at my home and picked some of the most interesting flowers I had. I wanted to engage the children as soon as they walked into the classroom in the morning. Not only were the colours vivid, the smell from the combination of flowers could be noticed throughout the room. Each flower had a velvety soft feel and the variety of shapes and textures was interesting to look at. This collection appealed to the children's many senses and was irresistible upon entry into our room. 

Along with the vase I placed many varied, colourful close up photos of other kinds of flowers not displayed in the vase, writing materials (small child-sized clipboards are always more fun to use and easier for the children to handle on an already cozy table), and small wooden blocks. During our first play block the children had open investigation of the invitation. Some smelled the flowers and moved on, others sketched the arrangement, some played with only the wooden blocks.


During our opening circle I brought the materials to the carpet and invited the children to discuss them. I asked them to reflect upon and share what they had experienced at the centre during playtime; I wanted them to describe what they saw, what they noticed about the flowers, what they wondered about the materials. I read the sign included in the centre "How many petals altogether?" and encouraged them to consider my question about the flowers.

Many children were interested in the idea that we could count the number of petals and offered suggestions for how to do this.  One child wanted to place one block on each petal of all the flowers and count them to get a total.

Another child thought that each flower petal should first be counted in the vase and then the same number of blocks could be represented in a collection next to it.

After discussing the suggestions and ending our circle time, the children flowed back into the play activities. We noticed that many new children visited the flower activity and were quite eager to see if they could calculate the petals.

Some children represented the totals with blocks and then transcribed the total as a number on the paper...

...others placed the blocks on the pictures and then drew the flower with the corresponding number of blocks...

...and some created addition sentences after putting blocks on many pictures and wanting to discover a total number of petals in all the pictures.

One child spent a long time at the centre. I observed her play; she experimented with stacking and organizing the blocks in many different ways, finally arriving at the following arrangement. When I asked her to explain her work, this is what she said:

"I put one block in the middle where the pollen is. I put one block on each petal, so that's 5. Then I put blocks on the outside of the flower. I wanted to see its outline."

Fascinated by her work, I continued the conversation by reminding her of our work with the tree circumferences in our current outdoor exploration. I introduced the term 'perimeter' and helped model and explain for her that we could find the perimeter of any object including the two dimensional pictures of the flowers at the centre. This is the sort of beautiful evolution of teacher-initiated activities that emerge when children are able to manipulate materials freely and creatively in their own time and space. Educators who engage in playful experiences together with children can first observe, question, introduce and then scaffold more complex math concepts with those children who appear engaged and interested. Discovering the perimeter of the flowers certainly was not what I had anticipated doing with the initial flower invitation, but this is where I was led by this child.

She was quite eager to record her ideas and our conversation and independently shared her math thinking in a written format. Her idea to help explain to others the meaning of perimeter included drawing a picture of the flower and then writing numbers on it to represent the number of blocks used for the outline.

It's my hope that by sharing this example it's evident that not only is it developmentally appropriate to share teacher invitations for explorations, they can be introduced during whole group time and then rediscovered by children in new and innovative ways. Had I first introduced this math invitation at circle the children might have not been as interested, or only counted the flower petals as modeled at the circle. However providing open-ended time for them to discover and explore the invitation before discussing it helped bring richer background knowledge and ideas to our collective exploration. Revisiting the materials after a free and then focused time working with the pictures and manipulatives might have encouraged more children to visit the centre or think more deeply or differently about the topic. As the educator in the space I am satisfied that the idea of counting the petals using manipulatives was explicitly introduced to the whole group and that I was able to meet individual children at their interest and ability levels, especially those that wanted to represent and add multiple flowers together, or measure the perimeter.

