Loose Parts for Literacy and Numeracy 

Loose parts are not a new concept; children have been playing with loose parts for centuries. Since the beginning of time, children have used their creative little minds to create something out of nothing. What exactly are loose parts, you may ask? Loose parts are one of the finest forms of imaginative play. Beginning as a remarkable term coined by Simon Nicholson, loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, built, taken apart, rearranged, or combined in multiple ways. The purpose of loose parts play is that the child oversees the direction, and learning is left open-ended. Have you ever given a child a toy, but they seem to have had more fun playing with the packaging it came with? That is a perfect example of loose parts play!  

“The purpose of loose parts play is that the child oversees the direction, and learning is left open-ended.”

Perhaps the most remarkable part of loose parts play is that it can be combined with so many things when it comes to learning. Loose parts are all about connections and forming relationships with different objects to learn all about exactly what they can do – and what they cannot do. Loose parts leave no stone unturned; from language to math to art, the opportunities are infinite. 

 Here are some ways you can incorporate loose parts in literacy and numeracy: 

Literacy 

Loose parts can help with reading and writing proficiency through various activities. One of the best functions of literacy with loose parts is storytelling. Children creatively play with loose parts to encourage symbolism and sequence, which boosts their ability to understand literacy in many ways. Children will create stories with the individual items and tie them together to create a world beyond imagination.  

Symbolic play can look different in so many ways; one example is acting out stories they are familiar with. For instance, using small loose parts such as craft sticks and pipe cleaners to act out classic fairy tales such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears. This helps with literacy, memory, and pattern recognition since they are remembering a story and acting it out themselves. If you want to be less specific, give them a theme such as nature, animals, or places and watch the incredible stories and scenery they create. A small stone can become a jewel stolen by an alien, and a tree block can become a magic wand; the potential is endless. 

Numeracy 

Numeracy is the ability to understand and work with numbers. Especially to children, numbers matter; for instance, how many gifts are under the tree, who had a longer turn, how old they are, how many sleeps until their birthday, and many other numerals are particularly important to little ones. However, studying numeracy presents its fair share of challenges as well. Geometry, fractions, and operations are a few of the common difficulties in early mathematical learning. That is where loose parts come in; they are a great physical and tangible representation of concepts that children often struggle with.  

play stones with numbers on them

Number pebbles and word pebbles are great for use in sand, water, or the outdoors! They are durable and great to inspire children to explore and the numbers and letters engraved on them. They can be used to teach counting, sorting, the alphabet, and learning short words.

Craft supplies. Loose parts play does not get any better than crafting! It is a chance for children to create whatever they want through so many different mediums. The Makerspace STEAM Builder Set includes an assortment of materials to help students imagine, create, share, and generate lots of innovative ideas. This set is perfect for combining STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) learning with loose parts to bring in an unforgettable learning experience. 

child playing with balloon

Trays can be used to count and display various loose parts. From the Natural Tinker Tray to the Natural Flower Tray, trays are ideal for a wide range of collecting and early math sorting and stacking activities, both indoors and outside. They pair well with any type of sensory stone!  

wooden tray filled with small natural items

Loose parts are a terrific way for children to positively identify letters. The Feels-Write Letter Stones can help children touch and feel their way to recognizing letters. Children can also use small loose parts to trace the shapes with their fingers and then take paper and write them on their own. A fun game to implement with letter stones is to hide these stones around and create a scavenger hunt. This is a way to condition letters into the forefront of children’s learning minds, and they will become increasingly familiar with the alphabet. 

What are the benefits of loose parts? 

Longer attention span. Loose parts can help children attain a longer attention span. Once a child starts to seriously immerse themselves into their play, they tend to lose track of time and become so focused on their task that everything else slowly disappears. This is an exercise that can positively influence other areas of life such as paying attention during class. Their brains are more familiar with concentrating on specific tasks for extended periods of time, and loose parts play is an easier way for them to concentrate for way longer than they would on a guided and specified task. Plus, incorporating learning into loose parts play can help make the most of your time with engaged learners making for an easier teaching session.  

