Our story of transformation continues...

Friday, August 31, 2012

Welcome to our classroom!

This week Julie and I have been busy trying to create a space worthy of our new students.  For those of you have just found our blog, if you look back at September 2011 you will find pictures of our initial transformation.  You can also find more information about the learning environment under the category of "environmental changes."

Here are a few new photos of where our students can visit during "Literacy and Investigation: Thinking and Learning Time":

Literacy and Investigation: Thinking and Learning Time-Planning Wall

Creative Expression through the Arts: Found Materials and Self-Portraits

Creative Expression through the Arts: Painting

Creative Expression through the Arts: Dramatic Play

Self-Regulated Dining Area

Science and Discovery

Light/Mirror Investigations

Math Problem-Solving

Hands-on Sensory Explorations: Fine Motor

Hands-on Sensory Explorations: Water

Bird Inquiry

New Inquiry Provocation: Pet Rabbit

Wooden Trains

A Place to Relax and have Dialogue

Thinking Through Constructing

Thinking Through Constructing

Please note that all of these learning areas invite students to engage with literacy learning (reading, writing, and oral communication).

Here are some new photos of spaces that keep the educators organized:

Educator Space

Educator Space

Daily Mini Lessons

Here are some photos of how we have been able to preserve our room's history over the last two school years:

Preserving History: Nature Walk Collaborative
Collage 2010-2011

Preserving History: Tree Contest 2011-2012

Preserving History: The Sky Inquiry 2011-2012

Thank you for continuing to follow the transformation of our learning environment into a space of possibilities for young children!  Please consider leaving your comments and questions on posts so that we can create an online professional learning community and learn from one another!


  1. Amazing! I would love to know more about how you decide which provocations to start the year with. Also, can you tell us more about your teacher's organization area? What is on all of the clipboards? Looks very interesting :)

    Thanks for a great blog!

  2. Absolutely fantastic! Your learning space is so inviting for not just the children but also for educators. I particularly love how you decided to "preserve history" by showcasing each inquiry project around the room for your new group of students to admire, ask questions, and feel inspired!

    I love seeing what you and Julie come up with and I love how you've set up each learning space to spark curiousity and invite new observations and responses! I can't wait to see what your students come up with!

    Here's to new learning come Tuesday! :)

    P.S. How do you get such a lovely white border around all of your pictures on your blog?

  3. Sarah:

    Thanks for your comment and questions!

    Our initial provocations are simple and more familiar to the children. For instance, we put out our wooden Thomas the train set in hopes that it will invite our students to play and feel comfortable in their new surroundings. We also want the materials to really appeal to them, so that they want to come to school each day! That's why this year we have a real rabbit to greet them on their first school day!

    The educators' space has many clipboards, which include (but are not limited to) our long-range plans, day plans, schedule, week-at-a-glance instruction and learning areas, documentation templates, mini lesson planning sheets, and inquiry planning templates.

    Thank you for visiting! :)


    Thank you so much for your positive encouragement! I look forward to seeing the work that you do within your kindergarten classroom!

    Preserving history is so important. You're right it could be a starting point for new students, a source of inspiration, as well as a way to honour our previous students. When a child comes back to visit and see's their work is still there they smile from ear to ear!

    I'm glad that you are enjoying our blog! I can't wait to see what our students come up with either!

    All the best to you and Heidi on Tuesday!


    Joanne Babalis

    P.S. If you add a caption to each of your photos then the white border appears automatically!! (Click on the photo and instead of moving it to the "right" or "centre" click on "add caption" for your description of the photo.) Hope that this helps!!

  4. Hi Joanne & Julie

    Just want to let you know I am admiring from afar (Australia)! I am not a teacher but a parent looking in. My first child attended a Montessori School for just over a year, but we have had to put both our children into the local public school. I am gaining knowledge from your blog to incorporate a few areas in our home to hopefully inspire a love of learning and provide a bit 'extra' at home. I can see all schools and teachers : ) are different in the public system, but feel our public system dumbs down our children. Your room is absolutely beautiful and you should both be very proud of yourselves with the full and rounded education you are providing to these children.

    Love reading your blog,
    Jodie Driffill

  5. Hi Jodie,

    Thank you for visiting all the way from Australia! We're so pleased our message is spreading not only throughout our province, country, but the world! About a month after I began this blog I had a teacher email me from Thailand. It's all so surprising and exciting!

