Sunday, August 23, 2015

#4EverInspired Reunites at Louise Kool & Galt

With the onset of another school year quickly approaching and another summer almost behind us, I always find myself getting excited to plan my program and design my classroom environment after much dialogue and reflection! I like to look at each new school year as a blank canvas and thus, I often find myself making a handful of "wish lists" for a variety of new materials, opportunities, and ideas that I'd like to bring forth into my program in the Fall. 

When Joanne Babalis invited #4EverInspired to reunite and visit the amazing showroom at Louise Kool & Galt, I didn't waste anytime ensuring my busy summer schedule was free so I could attend!  Having browsed through their catalogue many times before, I knew this was going to be an exciting opportunity for all of us and we couldn't be more excited to share our discoveries with all of you!

Once we arrived, we were greeted by Cathy Elliot and Sonia Polak, two wonderful sales representatives that share a passion for creating classroom environments that ignite every learner's imagination, creativity, thinking and learning. 

They kindly lead us through their Showroom and highlighted a variety of different catalogue items from new furniture pieces and open-ended manipulatives to magnetic blocks and outdoor play materials. As we were tinkering and messing about, it was evident how versatile and engaging their materials were!

Here is a list of my top ten "Wish List" items for back to school (even though I could've easily shared over 100)! Each item title is linked directly to Louise Kool & Galt's website to provide you with more information: 
Item images are from

These wooden discs are the perfect natural material to bring learning outdoors! Not only are they incredibly versatile and cross-curricular (bug hunts, sorting, matching, counting, etc), but they would add much excitement to any outdoor learning environment!  

These natural building materials make a great addition to any building and construction area! They would also be great to take outdoors since they are light weight and come in an easy-to-carry cloth bag. 

Math is everywhere and I can only imagine the possibilities of bringing a simple material like these large wooden dominoes outdoors! 

This simple tool could excite many when exploring the natural learning environment around your school! While magnifying glasses are fun, this easy to use magnifying sheet makes it fun to look closely at a variety of different objects! 

I love the versatility and tactile experience of these wooden letters! From play-dough and pipe cleaners to using beads and even your finger, this would make learning the letters of the alphabet fun for all the senses!

This sand tray provides students with the wonderful opportunity to practice pre-handwriting skills, promote concentration and creativity! I love how it also has a built-in slot underneath the glass base where coloured paper and other materials can be inserted for added effect! 

These small but versatile building blocks could be added to any area of your classroom! From the light table to open exploration, they would be a wonderful add-on to any structure or design!

These incredibly sturdy trays can be used in a multitude of ways! From storing materials on a shelf to bringing them outside! They come in a round or square framework however, both have four sections allowing for a variety of materials to be on display. 

I actually won this professional resource during an outdoor education workshop this summer and couldn't put it down! I was so happy to see that it was available for others to purchase through Louise Kool & Galt since it truly explains how children benefit from learning and playing in outdoor environments. 

These outdoor learning materials would be an amazing addition to any outdoor learning environment when exploring water and different liquid materials! Problem-solving, experimentation and open-ended play are only some of the many opportunities that I can foresee when using these materials!

Not only did we get to see firsthand all of their incredible products, but it was also a wonderful opportunity to dialogue with the ladies of #4EverInspired once we left around how the materials at Louise Kool & Galt reflect the importance of creating strong foundations for student learning. 

Every corner of their showroom made visible their strong value and beliefs around creating spaces for child-centred, innovative learning experiences and we couldn't help but feel inspired! Don't forget to check out the other ladies of #4EverInspired to read about their top ten "Wish List" items by visiting their blogs:

For Vanessa's Top Ten list: "Too (Louise) Kool for School"
For Joanne's Top Ten list: "Royal Treatment at Louise Kool & Galt"
For Trista's Top Ten list: "Louise Kool for Back to School"

As a way of sharing our experience with all of you, Louise Kool & Galt generously donated four $50 gift certificates to give away with hopes of inspiring your classroom design and program planning for September! Be sure to check out our Instagram pages to read more about contest details and enter for your chance to win! 

