Thursday, October 3, 2019

Outdoor Learning in the Early Years

Do you set professional goals for each school year? I do. I see every September the same way many people see New Year’s Day- the start of a fresh new beginning.

This year, one of my professional goals is to infuse more outdoor learning into my teaching practice and incorporate learning through inquiry and play with exploration of nature and being in the outdoors. 

I have to admit that this is one of my professional goals because it pushes me outside of my comfort zone. As a child and teen, I camped a lot, spent time at the cottage and lived outside from dawn until dusk. It is not being outside that deters me from outdoor learning. Truthfully, it is pure laziness. The amount of effort that goes in to preparing to learn outdoors and the unpredictability of weather conditions, temperature changes and children not being properly dressed to brave the elements are all factors that scared me away from doing outdoor learning in the past. However, I have always known that outdoor learning is important and special, so I put on my big girl pants and decided to jump in head first this year. 

Firstly, I relayed my goal and my hopes for including outdoor learning in our flow of the day this year to my teaching colleagues and luckily, they were all on board. We came up with a system that we felt would work for both of our classes ( we follow a day on day off model) and  went from there. 

Then, I approached our parent council about collecting and purchasing supplies and resources that would make outdoor learning easier and more affordable for our whole kinder team.

Pals, the result was almost magical. Ok maybe not magical but definitely awesome. Our kids LOVE outdoor learning and are fully engaged for the 30-40 minutes per day that we do! They often tell us that it is their favourite part of the day! 

So, if you’re like me and the thought of starting outdoor learning is pretty daunting, here are a couple tips and ideas that might make it easier. 

1) Pick a time. Discuss with your teaching team to find a time in your schedule that works best. We do outdoor learning at the start of the day to minimize transitions. One less time to get on outdoor gear and zip-up 30 zippers! 

2) Make a plan. What kind of learning will you do outside? We chose to rotate between outdoor learning centers that mirror our indoor centers and a more prescribed, whole class activity. For example, one day, the students will self-select and rotate through centers that we set up outside (more on this later), and the next day they will each be given a clipboard and an activity to do individually or in small groups. 

3) Have a plan for weather/temperature changes. We have blankets to sit on, extra mittens for those who forget, boxes of Kleenex and bandaids in our outdoor learning wagons. 

4) Stay consistent. Consistency is key to creating habits and young students thrive with routines. Even if the weather is crummy, try to do a shortened or altered outdoor learning session. Be flexible with your plans and adapt to weather. It’s raining? Have students search for worms and count them. Make tally marks in the sand to add a math component to this activity. 

5) Communicate with parents. Let parents know that you will be doing outdoor learning, what this entails, and what their child needs to wear to be prepared. 

6) Set up an outdoor learning wagon. Bring everything you need for outdoor learning out in a wagon. For some excellent outdoor learning wagon inspiration, check out Mme Mariah’s instagram or

Which brings me to 7) Get Inspired. Check online for cool ideas and see what other educators are doing. Check out the Take Me Outside Website and join their challenge. 

Here’s a typical week of outdoor learning for my students: 

Day 1: Centers:
Sensory Table: Water, fall leaves, spoons for making fall ‘soup’ 
Literacy: Making names with nature loose parts
Art: Leaf art 
Discovery: Challenge: how many different types of leaves can you find?
Writing/ Art: Nature observation sheets 
Reading: Blanket, stuffies and books 
Building: wood slices and PVC piping

Day 2: Whole Class Activity 
-Lesson on sorting
-Collect a variety of leaves 
-Sort the leaves based on various attributes

Day 3: Centers (same as above)

Day 4: Whole Class Acitivity:
-Nature-themed read aloud (focusing on colours in French)
-Search for natural items that match each colour. 

Day 5: Centers (same as Day 1 & 3)

Many of these activities and lots more are included in my TPT resource here:

I hope this has inspired you to get outside and explore with your students! I promise you won’t regret it! 

xo Jess

Friday, August 23, 2019

Surviving the First Week of Kindergarten

Image result for stressed kindergarten teacher

Ok so ‘surviving’ is probably too dramatic a term here, but honestly there have been times when I have felt that I just barely crawled across the finish line on the Friday of the first week of school. The first few days as an early years educator are emotional, scary, exciting, and wildly overwhelming for the kids and adults alike. Over the years, I have learned a few things that help to make the first week of school easier when teaching little ones. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel like there should be a victory parade (or at least a good glass of wine) waiting for me at the end of the week, but I now feel more confident and much less stressed about back to school than I did when I first started out. Here are a few things that help to keep me sane in those first few days of September.

