Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Days 17, 18 and 19

Despite our best intentions, our plans to go “screen-free” lasted until late in the day on Wednesday. By then we had been busy all day, and we needed a break from each other. And we decided that Netflix as a reward was working, so our screen time on Thursday and Friday featured “Go Dog. Go”, on repeat.

Wednesday began at 4:30, with C awake and ready for breakfast, likely due to his dinner decisions the previous evening. It took about 45 minutes to convince him to return to bed, and he successfully added a couple of hours to his sleep time.

But he did awake hungry, and so our first activity of the day was to dig out an old waffle iron, mix up some batter, and cook breakfast. The first batch didn’t meet with his approval, as I did not spread the batter to the corners, and so he didn’t have the four square waffles he expected.  As the second batch was cooking we took breakfast-in-bed to Grandpa, and confirmed that we would have having another “screen-free” day.

While he ate, we created a calendar for the month of February, entering all the important dates, including his birthday in three weeks. He enthusiastically crossed off 1, 2 and 3, and then later in the day checked off 4 as well! C spent the morning playing with Lego and his vehicles, and then making sandwiches for lunch.

We had a beautiful, clear day, so the afternoon was spent exploring nearby ditches, sliding down the snow, and keeping out of the wind. C has no idea that I might not have the flexibility and stamina that he has, and so it was a great workout.

In the evening, before bath time, we headed outdoors to examine two things: the electricity meter on the outside of the house, and the amazing display of stars. C’s idea to then play hide-and-seek in the snow was only partially effective: the temperature made the snow quite crunchy, so it was difficult not to hear where anyone walked. He did like the anticipation of hearing my footsteps, getting slowly closer and closer to his hiding spot, and I could hear him giggling as I approached.

Thursday we tried going back to the Virtual Classroom, but it consisted entirely of links to books about groundhogs, and a short memory game with photos of groundhogs. This engaged him for less than 30 minutes, and he then had a meltdown when I wouldn’t allow him to head to his toy videos on YouTube.

He was much happier playing with scissors and a small paper cutter, creating tiny squares of card-stock and then gluing them all together.

Since he had already put an X under February 4, we only checked the calendar to confirm that it was still several weeks to his birthday, and to note that his uncle’s would be the next day.

Friday was a snowy day, and C requested pasta for breakfast. He is very good at cooking Kraft Dinner, and I couldn’t think of a reason to say “no”. But before that he needed to make two small video messages for his uncle’s birthday and for his parents, to say he loved them. Both were improvised songs, and he ended the second with a heart made with his hands. I know that they will love them!

Then, because of the snow, we then relaxed with more “Go Dog. Go”, while I checked my email and the weather. We are hoping to drive south with him this weekend, but it’s looking like both days will possibly include snow squalls. Today promises 15 cm, with more tomorrow, and we have a 400-foot driveway to clear.

With the blowing snow, C is not keen to go outside, and neither am I. He asked for me to make a stuffed heart, and we worked together at the sewing machine to make it, and then he stuffed it. I added buttons, to his design, and it is now ready for him to give to his mother for Valentine’s Day. We also shortened the sleeves on a bathrobe, and he ran the pedal while I controlled the sleeve in the machine. Unfortunately these activities took minutes, not hours, and so we need to plan another eight to ten activities to fill out the day!

Looking back on our four weeks together, I am not at all worried about C’s learning. I wish that there had been some sort of social connection, both with his teachers and with his peers. However, we have been working on positive social interaction in all that we do, as well as independent work and self-regulation.

So, does Kindergarten really matter? As a university student I worked for an artist who chose to keep her children out of school until the law demanded it. She explained that schools killed creativity, and she wanted her children to be free to play until the last possible moment. The four-year-old that I cared for that summer is now a magazine editor, obviously not damaged by her lack of Kindergarten. My husband never went to Kindergarten, and began grade one in a one-room schoolhouse. He had a long career as an engineer, graduating near the top of his class both in high school and university. I attended half-day Kindergarten when I was five-years-old, and the requirements were much less detailed than today’s curriculum:

From this report card you will see that printing wasn’t even assessed until the last term of senior kindergarten.  I only counted to 10. And there are some characteristics you have learned about C that I also shared at the same age.

Despite this rather unimpressive beginning to my education I excelled at school, and achieved well in my post-secondary programs. It’s perhaps not surprising that I studied music initially, nor that I ended up as a Principal. However, I am sure that this report card would be received with little enthusiasm by today’s parents. It might not be surprising as well to hear that I spent much of grade one with my desk at the end of the last row, facing the back of the room. Nor that in grade 7 I had a desk by the window, with hand-made “blinders” to keep me from talking with the others, who were in groups of four or five.

My home at C’s age had only one black-and-white television set, which received one station only. There was at most an hour of children’s programming each morning: The Friendly Giant, Chez Helene, and Mr. Dressup. We had a few books, but depended upon the library for most of our reading material. We owned a couple of children’s records, but I had to ask my parents to play them for me on the “hi-fi”. And most days we played unsupervised with the other children in the neighbourhood while our mothers did laundry with a wringer-washer, nursed our younger siblings, and prepared meals without a microwave or food processor.

The world that C inhabits is infinitely richer than I experienced as a child, and his school experience has demanded far more from him already than was asked of me at a much greater age.

I am not worried about his development. And I don’t think that other parents should either. Providing a secure, caring home is much more important. Our kids will learn. Our kids will grow. Despite us!

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 16

Today was a “no screens” day. Except for a search for a bread recipe, a Cricut project, and “window shopping” for Lego for C’s upcoming 5th birthday, we kept all computers, tablets, and phones out of sight. Generally it went very well.

We observed a lot more singing, imaginative play, conversations with both of us, and much more movement. There were a few tears, but they soon extinguished and C was on to something else.

Breakfast was one huge pancake, with C’s secret ingredients of cinnamon and raisins added. It was intended to be a normal pancake, but the raisins didn’t cooperate when exiting the bowl, and the entire batch found itself in the cast-iron frypan. C generously cut me wedges of the pancake, and we shared most of it, then put the remainder in the fridge for later.

