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.

From our Community: Creative Solutions for At-Home Learning

We asked our community for creative solutions to apply to at-home learning. Hundreds of you replied, but here are some of our favourite answers. We hope these offer inspiration for making your homeschooling a little easier!

April from Newfoundland and Labrador:We’re learning based on interest – some days it might be following art lessons online from artists, baking following the instructions from a live video or could even be a movie night or playing restaurant. We play games through suggested learning ideas and board games.”

Christina from Manitoba:We bring a laundry basket outside and flip it upside down to use like a table in our backyard, I mean ‘outdoor classroom.'”

Dolly from Ontario:We turn everyday tasks chores and interests into learning. Baking takes measurements and addition. Planting seeds shows what soil, sun, water and a seed can do, then wait and eat the veggies we’ve grown. I let her lead me. We come across lots of problems that we can brainstorm and solve together, learning a lot along the way.”

Kristy from Yukon:I teach French so I’ve suggested to many of my students to use their screen/TV time as French time by switching the audio track to French. They can also use the English subtitles if necessary. Now they are multi-tasking! Reading, French and relaxing.”

Geneviève from Ontario:Variety! We try to provide a variety of activities both indoor and outdoor for our students. Some involve physical activity like running around the backyard to find hidden words, and others propose challenges such as building 3D shapes with toothpicks and modelling clay.”

Jo Ann from Newfoundland and Labrador:I record daily videos of our “normal” morning routine at school. The date, weather, counting and other mini reviews of the plan for the day. It’s just my way of keeping connected with my students and one small consistency in their days.”

Amanda from Ontario: We like to do school work on the trampoline. We bring chalk to answer questions, books and lessons and have an absolute blast learning inside it. We will be hooking up the iPad to it soon to count bounces, which will also be a gym class!”

Peter from Saskatchewan:Add a short ‘invent’ your own part to each lesson supplied by school. So, after doing math supplied questions, they can make their own and do them. After reading, write your own very short story. You can incorporate this into any lesson and encourages them to combine their interests with learning!”

Christina from Ontario:I like to add more creative options for the students in our kindergarten crew. I feel that parents and students are feeling overwhelmed, so taking the opportunity to more clearly outline how play truly is learning. Some fun craft activities that incorporate math and lit, explaining the learning that occurs while working in the kitchen, outdoor scavenger hunts and loose parts activities – so many entertaining and engaging activities that do not require sitting down and focusing. Win win, right?!”

Whether you’re an early childhood educator adapting to teaching long distance or a parent learning how to home school, keep up the good work!

Parent/Teacher Interview: Tip for Teaching At Home

We interviewed our resident teacher, Chris Uhres-Todd, for her input on how she’s handling teaching long distance, as well as helping her own children with their schooling. You can watch the interview or read it below!

QC: You’re our resident teacher and parent at Quality Classrooms, so you straddle both those worlds that everybody’s trying to work with right now. We have a couple questions for you. First is, tell us a little bit about yourself a little background about you and your family

Chris: Okay, my name is Chris Uhres-Todd. I’m a teacher. I’ve got three kids: one in grade seven, one in grade four and one started kindergarten in September. So I’ve got a nice range at home. At school, I teach grade three/four homeroom half time. I teach middle years art and ESL support as well.

QC: So you have a wide range of experience. What made you decide to start teaching?

Chris: Like all kids, you go through school and you want to be everything under the sun, and then all of a sudden I hit 17. I’m like, oh, this is it. I want to teach. And I loved it. I went straight into an education program, and physical education as well as primary education (elementary here), and loved every minute.

I got right into schools from I the time I was 18, doing teaching practice and teaching block. And then I taught in a couple of different countries. When I graduated, I taught in England and Rwanda, and then Togo in West Africa. And then I came to Canada, and I couldn’t teach here because I couldn’t get a teaching certificate. So that was a shock. But, I was able to go back to school and get my masters, and then I would get back into the classroom, which was awesome. I missed it.