My next step for this activity will be to invite the children who visited the centre today to share their ideas (and photos of the experience) tomorrow during our consolidation and sharing circle as we ran out of time today. Perhaps this will help us introduce the idea of measuring perimeter to the whole group and encourage other children to think about measurement and the invitation in a different, more evolved way.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Planning in an Emergent Program

We are a Reggio Emilia-Inspired classroom. We believe:

  • that children are capable and creative, and the interests, strengths and needs of our group drive our instruction
  • that we have a connection to our local culture, community and the environment and attempt to integrate these and share our learning beyond the 'walls of the classroom' however we can
  • that natural and loose parts are the best manipulatives for helping children explore, practise, and represent their ideas with others
  • that art is the heart of our program and children are able to learn, represent, and share their understandings through many different forms
  • that children have hundreds of languages that they use to explore concepts, express their ideas and share their thinking with others
But we are also a classroom in Ontario and must adhere to the Ministry expectations for the Full Day Kindergarten Program. As such, planning has become an interesting consideration as we cannot always predict ahead of time what our children will be interested in exploring. We also wonder about the balance between explicit and guided instruction in this emergent, transformative space. We have an obligation to fulfill expectation and assessment requirements yet we do not want these to hinder our inquiries. There needs to be careful integration of the expectations into the many aspects of our day in order for this to seamlessly happen. Much like a conductor ensures each musician precisely yet artfully contributes to an aesthetic mosaic, we weave together inquiry, play, curriculum and assessment to provide the best possible experience for our children. How do we do this? What does our planning look like? This post is the result of the many questions and comments we have received and is a start to answering some of these and making our planning process visible to others. This blog entry is not an exhaustive list of our practice. We look forward to continued interest in what we do and constructive questions and feedback to help us reflect upon how we can evolve our program for the betterment of all children.

1.  Yearly Plans

We are obligated to hand these in each September. When one considers how traditional yearly plans are created (predetermined units of study and expectations planned to be used at specific points of time in the year) it becomes quickly apparent that these do not match the philosophy or delivery of an emergent, inquiry-based program. We cannot determine ahead of time what we will be working on together with the children and to do so goes against our philosophy of embracing student voice. If we create yearly plans with the intention of not following them, we are merely engaging in a creative writing exercise that is wasting our time.  What we have done for the last several years is use our yearly plans as a way of educating and articulating to those outside our immediate classroom how our program works. Key concepts include an explanation as to what play and inquiry are, what centres and materials are going to be present, how we reflexively use the children's ideas, strengths and needs to determine our inquiries, how we connect with our families and the greater community, and how we build rich literacy and numeracy experiences into our environment. This plan is more a research-based support for the pedagogy behind our practice, making our philosophies for early childhood present in our planning, and helping advocate for and educate readers about emergent learning. By doing our plans in this way we are helping our administration understand our program and the art of weaving curriculum and assessment obligations into our daily life and work together with the children. By creating these together, we ensure each team member's vision for the program is represented and all team members have the same understanding of what emergent inquiry looks like in an FDK context. Co-creation means we work together to build a strong foundation of philosophy and research-based practice to guide our work and can articulate our program to our colleagues, families, and the community.

2.  Daily Flow (Schedule)

We attempt to have as free flowing of a schedule as possible within the constraints of our standardized day. As one class in a school of many, we don't always have control over where our children can be or what they are expected to be doing but have tried to limit transitions, invite planning teachers in as partners, and maximize the time/spaces/resources that we do have. Our schedule is the same each day with the exception of gym and library time, which we have attempted to weave in as best as we can. Our children have free flow snack during the large play time but sit together as a whole group for lunch when we are out of the room on our lunch (monitors cover for us). Our planning time teachers attempt to collaborate with us as best they can to support inquiries and share their observations and often take our place within the schedule instead of changing our routine or activities when they visit. We are hoping to have a free flow lunch as well in the near future to minimize the disruptions to the table top activities and better meet the needs of our learners, and are working on how to best do this with our population. To see a complete description of our schedule please visit the Daily Flow blog post. The children have total choice and control over what they do in the play blocks; we do not limit number of children at centres, and encourage the integration of materials all around the room. Children can visit wherever they'd like and can use materials however they wish. We set up table top invitations to support ongoing inquiries, fulfill gaps in our curriculum, and initiate assessment opportunities. We also co-create the learning centres together with the children and add/evolve the materials and organization to better reflect their interests, strengths and needs. An extensive clean up and having our 'star of the day' do a centre check after play ensures materials are tidied as expected and helps keep our room clean and organized.