A trip to the “attic” revealed some new-to-us games, including two small paddles and a birdie. Since this wasn’t going to be a safe indoor activity, we headed out into the wind and sun. C figured out how to toss the birdie, and occasionally hit it with the paddle. The sound it made was a strong reinforcement, and he persisted with the activity a lot longer than I expected.

Back inside we began the process of bread-making, with tasting the dough several times, and kneading his own small piece before returning it to the bowl. Unfortunately he acquired a taste for the dough, and secretly tasted some more later in the morning, as the loaves were rising just prior to going into the oven. (I noticed that the towel covering the loaves was askew, and he rather sheepishly said that he “was hungry”.) The result was one beautifully-shaped loaf, and one that was rather lumpy and lumpy, due to the pokes and pulls.

We made grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch, with C helping to spread butter, and separate the cheese slices. We insisted that our meal take place at the table, and except for the bright sun making C “hot”, it was a pleasant lunch.

Our Cricut project was inspired by our baking: the labels on our measuring cups and measuring spoons were almost illegible, and so we designed and cut new vinyl labels. C was able to put the spoons in order, but was upset that 1/8 tsp was the smallest, even though it had the largest number. I think that the concept of fractions is going to need a bit more work!

Then the Lego shopping took much of the afternoon. C is very concerned about the recommended ages on the various Lego sets, interested in the number of pieces, and not-at-all concerned about the price. I, however, am sensitive to price, and so it took quite a while to come to an agreement about which sets would have the best play value for the price. He understands that online ordering means that we have to wait, and seemed quite excited when I said that his birthday would be in three weeks. We haven’t converted that to days, but I’m sure that is coming.

It is likely that we will not be with him for his birthday at the end of the month, as we will be returning him home this weekend, so that he can (hopefully) return to school in person. So I will do curb-side pickup when we take him home, and ensure that his gifts are safely stored with his parents until that day. This deferred gratification will be a challenging exercise for him, but one that I hope will pay off.

We will be having dinner at the table tonight, without our usual video or movie to watch. I’m hoping that our conversation will continue through dinner. With a bedtime of 8:00 there is still a great deal of time for play and stories. And now that my tiling is done, C can enjoy playtime in the tub as well.

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 15

It’s week 5 of online school for C, and his fourth with me.  We decided that he should check in with his class, to begin the week, despite having been asynchronous for much of last week. He was ready at 8:30, and the 45 minute wait was filled with music and videos, and you can imagine where he ended up. So, I promised he could return to his paused video after attendance, and he held me to it.

The class opened with the three teachers (ECE, phys. ed., and supply teacher) discussing dogs and their weekend experiences.  They occasionally said “hello” and then “please mute your mic” to the students as they arrived. C was able to say “Look at my shirt”, and they did respond with “Nice shirt”, which brought a smile to his face.  Then for five minutes there was nothing to engage the incoming students. C was eager to share, saying “I want to sing them my song”. I explained that he needed to wait, and he complied. At attendance he did hold up his new name card, which they commented on. And then, immediately, he said “can I go back to my video?”.  Having promised, I “caved”, and so he then began watching a video of children playing with a Hot Wheels Play Set.  It’s imaginative play, and likely has many of the aspects of his play at school with friends, suggesting new vocabulary and developing interesting plot lines.  C is also interested in the mechanics of the vehicles and characters, and will both describe and critique the engineering decisions.

I finally lured him away from the screen with the promise of a sled ride, and so we spent much of the afternoon out in the fields and woods. It was a beautifully sunny day, and we were able to remove mittens and hats when out of the wind. He took his skid-steer, monster truck, snowball maker, and one of my windshield scrapers with us on the journey. They were a little difficult to hold onto on the slippery sled, but all were used in his play at some point in the afternoon. He is becoming quite good at steering the sled down the hill, and no longer insists that I pull it back to the top for him. So, I was able to pull up a lawn chair, and enjoy the sun!

His choice when we returned indoors was to paint, with a set of acrylic paints I picked up on the weekend. He had already used the three small canvases I purchased, so we cut cardboard instead. He understands that green and red make brown, and that was useful for his painting of a cat. Red is his favourite colour, and so his robot painting was entirely red.  We will likely only be able to use this colour one more time before we run out. It is interesting to see how he works with the various sizes of brushes, and changes his grip to achieve the look he desires. Also purchased on the weekend were a pair of safety scissors, and so one of his cardboard “canvases” now has corners cut off, painted brown, and glued to the painting. I remember being taught how to use scissors when I was in kindergarten, but I don’t think I tackled cardboard until I was much older.

We continue to battle over “screens”. With a family television set, his Chromebook, and his Fire tablet, there is plenty of access. And it’s not as if we don’t like our computers, Netflix, and DVDs. We are NOT good role models, and so it’s difficult to deny his wish to view. We have been trying to incorporate some social viewing, where the three of us watch together.  He either is entirely engrossed, or he becomes excited by the action and begins running around, participating in the plot. Having watched the live-action Aladdin, he was intrigued by our book of the same title.  The only roadblock is that it is in French, and I’m not able to do live translation into English, in order to read it to him. He is very encouraging, telling me that I can do it, but my grade 13 French isn’t up to the subtleties of the plot.

So, I really think that having him log in, and sit passively in front of the Chromebook, is setting us up for failure during the day.  Even when we visited the Virtual Classroom in the afternoon, he only chose two or three activities, and then went down the rabbit hole of toy videos. I think that, given the addictive nature, it would be easier if we never turned them on.

So, tomorrow, we will opt out, and I will keep the screens on the shelf as long as possible.

Stay tuned to find out how that works!

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Days 13 & 14

C awoke ready to make breakfast. Of course he needed a recipe, so he drew each item, and then labelled them: bread, butter, cinnamon and raisins.  The last two he copied from the packages, and as you can see in one of the images above, he’s beginning to adopt a traditional pen grip and trying to put all the letters in a line.

