On Display: Co-Constructing Contexts for Meaningful Engagement

It has been a few week's since the conference, however, the learning from that day continues to percolate in my mind.  I wanted to bring to your attention an excellent blog post entitled A new 3R's, by Laurel Fynes, a fellow Kindergarten teacher and blogger.  She really captured that day well, as did  Tracy in her post "Don't be phony...how do you talk to your children?" and Kylie in her blog post "Beyblades, and Toys at School."

I am going to save my reflections about Lilian Katz and Carol Anne Wien’s presentations for a separate blog post.  For now, you might want to read through some of the other bloggers' thoughts on the conference that I mentioned above.  If you know of more blog posts about this conference, please let me know and I can add them to this growing list!
In addition to this, consider visiting the Bachelor of Early Childhood Studies Conference Charles Sturt University Page where you can find an order form for resources by Dr. Lilian Katz, an interview with Dr. Lilian Katz, and an article entitled: Standards of Experience by Dr. Lilian Katz.

This week I would like to put "On Display" my presentation at the "Co-Constructing Contexts for Meaningful Engagement" Conference entitled:

Children's Treasures: Toys and Tinkering as Powerful Entries for Curriculum and Research

Please note that this is my first attempt at sharing a presentation over YouTube.  I am still trying to figure out the quality for the slides, speed of my audio recording, appropriate transitions, but feel all in all that it’s a good first attempt!  I thought that I would “tinker” around with iMovie (seemed appropriate for my presentation topic) and audio record the introduction, to make those who could not attend have a context about what was discussed.  Although I would have loved to present throughout all of the slides, I am in the middle of my own writing for my graduate studies and am unable to at the moment.  This was a positive experience for me, and I will either edit this video as a full online presentation or begin to create others.  Please continue to visit our YouTube Channel from time to time.  I feel that I have opened myself up to a whole new world of teaching, learning, and collaborating with others, without even having to leave my own home!  I’m also very pleased to share content that not all are able to hear due to travel costs, conference costs, and scheduling conflicts.

So without further ado here is the “Children’s Treasures Presentation March 2013” that I created for our YouTube Channel:

During the presentation, I also had two slides that turned into video clips of our students creating a Lego Ninjago Village...

...and a Fairy Land

When children's treasures are welcomed into the classroom they provide endless possibilities for meaningful engagement, inquiry, and learning.  

I also like how Sergio Pascucci welcomes toys into his Kindergarten classroom in his post "Embracing Beyblade Play."  It is another great blog to visit!

To close this “On Display” Friday feature, I wanted to share with you that I’m not a “techy” person, rather I am a person who is not afraid of tinkering with technology.  When I don’t know how to do something, first I google my question or ask someone more knowledgeable on Twitter to find out.  In my life I try to model what Mrs. Ham and I teach our students to do every day: be curious, ask questions, and try your best.  I am persistent and I don’t give up easily, even when things prove to be more challenging than I expected.  When our students see this, they too show their personal best and aren’t afraid to try something new, even if takes a few tries to get it right!  

Let’s be all that we want to see in our students and more!  

Happy long week-end and Easter to those who celebrate it...

Share your thoughts :

  1. Hi Joanne
    So inspiring on so many levels. I have often wondered about your toy inquiry and this video is a fantastic portfolio of the journey. Thank you so much for taking the time to share. It appears to be a year long inquiry, with new pathways continually being discovered. I so appreciate how it appears that the toy inquiry moves around the classroom, with infusion obvious in a variety of centers and in variety of foci.

    Quite a while ago I started a fairy/peace garden board on pinterest because I had personal connections, having visited a fantastic fairy garden (peace garden) this summer and we have a peace garden at our school. Groups have visited our school peace garden in the fall and the winter, observing the changes. I had been wondering what provocation(s) I might put out in the classroom as we move into spring that might make deeper connections to this fantastic outdoor area of our school. Perhaps watching your students talk about their fairy garden might be the springboard into some new interests and thinking connected with our peace garden. Thank you for this inspriation.

    I too love to play with technology. Far from being a tech expert, I will persist with trial and error and ask my knowledgeable friends and colleagues how to make things work. My students see me using technology all the time, see me experience glitches at times and will hear me at times admit "I don't know. I will have to ask someone for help." I think this is an important message to model.

    Wow so much to reflect upon from your latest post. Thank you for this inspiration!

    1. Dear Heather,

      I have been keeping the content of our Toy Inquiry hidden to provide those who came to the presentation with something new to look at and think about! Sometimes I meet these amazing educators that know my blog posts and content better than I do, and I really wanted them to feel like they were getting something more than a repeat of what I've been posting. Although, it's always different to hear it live and the story that is told behind the learning intentions and outcomes.