1) Keep it Simple. 
I used to scour Pinterest for clever ideas that would engage and excite my new learners on the first days of school, only to be disappointed when the elaborate plans I had, or the fun activity I had planned, went awry due to a) not knowing my kids well enough, b) not having yet established rules and routines and c) someone sobbing so loudly I couldn’t explain the activity in the first place (and no, the sobbing wasn’t coming from me). Which leads me to tip #2.
Image result for stressed kindergarten teacher

2) Make your students feel comfortable. 
As you welcome young learners into your room, you want to ease their worries, calm their nerves and make them feel calm and comfortable as quickly as possible. Some ideas that my colleagues and I have used in the past are: a collection of books and stuffed animals waiting for them on the carpet, a dance party with popular, upbeat songs, a collection of familiar table top activities (like Lego, playdough, or puzzles). Essentially, anything that will be comforting and familiar will do the trick and will make for a soft start to the school year. 

3) Plan. It. All. 
If you are a more experienced teacher, you may not plan every minute of your day any more, as things come more naturally and you are able to be more spontaneous with your teaching style. This is not the time for spontaneity, people! It will make you feel so much better to have a clearly defined plan for these first few days. This doesn’t mean you don’t change said plans when three students are bawling, another has an accident, and still another starts running out the door. Of course be responsive in your teaching, but start with a strong plan. 

4) Intros, Routines, Tours
Notice that I didn’t include ‘rules’ here. Many people would suggest that you go over rules with your students right away. I do speak with our students about our classroom values and expectations and we come up with these together, however I don’t do this right away. Just a personal preference. But I do find that they are able to hear and understand what I am saying more when they have gotten accustomed to and comfortable in our classroom community. 

I do try to keep our routines in the first few days the same as our flow of the day will look in the coming weeks and months so that we can establish order and routine early. Kindergarten students thrive when there is routine and consistency. Infused into our daily routine, I will add introduction games and tours of our classroom and school building. 

5) Dismissal Lists and Tags
I make sure to get the necessary information about pick up and drop off from my students’ parents ahead of time but I also check in with whoever drops the student off, how they will be going home. Keep a clear and organized dismissal list on a clip board for the end of day. I also take time on the first day to attach a dismissal tag to each child’s back pack. This indicates how they will go home so you can easily see who should line up where. You can grab my dismissal tags and dismissal list here:
Back to School Start-Up Package

6) Class lists
A couple different class lists are a great idea. I prepare 3 different class lists for each class that I teach: 1) a class list with photos of each student (this helps with remembering names and is great for a guest teacher binder), 2) a checklist version of the class list (can be used for assessments, projects, attendance, etc), and 3) a lanyard-sized class list (a very small version that I wear in a badge protector attached to my lanyard so that I can always quickly and efficiently check if all my students are present, no matter where I am. 

7) Sing and Dance
Sing lots of songs with your students. Keep them simple and fun and add actions or a game along with them. 

8) Communication with Teaching Colleagues 
Communication is key in a kindergarten classroom. Strong communication with your teacher and ECE colleagues is so important for success in the first week of school. Plan to meet before school starts if possible to go over your combined expectations, a flow of the day/schedule, a plan for who will take on what in the classroom and how you will share the space. Students will be able to sense whether their educators are part of a cohesive, well-organized team or not. We also use this simple communication sheet to keep each other in the loop about who is absent, who will be leaving early, etc. Click on the picture below to sign up and get your copy in my FREE Resource Library!

9) Establish Strong Lines of Communication with Parents
Communication with parents is also key. For some of your classroom parents, this will be the first time that their babies are away from home for a full day school program. I like to help ease their worries by sending a quick email on the first day, telling them how great the day went and another email at the end of the week with a few photos. If you do not have intake interviews before school starts, you should also send home any forms that need to be filled out and information about your class community. This can be info about how you celebrate birthdays, scheduled library visits, information about their child’s educators, a request for more info about their child, etc. The packet I hand out in the first week and at intake interviews can be found here:
Back to School Parent Handouts

10) Remember that you are only human.
Ok so maybe I'm just including this as a reminder for myself, but I'm sure that others could use a reminder of this as well. Give yourself grace! The first weeks of school for any teacher are overwhelming and very demanding. For a kindergarten or early years educator, they are 10 times more difficult! Remember that our sole mission this week is to help our little learners feel comfortable and cared for during this big transition period and don't worry about the rest!

Joyeuse rentréee!

xo Jess

Monday, April 15, 2019

Pâques en maternelle: Math & Literacy Activities for Kindergarten

Oh mon dieu! Easter already? This one kind of snuck up on me! I can't believe that we're already in the month of April and that Easter and Spring are upon us! It's possible that the reason I'm not really prepared for it is that we still have snow!! We have had the longest winter with a ton of snow. We are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and the rain is now helping to melt away the snow.

This week and next, we will take a break from our space inquiry to start to learn about Earth Day, spring, Easter and Passover, which all happen at almost exactly the same time this year! Most of what I have prepared for our kinder kiddos is math related as my English teaching partner and I have decided to trade off month-to-month with math and literacy centers and this month I am preparing the math centers in our classes. However, read on until the end for some fun Easter word games and writing templates that I have used in the past.

