Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Student and Chickadee

This photo captures it all. It was taken last week when my students visited an outdoor education centre. Although this student was reluctant to go outside on a scavenger hunt with his peers, he was interested in the opportunity to feed chickadees with birdseed.

I observed various students as they approached the wooded area with seed in hand. Boots crunched in the snow as children moved around for the ideal spot. Arms were outstretched high above their heads, as though elevating their chance to attract the birds attention. Some students giggled, some talked, and others made the call of the bird, chick-a-dee-dee-dee, with no success. When the others left, this student walked into a thicket and hunkered down in the snow. I sat close by and we waited. Although it felt like a long time in our silence, we were soon surrounded with chickadees. It was a magical moment that just required nature, time, and space.

Bringing the outdoors in and taking children outside is a necessary component to any learning program. This is especially true for those who want to support inquiry-based learning and a sense of wonder in their students. Last year, when I had students write about their “I Know Here,” their special place was often a bedroom. A few students named a park, but many settings were artificial and controlled. In Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in The Woods, he says, “Most children are hard-pressed to develop a sense of wonder… while playing video games or trapped inside a house because of the fear of crime” (p 96). Many children seek a quiet refuge, if not their bedroom it may even be a corner in a room. But in these environments they lack the space to move and the natural environment to interact with. Nature inspires children in all their capabilities – athletic, artistic, scientific, and poetic! “Nature presents the young with something so much greater than they are; it offers an environment where they can easily contemplate infinity and eternity” (Louv, p 98).

Connect your students with nature, by:

  • allowing time for unstructured exploration or walks
  • encourage students to just notice their senses
  • integrating with technology by using apps to document biodiversity or natural forms
  • supporting student wellbeing by explicitly recognizing the benefits of nature
  • igniting a sense of appreciation and wonder.

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The environment is the third teacher when it provides children the opportunity to slow down and take note. One of the questions I often ask is, “What do you notice?” This encourages reflection, conversation, and knowledge-building among the students. For some students, observations take time. They answer without really thinking or noticing – by rushing to give an expected answer rather than a response that is unexpected.

The use of light and projection in the classroom has provided students with new perspectives. They may be looking at a familiar subject, yet they see it in a new way. When they are introduced to the act of tracing an image, they are fascinated with the simple task and it slows down their consideration of the subject.

From our neighbourhood walks, we had observed a variety of trees. The children compared coniferous and deciduous and talked about the differences that made each identifiable. However, when drawing deciduous trees, their observations from the walks were not evident. The trees still looked like trunks with a circle of green set on top. So we revisited the trees and took photos.

neighbourhood tree



When an image of one of the local trees was projected to a table in the classroom, the children were intrigued with the task of tracing its many limbs. I noticed how this task slowed down their movements and also their consideration of the tree. After this opportunity, the children’s drawings were more realistic in that long limbs were included and the proportions changed.


Tracing and noticing

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In Kindergarten, my favourite integration of subjects is probably language, science, and art. The children are always fascinated with nature and our surroundings. We have looked at trees, squirrels, clouds, plants, and birds as topics of study. The tangible subjects provide the best science subjects – as the children can observe and predict first hand.

A few months ago, one of the books we were reading introduced hibernation. This was a concept that we explored further. Then we found we were comparing hibernation with migration. I was amazed at how much the children understood in our group discussions. I wanted to provide an opportunity for those with other strengths to also demonstrate their understanding of these concepts, so I thought about a class mural. This would provide an open invitation for those children to contribute and it also allowed them the opportunity to collaborate and discuss their ideas and understandings.

Setting out Kraft brown paper as the backdrop and providing the children with a variety of materials, they were invited to add signs of hibernation or migration.

Hibernation and Migration Mural


I noticed that some children were more interested in contributing their ideas as visual representations, while others were more interested in providing oral comments and discussing the work of their peers. They wanted to add clouds, snow on the ground, and a sun. Once the mural was complete, I asked the children, “How do you know whether the animals are hibernating or migrating?” Here are a few responses:

  • “The bear is hibernating because he is sleeping in the cave.”
  • “The frog is hibernating in the pond.”
  • “I know the birds are migrating because they are up in the sky flying to where it is warm.”
  • “I see a butterfly that migrates.”
  • “The bunny has a path to get out and in of his tunnel.”

Completed Collaborative Mural


Not only does this make their thinking more visible, it also demonstrates how well the children are learning in relationship with one another. All year they have been working side by side showing their ability to not only share materials but work on shared representations – representations that demonstrate their ability to collaborate.

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I have returned to teaching kindergarten, but it is my first experience with full-day kindergarten. September has been a month of community building and establishing routines. I knew it would be like this, but from where I left in June with my Grade 1 & 2 class, I need to remind myself that things will be different (especially for the first few months!).

My classroom has been a challenge, as it was formerly a Special Education classroom and is a basic rectangular room with little architectural detail. Although it is October and I know in my mind’s eye how the room should look; being at a new school and with limited resources it is taking longer than I expected.

