Classes Are Heading Outside and So Are These Products!

Spring is just around the corner and we are so excited that we just can’t hide it! The arrival of spring means we can finally welcome the beginning of warmer weather and longer days. We have all been searching and brainstorming for new ways to safely teach during the pandemic and this feels like the perfect opportunity to enjoy some time teaching outside. 

Bringing classes outside will be a new adventure for those that haven’t done it before. There are some great benefits to teaching outdoors. If you have heard the saying “fresh air is good for the soul” at one time or another, there is a reason for it. There have been studies done that explain the science behind that age-old saying, from an increase in the ability to concentre to feeling overall happier, fresh air really does us good! Being able to follow social-distancing practices in this Covid-19 world is just one more benefit to taking classes outside.  

Outdoor learning may also bring some hurdles that will need to be overcome, many of which we will learn about as we go. One problem that I anticipate is finding products around your classroom that can withstand the travel to and from, as well as the changes in atmosphere or difference in terrain. If you are lucky enough to be able to repurpose and reimagine products that you already have, that is a great place to start! By taking an item that is already available to you, maybe a Wood Stepping Stump Set, and using it as flexible seating for your class is a perfect example of reimagining a product. 

Educational resources like an Outdoor/Indoor Learning Centre are a wonderful tool to keep in your room. You can load it up with all the supplies you need to bring with you and it comes with a whiteboard, which is ideal for teaching lessons outside. The large wheels and handles make it easy to push over all sorts of terrain. For a miniature version, we have a Magnetic Tabletop Easel that can be used for one-on-one instruction or by individual students.   

While you are teaching, your students will need a place to sit and take notes. One of our favourite products is The Surf! This on-the-go work surface ensures you have a desk for your laptop or notebook wherever you need it. Both a seat and a surface, The Surf lets you work comfortably outdoors. For another option, our green or yellow sturdy plastic clipboards make writing outdoors easier to use while sitting on a durable Tatami Mat

If your class is ready for some free play fun, our Nature to Play line has everything you need – and then some more! There are many different options to choose from, one of our favourites includes the Water Table. Fill the two large basins and unlock endless hours of outdoor sensory explorations. From water and sand to shaving cream and slime, this table’s large work surface encourages messy, collaborative play and social interactions.  

Another popular choice is our Mud Kitchen, where children can inspire their growing imaginations by baking a mud pie or mixing up some leaf soup! Use the Mud Kitchen’s large work surface and sink with a removable plug to incorporate messy materials such as mud, sand, and water into collaborative outdoor play. For more fun, store mud tools, buckets, and Nature to Play Crates on the convenient bottom shelf.  

We hope that this inspires all of our wonderful teachers to take on the challenge of outdoor learning. We would love to hear how you take your classes outside!

Play Promotes a Healthy Mind & Body

Our Canadian winters can be beautiful…but also cold! When the temperatures start to dip below freezing, it can become far too easy to spend all of our time inside. Since the winter weather tends to keep children indoors more often, it is important that we continue to make time to be active and play. When outdoor learning is reduced and we start to miss that fresh air (and that wonderful Vitamin D) it becomes extra important to keep both our bodies and minds active. The winter blues affect people of all ages and that includes our littles! 

A great way to battle the blues is by making sure we keep our bodies moving. Kids learn through play, and as a result they experience many benefits which have proven to improve mental and physical health. In fact, play is so important that the United Nations has recognized it as a specific right for all children!

Encouraging unstructured play is an excellent way to increase physical activity levels in children but we know it can become difficult to keep conjuring up fresh and exciting ideas to keep your class active. Luckily, we have a few tricks up our sleeves to help you out!  

When children engage in dramatic play, whether that be by playing dress-up or serving yummy food in a pretend kitchen, they are learning to create and explore a world that promotes social interaction skills, language development, and teaching conflict resolution.  

