Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Back to School/Name Work

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It has been a little while since I've posted because September, is, well...September!  It has been extremely busy at school trying to figure out our new program (I know I've been teaching Kindergarten for 10 years, but everything feels new this year).  Ontario is phasing in Full-Day Every-Day Kindergarten, and we are in our second last year of implementation.  By next year all schools in the province will have FDK (Full-Day Kindergarten), formally known as E.L.K.P (Early Learning Kindergarten Program).  Our previous Kindergarten models included every-day half-day, or all day (alternating days).  With this new model of education, our cap size has gone from 20 students for 1 teacher, to 30 or more students (there really is no cap) to a teacher and an ECE (Early Childhood Educator).  We are partners in educating the children.  However, not only does our day schedule, or class size look different, the 'program' is changing too - while all our curriculum expectations have remained the same, it's play and inquiry based.  This means learning, problem solving, collaboration and discovery is happening at a variety of open-ended learning centres around the classroom.  We had to purchase new classroom items to accomodate for this, and build upon what we already had.

Here are some of our new materials and centres.  I love our new carpet, it's big enough to fit all the little bodies, and I love how it defines the space for them.  I got creative with our table configurations to make room for all students to sit at the same time (for instance, during lunch time).  I simply turned around the edges of our traditional hexagonal tables.  I also love my new book shelf which has 4 centres in one.  The front holds small books for self-selected reading and storage for bins at the bottom.  The back holds big books, storage bins and a felt board at the bottom.  Another new centre is our 'Sensory Bin' which encourages oral language development through the exposure to various tactile experiences.  Right now, it's full of pasta, I wonder what I'll put next...

We are slowly learning how to use these centres in the classroom.

While there is lots of learning happening at centres, there are still formal lessons and Guided Reading and Writing activities (such as journals) happening.  I just cannot abandon that part of the teaching/learning process!  I grew up as a learner in structured environments, and was taught how to teach, in Teacher's College, in very organized, controlled and structured environments as well, so I guess I'm learning too (new ways of looking at the learning process and my role in it).  It's not that I don't like change, but I believe in BALANCE between work and play (even though they often are not separate entities in K), and also BALANCE between student-initiated and teacher-directed activities, so I'm still negotiating my own feelings about my role in a play based curriculum.  
All of our Kindergarten classes are combined JK/SK's and we have been doing some name work as part of our exploration of 'Me', especially for the little JK's.  Every morning when the littles come in the door, they find their apple name card and practise reviewing skills before announcments.  I find this a calming way to start the day as the students are all engaged and focused for that short period of time before the National Anthem and office announcements.

We also made Rainbow names and Nature names.  The latter was especially fun since we got to go on a nature walk to collect different forms of nature.  We brainstormed what 'nature' was and made sure to point out that we were not picking living things out of the ground.  On our walk we found cut grass, twigs, flowers, leaves, rocks, pine cones, etc.  We came back to the classroom and sorted our findings and then applied them to our name.  We showed the kids how to roll the grass between our hands (as if making a long string of spaghetti), then glued it to our name.  Usually, I'm not entitled to show children's names, but this little guy is the son of a dear co-worker of mine, and she okayed the use of his work here.

We explored our family and made representations of our family using simple popsicle sticks and yellow circles.  The SK students labelled their family members.

Well, that's it for now.  Wishing everyone a great week!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Good-bye Summer (A Review of the Disney Fantasy)

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Wow!  Where did the summer go?  I wish I could say I relaxed this summer, but I really didn't.  Despite that, I did have a lot of fun.  The reason why my summer flew by was that we had barely moved into our new home, when I had to start packing us up to go on our first family vacation.  We went on a Disney cruise with my good friend and teaching partner Alessia Albanese, our families and 2 other families!  It was fabulous!  And I'm not just saying that because I haven't been on a vacation in 6 years!  I've been on 2 other cruises to compare it to, and this was, by far, the best cruise I've experienced yet!  
We were on the Disney Fantasy and we did the route that went to St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Castaway Cay (Disney's private island).  The service was fantastic and the staff was always friendly.  Our waiters were cutting up our kid's food and sometimes even fed them!  The nice thing about the dining rooms is that there were three of them, and you rotated each night to a different dining room.  Your server rotated with you.  This kept things new, fresh and entertaining.  The best dinner evening was at the Animator's Palate which was art inspired.  They had large screen televisions surrounding all the tables on each wall.  Not only did Disney characters such as Crush from Finding Nemo appear and speak to you personally, but one evening we were asked to draw our own 'character.'  Well, this character came to life on the screen in a musical ensemble moving and dancing.  We became the illustrators of the show!  Some of the nightly shows and entertainment were jaw-dropping as you felt you were watching a show on Broadway, especially their version of Aladdin.  
They had a Kid's Club for ages 3 and over.  While my daughter was hesitant at first to go, she quickly saw what a great space this was.  Although I wasn't able to go in, I saw on-line that they had life-sized thematic rooms such as Andy's room from Toy Story.  The kids had electronic bracelet devices that would allow them entry and exit and parents had to provide the password (you decide this upon registration) in order to pick up your child.  Parents were not allowed in this space unless it was an 'open house' for all parents to go with their children.  My daughter had a great p.j. party night and other fun events.  I brought my son once to the nursery, hoping he would sleep but there must have been too much excitement going on as his usual 3 hour nap turned into a half hour nap, I was told.  The 2 kids pools were nice, but a little small, however this has been my experience on other cruises as well.  They were chlorine water, which is different from the other boats I've been on that had salt water pools.  Surprisingly, the adult pool section was just as big as the kid/family section, only it was empty.  Most people on the cruise were with small kids and therefore stayed in the kid's area.  The Aqua-Duck water slide was the high-light of the pool area.  The slide veered over the ocean at one point.  Aaahhh!  The one area I was very disappointed with was the fact that my not-yet potty trained son could not swim in the pools.  No children with swim diapers were allowed in the pool.  I absolutely understand that when people are in such close quarters bacteria and germs can spread quickly, and goodness knows no one wants their kids to be sick, or to be the cause of someone else's sickness, but I just wish this was advertised or told to me before booking.  I may have waited another year before taking this trip.  My son did enjoy Nemo's Reef (the spectacular splash pad where swim diapers were allowed), but saw his sister and all her friends swimming in the pool and wanted to join in.  I have to say that they were very clean on the boat, which made me feel good about preventing illness.  Each time we went for a meal in a restaurant, whether breakfast or dinner, we were given a wipe for our hands.  This was done for each person and for each meal.  
We booked a wine package with Disney which was cheaper than bringing our own wine and paying for a corking fee.  We also booked the Bibbiti Bobbiti Boutique which is a must for all little girls.  My little one got her hair, make-up and nails done and parted with a cute crown and Mouse head clip.  We brought a Princess dress for her to wear, which also came in handy for the Princess theme night.  The other theme night - Pirate Night, was also great!  They gave everyone Mickey mouse bandanas, but so many people went ALL OUT in full costume, beards, long hair and all!  There were many Jack Sparrow look alikes!    
The ports were also very nice.  We had been to St. Maarten and St. Thomas 6 years ago and went back to the exact same beaches this time:  Orient Beach in St. Maarten and Magen's Bay in St. Thomas.  Castaway Cay was a lot of fun.  There was a huge barge with slides that went straight into the ocean.  It did have some seaweed (blackish, not green, floating in the water and on the sand).
I know this post was not at all teaching related, but I have had SO many people ask about the Disney Cruise, or want to go on one in the near future, so I thought I'd share our experience!
School starts on Tuesday, so it's time to shift gears!  Good-bye summer!