A Day in our Reggio-Inspired Kindergarten Homeschool

 

 

Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall in a Reggio-Inspired classroom?

Do you dabble with the approach - injecting the odd provocation here and there, experimenting with emergent curriculum, but also enjoy a more predictable, structured {planned} curriculum?

Have you wondered how to meet all the academic outcomes, but also how to balance a child-centred, curiosity-driven approach?  What are the rhythms and routines? How does learning “happen?” What does a typical schedule look like?

Today, I’m pulling back the curtain, and sharing the ins and outs of our days here at Brillante Beginnings, a homeschool enrichment program for Kindergarten aged children.

I’m also sharing my {somewhat controversial} stance - as someone who straddles the line between a traditional, teacher-directed approach with a more Reggio-inspired, child-centred approach. The "sweet spot" where wonder meets rigour.

I used to struggle with internal questions like:

"Is this inquiry-enough?"
"Is this artsy/playful/natural enough?"
"Does this spark enough joy/wonder/creativity?" 

More recently, however, I have finally become comfortable in my position as one who helps children achieve academic success while preserving wonder and joyful learning. Does that seem like a paradox? Read on.

Lately, we’re seeing two camps in primary education.

The “right-wing” approach that centres around academic rigour, standards, testing, and outcome-driven education.

And then we have the “left-wing” approach. An approach that has its roots in play-based learning, child-centred, inquiry-driven emergent curriculum.

On which end of the spectrum do you find yourself?

In working with hundreds of teachers over the years, and even more students, I have realized that it can’t be all or none. While there is tremendous value in a child-centred, emergent curriculum, there is also enormous {research-based} evidence for a structured, and routines-based approach to learning.

Research shows that optimal learning occurs when our brain is comfortable, safe and “when experiences are repeated, consistent, predictable and nurturing. “ (Winter, 2010, Neurosicence and Early Childhood).

I believe that the education we offer our children must be a balanced approach.

An approach that blends structure, routine and teacher-directed learning, as well as wonder-filled, curiosity-driven, child-led emergent curriculum.

And today, you’ll see how I blend those approaches in a way that moves my students forward in academic learning, but at the same time, reclaims wonder, joy and playfulness of childhood.

This past year, as I’ve built upon a model that blends both approaches, I’ve discovered that there is no one-size-fits all methodology. I've researched, implemented, tested, tweaked, and researched some more. 

With a few minor adjustments, this is roughly the same schedule I followed in my public school teaching practice, with up to 30 children. Although there are differences with management, transitions and reporting, the structures, routines and underlying foundation remain the same.  There is a great deal of intention, structure and {dare I say,} rigour to what we do. I may be old school, but I believe children still need direct instruction from more capable, competent adults, and a structured approach to learning. This approach involves a mix of whole-group, small group and individual instruction, but the key word here is "instruction." That, although kids do build their own knowledge of the world, and there are opportunities for co-construction of knowledge, we as teachers have a the duty to teach our children foundational skills and to help them develop thinking skills that will serve them down the road.

You’ll notice I’ve left out times for our daily schedule. This was intentional. Generally our days have a flow, but other days, we get deeply involved in what we are doing, and time stands still. This is the beauty of a flexible schedule. Read on to see how our day unfolds.

Our Day Begins…

Independent Reading

At 9:00 am, our day begins. After morning greetings, hellos and goodbyes, hanging coats and backpacks, the girls find a book from the “book bin” (levelled readers), and begin reading books at their level. I find these at the library because levelled readers are so expensive! Some of my favourites are the ones written by local author, Pat Harrison of Blueberry Hill Books - {especially Fluffy and Charlie series!}

Sometimes I do a mini-assessment (my own version of a running record), other times, I just listen, and yet other times, they opt to take turns reading to each other.

At five and six years old, they are emergent readers, and learning to connect sounds with letters, learning simple sight words, and learning to track print from left to right. They’re also learning strategies like using the pictures for cues, meaning cues like “does that make sense?” And syntax cues, like “Does that sound right?” They’re also learning to self-correct when they’ve made a mistake (miscue). I absolutely love this age, because teaching reading is one of those miracle moments, that, when you get to witness it unfold, is truly magic.

Morning Meeting

After independent reading time, the girls gather on the carpet for morning meeting. We begin each morning reviewing group time expectations (aka Check 5).

We always begin with a read aloud. I LOVE good quality children’s literature, and I know it makes a huge difference with their attention. The high quality, high interest books (those with relatable characters, good plots, beautiful illustrations) are directly correlated to the girls’ ability (and interest) to listen to the story. The better the book, the longer the attention span.

