On talking about race in kindergarten.

A few weeks ago I went to a community event that was intended to start a conversation about race among teachers and parents. The topic was how children understand race, and I wrote about what I learned here. The biggest thing that stuck out to me was the need to TALK about race. Don’t pretend it’s not there, don’t be “colorblind,” but bring it up, discuss it with kids, make it an issue because it already is an issue in society, whether we like it or not.

This is easier said than done, though. As a parent, I imagine it is super challenging, because you want to get it right the first time, and in a concise and developmentally appropriate manner. And as a public school teacher, it’s challenging because I want to do those things, and also not offend anybody either. The topic of “race” is not built into my sanctioned curriculum, but it is a real-world issue that my kids face on a daily basis. And within my classroom community, I want kids of all colors to feel valued and important. I want them to know that it’s okay to be different, and in fact being different is a good thing. I want them to notice diversity, and talk about it, and learn why it’s important.

Eventually, I want my kids to know that some people don’t think diversity is a good thing, and that we have systems in our communities that are unfair, that racism and prejudice and bigotry exists. They’re going to face it in one form or another, whether we like it or not. And I want them to know that they can, and should, do something about it.

Of course, I teach kindergarten, so I have to figure out a way to fit all of that into lessons that a six-year-old can understand, and remember. I’ve put together some ideas on how to teach these topics over the past few years. I’m not sure how good I am at it, but I’m doing the best that I can, and I thought I would share what I do each year!

(P.S. I don’t claim original credit for any of these ideas. They’re taken from other teachers, books, magazines, and classes. I also follow several Pinterest boards on this topic, here, here, and here.)

Talking about race in kindergarten

We started off by looking at pictures of children from around the world, and sharing our observations. What does their hair look like? What does their skin look like? Can you see where they live? Do they look the same or different from you?

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Then we start a discussion about our skin color. I make sure to stock up my classroom library with tons of books about skin color, hair, and being yourself. There’s a really good list here if you’re searching.

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Several of the books teach that while skin is often called “black” or “white,” we are all actually various shades of brown. For example, we read the book The Colors of Us by Karen Katz. The book talks about a girl whose community is filled with people of many different skin colors. Instead of using the words “black” or “white” to describe their skin color, she uses different words for shades of brown. We compared our skin colors to each other’s, and each kindergarten then picked out a skin-color crayon that most closely matched their skin. (Skin color crayons are available here.)

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After making a list of the colors we are, we use the crayons to draw portraits of ourselves, and hang them in the classroom for all to see. After we take down the posters, I make them into a big book that is a popular choice for Read to Self time.

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We also read a book called It’s Okay to Be Different, by my favorite author Todd Parr. The message in this book is that we are all different, and instead of ignoring this fact, we should celebrate it! Some excerpts from the book:

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I’ve also had the kids do a similar skin color comparison activity using paint chips of various shades of brown.

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Then we share how our beautiful skin made us feel. The kids really enjoy repeating the lesson, and I hope that it contributes to an overall positive sense of who they are.

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We also read the book I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and share why we loved our own hair. I then take a picture of each kid’s hair, as well as their faces, to create a matching game. The game is available as an activity throughout the day. This is a great way to help kids pay attention to detail and truly notice the differences among each other.

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That at the end, we take a photo of our beautiful skin.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of ideas, and I find myself tweaking it each year. There are lots more ideas available online if you want to teach/talk about skin color. I also want to do more reading on how to incorporate anti-bias education in more subtle ways throughout my curriculum, particularly how to teach about social injustices around race and skin color. But this is a start for now!

Here are more resources that I’ve came across:

How children understand race

I was able to be part of a great discussion last night at our local children’s museum on how children understand race. The event was called “Difficult Conversations,” and invited parents, educators, and community members to learn and discuss how children learn about race.

The event started with a speaker, Erin Winkler, who is a professor of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She had a jam-packed presentation with so much fascinating research on how children learn about race, how stereotypes about race are formed, and what educators can do about it. After the speaker, the audience members broke off into discussion groups to talk about their experiences with race as parents and educators of young children.

I was furiously scribbling notes throughout, since this information is directly relevant to my kindergarten students’ lives. As a matter of fact, it’s directly relevant to ALL children’s lives, and that was one of the main points of the evening – all children develop racial biases, no matter how hard we try to teach them that “everyone is the same on the inside.” Instead of pretending racial bias isn’t an issue, let’s discuss it, and begin the work that is needed to change it.