QC: Okay, so tell us a bit about when you’re at home with your kids now, since so many people are home with their kids, what’s a typical morning look like for you and your kids?

Chris: So I do a little bit of work before they’re ready to start. I get up earlier than them and do a little bit of prep for my homeroom. And then at nine o’clock, we get a message from my school, the announcements, and we listen to that and we stand for Oh Canada and that’s kind of our signal to get going for the day.

So then, I’ve got the two younger kids working with me in our home office and my grade seven likes to go to her bedroom and work there. And I check in with her and I work a little bit, then check in with them when they need help. They come to me right back. But obviously, with a kindergartener at home, he doesn’t want to sit for long and he shouldn’t be sitting for long. So he’ll, he’ll do a task – a 5 or 10-minute task, either on the floor or at his little desk and then he’ll go play. He’ll say, “I’m done Mommy,” “Okay, go play. Go do something.”

QC: And that’s working?

Chris: It’s working. It’s not easy. There are days where I think, “I’m rocking this thing. I got it.” And days that go really badly and are epic failures. So it’s very much day to day, lots of up and down.

QC: You mentioned that you have a home office. Would you say that that’s a great place to set up a home learning area? Or do you have any tips for anybody on how to set up a home learning area?

Chris: So I’m very lucky that I do have a separate room, and it has multiple workspaces. And we’ve created a little more since this all began. So I’m lucky I can have the three kids working with me at the same time, and then we can close the door to take a break. So it’s a nice distinct area. So if that’s possible, it’s not possible for everyone. It’s really nice.

The other option we have tried is having a little basket for everybody to keep their work in. And their devices so that everybody has a movable object. So we can work in different places in the house but still keep our stuff together. Because obviously, the age of them and also I’m pretty messy. We’re all creative people. So we tend to be pretty messy. So yeah, a basket helps us keep things vaguely organized.

QC: And then you can also put it away when the day is done. And it doesn’t have to be that constant reminder of my pile of work is there, or the coach is there and I’d rather be there.

Chris: Yes, getting those set, the separation between work and home, is definitely very challenging at the moment. So, anyway to keep them segregated and know that I’m done for the day. And I’m focused on the kids right now. And they’re not thinking about school. That’s good.

QC: Do you find that’s a nice relief to have it be put away, as opposed to just having the clutter or having the work always present?

Chris: Yes, for me personally, it needs to be out of sight, I need to know that my work is in another place. And that helps me switch off.

QC: Other than these little releases when your young one is is done, any other tricks for how to keep kids focused?

Chris: I actually just had a team’s meeting last week with my students about that, and they had some pretty good tricks. They suggested taking a couple of deep breaths before you start work. And they also suggested doing most of your work in the morning, if you can, and then knowing that if you get it done nice and quickly, you have the rest of the day to play. So they’re already coming up with wonderful strategies. And I think asking our kids and our students, what works for them to help them focus again really gets them thinking about it. They always come up with better ideas than we do.

QC: Well, they’re the ones that they’re invested in, right? They’re the ones they’re interested in. So it’ll go further.

Chris: Yeah, a little reward. Let’s do this, then we have a break. Let’s do this. And we do the phys ed part or the craft of the art as a reward. So like carrot rather than a stick?

QC: Yeah. Do you call that bridging? My wife is using the word bridging from one concept or one action to the next?

Chris: Yeah, I’m more familiar with the word transition. But I think bridging is a similar idea. So just moving from one transition, and the bridge helps you get there. So the idea of when we get there, we’ll be able to do this afterwards. Yeah, origin, bridging, transitions, same thing.

QC: Yeah, exactly. It’s kind of in the same vein. So for your kids, what does recess look like? You said with your kindergartner, you have that recess break. Do you do that with the others as well when you’re home?

Chris: Yeah, so we go upstairs; we make a snack. And the two younger ones especially need the outside time. I should have the outside time, it would be beneficial for me but I don’t always remember that. So they do go outside. Even if it’s raining. We’re lucky we have a barn so we kicked him out to the barn, “Go play tennis or something.”