      This has turned into a year long inquiry. Something that we had never anticipated... Both Julie and I continue to document the students and realize that there is still a STRONG interest in Lego play and that it is not diminishing in the least... Our students have guided us down these new "pathways" as you state (love that by the way!). We have discovered more about Lego than I even knew as a child. This being said, we have also been very intentional and provided multiple opportunities to extend their learning and explore other languages of learning (e.g., arts, mathematics, etc.) and learning areas, as you noticed. You are always so observant! One of your many qualities!

      I love the idea of your fairy/peace garden. It sounds like an enchanting place to learn, play, and inquire! We are planning to extend our Fairies and Fantasy Project into a Butterflies, Blossoms, and Natural Beauty Inquiry. There the students can begin to create a garden for their fairies, since we learned that flowers and forests are homes to fairies. Showing your students the video clip of Fairy Land might get their creative juices flowing to consider what they can do outdoors. I would be so interested to see how this evolves...

      I have glitches all the time too! This Friday I forgot my laptop's power-cord at home and I had to explain that my laptop ran out of battery and won't allow us to use the Smart Board any longer. I think as long as we're real and show them that we are patient, persistent, and flexible that they will internalize what we're modelling! You are always tinkering with something new! Good luck with the new blog set-up. Please let me know when it is ready and I will share it with our blog guests, as well as update the educator's resources section.

      Thank you for reflecting with me,


      P.S. I sooooooo appreciate you taking the time to post a comment! Really I do...
      Can't wait to chat next week at the documentation session hosted by BSS! Let me know if you still want to carpool.

  2. Joanne -
    Thanks for including my blog on yours, it is an honour! Your constant professional growth and the depth of your inquiries never ceases to amaze me and always pushes me to think in new, innovative ways.

    I was presenting at the same time as you during the conference at CSU and was sad to miss out on such an intriguing subject. We have had many discussions as an FDK team on the purpose and/or benefits of bringing treasures into the classroom (a practice that is often frowned upon in school settings).

    We too have embraced children's toys as classroom treasures. My question to you is how you facilitate children bringing toys into the classroom? Is it an open invitation - or do children discuss their thinking prior to bringing materials in? Are there any parameters around them bring in materials?

    So far in our room, we are having conversations with children as they bring in toys. We talk about their thinking about how they will incorporate their toys into their play and sometimes we brainstorm ways to bring depth into their play (e.g., encouraging them to sketch or construct with their toy).

    I would love to hear how that process works in your room to compare our thinking!

    I am also very impressed with your videos and power point on YouTube - yet another way to bring technology into professional learning online.

    "Creativity in contagious pass it on" - Albert Einstein

    Your creativity continues to inspire and "catch" us all!

    Tracy Pickard

  3. Hi Tracy,

    I was happy to include you in this post, and wished I could have attended your presentation at CSU!

    Thank you for your kind compliments. We're working really hard to engage deeply into our inquiries and projects in meaningful ways.

    I'm happy to hear that your team has embraced children's treasures into your programs. Children can bring their treasures (special toys, books, art work, or anything else from home that is of value to them) to our classroom at any time of the year. Each morning we've asked the students to either place their treasures in a basket, which they know will be drawn upon for sharing time, or to add it to their learning area of choice. When students put the treasures at let's say the light and shadows learning area, then we know that they will engage with it there while continuing or extending their learning. If items are shared, we connect them with an oral explanation/presentation and our writing lesson. Students are very excited to be selected to share. With our document camera we take photos of each item that is shared on our Smart Board/SmartNotebook file. Then one of the items (we share about five each day) is used for writing. At that point I either model a form of writing using an image captured of their treasure with the document camera or have them participate in shared or interactive writing. An example last week was a bunny rabbit stuffed animal and I modelled the difference between a speech bubble and a thought bubble to prepare our students who wish to create comic strips/books (the speech bubble and thought bubbles were written right onto the image of the stuffed rabbit on the Smart Board). During this sharing/writing time, Mrs. Ham will take notes of what is brought into the classroom. These notes help us document, as do the photographs on the Smart Board of what our students treasure. We later use these as starting points for further planning. After the lesson is completed, students are encouraged to share how they plan to use their treasure to support their thinking and learning.

    It's interesting how their treasures change the play and investigations each day! Having this open invitation throughout the school year allows them to bring things in when they make most sense in their lives. Last week we had a student share her beloved Easter cartoon, which was very appropriate for the coming holiday. On average, I think we get about 5-8 new items each school day. The entire class enjoys hearing the stories behind the treasures, getting to know their friends' preferences/family/special celebrations, making connections, giving compliments, asking questions, and seeing the variety of unique items that come in!

