Visiting your children's classroom is always exciting. You get a glimpse into their daily world and see what they have been up to. As a teacher, I am probably the snoopiest of parents. I look everywhere! I notice wall displays and table groupings, where resources are stored and how various items are organised. I flip through all the work being done in every folder I can find. I'll confess, I do this in every classroom I go to, whether or not it is my own kid's room!
Returning to work in classrooms across Toronto recently as been fun in so many ways. I love to see what other teachers are up to. I love discovering new ideas and get really inspired by them. It gives me new hope for our kids despite what the general climate in education feels like right now. I've taken a few snaps over the past few months to give others a little peek inside some of the classrooms I've been lucky to visit. Hope you enjoy!
This indoor tower of plants and herbs is impressive on its own. I grilled the students about where it came from and they explained how their teacher applied for funding and secured this amazing machine for them. Even more impressive was how the students cared for these plants during the day. They each had roles which involved testing, pruning, watering and feeding. The feeling in this room was incredible. The plants bring with them a feeling of calm. That piece of the outdoors inside had a very obvious affect classroom environment.
Music teachers are often left to deal with storing a load of resources in a small space. It was apparent when entering this classroom that the teacher had put a lot of care and thought into not just storing the instruments but using them as beautiful display pieces as well. I loved the attention to detail and how this was arranged.
I rarely work in higher income neighbourhoods. When I visited this school which was a public school, the privilege of the students was very apparent. There were various parent volunteers throughout the day and they brought with them some incredible resources. This group was extremely lucky to have a parent experienced in needle punching give them the opportunity to learn and create. It was fascinating to be a part of.
Exploring classroom libraries is probably my favourite part of the day. I'm so impressed by the collections teachers have. By their dedication to provide their students with a wide range of incredible literature. I also love the opportunity to explore longer fiction again, after spending so many of my past few years with picture books. I often sneak in a chapter during my lunch break and then quickly reserve titles at my local library.
Some schools make great use of their hallways and stairwells, covering them with student art. This particular school had inspirational quotations plastered all over. I had to grab a picture of this one (above) for my own kids. My eldest is very hard on himself and wants to be perfect at everything and win every game. What an amazing message to read from a top athlete.
These beautiful flowers were all made with paper and made by the students themselves. It is hard to see the scale of them, but they are extremely large. The kids were preparing decorations for their graduation. They decided together on these because after grad they could all take them home if they wanted and they could also be recycled. I loved their mindset!
Surely children's books are the best reason to go to a library, right? Spotting a new book, flipping through the pages, finding new illustrators you adore, getting your kids excited about reading and just being surrounded by the richness of millions of BOOKS! That's pretty much the only reason to go to a library, am I right? Absolutely. Unless that library happens to be the newly renovated North York Central Library in Toronto. In that case, I'm a little embarrassed to admit, books don't even make my top 5. Let's just say that books are a given.
Now I know some people might think that toys and activities that create noise don't really mix well with a quiet library vibe. I get that. Whoever designed the new children's area also got that and did a good job sectioning off the kids area with glass panel walls. You still feel like you are a part of the bright and airy library but aren't worried about your kid being a bit noisy and getting grumpy stares.
So beyond the books, why visit? What makes this place a bit better? Lots of Toronto libraries have interactive play areas but I don't think any of them can match the scale of this one. It really is a huge space and we have averaged at least 2 hours per visit before we even look at the books.
Here is a break down of our favourite parts of the new library renovations.
1. Feltro magnetic tiles & light wall
These magnetic tiles were a hit with the kids and a favourite of mine because of their beautiful soft wool construction. Each tile contains magnets which means they can be connected together. My kids created patterns on the floor and on the metal wall. They built them straight up as well and made forts. You can find the Feltro website HERE but it is a bit of a tease as they are currently unavailable to purchase. They were created by a Toronto designer and the website describes the toy as, "...an interactive and dynamic creative thinking tool." I absolutely agree! We love the open-ended play opportunities presented by this unique product. No affiliations here either (and we can't wait for the chance to get our hands on them at home!).
In the pictures you can also see the light wall. It's made up of hundreds of small circular lights which kids can turn to change the colours or turn off. It is a wonderful sensory experience for little ones. Unfortunately my kids fell into the wrong age to find it fun. They were a little too old to simply be fascinated by the light and colour and a little too young to have enough patience to turn each light and create patterns or pictures. I was the perfect age though! I loved twisting and turning them and trying to create shapes using the colours.