Assists fine motor skills. Manipulating objects, no matter how big or how small, help develop both fine and gross motor skills. Lifting, counting, and sorting are all great early skills that help to involve muscle groups form properly and appropriately such as holding a pencil. Additionally, it helps hand eye coordination which prepares children for other aspects of learning, prepping their bodies for things like throwing a baseball or football. 

three children sitting and learning

Problem-solving skills. Loose Parts can help develop problem-solving skills. Through loose parts play, children get to make decisions about which parts they want to use. Along with building and engineering, young students are gaining many skills like adapting and experimenting with new things. To create their loose parts masterpiece, students need to select what materials piece the best together for their environment. Their original ideas may need adjustment; that is okay! Through these challenges, children get to learn how to fix and tailor their projects to make things work.  

two children holding their snowmen made out of crafting material

“Through loose parts play, children get to make decisions about which parts they want to use. Along with building and engineering, young students are gaining many skills like adapting and experimenting with new things.”

How can I help teach Math and English by supporting loose parts play? 

Take notice in their play. Part of observing and supporting children in learning about numeracy through loose parts is exactly that – simply observing. Take notice in what children are creating and tell them (without stating any opinions) what you see. “I notice you have a pile of read bears and blue bears.” This provides a chance for children to vocalize their experiences and enforce the recognition process. 

Ask important questions. “What can you tell me about this?” or “What is your plan with this?” can help steer children in the right direction and invoke new thoughts in children. It helps keep them on track and it continues their thinking process, encouraging them to think even more about their creative process and what exactly they are creating, keeping them engaged.  

Elaborate on what they have already produced. Have you taken notice of a certain child’s interest in a specific topic? This is a wonderful way to broaden their interests by adding to these themes. For example, a child who may be interested in stones and rocks might love an introduction to crystals and minerals, or measurements and weights of certain objects. Help them fuel a passion for knowledge by offering suggestions for similar interests. 

Tips for loose parts: 

Loose parts do not have to be expensive! Loose parts are all about the experience, and not necessarily about the specific part itself. Small and simple loose parts such as coloured flat wooden shapes or transparent irregular shapes can go a long way. Children are the most imaginative people you can think of; you would be surprised to see what they produce even with the simplest of things. 

Take loose parts outside. With the beautiful weather heating up, this is a wonderful time to combine learning with play and take advantage of the outdoor classroom. Children can also use natural pieces such as pinecones and sticks as loose parts. 

Loose parts are customizable! It does not have to go big or go home. Loose parts can be whatever you want them to be, small handheld items or extravagant projects. Loose parts can also work for any age; there are no limits to creativity. Since it is such a flexible part of play, loose parts can work for any and every child. 

Now that loose parts have become more familiar, implementing them for literacy and numeracy in your classroom should be a breeze. Children will thoroughly enjoy learning through play, especially when they feel in control and are able to make easily identifiable connections from the classroom to their own lives. Loose parts are a wonderful way to connect children with hands-on learning and take a break from the books. Loose parts support the development of freedom and creativity while helping young learners become excited about learning; it helps to learn to feel more like fun and less like a chore.

three children sitting down and smiling

“Loose parts are a wonderful way to connect children with hands-on learning and take a break from the books.”

Making the Most out of Holiday Crafts 

Children and teacher making holiday crafts and smiling

Why are winter and holiday crafts important? 

There is nothing more special than the holidays. It’s cold outside, children are jumping with joy and excitement, and it’s the perfect time to create special memories with friends and family. The countdown of how many sleeps until Christmas, making snow forts and snow angels, and of course, all the presents. The holidays are the perfect time for gift giving – and gift making too. It’s a perfect time for kids to get crafty, and since they aren’t usually big holiday shoppers, crafting with homemade gifts is a fun way to get them involved in the gift-giving spirit.  

It’s a perfect time for kids to get crafty, and since they aren’t usually big holiday shoppers, crafting with homemade gifts is a fun way to get them involved in the gift-giving spirit.  

