Happy September!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Kalo mina! Happy September!

In Greece, they say "kalo mina" to wish each other a good month.  I really love this concept, and thought that I would send some positivity your way.  May your September be filled with the joy of learning and inquiry!

As some of you may already know, I am not at Bond Lake P.S. anymore.  I was offered a very unique opportunity to open up a new school in our board, called Anne Frank P.S., as their Early Years (Kindergarten) lead and Teacher Librarian.  In this role, I will be supporting the Full-Day Kindergarten teams and will spend time in each room to inquire alongside the students/educators.  I look forward to documenting the learning discoveries, and extending upon these moments within the library.

I have really big plans for my new challenge and can hardly wait to begin!  We are currently in two holding schools, and will be ready to move into our new space later this month.  At that time, I will be designing the Learning Commons (library) into a space of possibilities that will hopefully inspire students K-8, staff, families, and, colleagues from other schools/boards, and community members.

It feels a little strange not having a space to setup this past August in preparation of welcoming our youngest learners to school!  Even though this is the case, I still have the environment as third teacher on my mind.  I have been instructing a course about it for York University, responding to emails from blog visitors, and visiting my new Kindergarten team’s classrooms.

This post will focus on my September advice for educators, written in a way that I hope is helpful!  This is only advice, and is based on my own experiences and learning.  It is by no means “the right way,” but rather a starting point to consider...  You may choose to ask yourself these questions, or discuss them with a colleague.  

Classroom environment questions and considerations:

What does your physical environment look like?

  • When setting up our learning environment, I always begin by considering the indoor space and outdoor space as one large area that the students can flow in and out of. I think about what I might like to bring inside from nature, and what from in the classroom I can setup outside.  I truly want each space to be an extension of the other!
  • My main goal is for the classroom to feel like home.  I place fresh flowers in vases, use whicker baskets to store our resources, and add mirrors, plants, wooden shelves, and table cloths throughout the room.  When the classroom resembles home, it is far more familiar for the children who enter school for the first time.
  • The furniture in the space has a large impact on what learning may occur there.  For instance, a soft carpet is far more comfortable to build upon or read on than a table.  Placement of furniture is also important.  I suggest thinking about what learning areas work well close together and in regards to noise level.  
  • I purposely select colours that are muted for the walls, carpets, and other large surfaces.  This ensures that what pops are the children’s work (drawings, paintings, writing pieces, creations, etc.), photographs, and classroom materials.  
  • Store bought items, such as posters, signs, and bulletin board trim are replaced with co-created collaborative pieces that the children produce.  By doing so, the children feel represented in their learning environment and take ownership of their space.
  • Carefully planned provocations are placed on various surfaces, including tables, carpets, and countertops.  A provocation can be as simple as a sensory tub with soil and planting materials, and as complex as the beginnings of a potential inquiry topic.  (Though we all know that an inquiry can also come out of the simplest provocation!)
  • I leave something up on the walls from the previous year to preserve history.  For instance, if we had co-created something as a class for a significant moment of learning, I might choose to leave it up to inspire the next class.

What materials are made available for your students?

  • I believe in the hundred languages of learning from the Reggio Emilia philosophy.  I agree that children have many ways of expressing themselves, which are not limited to paper/pencil tasks.  Therefore, I like to offer a wide variety of learning opportunities with different materials.  These materials are not all offered at once, but rather are specifically selected when they appropriately support the learning/learners.
  • I aim to have as many open-ended materials available as possible.  These could be store bought (wooden blocks, magnets, lego pieces etc.), collected items (rocks, pine cones, seashells, feathers, leaves, wood chips, etc.) or recycled materials (bottle caps, tin cans, jars, marker lids, salad containers, etc.) for students to explore and create with.
  • To support inquiry-based learning, I like to have clip boards for wonder writing, magnifying glasses, measuring tape, mirrors to see learning in another dimension, and classroom plants or pets to care for/watch grow.
  • I work very hard to provide high-quality art resources for the students to engage with.  For example, acrylic paint, pastels, sharpie markers, sketch pencils, ribbon, wire, etc.  
  • Literacy materials are intentionally placed within each learning area (inside and outside).  For example, clip boards, sticky notes, journals, books, magazines, flyers, documentation, question prompts, etc.
  • Technology is available throughout the space to support learning (e.g., laptops, iPads, digital cameras, desktop computers, document cameras, smart board, etc.).
  • By having a wide variety of resources, I try my best to appeal to the different learning styles and interests. 

How is your day planned?

  • I always think about my schedule carefully.  I go through the areas that I can change/have flexibility with, and what are some times that are set (e.g., duty times, break times, prep. times).  By thinking creatively, I can plan for open-ended or un-interrupted inquiry time.  I call this time “Thinking and Learning Time.”
  • I consider when I can offer extended periods of outdoor learning, deliberate mini lessons for literacy and mathematics, as well as time to document student learning.
  • Time plays a significant role in the learning environment.  If students are provided twenty-minute intervals to engage in the provocations that you have available for them and then stopped to transition to something else, it will disrupt their flow.  By abruptly ending their opportunity to explore, you may not have maximized the potential of your open-ended discovery based classroom.

First day questions and considerations:

How do you start off your morning?

