Tuesday, 26 February 2013

A great time to be in Kindergarten

It is a very good time to be a young child in Ontario. The new FDL-K (Full Day Learning Kindergarten) brings with it a rewritten ministry document, one that outlines all the ways in which young learners are ready to learn, to share their ideas, and to test their theories of mind. In other words, the new document, while it outlines the same learning expectations as our 2006 Kindergarten program, has a new introduction to highlight the importance of play. Play, not as a reward for a task completed or for time in-between lessons, but play as the vehicle for all learning. This new spotlight on the developmental stages of the learning goals requires a different style of teaching than what many of us were exposed to as beginning teachers. Whole-group, skill-specific lessons have given way to many flexible-group inquiries taking place at a time, some for a day or two, some for weeks. Project-based teaching is something I believe allows me to meet the needs of my students in a meaningful way that was not possible when all students were studying the same themes or ideas at the same time. Students take ownership of the knowledge they gain through inquiry projects, and they in turn teach their peers what they've discovered. With less opportunity for comparing themselves to one another (the first one finished, the one who reads without help, the one who needs more time) students are less concerned with making mistakes and therefore feel safe trying new activities. I have seen the way reluctant speakers open up and become active agents in an area of comfort during play. I have seen students teach a friend a skill they learned, be it how to make a ramp, how to cut a heart-shape, or how to open their snack, and I have delighted in the problem-solving that occurs when I'm busy playing somewhere else. In fact, I've never enjoyed teaching more.

"A nice day at the amusement park with colourful flags": A play scene at my "nature art" table last year.

I am very fortunate to be able to take my Kindergarten Specialist with the same wonderful instructors who taught my part two course last year.  In fact, as a testament to their teaching, most of us in the course are there as repeat visitors from the part two session. Being a part of a learning community outside of the school allows me to hear about how the new Kindergarten program is rolling out in different boards around the GTA, which is fascinating because there are so many changes to our grade as we switch to full-day. As a half-day teacher with two classes, I love the opportunity to learn from teachers already sharing their classroom with a DECE (Designated Early Childhood Educator). I am excited about the depth of learning that will be possible when my students have more than two and a half hours of school each day.

I also appreciate the time to focus on big ideas, to tackle difficult topics, and to really reflect on my teaching practice. Being around people who are energized by learning has a contagious effect. And so it is that this week, after we discussed our inspirations, those outliers or leaders who helped pave the way for emergent curriculum in our kindergarten classrooms, we were asked to think about those people in our own professional lives. I said that for me, attending PDSB  Kindergarten network meetings was a way I developed my repertoire of skills and ideas. I attending as many as I could those first few years, and though it would be several years before I'd hear the terms: "self-regulation", "Reggio-inspired", "emergent curriculum", and "inquiry-based learning", I met a teacher who embodied all those ideals in her teaching practice. So naturally, when asked for our heroes in education, I would think of Nancy Thomas, whose workshops left me so full of wonder and hope. A teacher for whom wonder was the natural state of learning. Her ideas, which seem so natural to me now, were then a roadmap to where I wanted to be. I felt a gulf between where I was and that place, but I knew where I was going. Years later, I feel like I've arrived in that area, and I'm making it home.
When I mentioned Nancy's name, the instructors both smiled: she is due to speak to our class next month. What a lucky time to be teaching Kindergarten in Ontario.

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