Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Our Room: An Environment Created for Investigating


I have worked very hard to create an environment that  beckons kids to explore.  I love the Reggio Emilia philosophy of the environment being the third teacher.   Here is a little tour of our room.
Our Listening Station

Our Meeting Area
From the back by the cubbies
From the front of the room looking back 
In my effort to create a calming environment for all of us, I took down anything that was commercially made and replaced it with things made by the children.  No more "store bought" alphabet or anchor charts.  I have found that the kids make things that are much more pleasing to the eye than anything I could buy!  It also gives them ownership of their environment and pride in using something they had a part in making!  Here are some examples:
Our Color Chart
The Letters for our Word Wall
Our Class Rules
Our Number Line
Tools for kids to refer to when writing and reading.
I also use items from nature and loose parts for art, science and math.  Again, things like pine cones, buckeyes, sweet gum balls, acorns, rocks, pebbles, etc. are fun for the kids to use and they are free!!  The kids can measure or weigh things with buckeyes just as easily as anything I could buy at the teacher store.
Natural Materials at the Building Area (Paper blocks have been replaced by wood blocks).
Small Sample of our Loose Parts Collection
We use art a lot in our projects, for fun, and to document our learning.  Tempra paint, water colors, oil pastels, collage, clay and many other mediums are used in our art studio!
Part of our Art Studio- Lots of important work goes on here!
This is our sand table.  I have a lot of natural materials such as shells, rocks and pebbles, but not as much sand as I would like.  The kids have not complained though and are enjoying it as is!  I put an old balance scale underneath for them to explore weight using the sand and natural items.

Documentation of the children's learning can be found all over our room!  This gives the kids a chance to reflect and remember past inquiries!
Documentation of patterns we found in our shell collection.
Documentation on a project celebrating our differences
Music Inquiry Documentation

Our Exploration table sometimes explores, science, sometimes explores art, and sometimes explores both at the same time!
Exploration Table
Here are our exploration shelves.  We keep tools that we may use for exploration (Microscope, Magnifying glasses) and materials to explore.



This is our Math Area.  I would love to replace the trays with more natural materials.  Someday!

Math Stations
This is our Writing Area.  It holds anything we may need to write and make books such as writing paper, construction paper for covers, scrap paper, colored pencils, markers, crayons, scissors and glue.  Sometimes this becomes an art area also.
Writing paper and materials for making books
Any art that decorates our room is also made by the kids!  Here are some samples:

Working together to create art.  They named these Fall Nature and Friendship
Creating beauty while strengthening our fine motor skills
I hope you enjoyed this little tour of our room! 

49 comments:

  1. I just stumbled across your blog. You have such a beautiful classroom! I love all of the natural materials. It really makes the room look warm and welcoming.

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    1. Thank you so much Karina! Warm and welcoming is exactly how I want the room to feel when the kids all walk in the door! I am so glad that you visited!

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  2. Loved the tour! (found my way here from Pinterest, from that lovely area with the three logs in front of the shelf)

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    1. Thank you so much Lise! I am so glad you visited!

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  3. I am in love with your room! I hope to imitate - you know it's the best form of flattery, right?! ;-) Did you start with a blank slate and have the kids make everything over time? Also, will you keep these items or have the kids next year do the same?

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    1. Thank you so much! I am so glad that you like it! Imitate all you want! I start with a blank slate every year. The walls have nothing on them! It is pretty bare at first! The kids make it all, but not the same things every year. I have the kids replace the alphabet wall about every 3 years. It depends on if I see another idea that I think the kids would have fun making or if they are fading. This spring, my kids might make a new color chart to replace the one that is up. Or maybe they will create a chart that shows shades of colors to go next to it. Next year, I will have the kids make a new number line that includes 10 frames to go with the new Common Core Curriculum. If the kids are interested, I am hoping to do a Chihuly study to make a chandelier for our home living area. The kids do make things over time, but they will also use tools made by previous classes. I let them know when they make these tools how important they are because so many children will be learning from them in years to come! So yes, I do keep the items until a new idea comes up, or they need replaced.