    This change in our beliefs and practice has really connected us with our students' lives, their realities, and makes them feel as though their home life and school life are not separate. We've never known our students as well as we do now! In addition to this, our students feel that they are valued and that what matters to them, matters to us. They have truly found their voices and we love to listen!

    I'm happy that you liked the YouTube video clips. I was ready for a new challenge...I agree that digital collaboration and professional learning are powerful and wide-spreading!

    Thank you for your quote. It's so true! I'm glad my creativity has become a source of inspiration! Learning is contagious! I also appreciate the time that you took to respond to this post.


    Joanne Babalis

    P.S. I really love the title of your blog!

  4. Joanne,

    Thanks for including me in your post and for giving us the opportunity to revisit your presentation. Something that stood out for me is how far the children have taken their learning. I love the Lego store and the instruction sheets they created. It’s clear that you and Julie work very closely together and share your observations and documentation so that you know your next steps in guiding, supporting and honouring the children’s’ learning.

    I can relate to your “tinkering with technology” too. So much has changed the last couple of years in how we use technology in our personal lives and at school. I love how technology opens up new networks and communities in which educators can share not only their students’ learning, but their own as well. Twitter for instance is one area I know I need to explore more. It allows me to see and learn what others are doing in their classrooms. I shared one of Laurel’s tweets with a few of my boys who had begun experimenting with building a ramp and they were excited to have theirs tweeted out as well….a lot of potential here!

    Keep tinkering! : )


    1. Hi Serge,

      I'm very impressed by your blog and love to include it whenever and wherever it's appropriate!

      You're right, Julie and I work very closely together. We talk about our observations and documentation on a daily basis. This helps us to plan our next steps a new provocations.

      So much has changed! I sort of feel like I was living under a rock for a while...I mean I never expected how much I would learn through social media. My most up to date professional learning has been done online at my own time. It's more current than the books I've purchased or even some of the workshops that I've attended!

      I followed you on Twitter today and through your account discovered that Reggio Emilia-Reggio Children had their own account. I was so pleased to follow them! Such a fan of their work...

      Thanks for the comment and encouragement!


      P.S. We've incorporated social media into our morning meetings. The students have become well versed with our "Blog," "Pinterest," "Twitter," "YouTube," and "Instagram" accounts. Each day we show some of our learning that has been shared online, whether it's a tweet, photograph, or entire blog post, they are always so eager to find out if anyone responded or how many views/likes it received!!

  5. I have to smile when I see all these comments from familiar names from my favourite PLN. Truly this year has been transformational for me, in no small part due to joining social media professionally. This group of teacher/learners, many represented above, have made it possible for me to treat my daily reflections on my practice as a collaborative inquiry. Joanne, I may still be trying to figure out my audience and exploring what blogging means for me, but as you've been such an inspiration to me, I'm honoured to be a part of this larger conversation and helping to share the key insights we walked away with after attending that powerful event. Thank you!
    Serge, I'm careful to not come across as too evangelical about it, but I'm happy to see AQ friends joining and becoming more active on twitter, Pinterest, trying Voicethread and vine. Sharing our discoveries sparks greater discoveries. Kindergarten can be a lonely place in a school, but not with this community available every day.

    1. Laurel,

      I couldn't agree more! I've truly never felt so connected to others teaching Kindergarten while learning at the same time. Such a wonderful support system and source of inspiration. I know that if I go on Twitter and post a question, idea, or new resource that someone somewhere out there in the virtual world will respond to it!

      I think it's great that we've been able to form a PLN of educators online from our province. I also appreciate hearing the perspectives of others from around the world and in a variety of education related positions. Sometimes the learning is so intense (and such a large quantity available), that I feel overwhelmed! There have been nights where I can't fall asleep, so I turn on Pinterest only to read a new and interesting article and then blog post that keeps me up for hours thinking through how I might make that happen in our program. The wheels in my head move so fast and my mind works so vigorously that it's hard to slow them down... It's all good though!! I'd rather be filled with wonder, reflection, and new knowledge, than to feel bored and at a stand still...

      Your thoughts were very powerful and I was pleased to share them! I love that we can learn about conferences, even if we are unable to attend them.

      It's so nice to collaborate with you over social media! I sometimes feel like I really know you, even though we've only had one real face-to-face conversation!

      Keep up the great work that you are doing!

      You continue to teach me so much,


  6. Wow!! Very impressive, I love how we see literacy everywhere in the children's plans, books, drawings and paintings.

  7. I really like the idea of including childrens' treasures into the classroom. It makes learning more meaningful for them and keeps them engaged. It's a great way to get students to read and write. We have a group of students who were involved in a Beyblade inquiry. There is still a strong interest in them. They just love to see things spin!