2. Metal / magnetic wall
My pictures by no means show the actual size of this wall because I was trying hard to not include other people's children in my pictures. It goes up to ceiling height and is wide enough for lots of kids to be lined up and play all at once. All the parts on the wall are magnetic and can be removed and turned in any direction to connect to other parts. This wall involves so much natural learning! Kids can drop balls through the tubes which means they are investigating gravity, forces, energy, slopes and angles. They see how the ball reacts to what they built and adjust their tubes accordingly. They add parts and remove them. They trial and test their creations. It is practical STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) fun at its best! Not to mention the benefits to children's development when they work with a vertical surface. Read more about vertical surfaces HERE.
3. Wooden blocks
There are boxes of these wooden blocks located throughout the children's area. Nearly every table is full of leftover pieces, which is so lovely to see. Some might see a mess, but I see evidence of play! There are tall towers and small houses, pathways and train tracks, forts and staircases...beautiful engineering work in its early phases. I don't think I need to sell anyone on the benefits of building blocks, but just in case here are a few advantages of constructive play:
4. Ball ramps
This is another popular area which I couldn't fully capture on camera because I didn't want to get other kids in the frame. There are loads of pieces of track for kids to pull apart and re-attach as well as a few sets of stairs and ball launch areas. More than enough space for a good number of children to enjoy together. The library requires a library card to 'take out' a ball for using on the ramps, but we forgot ours and used some toy cars we happened to have with us. I think the cars were actually better since they didn't bounce at the end and roll half way across the library!
These tracks are the same as the ones you find at the Ontario Science Centre and a favourite of my kids. Skills that kids are developing while playing here include motor skills (pulling and pushing parts together), social skills (negotiating with others or normal play with other kids), observation (watching how balls react to heights and slopes), questioning (thinking about how gravity plays a role or how changing parts changes the outcome).
5. Interactive play and learning stations
This KidsStop (the name of the interactive areas at various TPL locations) theme is transportation. The area is designed like a city scape with a large urban mural, buses and cars, apartment blocks and subway stations. There are so many small details scattered throughout that it is impossible to document them all here. I have picked a few key parts but you really need to go and explore! The majority of the space is made of gorgeous solid wood, with things like the carved alphabet table (with real items matching every letter) just asking you to trace your finger along it (a great way to practise letter shapes).
The space really is an early learning dream. The wall pictured above is full of small cut outs and tiny hidden surprises to discover. Under the city you can find cross sections of wires and pipes, subway stations and lost items, old dinosaur bones and more. The bus has a lovely poem full of alliteration on the side. The words to "The Wheels on the Bus" float under the windows. The steering wheel and levers move. There is a measuring tape with coins from around the world running up along the side. So much thought was put into the space to make it accessible and relatable to the community who uses it.
The car and bus are large enough for 2 drivers as well as passengers in the back. Kids will be begging to drive their parents around and dramatic play will abound! There are holes to poke fingers and faces through, familiar nursery rhymes and songs, story prompts and more. I really can't say enough about the space and I'll just end this by saying if you live within a half hour of the library, it really is worth a visit. Heck, I'll even say if you live an hour away it's still well worth a visit. It's a library so everything is free of course! What better value can you get than that?
The North York Central Library is most easily accessed by the North York Centre TTC station. Let me know if you have managed a visit!
Mindfulness is a hot topic in educational circles and in schools around the world at the minute. For good reason too. The demands on children's performance academically are only getting tougher (and at earlier ages too!). 73% of teachers agreed that "anxiety disorders were a pressing concern (statistic from Children's Mental Health Ontario). The amount of curriculum to cover is nearly impossible and it leaves little space for non-academic issues. However mindfulness practise is starting to find space inside the classroom. It's a great alternative to disciplinary actions and working with children who display challenging behaviour. So what exactly is it?
A quick google search will provide you with this definition: a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations.
In other words, it teaches children how to handle their emotions and actions or reactions. A lot of adults are probably thinking they could still use this training themselves (hands up here - we are learning right along with our little ones!).
It is one thing to be aware of a need and a whole other thing to be able to approach that need practically. As a teacher, I know how useful it is to have great tools on hand. So far, the best thing we have found is this kit from Generation Mindful. They began with a Kickstarter campaign and have been spreading their respectful and peaceful message around the world ever since. You can read more about the wonderful lady who started the company and the products in general, on their website HERE.
