Symbolic Monarch Migration

Symbolic Monarch Butterflies Have Arrived From Mexico

My first sighting of the season for a monarch butterfly happened just last week as it was fluttering through our outdoor classroom. Only the butterflies born in August make it to Mexico to winter in the cool oyamel forests. It takes several generations by the time we see the great grandchildren of those August butterflies return to Canada.

Every October, my Science is Fun club for grades 1-3, become involved with an intriguing educational website called Journey North. Our young club members take up the challenge to become ambassadors for the monarch butterfly, which is now a threatened species. This project is made possible through a program called Symbolic Monarch Migration. This year, 17 students from Term 1 worked together to make a beautiful, folder-size butterfly as well as individual life-size butterflies. A package was mailed in October containing the class butterfly, 17 little butterflies, a photo of our school and outdoor classroom, and a loot bag containing mostly stickers for a Mexican student showing appreciation for taking care of our paper butterflies over the winter. The timing of the mailing was crucial as it needed to coincide with the real migration of monarchs to Mexico.

Butterfly

Throughout the year, progress reports from Journey North were available about the location of migrating monarchs heading south in the enabling winds, how they fared in the oyamel forests, and then tracking of the new generations as they headed northward again in the spring. We discovered that a Mexican school near the sanctuary called Lazaro Cardenas Elementary received our class butterfly to take care of it for the winter. There were several posted pictures of the Mexican students including one in particular of a girl proudly holding our beautiful KCS butterfly. She was delighted to have received a Canadian butterfly to care for over the winter months.

Butterfly Mexico

In April, we received further notice that the migration northward had begun, both real and symbolic. All the paper butterflies that were sent to Mexico were leaving the surrounding schools and would find a new destination. Our beautiful club butterfly was reported to have migrated to a school in Chattanooga, Tennessee and in late May, we received a class butterfly from a Grade four class from Candler Elementary, North Carolina, along with a letter in Spanish from a Mexican student.

Butterfly 1

The children of Mexico promise to take care of the oyamel forests and hope that we continue to provide the nectar from flowers and milkweed plants that the monarchs need for survival. It is indeed an international effort to protect the monarchs, and our students are very proud to be “citizen scientists” as they engage in our KCS Habits to take an active role in taking care of our environment.

Each of our Science Club students received a life-size, decorated butterfly that also “migrated” from Mexico. These originated from a variety of places: Mexico, Germany, Hawaii and assorted States. A couple of our KCS individual butterflies have been reported to the website having landed in Rhode Island and North Carolina. We are hopeful that more butterflies will be reported.

The Symbolic Monarch Migration is a very rewarding project for both myself and the students in so many ways. I get just as excited as they do in the spring, if not more, when those butterflies make their way northward again. It is on my personal bucket list to try tagging monarchs in August. Meanwhile, the Science Club asks that you let the milkweed thrive in your gardens or plant some if you don’t have any. We are grateful to know that SKs will be supporting the efforts by creating a pollinator-themed planter in our new KCS Garden Project with zinnias, wildflowers and a butterfly bush; a wonderful collaboration to help our struggling, delicate monarchs.

Sharon Freeman RECE, SK teacher

Red Wigglers Capture the Hearts of Senior Kindergartners

Vermi-composting in Senior KindergartenAn ongoing curiosity of our SK students within our Outdoor Classroom has been with the resident worms. With the last wave of warm weather at the end of March, we saw our excited children, once again, overturning the log stools and gathering a squirm of worms into a wheelbarrow. It is wonderful that children are free and eager to explore nature, but it is also important to teach them that we have the vital role of being great caretakers of our earth. Short-term-only captivity and catch-and-release rules are important responsibilities even for our youngest caretakers.

Here at KCS, we encourage student-led inquiry, giving students the opportunity to decide what they want to learn based on their interests. Children in the Early Learning Program cannot always verbalize what they want to learn.  As their teachers, we are trained to recognize where their interests lie and to weave these interests into other parts of their curriculum. Can you imagine measuring worms? That’s what we did! Can you imagine having an indoor vermi-composter? That’s what we did! We drew and created worms, and we wrote in our journals about worms. We now know that a worm has no eyes, no teeth, and five hearts. We know that they don’t like light, that they can feel your presence through vibrations of motion and sound, and we know how to be great caretakers by providing their optimal environment and nutrition.