    I'm glad to hear that the blog is giving you inspiration for your home, and I always welcome educators and parents equally to our online professional learning community. There is so much that we can learn from one another! We share the same hope or wish of lifelong learning for our little ones.

    Thank you for your positive praise! We are learning each day and growing as a result.


    Joanne Babalis

  6. Joanne,
    I am so excited to see the new pictures of your room! I found your blog a few months ago and it inspired me to change my classroom as well. (I teach Kindergarten in a public school) It has been such a fun transformation and my students truly enjoy our classroom. I was wondering if you could post close ups of your documentation templates. I am trying to create some for use in my room, and would love to see what all you have on yours to ensure that I am going in the right direction. Thank you for sharing and for all of the inspiration and great ideas!

    Ashlea Catalana

  7. Like Ashlea, your blog has been a source of inspiration for my teaching partner and I. We've done an "extreme classroom makeover" and we are well on our way to embracing the Reggio inspired approach. We teach in Bowmanville and I hope to make it to one of your events to see your amazing space and your inquiry exhibits in person. Thanks for sharing!


  8. Ashlea: I'm so glad to hear that we inspired you to make your own classroom transformation! When I have some more time I plan to post about the documentation portfolios and can include the information that you requested.

    Krista: Oh wow!! An "extreme classroom makeover" sounds so exciting! I would love to see your pictures! Keep visiting the blog and I will post more information about upcoming events! :)

  9. Joanne: Would you be able to explain how you use the Literacy and Investigation: Thinking and Learning Time-Planning Wall as well as how you implement the Daily writing? I can't wait to incorporate many of your ideas.


  10. Hi Elizabeth,

    Thank you for visiting the blog!

    I have written this down on my list of upcoming posts, as it requires a substantial amount of detail to fully explain.

    Please check back in soon,


  11. I have been popping in and out of your blog for the last year and I absolutely love your set up for the coming year.
    I was in FDK last year and have moved up to grade one this year.

    I wanted to ask about the white binders at your inquiry spaces. What is contained in them and how do you use them with the children?

    I also wondered how you collect and use the "I wonder" papers (I noticed them at the bird centre).

    Thanks for your time!

  12. Hi,

    Thank you for popping in! We're really pleased with our set-up this year too! It will be wonderful to take what you learned in FDK and apply it to Grade 1!

    I'm not sure if this is the same Sarah who posted the same question in the previous post, but if it isn't then it sure is a coincidence that you share the same name and questions!

    Here is what I had answered:

    Hi Sarah,

    The white binders include our inquiry planning template (includes: curriculum expectations, guiding question, projected tasks, etc.), notes of what the students say, do, and represent, photos of them during the inquiry, as well as their drawings and writing samples. The children and educators use the binders to reflect upon what has occurred thus far in order to plan where to go from here, and the students use it is a way to re-visit and think about their learning to date. For parents, administrators, and visitors, these binders make visible our inquiry-based learning practices.

    The "I wonder" papers are all collected and considered when working through an inquiry. Sometimes we bring up the question with the small group or whole group for discussion purposes, and later for research purposes.

    I hope that this helps!

  13. Sorry for the double comment! I had intended for my question to go here, so when I didn't see it, I re-posted.
    Thank for the information about the binders. I love the idea of collecting the information, drawings and writing of the children in one place. What a great way to reflect upon and share learning.


  14. I have studied Reggio Emelia as part of a few 2 to 3 hour professional development training sessions so I know a little bit about it. For example, I recognized the inquiry tables and the use of natural material. I am also familiar with projects that are developed over time from these inquires. However, I had never encountered the idea of using a somewhat neutral-nature inspired-color pallet for the design of you classroom environment. Is that part of the Reggio Emelia approach or something you came up with on your own?

    Also, how do your students respond to it? It appeals to me (as an adult). I love it! But, when I asked my 2 and a half year old which pictures she like best (we were looking at your before and after pics) she chose the before. I was surprised! I think the neutral setting helps your inquiry tables POP!

  15. Sarah: No worries about the double post! I'm glad I was able to answer your question!
    Yes the documentation binders for each inquiry help to keep us organized and reflect on our learning process.

