Creating a Warm and Welcoming Environment on a budget

Finding ways to create a warm environment with the over use of plastic within our classes is a tricky job. As much as teachers want to update their space, I know over the years the biggest comment I have heard is that teachers already spend so much of their own money on their class. True! I have certainly spent money on the setup of my classes over the years, but it is also an investment that takes me well beyond a single teaching year. Some of these updates have been free. Let’s take a closer look…

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Wood, such as these pen/pencil holders. After posting on a local ‘Mom Swap’ Facebook group, looking for someone who could make these, a fellow teacher said her father would. He donated them at no cost.

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Material can really change a space, and be used in so many ways. Use them as a table cloth, costumes for free play, blankets for children, rugs on floor, or to make forts. The best part about material is that they can be found around your house/families houses/thrift shops/donated by student’s families. All you have to do is ask!

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Baskets and bowls. This is one area that I like to make a small investment in. Wooden bowls and baskets have many uses and can often be picked up at thrift shops. They make provocations much more interesting and shelves more welcoming. Some of these baskets have been donated by families; otherwise garage sales and thrift shops. I like that they are all different, bringing in an eclectic vibe.

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Centerpieces. Often, seasonal items from my home. Sometimes I ask families if they want to donate flowers (from their gardens), or I will stop on a drive and pick some from the side of the road. Get creative, the more obscure the item, the more interesting!

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Sheer fabric to drape. I bought this material at ikea for $9.99 and have been using it for 5 years. Sheer fabric washes easily and can be used in a variety of ways. It plays a big role in creating warmth in the class when placed under lighting (it helps soften the aggressive florescent lights).

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Glass. I love glass jars, transparency offers students a wide range of options with craft supplies and materials. Glass needs to be used safely, and children need to be taught how to appropriately take care of glass in the classroom. Supervision should be used with delicate items. If you are not comfortable with glass, or unable to find them at an inexpensive price, you can always use clear plastic containers such as the ones you buy salad in with the attached lid. These can have the same effect, and are able to be left out in the reach of students.

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Twinkle Lights. From string lights, to tube lights, to twinkle lights… any soft lighting that you can add will help transform a classroom into a warm and comforting space. Nothing beats the lights on a tree during Christmas – it is the same with lights in a classroom. Often, twinkle lights and the natural window lighting is all that is needed on a sunny day, or a quiet morning. These can often be donations from families (I did purchase my string light and tube lights from a local thrift store for under $10.00).

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Shelving covers. If you have closed shelving for storage, consider yourself lucky! If you are in my previous situation, you can inexpensively purchase paper accordion covers from your local hardware store. One package does more than one shelf if you cut it into a few pieces. You are looking at less than $10. I have also seen shelving covers made from left over material, so if you have some sheets laying around you could also make your own fabric covers.

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Decor. Any ‘extra’ items; such as fairy gardens (a class inquiry), fish bowls, pillows, logs, fake grass (donated by a dear friend…how lucky am I). All of these items that are not being used around your house, or a family members, can become part of your class. You don’t want to fill your class with unnecessary items, so be picky, and decide based on your students likes.

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There are many money conscious ways to update and warm up your classroom. Always ask for donations, and remember, social media is one easy way to see if anyone has extra unused items around their house that can be repurposed.

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Forest School as part of The Kindergarten Program

Two years ago I had a wonderful opportunity to teach at a school with access to a large forest, only steps from the classroom door. This rare opportunity was not ignored, as my awesome partner, Crystal Carbino, and I would include “forest time” as part of our weekly learning. Our time in the forest was a chance for independent, or group investigation and inquiry, while allowing their wonders to ignite a love for nature. The treasures that were found, and their hypotheses of what these treasures are, and how they came to be, helped push the inquiry process within our classroom.

