Another Classroom Remodel

When I walk into a new teaching space, I love the opportunity to try and make the space as welcoming and calming as I possibly can.  I haven’t quite mastered this craft yet, however, as a general rule, I try to make sure that I don’t display things in our classroom that I wouldn’t want in my own living room.  The challenge can sometimes be working with what is already in the room, but when I am mindful of this, I know that at the very least, I am not bringing more “noise” into our learning space.  (If you are interested, “before” pictures can be found at the bottom of this post).

This year, I took some time to explore other opportunities in our district for the first few months of the school year before accepting my current position.  At the time of this post, I have been in this space for 12 teaching days so I still consider our space a “work in progress”.  As my students and I are continually growing, learning and evolving, can any space ever really get to the point where it is considered “done”?  As it currently sits, I feel that the space is already becoming one that provokes curiosity, exploration and independence.  As you look through the images below, you will notice some large areas devoted to play as this is something I truly value when working with early learners.

When you enter our space, this is the first impression you have from the door:

View from door

To the right of the door, there is a little table.  One basket is to collect library books and book bags.  The other is for agendas and home reading folders.  (The rocks all have student names on them.  As they put their agenda in the basket each day, they also put their rock in the jar.  My “helper” can then read the names on rocks still out and gently remind those students to get their agendas).  Under the table is our juice box recycle bin and a bin where we keep indoor shoes.

Agenda Bin

The next thing you see as you make your way counter-clockwise around the room is this blue table and a shelving unit with our “tub toys”.   Behind the green divider, is our “house centre”.

Blue Table

Here is another view of the “blue table” from a little further back.  In this photo, you can also see our little white table which is currently being used for smaller blocks and in the bottom lower right corner is the edge of a pellet table we are currently using.

Block Table

Behind the mirror shelf (pictured above), we have a little yellow table.  Currently this is our “story-telling” area where students use puppets they have made (or other finger puppets) to retell stories we have been reading in class.  Can you tell that their current favourite is “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”?

Drama Centre

Next to the “blue table” is our “house centre”.  As you can see, it has quite a big footprint in our learning space.  

House Centre - From Outside

From inside the house, this is what you see:

House Centre - Close

There’s the kitchen:

House Centre - kitchen

an eating area, sleeping area for the babies and the closet for all the clothes (even some of the “mail” from the mailbox that was forgotten on the floor made it into this picture!):

House Centre - closet and cradle

and of course, the living room with lots of books to read:

House Centre - living room

Helping to create a “boundary” to our house, is our listening centre:

Listening Centre

Next comes our carpet and big block area.  Along the wall under the SmartBoard are 3 big buckets with our smaller wooden blocks and on the shelves under the windows are our big wooden blocks (The sign on the block left out shows they have been busy building McDonald’s this week!).  The bench in the foreground stores bins for trains and cars, etc.

Carpet Corner

On the black filing cabinet is our “daily schedule”: 

Daily ScheduleThe last big area as you move though our space is our “art” space.  In this first photo, you can see a small table that currently is being used for playdoh as well as our big art table.  

Art and Playdoh Table

Mounted on the shelf (in the bottom right corner) is a rack to help organize some of the drawing and colouring materials that are used most often.  In this picture, you can also see our coat hooks and the pellet table that is currently out (it is on wheels so we roll in to this space for centre time and then tuck it in by our easel for the rest of the day so we have enough room when we come in or are getting ready to go back outside).

Art Centre - bins

And lastly, you see the easel, counter and sink and our drying rack.

Art Corner

And that is pretty much it.  As you can see, it is a busy place with plenty going on.  I hope you enjoyed the tour and maybe left with an idea or two to use in your own space!  As always, I welcome any comments or suggestions below.  

The “Before” Pictures (in case you were curious where this all started from):

After the previous teacher had left with all her stuff, the room was pretty much a blank canvas, waiting for my touch!  The first thing I did was have the “teacher desk” and some other unwanted furniture removed from the room.  This is what was left:

In this photo, you can see the entrance door to our classroom:

Before - Entrance

Turn counter-clockwise and this is our bulletin board area:

Before - Bulletin Board

Turn counter-clockwise some more and you see the gathering area and smart board.  (The empty corner by the Smart Board is where the teacher desk was once).

Before - Carpet Corner  

Continue to turn counter-clockwise and you see the back nook with a sink and counter.

Before - Art Corner

Developing fine motor skills through play

Fine motor night activities

When a student starts kindergarten and has a hard time holding a pencil or printing his/her name, many of my parents are very keen and willing to help out at home in any way they know how.  They usually offer to do things like printing practice or buy workbooks and are open to any other suggestions I may have to help their child.  I often find myself repeating to parent after parent that, ironically, printing practice is often one of the least effective ways to help kindergarten students who are struggling, improve their printing.  In order to print (or draw, paint, cut, etc.) effectively, students need to have developed hand dominance as well as good muscle strength and control in their shoulders, hands and fingers.  There are many simple things parents can be do with their children to help develop these muscles.

