50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom

As I mentioned before, I am continually frustrated with the lack of space for curiosity and creativity in the classroom. Teachers are pressured to fill every minute with minilessons, assessments and benchmark objectives – at the expense of real, engaging education. This means that elementary students spend more time with their butts glued to their desks, writing a “readers response” and making “text-to-self” connections, instead of talking about books they love. They spend more time deciphering specific directions for how a science experiment should be done, instead of being allowed time to experiment with hands-on science materials.

I could go on and on, but I won’t, since I did so in a previous post. Instead, I’ve decided to start sharing some resources for how busy teachers can fit in small ideas that bring curiosity and wonder back into the classroom. I call it my “50 Ways to Wonder” project.

Each week I’ll share a different resource or idea that is both easy and inexpensive for teachers to implement in the classroom. I’ll try to make the ideas for all ages (at least K-5), and something that is feasible. For as much as we would all love to build a school garden from scratch, those types of projects are just not feasible for elementary teachers who are juggling six subjects, 30 students, and an inordinate amount of meetings and paperwork.

Thus, I’ll try to keep these ideas short and simple. Hopefully a few teachers can use these ways to bring joy and wonder back into the classroom, encouraging kids to have fun, be curious, and love to learn!

50 Ways to Bring Wonder into the Classroom

So without further ado, here is the first way to bring wonder into the classroom!

1. Have a Wonder Wall.

Kids are naturally curious, which leads to lots of questions throughout the day. Teachers don’t always have time to answer every question, particularly if they are ones that we aren’t equipped to answer without a little research! A Wonder Wall serves as a great place to store these questions until you can find time to answer them. Writing them down gives your students the message that you do take their curiosity seriously – and further encourages kids to ask more questions!

A Wonder Wall can be as simple or as fancy as you’d like. I just stick a blank piece of chart paper on the wall and title it “Wonder Wall.” Then, whenever a child asks a question that I can’t answer (perhaps because I’m reading a book out loud, it’s in the middle of an unrelated activity, or because I just don’t know the answer!), I write their question on the chart paper.

Here is my current Wonder Wall. Just search “Wonder Wall” on Pinterest to see much prettier versions of this same idea. 🙂

Wonder Wall

When the paper is filled up, I dedicate one Writers Workshop period to investigating the answers to these questions. Finding the answers can take many forms – including looking for related books in the library, interviewing someone in the school who might know (like the music teacher or the librarian), or searching on the internet (with my help, of course). In the future, I think I’ll incorporate more writing into the research part of the Wonder Wall, encouraging my kindergarteners to write a letter to a community member who might know more about the subject. (For example, our town is right next to a major university, so I could foresee writing a letter to a professor who studies the topic.)

I hope you find these ideas helpful… Happy wondering!

Making room for joy and wonder in the classroom

teachingjoyandwonder

As a kindergarten teacher, I find that most people are surprised when I tell them how much is expected of five-year-olds these days. Most of us remember kindergarten as a place for coloring, playing with playdough, and taking naps. The majority of our time was spent running around the recess playground and learning how to make new friends.

Nowadays, the majority of time in kindergarten is spent in academic pursuit. In one seven-hour day, my kindergarteners get exactly 20 minutes of free play and 20 minutes of rest time. That is 40 minutes of unstructured play, out of 420 minutes, each day. The rest of the time is spent on academics – reading, writing, phonics, spelling, math, computer, library, music, art, gym, and a small bit on science and social studies. (That doesn’t include 20 minutes for lunch and 40 minutes for recess each day – but lunch and recess are a chaotic whirl of overcrowded, yelling groups of children, which hardly counts as downtime for a kid.)

While I am a firm believer in the importance of learning throughout the day (I am a teacher, after all, and I love teaching Writers Workshop and Guided Math and everything else), I am also constantly frustrated with how much is demanded of these little guys. By the end of the school day, my students are visibly exhausted, both mentally and physically. And many of them go home to even more structured activities, like gymnastics and soccer practice and piano lessons. I know this is a much lamented problem, but the level of concern doesn’t seem to be changing our expectations of kids in school. As a public school teacher, I can attest to the fact that what is expected of my kindergarteners (from my district administration, from state standardized testing, from Common Core standards) is unreasonable, and is too much.

Think about what you remember most from elementary school. For me, it’s the weeks we spent studying the rainforest in third grade, learning about beautiful animals like quetzals that require our protection. Or the time in sixth grade that we dressed up and acted out the Greek myths, turning over our desks and building props out of cardboard and paint. What will kids remember from my kindergarten class? If I followed the required curriculum to a T, they might remember lots of time spent writing and editing personal narrativesidentifying the number of vertices and sides of a 3D shape, and learning the difference between plywood and particle board.

Don’t get me wrong – these are important endeavors in learning. But I think they need to be balanced with time for free play and exploration. There is so much evidence out there already on how children learn best through play, but play time is decidedly NOT written into the curriculum.

I realize that most of what I’m expected to teach is currently at the whim of politics and corporations. I am fortunate, though, to teach in a school with a very supportive principal who trusts teachers, and gives them room to use their professional judgment on the best way to teach children. Therefore, I have made it my goal this year (and all the years in the future) to make as much room for free play and exploration in my classroom as possible. I’ve decided to start sharing some of my ideas, since there’s not a lot out there on how to bring more joy and wonder into the classroom. I’ll start by listing some of the resources I’ve used when learning how to create space for exploration and guided inquiry in the classroom, and later share lesson ideas, both large and small.

Here are some resources that have inspired me so far:

Websites by Teachers

Books

Pinterest Boards

I’ll end with a quote that has been floating around out there that gives a nod to our need for balance between exploration and structured learning. More ideas for how to find this balance will come!

mudpuddles

Inspiration for the weekend.

slownessHow to meditate daily. (Hint: Just do it for two minutes. A new goal of mine for the spring.)

This weekend officially starts my half marathon training. My goal is to run it in 2 hours flat. Here’s the plan I’m using.

Since I’m obsessed with overnight oatmeal, I can’t wait to try this recipe for how to make steel-cut oatmeal in jars.

This slowcooker Thai butternut squash soup was delicious. (Since I am a spice wuss, I took out a little of the Thai curry paste. I also served it over rice to make it last longer.)

14 handy links for waste-free living.

Exciting school food news: Universal school meals, aka free lunch for all kids, if your school qualifies.

I’m about to start my worm compost unit in my class! Here’s a good link to teaching about worms, composting, and gardening in the classroom.

Inspiration for the weekend.

Go running

I have the picture above as my computer desktop. It’s so hard to get motivated to run when it’s this freaking cold. So I’m doing all I can to inspire myself. Here’s some more inspiration that I’ve found lately:

The winter abundance bowl from My New Roots. Beautiful recipe that I make so frequently.

Advice to us all: Stop reading this blog post and go do stuff.

The truth is that everyone can do yoga.

The banjo player I am currently obsessed with.

A new favorite recipe blog (aka food porn).

Countdown until spring.

Teacher books I want:

And last but not least, my newest resource for teaching inspiration. This book seriously got me motivated to change how I structure my classroom to make it more full of wonder and curiosity. And it’s free to download! Cultivating Joy & Wonder: Educating for Sustainability in Early Childhood through Nature, Food and Community