Over the last year I have found myself drawn to the topic of Forest and Nature Schools. I think the spark began for me when I had a baby last June, as she is completely captivated and in awe with the outdoors. During her first two months of life, bringing her outside seemed to be the only trick to calm down our crying baby. My mind started to think back to our time in the forest as a class; we didn’t have problems with “behaviours”, we never had children crying or arguing, and we certainly didn’t have to leave a student back at school because they couldn’t follow the “forest time” safety rules. Why is that? How can nature calm children, and change behaviours that we see in the classroom and during recess? I have been on a personal investigation about how the outdoors/forests/nature can benefit children. An interesting blog post by Nature Play discussed children and the natural “urges” they feel within their daily life. These “urges” were defined as orientation, positioning, connection, trajectory, enclosure, transporting, enveloping, rotation, and transforming. Examples within these ten natural urges include the urge to hang upside down, climb and jump, break things, carry, drag and pull. The article discussed that many of these natural urges that children have can be seen as behaviours within the classroom. When we take the children outside of our classroom walls and provide them with the opportunity to safely “redirect” their urges, then they are no longer a “behaviour”.

Hmm. If using the natural environment provides the students a chance to self regulate their urges…why aren’t we all doing this?

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I love that my School Board provides its educators an Outdoor Education Conference called Mittens in the Snow. These awesome sessions (chosen by the educator) allow us to get some direction for how to implement the outdoors in our program. My first workshop of the day was called ‘Tool Time’ by Thinkin Educational Services. The session focused on utilizing simple loose parts materials within nature, and the opportunity to investigate natural and made made tools. For my session we were given rocks and rope, and set free to play. Everyone used their materials differently; including tight walking ropes, bow and arrows, and catapults. What I enjoyed about Tool Time was that it allowed for individual inquiry, but also promoted group investigation, as my exploration time turned into team work when colleagues came over to assist me with my bow and arrow, while also helping me find materials to complete and test out the new tool. We were allotted time to discuss all of the uses we found for the loose parts; sharing ideas is a simple way to push inquiry within the classroom. The obvious cross curricular links available from this activity include: outdoor education, DPA, science, math, and oral language. Extending this activity to the classroom could include self documentation.

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Activities such as ‘Tool Time’ are simple ways that educators can push the use of outdoor education, child lead learning, play-based learning, and inquiry. Utilizing nature and children’s interests are not only easier then table top science and math centres, but much more exciting. Not every child needs to participate in each of these activities to benefit from the learning – the group discussion/sharing circle allows for the children to see new ideas, and possibly try them out themselves.

Providing pictures of the activity the following day can also help to re-spark the interest as well.

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How can we as educators provide quality outdoor experiences to our students? What is the difference between outdoor education and a Nature School program? Well, the Forest and Nature School in Canada 2014 Guide states:

Despite variations, all Forest and Nature School programs adhere to the following: regular and repeated access to the same natural space, as well as emergent, experiential, inquiry-based, play-based, and place-based learning (MacEachren, 2013). The defining feature of this type of nature-based education program is that children are provided with opportunities to build an on-going relationship with the land, to a dedicated educator, to one another, and to themselves through this educational approach.

I have to wonder what it would be like for children to have the opportunity to consistently play, interact, and watch a natural space for a prolonged period of time. Our Kindergarten Program on page 34 talks about a ‘nature deficit’ within children’s lives, and specifically discusses how the outdoors are to be a part of every Kindergarten Program’s day.

In the Kindergarten program, learning in the outdoors is included as part of the instructional day, and the educators play an active role, engaging with children in an inquiry stance as they play, explore, and learn together outside the classroom

If we know the benefits of bringing children to nature, then why isn’t the push there to follow through? So much money is spent on technology, materials, sports equipment, and yet our natural environment is free. Not every school has access to a forest directly beside them, but partnering with local environmental centres (such as our Tiffin Conservation Centre, where our Outdoor Conference was held) as part of a bi-weekly program, would be money well spent. In the mean time, providing your students access to outdoor educational time is so important. I am going to put together a list of different outdoor activities, such as the one shared above from Thinkin Ed from our session. If you have any great activities that you think should be included, email me at kkiernan.mrs@gmail.com

My search for finding a way to embed Forest and Nature School into the Kindergarten Program will continue …

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Home Sweet Home!

