Snow in April?! No problem!

Our Junior Kindergarten students surprise us every single day. When I woke up on a snowy April morning, I arrived to school with a gloomy grin and looked at my teaching partner with rolling eyes. “Are you kidding me?” we said to each other. But rather than projecting our disappointment, we simply asked the students in our morning message how they felt about the snow. To our surprise every single one of them could not be more excited. “It makes me feel happy”, “I want to play in it”, “I’m so, so, so, so, excited”; were some of the many messages we heard. The Outdoor Classroom was snowy, but let’s not forget it was still April and the weather was somewhat warmer; the result: a snowy, wet, muddy sandy surprise! “Ew” you might be thinking? “What a mess” perhaps? “WONDERFUL” thought the JKs. The imaginative play, collaboration, creative thinking, and utter joy each child displayed surprised us more than usual.

How can you use water colour paints without water or paper? The JKs figured it out! Bringing out only paint pallets and brushes we asked the students how they can use the materials to paint in the Outdoor Classroom. They shared their ideas, tested their theories, and certainly tried their best. They became problem solvers as they dipped their brushes into puddles to wash it before changing colours. Talk about creative problem solvers! As they swished their brushes in melting snow, ice, and water, they began transforming large chunks of ice into colourful works of art.

The rainy, snowy weather left for an interesting discovery at the marble run. One student wondered if the water would move the same way the tennis balls did. To figure it out, he went into the sand box to get a shovel small enough to collect the water from the bottom and bring it to the top. He discovered it did move along but it stopped early. He learned the wood absorbed the water. The student shared his learning with the class thereby inspiring others to explore the marble run in new ways.

In the sand box the students used scoops and shovels of all sizes to make their own mud! They collected water from little puddles all around and mixed it with the sand turning it into dough as they began making fresh pies. The students were collaborating as they took on various roles, and engaged in meaningful conversations. The shovels turned into serving platters, and rakes became forks, as they shared their homemade pies with one another.

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In just one hour of play the students hit on multiple areas of the Full Day Kindergarten Curriculum. The big idea stating “Children are curious and connect prior knowledge to new contexts in order to understand the world around them” was demonstrated on this snowy April day. The students experimented with new materials on a familiar marble run, used a familiar paint pallet in a creative new way, and transferred their learning from home as they recreated a kitchen at school.

After one hour in the Outdoor Classroom the students so clearly demonstrated how much they embrace learning, we were reminded of What Really Matters in Life! When you give children the time they need to play and explore their environment they will amaze you! And you know what Albert Einstein said…”Play is the highest form of research.”

Elissa Meleca
Junior Kindergarten Teacher

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

Getting Dirty

Playing in the mudAs a child, it was playing in the local woods. Now, it’s working in the garden. For some others, it’s part of going to camp or the cottage. For a small number more, it’s volunteer labour abroad or adventure travel.

However you do it, getting dirty doesn’t happen like it used to.

A growing chorus of parents, educators and nature-lovers are concerned about how children today are increasingly removed from nature. Whether the reason is electronics or modern parenting, there is little denying that children don’t linger outside as much as previous generations. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, has labeled the result Nature Deficit Disorder and makes the argument that this is behind some of the major health challenges children face today, including obesity, attention disorders and depression. If that isn’t reason enough, nature packs a powerful learning punch. In addition to all that’s worth learning while outside, research makes clear that learning is stronger if it’s multi-sensory. If it comes with a taste, touch, sound and smell in addition to a look, the memory is embedded in multiple parts of the brain and more secure and readily retrievable as a result.

In the footsteps of Louv, and armed with research, forest schools are gaining media attention as an alternative to more time indoors. A recent article in the Toronto Star featured the Guelph Outdoor Preschool, Ontario’s first licensed outdoor preschool. Children will spend the bulk of the day outside, rain or shine, hot or cold. Under their teachers’ care, these lucky little ones will experience flora and fauna and yes, dirt, all while working on the most foundational skills all preschool programs seek to nurture – language, math, science and social studies, in addition to questioning, curiosity, wonder, imagination, flexibility of thought, and persistence. Evidence suggests these children will be off to a good start with their learning.

Not all children have a forest school to go to, and plenty of great learning can and does happen in typical school environments. That being said, it’s summer. School isn’t keeping children inside. Find ways for you and your child to connect with nature. Get outside. And if you need convincing, take Louv’s book with you. He won’t mind if it gets dirty.

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