QC: You live outside the city, right?

Chris: Yeah, I’m a couple of miles outside. So we’re lucky to have that space. And there’s always lots to do outside, so we are very privileged that way.

QC: But even just to get outside, even in the rain, whatever in anybody’s yard or even on the front step, really just to be in a different space probably helps.

Chris: Yeah, even if it’s raining, we’ll sit out on the front porch. Where it’s still dry, but you’re getting fresh air and you feel you feel like you’ve got outside time.

QC: Yeah. And you hear the rain and everything. 

So if a student’s having a bad day at home, do you have any tricks for how to turn the day around? This is probably something that you used a lot in the classroom, but how can parents do this with their own kids?

Chris: So the break would be the first thing. If they’re really struggling and you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, I would suggest just taking a break, stepping away from it. Having a snack, going for a walk. And then when they’re ready, and when you’re ready, then come back to it. Because quite often, it’s us that struggle with it more than the students. I know. For me, it’s much easier to teach other parents’ kids than it is to teach my own.

QC: Yeah, it’s a lot closer to home, literally. So, next to that. Do you find it hard to switch between your teacher hat in your parent hat or how do you navigate that?

Chris: Um, definitely. Because when I’m focused on teaching, and my students, I want to do that. And it feels like an interruption when my own kids need help, which isn’t a good mindset to be in when you need to support them for their learning. So I try to get them to do an independent task. And I say, “When you’re done that, then go have a break. Mommy’s going to work for the next half hour. So this time on the clock, and you need to try and problem solve yourself.”

And that’s what we did in the classroom as well, encourage that problem solving. If you can’t figure it out, go on to the next one. When we get together and talk about it, then we’ll talk through the issues but you need to work independently.

QC: You can circle back. Do you find yourself going into teacher mode with your kids?

Chris: Yes! And they point it out to me,

QC: Oh, do they like it or not like it?

Chris: It depends. Sometimes they like it because it’s helpful. Sometimes they’re like, “No Mommy, you sound like my teacher.”

They’re also in French immersion and my French is terrible. So that’s an added challenge.

QC: So they’re teaching you French at the same time?

Chris: Yes. And I’m failing miserably.

QC: I guarantee you’re not the only one who’s in those shoes. We’re there too. Both of our kids are in French immersion and neither my wife or I speak French fluently. We both know a little bit, but they’re quickly outpacing us.

Chris: Yeah, when you’re problem solving, and only understanding every fifth word, yeah, that’s a problem.

QC: We’re not quite there. We’re not at the grade seven level yet.

Do you have any advice for parents struggling to keep up with the work the schools are giving us? Are there any tips for that? We’ll come back to this a couple times, but any tips for parents struggling?

Chris: So I’ve actually talked to a number of my parents and what we did a few weeks ago to make things easier was to put an asterisk beside the work that we really wanted them to focus on.

QC: Great prioritizing.

Chris: Yeah! So if they were feeling overwhelmed, they could drop the rest and just focus on the core tasks. But we also have parents and kids that want lots of work, they want to be busy, they want the creative. So we’re trying to find the balance, which is a challenge.

I would say, prioritize what your child is interested in as well. So follow the interest. If they’re interested, they’re going to be much more motivated. If they’re not interested, if they show resistance, drop it. The teacher will understand. We’re all in the same boat at the moment.

QC:  And that’s something that’s really flexible working out of you’re at home that you can’t always do in the classroom. But you do have students in the classroom who are lagging behind or wanting more work. So, would you say that we’re expecting a similar spread when you get back into the class?

Chris: Our expectations are always so different for each student anyway; we’re very focused on individual learning journeys and making sure that we’re meeting each kid where they’re at. So, the same is going to be when we go back.

