Happy Architect Review

One of our favourite areas in the room has always been the “construction corner.” I have watched wood blocks transform into pirate ships, tall towers, trees, baby carriages and everything in-between…many, many, times over the years. Perhaps what makes this corner my personal favourite, is simply the open-ended play that it provides my multi-age group. There is no “appropriate” age for building and constructing – building blocks support all ages and stages of development.

Over the past few weeks, my small group of eight children (ages two to four right now) have collectively been involved in dramatic play over in the construction area. Now, if you have ever known a two and a half-year-old and a three and a half-year-old separately, you can understand that cooperative play amongst these ages can and does indeed happen, but it’s rare when it comes to building because often the two-year-old is more interested in the inevitable crash of towers than the construction. If the common theme was “house” you could guarantee that the children were utilizing the blocks to build a kitchen or using the smaller blocks as various food items or props in their play. With the interest so high in the “construction corner” I was excited to have the opportunity to test out the Happy Architect sent to us from Quality Classrooms.

Upon receiving the package – I assumed that the 28 pieces in the box weren’t going to be enough pieces for a collaborative project amongst the children; but, keeping an open mind, I opened it up and presented the pieces to the group. They got to work right away – as you can tell in this one photo, they worked separately on their own projects (often referring to the pieces as puzzles *interesting*).

Some of my first thoughts about these blocks:
– They are NOT necessarily open-ended. They need to be utilized in a specific way in order to construct anything
– They do feel beautiful and like a quality item
– I wondered if the children would grow frustrated with these as most of the materials in our room are open-ended and don’t have a specific or rather, “correct” way to be utilized.

Over the next few weeks, a few of the children spent a lot of time building “the puzzle” and deconstructing it to build it another way – I could tell that these types of blocks were promoting some thinking challenges for the children, and I liked it. It wasn’t long before they were being used in other (more typical for my group) ways…photographed is a sailboat in the making complete with a highchair for the baby. I think once the children became familiar with how to connect the pieces, they were more easily used in other types of play.

In sum – these are really interesting building blocks for children. They most definitely support the development of the varying ages in my group (I observed a lot of scaffolding, problem-solving, communication, and both fine and gross motor skills being utilized – to name a few). I look forward to observing the new ways the children utilize them going forward.

Written by Ashley Elliot, a licensed ECE in British Columbia

Recess: Weather or Not?

When I hear the dreaded words “indoor recess” my heart falls.

I know then that my students can’t go outside to play, get fresh air or burn off some energy. They love indoor recess occasionally, but if we have an ongoing bout of bad weather, they get frustrated with the lack of outdoor play. I try to have options in the classroom such as games, Lego and drawing, but the gross motor movement is what most children seem to need.

Living in Canada means learning to live and flourish in cold conditions. We don’t call an indoor unless it is raining, or the temperature or wind chill reaches -35ᵒC (though this may be different depending on where in Canada you live). Teaching our students to embrace the cold, dress appropriately for it and have fun prepares them for life in Canada.

Families new to Canada often need help learning how to dress for Canadian winters. Suggestions on what to wear and where to buy it can be helpful for new families. Having a collection of communal collection of mitts, hats and even socks for the younger students is a good idea. Many teachers ask students to have their own spare socks, hat and mitts with them in anticipation of wet clothes.

On those days when indoor recess is inevitable, I recommend having more movement breaks built into the day. If you notice your students struggling, take a breather and have a stretch, check out a brain break and be ready to adapt a lesson, pivot and rethink quickly on your feet. Less sitting and more moving, harnessing your students’ energy for hands-on activities can make for a more productive and fun day for everyone.

Here is a list of whole class indoor recess games to help you out on the cold or rainy days:

  • GoNoodle is an option for a class that enjoys group dance. It can also be a choice option for a group while others play games if there is space in your classroom. GoNoodle does have an indoor recess section with songs and guided dances as an option and they include a good whole-body movement activity. Pushing back the tables to make space is worth the effort, to get everyone moving.
  • Simon Says is a good option to get a group or whole class moving and many children enjoy being Simon so you get to take a break or join in the fun.
  • Four Corners gets everyone moving too and, as with Simon Says, the leader can change.
  • Charades is less of a movement game, but it is engaging and students can help make the options.
  • Directed Drawing is popular in my classroom. Art Hub for Kids on Youtube is easy to follow and has a kid drawing with his dad.
  • Origami is a popular and quiet activity with only paper needed
  • It’s always good to have board games handy to keep smaller groups occupied.

Let’s hope for mild days, just perfect for playing outside and if the dreaded indoor recess is called, we are ready!

Written by Chris, a teacher in Manitoba

It’s Parachute Day!

Remember what it was like to escape under a world of colour?

To pump your arms as hard as you can, then dash under the parachute and trap the air inside.

Looking around at your classmates’ faces beaming in the red, blue, green sunlight streaming through the cloth. Giggling as your hair grew staticky and groaning when your teacher said it was time to stand up.

Then doing it all over again.

