It's Time For Kindergarten!

Show Transcript

Welcome to Beyond the Bell podcast where you'll get an inside look into school life. We cover school related topics that support your child's education and well being. As you listen along, we hope you'll gain insights for navigating school with your child and leave with a deeper sense of connection between school and hoame. Here's your host, Chantelle Quesnelle. 

Chantelle: Hello Simcoe Muskoka families and welcome to our very first episode of Beyond the Bell. On this episode, we are getting an insider's view into the classroom of our youngest learners. My guest today is Mary Day-Mauro who is a curriculum consultant here at Simcoe Muskoka Catholic. Mary supports educators from Kindergarten through to grade eight. 

Imagine you had a window into your child's Kindergarten classroom. What would you see? How does learning happen? How are your child's big and little feelings supported? We answer these questions and more, so please join me and Mary as we go beyond the bell and inside Kindergarten. Thank you so much for being here, Mary.

Mary: Thank you, Chantelle! I'm very excited to be here. 

C: Can you tell, or me I'll tell us your name and maybe a little bit about your role here at Simcoe Muskoka Catholic?

M: I'm Mary Day-Mauroum and I support K to eight, Kindergarten through grade eight, uh classroom teachers and D. E. C. E. S or Designated Early Childhood Educators with their classroom programming. The name of my role as a curriculum consultant. But I feel like the privilege I'm given to work with such amazing people who support um the learning of students every day... first needs, the acknowledgement of what they're doing. So yeah, it's really amazing work that they do every day and I have the opportunity to go either meet with them in small groups or larger groups or in their classrooms.

C: So I hope we get started by maybe exploring the idea of what does learning look like in kindergarten? 

M: Oh gosh, it's amazing their work is play. So it, that's why we here kindergarten being a play-based program, but they learn so much through that play and getting to learn, takes a lot of um, practice with um, feeling calm and regulated and ready to learn. So when we begin school in kindergarten, those first two years really do need time for learning how to work in groups, small groups, large groups or even just with another person learning through play really helps that to happen.

Getting opportunities to explore different materials and um, reading and mathmatizing happens throughout the day, so lots of different ways, both explicitly - like where they're teaching through the alphabet, song and reading a story, or just having those language pieces um, in their moments of play where books or even with the blocks and the building as an architect, helps them to look at different ways of the world and how to problem solve and notice things about themselves as learners. So um, kindergarten classroom is a pretty dynamic, amazing place where I think it really is affirming and it's, it really, truly does start there um, and the more we build students in understanding that they... because it's not just put out stuff and let them play, it's very, very intentional.

So, you know, we want things that will connect to that individual child's need at this time, their interests, their curiosities, they're wonderings, and we wonder along with them. 

C: So if we were there watching in the classroom Mary, what would an example of that look like? 

M: Well, right from the start of the day, I think as children are entering, we just sort of do a little bit of a check on how are we doing, how are we feeling today and sharing in that. So everyone comes in needing to sort of decompress, like just be ready to be together. You need an opportunity to talk about how you're feeling and you don't have to bring everything that happened prior to entering the room, but it just does come a little bit with you. So doing that daily check in whether it's um just to say how you're feeling like I'm feeling happy or sad or - those basic emotions or just to communicate in some way with the educators or they - with peers. Um and then they move into play, they... actually, before they do that they're putting their things away and they're showing how responsible they are and taking care of their own materials, they have their own place for their uh, cubby or their coat to be hung and their shoes, or boots to be placed, um, the lunch bags and the backpack and unpacking their own materials.

That's a place where they're starting to greet each other and be in that environment together and we have lots of reasons to be okay with everybody doing things in the way that works best for them at this time. So not everybody has to be at the same place and we know that when they enter kindergarten that they're not. And then in the classroom there's lots of opportunity for them to explore their interests and see themselves. So what I mean by that is the classroom, educators may say at the start of the year, please send in a family photo and that's a really big part of connecting - the child connecting with their family, the children as a class to connect with each other. Um, and then we all connect to being a part of God's big family. So when that happens and the teacher and the DECE share in that. It's not just put on the wall and stagnant, what they're doing is creating a space for each member of that classroom and bringing everyone together. And the educators take part in that too. Last week, I was at a school and they have decided to put a tree in the room. Was just away from the wall, the photos that each student had brought in of their family hanging from it, almost like a ornament on the tree. And one little boy was standing at that tree. The early childhood educator, she was watching him and he was just really quietly standing there and touching the picture of his family. And I looked over and she was talking to him and he had tears in his eyes and he just was looking at the picture and she said, "oh I see you're looking at your picture of your family". And he said, "Mm hmm I miss my mommy". And so she embraced that. She took him to say, "oh yes mommy is very happy that you're at school today. Who else is in the picture," and helped him to look at each person and acknowledged his family, they spent a little bit of time also noticing that there's other pictures and then moved to, "what things would you like to do today and you can tell mommy about?" He just needed that little bit of time. It was so thoughtful and gentle and then he was fine. There were no tears. There were, there was a little, there was emotion but that was acknowledged and moved into what we will be ready to do now.