Then he helped prepare tonight’s dinner: beef stew. I did the chopping, and he added each item to the crockpot. He even tasted a new food: parsnips. 

I headed back to my tiling project, and C stayed in his pyjamas, building Lego and singing songs. We called his parents via Facebook Messenger Kids, and he was able to walk around the house with my phone, sharing all of his favourite places. It is clear that they are missing each other, and so we committed to a daily conversation.  This should help him with the conversation turn-taking, and support his strong connection with his family.  We’ll also have to plan a few evening calls, so that he can see his little sister, who is at daycare during the day.

We had an adult conversation as well; hoping that the return to school date of February 10 might actually be real. We’d like his transition home and then back to school to go smoothly, so we’re thinking that he’ll head back at the end of next week, if all goes according to plan.

We shared a lunch of leftovers, and then I returned to my tiling while C took out his tablet to play games and watch some of his favourite shows. Then he asked to go back to his Chromebook, to visit the videos in his Virtual Classroom.  He was disappointed that there were still only two videos, and two books, all four of which he had viewed. So, he ended up back with shows on YouTube (oh well….) He does seem to choose videos that connect either to books we have read, or toys he owns. He is certainly developing a strong sense of plot and of the various characters.  His imaginative play also includes some sophisticated language from some of these shows.  Among my favourites to view with him are the perennial Peppa Pig, and the impressive Chico BonBon: Monkey with a Toolbelt. I know that the latter is responsible for many new words that otherwise would not be part of C’s vocabulary for many years. 

As C and I interact throughout the day, I try to engage him in puzzles, both word and number.  One night in the hot tub we played with 6 pool rings.  With the jets and bubbles on I would hold some of the rings above the water, and ask him how many were underwater. It was interesting that when I held up six, he said “no”, meaning “no rings”.  We then substituted the words “none” and “zero”. It was a fun game, and he clearly understands all the ways to “make six”.

The next day began in a similar fashion, though C was hungry enough to want to make pancakes without a recipe.  He has become very proficient at levelling dry ingredients, and breaking eggs. His variation on the recipe this time was to add cinnamon and raisins to the batter (are you sensing a theme here?).

His day was again one of parallel play; with me as I did some TA work online, then began to grout my bathroom, and with grandpa as he taped drywall. C is quite happy to play with Lego or blocks, or view videos, as long as we are nearby.

With the cold temperatures, we weren’t sure about outdoor play.  But by 4:00 it was clear that he needed to get out of the house, so he and grandpa headed down the drive to the mailbox, out to the back with the kitchen compost, and then into the pond to play in the snow.

It is a gift to have all this time with C. After three weeks he is really missing his parents and sister, but he seems happy most of the time. At four years of age he is likely to remember this time together, and we will certainly not forget. 

They are re-opening schools in the London and Ottawa areas, and so there is hope that the GTA schools will re-open as well, after the promise February 10 date. That means at least another week with us, and so I will be trying to think of unique activities that we can do here.  We have lots of snow, plenty of building materials, and much more time than most parents!

And I have the benefit of suggestions via responses to this blog, Twitter posts, and conversations with friends and colleagues.  I am learning a great deal, and appreciate all the support I have received. Thank you!

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 12

As promised, today we are not going to try the synchronous Google Meet, as it seems to be more stress than success. C was happy with this decision, and happy to head to the Virtual Classroom (Bitmoji) where he had listened to one story and viewed a video on volcanoes yesterday. I was happy that I didn’t need to “time” his school start, so he began at 8:45, rather than waiting to sign in at 9:15.

Today he tried the second video in the Virtual Classroom, on coral reefs, but found the lecturing adult female didn’t hold his attention. His choice was to return to the volcano video, which then sent him down a path of choices which, fortunately, were SciShow Kids, and appropriate for him.  Getting back to the virtual classroom by selecting the correct tab in Chrome is much more difficult than clicking on the animated advertisement for the next video suggestion in YouTube. SciShow was founded in 2012 by one of my favourite vloggers, Hank Green. Heading down the rabbit hole of his, and his brother John’s work is definitely worth it!

But back to Kindergarten.  Among the curriculum expectations are a few that we really need to work on, including “26. develop an appreciation of the multiple perspectives encountered within groups, and of ways in which they themselves can contribute to groups and to group well-being”, and especially “2.4 demonstrate self-control (e.g., be aware of and label their own emotions; accept help to calm down; calm themselves down after being upset) and adapt behaviour to different contexts within the school environment (e.g., follow routines and rules in the classroom, gym, library, playground)”. The latter has been a real challenge for C to achieve within Google Meet, and so I’m hesitant to completely give up on the synchronous classroom, knowing that there is a great deal for him to learn about turn-taking and connection.

Yesterday’s blog post evoked this response via Twitter: “I say go for it. We would be asynchronous all day long if I didn’t need something to “occupy” M while I’m on for my 225+ mins…” This is a shared concern of all of my teaching colleagues, who are trying to support their children online while teaching themselves.  I have the luxury of time to “prompt” and “redirect”, which is not possible for a parent who is managing a class of 30 online. So, I think we need to look for strong asynchronous resources, ones which allow a student to work independently for longer periods of time, and which transition from one event to the next easily for little ones like ours. I am going to have to give this more thought….

I stepped aside this morning to listen to Stephen Hurley and Doug Peterson on VoicEd radio’s This Week in Edublogs discussing last week’s blog. It was affirming to hear their thoughts, and to hear their support for my last two recommendations, to have an agenda for the day, and to connect individually with students. Writing this blog supports my thinking and problem-solving, and I am hopeful that it might inspire the same in others. My husband and I discussed Stephen’s comment about this year being C’s first experience of “big-boy school”. We concluded that he likely won’t think of this as school; it will be the physical building and the social connection that he experience prior to lockdown that will be “school” for him. (It should be noted that while I was doing this C continued with his video-watching for more than an hour, ending up, inevitably, at one of his favour toy-demonstration videos!)