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  4. I came upon your blog through Pinterest and am so grateful I did. I have not heard the name Reggio Emilia uttered since the 90's. (Oh, oh I'm dating myself!) Just browsing the photos of your classroom made me feel at peace. I can just imagine how your kiddos feel actually being in it. You have inspired me to get back to simplistics (I think I may have just stumbled upon my next years teaching motto...hmmm...) Thank you and I will be visiting you again!
    Carinna

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    1. Thank you so much Teacher Mom! I have just started researching the Reggio Emilia philosophy a couple years ago on my own and it was like a whole new world opening up for me! This is the learning experience I have always wanted to give my students but never really knew how! It is a very fun and exciting journey for me and I am loving teaching even more than I used to! My classroom looked pretty much like every other U.S. class for 18 years. The past two years have been spent getting my room completely "kid-did." Thank you for visiting and for your kind words!

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    2. It's Priscilla again. I love RE! Oh my if I could only go teach in Italy! And you are right it is a whole other world and way of teaching and I love it. I am an early childhood specialist and I resource and reference RE all of the time. I even have a RE classroom on my office door for inspiration. Good for you for taking it into public school, maybe they will learn something from you.

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  5. Looking forward to following your journey. Your classroom just blew my mind. Amazing!!

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    1. Erica, thank you so much! I appreciate your comment so much! I still feel as though I have so far to go on this journey, but a very fun and exciting journey it is!

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  6. I shared this link with my co-workers! This is what I told them...

    I had to share this with you…if all kindergarten rooms looked like this! Wow reminds me of when I was in kindergarten and our desks were on wheels with faces on them and we scooted around the class. We played dress up out of an ole’ trunk and I got married for the first time. I still have a scar on my finger when my hand got closed in the door when I was a caboose. My teacher was Ms. Maryann Capell.

    This is what kindergarten should be made of!

    Kuddos to you for making these childrens' memories, great ones! They will also remember your name a lot of years later! LOL

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  7. Thank you so much Priscella! It is a fun journey for me as we'll as the kids! Thank you so much for your kind and amazingly thoughtful comment!

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  8. What a wonderful learning space. I am a home based educator just starting to get into inquiry learning for preschoolers currently with 2 yr olds. I taught this style for many years with older children and thoroughly enjoyed it. How old are the children you teach? Thank you for sharing this with us.
    Christine

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    1. Thank you so much! I teach 5 and 6 year olds in a public school kindergarten. I am enjoying the inquiry based teaching so much! Each year I learn more and more about project/Inquiry based teaching and learning and I truly love teaching this way the more I learn about it! Thank you for visiting!

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  9. Hi Darla,

    Just wanted to let you know how much I love your blog (and your room)! Thank you so much for sharing :)
    I was wondering if you could do a post about the flow of your day in your classroom. I always love to hear what other teachers do!

    Thanks again,
    Sarah

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    1. Thank you so much Sarah!! I would be happy to post about the flow of my day, though I am still trying to figure out a better flow for my day than what I have been doing! It is working, but I just feel like I can do it differently... :)
      Darla

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    2. That is sort of the point I am at too; I love to see how others are doing it for the reason. I have been trying really hard this year to do more small group work (as opposed to always bringing the whole group together). This has been a challenge as I am the only teacher in the room...it is hard to work with a small group and engage with children as they are playing at the same time! I am particularly interested in how other teachers are teaching reading and writing. I am trying to move away from the "writers workshop" approach and towards a more integrated

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  10. approach...just not too sure what that will really look like! (I am the only k teacher in my school)

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    1. Hi Sarah! I have just started a new flow of my day. It is still more segmented than I would like, but I think it is a start in the right direction. Baby steps, right? It has worked very well so far (just 3 days!). It gets rid of most whole group instruction and is all small group instruction based on the children's needs, but still divided into writing, literacy experiences, math experiences and play-based learning experiences. I will post on this new flow soon!

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  11. I am in love with your classroom! I think it is wonderful that you are providing the children with developmentally appropriate activities and experiences, materials, etc. Wow!