We understand that some students will have done everything we have given them, and more. [They] will have done their own independent research topics because they’re motivated and that’s what they like doing. But we also will have students that will have done very little, and also, students that have little or no support from home, either because their parents are working or because they’re just not able to support.

So we will be very flexible coming back. And I’m hoping parents will be too. They’ll understand; they’ve been on this journey for the last, how many weeks now?

QC: It’s almost a couple of months at this point.

Chris: Yeah, they get it. It’s hard.

QC: So that’s a really big key. The takeaway from that bit is, if your kid is interested, run, like just go with it, because any gains you’re making now will help later on anyway.

Chris: Yes

QC: Okay, so then what’s the difference between a Monday and a Friday for you? Are the days all blurring together like for some of us?

Chris: Not for me, because Monday is the start of the week. So, we set new learning Monday to Thursday, and then Friday is a catch up day.

I’m working between early years and middle years and I’m working on two different platforms. So my homeroom and early years, we’re setting a daily plan each day. In middle years, as an art specialist, I’m setting work on a Monday and a Wednesday.

QC: So leaving time to work.

Chris: Yes,  leaving time to submit, because we understand that sometimes you need to take a day off. And also being flexible with deadlines, especially with middle years.

With early years, it’s flexible deadlines always. But with middle years, our platform insists that we set a deadline. But that’s not a harsh deadline. It’s just an encouragement to get the work in because we are going to set more. And some students are doing it and some are not. And I’m understanding. I get it.

QC: Yeah. So what do you find is the biggest challenge you’re facing teaching at home compared to at school?

Chris: The balance, for sure the balance. Trying to meet the needs of my kids at home and also meet the needs of students.

As teachers, we have very high expectations of ourselves and we need to let go of that a little bit. And that’s a challenge for us. Also understanding that students have expectations of themselves and being kind to families and students who are struggling. We’re all struggling with this. So having that lens of understanding and knowing that everybody’s doing their best,

QC: Yeah, gentle encouragement, eh?

Chris: Yes.

QC: Okay, so you’ve touched on this a bit, but you said you schedule your own work. So is that how you can get your own work in: you set your kids a task? A lot of parents are trying to work from home, as well as home school their kids. Do you have any other tips for somebody who needs to get some of their own work done?

Chris: So I do some of the prep, either in the morning before they wake up or in the evening when they go to bed. But with teaching, I need to some of that during the day. We also have quiet time between one and two. So we have lunch from twelve to one, then quiet time between one and two.

And unfortunately my kindergartner has given up his nap. So it’s time for everyone. We had good five years, five years of good napping.

QC: So definitely take a break in the middle of the day?

Chris: Yes. So that time is for them to go to the rooms, do some reading, do some quiet activities, lie down in their bed if they want to or just putter about in their room. I don’t care what they do, but they need time just to be by themselves. Quiet time. And I work during that time. So I get some things done without interruptions.

QC: Okay, so how can parents ensure that their kids are prepped to return to school when that happens? What concerns are parents coming to you with or what’s your encouragement to help their kids be ready?

Chris: So I teach reading with my grade three/four homeroom and I would say reading, reading, reading. Whether it’s audiobooks or books, any type of reading that they possibly can do is wonderful, whether you’re reading with them, it doesn’t matter. Anything. Following along in a book, just reading will expose them to everything else.

There’s something called the Matthew Effect, where the more you read the more you know, so I am a big advocate of reading. Follow their interest; don’t worry about levelled texts, just follow their interest. If they’re interested in dinosaurs, go to Epic Books or find some books. I know the library is difficult at the moment. Anything really, even find some videos online.

And that’s the thing. Thinking of text is not just words on a page. It can be looking at articles online, it can be watching YouTube, it could, like text comes in so many different formats. So yeah, just exposing the language, rich language,  and focusing on what they are interested in. And I think if they’re able to do that, and exposed to lots of different text, that will help with everything else, too.