    Jessica: You bring up some interesting points! Truthfully, when I used to design my classroom, it was with the intention to draw students in like a toy shop would. I worked at Mastermind Educational for a number of years, and observed closely how the company got children's attention with their colorful displays and hanging objects from the ceiling, A child might initially choose the colours, because they are able to reference a toy shop experience. A lot about childhood is brightly colored from their toys, to their tv show characters, their home furniture/accessories and clothing. Theneautral

  16. Hi Jessica,

    Sorry my ipad is acting up and wouldn't allow me to finish your response.

    ...Then the neutral tones seem more adult like and resemble what they would find in the rest of their home. Although this may be the case, what we have observed in our students is a greater sense of calm in the classroom after our transformation. The visual noise doesn't make them want to run around or scream as loudly as they would when excited about a new toy at a toy shop. Instead, all the learning opportunities and materials stand out, which makes it easy for them to make decisions and interact with their environment.

    You can also look at it in this way: Even though a young child's bedroom might be brightly coloured does that then mean that they don't enjoy spending time within other rooms of the home? (Say the family room for instance?) They are just different!

    The children who were in the class while the transformation was occurring never once asked for things to go back to the way they were. I believe that they were more intrigued by the "real" world that we were engaging them with, and may have felt more "adult like"/ at home with the space.

    This was a huge worry of mine as we were about to dive into the transformation. I also feared that the students and the families wouldn't like the space as much. Fortunately for us, this wasn't the case!

    The neutral tones have come from my readings about the Waldforf approach, however I also have been reading design books for young children and noticed that colour in the room should be carefully selected (as you said) to make it really pop!

    Thanks for your comment,

    Joanne Babalis

    1. I just stumbled across your blog today and am loving it. I work in Scotland and over the past two years have been transforming our nursery classroom based on a Froebelian approach which has a lot of connections to the Reggio approach.
      Curiously I just read today some research about colour in classrooms which I think has major implications for learning and teaching.

      Many early childhood classrooms are so filled with commercial decorations and materials in bright colours, that young children become visually overwhelmed (Isbell 2013).
      Primary colours should be used cautiously, too many may make children distracted and agitated or cause them to shut down their senses (Pairman and Terreni 2001).
      It is not uncommon for Early years settings to have their walls adorned with colourful creations, their spaces filled with colourful furnishings, but what may be lost in all this colour is the colour the young child brings (McNair 2013).

      From colour research,
      Reds have the ability to over-stimulate and agitate.
      •Blue can evoke calming and relaxing feelings, which can encourage rest.
      •Green can be soothing and anti-stressing.
      •Pink has tranquilizing affects on gross motor skills , can help with co-ordination and in the right hue can be calming.
      •Yellow can be visually tiring and create mental stimulation.
      •Mauves can be nurturing, inspiring and helps intuition.
      •White in its natural form is daylight, it helps the mind to be clear open and receptive. (Atkinson 2004),(Stone and English 1998).

      We have certainly noticed how using natural colours, wood and pale blue, has calmed the children in the way you describe. It's always commented upon when visitors come, how calm and engaged in their learning the children are.

      Preparing the environment, both through colour and how we present the materials, has become a huge part of our planning. Sometimes very small changes make all the difference.

      Best regards

  17. Hey Joanne! I love your blog and periodically visit to get re-energized as a teacher of pre-k students in a public school. I usually loose steam by October and do what I can to get through the rest of the year trying to get the children what they need while balancing the districts and principals requirements... I am Montessori certified and Reggio inspired and cant seem to organize myself enough to juggle all of this and turn it into a clear teaching method (as you have clearly done!!). Here is my HUGE question: Will you share with me how you organize your days (schedule), teaching tools- daily lesson plans, weekly lesson plans or mini lessons, monthly if you use them... and how you organize and decide on which inquiry areas to build upon and focus on? Also will you share the logistics of your students- how many, ages, languages? I generally have 18 students 85% of whom speak a lang. other than English and would like some advice on starting inquiry conversations with children who initially often don't speak...


    1. Hi Reese,

      I too am trying my best to juggle my beliefs, requirements, and of course the time constraints of the school day. It's an interesting dance between it all, and often looks easier when described on a blog! Nonetheless, I appreciate your comment and share your sentiments of the complexity of our job.