We then engaged in parallel play: C with his play dough, me with my bathroom tiles, and his grandpa with wiring. He stayed focused until lunch, which he shared with his grandpa while I set tiles. Then he joined me to begin the clean-up process, washing thin-set off tiles, and discussing the purpose of the “plus signs” between the tiles. He asked for the offcuts, and used his markers to begin to build a small house (see photo above).

It was a beautiful sunny day, so he headed outside with his grandpa, though only after a great deal of conversation about the “getting dressed” process. He has a very strict order for these type of processes, and would prefer if we followed the same order as he. We have been able to have a good conversation about respecting differences, and allowing others to do there own thing. I wonder how much of this “rule following” is his natural tendency, and how much is a result of his daycare and school experiences.

It’s now the end of the school day, and we have had no tears. C is happy and well-fed, and both grandparents have also completed some of their own projects.  We will cook dinner together, enjoy a movie while we eat, perhaps play in the hot tub, and will end up with four stories (he is four years old, so we have to read four books) before bed. His self-regulation will be challenged by the full-length movie, and by the requirement not to splash in the hot tub. And we will work on his memory skills while we review the day, and talk about his highlights.

I am thinking that perhaps we should work on his interpersonal skills with our own Google Meet sessions, with only one person at the other end, so that he can practise turn taking in conversation.  Sounds like a plan for this weekend!

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 11

I was awakened this morning by the sound of C laughing in his sleep. When I told him this, once he awoke, he was very angry, and insisted that he hadn’t been laughing.  I wonder why the idea of laughing in his sleep is so troubling to him.

With almost two hours before school begins, we then began the negotiation of screen time. He has become obsessed with the show “Grizzy and the Lemmings”, a very violent program similar to Looney Toons, with no voices but only sound effects and grunts. I told him that it wasn’t a good choice, and he repeated his argument that he still didn’t know “how to speak bear”. And when I then asked C why he liked it, he said “it makes me laugh”. I explained that I didn’t like how it made him behave, and he informed me that he would hide later today to watch it. Guess I’m going to have keep him busy and distracted!

He has amazing access to Netflix videos and many educational apps via his tablet.  When I checked on him around 8:30 he was watching a show about counting by fives.  And then he shifted to Dr. Panda’s Bus Driver game, where there is no violence, easy of play, and C has to warn birds on the road by honking his horn, has to help passengers to their seats, and has to fill up the tank when running low.  It would be interesting to determine how children decide whether to passively watch a video, or to engage in a game. One of his favourites is in French: Tiny Trucks

By 8:50 C was dressed and looking at his class Virtual Classroom (Bitmoji). He chose to click on the volcano, and it took him to a great episode from SciShow Kids. Perhaps this choice was because he had driven past a volcano several times as the “bus driver”? As usual, he had a couple of suggested videos that took him from the protected ViewPure interface, into the full YouTube.  Fortunately most of the suggested videos were also SciShow Kids, and so he chose to watch an episode about endangered animals, and then one on Earth Day.

It’s a “snow day”, and so when C logged in today there were only four online, and they were talking about “outages” that were keeping one of the teachers unable to connect. They finally decided to take attendance and proceed, with a plan to revert to asynchronous should the system crash. Again, since C is at the end of the alphabet, he has to hold up his name card for almost two minutes before being acknowledged, and permitted to put his card down. By the time his name was called, C was tumbling on the bed, and I was holding his name in front of the camera.  (Perhaps they could just do a screen capture, and one of the two teachers could enter the data, while the other proceeded with the class activity?)

Following the opening exercises the teachers shared some of the student contributions to the Google Classroom. They shared their screen, clicked on the student images, and then invited the students to explain their creations. C chose, instead, to type names of all the people he knew, on my computer. When the teacher asked how an octopus moves, that inspired a YouTube search to see what it looks like while swimming. C told me that he needed four more arms in order to swim like an octopus! However, as with the asynchronous classroom, as soon as we exited the video, we were shown appealing “toy” videos, and C was upset when I would not permit him to watch them. The teacher shared a video of an octopus walking on land, and the choppy video, via Google Meet, was quite a bit less appealing than our direct YouTube connection had been. So, we headed down that “rabbit hole”, and spent the rest of the day exploring YouTube.

C also wanted to do some writing on my computer, and he keyed the names of all the members of his family. He is challenged by the need to use the shift key to make the characters match what he sees on the keyboard, but otherwise manages quite well to sound out the names, and type them in.

His choices this afternoon included video, outdoor play, and ongoing Lego and Transformer imaginative play. I asked him what appealed to him, in his video choices, and he could only say “it’s so cool!”. So, I think working on vocabulary, and critical consumption, will be our takeaway, instead of imposing my preferences.

Tomorrow we are going to try doing ONLY the asynchronous virtual classroom, and not stress C out by trying to connect in Google Meet.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 10

So we’re back for week three, and trying a different approach.  Kindergarten in Ontario is “play-based in a culture of inquiry”, and I am going to do my best to support this. If you’ve been reading my blog you will know that I am an experienced secondary school teacher and administrator who has most recently been teaching at the university level, so this is not within my comfort zone.  However, I did go to Kindergarten myself (and, you know, this is what makes everyone an expert in education), and I successfully raised two children of my own.  I’m hoping that this will give me some of the resources I need!

In preparation, I downloaded the curriculum document and began to deconstruct it, to make sense of the policy that C’s teachers are working with.  As a proponent of backward-design, or Understanding by Design, I began with the curriculum expectations, and discovered that the program has 31 overall expectations, and 126 more specific expectations.  While policy indicates that only overall expectations are evaluated, having 157 articulations of criteria is overwhelming!