Play and creativity go hand in hand, and it’s important for children to spend some time playing creatively both inside and outdoors as part of their daily routine. However, as we all know sometimes playing outside in Canada’s harsh winters isn’t always the best option, which makes staying inside to create crafts a much more appealing activity during the frigid dark months. Crafting is a super enjoyable way for children (and adults) of all ages to be creative and have fun and celebrate the upcoming holidays!  

A child hands cutting stars for winter crafts

How is making crafts beneficial to learning?  

Crafting goes beyond being a playful activity and has many fundamental aspects of early development. Crafting requires hand eye coordination, practice, and patience, all of which are important parts of gaining more control over their abilities and strengths. Crafting helps build resilience, since their work may not come out perfectly the first time, teaching them they must continue to try, try and try again! For little ones, crafting can even help children identify shapes and colours. Crafting also benefits literacy, as children are learning to identify words with the shapes, materials, colours and objects they are using. Asking questions like, “Why did you choose that colour?” and “Tell me about what you made.” helps them learn new vocabulary and have a deeper understanding for verbal instructions and listening skills. 

Crafting helps build resilience, since their work may not come out perfectly the first time, teaching them they must continue to try, try and try again! 

Crafts are an enjoyable way to use learning through play, as it helps improve fine motor skills and encourages children to continue to improve in daily tasks and helps them learn to follow instructions. Fine motor skills are great for development as they use those small muscles in their hands for everything. Their bilateral coordination skills improve as they learn to use both hands at the same time in a repetitive way. It doesn’t really feel like hard work, and it allows imaginative and creative thoughts to be showcased and explored. Additionally, it boosts pattern and counting recognition! 

Child cutting a DIY Christmas tree craft

What are some must have crafting materials?  

  • Construction paper. Multicoloured construction paper is stellar for crafting, as it has so many versatile uses. It can be used simply for the background behind a painting or drawing or used to make cut out shapes to glue onto another piece of paper. There is nothing construction paper can’t be used for! 
  • Glitter. While you do have to be mindful of the mess, it can be lots of incredible fun. Glitter can be used in any drawing or painting and used as the finishing touch to any crafty art project!  
  • Glue sticks. These can be used for almost anything when it comes to crafting! Just be mindful that younger kids may need to be monitored while using them.  
  • Pipe cleaners. These can be used to bend and twist to create any shape, animal, or creature imaginable! 
  • White craft fluffs. Perfect for snow themed crafts!  
  • Bead treasure box. It’s no secret kids love beading with crafts, and this is perfect as it comes with a variety of colours and beading thread! 
  • Rainbow paper bags. Perfect for children taking home their favourite crafts and creations!  
  • Felt paper. Felt sheets are easy to cut, glue and sew. Perfect for your felt art projects, this quality and versatile felt is a great craft item to have on hand!   
  • Classic Craft Activities Box. An assortment of wiggle eyes, chenille stems, pom poms, craft hair, fluffs, glitter glue pens, craft sticks, sequins and spangle. What else could you need? 
A wide variety of colourful craft supplies

What are some fun DIY Crafts to do?  

