My Blue is Happy

My sister says that blue is sad, like a lonely song, but my blue is happy like my favourite jeans and a splash in the pool on a hot day.

This is the opening line in the book My Blue is Happy by Jessica Young. A lyrical ode to colours and the unique way we as individuals perceive them.

We have been working hard with the JKs this year to help them recognize the many different emotions they experience throughout the day. We want to teach them to recognize when they are feeling happy, sad, frustrated, worried, calm or silly. We want to teach them that it is okay to have these feelings, and give them the resources and strategies to help regulate them.

It was on a day like any other that we decided to read, My Blue is Happy. As I sat there reading, I didn’t know how much it would mean to the JKs sitting, listening so quietly on the carpet, or to be honest how much it would affect me.

We live in a world that is so rich with colour I think sometimes we forget to appreciate it. Eventually each colour seems to bleed into the next, and before you know it when you think of colour you think of them as society has inadvertently taught you to: “I’m green with envy”, “I feel blue”, “I’m so angry I see red!” and so on. When you really think about it, it is actually quite sad.

So, when the story was finished we asked our students to close their eyes and think of a colour and how it makes them feel. The next day we read the story again and afterwards put on quiet music, and put out white paper and watercolour paints. We asked them to explore with the colours, and to think about how they felt with each colour they used.

Afterwards one student told me “blue makes me feel like an ocean; calm and relaxed”. Another told me that green makes them feel brave. Each student saw these colours in a way completely unique to them.

My hope for my students is that they never stop appreciating the beauty that is around them, and that they never stop seeing these colours in the way that is meaningful to them.

It was later that day as I sat in the hall waiting for one of my students to wash their hands that I found myself staring out the window, watching the snow falling and thought:

My white is peaceful, like slowly falling snow and clouds floating across the sky.

I encourage you to close your eyes now and think of a colour. Do you have one? Good! Now tell me, how does it make you feel?

Everything a School Should Be – Part 2

Teachers join the profession to do their best for students. Doing one’s best includes a vast array of efforts, a sample of which were shared in Part 1 of this post.

Doing one’s best also means a determined, responsible commitment to constant improvement, wherever merited and as manageable.

At KCS, we’re constantly looking at what we do, identifying where we wish to grow, and taking measured steps forward from year-to-year. Many steps are identified by individual teachers, or grade partners, or divisions of teachers. Some steps are school-wide. Some are new initiatives; while others are ongoing efforts that began in previous years and continue to be an area of focus.

Here is some of what we’re focusing on this year:

  1. Living the Mission – Always our #1 focus, our mission is to be the defining force in developing lifelong learners. Currently, this effort includes Project-Based Learning; direct efforts to teach questioning skills; the growth of KCS as a Makerspace, with our new Innovation Lab and increased “making” throughout the school; the use of design thinking for deeper thinking, learning and problem-solving; and the launch of a new program called “High Resolves” in our senior grades as part of our global education efforts.
  2. Assessment – This is a multi-year area of focus. We launched a new report card last year and some adjustments will be made this year. We also launched our new secure electronic portfolio, Sesame, and we continue our roll-out to include all students from PK to grade 3. A blog will soon follow to explain why this is an exciting addition to KCS!
  3. Movement Project – This is also an ongoing area of focus under the leadership of our Director of Student Life, Tamara Drummond. Standing desks, chairs that allow for movement, fidget toys, and new practices that invite more frequent movement in the school day are becoming increasingly widespread throughout the school.
  4. Reading Evolution – A number of years ago we introduced a reading program that helped many of our students better consolidate the fundamentals of reading. The cumulative effect of this program is now a very noticeable increase in the reading skills of all of our students. Driven by internal data, reading instruction is evolving to meet the growing readiness for greater challenge.
  5. ELP and Reggio-inspired programming – Following widespread professional development, visits to other schools, and engagement of a consultant, the PK, JK and SK faculty have enthusiastically embraced Reggio-inspired programming as a strong complement to the Ministry of Education curriculum. While direct instruction on core skills will continue, students will also be given more time to practise being deep thinkers and learners through self-directed inquiry.
  6. Professional Development – PD has always been a regular feature of employment at KCS. All teachers have a generous budget for PD and they pursue various opportunities of relevance to their role. This year we launched a new means of sharing PD that allows all staff to see what others have done, and get a glimpse into what they learned. This is an efficient and effective new way to share professional learning and encourage greater awareness of the various PD offerings available to all.
  7. Canadian Accredited Independent Schools (CAIS preparation) – This merits a blog of its own, and one will follow later in the year. CAIS oversees a comprehensive accreditation process for independent schools that aspire to excellence. KCS is CAIS-accredited, and all staff will be working this year on an internal review in preparation for our upcoming accreditation review in November of 2017.

