Active Learners in PK

Children come to school with a wealth of knowledge. They are learning every second of every day, and their experiences shape their understanding of the world around them. We as teachers learn a whole lot from them on a daily basis!

This term in Pre-kindergarten the children have been checking themselves out in the mirror during dramatic play, daily routines, and any time there is a mirror available! We have planned a variety of activities to represent the diversity in the room, and for the children to know that they are active players in their learning.

By drawing and painting their own self-portraits, being represented on a size chart or tracing and colouring their outline, the children are represented in the classroom and know that they belong here. Not only do these activities embrace the diversity that exists in our world and our classroom, it has provided the children the opportunity to focus their skills on something they know best – themselves! What is a better motivator than that? They have been so excited to see themselves in their learning environment.

The children have begun to notice traits about themselves and talk about them, but also about their classmates. It is a process to learn about oneself, but also a process to learn about the similarities that reside in all children. This is the beginning of recognizing themselves as lifelong learners.

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher

Where Courage Happens

Lots of wonderful, just-plain-happy things happen at KCS. This week’s Blue Spruce celebration, complete with costumes, contests and cupcakes, is one fine example of such a thing. Yesterday’s grade 8-primary buddy get together to play Stinky Pig, Octopus and Soccer Bench Ball is another great example. Overhearing one SK ask another if she could join him, and his reply of yes – a simple thing but oh-so-important for that one girl – is a third example from the last 24 hours that leaves me smiling.

Some things are a bit more complicated, a bit tougher, and I’ve seen plenty of them since September too. Wake Up With the Arts is an exceptionally heart-warming monthly student performance, but there’s no question it’s courage-on-display. The event is entirely student-driven, and performances include students who perform solo, often on new instruments, or dancing something they choreographed themselves. We had our annual grade 7 and 8 speech contest and these remarkable youth held us spellbound by their effort and courage to stand in front a large crowd to deliver their speeches. Other moments of courage happen on the playground, or in the classroom, and they may be more private but they’re significant none-the-less. Our mission is to prepare students for challenges. They happen here. And our students respond with such courage you can’t help but be inspired to watch.

All of this reminded me of a great video a former student introduced me to. It’s a good one to watch and share with those you love. The world’s most remarkable people had to summon courage to face challenges and overcome failure, and their example should inspire us all.

January will bring a new year that I’m sure will be full of happy happenings at KCS. It will also bring many moments of courage. I wish you all a new year full of both.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

More Stories from our Beloved Outdoor Classroom

There are many enhanced opportunities for learning, discovery and physical activity in our new outdoor classroom. Our cozy, yet stimulating environment, with all its natural qualities, has allowed us to learn and play amongst the plants and critters that share our space.  Embracing the unique physical design, provided components, and added accessories (mentioned in Stories from our Beloved Outdoor Classroom), the staff and students have welcomed the wildlife, created nature-based games, and engaged in special projects and group activities.

Critters have been detected in the outdoor classroom.  A shy resident chipmunk was found to be living behind the shelving unit.  Snails, ladybugs, moths, and a variety of insects have been adopted and taken indoors to be observed.  Butterflies have been spotted passing through in warmer weather. The children are always delighted to discover these living creatures.

The JKs created and hung bird feeders, thus attracting a small plump bird that hung around for a couple weeks.  Blue jays, robins, and cardinals have been noted to take refuge in the tall pine and to serenade us with their unique warbles, whistles, chirps, and proclamations.  With maturity, our new saplings will provide increasing possibilities for nesting and congregating of our feathered friends.

The SKs made tic tac toe board games using painted stone bumble bees and ladybugs.  The boards were cut by SK teacher, Mr. Magee, under watchful supervision of many curious students. The students then sanded the rough edges with much enjoyment.  The games will be added to the outdoor curriculum cupboards for other classes to enjoy.

