The Best Present of All

With the gift giving season behind us, I’ve had some adults asking me why playing with rocks and sticks would be beneficial to children. I am all too excited to tell them.

In toddlerhood, children are very literal: if they can’t see it, it’s not there. But as they grow into preschool age, their imaginations begin to grow and if we nourish that growth, the sky becomes the limit. At KCS, our goal as educators is to prepare our youngest learners for the next steps in life. Yes, those next steps include reading, writing and arithmetic, but there is more. Creativity, initiative, problem solving and team building skills become possible when using open-ended materials in play, such as items found in nature.  The natural world is a wonder for children, rich in textures, smells, colours and purposes. They can bring their diverse personal experience to play, allowing them to choose, invent and inquire among peers. When early learners are given the opportunity to develop internal motivation for learning, they are more likely to enjoy school and believe in themselves in an educational setting.

So remember, if you see your pre-schooler at home choosing to play with things that aren’t their iPad or commercially-made toys, smile and ask them what they are creating.  After all, we only get one chance to be this tender age, so let them make the most of it.  You may end up with a scholar on your hands.

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher

Haircut, Anyone?

We knew we were in for a treat when PK, JK and SK students joined KCS three years ago. But we didn’t expect manicures, facials and haircuts!

Anyone walking down our Senior Kindergarten hallway last week will have doubtless noticed the many signs advertising these services and more, for a price, by our SK students. No, this is not a mandated unit of study. Much better, it’s what an enterprising and imaginative young group decided to make happen.

From what I’ve seen, these young entrepreneurs are working on establishing about a dozen of our KCS Habits – habits that will set them apart wherever their future takes them. Their writing and counting are also getting emotion-driven practice. Positive emotions are booster fuel for learning.

Thanks to our faculty’s efforts with Project-Based Learning and their readiness to support student initiative, the whole KCS community benefits from dozens of student projects equally delightful. But this is the first where I can also get all fancied up for the holiday season. Thank you SKs!

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Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

KCS Pre-Kindergarten Students Love to Share

‘Sharing What You Know’ is one of the KCS Habits of Mind, Body and Action, so I want to share with you one thing I know about our Pre-Kindergarten program. When I’m in the PK room, my heart fills with joy. Yes, they are our youngest students in the school and yes, they make me laugh, but my heart fills with joy because they share with me what they know from the moment I walk into the room.

The other day, as soon as I entered, one child said, “Miss De Kuyper, I’m building a house!” I could tell he was proud, and I asked him who was going to live there, to which he replied, “You!” When another child put round connectors up to her eyes, I asked her what they were. She looked at my bespectacled face, smiled and said, “Glasses!” Several children brought me toys that matched the colour they were wearing that day, while some told me what they were “cooking” with playdough.

At the beginning of the school year, the PKs are coming out of toddlerhood and into the next stage of learning; something that a lot of us take for granted. This time in their little lives is huge, and it sets the stage for every year of learning after it. When children are given time to explore, they learn to identify colours or how to build a sturdy house, all while learning to share toys, space and ideas. Children absorb what they see and hear, and as the world unfolds around them, the PK program provides them the space to drive their own learning as they continuously share what they know.

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher

No Place Better Than Kindergarten

Kindergarten. When people ask what I do for a living and I tell them I teach Kindergarten, I get a range of interesting reactions. Many people respond with a look of fear or dread on their faces and incredulity at the idea of spending one’s days with a room full of 5-year-olds. Others speculate about how much fun it must be to spend one’s days in Kindergarten, perhaps reminiscing about their own fun-filled Kindergarten years. Having spent the last school year as my first year teaching Senior Kindergarten after teaching a variety of other grades for 16 years, I can assure you there is no place I would rather be.

What is life like in Kindergarten?  Well, there is no shortage of energy; that is for sure. It oozes out of their little bodies and minds every minute of every day. Their curiosity knows no limits, and their endless enthusiasm is extremely contagious. I have to say that it is truly inspiring to see the world through the eyes of a group of 5-year-olds. They explore and wonder and try to figure out the answers to their multitude of questions. Their imaginations take them beyond the limits they may come to know later in life. Wooden blocks become underwater sea castles, roads, storefronts, or forts. Little bits of paper become “dudes” that travel around the classroom in the hands of their creators. A few sticks, some paper, and a whole lot of tape are magically transformed into a kite or a flying machine of their own invention. When Kindergarten kids find something they want to do, they approach it with determination, creativity, and persistence. They are not afraid to try something new. If it doesn’t work the first time, they make adjustments and try again. Taking responsible risks happens naturally every day, without a second thought. The way Kindergarten kids embrace learning creates a magical environment where anything is possible.