There is something magical about parachute play. It seems so unconventional compared to traditional phys-ed exercises. Kids aren’t racing or trying to score goals; they’re just having fun. The non-competitive play is very inclusive, so different abilities don’t matter.

That’s not to say parachute play isn’t great exercise. You can include cardio and work on perceptual motor skills. The games develop rhythm and strengthen shoulder, arm and hand muscles. Plus, it’s a fantastic way to shake up traditional teaching methods. Parachute play encourages cooperation, turn-taking and sharing and how to follow directions.

We all love parachute day, but what to do besides waving it around? Here are 5 activities to combine parachute play with learning and exercise:

1. Mushroom or Igloo

The classic parachute game! Hold the parachute taut, lower it, then raise it quickly and duck under it. Sit on the inner edges to trap the air inside.

2. Treasure Hunt

Make waves with the parachute and call out a child’s name and an item. They have to dash underneath and find that item before the parachute comes down and “tags” them. The treasures can be anything you’d like, from toys or prizes to letters or numbers.

To practice the alphabet, place Alphabet Building Blocks or Alphabet Bean Bags underneath and have the children retrieve the letter you call out.

3. Make it Musical

Act out some of your favourite Nursery Rhymes using parachutes. Kids can sing along as they follow the directions in the song. KidsMusicExperience has some amazing videos demonstrating how to perform these with your kids.

4. Switch

Kids run under the parachute and switch places with one another. The criteria for switching is completely up to you! You can pick birthday months, letters of first names or favourite colours.

For a little math practice, you can number each child and have them switch places with whoever has the same number. You could have all the odd numbers swap or even practice greater than/less than.

5. Popcorn

Place a bunch of light balls on the parachute and try to get them all to bounce off. You can play this as a group or split everyone up into two teams. One team tries to get the balls off and the other tries to keep them on.

Bonus: Parachute play can be just as fun for bigger kids too! It’s a great way to teach about static electricity, force and motion dynamics, and air pressure.

Static: Place a child underneath the parachute and have the other students drag the fabric back and forth over their head. When they lift the parachute, the static electricity will cling to the child’s hair and make it stand on end.

Force and Motion: Touch on the basic concepts of physics with how you’re able to make the parachute ripple small or big waves depending on the force exerted, and how the tension affects the motion. Add balls and other objects on top of the parachute to shop how force travels and dissipates.

Air Pressure: The classic Mushroom or Igloo activity is perfect for this. Why is the parachute staying inflated? How do we create the differences in air pressure? What happens when the air pressure equalizes?

When it comes to picking a parachute, it really depends on your needs.

We recommend the Rainbow School Parachutes With Handles. It comes in 3 sizes, with sturdy handles and a rope around the edge for additional hands. For even more parachute activities, check out 3-2-1: Time For Parachute Fun for fun ideas, or the Parachute Accessory Pack for everything you need, including balls of different sizes, beanbags, dice and more.

A New Way to Field Day

We probably all have fond memories of traditional field day activities such as the egg and spoon, sack races, wheelbarrow and three-legged. While these activities may still be incorporated into our field days now, they often look quite different from field days of the past.

Track and field days, where children compete at running, jumping and throwing activities are often replaced with stations, allowing all children to be involved and included. Kids rotate to different games and activities, throughout the day. With stations the emphasis is on teamwork, fun and sportsmanship and competition is often optional. Our field days have shifted from a focus on competition to an emphasis on exercise being fun and enjoyable.  Let’s enjoy a day for celebrating what our bodies can do and building relationships in a more relaxed setting.

Tips: 

  1. Set the date early so field trips and summer activities don’t interfere with the planning
  2. Have an indoor plan or rain date ready just in case
  3. Recruit parent volunteers
  4. Take the great opportunity to build community relationships, invite your community police officer or community leaders
  5. Have resources (list of stations and adult supervisors, map of stations, rotation order) ready so everyone feels organized and ready to help
  6. Snacks or freezies are always a hit and having enough for adult helpers makes everyone happy

Station Activity Ideas:

Throwing

  1. Flying disc (frisbee) golf, like mini-golf but with flying discs
  2. Basketball shooting
  3. Basketball bounce and catch challenge (how many bounce catches can you make in two minutes)
  4. Cone Flipping (a timely take on the water bottle flipping craze) can be seen here
  5. Ring Toss, an oldy but a goody
  6. Set up on asphalt or indoors with a bowling challenge

Fun/team building

  1. Limbo/dance
  2. Hula Huts are a wonderful team-building activity
  3. Cross the river with spot markers
  4. Fun challenges with the Co-operative Catch and Balance Band Set
  5. Tug of war
  6. Team Obstacle course with the Fleece Cooperation Band
  7. Car wash relay (using sponges, teams have to move the water from one bucket to another)

Running

  1. Three-legged
  2. Hurdles
  3. Speed 100 meters
  4. Backwards race
  5. Egg and Spoon Set
  6. Tag
  7. Hula hoop course (do a different activity in each hula hoop)
  8. Noodle relay (balancing a pool noodle on hands or between legs)

Jumping

A non-competitive option for field day is to make a necklace from beads, (gratefully borrowed from How to Plan a School Field Day) and is a wonderful way to celebrate success and participation. Children are given beads for each activity they take part in during field day and character beads can also be given for supportive behaviour or good sportsmanship. Necklaces or bracelets can then be worn as a symbol of participation and achievement.