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    1. Your blog has really inspired me to begin a journey of my own. This year I focused on the materials in my classroom and tried to bring in more items inspired by nature. Next year my hope is to incorporate project/inquiry based learning into my daily routine. I look forward to reading more of your ideas and really look forward to your upcoming posts on your daily schedule so that I can learn more about how your daily routine flows together. I do have one question that I was hoping you could answer for me. This year, I experienced some difficult behaviors in my classroom. Did you have a system that you used effectively for behavior concerns?

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    2. I am so excited for you and your new journey! It has been an exciting one for me and has become such a passion of mine! It sounds like you are doing the same thing I did! I started out by creating a more Reggio environment two years ago and this past year incorporated the inquiry/project part. One thing that I noticed is that because the kids are so interested in what they are learning (since they picked what they wanted to investigate), the behaviors due to being off task or bored or uninterested disappeared!! The biggest issue I had this past year was the noise level but with 28 five year olds actively learning, I don't think there is any way around that! They were noisy, but they were all on task! If a child did misbehave, he lost the privilege of taking part in what the class was doing. They would take a break and put their head down and when they felt they were ready to take part in the activity appropriately, they could. I also used those words! "If you continue to _____, then you will lose the privilege of being able to ______. Now I did have a very severe behavior issue the first half of the year. Nothing would motivate him to take part in anything other groups worked on, no matter what it was in an appropriate manor. But I did notice that if he was left to explore a provocation set out on his own, he was very engaged. Now that didn't help with writer's workshop or literacy stations, but it was a start! He just needed his own investigation that HE was interested in, and he had to be able to do it independently. Unfortunately, he moved away before I could see if he would start working collaboratively with others as the year moved on.
      Most of my behavior management is pure cause and effect. "If you choose to talk to your friends while I am reading this book, you will loose the privilege of sitting with all of your friends and will have to listen from the table." "If you two can't solve the problem of who got in line first, you will both have to go to the end." "If you can't walk in the hall quietly, we will have to practice and that will take time away from our investigation!!!" I always tell them what will happen if they continue the behavior and give them a chance to change it. If they don't, I follow through with the consequence I stated...every time. The minute I am not consistent, it stops working!
      If they purposely hurt someone physically, they get separated and it is an automatic phone call home. I make the child tell their parent what they did over the phone. If the parents don't answer, I send home a note that they have to sign and return.
      I also have a glass jar with rocks next to it. If the whole class is doing what I need them to do, they get a rock in the jar. When the jar is full they get to do something special (no shoes, sit where they want, extra time outside, etc.) I hope this helps! But I did notice that the behavior problems were MUCH less using the inquiry/project approach!!

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    3. Thank you for your insight on behavior concerns. I am hoping that some of the problems will decrease with more time spent on inquiry and exploration! I could imagine how you feel with 28 students. I teach in Chicago and this past year I had 24 with no help, the year before, 26. I am looking forward to your posts on your daily schedule!
      Chris

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    4. Thank you so much for your kind words Chris!! I just posted about what I am hoping my day will look like this year! I hope it works!!
      Sincerely,
      Darla

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  12. Darla,
    I am returning to kindergarten after teaching enrichment for 3 years. I am so excited! I came across the Reggio Emilia approach to teaching and am very interested in incorporating as much as possible into my kdg. But, I have math and lang. arts benchmarks to meet for my district. Could you please post a basic outline of what your day looks like?
    Thanks so much!
    Bobbie

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    1. Hi Bobbie!
      I am so excited for you to be teaching Kindergarten again! I have had many requests as to what my schedule looks like! As we get closer to the school year, I will post what my day looks like. I still have writer's workshop, a time for literacy stations/guided reading, and math stations/guided math. I have not gotten to the point where I can totally integrate my day yet. I am going to try to get better at it this year and will post my journey along the way! What I have done is create a much longer period for the students to investigate the provocations set out, or work on our inquiry/projects that are going on. No more 15 minute choice times where they play while I get things ready! Now they have an hour to an hour and a half and I am very actively involved in observing, documenting, asking guiding questions and connecting literacy and math to what they are doing! It is not easy, but I am getting better at it each year. The play is meaningful and interests for more inquiries, projects and provocations come from interacting with them during this period. We call it exploration time. Stay tuned and hopefully by the end of August I will have a daily schedule to show you! Good luch on your journey with Reggio! I am loving it more and more every year!
      Sincerely,
      Darla

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  13. Love the look of your classroom, it's beautiful. Back teaching in a Pre-K classroom after a 20 year pause. I started this year with bare walls and love the way it is coming together with the children's work displayed. What a great number line you have made. I look forward to following your blog.