  • Paper snowflakes. Paper snowflakes are a classic when it comes to winter crafts, and they can be used to decorate and brighten up any room! Help the children learn to hold the paper and assist them with carefully making incisions in the folded paper to form the perfect snowflake. Remember, each snowflake is unique which makes this craft even better! Working with toddlers or children who are too young to be using scissors? Don’t stress! Pre-cutting the paper snowflakes and allowing them to colour and draw on them is just as effective. 
  • Gift tags. Cutting out shapes of coloured construction paper using a cookie cutter and gluing a matching piece of felt on it creates a simple, easy and adorable gift tag that can be given to children’s relatives or friends. This is also a great way for children to practice writing their names on paper and using markers! 
  • Melt free Snowmen. Using white felt, cut out snowman shapes for children to decorate. Small paper cut outs in the shape of mittens, top hats, or any other cute snowman accessory can be glued on! String them all together on some twine to make all the little snowmen come together! 
  • Painting a holiday scene. Using paper and paint, help children paint winter scenes with objects like snowmen or snowfall. This can be done with all types of objects as well such as sponges and different styles of paint brushes to help create texture. Simple, quick, easy and allows kids to help create something creative, completely unique and outside of the box! 
  • Use a free printable colouring page. Colouring pages are timeless, and super quick and easy! For a fool proof and go-to craft that you just can’t go wrong with, printable colouring pages are your answer. Colouring is a wonderful crafty way to take it easy and relax. Bonus: there are so many to choose from online, so you’ll be sure to find the perfect holiday page for your kids to colour!  
  • Decorate the room. Hanging the homemade decorations around your space can help it feel more cheerful and including children in the process can amplify the fun! Allow children to help you design the space with holiday cheer by assisting them with placing fun holiday objects all around the room. 
Three children playing with colourful construction paper for crafting

What are some other fun holiday activities I can do with kids?  

  • Writing a letter to Santa. Christmas time and the holidays are an extremely exciting time for children, and the anticipation is just as important as the actual event itself. Print off a free Santa letter template and allow children to fill them out and mail them! For younger children, help them draw or cut our pictures from magazines of what they want for Christmas. This helps children improve on their literacy skills and it’s a fun way to get them even more excited about the upcoming holiday! 
  • Make hot chocolate. Use packages of hot chocolate or premade and reheat and give cups of this to the kids. Allow them to pick out things they want to add to their drink, such as mini marshmallows, sprinkles, or little candy canes to allow children to customize their drink!  
  • Holiday themed sensory play. Using a sensory table, allow children to play with many different winter textures – things such as bubbles and ice. Allowing toddlers to play with these mediums is a great addition to regular sensory play and will be sure to put a smile on their face! 
  • Singing a holiday song. Children love singing and dancing – and what better way to help get them in the spirit than a memorable tune? Play some of your favourite holiday classics and encourage children to sing and dance along. Music is a great device for memory and comprehension, and it adds lots of holiday spirit!  
  • Reading a holiday story or watching a holiday movie. There are lots of fun books that children will enjoy about the holidays, and it’s nice to just sit back, relax, and watch or read something joyful to help get into the holiday spirit! Grab some holiday drinks or snacks to go with it. Perfect for right before the holidays arrive!  
Little girl colouring with a pencil crayon

What are some tips for making quick and fun holiday crafts? 

  • Don’t make the crafts too long and complicated. If the crafts are difficult to follow or take a long period of time, children tend to lose interest and stop participating. Choose crafts that are appropriate for the age group you are working with. 
  • Don’t create limits. Colouring outside the lines and making crafts on the more abstract side is a wonderful for kids to show their creativity and experiment with new shapes, colours and textures! Don’t try to control the craft, just watch their little minds creative imagination take flight! When children are finished or have had enough with crafting, let them be done.  
  • Make sure appropriate attire is worn. Advise children and parents to wear comfortable clothes that are okay to get messy in, especially if painting is happening! 
  • Create a safe space for crafting. Ensure the space you are using to craft in is safe and can accommodate everyone. This designated space also provides less stress when it comes to clean up time, since you know that is the purpose of your space and it doesn’t interfere with other areas like play or eating spaces! It also helps children recognize that this is their safe crafting space, and it is okay to get a little messy! 
  • Participate with the group! Creating a craft along with the group shows you want to be just as involved and excited about it as they are. It helps encourage students to enjoy themselves!  
  • Compliment their work. Nothing feels better than hearing “Wow, what a great job!” after completing an art craft. This motivates children to continue to push themselves and want to continue participating in craft activities in the future and helps boost their self-esteem! 
  • Just have fun! Holiday crafting is about getting in the holiday spirit and creating fun art projects that all can enjoy. Don’t make it too serious and don’t allow children to get down on themselves if they are having a hard time! Remember, crafting is all about enjoying the moment so don’t take it too seriously and remember to have a good time! 
Two small children playing with Christmas Bells

How can I use holiday crafts to educate children about the world and help them learn? 