I want to give you everything that Dr. Winkler shared during her talk, but in the interest of time, space, and respect for her academic work, I’ll stick to a few highlights that really spoke to me. (For more on her research, listen to her interview on how children understand race or read any of her publications.)

We can begin with this:

not all stereotypes are created equal

This idea was fascinating to me. Yes, stereotypes exist about everyone. Even white people. But the stereotypes that are assigned to some groups are more harmful than those assigned to other groups. For example, a stereotype of a white woman might be that she is high-maintenance, or bossy, or lets her children run wild. But a stereotype of a black male might be that he is dangerous, or untrustworthy, or violent. Which of these stereotypes will be more harmful to someone who is trying to get a job, or secure housing? Enough said.

As for when stereotypes begin to appear, there’s this:

children racial bias

I’ve read research on this before. At 3-6 months, infants categorize by race, meaning they stare longer at a person of a different race. At two years old, children use racial categories to explain behaviors. For example, if a child sees a white person doing one thing and a brown person doing another, she may attribute the reason they were doing that action to the color of their skin. It doesn’t mean they have bias towards one race over another yet.

At three to five years old, kids begin to express bias based on race. Now, Dr. Winkler made it clear that this is NOT because kids are hearing it from their parents. So interesting, since many teachers (including me!) believe that their students learn prejudice from their families. Instead, she explained that children at this age are still using race to categorize, and therefore attribute certain behaviors to certain races. This is because their little brains can’t hold on to too many nuanced ideas at the same time. Not much we can do about that.

But – and here’s where a potential solution comes in – kids learn from external factors as well. Society teaches them early on that race is a category that matters, more so than left-handedness or hair color. They see people in society separated by race, and they make assumptions based on this information. Who lives in a certain neighborhood, who appears in Disney movies, who is talked about in school curriculum. And while the ideas kids are forming are still just stereotypes at this point in time, this next part made it clear how we go from stereotypes to racism so quickly in our society:

racism definition

This was such a clear and concise definition of words that are often used interchangeably. While stereotypes and prejudice exist at a personal or social level, racism is a systemic problem that results from prejudice plus certain groups having more power than others. This is both bad news, and good news. The bad news is that racism is a large, system-wide problem. The good news is that we can combat racism by identifying and combating all the levels below it (stereotypes, in-group bias, prejudice, group social power).

The last part of the talk was the one that excited me the most – what we can do to fight against racism. Usually, discussions on racism and social injustice in education are tough, because you leave feeling powerless to make an actual difference. Yes, we can teach multicultural curriculum. But Dr. Winkler, and many others, warn that multicultural curriculum needs to be more than just teaching about “heroes and holidays.” Many teachers (with very good intentions) teach about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chavez, but ultimately deliver a message that says “hooray for these heroes, now racism is over.”

In addition, many teachers teach that we should all be colorblind. “We should focus on how deep down we are all the same!” and other such messages are taught in lots of classrooms. I’m guilty of this myself, as I have done the eggs-are-the-same-on-the-inside activity, and many similar lessons in the past.

Instead, teachers need to teach students to value diversity, and identify racial bias when it is present. We learned about a fascinating study called “In blind pursuit of racial equality?” (Apfelbaum et al., 2010). In it, one group of students was taught a central message that downplayed racial distinctions, instead promoting the idea of valuing how similar we all are. (In other words, let’s be colorblind.) The other group of students learned that race is important, because racial differences make us special.

The results? The kids in the first group were much less likely to recognize subtle racism, and explicit racial bias, in a follow-up story.

Conclusion?

value diversity

Instead of teaching kids to ignore color, we should instead teach them to value the diversity of all humankind, and celebrate it. To me, this is true anti-bias education, because it doesn’t ignore differences among our students. Instead, it encourages kids to notice differences, and speak up when injustices occur.

I’m very excited to explore how to teach this with my kindergarten students. I have done some teaching on valuing diversity in the past, and plan to post some resources and ideas for how to do it very soon. I am always hoping to strengthen my understanding of anti-racist and anti-bias education. Here are a few quick links that I find really helpful:

Book study: Starting with Science, Chapter 6: Teachers Talk about Inquiry-Based Science Teaching

I am so excited about inquiry-based teaching these days! Eventually I’d like to learn how to incorporate it in all subjects, but for now I am starting with science. For the last several weeks, I’ve been posting a summary and relevant resources from each chapter of the book Starting with Science: Strategies for Introducing Young Children to Inquiry by Marcia Talhelm Edson. This is the last chapter (well, technically it’s the second-to-last, but the last chapter is basically just a few pages that summarizes the book), and I would highly recommend the book to a preK-2 teacher who is looking to start dabbling in inquiry-based science! I had no idea where to start, and this gave me some great ideas.