At KCS we’re constantly learning so that we can keep improving in all ways that matter, each and every year. Creative thinking is inspired when multiple challenges synergize into innovative solutions. Progressing thoughtfully and responsibly, changes aren’t always immediate. They’re discussed, and if considered worthy they’re piloted. If successful, they spread. When imperfect, they’re tweaked. And they’re not limited by the notion that we can only focus on a few areas. Collectively, there are positive changes happening throughout the school, based on what teachers feel needs improvement, and what they can manage well. Being everything a school should be includes constantly trying to do better. Doing our best means we won’t accept anything less.

Personalized Projects in Senior Kindergarten

Learning is not one-size-fits-all. If you ask every student to do the exact same thing in the exact same way, all they’ll learn is how to follow directions and regurgitate information.

That’s just not good enough. We want our students to solve problems, explore complex issues, and bring their own unique skills and vision into play. Ultimately, we want them to think for themselves.

That all begins by helping them to develop a sense of ownership over their learning. A great way to do that is to simply listen to their questions.

Shortly after the March Break, the Senior Kindergarten students were asked to consider the Habit, “Make the world better”. After some talks and discussions, they generated over a hundred of their own questions that they wanted to explore. These questions were as varied as they were intriguing. They covered everything from littering to solar panels to forest fires to water filtration.

Over the next few weeks, the students chose the question they wanted to answer, took part in experiments, generated hypotheses, and engaged in research with their Grade 5 learning buddies. They also created art, sculptures, and Lego creations to help explain their thinking. They then gathered together all their discoveries and created their own display boards to showcase their learning.

When it was all over, they presented their work to their community. And because they felt a real sense of ownership over their question and thinking, the entire experience was incredibly meaningful. They were excited and eager to talk about their projects, simply because it was what they wanted to learn about!

Personalized Projects in Senior Kindergarten

Personalized Projects in Senior Kindergarten

The lesson for their teachers was clear. If you allow a child to have a voice in their learning, they will embrace the experience and take their thinking further and deeper than you can ever imagine.

Mark Magee
SK Teacher

Recycling in Pre-Kindergarten

For our recent celebration of Earth Day, the Pre-Kindergarten students have been using recycled materials to build. Many of the children displayed an interest in space, so the PK teachers took this opportunity to practice teamwork in a fun and motivating way. In order to create a “rocket ship” and “a space station”, the class had to employ many of the KCS Habits. Building together alongside their engaged teachers developed their already emerging cooperation and collaboration skills. It began when the PKs themselves brought in recycled materials from home, providing a meaningful home-school connection, further enriching their collaboration experience. They were then able to brainstorm about what they would like to create – an activity requiring patience, listening skills, and the ability to take on another’s perspective. This is no small feat when you are three years old, but developing these skills in the realm of play makes for a safe learning space and only good ideas!

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After their structures were built, the children were given the opportunity to add paint, glitter and open ended art materials to their structure. The purpose of this was not only to make it look beautiful, but to add further meaning to something that the children worked on themselves. Engaging their senses and tactile experience, this step of the project also fostered focus, persistence and their individual sense of self within a group: a skill that will last them a life time.  The “rocket ship” and “space station” were completed, but the children carried the learning from that experience into their everyday play, by re-enacting the building process, singing about taking a trip to the moon, and turning their play dough into “a rocket ship”.  Recreating what they have seen, heard and learned, they are making meaning in their world.

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher

Snow in April?! No problem!

Our Junior Kindergarten students surprise us every single day. When I woke up on a snowy April morning, I arrived to school with a gloomy grin and looked at my teaching partner with rolling eyes. “Are you kidding me?” we said to each other. But rather than projecting our disappointment, we simply asked the students in our morning message how they felt about the snow. To our surprise every single one of them could not be more excited. “It makes me feel happy”, “I want to play in it”, “I’m so, so, so, so, excited”; were some of the many messages we heard. The Outdoor Classroom was snowy, but let’s not forget it was still April and the weather was somewhat warmer; the result: a snowy, wet, muddy sandy surprise! “Ew” you might be thinking? “What a mess” perhaps? “WONDERFUL” thought the JKs. The imaginative play, collaboration, creative thinking, and utter joy each child displayed surprised us more than usual.

PAINT INQUIRY
How can you use water colour paints without water or paper? The JKs figured it out! Bringing out only paint pallets and brushes we asked the students how they can use the materials to paint in the Outdoor Classroom. They shared their ideas, tested their theories, and certainly tried their best. They became problem solvers as they dipped their brushes into puddles to wash it before changing colours. Talk about creative problem solvers! As they swished their brushes in melting snow, ice, and water, they began transforming large chunks of ice into colourful works of art.

