Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"Purposeful Play"

There was a time where children played all through summer. They came home from school and they played. They played in their 1/2 day kindergarten classes (if they even went to kindergarten). They played, and they played, and they played. And guess what? They managed to get a man on the moon. They managed to build cars, and factories, and machines. They managed to harness electricity, and they managed to invent indoor plumbing. And they didn't have adults asking them what they were doing. They didn't have adults directing their every move. They were able to play pickup baseball, basketball, football, hockey games. And they were able to solve problems on their own. Interesting, I know!

There's a term that gets thrown about in education circles, and it sounds so rational, so reasonable, so "important", but it really bothers me. It's the term, "purposeful play". I understand where the sentiment is coming from, though I don't agree. In theory, when you read articles about "purposeful play" it sounds great. Children are in charge of their own learning (YES!), children have large blocks of time devoted to play (YES!). But then, when you read further, there is still the adult standing in the corner asking the questions, "What do you think will happen next?" "Why did you chose to build it that way?" All of these questions getting in the way of individual discovery. Though the questions aren't bad, and it is good to reflect on our learning at all ages, it's more of the push to get adults involved in the children's play instead of allowing the children their own time and space in which to play. If the children want the adult to become involved in their play, it should be up to the child to invite the adult. Too often what happens in children's play is the adult gets involved and pushes their own agenda (asking the questions instead of allowing the discovery). Too often uninformed people become involved in the classroom and push their own agenda on the children (reading by Instructional C by the end of Kindergarten- oh wait, lets push them up to a level D instead; writing at a certain level; understanding math facts).

Please don't misunderstand. I don't think children should have free reign to do whatever they want, whenever they want. Not at all. But what I do think is that children will learn what they need to learn when they are ready to learn it. It is my job to create the atmosphere and environment to facilitate that learning. There is still much room for direct instruction from the teacher. There is still a time for children in kindergarten to do specific work on reading, writing, and mathematics. But there is also time for children to do other learning- and that is through their play.

If someone were to come into my classroom at choice time, and if you'd asked them what the children are doing, they might say they are playing. They might think what they're doing is "cute" (another pet peeve of mine) . But I would imagine the first thing they might not think is that the children were "learning".  It isn't "purposeful play" you know,  they aren't doing a fun activity directed by the teacher.

In education, and in early childhood development, we know that young children (like all animals) learn best through play. What is unfortunate though, is that people who don't understand early childhood development, who don't understand play (and many of those are in positions of authority over education--- umm politicians and business leaders...) feel the need to impose their opinions and ideas on our children. They think we are "falling behind the rest of the world" and we need to get these kids "learning" at a younger age. So those of us in education, because we have to defend our practices, begin to doubt our own knowledge. We try to synthesize what we know with the expectations of those outside our field. And we call it "purposeful play". But it really isn't play. It's still an adult, forcing their own agenda, while trying to make it "fun".

Each year I get to this point, where I think it's important to pass on what is actually happening when we play. Because I am such a strong proponent of block play, I generally use that as my example. Perhaps some year I will choose a different one, but I haven't tired of block play yet...
Here is the documentation I put up today regarding what we learn through block play:

(I apologize for the quality of the pictures, I know it's hard to see what is written)

What I put up here are pictures of my students building and creating in the block area, pictures of them drawing what they've built. Then I put up quotes from "The Block Book" put out by the NAEYC (it's a classic), as well as which Kindergarten curricular outcomes are met through block play (hint: each of our curricular areas have at least one outcome met, and over 29 individual outcomes are met). All without me getting involved in their learning. I provide the materials, I encourage cooperation, I might suggests they draw their buildings and maybe write about them. That's as far as I get.

It's my job, as their kindergarten teacher, to defend their learning. It is my job to champion Developmentally Appropriate Practice. It is my job to inform those who may not know that ALL PLAY IS PURPOSEFUL. It all meets the needs of the individual wherever that individual is.

Silly people, what makes you think children aren't learning?