You can buy all different tools, but we went for the whole package. To start with, there are the Peacemakers playing cards (pictured above) which are beautifully designed with 7 themed animals, each holding a message that can be used to generate conversation. They can be used in conjunction with the poster and stickers, as you work through each theme. There is another poster explaining the themes (forgiveness, intuition, peace, love, balance, joy and power) and linking them to various emotions. There are also emotion posters, which are adorably illustrated to show these emotions to kids (fabulous for younger learners or any aged visual learner). There is a poster which offers strategies for calming down - again with great visuals. I think this poster has been the most used in our house. It is on the bedroom wall next to the 'Calming Corner' poster - another one in the pack. Our 5 year old will go here when he is upset to remind himself of what tools he can use. Being a book lover, he is a huge fan of the 'read a book' calming suggestion.
Now I can't say that his explosive behaviour has disappeared because of this kit. It is very hard to get him to remember the calming steps when he is full blown angry or upset. And that is okay. Now I have learned how I should react in those situations and just let those moments pass. When he is calmer we talk about it and end up having very sweet conversations. We will keep working on it. Every day. Because life isn't going to get any easier for this kid!
Get your hands on this book here:
Part of our work on recognising our emotions and learning to calm down has led us to doing yoga as a family. Well...trying to at least! I did yoga through both pregnancies (the second pregnancy was fun - doing yoga with a toddler on your back really helps balance that big belly) and unfortunately haven't found time to continue doing it. Until recently.
My son came home from kindergarten one day telling me that they had done yoga and he loved it. They followed a YouTube series called Cosmic Kids, which I admit is pretty cute. They tell stories and the yoga moves are the actions to go along with the stories. Buuuuut...it is still TV or screen time in my mind. Which sort of goes against what yoga is about. I let them do it for fun sometimes but I really prefer to work through the moves together with out them zoning out on the screen.
Get your hands on this book here:
So off we went to the library in search of some books! Would you believe there are a fabulous bunch of books out there, all about yoga for kids?! Of course there are, you're thinking. There are books about everything! Well they're new to me and I am loving them.
Our favourite time to use the books are before bed as part of our bedtime routine and on weekends when things are starting to get a bit crazy and we need something to help us wind down. We've been doing it for a number of months now and we've gotten to the point that my 2 year old will randomly bust out a downward dog in the grocery aisle.
Want to give it a try in your house? These are our favourite books (so far):
By Laurie Jordan and Diana Mayo
This book is really perfect before bedtime. It is written in rhyme and describes how to do the moves with easy to follow descriptions. The illustrations also show step by step moves for each pose. Every page is a bit like being in a dream with kids drawn inside seashells and floating in space with butterfly wings.
By Brian Russo
This is more of an actual story book, with a little bunny who wants his animal friends to stay and do a bit of yoga with him. Each friend refuses, using excuses that probably sound familiar (I have no time! I'm in a hurry! etc). By the end, they join in and connect with each other properly. This is a great book to use to introduce the idea of stopping and being still together.
I Am Yoga
by Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
Both I Am Yoga and I Am Peace are visually stunning books, drawn in bright watercolour swirls. I Am Yoga obviously focuses on yoga poses and uses short descriptions of each move. It is really easy to follow and kids can use it on their own.
With I Am Peace, I like to work through it as a talking point with my kids. With statements like, "I can watch my worries gently pop and disappear. I let things go" you are likely to really challenge kids to think about how they handle situations. A great tool for homes and classrooms too.
What the world needs now, is love, sweet love. No just not for some, but for everyone. Those words were first sung in 1965 by Jackie DeShannon but they couldn't be more true today. I can't even begin to comment on all the hate in the world right now. I just don't understand why anyone would choose to live filled with hate. So let's focus on the love. This month is Pride Month and to me, that means LOVE! Pure and simple love.
My son started school this past year and wow - he certainly hears a lot of interesting things from other kids. Unfortunately it isn't always the nicest stuff. That is what life will be full of though and I know my job is to make sure he recognises the unkind stuff and counters it with kindness. I know most of what he says comes from an innocent place and provides us with great learning opportunities. I'm lucky to have friends with an array of skin colours - so it never even occurred to me that he would suddenly start picking up on that. I almost died the day he told one of my closest friends that their skin looked like poo. He was three at that point. I apologised profusely. I was flustered. I turned red. I know my friends don't think I taught him this, but then I hadn't taught him what was more appropriate.
At age 3, his comment about skin colour was merely an observation. Also, the world of a 3 year old (at least my 3 year old) revolves around poo! So making a comparison to it shouldn't have surprised me. From that day on though I realised the importance of talking about how our choice of words can make people feel. We discussed trying to put ourselves in other people's shoes (which is really hard for kids this age - they are still very much egocentric). He might not be able to fully grasp it, but it doesn't mean we can't discuss it and work on it.