Teach Run Eat book club: Starting with Science

This chapter was an easy read, basically just a conversation between teachers who teach inquiry-based science in preK-2nd grade. The whole chapter is worth a read, but here are a few highlights:

  • Research the topic you’re going to do an inquiry unit on. This seems like a no-brainer, but even in kindergarten I have found myself in over my head on a subject that we are studying. Chickens for FOSS science?? I knew absolutely nothing about chicks or eggs when I first started.
  • Don’t let your knowledge (or lack thereof) stop you! Even if you don’t know much about the subject, you can research and learn right along with your kids. It’s the perfect way to model the inquiry process.
  • One idea is to have a science workstation or center in the classroom. The kids can rotate through it each week, and get a chance to study their subject, or do other planned science activities. Then report back on what they learned in an end-of-the-week science meeting.
  • Almost no topic is too small to do an inquiry unit on! If your kids are fascinated by blocks, do an inquiry unit on blocks (what can be built, what they’re made out of, where they came from). If they are really interested in maps, see what you can learn about maps!
  • Teachers have to make time to answer questions that come up during the inquiry process. I love having science discussions about what kids are curious about, and I even have a wonder wall where they can post questions they are wondering. But I often don’t make time for kids to share answers that they have discovered with the whole group. I am really good at introductory science inquiries, but don’t make time to get beyond the basic facts.
  • Facts and answers are less important in inquiry-based science than the problem-solving skills kids learn from inquiry investigations.

The last point was interesting, and it’s one of the reasons I’m most excited about learning this teaching practice: teaching inquiry-based science “keeps every year fresh and exciting. As a teacher, you have to remain open to what the children are interested in and to learning about something you don’t know much about” (Edson, p. 104).

Constant learning, even while at work? That’s a type-A, forever-in-school-because-I’m-a-teacher’s dream come true!

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Book study! Starting with Science: Chapter 4, Assessing for Understanding

Book study Chapter 4

I admit it. I am horrible at assessing. Not that I never do it. I feel like I am testing and assessing all the time – in math and literacy. But assessing science, in kindergarten?? Not something that I am super comfortable with. I tend to teach a science unit, and then move on to the next unit. No rubrics, no final projects, just lots of activities and experiments and conversations. No culminating demonstration of knowledge. I feel like kind of a bad science teacher. But that’s what this whole book study is about, to become better at teaching science effectively. So! I was excited to read this chapter about assessing for understanding of science concepts. And it didn’t disappoint. Some take-aways:

Assessment should be about three different components of inquiry: content, science practices, and attitudes towards learning.

I loved seeing this! Having a curious attitude, being persistent in problem-solving, and understanding the science practices (observing, predicting, questioning, etc) are just as important as learning facts and information.

Assessments are throughout the unit, not just at the end.

Since assessments are on-going, this means I need to make a plan for how I will assess as the unit develops. They made a note that children’s conversations count as an assessment source – this is something that I often forget. But how can I tell that a child understands something? Because she talks about it! They also suggested observations of children using materials and drawing/writing in their notebooks as another source for assessment. Kids’ responses to Know-Want to Know-Learned (KWL) charts (or, as this book suggests to use Know-Learned-Evidence-Wonder) charts are a great way to notice what understandings children have.

Teachers should provide feedback to their little scientists.

The author suggests giving feedback to children about their drawings, their observations, and their data collection. She stresses giving non-judgmental feedback, such as “I’m curious about why you decided to ____” instead of the more judgmental “Why would you ____?” Giving feedback can help students grow as scientists – they can learn more effective ways of sketching an animal using details, or how to label a drawing.

Documentation is important.

This is the aspect I am most excited to start! I really want to have a documentation board, as the book suggests. It’s a big area on the wall (or elsewhere) that shows work samples, photographs of kids working, questions that children have, and other representations of the learning process. I might call it the “Learning Wall,” and change it regularly depending on what we are studying.  Below are three examples of documentation walls – from two of my teacher blog crushes, Inquiring Minds: Mrs. Myers’ Kindergarten and The Curious Kindergarten.