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Not about teaching Kindergarten today. But I saw this and it reminds me of my husbands grandmother. She passed away 5 years ago today. She was the definition of a classy lady. She proved that money doesn't give you class, education doesn't give you class, it's who you are on the  inside.
She was born on a farm in Central Illinois, into a family that spoke only German until the First World War. As soon as the US declared war on Germany, her family began to speak English only.
During the Depression she and her brothers would hunt squirrel in the timber for supper.
She married a carpenter who refused to let her make macaroni and cheese because that was what they fed him at the Orphanage he grew up in. They lived in a small town and had 2 daughter’s together, and he passed away about 20 years before she did.
But that is her history, it isn’t who she was. My husband refers to her as a “feisty old bird” who loved nature and animals. She created a natural habitat in her yard for the birds and squirrels. As long as she had her health, she would go out and bird watch in the country.
This farm girl was outspoken about her beliefs that crop-dusting and pesticides were ruining the environment and all our health and would tell any farmer she came across what she though.
When you became a part of her family, you stayed a part of the family. It didn’t matter. When her youngest daughter divorced, Grandma still kept contact with the ex-husband. He was one of the pall bearers at her funeral, right alongside the daughter’s current partner. When her grandson (my husbands cousin) divorced, his wife still came to help Grandma clean her house. The ex-wife’s daughter (cousin’s step-daughter) was still very much a part of the family, even though there were no blood ties.
She was feisty, a hard worker, fiercely loyal, and outspoken. Everything I aspire to be. Man, I miss her. I am so glad I knew her.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What's Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander. or: If Two Children Have to Learn English, We Should Have to Learn Some Mandarin

This year, I have 2 students who immigrated from China over the summer. I can't imagine the stress they must be under. To leave a place where you know people, speak the language, understand the culture, and to up and move somewhere totally different. I am not sure if they came from a city or a small community, but if they came from a city... well add that culture shock to it! Because the province I live in has under 200,000 people province wide!
Today I decided if they have to learn English, well we can learn some Mandarin. Please don't ask me why it's taken this long for that epiphany to hit me, but at least it came! Our Kindergarten math outcomes go up to the number 10, so I thought we could at least learn to count to 10. Well, let me tell you! The boy just stared at the video- stared like, "they are speaking my language for once!" and my little girl giggled and giggled at my pronunciation.  She would just say, "No Mrs. Marshall! No!" which reminds me of my daughter when I try to speak French (No, mom, just don't even try...). All in all, I thought the video worked well. The English speaking students enjoyed trying a new language, and the Mandarin speaking students had something they could (finally!) identify with.
Well, riding high off the success of this, I decided I needed to learn how to say "hurry up!" in Mandarin as my boy likes to take his own sweet time getting undressed from recess. So, I Googled it, practiced it, and waited for my moment... It finally came... He was dancing around just enjoying life and I said, in Mandarin, hurry up! Well! I have never seen him react with such speed. He stopped, looked at me, and went right to work!
Little did I realize that this would open the door to a whole new relationship. It is customary for our Chinese immigrants to take an English name (I don't know why), so my friend tried to teach me to pronounce his Chinese name (I got a lot of No Mrs. Marshall, NO!). But the best part was the end of the day as we were lined up to go out to the busses. He stopped me and explained, very carefully, how to say, "See you tomorrow!" in Mandarin. And then he tried to teach me "car" -he loves cars. Loves them!
What did all of this teach me? All it took was a 2 minute video of counting to 10 to open up a whole new relationship with 2 of my students. Two students I have been trying to connect with since September. I've been planning to speak with the parents of these two, hoping to set up a time where they can come and speak to the Kindergarten classes about China, moving to Canada, and just some really cool Chinese things. This has just spurred this idea on. I'm looking forward to parent teacher interviews next week.
And tomorrow? I have a feeling that tomorrow, I will learn many new words.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

So this happened today

So, this happened today. During learning centre time I told 2 of the students that they could read the book on my teacher cart if they wanted to. The best part is this picture is in no way staged or teacher directed. I told 2 students they could read a book and soon that turned into a small group of children taking turns being the teacher and reading the book with the class.

Teaching kindergarten, or any of the primary grades isn't always easy- this morning and this afternoon were worlds away from each other behaviour-wise. But teaching primary is always rewarding and fulfilling.
What is my "assessment of learning" here? Well, I can tell you that these students met 6 of our Speaking and Listening outcomes, and 7 of our Reading and Viewing outcomes. And they didn't even need me to tell them to do it!
Damn I love kindergarten!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Teachers Are People Too!


It's another #kinderchat blog challenge! And I am up for it! Especially since it's about my favourite topic- ME! OK, just kidding, just kidding! I do think this is such an important topic for teachers- who are we? What is our story? We spend so much of our time telling our students stories, telling the stories of the day in the classroom, because teaching is such an all-encompassing profession.  It's time others knew about the Real Lives of Teachers!