My primary science club engaged in a project to save the monarchs. These students created a game for sharing using paper monarchs mounted on clothespins to be clipped and hidden throughout the playground shrubbery.  When the SKs were introduced to the game they were very intrigued with the search and find aspects of the game.   Science club members also planted milkweed seeds with hopes that when the monarchs migrate north again, there will be food for their caterpillars.

Added accessories have extended play in interesting ways.  With the measuring tapes, the children have been measuring each other.  They also built fabric forts around the upright posts with clothespins and a little help from their teachers.  Round slabs of wood have been used as steering wheels to race around the hills and straightaways.  Brushes and water in paint trays have been used to paint the fort, the brick wall, and chalkboard in a variety of “colours”.

Throughout the afternoon, the outdoor classroom and amphitheater has been booked by teachers for a variety of reasons: class meetings, finding letters and numbers in the environment, making letters of the alphabet using bodies, studying structures and the seasons, discussing and practising inclusive play, engaging in quiet reading time, looking for bugs, and holding citizenship classes. More recently, a kindergarten physical education class was transported to this space.

It certainly is wonderful to have this amazing outdoor classroom space created by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds for the unique needs and dreams of KCS students and staff.  Enrichment and much enjoyment has been added to enhance the school day in such a variety of ways!

Sharon Freeman, RECE
Senior Kindergarten Teacher
Kingsway College School

What a Term

Andrea is quiet.Lately, I’ve been keeping quiet. Our assemblies over the past number of years have gotten longer and longer, full of student presentations, leadership projects and other special events that are now blissfully common at KCS. Since late last year, I’ve spoken less often at assemblies so the students can speak more.

At last Friday morning’s assembly, I desperately wanted to speak to the students about how proud I was of all their efforts over first term. Then I learned what was in store for the student-led assembly: grade 1 and 3 presentations, a Reason for the Season presentation, a Yoga presentation for an upcoming school-wide unit, Compliment Friday, other leadership project presentations and more. I stayed in the audience. The activity of our students and the greater KCS community was much more important than anything I intended to say.

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about our intended journey for the year. I’ve written previously about athletic successes, our unique Wake Up with the Arts, new math initiatives, and our ongoing efforts to expand project-based learning at KCS. All these things are well underway. The momentum in our Four Doors to Learning continues to grow and the students increasingly impress. For specifics from the term, our KCS Facebook page best tells the detailed tale.

I’ve found other ways to let the students know how much I appreciate their efforts to do their best, and enrich KCS in doing so. Next week at interviews, parents and teachers will have time devoted to doing the same. Even from struggles and mistakes, there has been significant growth and learning. For the many students who’ve thrown themselves into a project, club, team, or subject, they’ve learned that with exceptional effort comes exceptional results.

It’s been a great journey so far. And I couldn’t be happier than to let the students, and all that happens at KCS, do the talking. I’ll keep quietly watching and bursting with pride.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Stories from our Beloved Outdoor Classroom

KCS Outdoor ClassroomWe are very excited and proud when we talk about our new outdoor classroom at KCS.  Over the summer of 2014, there was a major transformation of one of our early learning playgrounds by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds.  After consultation with staff members and administration, the aged climbing structure, artificial surface and cement stairway were all removed and replaced with a much more natural and inviting setting.

KCS Outdoor Classroom 05Surface for play and discovery was significantly increased by developing a previously unused upper portion of the playground. This unused area was replaced by a central, gently-sloping Durolawn-covered hill, shrubs, and several upright posts and saplings.  Students entering the playground from the spider gate, can choose to explore the upper tier beneath the mature pine tree and navigate its obstacle course of embedded logs and round, wooden slabs. Or they can choose to curl up in a log-carved chair or couch and wait for their friends to arrive. When they are ready to engage in more active play, students can follow the downward pathway defined by horizontal cedar logs, take the option of the embedded, double hill slide, or negotiate the rows of log seating in the adjoining amphitheater, using them as balance beams or hurdles.

