I remember our first encounter, like it was just yesterday...
I was sitting in The Bishop Strachan School's library with great anticipation for the Ontario Reggio Association's Conference to begin. Beside me sat a familiar face, but I couldn't quite put my finger on how I knew him! After a couple of minutes, I realized that it was the inspiring FDK blogger, Sergio Pascussi, who's blog I was introduced to a few months prior. Sergio also recognized me and almost at the same time we chimed in "I follow your blog!" I cannot fully describe this powerful moment in words... It was as though social media and fate somehow brought us together... Quite spectacular really, the way our two worlds (real and digital) collided so effortlessly!
I really admire Sergio's work and his openness to share his learning through his inspiring blog Crayons, wands, and building blocks: A journey through play-based learning. It has been especially interesting for me to exchange ideas with him in person about Full-Day Kindergarten, documentation, environment as third teacher, our favourite apps, and blogging tips.
Sergio Pascucci is a Full-Day Kindergarten teacher for the Peel District School Board. It is a real honour to spotlight his thinking today. I hope that you enjoy our interview together and the beautiful photographs that he has generously shared from his classroom.
1. Please share with our blog visitors a little bit about yourself.
Joanne, let me begin by taking this opportunity to thank you for inviting me to be a part of your “On Display” feature. I’m so inspired by your work and I’m incredibly honoured to be featured on your blog.
A little bit about myself – I have been teaching with the Peel District School Board since 1997 and as of next year, I will be able to say I have taught every age group from Kindergarten to Grade 5. I have been in support roles as an E.S.L. and a Technology teacher. I left the classroom for a few years and assumed a role as an Elementary Instructional Resource Teacher with the P.D.S.B. While I enjoyed working with Elementary and Middle School teachers, I longed to be back in the classroom learning alongside the students. After a few years back in a school, I was offered the opportunity to teach Kindergarten. I wanted a change, so I accepted – reluctantly. It has turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my career and has led me on a journey towards emergent curriculum, play-based learning and the Reggio Emilia approach.
2. You have been on an incredible journey! What are some of your successes and insights that might support the work of a new Kindergarten educators.
I remember how overwhelmed I felt when I first started teaching Kindergarten. It was quite a jump teaching ten and eleven year olds to suddenly welcoming three and four year olds. I feel I grow professionally year after year, but the learning curve in Kindergarten was steep. At first it was difficult because I found it challenging to plan the day and address the expectations. As time went on, I began to understand that I didn’t need to call children over to complete a task, or check their name off a list. I learned that giving children ownership in the classroom and allowing them to co-construct learning areas such as the dramatic play area would result in a depth of learning that I could not have planned. I began to realize how “freeing” Kindergarten could be. The more I allowed the children to take the lead, the more I knew what I needed to do to support them. As I became more interested in this emergent way of doing things, I began to learn more about the Reggio Emilia approach. It made so much sense to me and greatly inspired me. The more I saw children as protagonists in their learning, the more I was able to let go. I realized that my role was not to prepare them for Grade 1, but to nurture their interests and curiosity and the rest would fall into place.
So, what are the biggest lessons I’ve learned?
2. Slow down and don’t expect children to follow your agenda. If you let them, they will take their learning to places you may not have considered.
3. Observe. Quietly. We don’t need to fill every moment with a question or comment.
4. Listen. If we don’t listen, how will we know what to do in order to guide the learning?
5. Document. A camera, an iPad, or a simple notebook will be your best friend, or in my case “friends.” We need to make the learning visible for ourselves, for the parents and for the children. We all play an important role and documenting the learning allows us to reflect and consider next steps. It allows children to revisit and make connections to their learning, and it gives parents an opportunity to see authentic learning experiences.
3. Your blog is a source of inspiration for me and so many others! How did you get started? How has your blog helped to inform your practice.
I played with the idea of a blog towards the end of my first year teaching Kindergarten. I remember looking at all the pictures I had taken and realized just how much learning was happening and how no one (primarily the parents) could see it. Parents kept asking when the homework was coming home and I repeatedly said it wasn’t. I wanted them to see what “play-based” was all about. I wanted them to feel assured that their child was learning in a meaningful way. And so, the blog was born.
The blog has definitely helped to inform my practice. The process of writing a blog post is a wonderful exercise in reflection. Many times as I’m writing I begin to think of provocations or questions I could pose that might extend the children’s learning. It further connects me to the children. What I didn’t anticipate was becoming part of a larger learning community. The blog has allowed me to make so many connections with very passionate educators such as yourself and many others. I’m happy to have had opportunities to meet several in person as well as online. I learn so much from our Professional Learning Community.
4. What are some of the highlights from your school year? Describe for us an inquiry, project, or experience that was memorable.
There have been several, but I think the one that probably intrigued the children for the longest period of time was our composter project which led to the worm inquiry. It began with a discussion around the food we were noticing in the garbage. A few children suggested we put the food in the composter, but what happens to it there? Some children said that worms lived in the composter. So, we built a composter, prepared the bedding and awaited the arrival of our red wigglers. The children observed them, researched by looking through books to see what they might find, drew them, painted them, wrote stories about them, and learned to make diagrams. We found eggs and were lucky enough to watch one hatch. The egg actually jumped in a student’s hand. She predicted it was about to hatch and it did! The children were very intrigued by the worms right up to the last week of school. During outdoor play, one child noticed that a worm “didn’t make it.” It was dried up in the middle of the tarmac. She had a theory that if she brought it to the shade and put water on it, it might be okay. School comes to an end, but their hypotheses never do! So much authentic learning occurred as a result of this inquiry. It integrated the learning areas in a meaningful way. It was wonderful to see.
5. Congratulations on your new teaching position for OISE's Kindergarten AQ! What are some of the key messages that you hope educators leave with around Full-Day Kindergarten. Do you have any advice for me as a new instructor this Fall?
Facilitating the Kindergarten AQ has been a wonderful experience. I hope educators come away with a solid understanding of play and its implications for children’s learning. Play needs to be the vehicle through which children learn. Play is the work of children and programming and assessment need to be based in authentic, real-life contexts. I hope they reconsider didactic practices and reassess their own practices to ensure that the experiences and provocations they provide to children are developmentally appropriate. I hope they trust that their children will guide them along the way. I hope they trust themselves and know that they will provide their children with wonderful learning opportunities if they take the time to observe and listen. I hope they become comfortable with documentation and make the learning that happens in their programs visible. Most of all, I hope they come away with the tools they need to become advocates for our youngest learners.
Congratulations to you in role as an AQ instructor as well! I know your participants will be enriched by the experience. The only advice I have for you is the same I had for myself and that is to simply enjoy it!
Thank you to Sergio for agreeing to be featured on our blog today! I know that I speak for many educators who follow his journey when I say, we truly look forward to continuing to learn from and with him!