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  14. Darla,

    This is my 9th year teaching - but only my third year teaching kindergarten-and I am learning new things every day. I somehow stumbled upon your blog while looking for new and interesting teaching ideas. I am amazed at what your students are accomplishing through their play-based learning! I would love to learn more about this teaching approach. Any ideas on how/where to get started? Books to read? I am eager to jump in head first, but I also realize that without a plan in mind it will most likely go downhill quickly! Any advice would be GREATLY appreciated!
    Thanks,
    Lisa

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  15. I teach an FDK class in Ontario. My students have recently become interested in musical instruments after a visit from a drummer. They have begun to write and perform their own music (by banging away on blocks). I saw the picture of your music inquiry. Do you have any suggestions for next steps. We visited the music room at our school, listened to different instruments, practised conducting, gave them an oppotunity to explore drums, shakers, etc. I'd love some ideas of how to keep this learning going.

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    1. I am actually doing a music/sound inquiry right now! For now, we are exploring things that I have set out to see how they create sound. We have also been watching videos of STOMP, wine glass musicians, bottle blowing musicians, etc to see how they use objects to create sound in different ways. So far they have noticed that sound can be made by striking, blowing, strumming/plucking, shaking, rubbing, and blowing. We will be creating a web map showing instruments that create sounds in these different ways. We are exploring sound to figure out how we can create an area in our school playground for kids to explore sound. As our initial exploration, each child will sign up to be on an expert group that will study a particular way to make sound (blowing, striking, etc.) They will create instruments and a project to share with the class about their type of sound. They will also work together to create a "How To" book showing the rest of the class how to create an instrument that makes a sound in the way they explored. Ultimately, they will use what we have learned to come up with a plan to create a sound exploration area (or at least a portion of it) outside. They will map our playground to figure out the best place for it, and use our knowledge to create a plan. I am hoping to get parents to help create the actual sound area. It is a fun inquiry! I have no idea how long it will take! We have just started it this week! I hope this helps! Your kids may take it in a totally different direction! Mine may even end up changing the direction of my plans, but for now, this is the framework of what I plan to do with them. Good luck!
      Darla

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  16. Hi Darla,
    I just discovered your blog and am inspired beyond words! Thank you for taking the time to document your journey, it is fabulous! I have been looking through the blog and am curious about how you introduce and incorporate the sketch book at your discovery/science center. Would you mind sharing?

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    1. All I did was set out the sketch book with pastels at the science station and encouraged them to document what they noticed! They loved it! I would share good examples from it to the class to point out interesting things they noticed. We keep the sketch pads in the library here in our room when the station is changed. The kids loved looking through them!
      Sincerely,
      Darla

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  17. Wow Darla. ..your classroom is terrific. I'm new to FDK and your octaves are super inspiring. Thanks so much for sharing. Did you spend hours looking for nature like classroom pieces or did you gather them over a period of time?. I noticed that you had books at your areas. Are these books that you have read aloud of just books for the kids to look at while at the different stations?

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    1. Pictures lol...I'm commenting from a phone so it should say the pictures are inspiring.

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    2. Thanks so much! You are going to LOVE FDK! I just collect nature stuff everywhere I go! It drives my family crazy because we can't go anywhere without me grabbing things to take back to school like sticks, nuts, pine cones, shells, rocks, etc. I'm always on the lookout! Plus it's free!!!
      The books are set out for the kids to look at as they wonder and look closer at the stations. Some have been read to the class but not all!
      Sincerely,
      Darla

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  18. Hi Darla,
    Thanks so much for your very inspiring blog and for documenting your change process. I'm where I think you were a few years ago, just starting to transform my classroom space and experimenting with project based learning. I would love to get your advice about how to best use the 3 and 1/2 hours of my half day program. I'm nervous about teaching all the necessary skills and also allowing enough time for inquiry based learning. Could you post your schedule or any other planning tools you use? I've scoured the web for PBL in 1/2 day kinder programs, but have not had much luck. Any advice would be most welcome!
    Thanks so much!
    Eileen