The art studio is always one of the first areas of the classroom that I like to develop. So many children feel comfortable in this area and are able to demonstrate their skills and interests. In the first two weeks, the students were creating pictures with a full assortment of markers. I wanted to observe their representations of a natural object using a controlled palette. So, I set up a small table with a vase of hydrangeas, as well as a jar of pencil crayons in an array of pink, green, and brown shades.

The results were as I imagined. The children showed more use of detail, such as the outline of the vase and the distinct stems. They also considered the appropriate colours when presented with a limited selection.

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As summer winds down, this is the time that I would start planning provocations for the first week of Kindergarten. In the science area, I would provide a focal point of interest for the children. The best ideas are usually ones from nature: shells, rocks, leaves, or even a fish.

One year, I brought in a container with 3 snails. It was such a wonderful way to engage the children in that first week or two of school. As they gathered around the inquiry table, they would share their observations and joy, as they had no expectations on them but to enjoy watching the snails. Then I would add paper pads and pencils, asking the children to draw what they see. Once a child completed a drawing, it would be displayed in the same area. This encourages other reticent drawers to do the same and it also encourages conversation as the children encounter new representations. The children are encouraged to draw what they see and all representations are displayed. They are drawing to learn about the snails – not learning to draw. In time, I would also add play dough to the inquiry centre for those children who would like to create 3-D representations. Then, I would often watch the children and record their comments and conversations. These could be displayed to demonstrate their thinking and also to read aloud to the class as a whole to encourage more discussion or encourage research for their questions.

This year, I will be teaching a grade one and two class. I am getting a new classroom, much smaller than the last. It is my plan to set up an atelier and an inquiry centre. However, with a more structured curriculum I will not be using provocations in the same way. My plan is to provide the students with a plain, blank journal. And with this journal, we will visit a nearby ravine on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to observe the same outdoor and real world space as it changes throughout the school year. Using our journals as an inquiry tool, I hope that the children will learn to use their drawings as means for learning. The visits to the ravine will begin in September as a free exploration. Then, we will focus on connecting the curriculum to the real world, such as making observations based on our senses, observing energy of the sun and the wind, or observing the effects of liquids and solids in the ravine through the winter. The journals will only be a part of our inquiry/science lessons, but I am hoping that it will also provide a purpose to integrate other parts of the curriculum, such as language, math, and art in a meaningful way for the children.

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Just as the classroom can be made more inviting with the use of intentional materials, the same goes for outdoor spaces. Outdoor activity gyms made of metal and painted in primary colours may be the norm in many school yards, however there are other options. Outdoor spaces should provide places with shade and nooks for two or three children to sit quietly and ponder the natural world or to create imaginary realms. Materials of wood, plexiglass, and steel provide outdoor settings that support the Reggio ideas of transparency and reflection.

Last summer when travelling near Boston, we came upon an outdoor space in Harvard Square that represented to me the ideal playground. The Alexander W. Kemp Playground in Cambridge Common is an invitation to children of all ages. It hosts a carved dragon ship with sail, climbing nets, pumps and troughs for water that connects to an outdoor sheltered centre containing pulleys for sand. What appealed to me most as a parent and an educator, was that the playground promoted physical activity as well as equipment for imaginary play and inquiry using sand and water.

As stated by the City of Cambridge http://www2.cambridgema.gov/cdd/cp/parks/common/index.html  the “redesigned playground was completed and opened in summer 2009. It has a variety of play features to stimulate challenging physical activity as well as creative, exploratory, imaginative and social play for kids of all ages. It builds on the idea that playgrounds are places where children grow and learn about themselves and the world around them.The playground design is a landscape of hills, valleys, sand, wooden branches and stumps, living plant material, and loose wooden blocks to build with. It is a place where kids can invent their own forms of play. Many features are made from naturally decay-resistant wood. Slides are embedded into hills. Turning a crank sends water cascading down a series of tables into the sand area. There is a swing set for toddlers, a multidirectional dish-shaped swing that can be used by several children at once, a see-saw with multiple seats at each end for groups of children (or adults), and a “merry-go-round” that is at ground level to provide wheelchair access.”

Definitely something to think of when designing an outdoor space for children.

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Changing the space

The first step to creating a Reggio-inspired classroom was basic editing. I started by just looking around my space, and determining where there was visual distraction. It was the colour of the bulletin boards, cupboard doors, area dividers and material containers that I was most overwhelmed with in terms of visual distraction.

Using nature as my guide, I selected colours from a soft palette that reminded me of the colours of sand, rocks, and water. An immediate change occurred in the environment when the bulletin boards and cupboard doors were painted with these softer colours. I then removed any coloured storage bins and replaced them with white bins or baskets. Look at the before and after images to see the difference that colour can make…

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Our Inquiry Journey

The Third Teacher

reggio inspirations in my classroom

let the children play

reggio inspirations in my classroom

Inquiring Minds: Mrs. Myers' Kindergarten

reggio inspirations in my classroom

leaf and twig

where observation and imagination meet nature in poetry