Tag Archives: early years

Holland Bloorview: Another School that Shows what is Possible

Holland Bloorview is a remarkable place.

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital is Canada’s largest children’s rehabilitation hospital focused on improving the lives of kids with disabilities. 

Holland Bloorview is a global leader in applied research, teaching and learning, and client and family centred care. 

Our vision is to create a world of possibility for kids with disability.

We pioneer treatments, technologies, therapies and real-world programs that give children with disabilities the tools to participate fully in life. We see children with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury, muscular dystrophy, amputation, epilepsy, spina bifida, arthritis, cleft-lip and palate, autism and other developmental disabilities. A small number of our clients have complex chronic diseases that require round-the-clock medical care. 

Holland Bloorview is a world-class teaching hospital fully affiliated with the University of Toronto. We are home to the Bloorview Research Institute and the Teaching and Learning Institute which are both located onsite, allowing us to integrate cutting-edge research and teaching with frontline care to improve children’s quality of life. 

Our state-of-the-art building has been recognized by the International Academy for Design and Health as an inspirational building which speaks to a child’s right to participate in our society.

To find out more:


What’s more is there is an Integrated Kindergarten program at Holland Bloorview. This kindergarten program integrates typically developing children with children with disabilities.  Here is a link to their website that includes a short video about the program:


Holland Bloorview has close connections with the Laboratory School at the University of Toronto (the school I wrote about in my last blog post) and to our faculty as well. Our student teachers in the Child Study and Education Program have had the privilege of learning to become teachers through practice teaching at in the Integrated Kindergarten and have found the experience to be remarkable.

The program may be at risk of closing. I came across this link and encourage anyone interested in supporting the continuation of the program to take a look and participate.


Thinking about Reading Recovery

I (Yiola) am interested in early literacy for a number of reasons: my area of expertise is elementary  education; I was an early years teacher for ten years; my own children are now in early years programs; and, I believe that understanding literacy in the early years is  foundational for understanding teaching and learning.

With recent discussions going on about early years literacy programs and talk of play versus direct instruction; and, exploration and social development versus academic rigour (neither of which I believe are true binaries but instead call for a thoughtful consideration of a developmental and critically rich fusion) I am compelled to think about reading in the early years. You see, it seems to me parents are often in a panic if their child is not reading and more and more I am hearing of excited parents proudly sharing that their child was reading at 3 or 4 while other parents are silently panicking if their child is not reading by 6 years of age.

I often think back to when I was a classroom teacher and I recall the complex yet carefully crafted time sensitive processes for reading acquisition. I also clearly remember having a Reading Recovery Program at our school and watching our first and second graders enter and exit the program with a good degree of improvement and development. Most children would come out of reading recovery with gains. The very few who did not required further testing and support that went beyond the readiness phenomenon.

In my readings I came across this interesting article about Reading Recovery and the relevance of levelled texts, phonological processing AND comprehension as all significant  components of early reading development.

Here is the article in full: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9817.12041/epdf

This reading reminded me that there needs to be an amalgamation of approaches and strategies in the early years classroom. More and more I think that the programming and planning of early years teachers is by far their greatest challenge – not deciding upon play versus directed learning – knowing how to plan in ways that are engaging, that tap into curiosities and children’s questions and that allow for literacy rich exploration while also ensuring time for literacy focused experienced.



FDK Update:Literacy happenings and the like

I (Yiola) having been sharing my experiences with the Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) program from a parent’s point of view and here is another update.  My wee ones, Sylvia Clare (Senior Kindergarten) and Gallaway (Junior Kindergarten) are trekking merrily along in their kindergarten programs.  They are happy — and this makes me very happy. Some updates and observations about FDK and literacy.

