Monthly Archives: September 2011


Here we are in the middle of the third full week of school — a good time to check in on Mr. Bill’s kindergarten class!

I know how exhausting the first few weeks are for teachers (and children!). I wanted to be unobtrusive and give Bill some ‘space’ to get his classroom routines going so I decided not to visit for another week or two. In the meanwhile, I spoke with Bill and asked him if he has been able to get the inquiry study off the ground.

The children, as we predicted, came in to class on the first day excited about the playground study and eager to share their summer playground stories. They brought in pictures that they drew at home and made some in class. Bill invited the children to paste their pictures together to create a mural, and used this group playground montage as a jumping off point for starting the playground inquiry project.

Bill realized that, at this point in the year, it’s not easy to involve 24 four and five year olds in a complex class discussion. He decided to see what would happen if children were given pattern blocks and encouraged to create pattern-block playgrounds. At first the children worked individually. The class enjoyed this and began giving names to their structures. Bill said that some of their names were “the swing park”, “the hiding place” or “the sandbox”. When they were midway through their activity he stopped them and began a discussion about fences, entryways and connecting pathways. This class talk encouraged the children to bring their individual playgrounds together to create larger structures, leading the way towards collaborative work, imaginative pretend play and conversation! Another ‘perk’ is that the children were also becoming familiar with one of their new math manipulatives.

Tomorrow, Bill and I will meet to look over the children’s work samples, assess what they understand and misunderstand about playgrounds, and wonder about where their interests might lead. I’m going to suggest that we work out an anticipatory planning web. We can brainstorm all of the possibilities for this playground study, thinking of concepts, activities, trips, visiting experts, types of assessments that would be most informative, etc. This web gives the teacher a sense of what direction the study might go in and is very helpful in planning for the inquiry explorations. I’ve seen these webs done in a variety of ways. One example that I found at the Sauchildrenscampus site shows a web for a Tree Study made by a teacher and her assistant teacher. The web, in this case, is broken up into six categories: Parts of a Tree; Vocabulary Words; Animals that Live in Trees and Use Trees; When Trees Change; Items that Come from Trees; Types of Trees.

Because the web is preparation for an inquiry study, I personally prefer starting out the web with questions, anticipating what questions children might pose. On the Illinois Projects in Practice site, there is a sample Tree Study web that begins with possible questions. They are: In what ways do trees change?; What are the parts of trees?; What do trees need?; Where can we see trees change?; Who/What needs trees?; What tools do they use?; Who works with trees?; Do people cause changes in trees?; What writing is there about trees?

After tomorrow’s meeting with Bill, I’ll update you on what is happening in the kindergarten playground study!


Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition. ~Jacques Barzun

This past summer I spent a lovely afternoon having lunch with my friend and former colleague Bill. As always happens when two kindergarten teachers get together our conversation drifted to the classroom. Bill talked about how current trends in education nationwide have made school more stressful for children and for teachers. Even in Bill’s school, where the administration understands the social and intellectual importance of explorative play, there is often not enough time for children to become involved with interesting projects that they can direct at their own pace. Bill spoke, with a wistful voice, of the last few weeks of school when the children were happily engaged in an investigation of bridges. He devoted long stretches of time each day to this interesting project and noticed that the children were working with more self-directed independence and that many yearlong social tensions seemed to dissipate.

Out of this discussion came Bill’s decision to begin the year with, what he hopes will be, an exciting, child-directed study of playgrounds. We both believed that this inquiry topic would ‘speak’ to all of the children in the class.

Bill (or Mr. Bill as the children call him) wrote to all of the families on his class list informing them of this project and encouraging the children to think about playgrounds during their summer vacation. So far, the email responses from parents indicate that they are mostly concerned that their children have fun, enjoy school and grow as a person. It certainly seems as though they will be eager to support and become involved with their children’s investigation into playgrounds.

I became quite excited about this project and asked Bill if I could ‘follow’ his children and him along this journey of exploration. Bill was intrigued with this idea and so, on my blog, we will be visiting Bill’s classroom and meeting with Bill to plan and reflect throughout the year.

During the week before school was to begin, Bill started getting the classroom set up. To support play and explorations, it was important to leave ample room for extensive block building and also for dramatic play, science and art. This became quite a challenge. I remembered so well wanting to stretch out the walls of my classroom, giving enough room for all my centers and maintaining a sense of space and openness.

Bill decided that, instead of designating a separate classroom area for dramatic play (pretend play), he would use hollow blocks and prop baskets, keeping them stored in a corner of the classroom meeting area/library. That would give the children a lot of space for their play and also the ability to reinvent their ‘script’ each day. Doing this also created more area for a spacious block-building center. When I visited Bill, the day before school was to open, he was in the midst of getting ready for the children…. putting names around the room, setting up a cozy reading corner, hanging curtains, setting up his art center, and completing the myriad of details that will let the children know that this welcoming space is ready for them!

Time to begin unpacking! what should I do next?Time out for a song!A place to meet, to talk, to listen, to read, to play... what should I do next?

Time out for a song!

A place to meet, to sing, to talk, to play....