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When work becomes more important than play in kindergarten

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This will be my third year teaching kindergarten (and seventh year teaching overall), and every day I become more frustrated with the demands we are making on kindergarten students. Research overwhelming states that children need to play to learn. Just read this and this and this and this.

I know how important play is, and I make every effort I can to put it into my classroom. But the urgency with which we are required to fit in so much curriculum and testing sometimes leaves me feeling powerless to do what I feel is best for my kids.

Sadly, this was a week in which I hardly let my students play. There were too many other things that they HAD to do.

In place of playing, here are a few things I asked my five- and six-year-olds to do this week:

  1. Complete 7 math worksheets.
  2. Write a personal narrative.
  3. Edit and revise their personal narrative.
  4. Sort spelling words according to their letter pattern.
  5. Read silently for twenty minutes each day.
  6. Take a state-mandated test on their “reading level.”
  7. Memorize flashcards of high-frequency words, and participate in a daily song drilling these words.
  8. Write using a “graphic organizer” to demonstrate what they learned in science.
  9. Complete four math homework sheets.
  10. Summarize and retell a book each day, as well as tell me the title, setting, main character, problem and solution.

This isn’t what kindergarteners should be doing in school. Third graders, maybe. But not kids who are still learning the most basic of life skills, including taking turns, having empathy, asking questions, and making observations.

To learn these skills, kids need unstructured play, small group interactions, movement, exploration, free time. I will continue to create pockets of time for these vital learning experiences. But it’s an uphill battle.

Science Weekly Five for K-2 teachers!

Science! I love teaching it, and I know many teachers do too. But isn’t it so stressful to organize?? Compared to the rest of my day, science time is total chaos.

My district uses the FOSS curriculum, which means a lot of open-ended, exploration type activities. This is great for the kids, but it’s a nightmare for me! I’m always running around trying to make sure the whole group is following directions, has enough materials, and isn’t just throwing pieces of wood at each other!

After my third year of teaching, I finally decided to rethink how I do science this year. There are two things to think about – the content I teach, and how I manage the hour. As far as content goes, I have been trying to make my science content much more inquiry-based (you can read more about my thoughts on teaching inquiry-based science content here). But that is only half the battle. I also struggle with whole-group science, because it turns into behavior problems, confused kids, and an inability to differentiate for kids’ needs!

Enter my newest solution! This was inspired by the amazing Science Penguin, who blogs about teaching science to older kids. She has tons of cool resources on her blog, so make sure you check out her entire website. One resource in particular stuck out to me – the Science Weekly Five. It uses the Daily Five model (or as she calls it, the Weekly Five) to organize your science block. If you teach older kids (3rd grade and up), I highly recommend her Science Weekly Five!

But her brilliant station ideas don’t quite work for younger kids – kids who can’t read directions, or write in a journal, or work in partners, without their omniscient teacher helping them 24/7. So I decided to make my own version of the Science Weekly Five for K-2 teachers!

Science Weekly Five for K-2 teachers

This has completely changed how I teach science, for the better! It has you break kids into five groups (or let them choose their own groups, if you are brave). Then they can rotate between five independent science areas that really allow for hands-on, inquiry-based learning! The rotations incorporate a lot of what we don’t seem to have time for in other parts of our day – creativity, engineering and problem-solving, inquiry-based research, technology, and hands-on investigations.

3 of 5 stations Science Weekly Five

Included in the packet are an overview of the K-2 Science Weekly Five, “I Can” posters for each station, implementation tips, signs for your classroom, parent letter, and several other resources. If I left anything out, please let me know and I will be happy to send it to you!

Science Weekly Five overview

As soon as I started teaching science this way, I saw huge gains in my kids’ engagement during science time. I was also SO much less stressed. This allows me to work with small groups on our investigations, while the other kids are engaged in authentic science learning. It also incorporates literacy and math – which is awesome, because cross-curricular learning is the best for kids!

You can purchase this packet on my Teachers Pay Teachers store here, or by clicking any of the photos above!

Here are some photos of my students hard at work in their Science Weekly Five centers! I hope you enjoy teaching this as much as I do.

Research

Research – learning all about winter animals!

Engineering

Engineering – using pattern blocks 

Create

Create – making winter scenes with paint and packing peanuts

Investigate

Investigate – learning all about snow!