  1. Sylvia Clare got into French Immersion. In our province, not all school board’s hold the same policy on French Immersion. This makes understanding the program less clear.  Some school boards/districts give every child the opportunity to go into French Immersion while others (like the one we are in) have a first come/first serve system.  The online database opened at 12pm on a set date and by 12:01 Sylvia Clare was 63rd on the list. 42 students are admitted into the program… We were notified last Monday that Sylvia Clare has been admitted and on Tuesday I registered her into the program. What does this mean? Beginning in first grade 50% of her learning will happen in French. She will have 2 classrooms teachers plus a “prep” teacher.  Big questions arise: How will this impact her language development in the short term/long term?  How will this impact her social development? Will this slow down her reading development?  Will this alter her level of engagement? So many questions and uncertainties and I’m not entirely convinced yet much of the literature AND community feedback suggests to go for the French. As a teacher educator I can speak to the general trends of French Immersion programs: students in immersion programs: acquire more vocabulary over time; catch up and often exceed reading levels of monolingual students… and yet when I look at this wee individual child, in spite of what research and theory state, only time and experience will determine if its best for her. I will keep you posted.
  2. Technology in FDK. Amazing things are happening with the whiteboard in the FDK classroom. I have observed students working individually and in groups: standing directly in front of it, touching it and manipulating shapes, words, images on the screen to solve problems. I have seen students engaged in listening activities and responding with their whole bodies to instructions provided through programs on display on the white board. I have seen attendance being tracked on the white board: all students’s names are in one row and as students enter they go up to the white board and slide their name to the other side — small details to practical use of technology in FDK.  I have seen iPads used in the FDK classroom: for gathering research, reading, listening to stories, and playing “games”. And, I have experienced communication with the teacher via REMIND technology. Oh how I love receiving a text with a pic of my son in educational action accompanied by a short text from the teacher. It makes me smile each and every time. The way digital technology is used in the classroom is meaningful, productive, and purposeful. I have also observed that it has just become a way of being in the classroom. It just is.
  3. My last update on FDK is on the idea of inquiry. I will share my understanding of inquiry in FDK with a anecdote.  Yesterday, as we drove on the Gardiner passing the CN Tower, Sylvia Clare explained Mommy we did research at school.  Harrison asked the teachers if the CN tower was the tallest building in world  and the teachers said they did not know but that it was a good question to research. So we started to research.  We looked in books and on the computer and guess what? We found out its not.  You know where the tallest building is mommy? Its not in Canada. We also learned the CN tower is a tower but not a building… and on and on she spoke about her research on towers and buildings.

These are some of the key literacy based elements that have me excited about FDK. Am I concerned about how many sight words they know? Not really. I am more concerned with their active engagement in learning and wanting to learn and this is what I see happening in the early years.

FDK Update from a parent’s perspective: What are the early years up to?

Last year, I (Yiola) wrote several blogs about my Sylvia Clare’s first year of kindergarten. In Canada children begin school at four years of age, sometimes three, and they enter Junior Kindergarten (JK). The following year they are in Senior Kindergarten. So, my Sylvia Clare is in SK this year and my son, Gallaway, has begun JK.  The school year started well. The children are happy. A few of my favourite things about early years schooling:

  1. Regular communication from the teacher — brought home in “zippies”
  2. A lot of outdoor exploration
  3. Weekly library visits — I am fascinated by my children’s choice of books!… Sylvia Clare tends to select “Fancy Nancy” books and Gallaway selects books about Dinos doing sports
  4. Uniforms — mornings are so easy
  5. White collared uniform shirts covered in paint at the end of the day
  6. Cereal boxes / tissue boxes with paper towel rolls (towers) poking out — every invention you can imagine
  7. Listening to my son sing songs learned at school
  8. Being given clear instructions with strong convictions –  “Mommy, my teacher said so…”
  9. My favourite:  Picking the children up at the end of the day to be greeted by big hugs and smiles

I know children learn enormous amounts in the early years — vocabulary, numeracy, inquiry, motor skill development — so much happens in a kindergarten classroom. For me, as a parent, what I am most concerned about is my child’s well being. That is, their happiness.

The other day, Sylvia Care brought a note home that was written by a classmate. It was an apology note.  Sylvia Clare was teased at school and the child wrote her an apology. My initial reaction was that it was  somewhat funny. I did not really think it was significant. The following day when I picked the children up from school I spoke to one of Sylvia Clare’s teachers and brought up the note. First I said, “Hysterical” and then I paused when I noticed the teacher not laughing. I asked the teacher if Sylvia Clare was genuinely upset. In a serious tone the teacher explained that she was.  It was in that moment that I recognized how much respect the teacher had for her student.  Acknowledging Sylvia Clare’s feelings and addressing her hurt made me appreciate her teacher even more. Valuing young learners and appreciating their feelings is just so very important. The problem was quickly resolved; Sylvia Clare felt her feelings were validated, and her dignity restored. And only then, when a child feels secure, can learning occur.