The backward design process begins with expectations, considers what might be evidence that the expectations have been met, invites creation of essential questions, and then develops instruction to support this learning. So, over the next couple of weeks I will be examining expectations, considering how C might demonstrate them, and then selecting from the class resources, internet sources, and my own experiences, to support his learning.  Each day we will join the class in the morning, and stay as long as he is able.  We’ll make use of the Bitmoji classroom, ensuring that we look at each suggestion, and then modifying them to fit.  I will attempt some “pedagogical documentation”, beginning with a printed paper list of expectations, and then hopefully figuring out a better technological solution.

Our first challenge of the day was managing the transition to the Chromebook, and preparing for attendance.  C asked me to cut letters for him to glue to a piece of paper, and then was immediately upset that I created his full name; he only wanted his first name.  Then, because he finished this five minutes before the Google Meet link appeared, we went into the Bitmoji classroom to explore.  He chose a link to an Arkansas Zoo presentation that was almost 12 minutes long. Needless to say we battled over “pausing” this, and I chose to allow him to continue to view, making C “late” for class.  

I know that the Education Act requires that teachers be in their classrooms 15 minutes before the start of the school day, so this allows some flexibility, and a gentler transition into the work of the day.  However, that doesn’t seem to be required in our new online setting, and the transitions are much more abrupt. In the 15 minutes before class, in my experience, the room is prepared, music might be playing, and teachers can ensure that they are ready.  Since we arrived eight minutes late to the class, we could hear them beginning the land acknowledgement, before our connection dropped.

Back into the Google Meet, using a different internet connection, we arrived in time for the national anthem.  Because of the need to stand still, we turned the camera off. This was followed by their physical education session, beginning with the warmup.  C was being a T-rex, and so was unwilling to follow along. It would seem that we missed attendance, but his presence was acknowledged verbally.  The second activity was “Zookeeper”, where the teacher held up a picture of an animal to the camera, the students were moving like the animal, and then the teacher tried to guess which animal the kids could see.  C said he hadn’t learned how to be a bear yet.  The second was penguin, and C was able to “waddle” and the teacher guessed almost immediately.  Third came a seal, and this was difficult both for the children and the teacher! The giraffe invited “tall necks”, and then the panda generated an “eating bamboo”.

C then decided he was too hot, and he had to go upstairs where it was cooler.  He signed out of the Google Classroom, having been there for only 15 minutes, and headed up the stairs.  While there he saw my sewing machine, and asked we could sew. This turned into a literacy and numeracy activity, since the sewing machine has codes to sew shapes and letters, and he was able to identify the letters of his name and enter the code into the machine, then press the pedal to have the machine sew each letter in turn.  The code for A was 11, so he correctly read and keyed two-digit numbers up to 37, and spelled his name from memory.

A bit of laundry had him reading “Power” and “Start”, and then he decided that going outside would be a good solution for the mud in his monster truck’s wheels. So, we headed out into the snow. My new snowshoes worked perfectly, and I was able to pull C on a sled through the fields to say “hello” to neighbours.  We discussed how different each of the three homes we passed looked, from how they had appeared in the summer.  We noticed tracks, and considered who might have made them.  And then we headed back for a slide down the hill and then lunch.  (The monster truck was accompanied on the trip by his skid-steer and a windshield scraper, which made a great ice axe.)

Lunch included “Abby Hatcher” on his tablet while he ate.  TVOkids lists this program as kindergarten, and it certainly engages C! Nickelodeon says that the program supports “problem solving, being a good friend, and persistence”. Glad to see Overall Expectation: “4. demonstrate an ability to use problem-solving skills in a variety of contexts, including social contexts” and “23. use problem-solving strategies, on their own and with others, when experimenting with the skills, materials, processes, and techniques used in drama, dance, music, and visual arts”, among others. Abby certainly supports Specific Expectation: “3.3 demonstrate an awareness of ways of making and keeping friends”.  Although this is viewing, not doing, there is modelling of Specific Expectation: “7.2 demonstrate persistence while engaged in activities that require the use of both large and small muscles (e.g., tossing and catching beanbags, skipping, lacing, drawing).” There is certainly a great deal of creative play that is inspired by C’s viewing of this program, including his singing of the theme song!

Among his afternoon activities was a visit to my desk (while I was in the other room) where he found my Cricut paper cutter (which he has seen me use, and shouldn’t have accessed without permission….) and offcuts of cardstock.  He also asked for post-its, which I gave to him to use to create labels.  Instead of making labels he drew lines, and then cut along the lines, to create four squares out of each larger post-it note.  He cut triangles off the corners of a rectangle, and began gluing pieces together.  When he needed eyes, nose, and mouth, he drew these on a post-it, and then came to me to ask for assistance to cut them out. The tail required a larger piece of paper, but again he drew and I cut.  You can see the results at the top of this post.

When looking back on the day, I am pleased to see that he demonstrated a lot of expectation 7.2, with persistence throughout.  Never once did he give up, even when arguing this morning for “gummies” for breakfast!

His impromptu artwork certainly addressed “31.3 explore different elements of design (e.g., colour, line, shape, texture, form) in visual arts”, and “8.4 demonstrate control of small muscles (e.g., use a functional grip when writing) while working in a variety of learning areas (e.g., sand table, water table, visual arts area) and when using a variety of materials or equipment (e.g., using salt trays, stringing beads, painting with paintbrushes, drawing, cutting paper, using a keyboard, using bug viewers, using a mouse, writing with a crayon or pencil)”. But I guess I am going to have to order some safe scissors, for him to continue on this creative path.

Our school day ended by making beds, where C chose to be under the fitted sheet, rather than on top. He enjoyed being “trapped”, and how everything looked red from within his burgundy tent.

We had a visit in the afternoon from C’s great-aunt, whose own grandchildren are now almost all fully grown. Our conversation connected what we were seeing with our own rather narrow experiences at the same age. We identified skills and knowledge far beyond that which we had at age four, and expressed our wonder at how much C knows.

So, I will continue our “follow the child” approach, and connect what I see back to what we are “supposed to be doing” in the curriculum

Want to bet that we hit most of the curriculum expectations without a “plan”?



Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 5

C awoke eager to make robot cookies this morning, so before we even arrived at school we had mixed sugar cookie dough, and cut out cookies to bake. C is getting very good at levelling cups of flour, though not so careful with the stirring yet. He is also very ambitious with his cookie cutting, creating a robot that was a huge challenge to transfer to the baking sheet.

It took a bit of nagging to get him to log in, and he initially refused to put up his name card for attendance.  We did hear the teacher say hello to him, so we know that they saw him.  However, as we moved into the morning’s physical activity he turned both camera and microphone off. They then asked them to put up their name cards again, so he turned his camera on and chose yesterday’s card to reuse, because it was “Bumblebee in Disguise” (which he continued to sing throughout the attendance process.)

The cookies were baking as we headed to class, so he was able to share his first “man”, and then eat it as the teachers struggled to get today’s art gallery presentation to show. We could hear the presentation in the background, as one teacher coached the others to “share this tab”, and it wasn’t working. They finally decided that the other teacher should give it a try. When it finally worked, we could see the presentation, and the audio was “jittery”, but at least they could see it!

C had eaten his entire cookie, and was enjoying a juice box.  Not the healthiest breakfast (he had a yogourt before we baked), but at least he was smiling.  

He was able to identify that the image was a sculpture, but did not attend to the questions as the image remained on the screen for several minutes. When the response to one of her questions was that it looked like a “god” she then asked what they saw that made it look holy.  I know that C had no idea what she was talking about. The focus today was on art from Africa and the diaspora, and the curator talked about the Yoruba culture. She connected it to farming, but did not situate her work with a map, nor with any text, and she did not mention Nigeria at all. At 10 minutes we were still looking at the single image of the mask, and there had been no other visual support for what she was presenting. C was now using the straw from his juice box to blow bubbles of apple juice across his desk. We persisted, since it had been the art gallery presentation on Tuesday that had inspired C to draw. At 14 minutes it was still the picture of the mask, and she was talking about its size.  Without any reference within the picture, I’m sure our kids had no idea how large it was. At 16 minutes the image changed to “Wellness Activity” text, white on black, while she talked about festivals, and asked them to think about a festival that they had gone to. There were other classes contributing to her Q&A chat, so she repeated some of the names…. but it still said “Wellness Activity” on the screen.  I wonder if early readers were puzzled by this. From what the curator was saying, I’m pretty sure that it was the teachers participating, not any students directly in the chat. At 19 minutes she shared a contemporary sculpture made from shoes, which C saw as a robot, though it was entitled “Mother and Child” (which was confirmed in the descriptive text next to the image.) By this time C’s juice box had been compressed, and was being used as the target for his wrecking ball fist. At 25 minutes it was clear that several students were struggling, with one being reminded to stop playing with her microphone, and to keep it off.

Had this been a presentation in one of my secondary school classes, I would have suggested more visuals, supportive text for key ideas, and a quicker pace than two images in 30 minutes.  It is clear that the art gallery staff are not trained teachers, and have not read “Learning for All“, or any of our curriculum documents (Kindergarten). 

At 30 minutes she shifted to “Mini art activity” on the screen, and described what she was doing, but never shared herself to show us what she was doing. When someone added to the chat that we couldn’t see, she finally stopped her screen share, and showed us her drawing for about one second. Seeing her face was very welcome, though the two bright pot lights either side of her face put her in shadow. And then it was over…. without any clear direction for the students to follow.

Back with the class they began their opening ceremonies, with a great deal of negotiation between the teachers. C was entirely disengaged by this time, playing with his transformer Bumblebee at the side. He refused to turn his camera off, which I did not challenge, as his activity might be useful feedback to his teachers. It was interesting today that C chose to try to read along with his classmate as she read the land acknowledgement. And then the teachers spoke about C being “up north” where there would be a different land acknowledgement. This is our homework for the weekend, to share at the next class.

They also asked C to stay online after the national anthem, to talk about the pictures that we posted earlier in the week.  The national anthem was only audio today, and the students were reminded at the end that they needed to stand and not play during it. C found the interaction with the teachers difficult, and he didn’t take turns well during the interaction. I think that talking about the activity from four days ago might have been one of the factors, as was the tiny image on the screen with the full grid of his classmates as distractions. And, of course, Bumblebee continued to be a draw for his attention. Looking at the screen, and seeing the empty rooms, tops of heads, and students obviously singing and talking, I’m not sure that anyone was truly listening.

The next activity (they had now been sitting still for 75 minutes), was a scavenger hunt, where they would be able to get up and move. I redirected C’s attention to the screen. The first task was to find something with the colour yellow, so guess what he held up to share? The teacher called on each student in turn. The teacher described what each student was holding, but C and I were only seeing their initials, not their faces, so it really wasn’t helpful to reinforce the concept of “yellow”. C was the last to be called on, and it took almost 15 minutes to get through this first cycle of the scavenger hunt. They were very attentive to ensure that they didn’t miss anyone.  The next was something that smelled nice, so he shared cinnamon and his robot cookie.  Next was something smaller than his hand, and so a piece of lego was his choice. When they asked for something with numbers, C immediately said “measuring tape”, and we had to go up two flights of stairs to get one for him. He was very excited to then make the tape go as high as he could.  The teachers continued to struggle with their layout, with one only seeing the initials, not their cameras. The next task was to find something in his favourite colour, and since he had his Lego firetruck beside him, and red is his favourite colour, that was his choice.  Today was “wear your favourite colour day”, so his T-shirt was also red. And next was “something that keeps you warm”, and he headed immediately for his blanket from his bed.  By now his desk was getting very cluttered with the cinnamon, firetruck, Bumblebee and cookie, so his blanket created a bit of a disaster! Then, find something that begins with the same letter as your first name. This one was a challenge for C, but he was able to find something that was also a good snack! The last one was something that starts with “B”, and so guess what he shared… again.

They had now been attending for 95 minutes without a break; longer than I would even ask of my grad students! And the teachers hadn’t had a break either, not even a few seconds off camera.