Discussing and planning our 'schedule' together as a team at the beginning of the year, and continually revisiting it and reflecting on how to better improve it, helps support our planning in a number of ways. Both myself and my teaching RECE partner choose parts of the day that we are most interested in leading, and plan exclusively for these parts. This way we can both have ownership over some aspects of the day, know what to explicitly plan for, support ongoing inquiries in a variety of ways, bring our own individual interests and experiences to the group, and have autonomy in our teaching. However we are continually discussing, revising, co-planning, collaborating, and evolving the schedule and our activities to better reflect the interests of the children and move our learning forward. As a team we talk all the time - before and after school,  during quiet moments in the yard or classroom, during participation in play, at lunch, through text, and using google docs as an easy way to share plans. It is not uncommon for us to notice something in the children's play or environment and quickly modify or change what we were going to explore at a whole or small group activity, to better represent and meet the needs of the learners and honour their ideas. We are both experienced educators who are very comfortable with the curriculum and trust that the process and program is meeting each child.

This is a visual schedule that is available for the children and visitors to refer to.


3.  Planning Wall

We do not have a desk in the classroom and house all planning materials together on the wall in an easy to access location - this way occasional teachers and administration who visit our space can access the information as needed. When pages become old or not needed they are filed in the daybook or inserted into inquiry binders.


On this wall is a copy of our yearly plans, detailed 'day at a glance' (to help explain each part of our day and transitions which is especially helpful for occasional teachers and volunteers), monthly calendar with upcoming events, copy of the curriculum, daybook page with circle and small group activities, and current inquiry idea web. My partner and I acknowledge that although we both plan for our respective circles and invitations for play, depending on what has happened in the day there are many times where these plans are not followed and instead an activity or discussion is used instead to better support what we have observed and the children have shared. What I like to do is then cross out what I had planned or save the dayplan for another day, and write what actually happened on the page after the fact. We also write all over the margins and back of each page - observations to support another experience, communication with families or important events that might have happened that day, reminders, and any other information to help us reflect back on what transpired. These daybook pages are almost like a journal; recording our hopes for what might be accomplished each day and then reflecting backwards on what actually happened.

4. Inquiry Web

We have been experimenting this year with a web format for recording all the of the different aspects of our big inquiries/projects and the curriculum expectations that have been fulfilled as a result. This particular web is currently showing our "Beautiful Tree Project". I have broken the inquiry into different subjects and list the experiences, resources, and curriculum expectations that have been included. It's an easy way for everyone on the team to see where the inquiry sparked and how we have supported children's learning. Posting it in an easy to access spot means that each member of the team can record items on it. Sometimes the activities happen organically and the children decide what we are going to do within the project. Other times the team introduces and scaffolds ideas, resources, or activities to continue to heighten the inquiry, answer some questions the children had and initiate even deeper thinking and communication of an idea.  The beauty is that one never truly knows the direction of an inquiry and it's fun to see what might happen. Our current inquiry is being blogged extensively and you can read about The Beautiful Tree Project to see this process in action.

We are hoping to experiment with a new webbing format that reflects the new curriculum document later this month (if we have time). I like how the four frames encourages educators to consider the integrated ways our programs fulfill curriculum expectations and how deep learning happens in play. This is what we are thinking of. 
5. Documentation Wall

We attempt to compile our documentation quickly as the inquiry is unfolding together with the children using photos, videos (a QR code linking to the video is displayed with the documentation and can be quickly scanned by a viewer), writing, drawing, art, transcripts of conversations, teacher interpretation and narrative, etc. This is displayed and children and educators use the documentation to reflect back on what's been done so far, and use the information to plan needs and next steps. Once the inquiry is complete and the documentation comes down, it is added to a binder and kept for future reference in the classroom. Everyone contributes to the creation of the documentation display so it helps the educators in the space consider gaps in our learning, curriculum and assessment needs and next steps, and how to improve the experience for future inquiries. This visual collage of inquiry artifacts can be referred to by the team and used to help guide planning. Reflecting back on past inquiries also informs what curriculum and assessment obligations have been met and drives what might need to be covered moving forward.