In so many ways, the kind of learning that happens in Kindergarten should be used as a model for older grades. At KCS, many things happen that try to preserve that spirit of learning for the love of it. While there may not be the same flexibility in terms of subject matter, the more we can let kids hang onto learning for the love of it and in ways about which they are passionate, the longer we can let the magic continue. Because why shouldn’t all students have the opportunity to say, as did one of my students to a classmate last year, “My face hurts from smiling so much!” That sums up the world of Kindergarten.

Kerrie Robins
Senior Kindergarten Teacher
Kingsway College School

YOUDAY – Empowering Young Students in Physical Education Class

YouMatterThe students in the SK Physical Education classes are taking on new responsibilities this term as they become “teacher” for a day! Every Tuesday, or as we call it in P.E. YOUDAY, one lucky student teaches the entire class! By actively participating in class, always trying their best, following direction, and demonstrating sportsmanship, the SK students have proven they are responsible enough to take on this hard-earned opportunity! It all began when I started hearing things like: “Can we play this game where one person goes over here and they have to tag the other ones that are over there, but then they need to freeze and –” Or, more simply, “Let’s play Zebra freeze dance tag!” Well, let me tell you, in a 25-minute period, it was becoming a challenge to grasp what these students were talking about! Kindly asking them to “tell me later” was becoming a habit I had to break. I wanted to make sure I actually gave them the opportunity to “tell me later” and share their ideas with the class in a meaningful way. And so it became YOUDAY.

Students, whom we call Mr. or Ms. [insert last name here] for the entire class, lead the students through a warm up activity and game of their choice. They can select a game they already know, or take the challenge to create a new one. Whatever they choose, it is their choice to make; a choice that empowers them by developing their leadership skills, strengthening their public speaking skills, and most importantly building up their confidence.

It is remarkable what we see in our students when we put them in the spotlight:

  • I see the kindness and respect the students have for one another.
  • I see the quiet students confidently jump into a leadership role.
  • I see the students’ understanding of fairness and inclusion.
  • I see the students’ knowledge of games with rules.
  • I see the students reinforce the importance of playing safely.

The SKs are thrilled to have their fellow peers teach them. They are thankful and appreciative towards them. Giving up power and control isn’t the easiest thing for a teacher to do, but it is well worth the outcome! Now, when I hear the students’ conversations, it reaffirms why implementing something like YOUDAY is so powerful!

  • I hear: “Ms. X, you are the best teacher ever!”
  • I hear: “Mr. X this is awesome, thank you!”
  • I hear: “I really like the game you made up Ms. X!”

And the top FAQ in SK’s PE class is “When’s it going to be my turn?”

Elissa Meleca
Teacher, Early Learning Program

Reaching Readers with Reading Mastery

It’s not sexy and we know it.

Reading Mastery in Grade 1Three years ago KCS introduced Reading Mastery to our primary and junior grades. Our pilot followed a year’s worth of exploring the programs of multiple publishers and looking for hard data to show that the chosen program would meet our needs. Our teachers have always been following professional dialogue and delivering a program designed to develop engaged, competent readers. Never ones to shy away from problems, they weren’t satisfied, and so began a quest that led to the pilot of Reading Mastery.

Reading Mastery is a teacher-led, prescriptive program that ensures mastery of all aspects of foundational reading, leaving no skill-gap behind. It includes choral reading, standard cues, ongoing assessment and constant reinforcement of acquired skills so they stick. To use it requires significant training, and, despite the detailed teachers’ manuals, non-stop decision-making on the part of the teacher. In a school with enticing project-based learning and the unpredictable spice of student voice and choice, Reading Mastery is the yin to our yang.

So be it. What’s exciting for students is that they all see it working. What’s exciting for our teachers is the data showing the difference it makes. Standardized assessments done three times a year show struggling readers progressing quickly through the skill levels. According to our data:

  • By introducing Reading Mastery to SK we’ve increased the percentage of students ready to start the Grade 1 Reading Mastery program in September of Grade 1 by 106%.
  • Teaching Reading Mastery daily in grades 1 and 2, students are reaching the grade 2 reading level 2.7 times quicker than it took in 2012.
  • We’ve shortened the time it takes for most of our youngest students to build foundational reading skills by 83%, from 18 months to three.

Small-group instruction in our Super Skills and Workshop classes ensure all of our students get instruction at the right level for them, and as soon as students demonstrate appropriate mastery, they move on to the infinite learning possibilities awaiting strong readers.

We won’t stop addressing problems and we won’t stop following professional dialogue, with a discerning eye. Most importantly, we won’t stop doing whatever it takes to help our students be the best they can be.

ReadingReading Mastery isn’t terribly sexy, but making a difference is. So is reading. And at least in the minds of our determined KCS teachers, so is data.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Active Learners in PK

Children come to school with a wealth of knowledge. They are learning every second of every day, and their experiences shape their understanding of the world around them. We as teachers learn a whole lot from them on a daily basis!

