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. 

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.

Introducing the Classroom Cruiser

We are very excited to introduce the Classroom Cruiser from Copernicus!

This stationary bike allows students to self-regulate through movement, working out the fidgets any stress they may be feeling. It’s perfect for kinesthetic learners and any students with special needs.

Not sure why you would need this stationary bike? This is what Copernicus had to say:

Movement, balance and self-regulation
– Rhythmic movement, such as pedalling, has a calming effect on the nervous system and helps us self-regulate.

Integrated classrooms
– Many learning disabilities make it difficult for students to sit still and concentrate.
– The bike allows students to remain in the classroom and take a break (and not be singled out or miss part of the lesson).

Kinesthetic Learners
– Kinesthetic learners learn best when they incorporate movement.

Childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyles
– Time and funding for physical education has decreased.
– Research shows a relationship between increased sedentary behaviours with weak academic performance.

The bike is available with a desktop or handlebars. The desktop adjusts from flat to angled, making it suitable for different activities, such as reading or writing. Everything about this bike adjusts for the perfect ergonomic fit: the handlebars and the go up, down, forward and backwards so kiddos never have to strain to reach the peddles.

Our favourite features:- Quiet and enclosed drive train; there are no gears for pants or fingers to get caught in.

– Fully adjustable for the safest ergonomics.
– Digital display that tracks distance and speed.
– Multi-position workspace for reading or writing (optional).
– Easy to move with casters.
– Pedals have a no-slip grip, with an adjustable band to keep feet in place.

Still not sure how the Classroom Cruiser would fit into your classroom? Copernicus has some wonderful Resources for Educators, including integration tips, sign-up sheets to promote sharing and more FAQs.

The Classroom Cruiser is available in two sizes: Grades Pre K-2 and Grades 3-6.

This is How We Roll

I’m a mom of four, with another on the way, and a home daycare provider for the last seven years. To say I’ve done a lot of research into large strollers would be a major understatement! I’ve owned multiple models, brands and sizes and each has its pros and cons. If you’re in the market for a large stroller, you have many options to consider. I’ve owned a Foundations Triple, a Foundations Quad, a six-passenger Bye-Bye Buggy and, finally, my pride and joy, a six to eight-passenger Runabout.

Foundations strollers definitely have their place in the market. They are relatively affordable and – their biggest plus – they fold up for storage. If you have no outside stroller storage, Foundations is the way to go. The downsides to these strollers are that they can be a bit heavy, and I struggled sometimes in the snow when it was fully loaded.

I was thrilled to own a six-passenger Bye-Bye Buggy (four-seater pictured). It turns very easily due to fully rotating front wheels and moves smoothly for its size. The weight (150 lbs before passengers) is a con for me, as is the limited storage space. The accessories (sun canopies, storage cover, and infant seat) can all be purchased separately.

Two years ago I had finally saved the funds to purchase a Runabout. I’m confident this amazing stroller will outlast my daycare career. The six to eight-seat model offers multiple seating arrangements, including being able to turn two seats backwards. The seats all have five-point harnesses and recline, so no need to purchase an additional infant seat. The large air-filled tires are the best by far in snow, and at eight months pregnant, I can push my stroller loaded with six toddlers with one hand.

The large storage basket is very useful, and I love the removable sun awning and rain shield. There is a learning curve with Runabout strollers; they are back-heavy, and so must be loaded from the front to avoid tipping backwards. Sharp turns require tilting the stroller onto its back wheels to pivot, which takes some getting used to. If you pop a tire, all four wheels easily pop off with the push of a button and replacement parts can be ordered through Quality Classrooms. The Runabout’s frame is one long metal piece, but it’s still really light, and the easily removable seats, wheels, storage and awning offer flexibility when you’re trying to cram it into your minivan to bring home.

With its larger price tag, a Runabout is obviously an investment in your childcare business. The brand’s superiority and flexibility, however, will make it the last stroller you will ever own. While the other strollers have their benefits and could work for other childcare centres, the Runabout is the stroller that fits my needs. I am looking forward to many years of daily use.

Written by Erin Rifkin, owner of a Reggio/Montessori daycare in Ontario 

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