6.  Children's Learning Binders

Each child has a learning binder that contains artifacts of their learning and experiences from throughout the year. Children self-select pieces to include and educators also contribute. These are sometimes used to help guide planning as we reflect (together with the children and also independently) on what has happened and what a child might need to do next in order to refine or improve in an area. These are also sent home on a regular basis to families who are asked to complete a survey which requires them to look through their children's artifacts, consider what a child has enjoyed/accomplished, and share next steps for the child. These are also used to help guide our work in the classroom. Conferencing with children about what has been included in their binders can be an informative way to help them reflect upon their learning and see what they'd like to accomplish next in the classroom.

5.  Google Drive

Our team regularly uses Google Docs to share and build information and classroom resources in real time without the need to file share or be in the same place at the same time. We each have young children so staying late after school to plan isn't a reality for us. We've created newsletters, documentation, yearly plans and report cards using this versatile website. 

6.  Curriculum Expectations List

We also have a condensed list of all the Ontario FDK curriculum expectations that we keep handy. As we complete big experiences or inquiries we like to highlight which expectations we have fulfilled and look to see which we still need to address. This helps us with our planning because we can quickly and easily see gaps in our program and collaborate on how we can work to address these moving forward.

Hopefully this gives you insight into how we work together as a team to plan in an emergent, inquiry-based classroom. As always we welcome questions or suggestions for improvement and look forward to connecting with other like-minded individuals!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Daily Flow

“To children, time is measured in units of joy.”  
S. G. Clemens


We have received many emails, tweets, and message of support for our classroom as a result of the video tour posted last week. Many, many thanks for the interest you have shown in our work and children! One question that has arisen many times is 'what does our schedule look like?'. This has inspired the following blog post. We always welcome feedback and constructive comments for improvement from our families, blog visitors and professional learning network!

Inquiry-based Learning in our Classroom

Our Kindergarten program utilizes a child-centered, inquiry-based approach to learning, the foundation of which is the Ontario Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten Curriculum. Inquiry-based learning experiences are designed to capitalize on children’s natural tendencies to be curious and explore their interests within and beyond the classroom. Research on cognitive development of a child states that Kindergarten students are:

“…curious, asking questions as active seekers of information; use their senses to gather information about their environment; sort, match, and classify objects quite naturally in their play; can make simple causal explanations of events using their personal knowledge, which also enables them to make predictions;  are making connections, talking about similarities, and drawing conclusions;  represent their ideas in many different ways through e.g., building with two and three dimensional objects, drawing, dramatizing;  are imaginative e.g., in their solutions of problems.” (ETFO, 2010, p.22).

An inquiry-based activity should draw on these characteristics, acknowledge a student’s interests and should involve materials that “ provoke a sense of mystery and wonder so that children become curious about how they work, where they come from, and what can be learned by manipulating them” (Curtis & Carter, 2003, p.17). 

In our classroom we intentionally observe and engage children in order to gain a deeper understanding of their interests.  The information that we gather provides the “spark” for classroom inquiry-based explorations. (For example, after noticing children’s interested in puddles outside at recess time, an inquiry-based series of activities were developed together with the children to explore the concept of rain, water evaporation, and natural events outdoors.)  Keeping children’s interest in mind, we purposefully co-planned authentic experiences from which they can create meaningful observations and engage in exploration.  Exploration naturally leads to investigation. After the children’s interests have been identified through exploration, a planned investigation might be conducted to further their knowledge on this particular subject. The findings gathered from this investigation will be communicated through documentation, verbal discussions, and physical demonstrations. We ensure curriculum is followed by highlighting and incorporating expectations that naturally compliment the focus of inquiry. Sometimes this means bringing ideas back to the larger group for discussion or explicit instruction to help deepen our collective understanding and drive the project forward.