Skin colour is out in the open. It is there for kids to see and comment on and they will comment! They comment on everything! However other things are not always out in the open and ripe for little mouths to point out and question. What someone's family looks like. Who someone's parents are. What someone likes to do or doesn't like to do. Those are things I feel I need to discuss before they arise in the school yard. I want to make sure my kids are loving towards everyone, not just accepting. I want them to appreciate everyone's differences, not just be okay with them. I want them to be proud to be different from the people around them and also celebrate everyone else's differences. That is surely part of what Pride Month is, yes?
I want my kids to understand that all families and all people are different (but really the same!) in such wonderful ways. Books can be such a great way to start conversations about the diversity around us (after, of course, surrounding yourself by amazingly unique people). So I rounded up a bunch of books that have been recommended to me by various friends. I'm embarrassed to say I didn't own any of these yet, but was happy to find a good selection in our local library. I will certainly be purchasing our favourites from the group as soon as possible.
The best thing about reading these books so far has been watching my kids' reactions. Meaning - there was no real reaction. Everything is 'normal' to them at this age. I want to make sure when someone at school tries to tell them what is 'not normal', that they can stand up and say nonsense! I hope I can instil strength in them to be open minded and intelligent enough to stand up against any form of hatred.
So here are some of the books that beautifully illustrate the kind of world I want to live in. The kind of loving world I am teaching my kids to help create.
The Family Book by Todd Parr
The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein
King & King by Linda De Haan and Stern Nijland
Stella bring the family by Miriam B. Schiffer
Families, Families, Families by Suzanne Lang
Molly's Family by Nancy Garden
I will be posting all of our activities related to these books during the week on our Instagram account, so please do keep an eye out!
Happy Pride Month to everyone.
Links below to Instagram posts with more details on each activity we did!
The Family Book - activity 1
The Family Book - activity 2
The Family Book - activity 3
King & King - activity 1
Molly's Family - activity 1
Families, Families, Families - activity 1
The Sissy Duckling - activity 1
I started this blog to motivate myself to create more interesting and meaningful play for my kids. I suppose it was also to get myself to document more of what my kids do at home day to day. Looking back over the past two months, I think I have done just that. It certainly makes my days busier and more hectic, but in a good way. When I was a classroom teacher, my life was insane! I was at school from 7am until 4pm most days. I rushed home for a short play, then dinner and bedtime routine. Once bubs was settled, I would sit up marking and/or creating resources all night. Saturdays were devoted to kids but Sundays were once again planning/resourcing/marking. I spent hours creating fun learning opportunities for other people's children. It felt like I could never catch up with my own life and the time with my kids didn't always feel like it was 'quality'. Hence our decision to move back to Canada and for me to stop teaching (for a while).
When we first got to Canada, there were a lot of other things keeping us busy. We had to sort out our living situation, unpack, complete multiple renovations, catch up with old friends, visit relatives, sort out health care, schooling, find jobs etc. Just getting 'life' working seemed to take months. Actually, about half a year!
I have digressed, as usual. I just wanted to say that I'm happy with the direction this blog has taken. I'm sure everyone starting a blog has a number of hesitations and direction changes as they move along.
I used to love planning school lessons and units around books. I wasn't quite sure I could make it work at home, but I think I'm getting there. Usually an idea pops into my head as we are reading books together before bed. After they are asleep, I will sit and plan some play activities to follow up with over the next few days and then revisit the book again to really link the ideas together. The other way I've been planning is using a current interest of theirs and then visiting the bookshelf or library to find books that relate.
My toddler is a huge fan of all things on wheels at the moment - especially construction vehicles and emergency vehicles. And trains. And planes. Okay, anything on wheels. Lately he has been going around and putting out fake fires, which always makes us giggle. Out of nowhere he shouts, 'Fire!' and then uses his arm like a hose and makes a 'shhhhhh' noise of water spraying. So I thought I would plan some stuff around that. We really lucked out last weekend when we went to an event where all the city works vehicles were there and the kids got to climb inside them all (fire trucks, diggers, garbage trucks, you name it). They also got all sorts of cool little handouts like plastic firemen hats, activity books and build your own fire trucks.
So to start my fire truck theme, I set up an invitation to play. I included lots of things to manipulate like letters, wooden blocks, little people, various fire trucks, tissue paper fires, a library book we got about fire stations, the build your own fire truck from city event and of course the fire hats. Since my older one was home, the play took a turn towards building. They put fire out by smashing the blocks down and then rebuilt them over and over. It is funny how differently my toddler will play when he is alone and when he is guided by his sibling's influence.
