Helpful Tips For Teaching Kindergarten As A Student Teacher

You may think “oh kindergarten, easy peasy! They’re so young I can just whip something together last minute and they’ll still have fun”... um no, think again. Unlike any other grade in the Ontario curriculum, kindergarten has its own individual curriculum and it’s learning expectations revolve around 4 frames: Belonging and Contributing, Self Regulation and Well Being, Demonstrating Literacy and Mathematics Behaviour, and Problem Solving and Innovating.

How things are run in Kindergarten will look different to other grades. In full day kindergarten (FDK), you won’t necessarily be teaching a “unit” in a uniformed manner like you are use to. For starters, kindie kids can’t sit on the carpet for more than 10 minutes so all your “lessons” will have to be engaging but short. Everything you do in the classroom and all the skills you hope to teach your students will have to be done in a way that feeds off of their interests. In order to find out the interests of your students, you’ll have to let them explore. Explore books. Explore photographs. Explore materials. Explore feelings. Explore the outdoors. Explore. That is where the word provocation comes in.

I started my kindergarten placement having no idea what the word provocations meant in a kindergarten context. To keep it simple, provocations are ways to get students thinking, discussing, questioning, and/or creating. This can be done as simply as placing an interesting photo, book, and/or material in front of them and allowing them to inspect, ask questions, or share their thoughts. You do not have to tell students what you want them to do with the materials laid out for them. That is the whole point. You want THEM to show you what they are curious about, what they already know, and what they really want to learn more about. Provocations are essentially invitations for your students to come play with something. Provocations provoke, and they come in many different forms. 

When prepping for any class or any grade, understanding the curriculum is important. With how easily accessible resources are, it can be easy to browse Pinterest and want to do absolutely every activity you see on there. Relax. Feed off of your students interests and don't go over board. It's not so much about how "pretty" your provocation looks. As long as it's inviting enough, your students will want to be there.

Like in typical Nero fashion, I forgot to take pictures of a lot of the things my students did with me. I'm hoping the pictures I do have will give you a glimpse into what provocations look like and how simple they can be. Provocations aren't the only things that are done in a kindergarten class. There are so many other aspects to teaching kindergarten but if I were to write about all of it this post would be too long. Please note that if you do have a kindergarten placement coming up and you're feeling a little nervous, do not hesitate to contact me! I'd love to connect.

A Lemonade Stand
During a week or two into my placement, my students were learning about structures. We gave the students 50+ cups and left them near the construction centre. Soon enough, students started to use the cups to build their own structures. Over the course of a couple of days, their obsession with the cups started to die. The students started to place different coloured jewels inside as if they were drinking juice. 

The following week, I put up a lemonade stand at their puppet centre and moved the cups there. Before I knew it, the students started running their own lemonade stand! They started writing their own flavours, drawing pictures to advertise their juices, and even used blocks to build a side wall for their store. The lemonade stand was such a hit that another group of kids went and made their own and offered other incentives to get more "customers" to visit their store instead. Students used play money and gave each other different roles such as lemonade maker, deliverer, and cashier. At one point, there were even greeters at the front of the stand who welcomed everyone. 

The lemonade stand was such a hit that the following week I placed some homemade play-doh and cookie cutters nearby. Sure enough, the students started to sell cookies and cupcakes too. By taking something as simple as cups and giving them a foundation to work with, the students were the ones who carried their ideas to life. They found different materials around the classroom (without being told what to do), and found ways to make their store better. None of the students were forced to participate in the creation of the lemonade stand. Whoever wanted to spend time at the lemonade stand did, while everyone else found something else to do. When the lemonade stand got crowded, the students were able to self-regulate themselves appropriately. 

Mixing Colours
I found that my kindie students were particularly interested in mixing colours. Whenever we used paint for other activities, I'd notice them sneakily trying to mix the different colours, hehe! I wanted my students to explore mixing colours without feeling like they'd be caught for doing something they shouldn’t. So, I bought a paint palette and gave them the opportunity to do just that. I aligned three cups next to each other, and added food colouring to two out of the three cups. Yellow coloured water in one cup, and red coloured water in another. The middle cup just had water in it. I twisted some napkins and placed it inside the cups. Eventually, the middle cup turned orange (yellow + red = orange)! If I could do this activity again, I would find a palette with primary colours only. 


Sensory Activities
The way that provocations are broken up will definitely depend on the classroom teacher. The way that my associate teacher goes about it is dividing them into different interests such as: art, construction, math, science, sensory, technology, dramatic play, reading, writing, etc. The provocations are set out weekly and remain the same for that week. The sensory station was definitely a favourite for my class, but finding different ways to incorporate new materials did prove to be a little difficult for me. Whenever I tried to look for sensory activities for kindergarten, a lot of them revolved around sand or water - two things my students were very used to exploring with. Throughout my placement I realized it wasnt so much the main material that mattered but the smaller materials that I placed at a centre
that  totally changed how students went about playing in a specific area. For example, before I got there, my class did an inquiry based lesson on a restaurant. Eventually, the water station was used as an area to wash dishes for their restaurant. Kids love water, no doubt, but if dishes were all that were left for them, there would be nothing else to learn about their interests. At recess, I noticed that a lot of the kindies would use toy snowplows to carry and move snow or rocks. The DECE for my class brought in some beans and we used that as a way to bring more kids to the sensory station. They started filling different sizes of containers and listening to the sounds the beans made when they poured them all out.