This year in order to help our parents best help their children at home, we decided to try something new.  We held a parent and student evening workshop, by invitation only, targeting our students who were most in need of extra support and practice.  We had an amazingly positive response.

We started the evening in one classroom with the parents while their children played next door.  Parents were all given this “Developing Fine Motor Skills” handout and we discussed some of the simple things they could do at home with their children to develop hand dominance, shoulder stabilization, hand and finger strength and finally, better fine motor control.  After our short presentation, children were given a passport and were asked to complete at least 5 of the 12 stations with their parents.  Parents had the job of identifying how each of the activities they completed helped develop fine motor skills (they could refer to their handout if needed!).

Once done, students could turn in their passport for a goodie bag that was full of fine motor activities to do at home.  The pictures below show the goodie bags we created for each student.

OT Night - goodie bag      OT Night - Goodie bag 2b

At the end of the evening, students left excited by the chance they had to play with their parents at school and parents left with a better understanding of simple things they could do at home to help their child.

Let’s play…

Light table

“Play is the road to childhood happiness and adult brilliance.”

– Joseph Chilton Pearce

As a kindergarten teacher, I often get questions from incoming parents about how my students spend their time in our classroom.  I tell them that we spend a good part of our day learning through play in centres, and by that, I mean they actually get a significant chunk of time to play.  On any given day, some of the choices my students may have include building with blocks or trains, exploring coloured water with funnels and pitchers, “baking” cookies with playdoh, giving a “manicure” at the salon or exploring with paint.  What is setup in our centres often comes from conversations the children have either directly with me or that I overhear between them.  I value play in early learning and I believe in giving my students choice in where they play, what materials they use, who they play with and how long that play lasts.  I believe “choice” is a key element in play because I know firsthand that what is play for others (like going for a run) is work for me and things that I consider to be play (like writing this blog post) might be work for many others!

If you are interested in learning more about play and learning, there are many great resources out there.  As a starting point, try watching Stuart Brown’s TED Talk or reading his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul.  You never know, it just may change the way you think about play.

If you have a different favourite resource about play, please share it in the comment section below.  Thanks!

Tree cookies and fabric – two simple things to add to your block centre

Last summer, while surfing the internet, I came across the idea of “tree cookies” and decided they would be something cheap (so cheap, they’re FREE), interesting and worthy of adding to my block and building centre.  What is a tree cookie, you ask?  Really, it is just bits of cut up tree branches.

So as I trimmed my trees in my backyard, I saved the nicer branches and cut them into small pieces.  I then put them in a bin at my block centre.  (As you can see I made some that were short and fat and others that were long and narrow).

class play - tree cookies 2

I also added bits of fabric (polar fleece, to be exact) that I had cut into strips, rectangles and oval-ish shapes.  Then I waited to see what happened.  One day, this is some of what I saw:

2012-09-24 14.47.49 tree cookies - dino paths 1

tree cookies - wood forest

The fleece became rivers and grasslands.  The “tree cookies” became pathways, bridges and forests…

tree cookies - water falltree cookies - river

The shelf in the block area also helped create a waterfall for the dinosaurs to play in and hide behind.

Tree cookies and fabric, what simple fun!

Creating an environment that fosters curiosity, creativity and play

After reading, google-ing and reading some more, I decided to set up my room a little differently this year.  I wanted to create an inviting environment that fosters independence, creativity, curiosity and exploration, all through play.  After much moving and reorganizing, here is what my kindergarten classroom looks like so far:

Here is the first impression you get when you walk in our classroom door.

Another look from the door, this time looking in and to the left.  Our sensory table still needs to be filled!

This is what you see standing in the door and looking towards the door.

Our carpet time and gathering area.

Here is our dramatic play area, setup with a “kitchen” to start the year off.

This is going to be our “art centre”. I made the bench this summer with drawers to hold some of our bigger art materials like paper rolls, egg cartons, etc.

This small carpet area is for our building and construction centre.  Beside it, is our shelf of “tub toys” that we use to start each day aa well as our blue and green bins for returned library books.

Here is a look at another play area carpet and soon-to-be science area. In this picture you can also see the blue egg-chair for children who need a moment to calm down right beside our computer station (we got new computers and they have not been set-up yet).

Please leave me a comment letting me know what you think so far.  Do you have any other ideas you use to create a welcoming classroom environment?

What did I learn today? – Set of Mini-Posters

Here is set of mini-posters I created this past year to help parents understand why we make so much time to play in our classroom.  They link kindergarten outcomes (from the Alberta curriculum) with different centres we have in our classroom.  I posted it just outside our room to help parents understand how play is children’s work.

Mme Melissa