      It would be easier if you booked a visit to our class to discuss our planning methods. I have a number of ways that I organize my planning: timetable, inquiry planning template that overviews the inquiry (in place of a unit plan), day plan, week-at-a-glance plan, weekly reminders, and weekly mini lesson plans.

      In our class we have twenty-four students who range between 4-6 years old. Some students come to school knowing English, while six of them are still learning the language.

      Our inquiries begin in many different ways:

      1) Teacher interest or puzzlement about a topic.
      2) Student interest or wonderment about a topic.
      3) Teacher observations of student interest in a topic.
      4) A nature walk where we discuss our questions upon return.

      *No matter how the inquiries begin, we always ensure that our intentions are clearly linked with the curriculum. For English Language Learners, I would use #3 where you observe their interests and enter in an inquiry that way...

      I hope that this was a little bit helpful,


  18. Hi there!
    I have been spending some time time checking your blog out. I am and Early childhood educator working in a full day kindergarten classroom. I am wondering if you would be willing to share some of the things you use to keep yourselves organized and to keep documentation notes. Also, I LOVE your documentation books and saw that some people were requesting you share templates. I would be so great-full if you would be willing to share anything that has made your classroom so inviting and warm! My email address is megananderson1984@gmail.com if you are willing to share! :) thanks so much for the inspiration!
    Megan :)

    1. Hi Megan,

      Thank you for spending time on our blog!!

      I will send you the email today!

      I am planning to start posting YouTube video clips of myself explaining some of the things that we do in the classroom. Stay tuned! I will be sure to share how I organize documentation as well!



  19. Hi Joanne,
    Looking forward to your youtube clips! Would you mind also emailing me your planning and documentation templates? I am particularly interested in your planning documents for small group mini-lessons and inquiries. My email is: sarah.ingram2@gmail.com
    Thank you so much for all of your inspiration!

  20. Thanks Sarah!

    I sent you an email just now with the documentation template. For anyone else who reads out blog, I will be posting this template as a pdf. I think this will save me some time!!

    As of now, I am not sharing my planning templates. I don't believe that there is a right way to "plan" for inquiry. I can post some pictures of how we plan in our classroom, as a starting point...

    Stay tuned!!


  21. Hello Joanne,
    I have been taking some time over the March Break to really explore your Blog in detail and just like everyone else I am in ahhhh of how you have managaed to incorparte all of these theories and implemented them. I noticed you had mentioned you were willing to arrange a visit for viewing and discussion of your room I was wondering if you would be willing to share some details about this with me, my email is langrellt@tvdsb.on.ca, I work within the Thames Valley Distict School Board as an RECE. This is my first year working with them but I have been in ECE field for 6 years prior. I am imagining I will have some co-workers who would like to join so if this is possible I most likely will be bring 2 or 3 with me. Anyways if you are interested please contact me. Thanks again for sharing and please know you are truely an inspiration!!

    1. sorry i put the wrong address for my contact too late last night here it is t.langrell@tvdsb.on.ca, look forward to hearing from you, cheers

    2. Hi Trista,

      Thank you for exploring our blog over your March Break! I hope that you took some time to relax!

      I've worked really hard to try to put theory into practice. I'm glad that you noticed!!

      Normally we welcome visitors throughout the school year, and also host various after school workshops or open house events, however, our visits have been put on hold for this school year. I will write a post if this changes, and share the contact information of the person from our board who schedules the visits.

      I'm sorry about this,


      P.S. Thank you for your kindness!!!

  22. Thank you for sharing your you tube clips! It really helps to understand the meaningful dialogue you have with your students.

  23. Hi Joanne, I would love a copy of your documentation templates, mini lesson templates, inquiry as well....your blog is a true inspiration! My email address is mariabee5@hotmail.com.

    Thank you!

    Maria L.

  24. Hello Joanne I am truly inspired to transform my classroom and love the educator space. Where did you get those baskets that hold clipboards?

  25. Great job Joanne,your blog serves to inspire as well as rejuvenate some of your colleagues who longed to transform their classroom but didnt know how. Great ideas and I am refreshed.I have one concern which is the number of students in the class. Would that have an impact on the lay out of the room and can you tell me what would be the ideal number of students