You know you are a kindergarten teacher when you watch your 20 month old nephew peeling a hardboiled Easter egg and begin analyzing all of the learning he is doing! As I watched him, I thought about how his mind would be absorbing all sorts of information and learning from the seemingly simple activity. He was problem solving as he watched my brother show him how to crack the egg against the table and then tried it himself. He was developing his fine motor skills as he carefully picked at and peeled away the shell. He was discovering the properties of the new and unfamiliar materials of the shell and the hardboiled egg inside. He was using his senses of touch and taste as he explored. He was even developing self-regulation as he worked patiently to achieve a goal, the reward being the egg inside. Yes, it was messy and it was taking him a long time to remove each piece of shell with his little fingers, but he was engaged, concentrating on the task.

I have been reading "Primarily Play," which is a document published by ETFO, the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario. It outlines how the philosophy of play-based learning that is now entrenched in the Full Day Kindergarten program can be applied to all of the primary grades. The learning my nephew was doing with the Easter egg is a perfect example to illustrate the following quotation from this text:

The trouble with the natural process of learning is that although predictable, it is not a tidy systematic endeavour. There is a good deal of redundancy as a learner repeats an activity or explores an idea over and over again before it becomes permanently established. Centuries ago, educators found that rote learning was more efficient. The learner would simply memorize what the teacher presented, and a base of knowledge built. A test could be given, and mastery assessed. It sounds compelling but it is not learning. Instead, it is what Vygotsky (1962) calls "parrot-like learning that masks a vacuum". The knowledge and/or skill is not internalized.
Like Ms. Frizzle used to say on "The Magic Schoolbus," learning is about taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy. However, as adults we often have trouble giving kids the freedom and trust to do this. We like things organized, quiet, productive, and efficient. Our world revolves around things getting done quickly and efficiently. It is so much easier for us to interfere with kids' explorations and give them the solution. Most of the time we don't even realize we're doing it. We think we are helping them, allowing them to arrive at a solution more quickly, or teaching them a better way of doing something. In reality, we're taking away an opportunity for them to both learn and demonstrate what they know. It would have been much easier and faster to just peel the egg for my nephew and give it to him, but then he would have missed out on the learning opportunity. Likewise, a colleague blogged about an experience she had with some of her students where she was able to simply observe her learners without interfering and ended up getting much more out of them than she would have by simply telling them her solution. Her students' solutions were far less efficient, yet they demonstrated a level of thinking and understanding that far exceeded that of the teacher's solution. Sometimes the art of teaching is as much about knowing when to take a step back as providing effective instruction.

Tania Bumstead
04/06/2013 4:43pm

I loved ready through your blog today. After reading through I spoke to Emma to say that she is a very lucky girl to have Miss Mavin. She replied "I know mom-- I love her" Thanks for providing a variety of interesting activities that have the students engaged and interested. Your blog is one that I will tell others about. It is reflective and something that all educators should do in some capacity. In the current teaching profession the journey to a teaching position is not always easy but it looks to me that you are a positive person who makes a difference where ever you go. Thanks Miss Mavin-- Keep up the amazing work.


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