And then, finally, break time. They were invited to go and explore the virtual classroom (though this instruction was difficult to hear as C and his classmates all had their microphones on) for the asynchronous time.  They were also directed to a new Jamboard, but with the delays in Google Meet (seems to be a universal problem over the past couple of days), the teachers were finding it difficult to share to model the activity. The students were then invited to choose a sticky, and post a message to cheer up everyone else.  The teachers would like them to do it “on their own”, so we decided to try this later, when C might have more attention to give (than he had now, 100 minutes into this class, as he was “zapping” his Lego firetruck, and removing parts.) These directions took some time, so the break time remaining was only  48 minutes to eat and explore. I was surprised that C was unhappy that we were leaving the meeting, saying “I love my teachers”. I guess that observable behaviour doesn’t always align with how a child is feeling!

It was wonderful spending more than an hour outside. C chose to “earthquake” his igloo, built on Monday. Then we headed to the pond to slide down the hill and explore the characteristics of snow, bark, and “snow fleas”, more properly named “springtails”. The latter were found in our footprints from earlier this week, and likely came to the surface during our recent above-freezing days. There was plenty of singing of improvised songs, lots of kicking and digging, and even grandma got more exercise than usual.

Back  in the house we put all our wet clothes in the dryer, and C assisted me to begin sorting my quilting fabric.  He arranged my six boxes in rainbow order (identifying the last as indigo), and then rushed around to find other containers for black, white, rainbow, brown, pink and “uncategorizable” fabrics. Then we cooked Mac and Cheese, and C relaxed to watch “Justin Time” while he ate. This adventure show incorporates geography and history, and introduces C to new vocabulary that then shows up in his conversations with us.

I took some time to review the content from this week’s Google Classroom and the Virtual Classroom (Bitmoji).  As of 2:15 there was still nothing more in the Stream than the Jamboard that they shared this morning, so I was not sure when they would be reconvening for the end of day (I assume 3:00), nor what activity was planned.

Instead we visited the Jamboard, and read the messages already there from six of his classmates.  Then we decided to add an image, so he drew a happy face, sounded out and wrote the word “SMILE”, and added his name. Using the “image” function we were able to take a picture of his artwork and his own smiling face, and add it to the Jamboard. 

Then he returned watching more Justin Time, eating more Mac and Cheese, and gave me time to reflect on the day.

I am impressed that he stayed nearby for almost two hours of online activity. By not pushing him (except when he was asked to speak to the class about his igloo building) he seemed more willing to return occasionally, and engage in the activity. He was more connected during the Scavenger Hunt, less so when they were sharing, and not at all when there was nothing for him to do but listen.

I am wondering how much direct instruction would have taken place when he was attending in person with his JK/SK class. I suspect that it was much less than we experienced today. I also suspect that his teachers did much more 1:1 interaction; they are currently doing almost none. Maybe they could use their tools to have students interact directly with them individually for 5 or 10 minutes, a couple of times a week.  I think that building that relationship, checking in personally, and supporting turn-taking in conversation, would go a long way to supporting engagement when they are back in the full-class, online setting.

So, now it’s the weekend.  We’ll continue to do creative activities, get outside a lot, and enjoy video resources together. And I hope that C will be happy to return on Monday, to see the faces of all his friends, and begin to develop some self-regulation and participate more fully.

I wish his teachers a relaxing two days, and a fruitful Professional Learning day on Monday. I hope that they are inspired to consider planning for more activities that are chunked within shorter timeframes, and which allow for direct communication with each of the students. I’m sure that they end their days exhausted, and feeling that they haven’t really connected. I’ll continue to reflect too, and consider how I might help from home, to connect C to his teachers and his classmates.

Happy Friday!


Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 4

C’s morning went well: woke up well-rested, enjoyed a couple of episodes of Paw Patrol, ate frozen fruit for breakfast, dressed himself, and then chose to make a new name card for attendance.  Today’s card featured his drawing of his newest “Bumblebee” figure, and his name with all the letters in a row, in the correct order.

The link to the Google Meet was late to be posted; due to a staff meeting the teachers were delayed. And when we joined, there was a lot of conversation about why one of them could not see the children’s video, only their initials. C was still drawing, and not ready to hold up his name card, but he hurried and was able to share both the card, and his new Bumblebee. The attendance process included a personal greeting to each, and C was happy to see everyone on screen, especially one who had a new train set. C was able to name everyone on the screen, even those whose camera’s were off. He would have loved to have been able to talk to a few of his friends, but so far there has been no opportunity for student-to-student interaction.

The opening exercises now include C turning off his camera, since he doesn’t want to stand.  Today’s class began with the same physical warmup from yesterday, and C was happy to be up and jumping… at least for two minutes.  Then the call of his Bumblebee was too strong, and he returned to imaginative play with his new toy. I chose not to redirect him, observing to see if and when he would re-engage. He was interested in the instructions to everyone to turn off their cameras, but happy to hear the music. We added all three of today’s songs to a playlist, to listen to later today in the car. When I asked him why he wasn’t dancing, he said “because I don’t want to now”. 

Today’s letter was “P”, and C was quick to identify it and its sound. He found “pocket”, and since he had no pockets in his pants, he borrowed the pocket from my hoodie, to share. His first attempt was to turn on his mic and shout! When all of the class was instructed to turn microphones off, he complied, and was then called on to share. However, after doing so, instead of continuing to watch the other shares, he then headed to the bed for some bouncing. The teacher was attentive, ensuring that all students were permitted to share, and there was quite a list by the time they were done. C wasn’t sure that bringing a “potty” to the screen was a good idea, but it was handled well by his teacher. Then they were asked to think of a “P” activity: pedal, penguin walk, push, pull, or pop. C’s choice was to have Bumblebee dance, rather than doing it himself.

At the transition there was a suggestion that the students thank their parents, grandparents, siblings and caregivers, for the all help they are giving their children online. This was a beautiful acknowledgement of the assistance that all of them are receiving at home, working online. I echo this thanks, knowing how difficult it has been for me, a qualified teacher and experienced parent.