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    1. Hi Eileen!
      I posted some of my planning forms on my last blog post. Did that help? Only having the kids for half day is very hard! We used to have half day kindergarten, but went to full day 6 years ago! It is much easier! I would have a lot of the math and literacy stations available during play for them to explore also! I am always amazed at how many choose math and literacy station tools to explore during our play time. If you don't have a special every day like music, art, etc. I used to use that extra time on those days for inquiry and projects. I know it is much harder to do this in a half day program. Some half day programs make their projects literacy based such as putting on a play or writing a big book or creating a story mural to retell a story since they have such limited time. Murals about an inquiry use a lot of interactive writing to explain what they learned. Big Books about an inquiry or individual books about an inquiry are good projects also that use a lot of literacy skills that you have to get in. Good luck!!! Let me know how you are doing!
      Sincerely,
      Darla

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  19. Finally have my own classroom and we've just started making our own alphabet wall chart to display around the room. Thanks for the inspiration! I love reading each update from your classroom when they land in my inbox :)

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  20. I'm in love, Mrs. Meyers! You've inspired me to look at my commercially-made products and replace them with things my students can very well make or imitate.

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    1. I'm so glad! You will love how much they take ownership of what they create for the room and how much more they will use them as resources and tools! Enjoy and have fun!
      Sincerely,
      Darla

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  21. Wow. I'm so happy that I found your blog. I love your classroom and everything that you do for your children and their families. I wish I could do half of what you're doing in your classroom. We're so regulated it's just wrong. As the lead STEM teacher I get to do more than the rest but it's never enough. I'm going to use so many of your examples this year and take a chance. Thank you again for sharing and caring.

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  22. I am wondering about "must do" activities? Do you have them? For instance your Celebrating Differences center, did everyone have to do one over the course of the day, or just those students interested?
    Thanks so much.
    Tracy

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    1. Hi Tracy! It depends. I do have some that I have all of the kids visit and do such as the self portraits, but sometimes I'm okay with only having the students who are interested do the activities. So really I do both! Usually just the students who are interested, but not always.

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  23. Hi!, I found my way here through Instagram and I love your classroom. I am going back to teaching this year after a 8 year hiatus. Over the years I too have changed my views on education and standard curriculum based classrooms. The school I am teaching in is brand new and while not specifically Reggio Emilia, they are open minded and support a child led learning approach. I have a question that I would be so grateful if you addressed. I noticed in your Instagram posts you comment about child readiness in the classroom setup, such as only certain blocks will be available until children have learned to play with respect. If you are teaching children (in my case 5 year olds), who have been in school for a few years but definitely not in a Child led learning environment, how do you teach/create that? I notice that even though the blocks in the lower shelves will be the only ones available, the rest of the blocks are still accessible. There will be so many new interesting things to touch, look at ,explore. How do you set out to create that calm peaceful environment that I have seen in Reggio classrooms? I am imagining a scenario where good intentions could quickly turn to chaos. I would love to hear more about this. . Thank you so much for sharing your classroom.
    It is such a source of inspiration to me.
    Sarah

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  24. Love this blog, both your philosophy and how well you show and explain how you put it into practice. I am the only k teacher in my school so I tend to look for colleagues where I can find them- often on the internet....One question I struggle with is - as kids learn how to use a variety of art materials, our art shelves get more and more full - and in a way, the kids stop noticing all the choices they have. I've considered limited their choices, but I hate to limit the possibilities. What are your thoughts?

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    1. I do tend to rotate different materials. They get so excited for something new or something they haven't used in a while. If a child asks me if they can use a certain material that is not specifically set out, they can tell me their plan and what they need it for and I will usually let them use it. They are all visible so if they see a material they feel they need that is not set out, they can let me know.

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  25. I'm just now finding your blog and I must say - you are so inspiring! I am jumping into PBL in my first grade classroom. Your blog is a great resource for me! Thank you for sharing your expertise :)

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