Vanessa's Instagram: follow @evolvingeducator
Joanne's Instagram page: follow @joannebabalis
Trista's Instagram page: follow @kindiekorner
Jocelyn's Instagram page: follow @ourkindergartenjourney

A sincere thank you to Cathy, Sonia and Louise Kool & Galt for opening up your doors to #4EverInspired and giving us the wonderful opportunity to share your products with our readers! We truly can't wait to reveal the many exciting things in store for #4EverInspired this coming year!

Reflectively yours,
#4EverInspired xoxo

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Planning in FDK: An Ongoing Reflection

With this year coming to a close, it's hard to believe that it'll mark my fourth year teaching Full Day Kindergarten! As much as the ending of a school year is busy, I often find myself setting time aside to reflect on the year under the lens of what worked really well in our program, what are some things I want to rethink for next year and what are elements of our program that I'd like to completely remove. This 3R's framework is one that is often used in the York Region District School Board and I find it to be a perfect anchor for reflective dialogue and conversation as an educator team. 

As part of my final assignment for my York University Kindergarten AQ course, I chose to reflect on my own kindergarten journey from the perspective of how I plan and program. Each new year brings a wave of excitement, possibilities and new challenges and I have to say how wonderful it was to see for myself just how far my practice has evolved and changed as I've grown as a teacher and life-long learner. 

Here is a brief breakdown explaining how my planning has changed in response to my own needs as a professional, our collective needs as a teaching team, and allowing for that flexibility that is crucial for an effective and engaging Full Day Kindergarten program:


To compliment these reflections, I found it so interesting looking back at what my "planning" actually looked like as a tool for making visible what my program was all about. Here are samples of what my plans looked like throughout the past 4 years. My hope is that by making them visible for you, my followers, you can see that there is no one "right way" to plan and program for FDK, but rather you need to honour the process and reflection that goes into preparing, modifying, rethinking and planning a successful program for yourself, your teaching parter and most importantly, your students. Every year my "plans" look different since I'm constantly learning new ways of sharing my learning and planning purposefully for my students. 





The following Inquiry Planning Outline was originally developed by my wonderful friend Joanne Babalis. Upon our reflections as a teaching team, Heidi and I and my new partner Ashley, have modified parts of it to suite our needs as a teaching team. 

Below are some key learning moments that I've come to understand more deeply and truly appreciate when planning and programming for my students. The following points are ones that I feel one should always keep at the forefront when planning and programming and I hope this blog post gives you lots to think about as we head into the summer:

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"A Week in the Forest" ~ Inspiring Learning Outside

"It's a good thing to learn about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it's even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it's a lot more fun." 
~ Richard Louv

This quote sums up beautifully the amazing experience and positive impact of the Ministry Pilot Project our class was fortunate enough to be a part of last week entitled "A Week in the Forest." This project was founded by Tanya Murray, an Outdoor Education Teacher and Specialist with Sibbald Point and Forest School Practitioner, with hopes that every child and educator alike could feel inspired to learn outside! Part 1 of the Pilot took place at Milliken Mills Public School in Markham and focused more on the urban school setting. Our school was Part 2 of the Pilot since our landscape was one that promoted a more rural environment and something we will now always call the "magical forest." 

I truly don't think a blog post could do this experience justice, but I feel that the photos alone tell the story of this exciting chapter of learning for myself as an educator and for my students. 

PART 1: Developing an "Outdoor Mindset"
We often talk about having a "Growth Mindset" in education which involves embracing new learning, taking risks and inspiring change, but how could these same principles transpire into developing an "Outdoor Mindset?"; one that allows us to look at nature as a landscape for learning?
As a team of educators within this pilot project, Tanya got us to think about and brainstorm ideas related to the following prompts:

Outside we learn...

Outdoor Learning is...

We wish...
I would like to challenge my followers to consider how they might develop an "Outdoor Mindset?" If you're an educator, what does your school community look like outside the walls of your classroom? What elements of nature can you capitalize on with your students? If you're a parent, what ways can you increase play outdoors? Going on a simple Nature Walk is a wonderful way to begin!  
For myself, this brainstorming session was a turning point for me as many "lightbulb moments" took place within our discussion and I feel that this dialogue alone, changed my perception around learning outdoors and the positive impact that it could have. It got me to consider the many benefits and opportunities that outdoor learning brings to our students that an indoor classroom cannot. 