Inquiry-based learning is a shared responsibility between the teacher and children. As an intentional teacher I listen, observe, assess, model and support my students’ learning; while they use their five senses for exploration and investigation to "build new understandings from existing ideas and concepts" (ELECT, 2007, p. 15).  As outlined in The Kindergarten Program (2006),The guidance of a thoughtful teacher is essential to enable children to learn through inquiry. Teachers should use inquiry-based learning to build on children’s spontaneous desire for exploration and to gradually guide them to become more focused and systematic in their observations and investigations” (The Kindergarten Program, 2006, p.11). 

The integration of other subject areas can work to heighten inquiry-based learning by making it easier for students to “build on their existing knowledge, create and clarify their own new understandings, and experience a variety of approaches to a problem or question” (The Kindergarten Program, 2006. P. 11) while fulfilling various curriculum obligations.  Various subject matters and skills can be explored and acquired through the intentional, yet seamless interchange of these learning approaches; however, all learning must still begin with a “spark” that is rooted in student interest in order for the experience to be meaningful.

Inquiry-based learning is supported in our classroom by the following:

  • Attention is given to the use of time (e.g., scheduling), space (e.g., classroom design), and resources (e.g., materials placed in centers) to offer developmentally appropriate choice and child-centered control in our classroom
  • Learning happens in a variety of contexts around the school (e.g., classroom, atrium garden, gymnasium, outdoors) and groupings (e.g., large group, small group, pairs, independent)
  • Activities are integrated so that a variety of subjects and learning modalities are incorporated into children’s experiences
  • Activities are open-ended and child-centered
  • Children have choice and control in where they work within the classroom
  • Large blocks of uninterrupted time are provided for children to become fully engaged in their activities
  • Centers and activities evolve with the needs and expressed interests of children

Rationale Behind Scheduling

We have referred to the listed “Criteria for an Exemplary Full-Day Early Learning Kindergarten Timetable” as provided by the GECDSB Program Department as found in The Thumbnail Sketch. This list includes:

  • Transitions are kept to a minimum
  • Literacy and numeracy are integrated throughout the day (rather than delivered in an isolated block of time once a day)
  • There is a balance among the six learning areas
  • There is a balance of exploration, investigation, guided instruction, and explicit instruction
  • There are opportunities for learning through different forms of play in the physical environment and the activities
  • A large block of time for play-based learning (at least 60 minutes morning and afternoon)
  • Planning is collaborative between the FDK team; children’s ideas and thinking are also represented
  • Levels of support are evident – large group, small group and individual instruction
  • Large group instruction time is brief and focused 

Open Entry and Play 7:50 - 8:25

Families drop their children off in the classroom and children put their belongings in their cubbies, participate in their corresponding sign in activities, and proceed to a play activity of their choice. Many children enjoy touring the room to see what new invitations have been set up on tables or included in the centres. They are able to immediately participate in these activities, return to an activity from the previous day, or sit together with a friend and talk. This gives children a chance to socialize, and get themselves comfortable and ready for our day. We find that many children enter our room with interesting objects from home or the playground (e.g., feathers, books) and these often spark interest from other children that is then explored during the playtime. This open entry time counts as my supervision minutes for the week. I love being able to personally greet each child upon entry, make conversation with families and catch up on how a child's night and morning have been or share important information, and watch the children ease into our day. Because this is a staggered entry and not all children arrive at the same time, it is a leisurely welcome and one that feels meaningful. 
Opening Circle  8:25 - 8:40