KCS Outdoor Classroom 07The lower portion of the outdoor classroom is dominated by a very majestic-looking log fort. Here our students congregate to make plans, stop to catch their breath after running games, and to practise their skill of climbing.  Early in the year we discovered a cooperative game of rolling tennis balls over the very high roof and trying to catching them as they fall from the other side.  Teachers have been spotted having fun with this activity as well!

KCS Outdoor Classroom 04Next to the fort is a fabulous open sandpit complimented by an adjoining log tunnel, a mirrored wall, a large sunken stump table, and a portable water pump. Younger students spend extended periods of time digging holes, burying dinosaurs, making pails of “soup”, and creating sand castles.  Water from the pump helps to extend the activities even further as glorious mud adds a new dimension to play.

KCS Outdoor Classroom 08The southern perimeter facing Dundas West is defined with wooden panels, a huge chalkboard, mirrored panels, and some Plexiglas which embraces the action beyond the playground: a mature tree, a hedge (home for insects), and the bustle of vehicular traffic. The chalkboard is often the object of water painting which is a good way to clean the surface in a fun way and also to keep cool on a hot day.

KCS Outdoor Classroom 01The lowest section, hugging the walls of the school, is built on a surface to accommodate bouncing balls, a portable ball run, a staging area for the amphitheater, and a calmer creative area. Our students love to send multiple tennis balls down the ball run, watching as gravity does its work in a zigzag formation. Tucked in the corner, multiple stump tables and seats accommodate outdoor classroom activities, afternoon snacks, and creative work. 

KCS Outdoor Classroom 06Curriculum cabinets and shelving units have been placed in strategic locations to house accessories for the enhancement of play and discovery.  One cabinet houses dramatic play fabric, sand toys, sand accessories, paint brushes, paint trays, and chalk.  Another cabinet has been stocked with clipboards, paper, watercolours, paint brushes, pencil crayons, pencils, and assorted balls.  The shelving units in the upper discovery centre are stocked with seasonal bubbles, insect containers, magnifying glasses, measuring tapes, sandpaper, and cedar slabs. 

KCS Outdoor Classroom 02When the SKs were asked what they liked best about the outdoor classroom, many of them highlighted the space to run, the wonderful sandbox, and the amazing fort. They thanked Adam Bienenstock, CEO and principal designer of Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds, in personal letters for this exciting space where they can have fun in so many ways while interacting with nature and learning in this enriched landscape!

We look forward to many more new adventures during the winter season.

Sharon Freeman, RECE
Senior Kindergarten Teacher
Kingsway College School

E is for our Early Learning Program

Early Learning ProgramA is for the alphabet, which we learn every which way.

B is for building campsites, castles, “Bad Guy Alarms”, and whatever else our imaginations want to build. It’s also for birds enjoying our feeders in the Outdoor Classroom.

C is for counting everything. And caterpillars, in the classroom.

D is for dressing up, decoding words and drawing at our desks.

E is for eyes, and how earnestly we lock ours with yours as we tell you what we’re doing.

F is for our fish Gill and Goldy Antonio. It’s also for learning to be good friends.

G is for the magnifying glasses we use to look for bugs.

H is for our Handwriting Without Tears workbooks and exercises.

I is for initiative and imagination, developed through play. I is also for iPads, used every day.

J is for jewelry. We make friendship bracelets and necklaces as a way to teach patterns.

K is for kinesthetic learning – creating 3D shapes with Play Dough, building words out of letter tiles, making letters with pebbles, and tracing numbers in salt.

L is for listening to teachers and friends. It’s also for our older Learning Buddies.

M is for magic potions made at the water table, mystery readers, and math games. It’s also for learning from mistakes.

N is for noisy, because that’s how it should be when language learning happens all the time.

O is for our beloved new Outdoor Classroom.

P is for self-portraits, painting, and learning through play.

Q is for the Habit ‘Question and Be Curious’, so evident among young students. May it last forever.

R is for reading, and being read to. It’s also for resilience when times are tough, because sometimes they are.

S is for the slime made on Halloween, ‘Stinky Pig’, snack, and using all of our senses to learn.