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Extend – using Chromebooks to read and learn

Book study! Starting with Science: Chapter 1, Understanding Inquiry-Based Science

Book Study Teach Run Eat

I am so excited to start this book study! The concept of teaching inquiry-based science is a really tough one, and thinking about teaching it with K-2 students is even more challenging! So this book seems like it’ll be the perfect place to start. For the next 7 weeks, I’ll be posting a summary and relevant resources from each chapter of the book Starting with Science: Strategies for Introducing Young Children to Inquiry by Marcia Talhelm Edson. I’ll also add a few of my thoughts in there as well!

Chapter 1: Understanding Inquiry-Based Science

My biggest take away from this chapter is that inquiry-based science is less of a thing to do as you teach, and more of a way of thinking as you teach. Teachers who use inquiry-based learning practices believe that “children learn by exploring, by raising questions, and by actively constructing knowledge” (Edson, 2013, p. 5). Before I launch a science unit, I want to make sure I answer those questions:

  • Will this allow my students time to explore, or will I give them specific directions that they can’t stray from?
  • Will it help them raise questions, or will they just look to me for answers?
  • Will they be actively constructing their own knowledge, or will I require them all to follow the same steps to get to the answer?

The book gave a great example of a lesson in which a teacher read a book about shadows, then turned off the lights (exciting!) and made shadows with shapes on the overhead projector. The kids were excited, and seemed engaged, but they weren’t actually doing science. Science was being done to them. Alternatively, the teacher could have handed out multiple flashlights and let the children explore making shadows on their own. While they may not have been able to explicitly state the objectives at the end (“Light blocked by an object will make a shadow”), most kids would have come to the same conclusion with their own five senses. This is fundamental for inquiry-based science.

The other major point of the chapter was to emphasize the importance of choosing appropriate topics in inquiry-based science. The topics should be relevant to the students’ lives, and for young children, this means very directly relevant – since they are still such concrete learners. For example, teaching about habitats by studying the rainforest (which, for most of us, is miles away) is much less relevant to students’ lives than learning about the garden in their schoolyard. Using situations that arise in the classroom – such as the death of a classroom pet, or a parent visit – to launch learning units is inquiry-based science.

The book provided a great list of questions that you can use when choosing a topic for your science units. The questions included “Why is this topic especially worthwhile for this group of children?” and “Can the children actively explore this topic through their senses, close observations, and scientific investigations?”

I think that this will be hard for many teachers to do, though, particularly for those of us who are expected to teach a prescribed curriculum, such as FOSS Science. My units are set ahead of time, and I am supposed to follow the scripted lesson plans provided by the company. The conclusion here is clear – scripted science curriculum is NOT inquiry-based science.

Fortunately, a lot of districts are beginning to incorporate the Next Generation Science Standards (including mine)! These standards are more like the Common Core, in that they provide rigorous, deep learning standards but do not require a scripted curriculum. (In fact, there are no boxed curricula for them on the market right now!) Hopefully, many districts will realize that writing or purchasing scripted curriculum, in which every class does the same thing at each grade level, is not good science teaching. Instead, teachers should be trained to use inquiry as the backbone of their curriculum.

I’ll leave my summary there for now. But since I brought up the Next Gen Science Standards (NGSS), which I am pretty excited about these days, here are some great resources for incorporating them into your classroom, if you have the freedom to do so!

Book study! Starting with Science: Strategies for Introducing Young Children to Inquiry

It’s been a long time since I’ve written! The start of the school year has come and gone, and now we are back from winter break {although today was a bonus break day, due to extreme cold in the midwest}. I’ve been neglecting the blog for many reasons, including having too many hobbies and prioritizing spending time with some pretty awesome people. I’ve also been doing lots of reading of teacher books. For the most part, I have been reading all kinds of stuff on teaching science!

good_posters_science_web_1While I love teaching science, I definitely don’t think I’m good at it. I want to be a super-duper science teacher who writes all her units from scratch based on the kids’ interests, and knows exactly how to guide her students to finding the most interesting science facts in the world. I basically want to be a Bill Nye for kindergarten.