After children have engaged in an approximately 30 - 40 minute playtime they are invited to join me on the carpet for opening circle. Children are able to finish up their playtime activity before joining me or also have the option to return to the activity after circle. This main gathering time is a great chance for the children to come together as a community and set a positive tone for our day together. After procedural items like attendance are complete the main focus on this circle is usually literacy (reading, writing, and oral language) with other curricular areas interwoven in order to make learning layered and meaningful.
We begin by reading a morning message written to the children. It usually has information about anything special happening in our day and a quick shared literacy or math activity to do together (e.g., similar to a 'minds on' in math). Many times these activities are related to an ongoing inquiry (e.g., this week we have been discussing why our school yard is so special so the morning message activity asked children to brainstorm reasons for why we should take care of our yard). New invitations for play and materials added to centres are also discussed at this time. Children plan for what they might like to explore or investigate for playtime and engage in a planning experience to help with this (e.g., quiet reflection, elbow partner discussion). 
Free Play 8:40 - 10:30
Once circle is complete children can proceed to learning centers. Children have choice and control over where they explore within the classroom. We do not assign children to centres or limit the number of children who can play in an area. During play children spend time engaged in learning-based play activities within the classroom including (but not limited to): dramatic arts, sand, water, reading, writing, play dough, math, science, listening, art, painting, drama, loose parts, construction, and fine motor toys. Additional seasonal or inquiry based activities are also available.  Children are encouraged to use the materials in innovative and creative ways that compliment their interests of inquiry and collaborative exploration. On table tops there are often teacher-guided activities (e.g., natural materials exploration, science experiment, art activity) and children are invited to work with an adult at the center. Children can freely move materials around the room to use in ways that compliment and extend their experiences (e.g., loose parts in the dramatic play centre).

Our classroom is a learning-based, play-based authentic environment focusing on student exploration, socialization, and community learning. We aim to promote and strengthen student self-regulation. Centers can be classified into three categories: manipulative, make and take, or extensions. Manipulative centers are experiences that provide students the opportunity to explore, practice, refine, or extend a skill or area of interest by manipulating concrete objects (e.g., make a picture out of pattern blocks, writing words with magnetic letters, creating designs with geoboard and elastics). Make and take centers provide students the opportunity to explore, practice, refine or extend a skill or area of interest by manipulating and creating something that can be put into a portfolio, posted on our walls, or brought home (e.g., mixing the primary colours while sponge painting, stamping words with stampers, decorating names with pasta). Extension centers are materials that are put out by the teacher at center time to compliment or extend a lesson taught at circle (e.g., felt pieces that retell the read aloud text).

Our classroom is an integrated classroom, with both JK and SK children. All students can use the materials put out at centers in varied ways. Because activities are not “cookie cutter” in nature, each child can explore and experiment with the materials at the center at their own developmental level. The process of learning is valued more than the product. When a teacher is available at the center and able to scaffold the instruction, based on the explicit needs and interests of the student, heightened learning opportunities can occur.

Assessment opportunities include taking photos and videos of children engaged in play opportunities, anecdotal notes, checklists, artwork, recorded vignettes, transcribed interviews with children, writing and drawing samples, and diagnostic tools. Assessment happens primarily during the play block and can also occur during small group time.

Inquiry-Based Circle 10:30 - 10:45

At the conclusion of the first playtime children are first given a ten minute warning that clean up will happen shortly, and then asked to clean up. We find that because children have had so long to play, they are quite willing to tidy up and regroup on the carpet for another circle. Once all children are on the carpet, the special 'star student of the day' has the opportunity to visit each area of the room to assess whether or not is has been cleaned to satisfaction. If the centre is a 'thumbs up' clean, the child moves on. If the centre is not cleaned to the child's approval volunteer children are called to tidy the area some more. This is our way of ensuring children are responsible for the environment and that the room is completely tidy before moving on.

We usually begin this circle with a fiction or nonfiction text that relates to our current project or inquiry. Sometimes an activity focusing on a main math/science/personal or social concept is also presented if it relates. This is our way of ensuring that ideas from the inquiries are brought back to the whole group so that all children can participate and acquire knowledge from the explorations, even if they choose not to participate during playtime. It's also a chance to ensure that we are meeting curriculum obligations and covering expectations while using the inquiry to guide our planning. 