C: Even at that young age we can have those emotions and you know, work through them and sit with them and also be okay when we're supported through them, if that's what we need - a moment to kind of sit in that emotion and process it with a safe adult and then move on, on to play. And I know many parents as they're sending their littlest children off to kindergarten sometimes worry about missing home or missing family when they're in class for a day. And so what a lovely example of how our educators support children as they're having those feelings and also learning how to cope with those feelings while they're connected at school. 

M: So true. And it is also giving them a place to or language for it so that they're not just feeling it, they're also talking about it and um, I think it doesn't need a big lesson in the whole class but there are great books, really great picture books about it, and so um that's something that the educators will notice and perhaps encourage or select something again later that will be supportive to that child. So they're learning is really specific. They will really intentionally select something for this child at this time. 

C: Yeah. And so as we're talking about what learning looks like in kindergarten, the idea of noticing and naming learning. Can, can you tell us a little bit more about, about that? Absolutely. And I think we go into it thinking oh they're going to learn their ABCs and 123s! There's a lot of big learning that happens as we come into um, meet as a group. So the frames of kindergarten are called Belonging and Contributing. So that's a really big part of our social construct, right? We we need to have skills that we build and concepts that are developing at these early ages to come together as a group. It's not something that we do naturally and actually we've had times where we've had to really stay away from people, so we need to build on those skills. So we talk about it and we speak to children about the ways in which they are belonging and contributing. So they can notice it, you know, "I like when you said that to me," and I you know notice that you gave me these things or that were you know, working together another area is um, self regulation and well being. So children need to have ways of understanding those concepts too, so - I feel calm when and those are noticing and naming strategies so they can also acknowledge when I feel hot, I need to do something about it, right? So those are things that they're noticing about themselves; hunger all of those basic things, but then being ready to engage with other people like I need to have, I feel comfortable and safe. Um those are things that kids need to name about themselves .

We always go to the math and language and think about, you know, I can write and I can read and those are things that we would name about learning, but we can get really specific and I can think of different words and I'm good at saying things in a kind way how we can connect those frames. The last frame, besides the Demonstrating Literacy and Math Behaviors. The fourth one would be um, Problem Solving and Innovating, and that's a really interesting one because there's so many moments in life where problem solving takes place and we can think of it in like social situations, but also just you know, building something and it's not working and you know, doing um, something in great five to when it's not working, does require problem solving to get through it in kindergarten we can really think of situations like with the blocks and the big block play or they might come up with a plan to build something and be inspired by a place that they've been before that they've seen in a book or in a story and sometimes we see them, the books are right there in the block center so that they can inspire children, and they have a plan, like they're going to build this tower or a bridge. My goodness. Building a bridge is pretty interesting work. Um and they work on it and they have some theories or ideas and as they're trying to build they're naming their learning, "Oh that doesn't work, I'm gonna have to try that again because it's not stable," and they're thinking about how to make this structure um, grow. So the problem solving an innovating frame is a really great one for thinking about the learning that happens as well. 

C: Yeah, that's that's lovely. I'm really thinking or you know, as I'm envisioning what you're saying that there's um, maybe a carpeted area or a section of the classroom and it has all these big blocks in it. And sometimes I'm imagining they're kind of like the cardboard blocks and there may be all different sizes and you have a group of kids maybe around those blocks putting them together. And I remember in our, in one of our conversations where you talked about like that kind of budding architect.

M: I went into a classroom and I'll never forget this moment, this is day three of them, these architects, designers, um construction people and artists working together and they were writing about it too, they wrote a story to create this hotel that they were making and it was quite an amazing structure and it was four girls together and actually three who really stuck with it for three days just creating with wood blocks. And um, there were some cardboard pieces and they also used paper and they were colouring and cutting out and making characters to go into the different places within this hotel and redesigning um, working with their ideas for construction as well as their theories of what should be in a hotel -  complete with hot tub ...

C: A luxury hotel!