But I hesitate to steer away from our (boring) (scripted) science curriculum, because I haven’t been taught how to teach good science without it! I know many teachers share my hesitation. It’s pretty shameful how little science is emphasized in teacher education programs. When I was in college, we had one science methods course in the entire five semester program. It was a wonderful, rigorous course that taught me to love teaching science – but it wasn’t enough. Now that I am in the classroom, it’s clear how little science is valued in school districts. We don’t get professional development in it. It’s all literacy and math all the time. So no wonder I hesitate to say I’m good at teaching science! And I am known as one of those “science people” at my school!

Anyway, I decided to take matters into my own hands several years ago, when I realized how little schools are helping teachers become better at teaching science. If they weren’t going to teach me, I would teach myself. Since then, I have read tons of books, attended workshops, and even quit teaching in the school system in order to teach environmental education. (That only lasted a few years – it was so much fun, but I missed being in the classroom.) I continue to talk to other science teachers, participate in committees, and find good science resources. And my new goal for 2015 is to share my findings here, on my little corner of the internet!

This is me, reading all the science teacher books:

There are so many to choose from!

To begin with, I picked up a new book called Starting with Science: Strategies for Introducing Young Children to Inquiry. “Inquiry-based science” has long been an elusive term for me. Everyone says it’s the best way to teach science for all ages, but I never quite knew what it meant, and what made “inquiry science” different from hands-on science, or lab science, or environmental science. When this book came to my attention, it seemed like the perfect start! I teach kindergarten, and teaching science to young children can be an extra challenge. So this book, which is geared towards preK-3 teachers, will hopefully speak to those challenges as well.

Book Study Teach Run Eat

I plan to read a chapter each week, and post what I learn here on the blog. I’ll also include links to helpful resources that are mentioned in the book or that I come across on my own. I’m excited to share, as I love reading book studies by other teacher bloggers! If you’d like to join me, you can purchase the book here or here.

Happy reading!

50 Ways to Wonder: Have a Wonder Table.

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the ClassroomIn an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

6. Have a Wonder Table.

Kids are constantly bringing in things from outside to show me. I used to say “oh thank you” and just put the items on my desk. Then I realized that kids were bringing them in because they were interested in them, and wanted to learn more! So I started a Wonder Table. It was basically a plain table with a sign saying “Wonder Table.” The rules were that kids could bring anything they found outside or at home that made them wonder. We brainstormed examples, including items from nature, interesting toys that made them think, or books that taught them something new. I also sent home a letter to parents explaining the project.

After that, the items just started flooding in! Nests, dead bugs, leaves, rocks, all sorts of natural items that the kids were fascinated by. (I put each new item in a small basket so it didn’t get super messy.) I also left magnifying glasses and our science journals at the same table. It was a favorite place to go during free choice time, and I like to think that it also helped place more value on wonder and curiosity.

Click the image below to download a sign that you can print off and tape to one of your tables to start your own Wonder Table!

wondertable

50 Ways to Bring Wonder: Visit a “Sit Spot” every season.

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the ClassroomIn an effort to bring curiosity and joy back into the elementary school classroom, I decided to start a series called 50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom. I hope to keep these ideas simple and easy to implement for the time-crunched teacher. Most of these ideas come from other teachers, blogs, and books – so I don’t claim credit for them! Click here to see previous posts in the series. And without further ado, here is the next idea!

5. Visit a Sit Spot every season.

The idea of a “Sit Spot” came directly from the Cultivating Joy and Wonder curriculum from Shelburne Farms (which is free to download – such a great resource). I used it this year for the first time, and I really liked it because it can be done no matter what type of schoolyard you have – concrete, prairie, garden, playground.

Sit Spot

Talk to the class ahead of time about how many scientists make observations of the same place over time, in order to have a better understanding of what goes on in their environment. By visiting the same spot every week, month, or year, they can observe what has changed, what has gone missing, what has grown or been replaced.

Explain that you’ll be doing the same thing at school. Go out into the yard, parking lot, or other surrounding area and help kids choose their own Sit Spot. They will be returning to this spot again and again. They should take careful notes (or drawings, depending on the age) on what they see, smell, hear and feel.

Be sure to return to the same Sit Spots at least once a season, and make time for the students to share after each Sit Spot period. They can use previous entries to compare and contrast their spot in each season. Ask probing questions like “Why do you think there are no flowers in your spot anymore?” and “What has stayed the same in your spot?”

This short activity takes only about twenty minutes, tops, and really encourages students of all ages to notice patterns and changes in their environment. Plus it brings in just a little bit more questioning and wonder to the classroom!