The first three weeks of school have been busy, exciting, challenging, and wonderful all at the same time. Just as the children are spending their time getting to know their new teachers and peers, I myself am doing the exact same thing. Twenty-five new friends, a supply DECE, new staff and a new school has been an adventure. I know this post is a few weeks late, but I hope you will still find it as a useful resource when designing and changing your classroom layout over the next year.

This is our classroom, room 124.

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It is always hard to see the whole room in one photo so we will take a tour. My first goal of the room setup is the atmosphere. Does it feel light? This means uncluttered, organized, open yet has nooks for different play spaces. And the most important, magical. Kindergarten should be a place for imagination, creativity, a feeling of warmth and comfort while away from home. This is created in a few ways, fabric, especially draping of white cloth, being the first. I have four more pieces to be draped from the ceiling, but due to my limiting height (5’1), it’s been a blessing to have an amazing co-worker @wonderfulworldkindie who has been helping me during her “spare” time. I am very grateful. Second is lights; I have a variety of different types of lights, but twinkle are the easiest to find and use in a classroom. The third strategy I use is to turn off at least half of the ceiling lighting. They can be blinding especially on a sunny day, so I am always aware of the strength of the natural light and utilize it first. For example, on a beautiful sunny day the sun lights up 3/4’s of the room which means I may only turn on the furthest light from the window. And on a cloudy day, I would probably only use every other light.

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This would be considered a quieter space in the classroom. We have the self-regulation tent, and the horse-shoe table for small group instruction. I am trilled to have the low white board behind it for mini-lessons (the added bonus in a new school). This space is very important. Firstly, the inside of the self-regulation tent needs to be visible at all times, but it also needs to be in a quieter area of the classroom to allow a student time to relax, and self-reflect. The horse-shoe table was the hardest piece to place in the class, as it was important to me that it was in a place where the teachers can still see the whole class, especially the exit doors.

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Tables!!! Yes, I only have three round tables. Yes, I wish I only had two. Yes, the children have plenty of space to sit and eat. No, the children do not sit on the floor. Yes, we utilize all of the other tables in the class (computer desks, craft tables, house centre tables, horse-shoe table). No, we do not rotate the children through activities. Yes, they are neatly tucked away to allow more play space for the children. Yes, they now have a beautiful view while eating their snack. Yes, this was a perfect solution to my table problems. 🙂

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We have a building area that can be utilized from two sides (big carpet and the small carpet). The reading nook has added comfort with our fake grass. We try to bring the natural environment into the classroom whenever we can, as we believe that the environment is the third teacher.

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The house centre has fun fabric for endless possibilities instead of single purpose costumes. The computer area acts as a way to separate the house centre to create a little nook. The table cloth adds warmth and texture to the class.

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Ahh…. our “desk”, you could call it. The teacher station, with a high countertop. You can see lots of writing and drawing materials that the children use daily. It is all kept in glass jars so that the materials can be seen. Wooden hanging lights strung across for some sparkle and warmth.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day” is a motto I have been embracing this year. We are working slowly and cautiously to construct a space that works for the children in it. Already things have moved and changed to reflect the needs of the people in the space. Toys and activities are changed weekly to provide many different experiences. I would like to thank my amazing (ex) DECE partner @CarbinoCrystal for her muscle and imagination transforming this space into a home away from home for the children. If you are part of the SCDSB I highly suggest requesting a visit to your classroom as she is now the Designated Early Childhood Resource Educator, working with @Heather_Ma, the Early Years Consultant. This week will be their second visit in my school and classroom, they are a great team with many resources to support your program. Thank-you for visiting room 124.

For further information on classroom setup, I highly suggest Designs for Living and Learning.

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A Space to Celebrate

Welcome September!

Big changes this year; I have moved from my classroom of two years into a new class, with a new partnership, and at a new school. I am excited to embark on this journey and I was anxious to get a look at the classroom and begin planning the transformation.

The school is new and beautiful. The classrooms are a great size with a lot of natural light and big windows. I was thrilled to see the fairly neutral colour pallet.

One of the first things that I noticed in my new room was the storage space. I was lucky to have four closets, and six floor to ceiling shelves in my previous class. This year I have one closet and four floor to ceiling shelves, with one long and low horizontal shelf under the white board.