M: Definitely. But they took time and they were given the space and time to create this and um making, like the beds and decision making on the patterning on the bedspreads. Like they, this is the kind of way that we think of play. But it grew and grew, it was given the space to let them be these architects and designers and they called themselves that in the end.

C: What a great experience and so neat for us to be able to to see that, and, and you know, I'm sure that happens in many of our homes with our kids whether,  whether it's with legos or other blocks, um, and things that are, are crafts that we have in our house where they're constructing things. But when we zoom out and think about that, not just as play, but as learning how many things we can label that are part of that learning process just in that play based experience.

M: So when we pose questions, we take this stance of being in a place of curiosity and wonder, and really it's an inquiry stance and think about, you know, what they're doing and what you're hearing them say to one another without leading them. Like you're not the one telling them how to do something or construct something or retell a story in a specific way. Instead you're guiding them by listening carefully. And that's the first thing that must happen is really listening to what they're saying so that you can go a little deeper and think about what would be appropriate next with statements that start with usually "I wonder." I think it was a story where they've got a mirror set up and you know, different materials in front small world play and they're playing with retelling a story uh, and I've seen that in many kindergarten classrooms as well where they will place familiar stories that they've read as a class or um, that that families would know as well. And setting up small role play and even if it could be with loose parts like rocks and um sticks and maybe some little LEGO characters and LEGO characters are fantastic to engage kids in conversation. But the retelling of the story and you hear them and you notice some things that they're staying with. So maybe there's some connections that the child is making to their own lives. So when you come in you wouldn't say "no, that's not how the story goes". You instead would say something to the effect of, I wonder what this character is feeling right now or I wonder if this is happening beside you know, some of the scenario that's happening, something that's happening, how that impacts those characters or what they're what that one we can say. And so we encourage them and we move them further into the story or again with that construction of the hotel, you can have lots of wonderings about that construction so that they will think a little bit more about the ways their decisions, so their choices that they're making in their play and in their learning.

C: Sure, and I'm thinking about, you know, the stories that come home or when parents and caregivers ask, you know, their child, what did you do today or you know, what happened today? And, and the response might be like I played or I, you know, we did some blocks, or we did some coloring and then, um, maybe there's a wondering of, well, what did that look like or what helps happened as a parent. Um, and so can you speak more to the stories that come home versus maybe the ones that don't?

M: We need to understand when the child is coming home, that's their safe place to just relax and the other children aren't there. So it's their way of their perspective on what they're learning and what they're feeling. Um, and what they're seeing in these social constructs. So they might be coming home with things that are their most pressing needs of, of um, you know, not getting an opportunity or feeling left out and those are really important things to explore. Um, and we work every day in the classroom to consider ways to support those children in - all children in making those decisions. And sometimes when they come home it's those, um, you know, you might not hear the really beautiful moments, you're gonna hear the most challenging things. Um, and, and that's, it's okay to help with those challenges, but not feel you need to fix it. So if it's, you know, um not having the time or opportunity to play with a certain new material in the classroom that day, thinking of ways of saying to the child, well maybe tomorrow you'll have an opportunity, what would you like to do with it and helping them to make a plan with playing or beginning initiating in the play with it. Um there are kids who have preferences and like to stay with something for a long time and usually we're okay with that. But if if someone is waiting for a turn, you know, how do we support with that? So it doesn't mean that there's conflict and it may be that there's conflict, we know that that happens, but it doesn't mean that it's something that's going to last forever and that we have to um support in in a challenge, you know, that's going to be lifelong. It's the challenge is how do we negotiate when things are problematic? So, you know, the two Children who both want the hula hoop and someone comes in and says, well I know what you should do, you should give that hula hoop to that child, you know, or it's her turn that removes the opportunity for those two children to think through a solution because maybe if we give them space by saying um, you know, what do you what do you think you could do? We both want to play with it. What what do you think? Tthe two children together may come up with a really great solution that that other person doesn't have in there. They don't know what they really need. So they need to do the listening then and they may say, oh, I know we can play a game together and you know, here's my idea and here's my... that turns into a whole new opportunity for the children rather than trying to fix it for them.

C: Right. And so that child, you know, is not very likely to come home to say, well I learned problem solving skills or I learned, you know, how to create things and what to do if if it gets broken or I learned how to tell a story about the structure I made. That oftentimes the answer, it was either I played or or it was fun, but hopefully um some of the examples that you shared today Mary, really paint that picture of all the learning that is, is underneath that statement of  "I played."