Cathy Nesbitt, from Cathy’s Crawly Composters, presented a workshop for our inquisitive SK students and helped them to set up their own indoor vermi-composter. The students listened attentively as Cathy’s enthusiasm, worm puppet, and actual red wigglers kept them engaged. There were worms to hold and love, jobs given out to prepare the bedding, and many curious questions to be asked and answered. What an exciting session!

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We have successfully given our squirm its first organic meal with leftover snack items. We are taking respectful peeks to monitor the progress in the composter bin, and we are patiently waiting for our first harvest of castings, aka “worm poo”. This harvesting will take place in the Outdoor Classroom before school closes for the summer and will require us to separate the wigglers from the castings. The nutrient-rich castings can be added to the outdoor plants and serve as a time-release fertilizer. It will be interesting to see how many little caretakers will volunteer to harvest. Stay tuned for the next blog!

This is a timely SK project and one that we are eager to share with our KCS friends. Happy Earth Day!

Sharon Freeman RECE
SK Teacher KCS

5-4-3-2-1… Senior Kindergarten Students Blast Off!

Whether we call it tinkering, primal makerspace, or STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics), the Senior Kindergarten classes recently had a ‘blast’ creating vehicles and tools for outer space. The SK teachers followed up on a growing interest in outer space with our students, provided and read space-related books to them, visited the Ontario Science Centre to learn about the Hubble Telescope, and supplied the beautiful junk needed to problem-solve and create.

Probably the most memorable and realistic resources were the YouTube videos of our very own Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield, while living aboard the International Space Station. Both the students and teachers were stricken with awe while viewing the feats of daily living while operating in a zero-gravity environment. The curiosity of our students seemed focused on the challenges of personal hygiene, accompanied by frequent giggles and pleas to see more. They learned how to trim a moustache, shave a head, brush one’s teeth, use the bathroom, and take a bath in space. These necessary activities had to be done without contaminating the environment and instruments with escaping hairs, bubbles of water, body fluids and waste, and runaway accessories. Thank you Chris Hadfield for sharing your humorous and enlightening experiences.

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It was very rewarding to watch as the students worked diligently and with persistence on personal objects or cooperatively with their peers as they created amazing 3-dimensional structures: rocket ships, launch pads, rovers, little astronauts, spaceships to shuttle supplies, and even a space jail to hold aliens. The space stations featured health and hygiene solutions, of course, including bathrooms, sleep stations, storage tanks, an exercise room, and supplies in snack baggies adhered to the walls with Velcro dots. One student created a Canadarm and a team worked collaboratively to apply thermal tiles.

Overheard in class, “The best part is, the teachers aren’t even helping us!”

Students proudly shared their stories, and Senior Kindergarten teachers smiled with delight as they reflected on the priceless value of this inspiring adventure into space.

Sharon Freeman, RECE
Senior Kindergarten Teacher

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

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

JKs Look for Spring in High Park

We can all agree that this past winter was brutal and seemingly endless.  Generally speaking, spring has never been more anticipated and welcomed than this year.  Where does winter end and spring begin?

We had timely discussions in our JK classrooms, prior to the official date, so we would recognize spring when it arrived.  We read kid-friendly books with promises of better things to come. We printed spring words using our best HWT (Handwriting Without Tears) letters.  We drew hopeful pictures of spring in the brightest colours we could find.  We took a few pictures in the playground with our iPads of even the slightest hint that spring was around the corner: receding snow banks, patches of ice from the previous day’s melt, and stubborn hedge buds reluctant to unfurl.  Spring just wasn’t coming to us fast enough!

We decided to go on a field trip looking for spring.  High Park was close and pretty expansive with its alluring variety of habitats: the wetland, the woodland, and the endangered black oak savannah. Surely we would find spring there! Following a lovely warm spell of sunny weather, snow had fallen on the weekend prior to our trip: one last blast of that relentless polar vortex.  Our unfortunate traffic delay on the Humber Bridge, due to road work, hinted that we were definitely getting closer to spring!

Our two JK classes, along with teachers and parent supervisors, were greeted by two knowledgeable and captivating guides, Katrina and Mallory, who invited us into the intriguing High Park Nature Centre for the first part of our tour.  Our students impressed them with their first-hand knowledge of spring during our lively discussion, book reading, and introduction to the resident critters: turtle, lizard, and snake. Our students carefully created seed balls by rolling together mud and seeds for our outdoor planting activity: our contribution for the upcoming Earth Day and for the restoration of the rare black oak savannah.