And so we begin our second year of the Early Years with confidence, resilience and excitement.  I look forward to sharing, every now and then, the nuances of one FDK experience.


Gallaway and Sylvia Clare during their first week of school.

Accelerated Learning and where it begins

I (Yiola) have been hard at work preparing my teacher education courses. This year was an complete review and reconceptualization of the courses — significant updates to not only the literature but to the ways in which we will explore the content.  I will share some of the changes to the pedagogy of my courses next week. This week I want to start at the start. Where does accelerated begin and how does it begin? I came across this interesting post and wanted to share it here. It is about paperless early years classrooms.


I remember when I taught first and second grade, I seldom used worksheets but I also did have the inquiry-based play either. My pedagogy was somewhere in between. But, truth be know, the teacher across the hall who had a full curriculum of worksheets was often commended for being highly organized and “on the ball” with her program.  I always wondered if that way of teaching was better. Her students, most of them, were learning to read and write. That is another truth. However, were they creative thinkers and problem solvers? Again, another truth, we did not pay much attention to those sorts of skills.  This was but a mere 10 – 15 years ago.

But now, I think we can all agree, that critical thinking and creativity and problem solving are very important skills for children to develop early in life. These skills do not develop from worksheet tasks. The link above talks about this and other inspirational considerations.

And so I share this post to begin at the beginning — play in the early years and how we move forward from there to more sophisticated modes of learning, through the grades and into post secondary teaching. Next week I plan to share some of challenges and questions I faced when reconstructing my courses.

Re-visiting My Early Childhood Literacy Practices

My (Pooja) parents’ basement recently flooded. So, they had to quickly clear out whatever was in there. They came across a huge container labeled “Pooja’s school stuff” and dropped it off to me the following day. I was overcome with emotion as I rifled through its contents. My parents had held on to every single one of my report cards from from JK-Grade 12;  they even had my university acceptance letter. They had neatly filed all of the documents in plastic folders to avoid damage (like a flooding basement!). In the container, I also found many artifacts from elementary school: reading logs, projects, letters to fictional characters and pen pals, and books I wrote and illustrated. I don’t remember even writing/completing most of what was in the container but it was like taking a glimpse back into some of my early childhood literacy practices. As an adult, I got to see myself as a kid.

Here are some photos from a book I published in Grade 2, The Talking Pencil. I love how our books became part of the school library, so other children were able to sign them out to take home and read. What a great idea!

IMG_7799 IMG_7800 IMG_7801 IMG_7802 IMG_7803

Cozy reading: A literacy initiative in the early years

Literacy teaching is rich and varied. Teachers make many decisions at to how to teach literacy: what texts to use, what language to emphasize, what materials to include, what experiences to foster, and how to deliver instruction so students become confident and competent users of language.

Sylvia Clare’s school has a “cozy reading” program in place where parent volunteers come to the class for about 1 hour. During their 1 hour visit they take small groups of about 4-5 students into a cozy space located outside of the classroom. With comfy chairs snuggled in a nook of the school the parent reads a picture book or 2 to the students.

This is a simple program that does so much:

  • Exposes students to parents’ reading and demonstrating a love for reading.
  • Provides additional read aloud experiences for students. Every child receives small group read aloud time with an adult, while the classroom teachers remain in the classroom working with small groups on a number of projects.
  • Brings the parent community into the school in a way that is focused on learning.
  • Has children connect with parents of students in the class.
  • A nice way to foster relationships between parents and teachers that is also helpful to teachers’ work

I (yiola) really enjoy the cozy reading program. Being back in the early years classroom reminds me of how complex the environment is: 25 young children excited, active, and curious. The balance between learning and management is simply amazing… even walking the children out the room to the cozy reading nook makes me smile… because I say to the children “Okay let’s walk down the hall nicely so we are safe” and as soon as we exit the classroom door the children skip and run down the hallway!


Sylvia Clare in the Cozy Reading nook.
Sylvia Clare in the Cozy Reading nook.


‘H’ints and ‘H’appiness: Literacy learning in FDK

With the first month of school soon behind us I (Yiola) want to share some examples of my 4 year old daughter’s (Sylvia Clare) literacy learning in Full Day Kindergarten (FDK).