Here are some of my favourite read-alouds lately:

 

Sometimes the story is fiction, and other times, it is non-fiction, as it relates to an investigation we’ll be exploring later on. 

Next, we do a rhyme, poem or finger play or movement song. This gets the girls moving, and gets their wiggles out! I love to use puppets and props for these. We recite the verse three times, as research shows that 3 is the magic number for remembering and cementing concepts. I love to bring out the puppets here, and even though I’m a highly Unqualified puppeteer, the girls light up with excitement every time I take on a new puppet-personality.

Finally, we read the morning message. We alternate different literacy strategies here, which I will go into more detail with a future blog post, but it’s always the same cycle. {These were wonderful routine strategies I learned from my Cooperating Teacher, Janet Nein, back in my student teaching days!} I love the predictability and structure this routine provides, as it touches on so many aspects of children’s literacy development.

Today's rhythm is "Transformers."

In Transformers, the girls take turns "borrowing" letters from the message to build new words. After reading the entire message together, a child says: "Take the C from CAN, take the A from CAN, and take the T from FRUIT. CAT!"

These new words might be sight words, friends' names or other familiar words. The idea of building words is important because it reinforces phonological awareness and builds on alphabet concepts, as children manipulate letters to form new words.

Depending on children’s need to move, I sometimes sneak in a Math game like “SPLAT” or other fun group math learning activity. Sorting, patterning, number line, odd/even, or digging out the Rekenreks are great hands-on activities to infuse movement into math learning.

Morning Invitation to Wonder

Next, I invite the girls to the table where I have an invitation set up.

In the programme, I offer four types of invitations:

Invitations to Wonder

Invitations to Create

Invitations to Play

Invitations to Learn

Here is an example of an invitation to wonder. Also known as a “provocation” in the Reggio-inspired world.

The girls were invited to create rainbows. I offered them the three primary colours (red, yellow and blue food-coloured water), and some pipettes, as well as a tempera paint mixing tray.

I explain that “we are doing the work of scientists today as we discover about how colour is made”. (With these kinds of STEM-based invitations, I try to connect their learning to the real-life adult roles…botanists, engineers, architects, artists etc. so that children see themselves as capable, confident learners and workers in these worlds).

I record their questions, comments and observations on Sticky notes. (This is part of my documentation and assessment process). "Look, all the colours make a brownish muddy colour." I also ask probing questions, like "I see you made a dark green here. Can you share how you did that? What would you need to make a lighter green?"

I invite them to document their work inside their Idea Books.

After drawing and writing about their learning, the girls are starting to get hungry, and it's time to prepare snack. 

Baking / Cooking

I try to incorporate cooking or baking into our day as often as I can, and this becomes our morning or afternoon snack. We’ve made soup, smoothies, pizza, pretzels, pumpkin loaf and dozens of different cookies.  

The smells, the tastes…working together to create something delicious…it’s such a special time for children, and becomes a beloved part of their educational experience.

Initially, cooking and baking were a bit stressful and messy, but we persevered…and with practice, things got smoother and easier to manage. I always include the recipe (taped to the wall), with picture cues and simple steps to encourage the girls to read the ingredients and instructions. 

Today, we're making rainbow fruit salad, and I've invited them to help me cut up the fruit. Later, I'll invite the girls to write their fruit salad recipes inside their idea books.

Snack

We gather together at the kitchen table, and enjoy our fruit kabobs. {The girls decided fruit salad would be better for our afternoon snack}. They loved piercing the fruits onto sticks, creating their own mini rainbows. I've tried "self-serve" snacks, but find this just works better for us as we gather at the same time.

Invitation to Play {Choice Time} 

Choice time is very flexible. We have many opportunities for deep, sustained play, and there are times when the girls don't wish to cook or bake, and I try to honour their need for play, and recognize those times in the day when they need less structure.

I try my best to create playful invitations that relate to what we are currently learning about, but a lot of the time, it is unstructured, child-led play, with the existing learning centres (dramatic play, construction, musical instruments, reading and writing centres). I set up little “strews” (simple materials to invite them into different types of play).

In today’s example, I’ve set up the Grimms rainbow in an interesting way to encourage exploration and building with blocks. 

Our Invitation to Play often centres around what the children are currently interested in and learning about. Sometimes it is a simple invitation - for example, when recently we were learning about flowers, I offered children's gardening tools and gloves. They played "greenhouse," and re-enacted a recent trip we took to a local greenhouse.