Once outdoors again, in winter jackets and snow pants, our students hurled their seed balls into an open grassland. They were encouraged to undertake a sensory exploration while engaged in a nature hike into the woodland.  We captured signs of spring with the iPads: tufts of green grass emerging from the leaf piles, footprints in the mud, and buds on branches. We heard the songs of many birds calling for mates and announcing their readiness to start building nests.  Our keen guiders kept reaching into their educational pouches, bringing out soft replicas of the elusive birds, and coaxing their proper songs with gentle tummy squeezes. We captured images of the trees through bark rubbings, and we hugged a few trees.

It was over too quickly! Both the children and adults agreed that it was an amazing field trip.  The bus ride home seemed a little quieter, but no one fell asleep! There were so many images dancing in our heads, luring us to come back again.

Yes, we found spring, but we still want MORE!

On a personal note, I have experienced High Park as a wonderful place for families to spend quality time together.  There is nothing more humbling than hand-feeding tiny tame chickadees at the south end of the park. It is not unusual for a butterfly to land on you as you stroll through the beautiful gardens. The chipmunks along the pathways love to gather snacks thrown for them.  There are great playgrounds, opportunity for many sports, a small zoo, a pioneer museum, and many special events. What a great place for all family members to slow down, take a mental break, get one with nature, and engage in fun physical activities! I highly recommend High Park as a place to visit frequently.

Sharon Freeman, RECE
JK Teacher

Fish 1 and Fish 2: A JK Dream Come True!

FishName02It all started with a kindergarten app designed to teach sight words, numbers, letters, addition and subtraction.  For every three correct answers, students receive a coin.  With these coins, children buy items to complete an aquarium including several varieties of fish, fish food, plants, gravel, sand, and décor.  The fish swim about darting towards the digital-fed food and hide if the iPad screen is tapped.  It is intriguing, engaging, and most of all FUN, even for certain teachers!

This led to a discussion of an appropriate classroom pet and how to keep it alive and healthy. Our class PBL (Project Based Learning) was launched with its many key elements: significant academic content with 21st century skills, a driving question, a need to know, student voice and choice, in-depth inquiry, revision and reflection, and a public audience.

Naming our fishThe list included a dog, a cat, an ant, a snail, a fish, a whale, a butterfly, a worm, and a rabbit. It was decided that ants might tickle, and they would be hard to find at this time of year.  A worm might be too squiggly, and a snail might be too slimy.  A whale would be too big to fit through the door, and how would we transport it to school?  A rabbit would just jump everywhere!  Who would walk the dog?  Who would clean up the messes left by the animals; no one put up their hands.  It was suggested that the teachers could look after the animals on the weekend!  Some children have allergies to certain animals, and some were afraid that they would bite.

A vote was taken and the majority ruled that an aquarium would be the best idea.  We talked about the needs of a fish to keep this living thing alive and healthy.  The children concluded that the fish needed clean water, a tank and food to eat. Some decorations would be nice.  Everyone offered to help feed the fish and to keep the tank clean.

Tank01The children contributed to a class shopping list recorded by pictures and words using inventive spelling, and guesses of cost for each item.  We then put forth a budget as children guesstimated how much money we would request from administration. The requests varied anywhere from 1 cent to 100 dollars.  On Thursday, March 6th we headed to the office of Madame Fanjoy and presented our budget.  Madame Fanjoy loved our idea of the fish tank and agreed to give us funding for a project that she deemed worthwhile and exciting.

Tank02The children “read” lots of books, examined colourful plastic fish, and visited wonderful places like Ripley’s Aquarium and pet stores.  In response to a request for a possible family guest speaker with aquarium experience, one of our parents approached us with an amazing proposal.  She had a client in the pet products industry eager to donate the needed supplies to set up our class aquarium and to provide a specialist to assist and educate us.

Tank03On April 3rd, Jae Hovius, Ontario Aquatic Specialist for Rolf C Hagen Inc., gave the JK class a captivating, informative, and hands-on session.  He truly enjoyed the experience as much as the JK children did. On April 8th, we excitedly welcomed our two goldfish, and the children aptly named them Gill and Goldie-Antonio.  Our much loved pets seem to have settled in well despite all the attention of the many inquisitive, beautiful faces peering at them through the glass.

The learning does not stop here.  There will be so many observations to be performed, pictures to be drawn, photos to be taken, and responsibilities to be taken on.  We are very excited about this project and look forward to sharing its progress with our KCS families and friends.

Sharon Freeman, RECE
JK Teacher