Gratitude

There are days in this job when I question my sanity, when I come home to my own small children and have little patience left for their troubles and I feel like a terrible parent as a result.

And then there are days like today.

Last night we made mailboxes for each child.  They’ve been writing lots of letters and using one communal mailbox wasn’t working.  This morning, one of our four-year-olds (four!) wrote a letter to each child in the class including their name and a picture.  She did this totally independently as both teachers were engaged in helping with a fashion design project on the other side of the room (that’s another story!).  It’s on days like today that I remember… I have the best job in the world!

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Child Development and the Report Card Problem

This article appeared in my Facebook feed this week and I was intrigued.  It’s written by a paediatrician and summarizes his observations from 25 years of practice.  The one that struck me most from a teaching perspective is number 3, about cyclical growth.

There is a rhythm and pulse to each child’s life – sometimes fast and intense, sometimes slow and quiet. Just as each spring brings a renewed sense of appreciation for life, each stage of a child’s life is a time of new discovery and wonder. After all, learning is not just a process of accruing information. It’s the process of transforming our ideas, and sometimes this requires forgetting in order to see with fresh eyes. Some children will take a step backward before making a giant leap forward. 
 
We just finished writing and sending home report cards a few weeks ago.  I like writing report cards, a minority view to be sure.  Most teachers I’ve met dread them, a position I understand if not one that I share.  While I enjoy writing them and feel that it is an important and even sacred moment in our communication with parents, I don’t like the lack of flexibility in the timing of report cards.  A child’s development knows nothing of reporting periods and paperwork; it follows its own rhythms and dances to the tune of no master.  We have seen children blossom over the past two weeks for whom we struggled to write adequate comments at report card time.  All of a sudden, they’re giving us a tonne of data – they’re coming into their own.  If only I could write their report card now!  I understand, from a perspective of administrative convenience, why it’s important that all the report cards go out at once, on a fixed timetable, but as I document some of the astonishing growth we’ve seen lately, I wish I could go back in time.

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Where does inquiry come from?

This week I came outside and was immediately drawn to what “N” was doing.  I could hear him before I could see him.  He had discovered that if he took a chunk of ice and hit it hard against the metal pole, that not only would it make a sound but that the sound would sustain for several seconds afterwards.  He has a quizzical look on his face as he tried it again and again.  I’m translating our conversation from French so I apologize for any awkwardness in the phrasing.

“N”: bing…

ECE: It continues (the sound) for a long time.

“N” and friends “I” and “B”: bing, bing, bing, bing.

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ECE: It’s like church bells.

Me: How long will it last, “N”, if you hit it and leave it alone?  Can you count?

“I” leans against the pole and “N” hits it again.

Me: Oh, but is it different when “I” doesn’t lean against the pole?

We went through a few trials of “N” hitting the pole and “I” touching it before we got one when the sound dispersed on its own.  I wondered if “I” was interested in the feeling of the vibration.

Me: 1 – 2 – 3….

“N”: Four… four seconds!

At this point, “B” and “I” join in again hitting the pole with their own chunks of ice.  Bing, bing, bing…

Me: Do you think the sound will be shorter when “B” is touching it?  Why would the sound be shorter when someone touches the pole?

“N”: Because it’s not hard.

Me: Because it’s not hard if someone is touching it? If someone touches the pole and the sound it shorter – why is that?

“N”: (with that quizzical look) Because the ice is harder.

Me: The ice is harder?

ECE: Look “I” – touch the pole, put your hand here.

“N” (speaking to “I” and taking his hand to place it on the pole): You do like this (hand on the pole), I do like this (hitting the pole).

Bing, bing, bing…

Me: Does the sound last longer when no one is touching it?

“N”: 1 – 2… two.

Me: Just two when someone’s touching?  And why is that? Why doesn’t the sound last as long when someone’s touching it?

“N”: bing, bing, bing

ECE (placing her hand on the pole and moving in closer to “N”): What happens to the sound when “I” touches the pole? Why doesn’t it last as long?

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“N”: The hands stop the sound from moving.

Me: The hands stop the sound from moving… wow.

ECE: Wow…

This was an amazing moment.  We knew that “N” could get there, that if he had enough time to puzzle it out he could come up with a hypothesis that fit with his observations, both auditory and tactile.  His initial hypotheses that the ice and the pole became harder didn’t seem to satisfy him any more than they satisfied us.  We’ve had many opportunities for sound-making outside with found-sound instruments attached to our fence (pots, pans, metal and wood pieces, etc…) but this is the first time I’ve observed that experimentation leading to meaty inquiry questions.

Where will we go with this?  We’re going to show this video to the whole class this week and present them with more opportunities to play with sounds and vibrations.  While we usually teach our own music in the classroom with singing and small rhythm instruments, I think that this new thread will prompt us to visit the music room so that the students can experience bigger and more vibratory instruments.   I can’t wait!  Bring on the noise!

 

 

 

 

The Wisdom of LEGO®

LEGO is an incredibly popular toy both in and beyond classrooms – you may have heard there’s a movie?  Many children can play with LEGO all day, sometimes every day.  What should Kindergarten teachers do about this?  Remove the LEGOs?  Insist that children visit other centres on a rotation-based schedule?  Pull children into small groups and away from LEGO?

I’m going to suggest something radical.  Do nothing.  Just watch.

I’ve been asking myself the following: Why is it, when children are engrossed in a material over a long period of time, do we perceive that as a negative?  Maybe we need to ask ourselves a different question:  What are they trying to learn?

What is it about this material that has them so interested?  What are they working so hard to figure out?  Take a breath, take some time, and put on your detective cap.

So much possibility.  What do YOU see?
So much possibility. What do YOU see?

We noticed last week that the children were building LEGO structures that very closely resembled architectural drawings.  This week the children were using flat pieces to make roofs in new ways and using the shutters to create tree-like structures.  As a response to these observations, we’ve since brought in a real architectural drawing and are planning a field trip to the local School of Architecture.  Who knows where it will lead?  If it leads to more LEGO, I’m okay with that.

Catalysts

Plagues are bad, don’t get me wrong, and I don’t like it when kids get sick.  But, amazing things happen in classes when half of the kids are away.  The pace slows, the pressure retreats, and we find that all of a sudden we are seeing things we’ve never seen before.  The absence of so many children forces those who are left into new social situations; when they play with new people they learn new things.  Some kids seem to be particularly good at this business of finding ways to push other children’s learning forward.

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“A” is one of those children.  While she is very advanced in terms of her thinking and her learning, she is happy scaffolding and thinking aloud while bringing others into her play – in fact, she seems to enjoy the mentoring process.  In this picture, she has led the creation of a ramp for cars.  The pieces don’t fit exactly, so they keep having to adjust the angles, otherwise the cars will fall off.  “A” helps the other children to figure out how to place the pieces and persuades them to try new strategies and ideas.

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In this picture, she’s helping another child to better understand representational play, showing her how to use the little bears to create a narrative and gently reminding her about the flow of the story.  Image

Representing and re-telling familiar stories together.

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And on another day, working at the light table.

I’m not wishing for another plague but I am grateful for the silver lining.