The message of the day was posted by “J”, and he was invited to read it while the teacher shared the screen. The students were invited to comment on his post in the “stream”. I had to enter C’s response for him, and it would be interesting to see how many other JK students could do this independently. Since the question asked them to vote on their choice of snack, it was suggested by one of the teachers that they return to this later in the day to see all the responses.

At 45 minutes into the day’s activities, C chose to leave the room, and play elsewhere. I closed down his Chromebook, and will check in later to see if there are other activities that we could plan for, within his attention span.  I would love if there were an agenda for the day, so that we could plan together, to participate selectively in those that would have the greatest impact.  While the sharing and conversation that was going on when he left were very important to the child sharing, it was an exercise in patience for the rest of the class, as they had no role in the process.

So I have chosen to adopt the philosophy of Suzuki, and follow the child.

We did not make it back to the “classroom” by the end of the day.  The only message as of 11:00 was that they were meeting at 11:45, but no clues given as to the activity planned. We instead drove an hour away to deliver yesterday’s baking to C’s great-grandmother, meeting her in a parking lot to ensure that we distanced. By the time we returned, it was the end of the day.  C had packed his lego firetruck into his tote for the trip, but unwisely chose to place it at the bottom. So rebuilding his truck was an excellent spatial activity with which we ended the school day.

I had a webinar scheduled at 3:30, sharing D2L/Brightspace with principals from across our province.  Having taught with D2L at Laurentian University, I had a basic understanding, but learned much more about the use of curriculum expectations and the portfolio. The ability to track achievement of expectations for each student, as well as for courses and classes looks very powerful.

Is anyone in the K-3 panel using Brightspace with their classes? It looks like it might be a strong environment to support students on a daily basis, as well as to communicate with both students and parents. I’d love to hear from you, if you have moved to this VLE.

Junior Kindergarten Online – Journal – Day 3

Day three began well, with C beginning a morning routine.  He has made a new name card each day, and this serves as a good warm-up, and fills the time until the Google Meet link shows up in their Google Classroom. By getting into the class as soon as possible he gets acknowledgement from his teacher, and seems willing to engage. Having snacks nearby has also been a help (thank you to one of my teacher-candidates for this suggestion!).

Today the routine of the land acknowledgement and national anthem was followed immediately by physical education. The teacher modelled the warmup, and then shared a “Let’s Exercise” video, with choices of movements that moved quickly and had upbeat music. She used half the screen for the video, and the other half was the class grid. C still needed prompts from me to return to the computer, and turn his camera on. The scavenger hunt to find an object beginning with “J” also required my assistance, but C correctly recognized that Jacob and Jonathan could have just found themselves. Of course, throughout this, he was heading to the bed to tumble and jump (obviously not ready to finish ). He was happier to participate when she asked them to do a movement that begins with the letter “J”. When he was frustrated at not being called on his teacher said “We hear you C”, and this went a long way to keeping him connected.

As they began to talk about what they liked about their movements, to give their teacher feedback, C chose to leave the class. We returned, so that we could hear what was going on, but shifted to another parallel activity of gluing down letters, which worked for only a few minutes.

The next activity was to review the slide created in a previous class, which listed what the class already knows about penguins, and what they wonder. The slide had a great deal of text, and only one image in the middle. For the non-readers there was little to assist our littles to focus their attention. C chose to put his fingers in his ears, and sing some of the music from the previous activity, and he was very angry when I attempted to redirect him.  There were some very sophisticated questions based on this version of a KWL chart, and the solution provided by the teacher was to look at a book. She shared the National Geographic Kids Library book from YouTube, turned down the volume, and read from the book. This was very effective once she found a page to pause at, but while it was running she found the words to be blurry. Her choice to just play the video resulted in echo, since some students still had their microphones on. C was interested in the illustration of an Emperor Penguin, but lost interest in the conversation and questioning, in favour of his almost-empty snacks. Because the teachers had been saying “keep your mic off”, even when he had an answer to one of the questions he refused to turn his mic on to contribute. The return to the book, with the echo, made the information difficult to understand, so we had a side conversation, which evoked some good responses from C. Is was unfortunate that the teachers identified polar bears as predators to penguins, since they don’t live together anywhere outside of zoos.

I wonder if the students could have been asked to watch the book independently, and then to participate in a more structured conversation?  This would have avoided the difficult transitions between reading and questioning, and would have permitted them to hear the text more clearly. At 75 minutes into the class, and more than 30 minutes in this single activity, C was now VERY restless, and so we chose to leave.

We sledded for a while, and then played in the hot tub. C identified the first and last sounds of the words he was using and was able to sound out the “Shark Patrol” on his swim shirt. He dressed himself, and then relaxed with a burger and a video game.

I have checked out the activities we missed, and those for this afternoon.  This morning’s activity requires that he write a note in Jamboard: definitely not within his abilities. This afternoon’s activity will be to make a sensory bottle, and requires a clear plastic bottle, oil, glitter and food colouring. If we had these materials I still would not allow him to gather them from the cupboards. How many homes stock glitter and food colouring? The request was posted at 12:10, for the 1:00 activity!

There is no agenda for the balance of the day, so no way to make any further decisions about whether to insist that he sit and join in to the Google Meet.

So, I think we’ll pass on the afternoon’s activities, in favour of some baking to take to his GG tomorrow.

The baking was great, and C even ate a couple of our almond flour and blueberry muffins!

I then decided to check out the Facebook group, supporting online learning for our board.  And I was blown away by the number of posts from parents of K-3 students, struggling to get their children to attend. They are very worried that they are losing crucial skills, and are justifiably concerned that their children are being turned off learning entirely.

So, tomorrow, I will wear my “how to make this better” lens again, and see if I can see ways in which I can work better with C, to keep him learning without “nagging”.

Have you found anything that works for you with your 4 to 9-year-olds?