This term in Pre-kindergarten the children have been checking themselves out in the mirror during dramatic play, daily routines, and any time there is a mirror available! We have planned a variety of activities to represent the diversity in the room, and for the children to know that they are active players in their learning.

By drawing and painting their own self-portraits, being represented on a size chart or tracing and colouring their outline, the children are represented in the classroom and know that they belong here. Not only do these activities embrace the diversity that exists in our world and our classroom, it has provided the children the opportunity to focus their skills on something they know best – themselves! What is a better motivator than that? They have been so excited to see themselves in their learning environment.

The children have begun to notice traits about themselves and talk about them, but also about their classmates. It is a process to learn about oneself, but also a process to learn about the similarities that reside in all children. This is the beginning of recognizing themselves as lifelong learners.

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher

More Stories from our Beloved Outdoor Classroom

There are many enhanced opportunities for learning, discovery and physical activity in our new outdoor classroom. Our cozy, yet stimulating environment, with all its natural qualities, has allowed us to learn and play amongst the plants and critters that share our space.  Embracing the unique physical design, provided components, and added accessories (mentioned in Stories from our Beloved Outdoor Classroom), the staff and students have welcomed the wildlife, created nature-based games, and engaged in special projects and group activities.

Critters have been detected in the outdoor classroom.  A shy resident chipmunk was found to be living behind the shelving unit.  Snails, ladybugs, moths, and a variety of insects have been adopted and taken indoors to be observed.  Butterflies have been spotted passing through in warmer weather. The children are always delighted to discover these living creatures.

The JKs created and hung bird feeders, thus attracting a small plump bird that hung around for a couple weeks.  Blue jays, robins, and cardinals have been noted to take refuge in the tall pine and to serenade us with their unique warbles, whistles, chirps, and proclamations.  With maturity, our new saplings will provide increasing possibilities for nesting and congregating of our feathered friends.

The SKs made tic tac toe board games using painted stone bumble bees and ladybugs.  The boards were cut by SK teacher, Mr. Magee, under watchful supervision of many curious students. The students then sanded the rough edges with much enjoyment.  The games will be added to the outdoor curriculum cupboards for other classes to enjoy.

My primary science club engaged in a project to save the monarchs. These students created a game for sharing using paper monarchs mounted on clothespins to be clipped and hidden throughout the playground shrubbery.  When the SKs were introduced to the game they were very intrigued with the search and find aspects of the game.   Science club members also planted milkweed seeds with hopes that when the monarchs migrate north again, there will be food for their caterpillars.

Added accessories have extended play in interesting ways.  With the measuring tapes, the children have been measuring each other.  They also built fabric forts around the upright posts with clothespins and a little help from their teachers.  Round slabs of wood have been used as steering wheels to race around the hills and straightaways.  Brushes and water in paint trays have been used to paint the fort, the brick wall, and chalkboard in a variety of “colours”.

Throughout the afternoon, the outdoor classroom and amphitheater has been booked by teachers for a variety of reasons: class meetings, finding letters and numbers in the environment, making letters of the alphabet using bodies, studying structures and the seasons, discussing and practising inclusive play, engaging in quiet reading time, looking for bugs, and holding citizenship classes. More recently, a kindergarten physical education class was transported to this space.

It certainly is wonderful to have this amazing outdoor classroom space created by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds for the unique needs and dreams of KCS students and staff.  Enrichment and much enjoyment has been added to enhance the school day in such a variety of ways!

Sharon Freeman, RECE
Senior Kindergarten Teacher
Kingsway College School

Stories from our Beloved Outdoor Classroom

KCS Outdoor ClassroomWe are very excited and proud when we talk about our new outdoor classroom at KCS.  Over the summer of 2014, there was a major transformation of one of our early learning playgrounds by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds.  After consultation with staff members and administration, the aged climbing structure, artificial surface and cement stairway were all removed and replaced with a much more natural and inviting setting.

KCS Outdoor Classroom 05Surface for play and discovery was significantly increased by developing a previously unused upper portion of the playground. This unused area was replaced by a central, gently-sloping Durolawn-covered hill, shrubs, and several upright posts and saplings.  Students entering the playground from the spider gate, can choose to explore the upper tier beneath the mature pine tree and navigate its obstacle course of embedded logs and round, wooden slabs. Or they can choose to curl up in a log-carved chair or couch and wait for their friends to arrive. When they are ready to engage in more active play, students can follow the downward pathway defined by horizontal cedar logs, take the option of the embedded, double hill slide, or negotiate the rows of log seating in the adjoining amphitheater, using them as balance beams or hurdles.