Looking back on this past week, I witnessed firsthand the positive impact that the outdoors had on our youngest learners. From their self-regulation, problem-solving skills, and independence, to their excitement, eagerness and motivation to learn, there was no doubt in my mind that I too felt inspired to learn outside and alongside my students.       

PART 2: Planning & Purposeful Play
With the nature of the project being in the "pilot stage," it's important to note that the planning piece unfolded over the course of the week while being responsive to our students interests and needs within our outdoor classroom environment. The planning of each day was based upon much reflection and conversation as a team as we considered the outdoor barriers (e.g. safety, number of students, washrooms), key learning moments, and student engagement. 
As a way of addressing some of those barriers and ensuring student safety was number one, we decided to split our class into two groups as a way of minimizing numbers, addressing students' needs and giving us the opportunity to really dive deeper into dialogue with each of our learners when outside. 
With the help of some inspiring community partners from the York Region Nature Collaborative, Diane Kashin and ThinkinEd, as well as Diana Tucci from Forest School, supported our learning with thoughtful provocations and invitations for students to explore nature, our Caterpillar Inquiry and most importantly, giving students the opportunity to see themselves as "outdoor learners." 
Each invitation for learning was thoughtfully set up to support and extend our learning about caterpillars and nature of our inquiry. We also wanted to make sure that there was a cross-curricular approach to each provocation as a way of making visible to educators that you really can do it all outdoors! 
As a way of being resourceful, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many materials from within our classroom (e.g. cutting boards, clips, apple sauce containers, clipboards, loose parts, etc) could be used and respected outdoors. 
Even though this project took place over the course of 5 days, it was truly incredible to see how quickly and easily our students adapted to these new routines, expectations and environment. 

Students freely flowed amongst all of the provocations within the forest and created their own extensions naturally within the space. I truly can't wait to continue the momentum from this project by continuing to embrace outdoor learning for the remainder of the school year.  

PART 3: "Sit Spots"
This concept was something that I absolutely loved and builds on the framework of developing a connection with nature. Within the project, students each received a "sit spot" to which they would use every morning before entering our "magical forest" space. 
The beauty of the "sit spot" is that it gives students the opportunity to have repeated access to a space and build an appreciation for nature. As educators, we are the adult role models who can nature that connection to that outdoor space. Even if your school doesn't have a forest, pond or open area, "sit spots" are still possible even if it's on a soccer field. 
Our class began with a 2 minute "sit spot" and each day we increased the time to build stamina, awareness, and connection to their natural surroundings. It was amazing to see how in-tuned they got with nature as students were excited to share what they saw and heard after enjoying their "sit spot" time. As an extension, bringing in different materials such as magnifying glasses, clipboards, writing materials, frames, etc could all be used for students to enjoy while sitting in their "sit spots" and as a way of capturing what they see and hear.

PART 4: Reflection
To avoid making this blog post a small novel, I just can't say enough positive things about the nature of this pilot project! As an educator, I discovered a hidden "gem" behind our school that I never knew existed and witnessed firsthand the love and excitement that our students had to learn outdoors. The hashtag #InspireLearningOutside rang true each day and our caterpillar inquiry came to a close while another inquiry about insects took off! Our students' creativity, imagination and love for learning grew daily outdoors and it was amazing to see them take risks, go outside their comfort zone and develop a sense of environmental stewardship. I can even say the same about myself as an educator. I stepped outside my comfort zone daily, took risks and have gained a new sense of appreciation for nature as an educator.  
A HUGE thank you goes out to Tanya for her collaboration, patience, enthusiasm, passion and love for the outdoors. She not only inspired me daily, but she helped me see how amazing the outdoors can be as a second classroom. Thank you to Diane and the instructors from ThinkinEd for also inspiring me daily throughout this project and for helping create an enriching, thought-provoking and robust learning environment outdoors for our students and for us as a teaching team.  

If you would like to see more photos and ideas created throughout this Pilot Project, be sure to follow the hashtag: #InspireLearningOutside on social media.