Just this past month, in Hollywood, there was a big photo-leak scandal that affected the lives of 100 or more actresses (someone broke into their iCloud accounts and leaked their photo's - many nudes- online). It got me thinking about what would happen if, instead of actresses, these hacked accounts were teachers? I think, in many cases, those teachers would not only lose their jobs, but they would have no careers. Why? Because of the old prejudices about teacher's behaviour's. There are plenty of stories to back up my assumption here (I am thinking of one in particular of a jr. high school teacher who posed for Playboy before she was a teacher and was fired when her school board found out about it).

I have been out for dinner, or have been seen coming out of the liquor store and had parents side-eye me- because heaven forbid, a Kindergarten teacher, who is obviously of legal age might purchase an alcoholic beverage (one teacher I know was actually sent a note on Monday asking her if she enjoyed her 12 pack!).
Those are just 2 examples. How many of us have had the "how's Johnny doing" conversation in the most unexpected places? My friend was in a terrible accident. As she was being rushed into X-Ray at the local hospital to see if she had severed her spinal chord (no I am not joking), one of the X-Ray techs asked if she was a teacher at our school. She said yes, and the tech actually asked if she knew if her son would be in my friends class in the fall! And when she went in a week later for a follow up E-Ray, was asked if she knew again! This same friend was on the phone calling for a sub that night- because ONLY TEACHERS have to do this stuff! Here she is, in the emergency room on a stretcher calling for a sub. Another teacher friend thought she was having a heart attack and called for a sub from the emergency room. We can't even get sick or have accidents without worrying about our class and students. This is who teachers are! This is what we do!
Our school calendar has been shifted a bit to accommodate family lives better. Which is great, except it doesn't help families of teachers! We can't take the day off after a holiday because we aren't allowed to extend our vacation time. Yes, we have "summers off" and "Christmas off" and "Spring/March break", but we don't get paid for them. And my children don't go to college/university in the summer. So, in order to get them home for holidays, or watch them graduate, I am forced to do so without pay, take them back early, or not see them graduate.
So, yes, I am looking forward to reading about these real people we call teachers. Real people with real lives and real stories that I know will inspire us. October is always such a great month, now it will be even better!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sand Play

Just felt like posting some pictures of my sand area, because I am in love with sand play. So much learning happens there from math: volume, measurement; to science: gravity, flow; and so, so much more. It's easy to make it something special. In order to make mine "local" I have added sand from a local beach, drift wood, and local sandstone rocks. For inspiration, I have pictures of rock formations like Stonehenge, as well as pictures of Andy Goldsworthy art up on the walls.
Any suggestions? Let me know! If you get any inspiration, fill your boots!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

When do I start Guided Reading?

If you asked me this question, even last week, I would have given you the kindergarten "politically correct" answer, "Well, when each child is ready, that's when we start..." But that's a lie. It was a lie when I told a friend that last week (sorry Michelle). I knew it, but I was too afraid to say what I really thought. Not any more.
In our Province, we have a goal that Kindergarten children will be reading at "Instructional C" by the end of Kindergarten. So, we do have the responsibility to introduce our students to reading. As I have been thinking about when to introduce guided reading, it is typically after Christmas in January. But I'll let you in on a little secret: sometimes I wait until February. But NEVER before Christmas (even though I have said in the past that if someone was ready I would start early...).
Why not begin guided reading before Christmas? Well, for one thing, we have more important things to learn. We need to learn to work as a group. We need to build community. We need to learn the routines of the class and the routines of the school. The social piece of learning is more important than the academic piece in Kindergarten,
And here's another thing: I have never seen a student not learn to read if I don't introduce it before Christmas. But I have seen plenty struggle when it is introduced too soon. Kindergarten has gotten increasingly academic over the past number of years. But that doesn't mean we have to sacrifice our children's mental health in order to be "smarter". If you are a Kindergarten teacher, I know you struggle with the same balance as I do. You can be intellectually ready to learn, but not emotionally ready to learn. And if you are not emotionally ready to learn, then it will impact far more than your reading ability. 
So, this year I make this statement and I make it proudly: I will not begin Guided Reading until January. And I might even wait until February. I'm not sure. Here's what I am sure of: There are more important things than reading and writing. Being a good citizen is one of them,
Here' to a new year!