Outdoor Play 10:45 - 11:50

The children then dress for outdoor play and head outside. There are three kinds of outdoor activities that we regularly use (not all on one day). 

Free outdoor play with materials: We have an abundance of outdoor toys like balls, hula hoops, bikes, etc. and the children enjoy using these in the yard. We set these up in a centre formation (e.g., all the hula hoops together, all the balls together) and the children are invited to play with any equipment they'd like to during our time outdoors. We also bring many consumable materials outside with us including bubbles, sidewalk chalk, paint, clipboards and writing materials, etc.

Guided outdoor play activity: In this type of activity we lead children in a purposeful activity related to a current interest or inquiry. For example we might visit a favourite area of the yard with our sketching pads or go on a nature walk with the ipads and look for math in the yard.

Open-ended outdoor play with no materials: We have a large play yard and many times we will visit different areas of it with no equipment at all. Children are encouraged to use found and natural loose parts (e.g., rocks, sticks, flowers) in their play. This is imaginative play in its purest form and a joy to watch.

When finished the children tidy up the materials, enter the classroom and put away belongings in their cubbies. 

Inquiry-based Circle 11:50 - 12:10

Children regroup on the carpet for a quick whole group meeting. Usually there is consolidation and sharing from either of the first two play blocks (indoor and outdoor) or children share treasures from nature found outdoors. Sometimes the educator reads another book or a 'poem of the week' to children and more planning for the afternoon is done. 
Whole Group Lunch 12:10 - 12:50

In our room the children are able to free flow to a snack centre during the first play block and eat when they are hungry. During the whole group lunch time children eat their lunch in the classroom and are supervised by lunch monitors. Tables that are placed around the room are cleared of materials and the children replace these when they are finished eating their lunch. One of my professional goals is to have a free flow eating schedule throughout the entire day and eliminate the whole group lunch, but the logistics of our schedule have made this difficult to plan and we are continuing to reflect on how to best accomplish this. When children are done eating their lunch they participate in a quiet activity like reading, drawing, writing, or chatting with friends.

Consolidation and Sharing Circle  12:50 - 1:15

Children gather for one last circle time. Afternoon attendance is taken. Usually a read aloud occurs along with another focused activity that relates to the current interest of the children. Children are invited to share something from their day with the whole group during a sharing time. Sometimes the educators revisit rich moments from the play by pulling up digital photos and videos in a draft blog post (using the smart board) and the children reflect upon the experience and co-write the blog post for the day. Mail is handed out and children pack their note totes and get ready for the end of the day. Everything is packed in backpacks and children head outdoors for one final play block.

Outdoor Play 1:15 - 2:00  

Children are able to participate in a second outdoor playtime that includes a free, guided, or open-ended activity. At the conclusion of the outdoor play time toys are tidied and returned to the shed and the children enter the classroom. Because they are already dressed for home (and this is especially beneficial during cold snowsuit weather) we have fewer transitions requiring children to dress and undress in outdoor clothing.

Ready for Home and Dismissal 2:15 - 2:30  

Children enter the classroom and sit in their cubbies. Children who take the bus are escorted to the bus line at the back of the school by an educator while another remains in the room to dismiss children picked up by families. Seeing each family at the end of the day gives us another chance to chat and share something from the child's day. The families are also eager to look around the room and see the new art and documentation on display. It is a calm, peaceful way to end our time together. 


Curtis, D., & Carter M. (2003). Designs for Living and Learning: Transforming Early
           Childhood Environments. St. Pauls, MN: Red Leaf Press

Expert Panel on Early Learning. (2007.) Early Learning for Every Child Today: A
           framework for Ontario early childhood settings. Retrieved from

ETFO. (2010). Thinking It Through: Teaching and Learning in the Kindergarten
Classroom. Retrieved from https://learn.etfo-
aq.ca/d2l/orgTools/ouHome/ouHome.asp?ou=10482 .

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2006). The kindergarten program (revised). Toronto:
Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
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