T is for the Three School Rules, and trips to the farm, theatre and the symphony. It’s also for the team of ELP teachers who make this ABC story come true.

U is for upset tummies. Unfortunately anxiety is starting younger and younger, so we strive to create a warm and welcoming environment that encourages positive risk taking.

V is for visualizing numbers in different ways (dots on dice, ten frames, manipulatives, stones).

W is for ‘Whole Body Listening’, because listening with your ears isn’t enough.

X is for, you guessed it, the xylophone. Happily, that’s an instrument we play in the ELP.

Y is for young authors – exploring the foundations of storytelling by drawing 3-panel comics (beginning/middle/end)

Z is for zippers. “The bane of our existence.”

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Getting Out

I love this wonderful corner of Toronto. Living and working here, and spending my days with those who do the same, is one of my greatest good fortunes in life.

A recent field trip reminded me of the blessings of getting out.

This past Friday, the grade 8s, Ms Gaudet and I went to Variety Village, where 240 special athletes arrived to participate in the Four Corners provincial-qualifying track and field meet organized by Special Olympics Ontario. James Noronha, Youth Group Leader at St. Georges-on-the-Hill Church as well as Manager of Program Services at Special Olympics Ontario, gave our grade 8s the opportunity to be marshalls, timers and ambassadors at the event.

Whether demonstrating shotput, enticing reluctant long jumpers, announcing race starts, timing runners, or cheering on their adopted school teams, our students demonstrated exuberance, patience, kindness, adaptability, clarity in communication, focus on task and unlimited appreciation for these exceptional athletes. In return, we were all inspired by many athletes’ undeniable skill, and all athletes’ determination to try their best, pride in participation, and willingness to take the leap, throw the shotput, and run the race, especially when for some it was new and unsettling. When I asked some of our students what stood out most for them, they shared it was the athletes’ smiles. They noticed that regardless of how an athlete did, each ended their event with a smile so immense it felt they grabbed our hearts as they raised their fists in victory.

My words can’t quite describe how beautiful a day it was, and how different a day it was. It’s good for everyone to get out of their usual stomping grounds for many reasons, of course. How fortunate we were that we got out, and that our reason was to be at Variety Village, spending the day with special athletes and Special Olympics. May we all get out more often.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

The ‘H’ Word

“I’ve never overseen homework in my house. My kids know to settle down and get it done.” — A KCS parent

I’ve long envied that mother, as I know first-hand that homework doesn’t always work like that. In fact, based on everything I’ve heard and read over many years, it’s clear that the homework experience can range from the sublime to the ridiculous. While a common element in schools throughout the world, there’s little that’s common about how it plays out at home.

If there were a one-size-fits-all solution to homework, rest assured, we would have embraced it. In its absence, KCS offers what we believe is the next best thing – a balanced approach that respects individual students and families; that has value, while also respecting the value of free time, particularly in childhood; and that directly asks students and parents to let us know when homework gets out of hand. Every October, KCS teachers ask parents how homework is going. Every May, we ask parents in our annual Family Satisfaction Survey if they agree with our guidelines of approximately ten minutes per grade (e.g. grade 3 x 10 minutes = 30 minutes) and with minimal need for adult support. We also ask if parents are satisfied with their child’s ability to complete homework within these guidelines.

What do they tell us? Year after year, and for every grade, the majority of parents are satisfied with our guidelines. Overall, 81% of parents in last year’s survey stated they support our guidelines. Among those who don’t, 8% said the guidelines represent too much homework and 13% said they represent too little homework. Regarding the homework experience, 75% of parents are satisfied with their child’s ability to complete homework within the guidelines and with minimal adult assistance. Homework can be a difficult habit to establish for many children. While it’s clear a number of students are still working on becoming efficient and independent, it’s encouraging to see that the majority of our students are managing homework well.