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It took a few restless sleeps to wrap my head around the storage, but creating shelf covers to hide some of the clutter, unused toys, and manipulative, seemed to be the answer. The super star team beside me @KennedyKindie had a great idea to use moving blinds. I went to Lowes and I was happy to find that they had a “natural” blind that complimented the existing wood shelving. Such an inexpensive and simple solution to every teacher’s storage problems.

They were very simple to use, I measured the shelf and took scissors to the paper blind. Once cut, I pulled off the tape cover and stuck it up. The great thing about the blinds is the length, I cut their length in half and was able to get two blinds out of one. I used double sided tape and used the other half of the blind for the second shelf.

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My focus for the shelving was to make it an area for the children to play, explore, and build. I took away a few shelves to make sure their was a large enough space for materials, and that they were low enough for the children to reach. I used the high shelves for teacher resources.

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My thought for this new year is minimalism. I have minimal materials out in the classroom because I want to constantly change materials. I also want the children to learn how to take care of loose parts and it makes it easier when their isn’t clutter.

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After tidying the class and minimizing, I began using my favourite resource; Designs for Living and Learning by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter. I started by removing many of the tables so I am down to three round tables (my goal is two, but we have limited storage), two small desks (for the two desktop computers), one horseshoe, and one small desk-like table for art provocations. It is so much fun to move the classroom around and try everything in new and unique spaces.

I had my old teaching partner @carbinocrystal join me for a few hours to help me finalize the transformation. She has a gift for classroom setup and I am thrilled with our results. I will be posting the progress of my new class at the end of the week. Don’t forget to share your class designs, and use the hashtag #aspacetocelebrate to collaborate. I will be featuring some of my favourites on Instagram. Don’t forget to share your tips 😉 Wishing everyone a wonderful first week!

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Documentation in FDK

There has been a lot of buzz with the term Pedagogical Documentation, and the push to use it within our classrooms. I can appreciate that this term can be overwhelming to many Educators, as I have felt this way myself. Through exposure in my Kindergarten Part 2 AQ course and Pedagogical Documentation to Enhance Formative Assessment certificate course I have begun to understand that nothing is ever as scary as it first seems. Many of us are already using some pieces of Pedagogical Documentation in our classes. I found Wein’s description to be one of the easiest to understand.

Pedagogical documentation captures the everyday moments within a learning experience of the students you are observing. These moments, when woven together, can create a clearer picture of the learner’s strengths and needs…

Wein (2011) suggests that pedagogical documentation, which originated within the Reggio Emilia approach, describes the teacher’s story of the learning process of children. It provides educators of all grade levels an opportunity to engage in the process of observing, documenting, analyzing, interpreting and making instructional change to meet the learning needs of students and becomes a tool for formative assessment.

I feel that by changing my process from documentation to pedagogical documentation I began to be proactive in my teaching and assessment. This can easily be done by using multiple documentation tools to access your student’s knowledge. I am going to share with you a few of the ways that I do this within my classroom.

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Google Forms are an easy way to write and store anecdotal notes. Forms can be created and edited through your Google Drive. You are able to create as many forms as you need to support your classroom. Within Classroom 124 we have one for Math, Language, Health and Physical Activity, Social and Emotional, Science and Inquiry, and Learning Skills.

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I wanted to find a way to take success criteria and make it individualized for kindergarten children. We use our helping hands in our small group instruction. The students first choose their individual goals by conferencing with a teacher to decide what their next step will be for writing (at the beginning of the year). We have 12 different writing next steps available for the students, but they are certainly not limited to our list. Once the teacher and child choose a goal the children can velcro their success criteria onto their hand. When the children are ready to write, they take their hand off of the wall using velcro and bring it with them to a table as their reminder of their goal(s). Once the child and teacher feel they are successful in mastering their goal they will work together to choose their next one. What I love about our Helping Hand is that the children are using Assessment As; Children set individual goals, monitor own progress, and determine next steps.