MARBLE RUN or WATER RUN?
The rainy, snowy weather left for an interesting discovery at the marble run. One student wondered if the water would move the same way the tennis balls did. To figure it out, he went into the sand box to get a shovel small enough to collect the water from the bottom and bring it to the top. He discovered it did move along but it stopped early. He learned the wood absorbed the water. The student shared his learning with the class thereby inspiring others to explore the marble run in new ways.

MUD AND MUCK
In the sand box the students used scoops and shovels of all sizes to make their own mud! They collected water from little puddles all around and mixed it with the sand turning it into dough as they began making fresh pies. The students were collaborating as they took on various roles, and engaged in meaningful conversations. The shovels turned into serving platters, and rakes became forks, as they shared their homemade pies with one another.

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In just one hour of play the students hit on multiple areas of the Full Day Kindergarten Curriculum. The big idea stating “Children are curious and connect prior knowledge to new contexts in order to understand the world around them” was demonstrated on this snowy April day. The students experimented with new materials on a familiar marble run, used a familiar paint pallet in a creative new way, and transferred their learning from home as they recreated a kitchen at school.

After one hour in the Outdoor Classroom the students so clearly demonstrated how much they embrace learning, we were reminded of What Really Matters in Life! When you give children the time they need to play and explore their environment they will amaze you! And you know what Albert Einstein said…”Play is the highest form of research.”

Elissa Meleca
Junior Kindergarten 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

The Best Present of All

With the gift giving season behind us, I’ve had some adults asking me why playing with rocks and sticks would be beneficial to children. I am all too excited to tell them.

In toddlerhood, children are very literal: if they can’t see it, it’s not there. But as they grow into preschool age, their imaginations begin to grow and if we nourish that growth, the sky becomes the limit. At KCS, our goal as educators is to prepare our youngest learners for the next steps in life. Yes, those next steps include reading, writing and arithmetic, but there is more. Creativity, initiative, problem solving and team building skills become possible when using open-ended materials in play, such as items found in nature.  The natural world is a wonder for children, rich in textures, smells, colours and purposes. They can bring their diverse personal experience to play, allowing them to choose, invent and inquire among peers. When early learners are given the opportunity to develop internal motivation for learning, they are more likely to enjoy school and believe in themselves in an educational setting.

So remember, if you see your pre-schooler at home choosing to play with things that aren’t their iPad or commercially-made toys, smile and ask them what they are creating.  After all, we only get one chance to be this tender age, so let them make the most of it.  You may end up with a scholar on your hands.

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher

Haircut, Anyone?

We knew we were in for a treat when PK, JK and SK students joined KCS three years ago. But we didn’t expect manicures, facials and haircuts!

Anyone walking down our Senior Kindergarten hallway last week will have doubtless noticed the many signs advertising these services and more, for a price, by our SK students. No, this is not a mandated unit of study. Much better, it’s what an enterprising and imaginative young group decided to make happen.

From what I’ve seen, these young entrepreneurs are working on establishing about a dozen of our KCS Habits – habits that will set them apart wherever their future takes them. Their writing and counting are also getting emotion-driven practice. Positive emotions are booster fuel for learning.

Thanks to our faculty’s efforts with Project-Based Learning and their readiness to support student initiative, the whole KCS community benefits from dozens of student projects equally delightful. But this is the first where I can also get all fancied up for the holiday season. Thank you SKs!

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

KCS Pre-Kindergarten Students Love to Share

‘Sharing What You Know’ is one of the KCS Habits of Mind, Body and Action, so I want to share with you one thing I know about our Pre-Kindergarten program. When I’m in the PK room, my heart fills with joy. Yes, they are our youngest students in the school and yes, they make me laugh, but my heart fills with joy because they share with me what they know from the moment I walk into the room.

The other day, as soon as I entered, one child said, “Miss De Kuyper, I’m building a house!” I could tell he was proud, and I asked him who was going to live there, to which he replied, “You!” When another child put round connectors up to her eyes, I asked her what they were. She looked at my bespectacled face, smiled and said, “Glasses!” Several children brought me toys that matched the colour they were wearing that day, while some told me what they were “cooking” with playdough.

At the beginning of the school year, the PKs are coming out of toddlerhood and into the next stage of learning; something that a lot of us take for granted. This time in their little lives is huge, and it sets the stage for every year of learning after it. When children are given time to explore, they learn to identify colours or how to build a sturdy house, all while learning to share toys, space and ideas. Children absorb what they see and hear, and as the world unfolds around them, the PK program provides them the space to drive their own learning as they continuously share what they know.

Bonnie De Kuyper, RECE
PK Teacher