M: Yes, yeah, the and the unresolved conflict happens every day and we all know that that's part of what we're as human beings, working to do our best. And so that's where yeah, we try to build that noticing and naming the language to tell them of what they can do, but that's not always what the child is going to say later. Um, but they believe in about themselves, they know they have that within them and those experiences that we continue to build on, um are just setting them up for greater success.

C: I'm thinking that we probably have some families listening who are anticipating um kindergarten in the fall or you know, the first day or weeks of school. Um and and you know, maybe some worries about what that transition looks like or what happens um if their child, you know, is upset or sad and I know, you know, we we all see, or many of us have have kind of seen it, but kindergarten yards, the child maybe who has tears going and going into the classroom and and how hard that is as a parent to let go of their child's hand and and watch them as the door closes. And so an opportunity now for us married to explore. Okay, so after that door closes, what does it look like? 

M: Well, that's a great question. And I think it starts right at that gate where the children are given that nurturing space and sometimes it's giving them space to be with their peers because that will support that. They, you know, quickly do build those relationships even on that very first day, but there is the child who doesn't feel connected yet. And so the role of the educator taking them, you know, it's okay, mom, I'll take this child by the hand and we'll we'll walk in and we'll we'll notice things they really do learn quickly. Things that support us with getting to spaces that transition into and out of a space quickly. We all remember lining up. So, but that does take practice on the first couple of days and we take that as really important learning. So that doesn't mean that they instantly need to know these things. The first couple of weeks are spent with some of those, those ways of just being together and um creating a space that feels safe and comfortable. So lining up is one of those things that we take a little bit of time for.  We walk into the um, coatroom typically and that's where the child will see their name. Um, whether they can read books and lots of things that they're going to notice their name and we're going to give them that support if they're um not quite recognizing it to ensure that they know exactly that space and location. It's great if they do know these things, but the support they need when they're in a busier space will be there helping them to ensure that they know that there's things are going to be safe and they really can unzip and take their things off themselves. But sometimes they need time for that.

They'll enter the classroom and um, they'll have opportunities either to gather as a whole group or sometimes in some of our kindergarten rooms, they'll give them a little bit of time to adjust and they'll go quietly to different places in the room before gathering for prayer and for the land acknowledgment and the national anthem, bringing the class together to realize they're part of a school community too is is what some of these things do. And then an opportunity to listen to the educators where they may have some morning message or greeting place to share their feelings.

The walls will be probably not very full at the beginning, but that's where they're asking for those family photos and things that will connect the Children to this space. Maybe a portrait of that the child draws of themselves. And I love those beginnings weeks where, you know, the educators take time with the child to sit by a mirror and the child looks at the features of their face and helps them to draw more details and think about how to use these tools to what they see of themselves to bring out on a piece of paper or whatever materials that they've set out.

Um, and then they have those provided on the walls or in the space. And so we call that the space itself, not just the walls, but the third teacher or the environment being the third teacher. 

C: And I really love that because even working in education, it was only very recently that I thought about that very intentionally and had some conversations with, you know, people like you Mary where what is on the walls is very thought about and intentional and it does work to create that space where um they might be used to help with learning or they might be used to help with connection that there's all these ways is that the walls can be used and so how neat will it be when our parents go into those classrooms, when you know, there might be the open house nights or the interview nights where they can then look at the walls and and with a new kind of awareness of what those walls might represent.

M: It's so true. Yeah, they might see themselves. 

C: Yeah, they might see themselves too - the parents. Absolutely. 

M: It's going to, it's what they'll feel, I think that's what happens first when you walk into a kindergarten room. So, um children in different spaces working away. Um, the intention of what each space would be might be initiated by the educators saying we'll have a space for writing and we'll put out some different materials that will support the children with writing, maybe clipboards and papers and different writing utensils, different colors, different movement on the page, maybe whiteboards too with markers because of the way that that supports children. Um we might see a couple of children at that place, spending lots of time and sometimes they'll be making little books and cutting things out and um, adding those little cutouts because that's a great way to make your illustrations on the page and maybe part of it would be writing words and having different words around that will, that they may be familiar with or storybook language and um, things to help them with forming letters. So lots of different ways of writing. And then at another couple of tables or spaces you might see some games or place where the loose parts are describing a mirror before and saying how you might put out a book and some ways of retelling a story - big blocks on the floor with carpeted usually because it softens the sound a little bit in the busy space. Um, but there's always children building and constructing and thinking in that block play and um keeping keeping them moving or going around the room where there may be a space where there might be a teacher sitting with a few children to um talk about some inquiry that they were thinking about already. They've maybe mentioned uh something that they're interested in or maybe they've brought some material in to invite the children into some ideas and animals and natural world are lways really exciting some - sticks and some little puppets or little pieces of, of um little plastic animals that the children may take part in thinking about, so the forest and what they know and bringing them together about their experience and their thinking of those things. To then get a device to find some National Geographic Kids site that will help with more information and animal sounds like. So they'll do some inquiry like that maybe constructing in the classroom, uh, the woods or, or a place, you know, that's where they start to grow with their ideas and know that their ideas matter. Uh, maybe in another space of the room they may be playing in, at a sand table or water table or something that allows for that sensory play or um maybe talking about that three or four of them engaging in there.