Art provocations are always a fun one to put together. Kindie kids are so creative and like many kids, my class absolutely adored the art table. It breaks my heart seeing students grow up and say things like "I suck at art!!!". The very kids that thrived creatively become confined to these overwhelming thoughts about how they're not good enough. Eventually they stop trying, and art becomes something they hardly associate themselves with.

My student's love for art was something I thrived off of. It was a reminder to myself that art comes in so many forms - not just pencil to paper. I always found new ways and new materials to get them gravitating back to the art table as much as possible. From paint swatches from Home Depot, brown paper bags from the grocery store, I brought in everything and anything I could think of. New materials will go a long way. It doesn't have to be over the top or expensive material either. Some of these kids (especially those in junior kindergarten) are using some of these materials for the very first time. Cater to that. Keep your instructions open ended. Time and time again I was blown away by the master pieces their tiny hands came up with.

Read them books about how to think outside the box. Teach them that they do not have to be confined by what society tells them to do. They don't have to use "typical" colours to colour in their drawings. If they want their sky to be green their sky can be green. Heck, it can be periwinkle for all I care. Let them know their work is beautiful. Find ways to let them share their creations with others. Be proud of what they create. They too will be proud.

Remember, provocations do not have to be extravagant. The more simple, the better. Listen to their thoughts, and notice what they do while they play. I witnessed my kids pretending to be doctors and got them a doctor set when I went thrifting. After leaving those materials out for them, the kids started taking appointments and writing pretend notes on clipboards. They took the paint swatches from the art table and cut out stripes to make their own band aids. They used pieces of long wood as crutches for a patient with a broken leg. By point is, everything will fall into place, and things will connect without you even realizing it. Be open, and pay careful attention to what the students are doing. Your ideas are right in front of you. Pinterest may be home to all sorts of ideas, but most often,  your students will be the ones telling you what exactly to plan for next.

Other Helpful Resources ... I Can Currently Think Of
When it comes to resources, there a whole array of places you can look and it will definitely depend on what exactly you'd be doing with your students. As a full blown Pinterest addict, Pinterest is my favourite place to go for some inspiration. I take what other people have done and see how I can alter it to fit the needs of my students. It's a great place to go when you need to get your own creative juices flowing, but at times it can be a little overwhelming to use as a prepping resource. You can also easily start parachuting ideas that have no benefit in the long run. Nonetheless, I created a board specifically for kindergarten which can be found here.

Cosmic Kids Yoga: My teacher did  a lot of mindfulness activities in her classroom, and Cosmic Kids Yoga is a great resource to find interactive videos that introduce yoga in the form of stories!

Songs songs and more songs: I know this may seem like a no brainer, but don't ever be afraid to incorporate songs. Kids love songs, and it's a great way to get them paying attention at the carpet. Spend some time browsing YouTube whenever you can to find some kid friendly educational songs. This number song was our fav! The kids would rush in from recess, change into their indoor shoes as fast as they could just so they could sit and sing at the carpet. 

Tumble Book Library: I hate to generalize, but kindie kids LOVE being read to. They absolutely adore books. When you are unable to find a hardcopy of a specific book or want to change it up by showing them an animation of the book, you should definitely look into Tumble Book Library. A login is required, and it probably won’t be feasible for you to purchase an account on your own but the school you're at might have a login you can borrow.

A library card (!!!!): Having fun isn't hard when you've got a library card! I can not stress this resource enough. As a child, I went to the library with my mom regularly. As I grew older, I stopped visiting the library that my library card expired. There are so many books you’ll need when teaching kindergarten that I highly suggest you visit your local library and sign out some books. Obviously, your school’s library is a great place to start but you’ll find that most of your ideas will come to you when you’re prepping over the weekend. It also doesn’t hurt to place some holds on books even if you don’t end up needing them!

Just Dance Kids: Going through some Just Dance Kids videos and reviewing them before you show them to your class is always a good idea (have you seen some of the moves on there these days?). Although this is not a Just Dance video, Catch A Brain Wave is my favourite "dance" energizer to date.

Thrift Stores: If you are on the lookout for some dramatic play toys (i.e., a cash register) definitely give Value Village a try. You can also get your hands on some affordable children's books at the end of your placement as a going away present for your class! It's always nice to add to their classroom bookshelf.

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PS - Enjoy your time in Kindergarten! It's not often you'll get the chance to see a child's entire educational career begin right before your eyes. It's hard being a student teacher, so don't beat yourself up when you can't emulate everything your associate teacher does. You are your own type of teacher and don't you ever forget it. Push yourself to try things unique to your own teaching style, it's okay to be nervous. YOU are that shiny new toy in the classroom - the kids will love you regardless.

A 24 year old Canadian living (& teaching) in Shenzhen, China.