Later on I got out our string activity book which has a fire truck page (picture above). They did that together really cooperatively. We also worked through one of the fire activity books that was handed out on the weekend. There was a lot about fire safety in it, so I am planning a bit of hands on fire safety. I am hoping to build a fire together outside and discuss how to keep safe around it. This will be good preparation for being around camp fires this summer! I'm also planning a few outside games with our water pump/squirters. Not sure what I will build yet, but something that resembles a fire that they can aim for and knock over. I'm sure it will turn into some wet sensory play all on its own. For a more physical activity, I want to set up a fire person challenge - a little obstacle course that will involve climbing a ladder at the end. Finally for a quiet activity aimed at my toddler I want to try and sort out some objects into groups of 'hot', 'cold' and 'warm'. The in-between category is pretty tricky for him, so I thought this was a perfect time to review it with him. Of course I'd like to throw in some kind creative/messy arts and crafts, but that idea is still in the works.
As usual I'll be posting all my ideas on Instagram, so please do check it out for updates! I hope loosely explaining my planning process helps someone else in a small way! I'm always interested in seeing and hearing other peoples ideas and how they come up with them. That is probably why Instagram and Pinterest are such guilty pleasures!
London holds a special place in my heart. Both of my children were born there and many great friends remain there. Last weekend marks one year since we left, so I thought it was a good time to pull out all our favourite books about London and take a little walk down memory lane. Kids have such a funny sense of time - a year, a month, a week, an hour. My 4 year old is sort of getting a better grasp of it but it is still hard to explain just how long a year really is. I suppose I am not much better. It feels like a life time since we left but also like yesterday.
Whenever I strike up a conversation with a stranger (like today in the library with a fellow mum), my 'sort of' newness to the area comes up. Then of course London comes up and always the same question - "Why did you leave?". That is a pretty hard question. I love London. It is such an amazing city and there was so much to do with kids there. We lived in a lovely suburb. I could walk absolutely everywhere (I don't drive). We could pop over to Europe for the weekend. I could go on and on.
Unfortunately we weren't close to any family and as we added to our brood, we started talking about moving 'home'. My kids could grow up with cousins and grandparents around them and that meant a lot to me. Also a teacher, I didn't really want my kids in the English school system. Don't get me wrong - I know a million brilliant teachers over there. It is more because of the constant change from the government, the pressure from inspections and the impossible workload put on teachers.
So that was it. We discussed it and kind of just did it. I started selling off our household items. We began the application process for residency for my other half. I booked a shipping container. We arranged flights. Then it sort of just happened. I was so sad leading up to the move, that it was like living in a blur. My youngest turned 1, just three weeks before we left and it was such a bittersweet celebration. Luckily we had a 2 week trip to France and a wedding of a good friend to attend before the actual move to Canada. That helped ease the transition a little bit.
It was still super tough though. When we arrived in Canada, it took months for my 4 year old to stop begging us to return or to tell me how much he missed his friends. You can plan all the activities in the world to distract a kid, but that won't stop them from feeling lonely. It broke my heart. It made the transition harder. Luckily little ones make friends quickly and soon move on. We have new friends and new jobs and have settled into life. Most importantly, I have more time with my kids, which was a big part of the move.
Sitting here a year on, we turn to books now to keep London and its memories alive in our kids' minds. We will go back one day with them, but for now we'll flip through the pages of these lovely books. Each page let's us tell our own family's story. Each page helps us reminisce.
Keep an eye out on our Instagram page for some of the activities we do that relate to each of these London books.
Mark making or putting pen/crayon/pencil to paper, whatever you want to call it, was never something my boys had much interest in when they were young. If we talk about table activities - then mine love crafts and painting, cutting and pasting, gluing and sticking, but are/were not huge colouring fans or 'mark making' fans. My 4 year old started kindergarten and still wasn't interested. A tiny piece of me worried a bit, as much as I told myself not to. A few months into kindergarten though and he was writing up a storm. His letters are hard to read and all over the place with size and shape, but that part really doesn't worry me. He likes writing. That matters. He enjoys it. That matters.
I thought with my younger one perhaps I needed to present more opportunities to draw and colour. I was on the ball with early letter recognition (see my last post about having the alphabet in about a hundred places in our house) but maybe I didn't pull out the pencil enough? Who knows...it is all trial and error with parenting because each kid is so different.
Hello! I'm Deb,
a book-toting mother of two and an elementary (primary) school teacher. I love making stories engaging and interactive for kids.
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