  • For a bright and colourful addition to your dramatic play area, New Sprouts has a wide range of items made specifically for active imaginations. 
  • A good set of Baby Dolls to play with can have many rewards for toddlers and children who play with them! They can lead to a better understanding of…themselves! 
  • Putting on a good Puppet Show with your favourite set of puppets is a wonderful way to get those creative juices flowing. 

There are also more calming ways to be active, as mentioned in our Children & Mindfulness blog. Practicing yoga is always a great place to start because of the positive impact it can have on children’s well-being, such as improving the ability to process emotions or boosting self-esteem. 

  • What better way to introduce yoga than with our Body Poetry Yoga Cards. These cards are split into three levels of easy, intermediate, and challenging to meet your children’s needs!
  • Cultivate health and wellness with this Healthy Body, Healthy Minds Activity Set of beautifully illustrated and simply written yoga cards. 

All of these ways of playing provide an outlet for children to practice skills that can help them in one way or another. It may be by teaching them how to properly communicate their feelings or by getting those endorphins boosted through physical activity, but each form of play has a positive impact on those developing brains which will lead to a healthier mind and body in the long run. 

Keeping Your Classroom Safe and Sanitized

Welcome to 2021! I think we can all agree to cheerfully wave good-bye to 2020, the year that brought us many surprises – both good and bad. The year that taught us how to be strong and persevere even in the toughest times. The year that brought recognition to some of our under-recognized professions, including ECE’s and teachers. With all of the changes that came along with adjusting to life amid a pandemic, we also had to adjust how our classrooms operated.  

The new norm in schools, classrooms and daycare centres are vastly different than they were one year ago. The focus has shifted to social distancing, PPE such as face masks and shields, hand sanitizer and following the recommended health guidelines. With all these new precautions and procedures it can be easy to get overwhelmed and we want to help lead you in the right direction.  

As schools are re-opening, there are new hygiene protocols being implemented to help prevent the spread of germs. That means it is time for us to introduce some tips and new products to make your lives easier. 

  1. Set up hand hygiene stations like our Portable Sink, Wall Mounted Sanitizer Dispenser or SaniTower Stations near the entrance of your room so that children and staff can easily clean their hands before entering.
  1. Promote proper handwashing with signs and a  hands-free Time Timer Wash at every handwashing station. 
  1. Develop a cleaning schedule and document when cleaning has taken place. 
  1. Disinfect commonly touched surfaces, shared toys, tables, chairs, door handles, light switches, and high-touch electronic devices
    • Read and follow manufacturer’s instructions for safe use of cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., wear gloves, use in a well-ventilated area, allow enough contact time for the disinfectant to kill germs based on the product being used). 
    • Only use toys or equipment that can be easily cleaned and disinfected. 
  1. Keep your space safe at tables by using table dividers or room dividers between desks. 
  1. Give your kids a friendly reminder about keeping space between one another by using carpet markers of social distancing spots.  

One question we have found ourselves answering more frequently these days is “Am I able to sanitize my carpets to meet the health and safety guidelines?” The answer to that is…yes, absolutely! All of our carpets from Carpets for Kids feature Advanced Stain Blocker Technology which can be used with a 70% isopropyl alcohol spray mist to sanitize the rug surface for daily cleaning. For a deeper clean, contact your maintenance department, they can sanitize with hot water extraction at a 140-150 degree setting at the cleaning nozzle head. After each cleaning, allow to dry thoroughly before using again. You can also use other sanitizing methods or cleaners approved for carpeting per the guidelines. 

Another question that has been popping up is how to safely use bleach to keep other items in your classroom sanitized. Classrooms are filled with a diverse array of items all made of different materials. Many items from Children’s Factory are made with a germ-free environment in mind which means they are made to be easily cleaned and sanitized. They recommend using a 1:5 bleach and water solution to disinfect many of their products (a 1:5 solution means 1 part bleach for every 5 parts of water) and they suggest using a two-step cleaning process to achieve the best results: 

Step 1: Wipe your products with the bleach/water solution to sterilize. 

Step 2: Wipe the chemical mixture off with a clean, damp cloth. 

Step 3: Dry the surface with a dry cloth (wood furniture only). 