Example 1:  Phonemic awareness.  Sylvia Clare must be learning about the letter H.  On more than one occasion she has demonstrated her understanding of phonemes and phoneme isolation.  I said, “Sylvia Clare you must be hungry”. Sylvia Clare paused and responded, “Mommy, is hungry like Henry? huh huh huh.” I paused in surprise of her observation and connection and simply said, “Yes”.   Later in the evening I said, “Hendrix and Orion are going to visit soon” and Sylvia Clare responded, “Hendrix is like hungry and Henry, right mommy?”

Example 2:  Letter recognition.  One night earlier this week while tucking Sylvia Clare in bed I noticed she was curled in the most unusual position. I observed but said nothing. Just as I was about to pull the bed sheets up Sylvia Clare said, “Mommy, what letter do I look like?”   I respond, “hmmmm, interesting. I’m thinking you look like an I?”  Sylvia Clare laughs, “Noooooo. What letter do I look like mommy?”

She is also taking objects and forming letters. For example, while playing outside, she took two twigs and  placed them together to form the letter “V” and asked, “Does this look like a letter mommy? What letter is this?”

Example 3: Vocabulary development and comprehension.  More and more Sylvia Clare comes home with stories. Vivid stories. Curious stories.  Each day her stories grow in detail and description. The other day she explained she went on a trip to the forest in search of an oak tree. She shared,  “On the way to the forest, I held a boy’s hand [she paused and blushed]. His name is *Sam (changed) and he is in SK (senior kindergarten) so he is bigger.  I fell down on my way to the forest but I did not get hurt and the teacher gave me a bandaid. The forest close to the park mommy, you know the one we always go to.  We went into the forest just a little, not deep in the forest, only at the entrance. There we found a humungous oak tree. It had 4 trunks and they went out like this (uses her arms and points in four different directions). So it really looked like four trees stuck together. We looked at the bark”.  I asked if it was an angel oak tree. She was not sure but she continued to share news about her experience.

Example 4: Confidence.  Sylvia Clare drew a map of the world at home, wrapped it up and took it to school. I thought nothing of this as I dropped her off in the morning. Then I realized I left her lunch bag at home! I scrambled home and rushed back to the school to bring her  lunch.  By the time I returned to the school the children were engaged in outdoor play/education/inquiry.  I saw Sylvia Clare standing with one of her teachers, her map open and making reference to it. The teacher saw me and smiled, “Sylvia Clare is reading her map and we are now trying to find the treasure”.  How wonderful to see play and literacy in harmony. A reader is a person who reads. Sylvia Clare was demonstrating she is a reader. Then, at the end of the day when I went to pick her up she had another paper in hand. I asked, “What did you work on today?” and Sylvia Clare explained that she lost her map so she made another one – she developed a graphic organizer, a way to read, understand and appreciate the world. My thoughts:  thank you teachers, for providing the time and space for Sylvia Clare to engage in what interests her and thank you for appreciating those interests.

On her own, without probe, Sylvia Clare is offering hints of literacy teaching and learning.  With sly enthusiasm she is sharing her learning with me, in subtle, whimsical ways. She is sharing her achievements and understandings and I can tell she is proud that she is learning new things.  What excites me is that her learning is evident; in her sharing, practice and happiness. It is not coming home by way of worksheets or alphabet books.  I look forward to seeing and sharing what the upcoming months hold.


First impressions of Junior kindergarten (JK) and big hopes for a successful start

In a previous post I (yiola) shared information about  my experience as a parent with a child entering Full Day Kindergarten (FDK).


A letter did arrive from the school in early August that shared information about my Sylvia Clare’s school, classroom and teachers. Drop off and entry routines routines, school hours, suggestions for snacks and lunches, back packs and what to have in them, and kinds of shoes and clothing were all listed in the letter.  The letter was detailed and comprehensive; enough information to get us started and feeling confident. We were also informed that Sylvia Clare’s first day of school is Friday September 5th (a staggered start for the JKs).  Oh the first day of school…. there are so many perspectives, feelings, emotions connected to the first day of school.


My family visited the school earlier this week to meet the teachers and check out the classroom.  We walked into the school and were greeted by the vice-principal. “Well hello and welcome! What is your name sweetheart?” asks the vice-principal.  Sylvia Clare rushes to hide her face behind my legs and says “NUFFING!'” (nothing)… I turn a soft shade a red and try to encourage my daughter to say her name… she digs deeper into my back for cover.