Holiday crafts are a wonderful way to help celebrate the end of the year and get children feeling happy, excited and help make sure everyone feels included. It’s important to remember that not every child celebrates the same holiday, and we should remember to acknowledge all backgrounds and celebrations.  Encourage kids to share the way their family celebrates the holidays and help teach them about all the different celebrations – Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza and more. This can help your space feel more inclusive, and it is great way to help children learn more about diversity and learn more about their friends.  

Another special way to help celebrate all different holiday celebrations is using a sharing circle to share memories and various customs and traditions they celebrate at home. Ask children what their favourite part of the holiday season is and share what makes them unique! Is there a special food they indulge in during the season? What about family members they get to see? What are their favourite outdoor holiday games or sports? Use this opportunity to learn more about the lives and cultures of the kids in your centre! 

Will quick and fun holiday crafts benefit your centre? 

Crafting helps children learn independence while working on projects, but crafting skills go much further and yield far beyond that. It is a special time of development for young children that help them build small skills that will be beneficial for a lifetime. Crafting is about patience, fun, thinking outside the box and creating fun art to share with family and friends! Holiday crafting is a special way to bring your group together, and help watch them grow, learn, relax, express themselves and enjoy a fun activity all at the same time. Crafting is a perfect example of how sometimes the simplest things create the best experiences and memories. It helps children learn skills and practice hand eye coordination without even feeling like work – just by painting, drawing, and having fun!  

Five young children holding Christmas presents

Promoting Diversity and Inclusivity in the Classroom

The new school year is back in full swing, and we want everyone in the classroom to feel included. Promoting our differences can be a touchy subject, but it is extremely important. All students are different in their own unique ways, which means their learning needs can be different too.

So why is diversity and inclusivity in the classroom so important? It helps educate kids about the society we live in with many different ethnicities, orientations, abilities and how to be aware of all our different unique qualities and building compassion for everyone.

Encouraging kids to be themselves and celebrating their differences creates better thinkers, supports self-growth, self-esteem, identity and makes them feel welcomed as part of the group. It provides tools they need to be the best learners – and people – they can be. Raising awareness about issues in society in a way children can understand can promote diversity. Teaching values like kindness, inclusion, and educating kids on how they can be sensitive to other people’s feelings when it comes to physical and non-physical differences can influence them to grow up to be positive leaders and members of their community.

Encouraging kids to be themselves and celebrating their differences creates better thinkers, supports self-growth, self-esteem, identity and makes them feel welcomed as part of the group.

Promote Diversity

Here are some ways to make your classroom more inclusive and promote diversity with your students:

  • Invite kids to have a “culture day” and encourage them to learn more about their heritage. Bringing stories, objects, pictures, or books about their culture is a fun way for students to learn more about themselves and their peers.
  • Host open discussions about injustices they have experienced, and brainstorm ways to help fight inequality in the classroom and in their personal lives.
  • Take field trips to cultural and historic events and places in the community.
  • Invite speakers and advocates to your classroom that have first-hand experiences to share about diversity and inclusion.
  • Asking for feedback and ideas from fellow colleagues can help ensure you are growing as an educator.
  • Offering diverse reading materials featuring distinct cultures, languages, beliefs, and abilities can help them feel represented, appreciated, and understood. Make sure these materials are offered in different forms to accommodate different learning styles, such as audio, physical, and visual forms of learning.
  • Participate in writing letters with global pen pal programs to connect students with other students just like them, across the world!
Teacher standing in the classroom with a book answering students questions about diversity

Inclusion Teaching Strategies

Diversity and inclusion in the classroom also mean assisting students who may have a more challenging time learning than others and providing them the tools they need to succeed. Meeting with parents and kids and getting to know your students to find resources that help them thrive is necessary to help them reach their goals. These needs can be different for every child.