Step 2 is important for two reasons; it will preserve the quality and durability of your classroom equipment AND it prevents your children from being exposed to the chemical solution. Step 3 is for your birch and melamine wood furniture as we recommend never leaving water or liquid on wood surfaces. 

 We hope that this helps guide you into a safe, healthy and happy new year!

Sensory Bins 101 

Truth be told, it took me three years of teaching kindergarten to discover the beauty behind sensory bins. Little did I know at the time, they allowed children to explore, touch, create, communicate and discover while also learning important skills. Yes, learning. That’s what I hadn’t understood just yet. I was going stir-crazy trying to constantly come up with different activities for our sand and water table that would keep students engaged when learning kindergarten skills…until I finally realized they had been learning all along. Whether children are making lemonade, baking muffins or building a shelter for animals, they are scooping, pouring, measuring, counting, building, communicating – they are learning through play. 

Below, you will find a few tips and tricks to help you set up sensory bins for your little ones at home or in your classroom. 

First things first: bin choice! Over the last few years, I have experimented with different types of bins, but I always come back to a deep square sensory bin or a large sand and water table. Not only are large bins sturdy and great for both indoor and outdoor play, but they also give students more room to explore. 

Next up, fillers. White sand has been my go-to for years, but changing your filler is a simple way to keep your learners motivated and engaged. Reusable fillers are a must! Find fillers that you can use over and over again, no matter the theme. I especially love using dry black beans, dry dyed chickpeas, shredded coloured paper and oatmeal (with a dash of cinnamon – yes, it smells delicious!). Mulch, shaving cream, snow and flour fall into my ‘messy fillers’ category and let me tell you, they bring a whole new level of excitement! They’re also a great way for children to discover and manipulate different textures. And of course, you can never go wrong with water. It’s free, simple and can be used in so many different ways. From scooping and pouring to bathing dolls, water is always a hit! 

And finally, manipulatives! Adding manipulatives is my favourite part. In most sensory bins, I add mixing bowls, spatulas, muffin tins and easy-grip tweezers. Depending on my intention, I’ll add more manipulatives such as letters, numbers, pompons, corks, seasonal loose parts, animal figurines and sometimes, I’ll even throw in some blocks! These are just a few ideas. Be creative. Think outside the box.  

Sensory play often doesn’t make sense to adults and that’s ok. Children are exploring, learning and having fun; that’s what’s important! 

Written by Genevieve Landry

Take Science Outside

The beautiful weather at the moment is simply dragging me outside. I have no control over it! If my children want to stay indoors, too bad! Luckily, there is so much outdoor learning to do! Plus, most outdoor learning is inquiry-based, which suits my curious children and, let’s face it, most curious children.

Learning outdoors is a great way to bring science to life! Using Inquiry Learning, you can teach children how to investigate and track experiments, or how to satisfy their curiosity and questions. Why study a picture of a plant when you can watch one grow? You can also observe the eco-system that surrounds it, like the insects, ideal habitat, weather conditions and other factors that affect it.

Having just taught plants and soils whilst ‘Learning from Home’, Inquiry Learning is very much on my mind. Plants and soils are an important part of the science curriculum and so fun to teach; this topic is also a natural choice as we plant our summer gardens. As I sent my grade 3/4 students home with at-home learning packages at the start of the pandemic, I wondered how to teach this unit from a distance. So much of learning about plants and soils is hands-on and many of my students don’t have access to gardens.

My student teacher had the wonderful idea of sending the students home with a couple of bean seeds and a soil pod.

They were asked to plant their seed in a recycled container and followed along as we grew plants, discovering what plants needed through firsthand experience. The Root Vue Farm helped us see how deep and far-reaching roots of a plant are and what happens under the soil as plants grow. Using the app Seesaw, we were able to share videos and photos of our plants, and students were also able to share and add to their online portfolio.