We made our way to the classroom. It is the smallest classroom of the five I wrote about earlier. The room will host 30 students.  This concerns me. The teachers greeted us and we had some time to explore the classroom together. Everything, according to my teacher education self, looked fantastic: neutral, calm colours, brand new wooden materials and furniture, accessible shelves, colourful and plentiful picture books, walls free of borders and posters ready for students to share their learning.

The classroom teacher showed Sylvia Clare where she would enter and how she was expected to arrive into the classroom. We went into the “cubby room” where there were 20 cubbies for 30 expected students. Here Sylvia Clare will need to drop off her jacket and backpack, unload her lunch bag into the cubby above the hook and put on her indoor shoes. We then went to the carpet area where the teacher explained some of the basic school routines: school entry, attendance, outdoor play or physical education, followed by ‘free play’.

In terms of literacy development the early childhood educator (ECE) explained it would be taught subtly. For example, children’s names would be shared on the board and students, together, identify their names and the first letter of their names. It would be done through games and in ways that were free of pressure. This delighted me. I was assured that there would not be the pressure of the ‘sit down, work sheet’ style of learning literacy and numeracy.  The teachers explained that student inquiry will drive the program. While students freely explore the materials in the classroom and build and share their ideas and interests teachers will design the content.  Language and vocabulary will be built based on student interest. It was also explained to me that one-on-one and small group time would be developed so literacy lessons could take place with one of the teachers while the other teacher would work with the larger group on my inquiry/play based programs. 

Sylvia Clare drew for her teachers a picture as we spoke about assessment (there is a new provincial report card coming out this year!), portfolios, field trips, volunteer opportunities, and the importance of validating and appreciating Sylvia Clare’s ‘uber’ long last name.  

I’m not entirely sure how Sylvia Clare felt about her very first visit. She hasn’t said too much about it either way. I want Sylvia Clare to feel happy. I want her to jump out of bed every morning and say “Hurry mom! Let’s go to school”. I want her to make friends and to play freely and securely each day. If these things happen in the first months of JK,  my hopes for my Sylvia Clare will have been met.

Her first day is this Friday and again, I will share from time to time what I am seeing and learning about literacy teaching in the early years from a parent (and teacher educator) perspective.

Self-portraits and sparkling feet: Communication & representation in the early years

It seems my (yiola’s) blog posts run parallel to the foci in my life. This makes good sense as it seems the blog genre, whether an MAB or personal, pulls from the writer their interests, latest happenings and experiences. This past month I have had the privilege of  spending a great deal of time with my two young children; hence the sharing of teaching and learning and literacy in the early years in many of my posts.

My four year old has been busy communicating, sharing and representing. Through her drawings she expresses her feelings and is able to share stories and ideas.

In March she drew and spoke about our family:


Her most recent self portrait:


Note the addition of the ears and arms that are now present in every drawing she creates.

For me, these developments are huge; for ECE researchers and educators these drawings are nothing new:


And yet, I still marvel at my child’s ability to communicate and represent in such meaningful ways.  My daughter expressed the other day  “momma, my feet are sparkling”… I did not bother to explain that wasn’t the case, that instead, her “feet fell asleep” because really, is one expression more accurate than the other?

An interesting and short description of stages of art development:  http://www.artjunction.org/young_in_art.pdf

What caught my attention from the article was the statement below:

Of course, what children seem to do naturally and what they are capable of doing are entirely different matters. It is likely that teachers will find that students within their classrooms are at varied points in their graphic development since some have had abundant prior experiences with art, whereas others, may have had limited creative opportunities. Thus, teachers should avoid the temptation to place children at a particular stage simply because of their age or grade level.

… and how true this is of exposure to all subject/school related matter.

As I read about child development and literacy I appreciate  the stages of development. As a teacher (and now parent) I have seen the stages unfold; however, as I read and observe the effects of providing opportunities for creative development and the use of multi literacies with young children I am more excited about the possibilities for language and literacy development  in areas such as: creative thinking, communication, problem solving and representation.

In keeping with ‘you teach who you are’, I cannot help but think about these areas of interest for my work.  As I prepare my courses for the coming year I am searching for readings and experiences for student teachers that will encourage discussion about creative thinking/problem solving and the implementation of various kinds of opportunities for pupil’s acquiring literacy both in and out of classrooms.