A telling trend emerges when looking at the results from year-to-year. In fact, what’s ‘telling’ is the lack of a trend. Since we started asking about homework a number of years ago, there is considerable variability within grades year over year. Where one year the parents with children in a given grade may be close to 100% in support of our guidelines, the next year’s results may reveal that only 70% of parents support the guidelines for that grade. The following year, it may be high again. Consistent consensus on homework is nowhere to be found.

What’s a school to do? First, schools need to do their own homework on how to best design, assign and support it. A few years ago, KCS undertook this challenge and you can find the results in the report “Homework at KCS”. Second, schools need to reach out to parents. Parents know best how homework is going in their household. The same homework assigned to a class may take one child five minutes and another 50. The same assignment may be readily done by some children without parents’ help, while other students may be entirely unable to begin without an adult by their side. Finally, schools need to be prepared to make individual adjustments to homework where needed. Multiple hours of homework each night is as unhealthy as it is unwise. While we can’t promise it will always be sublime, it should never be ridiculous.

Hopefully, homework isn’t a bad word in your home. Because we know it has the potential, we’re doing our best to make it the best it can be. For that, we need your help. In this one way, we step away from our guidelines. For us to do our homework, we need you by our side.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Thankful

Around The WorldI spent the majority of my Thanksgiving weekend in Montreal with my son whose soccer team was playing in the Quebec-Ontario Cup. Watching competitive soccer while experiencing the culture and food of La Belle Province — what a great time!  The Ontario victory in the two game series, by a combined score of 4-0, made the chore of getting out of Toronto… on the eastbound 401… on a Friday night… of a long weekend… much more worthwhile.

But what happened on the weekend that made it really special and memorable happened on Saturday night. A number of the dads and coaches and I went out for the evening. During our conversations, I learned that all were newcomers to Canada in the last twenty years: Carlos (Portugal), Danny (Jamaica), David (Guyana), Johnny (Iran), and Mike (Poland). They all left much behind when they immigrated, but did so in the hope of a better future for themselves and their families. Many of their stories sounded much like those my grandparents had when they immigrated from England.

These dads and coaches were all appreciative of the chance to create opportunity for themselves in Canada over the last couple of decades. I was thankful to learn of their stories and to be reminded of what a blessing it is to be Canadian.

Derek Logan
Head of School

Toy Hacking, Tinkering and Other Great Pastimes

GirlBuildsPCSmallRemember the nasty kid next door in the movie, Toy Story? It turns out he was on to something.

There’s something wonderful gaining steam throughout the world. It’s a marriage of the old and new, the practical and whimsical, small-scale pleasure and make-the-world-better possibility. It includes programmable clothing, ‘reconfigured’ toys, books that conduct electricity, and an experience in creation that truly has no bounds. It’s called the Maker Movement, it’s for ordinary folk ages 3 to 103, and it’s an exercise in learning that’s worth learning about.

While adult examples can be pretty sophisticated, here’s an example of how it can work with children. Let’s say a 10-year-old has a stuffed dog. It’s a fine toy and much loved. But let’s say that child has had the chance to play with microcontrollers, LED lights, and sensors. Maybe she’s been introduced to electronics and simple programming languages designed for neophytes of all ages. Maybe she’s witnessed others inventing weird and wonderful contraptions using everything from computer programming, 3D printing, sewing, woodworking, electronics and any number of strategically-chosen odds and ends. That 10-year-old might decide to write some code, set up a microcontroller with LEDs and sensors, upload the code, open up the dog, embed the hardware, stitch him up, and enjoy a dog whose eyes now light up when it’s ‘owner’ picks him up. How’s that for learning?

Thanks to the Maker Movement, this is happening. And we’re taking steps to make it happen at KCS. Anyone wanting to see this in action with children and youth is encouraged to check out MakerKids in West Toronto. To see “big kids” in the Maker Movement, you might want to visit the Toronto Mini Maker Faire at the Toronto Reference Library November 22nd and 23rd.

The Mini Maker Faire is in my calendar. And unleashing the Maker Movement at KCS is on my to-do list. Let the tinkering begin.

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.