  • For some students, learning challenges are caused by a lack of ability to focus, and sensory toys are a clever way to help get their fidgets out.
  • Sometimes students just need a break from their day, and a quiet peaceful space can really help them relive stress and unwind
  • Noise sensitivity can also be an issue, so giving students resources to block out the noise while focusing on reading or other tasks can help them collect their focus
  • Make yourself approachable to talk to about different learning styles, needs, and accessibility to solutions.
  • Offer alternative seating arrangements for students with difficulty sitting still
  • Communicating with kids and communicating with their parents to help build meaningful relationships and to find out what learning resources they may need.
Children of different cultural backgrounds embracing each other

Teachers contribute to shaping the minds of today’s kids and turning them into great future leaders. By hosting activities, having conversations, and encouraging more personal growth, we can build a more inclusive and diverse environment for all learners. It is important to make sure we applaud positive behaviours and use the classroom as a safe space for all students – regardless of what they look like, where they come from or how they learn!

Battle Boredom

As we roll past the one-year anniversary of our world being flipped and turned upside down, it feels like a great time to brainstorm and come up with new ways of keeping boredom out of our class. It is no secret that early childhood educators have been unsung heroes throughout this time of transition into the new normal. We know that it can be hard to keep things fresh and exciting in your class, so whether you are sanitizing toys and furniture or helping wash little hands 100 times a day, we want to take off some of the pressure.

The best way to fight the boredom bug is by keeping those imaginations running wild! With spring upon us and summer just around the corner, we are finally able to get outside more often. We have a few fun ideas for games to play that can be set up and used both indoors and outdoors, making it perfect – rain or shine (or a spring snowstorm!)

One of our favourite ways of encouraging outdoor free-play is by using what mother nature gave us! Stick-lets help children reconnect with nature through imaginative and open-ended play. Flexible, durable, reusable, weather-resistant and safe silicone connectors will satisfy any little builders’ imagination and curiosity. And the best part – there are no rules for how you use them! All you need are some branches or sticks and if those are in short supply, wooden dowels also work amazingly to create your very own fort or village.

Another great way to let the kids run free and get those gross motor skills fine-tuned, all while playing pretend is by setting up your very own driving obstacle course! Choose from a selection of ride-on toys to cruise around on, set up some drive time signs and let the kids pretend to drive like mom or dad all while they enhance their balance and coordination and learn about common road signs. Make it extra fun by making their very own pretend driver’s licenses or license plates to hand out to the kids. 

For a different kind of obstacle course, it is always fun to set up a maze with different items that promote balance and motor skills and let the kids run through it again and again! Start with a pair of bucket stilts and have them navigate to an exciting setup like the river landscape or the step-a-forest. Next, you can get them walking like a duck using the duckwalker set to race to the outdoor balance board. You will be providing a variety of options for balance training, movement, and exercises all while making sure everyone has a blast!

Sensory tables are always a blast and we have a great way to make sure you can continue engaging in all the sensory fun while still following all the new health and safety precautions. By giving each child their very own bin, you are ensuring they keep their germs to themselves while also having fun. There are a thousand different ways to create a sensory bin! You can put in seasonal items to drum up excitement about Easter, Halloween or any other holidays. Fill a bin with water and toss in a variety of items and then guess which ones will sink and which ones will float. Or simply use sand/pasta/rocks/any other knick-knacks you can get your hands on!

And lastly, everyone’s favourite indoor or outdoor activity that is sure to lead to a fun-filled day – the parachute! As a kid, you just knew it was going to be a great day when the parachute was pulled out. As a teacher, it can still be just as fun because there are endless possibilities of how this can be played with. Starting with a basic game like Mushroom, where the children simply spread out in a circle and on a count of three, raise it high into the sky and then quickly run underneath to the centre. You will never run out of ways to play silly games with the 3-2-1 Time For Parachute Fun book and the parachute accessory pack

We hope that fills up your cup with some inspiration and you can take some of these ideas and have fun with your class!

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