They may have ideas that they would like to explore and talk about. But just even that sensory movement, it's very calming and children will move back and forth from different spaces of the room to maybe come to that occasionally. Maybe we'll see some children painting at an easel and putting their um ideas and just even the movement of the brush on a page is very, you know, inviting for children. Make some think about different things. Um create and become artists. We might see in another space of the room where a child is uh, or a couple of children might be sitting with um, some technology like an iPad with an um Osmo is one of those things I'm thinking about where the different blocks go on the table surface and you can create and it does a little bit of mirroring and the um, the tablet or the iPad would, would recognize the movement on the desk. Um, and then again we see children moving from those places and and just even that ability to make their choices. It happens in a calm, quiet way when we offer the, enough invitations to um that sparked from other conversations and they're wonderings and thinking.  So it's a pretty dynamic space and everything that they bring in - I'm just thinking about another time when I started talking about the forest, I was thinking about another time when uh, an educator team was telling me about, they decided to have a fish in their classroom. And so things became sort of as you enter into the room, centered around that fish. And they started doing a little bit of it. Thinking about sea animals and um different, you know, things in the ocean and other children were thinking about the lakes that they've experienced. And so some children went really deep and wanted to learn more about sea stars and um, were drawing things and recreating things with different materials or um, and the educators made the decision to on the um, their laptop and projector display to have the ocean um, backdrop and sounds playing in the room. So it's very inspiring. And just when you walk in again, the feel came really strongly of this is a safe, happy, joyful place of learning. 

C: Yeah, thank you so much for that. Like deep description as you were going through all the different spaces that might be happening in in the room. I could, I could absolutely picture it. But also it kind of made me want to go back to kindergarten -  how much fun, and enjoy and just being so present in all of those different activities. I - it was it was really wonderful to to hear those, those descriptions of what might happen in the room. Mary with all of your experience and time in kindergarten classes, and our intention with our podcast beyond the bell is to kind of create a window into the classroom, and so if you had the magic powers to give parents and caregivers, uh kind of an inside peek or look into the classroom, what would you want them to see? 

M: Um I think I'd want them to see and to know just how capable their child is of how they're constantly working to solve problems themselves and think about things, but they're safe in this environment and that they are knowing certain ways.

They have lots of feelings and they'll come home to parents and have, you know, those challenging moments are what they're gonna want to talk to you about at home um,  because you're that safe person, you're the one who's helping them and that they feel is always going to be on their side as you should. Um, but being on their side shouldn't feel like it's a battle, it should feel like we're problem solving and we're going to find a way. And so they'll come home with those tough challenges and then then the next day be able to um still engage in play and wonder and be curious. 

You hear, um you know, we would like them to do their zipper up themselves and we think in there quick at home is just faster just to do it for them. But the more we give them those opportunities to be independent and capable and really listen um, they're going to have the ability to know what they really need to ask for help with. And we can think about that question of why this for this child at this time, and how can I best support my child's learning. Um I think that you'll know that in the classroom, that's always the thought that's happening and we're always working in those ways just to think about why this for this child. 

C: Beautiful. Well thank you so much for your time with us Mary. We hope that this episode helped give parents an inside look at what learning looks like in the kindergarten classroom and and maybe some parents might have some, some envy our desire to spend some time back in in kindergarten and in experiencing the joys that learning can bring. Um, but a big, warm thank you to you mary for helping us get that inside look um, and bring us into the classrooms of our littlest learners. 

M: My pleasure, always a pleasure to talk about our youngest learners in our schools.

Thanks for listening to Beyond the Bell podcast. We hope you found today's episode helpful.  Beyond the Bell is brought to you by the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board and our Catholic Parent Involvement Committee. It's hosted by Chantelle Quesnelle. Pauline Stevenson is our executive producer. Episodes are produced and edited by Portage Creative. You can find our show notes in previous episodes on our podcast website If you like today's episode, leave us a review. If you have any suggestions for future episodes or any questions or comments about Beyond the Bell podcast, you can send an email to

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