Most often though, this time is much more open-ended, and they simply play with the toys and materials on hand. 

Today, I've also also set up a rainbow-beading invitation, and the girls loved making necklaces.

Lunch

By noon, the girls are hungry and ready for their lunch. We pack up, as I like a “re-set” for the afternoon. I don’t do well with toys and materials laying about… but if I can see that they are truly engaged in project work (Lego construction, or a collaborative project) I will leave it for the afternoon {or longer}. Most often, they are willing and cooperative when it comes to cleaning up. I have everything labelled in bins and baskets, so clean-up is self-directed and easy to manage.  

We eat together, and share stories. Sometimes I pop in a story retelling from Storyline Online {quality picture books read by famous actors and writers}, or a Sci Kids video {a great resource for primary science!}

I sneak away to give the girls some independence while eating together, as this is a time they love to giggle and tell funny stories and jokes. I can usually be found close by, warming up my cup of coffee for the 4th time, and checking my email and social media feeds. 

Nature Exploration / Outdoor Play

No matter the weather (no matter my mood!) we get outside each day. (Even for a few minutes on those frigid -40 days!) Some days I absolutely dread the idea of getting out (oh, the ski pants, the boots, the mitts, the hats and scarves…) but inevitably once we are outside, I notice a shift in my outlook. Nature is food for the soul!

 

Some days we hang out in the backyard playing unstructured games of soccer, or obstacle courses or tobogganing down our small hill. I do not plan structured games, but rather, let the kids take the lead and plan their own fun. Often the girls will use the play structure, but I am trying more and more to take a step back and let them work out their own issues (help me swing!!)

Other days, we’ll go on a nature walk. Sometimes we bring field bags (magnifying glasses, clipboards, jars for specimens), but mostly we just venture out on a whim. We have a lovely walking path through our neighbourhood with tons of wildlife: eagles, falcons, deer, rabbits, Canadian geese, ducks, squirrels and otters.

One of my favourite outdoor activities is a “5-Senses” walk - a simple structure for noticing in nature, using all five senses. For these walks, we bring a clipboard and our 5-senses in nature printable. It’s so interesting to note seasonal changes this way. 

Afternoon Invitation to Wonder/Create/Learn

While the girls were eating lunch, I usually sneak away to set up the afternoon invitation. Sometimes we continue the work we were doing in the morning, and other times it’s a new invitation. Here, I’ve set up a literacy-based invitation to learn, to write their recipes for fruit salad.

We worked on the recipe together, using "Share the Pen, then the girls wrote and illustrated their own fruit salad recipes inside their Idea Books.

Snack + Math Games

It’s time for our afternoon snack, the girls are excited to sample their fruit salad. As we eat, we play simple math games.

I love using math games to strengthen number sense, because they make the learning so fun. Some of my favourites are Tiny Polka Dot, Sum Swamp and Zap! We also make our own math games, and use loose parts as our manipulatives (normally stones) to count. The girls are learning to count on, and to subitize, so games with dot patterns and adding are great for these two skills.

Circle, Reflections, Goodbyes

Just before the girls leave to go home, we gather on the carpet one last time to sing a couple songs, and talk about our day.

"What was your favourite thing today?" "What did you learn about…?" I like to refresh their minds about the learning we did, so that when the girls go home and their parents ask: “What did you do today?” They have a thoughtful answer, rather than simply replying “I don’t know!”

I hope you've enjoyed a sneak peek inside our days. It is a true honour and joy to teach these young children, and to share our learning with you all. Thank you for being part of this journey.

If you'd like a copy of my day planning / scheduling tool, feel free to download a copy for yourself. If you'd like to make it editable, email me and I'll send you a link in Canva, my go-to free software tool for creating PDF's, posters and resources.

 

Postscript

Although this has been a wonderful year of teaching and learning, I made a very difficult decision to close my home//school program. It has been really challenging to show up as a present parent, dedicated teacher, and online business owner, and most of the time, I felt like I was failing in one {or all} of these areas. 

My efforts will switch to the online space, where I will continue to help other educators, as I share resources, online workshops and ideas for implementation in their work to become confident, creative change-agents in their children’s education.

I am still dabbling with ideas, but am looking at more of a Creative Studio idea, or a Workshop model for homeschool families, where children can come to learn alongside me during monthly or bi-weekly workshops, and parents can visit and sip coffee in the background and learn new strategies and ideas to implement in their own practice.  I plan to do some serious soul-searching, and hope to share my new vision this fall.

Thank so much for following in our journey.  

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