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If you have not yet had an opportunity to use the Blogger Apps in your classroom, this is something I highly suggest you try. By using Blogger or Blogger Jr App the children in your class can take a picture or video of their work, they are able to attach audio to support their media and further share their knowledge. In classroom 124 we share student posts with parents. We have found the posts to be very helpful in documenting and assessment student work and knowledge. Children are able to use Blogger without any support from Teachers; this allows you to work in small group instruction and class documentation to continue happening without you. We have two apps set up, one for any kind of blog post, and one specific to math posts. We have used our math blog as an extension of our math journals. YouTube offers many exemplar videos of how it can be used within a classroom setting, search “Blogger App in a classroom”.

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Inquiry Maps…happy sigh… they have proven to be something that has been extremely successful in our class this year. I have had a lot of questions from Educators about the Inquiry Maps so I wanted to make sure I took the time to really explain how we use them. When we begin an inquiry they always begin with a wonder. As a small group or whole group (depending on the interest) we usually start with some type of anchor chart. This can be simple or elaborate but it is a way for us to share our current knowledge of the subject. In the above inquiry about gardens, the children spoke about soil, sun, dirt, and water to make plants. We wrote these words out on paper and throughout the day the children would come and add anything they knew about the topic on the papers. Our Inquiry Map began with these pieces of paper. Once children were done writing we glued our green pieces of paper up on our kraft paper. From here, the children decided it was important for us to research the topic. In small groups we visit the library in search of books to support our learning. We always take an opportunity to snap some pictures of the children while they find their books. This shows all of the steps of the process, and these photos get added to our Inquiry Map. Our next step was researching our topic, using a large white blank paper we sat together on the floor reading and looking at many different pictures. The children wrote down new learnings, they drew pictures of the seed process, and shared their new knowledge in any way they wanted to (this paper was added next on our Inquiry Map). The children learned many new pieces of knowledge about gardens and planting over the next few weeks of research, this started a whole new set of wonders about our topic and the children continued to write their observations, new wonders, draw pictures of growth and post it on our map. I feel it is important to explain the the picture above shows two pieces of our map, the first picture at the top was our Inquiry Map full and we moved it off of the bulletin board and relocated it above the coat hooks. We placed a new piece of kraft paper out and the second picture is our newest research about our inquiry.

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You can see from our garden inquiry and our space inquiry above that we are mapping out the process of our inquiry. From our initial questioning/wonder, to our investigating, to creating, discussing, and reflecting. Each piece of the process is documented and shared. We also try to add arrows to help show the direction of our inquiry.

I have seen inquiry binders created where children can look back on previous wonders, and as much as I love that idea I really enjoy the children seeing the whole map at once. From where we started to where we ended. Something that I have learned from practice is that it is important to place the Inquiry Map on kraft paper, this way you can always take them out to reflect back on or share with families at important events. My hope is to use them as a celebration at the end of the year, and invite families to revisit all of our inquiries with us.

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I hope this post provides you will some insight on how you can use pedagogical documentation within your classroom. Finding those opportunities to learn more about what your students know, and share their learning in a way that makes it visible will help you as the teacher and them as the learner. I would love for you to share the different ways you use pedagogical documentation in your class. Don’t forget to tag me using @world_of_wonders_kindie on Instagram

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Reference:
Wein, C. (2011). Learning to Document in Reggio-inspired Education. Early Childhood Education and Research. Vol. 13. No 2. Retrieved from http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v13n2/wien.html on Feb 24, 2015.

Where Do The Fairies Live?

Fairies have been of great importance to our class since the beginning of the year. I shared a story with the children about a nature walk I took in Awenda Provincial Park. The story began by sharing about the winding paths and large tree roots that I crawled over to reach a mysterious lake that lay in the middle of the forest. Somewhere in my enchanting, dramatized story I spoke about the different coloured mushrooms I saw… some orange, some pink, some white. They were so beautiful with their bright colours and interesting spots, and just then a child blurts out “Fairies live under mushrooms”. Before I knew it the conversation was buzzing with excitement and life about fairies, pixie dust and magical forests. I pulled a tiny acorn lid out of my pocket and showed them how to use it as a whistle, this obviously became the way to contact the fairies. The buzz in the class lasted for a week as we researched, drew, wrote and wondered about fairies, and apparently just in time for our class award party. We took a survey of what type of party we wanted to have. We graphed the results and to a big surprise to my partner and I, 25 of our 29 students wanted a fairy party.