  • We like to play soft music in the room to keep everyone feeling calm.  Upon entering with the students, I show them where to hang up their backpacks and with the support of my DECE partner,we gather briefly on the carpet for a familiar song (ABC, Twinkle Twinkle) and short story.  Then we walk around the room with the students in a train, and as we are linked together we show them the various learning areas.  At that point we give them a signal for “stop and clean up” and allow them to freely explore their new space.  We want them to play, so that they will enjoy themselves and hopefully want to return to school the next day!

What routines might you begin with?

  • We begin with routines such as washroom, eating, cleanup, sitting on the carpet and participating in conversations.
  • Respecting the classroom materials.
  • We play with the students and model how to engage with various learning materials.
  • We thoughtfully prepare our classroom environment with various invitations that are familiar to the students (e.g., house centre, wooden train set, lego, etc.)
  • As a teaching team, we begin to document student learning (photographs, collect work samples, student thoughts).

First week questions and considerations:

What are your goals for the first week?

  • We continue to build upon the goals from the first day (see above).
  • We want our students to feel safe, happy, and supported.  We work hard to get to know who they are, and want them to get to know us as well!
  • We work closely with our Junior Kindergarten students to make them feel more independent with routines.  Snack/lunch in our classroom was open all day and required patience at the start of the school year from the teaching team, students, and families.  Our “all day dining” area had space for twelve students (approximately half of the class) and was placed near the cubby area for easy access to lunch bags.  Having a designated eating area, allowed us to monitor allergies, tidy up one space with crumbs/spills, and freed up the remainder of the room for learning that could be preserved throughout the school day.  By this, I mean that the students could begin a painting or glue project for instance, and not need to put it away for “snack time” or “lunch time.”  They could leave it on the table, go and eat at the all day dining area, and later return to it.
  • We aim to capture a photograph of each child and see if they can print their name.
  • Observe students’ interactions and make anecdotal notes.
  • Begin to have conferences with students regarding their interests and photo document some of their favourite learning areas.
  • Communicate with families and find out the hopes and dreams for their child in Kindergarten.

First month questions and considerations:

What are your goals for the first month of school?

  • Ensure students feel safe, happy, and supported.  Our main goal and hope is that they want to come to school!  
  • Establish routines (washroom, eating, cleaning, listening, playing, entry, dismissal, etc.) and work on them daily until students feel confident and independent. 
  • Get to know each learner and their family.  
  • "About Me" invitations such as Self-Portraits. 
  • Nature walk that might spark first inquiry.
  • Collect assessment data to begin to form differentiated mini lesson groups (e.g., for students who need support with letters, fine motor, reading, etc.)

How have you gotten to know your students?

  • Interest Interview
  • Family Survey
  • Entry Assessments (name sample, Observation Survey, Numeracy Interview, Oral Language Checklist, Personal and Social Development Checklist, etc.)
  • Classroom Observations during Thinking and Learning Time

Resource questions and considerations:

*Please check back soon, as I will try my best to link these files I have already created.*

What resources support your planning and program?

Day Plans/Supply Plans
Week Plans
Mini Lesson Plans
Inquiry Plans 
Interest Interview
Family Survey

What professional resources have influenced my thinking?

*Please check back soon, as I will try my best to link the listed resources.*

The Full-Day Early Learning Kindergarten Program document
Article: Consider the Walls
Book: The Hundred Languages of Children
Book: Designs for Living and Learning
Book: Last Child in the Woods
Book: Authentic Childhood

Upcoming events to consider: *More information to follow and links to sign up will be added as they become available*

Conferences that I have been invited to speak at:

Orangeville Workshop - September 20
Durham Conference - October 18
Edmonton Conference - November 6, 7, 8
Reading for the Love of It - February 9, 10

*I am not instructing the Kindergarten Part 1, 2, and Specialist course through York University until January 2015.*

TransformEd sessions I am offering:

CTInquiry - I created this network “Connected through inquiry: A curious community of learners” as a way for like minded educators to meet and share their inquiry projects.  Check out this page for more information.  New members are all welcome! 

Three-Part Professional Learning Workshop Series (Fall) - Save the dates!

Part 1 Planning for an inquiry-based program - September 27

Part 2 iPhonography: How photographs can enhance your teaching -October 25

Part 3 Portfolios: Thinking and learning made visible - November 15

*Please save these dates, as the information will follow in a separate post!

Though some of this advice is specific to early learning, I strongly believe that it can be easily adapted in other grades.

Have a joyful start with your wonderful students... Wherever you are in the world...


Joanne Marie Babalis
TransformEd Consulting Services

Extensions for home or your program: Consider your learning environment.  Have you tried to use some of the materials mentioned above?  Try one suggestion and see what learning might emerge.

I facilitate thinking
I engage minds
I listen to questions
I encourage risk
I support struggle
I cultivate dreams
I learn every day
I teach



  1. I am so inspired by your journey and transformation. Thank you so much for posting pictures and sharing your thinking behind your beautiful environment!

  2. HI Joanne, how do I find out more information about the Durham conference you have been invited to speak at on October 18th. The work that you do is amazing and so inspiring!!

  3. Hi Joanne, I love reading your blog! I am new at teaching kindergarten and this post has really helped me think about my goals for the first month of school.
    On another note, do you happen to know much about the conference in Edmonton? Have you gone before? If you have, would you recommend for others to attend?

  4. Hi Joanne,
    How can I get more information about where and when you will be in Orangeville? I would love to attend! Thanks!