If you have younger children, you can simplify the lesson by checking in each day, seeing the changes, and discussing the plant’s growth, giving opportunities for rich language learning. Children see things that we do not notice and can have lots of fun while developing observation skills. This can easily be applied to your backyard garden, where you can also observe how plants and insects interact with each other. Something as simple as a bee can initiate a lengthy discussion:

“What colour is the bee?”
“Where is the bee going?”
“What is it doing?”
“Where do bees live?”
“How do bee’s fly?”

This is the perfect opportunity to jump into bee research, arts and crafts, flight experiments, pollen-collecting dances, flight of the bumblebee music and the list goes on. It can even cover endangered species and eco-systems for older students!

Child lead inquiry is one of the many skills that ECE’s excel at. We teachers often get bogged down with the need to cover learning objectives and sometimes miss the beautiful opportunities provided by child lead inquiry. Whilst inquiry is guided heavily by adults in the early years, it does not make the process any less valid. Children are learning to answer their own questions.

Whatever method of planning we use, backward design or inquiry, our job as educators is teaching children how to learn for themselves. Learning to be learners is their most important and job and the outdoors is the perfect playground to gather questions!

Written by Chris, a middle school teacher in Manitoba

Learning Rocks: Stones That Teach

Education stones are a great way to take learning outside! They’re durable enough to handle different weather conditions and small enough to store easily. Plus, their versatility makes them a great addition to any indoor space, bringing nature indoors without the mess.

Education stones can be used to teach different core concepts in new and fun ways. A hands-on approach invokes sensory learning and turns letters, numbers and even emotions into more tangible things.

Literacy

If a child is struggling to understand how to form letters, they can follow along with the grooves of the Feel-Write Writing Stones. Available in Pre-Writing, Lowercase and Uppercase, the stones have deep divots so children can practice the patterns that form letters, either with their finger or a pencil.

For letter recognition, the Alphabet Pebbles are fantastic. They appeal to children’s natural instincts to explore and are great to use in sand, water and outside. Bury them and have children identify the letters they find or sort and match the upper and lowercase stones. For a group activity lay the stones out and choose a letter. The child that finds the letter first gets to keep it and whoever has the most letters at the end wins!

Once the kids are ready to progress, you can play these games and more with Phonics Pebbles. Designed like the Alphabet Pebbles, this set includes 64 stones that cover 44 phonemes, making them perfect for developing word building and blending skills.

Math

Math has a bad rap for not being fun because it tends to be a little complicated. Simplify things with fun matching games using the Number Pebbles (also available in Jumbo). Children can mix and match while sitting in the grass, or they can dig around in their sandbox for the different numbers.

Turn counting into a scavenger hunt by hiding different stones around the yard. The Ladybug Counting Stones are great for this because kids can count the dots on their back while counting how many ladybugs they’ve collected. Plus, they’re numbered, so you’ll notice if you’re missing one at the end of the game and they’ll stand out against the other rocks in your yard.

To practice sum building, pick a number pebble and ask children to combine the other numbers to equal your number. If you’d like to incorporate operations, use the Sum-Building Set, which includes the plus, minus, multiplication, division and equals sign, so you can build math problems right on the lawn!

Social and Emotional Learning

Emotions are tough to talk about, especially for little ones. Emotion Stones provide ways for children to articulate their feelings with physical objects. If they don’t want to talk about their emotions, they can choose the stone that represents their current feelings. The weight of the stones can represent the weight of their feelings, turning an intangible concept into a real thing. Ask the child, “How big are your feelings?” And they can make a pile of the stones, as big or as little as they want, to represent the amount of their feelings, with the main emotion on top. Are they one-stone sad? Three-stones sad? A pile of stones sad?

Stones can also help children cope with their emotions, not just express them. Self-Regulation Stones represent more complex emotions and encourage children to ask why they’re feeling that way and how they can make things better. The images are more abstract, so they can mean whatever the child needs them to mean.

Learning with stones can be lots of fun, with so many ways you can incorporate them into your lessons. While most of these examples are for outside, they can easily be adapted for indoors with a sand table or sensory bin. Stones were the first tools our ancestors learned to use, and now they’re a great addition to your space so you can rock the playground.