The other thing was math. I mean, I’m setting a variety of math tasks, but a lot of them are fun and game-like. I sent my students home with them dice sets and playing cards. If you got playing cards at home, make some games out of it. I just set my students last week’s multiplication war to play with a family member. So, yeah, like making math fun. A lot of students at this point are starting to see themselves as not being mathematicians and being bad at math. So trying to get rid of that mindsets. We’re all mathematicians. Math is fun. And making it fun, not a chore.

QC: Yeah, exactly. And you sort of focused on the two core grounding principles. Like, if you’ve got basic math and you’ve got a basic reading, that can elevate everything else, because everything else is sort of built on it, wouldn’t you say?

Chris: Yes, yes, I believe so. A lot of the science and social studies we teach, we do that through reading as well. It all ties in together.

QC: Any final tips for parents with kids at home right now? Anything else that we haven’t covered or anything that comes to mind?

Chris: Just be kind to each other. And that’s for students and for parents. Be kind to yourself.

Yeah, let go of that. I talked about the guilt of not doing either job particularly well: let go of that. We’re doing our best and we need to celebrate that and keep on doing our best and this will pass.

QC: And we’ll we’ll all reconnect and catch up when we can.

Chris: Yeah, on a new normal.

QC: Yeah, on a new normal, that’s right. Now one final question. You sort of touched on it, but have you ever wanted to just write off a school day? Like, do you have those days where things have just gone off? 

Chris: As a teacher, I can’t do that. But as a parent… A number of my parents have contacted me and said, “We took a day off,” and I said, “Well done. You need to take a day off, take a day off!”

QC: If that’s what’s gonna help tomorrow.

Chris: Yes, exactly! if you need to, do it! And don’t feel guilty about it; do it and come back fresh, and then prioritize what your students interested in. Have fun with it!

Coding in Real Life

Picture this: it’s springtime and the kids are outside enjoying the sunlight on their face and the fresh air in their lungs. What does this mean for you? A bunch of happy children… and muddy clothes.

After their fun but (begrudgingly) messy day, their clothes get tossed into the washing machine – you set the washing machine to normal and adjust the temperature to warm, then go on with your day. What are we left with? A fresh pair of jeans that are ready for all the upcoming days of stomping around in rain boots and a fresh sweater ready to wick watery mud off their brows… into the wash, they go again.

Now, let’s dig a little deeper. How did we get from squeaky clean to needing a wash to clean again? As much as I am sure we all wish we could get from one end to the other in an instant, as with everything in life, steps must be taken in between in order to achieve our result.

Something even as habitual as laundry also requires steps! We get dressed, we go outside to play, we come inside, we notice our clothes had a bit too much fun, we put the clothes in the washing machine, we set the washing machine to our desired settings and the final product is clean clothes ready to get dirty once again.

It seems like such a simple idea that a certain number of steps would be needed in order to achieve a result, that exact same principle can be applied to many facets of life, including… Coding!

Arguably, coding and coding literacy are some of the most important skills for future generations to learn. Every task requires directions to complete, utilizing the fundamentals of coding. Daily, we’re surrounded by technology that requires coding to work, whether that be your average appliance or coding specific toys such as Botley The Coding Robot.

Botley teaches the basics of coding through active play, providing a foundation for what will be necessary for our children in their future endeavours and everyday lives!

Botley is 100% screen-free to limit screen time and includes a 45-piece activity set with fun and interactive features such as the ability to detect objects – and move around them, follow looping commands, navigate obstacle courses, follow black lines and even has additional hidden features to unlock!

Botley is also only one of the many coding products we have available that will equally benefit your children and their familiarity with coding, such as Coding Cards, Pre-coding Penguin Activity Cards and Coding Critters Ranger & Zip. Any of these products would be beneficial in furthering your children’s knowledge regarding coding.

With the ever-changing times and the development of new technology, it has never been so important to rely on parents and early childhood educators to stimulate and educate our youth. Let us make sure that they are ready to take on life’s challenges regarding this new technological age, encouraging them to become bright individuals with even brighter futures.