  8. Re-visiting this blog posting coincides incidentally with my re-visiting of my classroom "rule" about bringing toys and trinkets from home. I've taken a step back from this - rather than worrying about potential conflicts that may or may not arise among children over these toys. By so doing, I've been more relaxed and able to truly "listen" to what children love about their treasures and I've found that even the more reluctant speakers are eager to share. Often they teach me new things. If children know that there is a genuine interest on the teacher's part and that they are valued, they more confidently explore opportunities to show what they know. The LEGO toys have re-emerged in our room with the release of the recent film. Children have written about them, drawn about them and even created structures at the building centre for them. Sorting, patterning and graphing are always more fun if you use LEGO!! By showing that we value the connection between home and school, I believe children feel safe to share what they know and more actively engage in learning activities.

  9. I have also begun to rethink the rule of no toys from home at school. Students in my class just naturally started bringing them from home, which I allowed, if they used it for writing. Even with this rule of using it for writing only, it excited them. This makes me wonder how much more excited they would be if they could use their toys from home in all areas. Reading the blog and watching the videos has made me think about how much more motivated and engaged the children will become if they are allowed to use "treasures" from home and integrate them in different activities at school.

  10. Starting in the spring last year, we had "Fun Fridays" in our class, where students were allowed to bring in toys or artifacts from home to using during the school day. We anticipated a lot of student excitement, which there was, but there was also a sense of calm in the room, as students were engaged with their own materials. They also enjoyed engaging with items brought in by their peers.
    I appreciated reading Joanne's response to Tracy, as she described how she incorporates student artifacts in her classroom. I love the idea of purposefully incorporating the items into the classroom on a daily basis - it validates the students on a daily basis but also allows the educators to use the artifacts to teach (e.g. speech/thought bubbles) and document student interest.
    I'm definitely rethinking using the students' artifacts in the classroom - planning for this to take place, having the students decide where/how they will use their artifacts, and describing the integrated teaching/learning/playing to parents.

  11. This post really caused me to re-examine my practice and my "rule" that no home toys come to school. I always thought of them as being a distraction to our program. As part of a twitter chat, I also had to consider a colleague's idea that she raised asking "Do we want students to leave their identity at home? And be someone else at school?" From viewing the above videos, I am really considering how asking students purposeful questions about the toys they have brought in and having them incorporate this thinking into their learning and then asking them to demonstrate that learning might attract those more reluctant learners.

  12. Joanne,
    After visiting your post last year I gave the "no home toy" rule some careful thought. I wondered why children wanted to bring their treasures with them to school. I began to think that it was because for some of them the transition from home to school was quite stressful. Bringing something they loved from home was like the child who carries around a blanket or stuffed animal everywhere until it is all worn and ragged or like an adult who carries around pictures of their family in their wallet. It gives them comfort and security. When I abandoned this rule (quite late in the year-April 2013) I saw something magical occur. A whole inquiry about super heroes and bullies emerged out of Angry Birds, Lego Ninjago and Superman and Batman figures. Your post not only made me rethink my teaching practises but it also led me to some other amazing blogs (Crayons, Wands and Building Blocks, Our Kindergarten Journey, Passionately Curious, The Kindergarten Life) Thank you so much for inspiring me and creating wonder an curiousity in me.

    "I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity." Eleanor Roosevelt


  13. I had the privilege to see Joanne present this inspiring work live at the conference at Charles Sturt University last year. I too was inspired to reconsider the "no toys" policy that had always been in place in our early years classrooms. It is astonishing to think about what learning opportunities could potentially be missed due to rules and policies that we govern our students with. It was not only inspiring to see Joanne share the learning journey of her students, but also to witness the other educators' responses to her presentation at the conference. I know that I was not the only one who left there rethinking some of my own classroom "rules and policies". Thank you for always pushing my thinking forward!!!

  14. After visiting Joanne's Open House last year and observing all the wonderful learning that was taking place in the classroom with the students treasures from home, I too reconsidered the no toys rule that I had in place in my own classroom. This year, the students are welcomed and encouraged to bring in treasures from home to support their play and learning in the classroom. The learning is authentic, meaningful, and FUN!

  15. After watching the short video clips on Children's treasures, I have reconsidered the rule that no toys should come to school. This year my students are able to bring in their treasures and are encouraged to talk about them with their peers. The students really enjoy bringing them in. They are using their treasures from home during their learning time. I always felt like bringing toys from home would cause a lot of trouble in the classroom, instead they have help the students in their learning.