However you choose to plan and action your field day, embrace the energy it brings and have fun.

Written by Chris, an elementary school teacher in Pembina Trails

The Attraction of Magnets

I was lucky enough to try out the Classroom Attractions set with my Grade 3 class. The kits are available in three levels, with different components for various exercises.

The struggle with teaching magnetism is finding magnets that are strong, and having all the materials on hand. With this kit, all you need are the everyday objects that are in your classroom. This comprehensive kit has everything you need to cover the curricular outcomes for Grade 3: Exploring Forces that Attract or Repel.

Opening the kit in front of students got lots of oohs and ahhs, just the reaction a teacher wants as we start a new science topic!

For our first exploration with magnets, I wanted to give students freedom. Their instructions were “to explore and see what they can find out.” This allowed students to use the magnets without restraint. Many students explored the materials I had given them and then wandered around the room testing materials for attraction.

Materials given included at least one of every type of magnet in the kit, pencil, compass, xylophone bar, paper clips, cork, thumbtack and a paper plate.

We discussed the need to work collaboratively and share materials, working as a team rather than by ourselves. Some students did seem to prefer the Magnet Wands possibly because they were stronger than the Plastic-Encased Button Magnets.

Of course, sticking all of the materials together in one big lump was a hit. As was creating magnet sculptures! As I was moving around the room I heard good learning discussions taking place:

  • “Look at the magnets jump!”
  • “I wonder why they are jumping away from each other?”
  • “Watch this magic trick.” (magnets repelling and moving away from each other)
  • “Look I have the power to make things move.” (magnets attracting each other through a desk)
  • “Watch, I can control where north is.” (moving the compass needle with a magnet)
  • “This magnet is stronger, I like it better.”
  • “The magnets flip when I try to stick them together, it is like they don’t want to be together.”

The students were naturally exploring some of the learning outcomes such as how to magnetize an object, magnetic poles and their magnetic field and the effects of magnetic pull without direct contact. These are all investigations that they will have opportunities to explore more directly in further lessons.

Establishing what students already know and presume allows me as a teacher to differentiate teaching and learning and consider extensions for further learning if a basic concept has been grasped. In my classroom, we call these extensions “challenges” to complement our emphasis on growth mindset.

As part of this unit students will be asked to use the design process to construct a game, toy or a useful device that uses gravitational, magnetic or electrostatic forces. As a result of their preliminary exploration, they can start thinking about what they may design.

The teaching guide includes six investigations, the first one being what we just did in class, and I am using it to complement my planning.

When each group was nearing the end of their exploration time I showed them this trick and encouraged them all to try it. This will lead us into the next lesson when we explore the poles of a magnet. With this kit of Classrooms Attractions, our science lessons have become much more interesting!

Written by Chris, an elementary and middle school teacher in Pembina Trails School Division.

The Role of Games in Math

Playing is a large component of my math classes and it comes in many different forms.  I run math centres which rotate every day and one of these centres is always a game. Games are often built into other activities too.

We all know that it is fun to play, so presenting learning activities as games seems obvious. My new students often have a negative view of math and I work very hard to ensure they see themselves as successful mathematicians. We have been working on Subtraction strategies so when I had the opportunity to try out the new Subtraction and Addition Dominoes from Quality Classrooms I was excited.

We sat in a circle and demonstrated a game to ensure all students, some with limited English, understood how to play.

We talked through different options:

  • Ten frames
  • Objects such as (vegetables, animals, marbles)
  • Mental subtraction from the left to the right

The students lost no time playing and enjoyed the heavy feel of the dominoes in their hands. As expected we have varying abilities in our classroom and we talked about working as a team and helping each other learn, hence playing with our dominoes flat rather than in a protected view as seen here.

When we looked carefully at the objects we realized that they helped us to make addition calculations: 2 donuts + 3 donuts= 5 donuts. Some students can quickly look at the objects and subitize, some will have instant recall of the fact and others may need to count the objects. Having all this information on the domino means they are equipped for different learning needs.

The dominoes were a hit and will be included in the math centre rotation as a refresher from time to time. Once students are familiar with math games, I include them in the game cupboard for indoor recess. It is wonderful to see students selecting math games to play for fun.

Learning math is a fun, social process in my classroom. Centres involve group work, problem-solving, strategy practice through lots of games and hands-on learning. What used to be my least favourite subject as a student is now one of my favourite subjects to teach. The ability to change a student’s perspective of themselves as mathematicians is a privilege I am happy to embrace with the help of games.

Written by Chris, an elementary and middle school teacher in Pembina Trails School Division.