Easter / Spring Addition with Loose Parts

While we typically focus on one strand for every week or two in our classrooms, we always include numeracy centers as well, as we feel that it is crucial to continue to hone these basic skills as there is an undercurrent of number sense in all of the math strands. This activity uses our students' love of loose parts and works on basic addition to 10. I've also put out white boards and dry erase markers with this activity so that they can write out their equations and their answers. This is something they love to do!

Easter Shape Sorting

I came across this adorable chick and bunny shape clipart  while I was buying my (don't tell my husband!) millionth clipart set this month, and I made this sorting activity simply because I thought the clipart was the cutest! I then put out the shape cards, as well as real objects and tangrams and let our kinders go to town with sorting by shape.

Easter Egg Patterning Activity

There are about a million things you can do math-wise with plastic Easter eggs. Maybe two million. This is just one of the ways we will be using them this week. Students can create their own patterns, copy/translate the patterns from the pattern cards, and fill in the blanks on the pattern cards.

Crack, Count & Cover Easter Egg Math

This one is super fun but I've learned that it is a bit difficult to manage. We simply filled 14 plastic Easter eggs with small loose parts (such as small erasers, foam bunny stickers, tiny chicks, beads, etc) and the students crack an egg, count the number of objects, and cover (or colour) the egg with the corresponding number. The struggle we ran into was that kids were not putting the items back into the right eggs and things were getting confusing. If I were to do it again, I would colour code the items and also include the numeral within the egg (possibly taped to the inside of the egg). 

Spin and Make a Pattern

Another patterning activity we're trying is a Spin and Make a Pattern. The students simply spin the spinner and create a pattern with loose parts, shapes, etc. and then transcribe their pattern onto their sheets. 

You can find all of these Easter Math Activities here:

Activités de maths - AVRIL

Easter Guided Reading - An Emergent Reader 

In terms of literacy, I have been doing a lot of whole group vocabulary instruction and small group instruction such as guided reading and guided writing. For guided reading this week, I will be working with some of my readers and pre-readers with this simple emergent reader:

And you can find all of the resources featured in this post here: 

Happy Easter teacher friends!


Sunday, April 7, 2019

Space Inquiry in Kindergarten: L’espace en maternelle

One of my favourite inquiries in maternelle so far has been our latest endeavour- learning about space! It seems that every time we ask the students what they are interested in, they mention space, the moon, astronauts, and Star Wars! So we jumped right in to all things space!

Dramatic play turned into a space shuttle and we worked with the students to co-create the space scene. 
My favourite dramatic play centers are those that we co-create with our students. While I love the beautiful *Pinterest Perfect* dramatic play areas as much as the next person, I totally believe in the fact that the children will be more engaged and invested in their play if they help create the materials they use and the area where they play.

We found lots of space-themed books at our school library, a lab coat and tubing from a hardware store to act as our space suits. Not pictured is the huge box we brought in and turned into a space shuttle together!

At our discovery center, we learned about the phases of the moon. We used this 'Les phases de la lune' playdough mat from my L'espace: Literacy and Science Activities for Kindergarten unit. After reading a book about the phases of the moon, we used playdough and a circular cookie cutter to create the various moon phases. 

This resource isn't part of my space unit but was tons of fun. One of our ECEs found cute, star-shaped beads at Michael's and used black pipe cleaners to create different constellations.

This idea was pretty basic but the kids loved it! Our kinders coloured the planets and cut them out. They then glued them on black construction paper and made Solar System Crowns! This idea is all over Pinterest in English but you can find it in French in my space unit.

I always like to set up our discovery center with a variety of books, vocabulary terms, and items to provoke deeper inquiry into our current area of interest.

A popular center during this inquiry was the sensory table. (Side note: I created this sensory table but using a jigsaw to cut out a hole in the top of a small, kids' IKEA table and inserted a large, clear plastic bin. I'm super happy with it and would eventually like to get a second table to go beside it for when our sensory play gets bigger than the space available. Read: all the time.)  This sensory play experience was created by one of our ECEs, who filled it with dry black beans and a variety of space-themed objects, such as stars, rockets, planets, etc. We also added the upper and lower case letter rocket ship puzzles from my space unit. The table that I currently have directly next to our sensory bin is a great place for the kids to be able to take the letter puzzles out and put them together.

Another popular center was our small world play / loose parts area. This area changes depending on what we are learning about and this week we put down a black felt board as a base and left out baskets of planets, words for labelling, story rocks (flat, black rocks that I painted with white circles and then coloured with Sharpies to look like the planets of our solar system), astronauts, and small stars. The students played with this area in many different ways and we were able to scaffold and extend their play throughout the week.

In all, this was an awesome inquiry and one that we extended and delved deeper into for several weeks. Unlike some inquiries we have explored, it was relatively easy to find materials in French, however, it is often difficult to find books and materials that are developmentally appropriate  for our French Immersion kiddos. I created my space unit in order to have a starting point and some fun centers that would be just at the right level. If you like to purchase the unit, click on the link below:

I hope I was able to spark some ideas for you if you are about to begin a space inquiry with your little ones soon.

xo Jess