KCS Outdoor Classroom 07The lower portion of the outdoor classroom is dominated by a very majestic-looking log fort. Here our students congregate to make plans, stop to catch their breath after running games, and to practise their skill of climbing.  Early in the year we discovered a cooperative game of rolling tennis balls over the very high roof and trying to catching them as they fall from the other side.  Teachers have been spotted having fun with this activity as well!

KCS Outdoor Classroom 04Next to the fort is a fabulous open sandpit complimented by an adjoining log tunnel, a mirrored wall, a large sunken stump table, and a portable water pump. Younger students spend extended periods of time digging holes, burying dinosaurs, making pails of “soup”, and creating sand castles.  Water from the pump helps to extend the activities even further as glorious mud adds a new dimension to play.

KCS Outdoor Classroom 08The southern perimeter facing Dundas West is defined with wooden panels, a huge chalkboard, mirrored panels, and some Plexiglas which embraces the action beyond the playground: a mature tree, a hedge (home for insects), and the bustle of vehicular traffic. The chalkboard is often the object of water painting which is a good way to clean the surface in a fun way and also to keep cool on a hot day.

KCS Outdoor Classroom 01The lowest section, hugging the walls of the school, is built on a surface to accommodate bouncing balls, a portable ball run, a staging area for the amphitheater, and a calmer creative area. Our students love to send multiple tennis balls down the ball run, watching as gravity does its work in a zigzag formation. Tucked in the corner, multiple stump tables and seats accommodate outdoor classroom activities, afternoon snacks, and creative work. 

KCS Outdoor Classroom 06Curriculum cabinets and shelving units have been placed in strategic locations to house accessories for the enhancement of play and discovery.  One cabinet houses dramatic play fabric, sand toys, sand accessories, paint brushes, paint trays, and chalk.  Another cabinet has been stocked with clipboards, paper, watercolours, paint brushes, pencil crayons, pencils, and assorted balls.  The shelving units in the upper discovery centre are stocked with seasonal bubbles, insect containers, magnifying glasses, measuring tapes, sandpaper, and cedar slabs. 

KCS Outdoor Classroom 02When the SKs were asked what they liked best about the outdoor classroom, many of them highlighted the space to run, the wonderful sandbox, and the amazing fort. They thanked Adam Bienenstock, CEO and principal designer of Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, in personal letters for this exciting space where they can have fun in so many ways while interacting with nature and learning in this enriched landscape!

We look forward to many more new adventures during the winter season.

Sharon Freeman, RECE
Senior Kindergarten Teacher
Kingsway College School

E is for our Early Learning Program

Early Learning ProgramA is for the alphabet, which we learn every which way.

B is for building campsites, castles, “Bad Guy Alarms”, and whatever else our imaginations want to build. It’s also for birds enjoying our feeders in the Outdoor Classroom.

C is for counting everything. And caterpillars, in the classroom.

D is for dressing up, decoding words and drawing at our desks.

E is for eyes, and how earnestly we lock ours with yours as we tell you what we’re doing.

F is for our fish Gill and Goldy Antonio. It’s also for learning to be good friends.

G is for the magnifying glasses we use to look for bugs.

H is for our Handwriting Without Tears workbooks and exercises.

I is for initiative and imagination, developed through play. I is also for iPads, used every day.

J is for jewelry. We make friendship bracelets and necklaces as a way to teach patterns.

K is for kinesthetic learning – creating 3D shapes with Play Dough, building words out of letter tiles, making letters with pebbles, and tracing numbers in salt.

L is for listening to teachers and friends. It’s also for our older Learning Buddies.

M is for magic potions made at the water table, mystery readers, and math games. It’s also for learning from mistakes.

N is for noisy, because that’s how it should be when language learning happens all the time.

O is for our beloved new Outdoor Classroom.

P is for self-portraits, painting, and learning through play.

Q is for the Habit ‘Question and Be Curious’, so evident among young students. May it last forever.

R is for reading, and being read to. It’s also for resilience when times are tough, because sometimes they are.

S is for the slime made on Halloween, ‘Stinky Pig’, snack, and using all of our senses to learn.

T is for the Three School Rules, and trips to the farm, theatre and the symphony. It’s also for the team of ELP teachers who make this ABC story come true.

U is for upset tummies. Unfortunately anxiety is starting younger and younger, so we strive to create a warm and welcoming environment that encourages positive risk taking.

V is for visualizing numbers in different ways (dots on dice, ten frames, manipulatives, stones).

W is for ‘Whole Body Listening’, because listening with your ears isn’t enough.

X is for, you guessed it, the xylophone. Happily, that’s an instrument we play in the ELP.

Y is for young authors – exploring the foundations of storytelling by drawing 3-panel comics (beginning/middle/end)

Z is for zippers. “The bane of our existence.”

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.