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As a group, we decided to make our very own class fairy garden so Rosealea (our personal class fairy) had a place to live and visit. We used our tinker tray to bring a variety of materials in. The children used the materials to explore different ways to create their own little fairies. The children brought in the most beautiful fairy and nature inspired costumes, it was an enlightening experience.

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We now are in April and although our fairy party seems so long ago, the buzz and love for fairies has never left. I decided to seek out something new for the children. I have seen the most precious little fairy doors on Pinterest and began to look locally. I came across a company called Sugar Bush Fairies in Horseshoe Valley, Ontario, that hand craft precious little fairy doors. I sent Sugar Bush Fairies a message sharing with them the excitement of fairies in our class, and asking if they would be interested in donating. I was blown away with the generosity of the company; they were not only thrilled to donate but offered a choice of doors to choose from and hand delivered the door to the school. It is so refreshing to find partners in the community who support the journey of the children.

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I really hoped we could place the fairy door in our base camp in the forest across the street, but because it is public I was worried it might disappear. Instead we attached it to the wooden stumps in our classroom that surround the fairy garden. Monday morning it took the children about two minutes before their eyes found the fairy door, the room was instantly filled with energy. Where did this come from? Why doesn’t it open? Does Rosealea sleep in the stump? Do fairies live in here? Where are the windows? How is it attached? Can she hear me if I knock? The children investigated every inch of every stump and began writing questions and letters to Rosealea. She has written back to them twice this week, we are now right back into our fairy inquiry that we started in November. I will continue to share pictures of our adventures with the fairies through my Instagram account. Wishing everyone a Happy Friday!

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If you are interested in purchasing your own fairy door. You can visit Sugar Bush Fairies through their Facebook page.

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Let the Loose Parts Unfold

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I often lay in bed at night trying to think up new and exciting provocations for the class. So if there is one thing that I love about loose parts it is that I don’t have to do anything except move out of the way and let the endless possibilities unfold. We have had a tinker tray in our classroom since September and I love seeing the ideas that the children come up with. I found it interesting that originally the children seemed nervous to use it. I could see that at the age of 4, 5, and 6 they had learned that materials are not open ended but have one purpose. It took some modeling, I would start the day by placing out a small square of decorative fabric, and I would create half of a picture and leave it. Once the children trickled in and started flowing around the classroom I had noticed a child staring at my half created picture. I enjoyed sitting back as she looked around to see if anyone was coming back to finish. Very carefully she picked up a glass tile and gently placed it down. It wasn’t long before the picture was complete and she and a few other students started to make their own creations or take handfuls of loose parts to different areas of the room.

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Since that time the children have learned that loose parts truly are open ended. There are no expectations for what they do with them (beyond returning them to their homes once finished). I have recently been reading Loose Parts Inspiring Play In Young Children by Lisa Daly (you can find this book listed under my Resources page) because I want to find more ways to use the children’s play with loose parts as part of our emergent curriculum. By better understanding what and how they are using these materials, I can document and assess their play and use it as part of my reporting. Through observation I have noticed many connections to the curriculum such as mathematics. I have observed children considering balance and the weight of objects, constructing and planning the best ways to build (heaviest and widest materials on the bottom), creating images or constructing while thoughtfully considering how geometry plays a role “This tile won’t fit, it is a rectangle and we need a square”.

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I have found that continuously changing your loose parts display is vital to keep the children interested. I started with the tinker tray but I now also use different sized, and coloured baskets, as well as wooden bowls (making it very easy for the children to transport the loose parts). I have even paired by loose parts with different provocations in the class. I love the limitless possibilities that loose parts provide students. Their imaginations continue to amaze me. My next goal is to co-create a variety of outdoor loose parts using the forest across the street. We have already created our base camp, so this week we will be working together to gather materials to bring back to our kindergarten yard.

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Looking forward to seeing pictures of your loose parts on Instagram. I would love to see what you are doing so feel free to tag me.

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