Exploring Student Interests in the Early Years

Inquiry Mindset & Inquiry Live

Last week I listened to a fantastic Inquiry Live conversation on Instagram between Rebecca (@inquiryteacher) and Laurie (@mrsmacskinders). I had to quickly grab the nearest pen and paper (which happened to be my gratitude journal from Dr. Jody Carrington that I was so fortunate to win along with a ticket to RELIT! 2020) to jot down these notes.

One of the powerful strategies that was mentioned in the Instagram conversation was showcasing learners’ DNA (Dreams, Needs & Abilities) and keeping these in mind as we are planning. Laurie discusses DNA on this great blog post. Rebecca wrote this lovely post on getting to know your learners.

Rebecca & Trevor’s book, Inquiry Mindset, is full of great inspiration and ideas around how to find out and explore students’ curiosities. Some of my favourite ideas included:

  • Celebrations of learning (making museums, galleries, movies, etc.)
  • Using dramatic play to explore interests
  • Having a Wonder Wall to feature questions – here’s an example from my classroom
  • Using picturebooks as provocations

I really encourage you to check out Rebecca’s Instagram page (@inquiryteacher) for a lot of great ideas and inspiration around provocations and more!

More Resources & Ideas

What resources or ideas have you discovered to explore student interests?

Social Emotional Learning in the Early Years

It. Is. Everything.

It’s in our conversations, our classroom setup, our read-alouds, and the activities we do, and it is a key lens to look through as we plan for learning. Here is a sketchnote from a professional development session I attended (virtually) in early May that shows some important examples and ideas of how social emotional learning can happen and be supported:

Sketchnote from a professional development session on social emotional learning in the early years

Emotional Regulation Resources by Dr. Jody Carrington

I highly recommend seeking out any of Dr. Jody Carrington’s fabulous work to learn more about the importance of emotional regulation, and how we can model and support it:

Sketchnote from The Mental Health of Kids These Days workshop by Dr. Jody Carrington.

More Resources

What are your favourite resources, activities, or other ideas for nurturing social emotional learning in the early years?

Bilingual Educators Virtual Summit 2020 Reflection

I love to learn from and connect with new teacher friends, so a few weeks ago I took in some of the sessions from the Bilingual Educators Virtual Summit 2020. Unfortunately that week I ended up with a migraine, and I did not catch nearly as many sessions as I had originally hoped. I was also watching sessions from the Play First Summit which was happening on the same days, and you can find my sketchnotes from those sessions in this blog post.

Encouraging Bilingualism at Home through Family Connection and Book-Inspired Activities

Sketchnote from the session on encouraging bilingualism at home through family connection and book-inspired activities by Laura Fiore of @inspobilingue.

Yoga in Primary French Immersion

Sketchnote from the session on yoga with primary French Immersion students by Mariah of @aplayfulpurpose.

Have you taken advantage of any free online learning lately?

Play First Summit 2020 Sketchnotes

This week I have been watching sessions from the Play First Summit that was organized by Fairy Dust Teaching and Teacher Tom. I enjoyed listening to the sessions, creating sketchnotes and then sharing those out with a community of people from all over the world in the conference Facebook group. People from that global community shared with me that my notes helped them to access and revisit these ideas, which was a really lovely feeling.

Professional Development Session Sketchnotes

Using the Life Experiences of Children in the Classroom with Lynnette Arthur

Sketchnote from the session “Using the Life Experiences of Children in the Classroom” with Lynnette Arthur. Check out her page “Reggio Children Inspired”!
Some key reflection questions from Lynnette Arthur: Where are my biases? What do I hope will happen? What are the steps, obstacles, and resources?

Life-Derived Learning in Challenging Times by John Yiannoudis

Sketchnote from the session “Life-Derived Learning in Challenging Times” by John Yiannoudis.

Original Learning in Early Childhood by Suzanne Axelsson

Sketchnote from the session “Original Learning in Early Childhood” by Suzanne Axelsson.

A New (And Better!) Normal by “Teacher Tom” Hobson

Sketchnote from the session “A New (And Better!) Normal” by ‘Teacher Tom’ Hobson.
“The only legitimate use of power is to empower.” –Teacher Tom

How Come We’re So Afraid For Our Kids? By Lenore Skenazy

Sketchnote from the session “How Come We’re So Afraid For Our Kids?” By Lenore Skenazy.

Stop Stealing Childhood in the Name of Education by Maggie Dent

Sketchnote from the “Stop Stealing Childhood in the Name of Education” session by Maggie Dent.

Play, Freedom, and Trusting Children by Kisha Reid

Sketchnote from the “Play, Freedom, and Trusting Children” session by Kisha Reid.

The Power in Children’s Problem Solving and Independence by Janet Lansbury

Sketchnote about “The Power in Children’s Problem Solving and Independence” session by Janet Lansbury

The Value of Play by Peter Gray, Ph.D.

Sketchnote about “The Value of Play” session by Peter Gray, Ph.D.

Policing is a Play Equity Issue by Ijumaa Jordan

Please follow Ijumaa Jordan on social media and support her work:

Documentation to Share, Connect, and Reflect by Wendy Lee

Sketchnote from “Documentation to Share, Connect, and Reflect” by Wendy Lee

Re-opening Trauma Informed Practice by Dr. Mine Conkbayir

Sketchnote about “Re-opening Trauma Informed Practice” by Dr. Mine Conkbayir

How To Sketchnote

One of the questions I got a few times was about the tools I use to create my sketchnotes. The physical tools I use are my iPad and a Ciscle stylus. Recently I started using the SketchBook app on my iPad, and I have been liking the variety of pens available. When I started creating sketchnotes, I used the Paper app.

I learned to sketchnote mostly by looking at other people’s sketchnotes online. I find it easier, more fun, and more likely to share & review my learning this way. Sylvia Duckworth’s Sketchnote Fever is a good resource if you are interested in learning more.

Sketchnoting is about capturing your ideas and doodles on a topic, so it can be done on paper or digital platforms. So if you are starting your sketchnote journey: write what you hear, draw what you feel, and show the connections as you process them.

Do you sketchnote? Did you watch any of the Play First Summit 2020 sessions?

P.S. I will be taking a break from my regular blog & education-gram posts this week while I spend time with my family. My next post will be Thursday, August 6th and I will share my sketchnotes from the Billingual Educators Virtual Summit.

5 Questions About Me

  1. What are your hobbies? I love reading (lately that has translated into a love of audiobooks and podcasts), spending time outside, and making art. Recently I have been particularly enjoying making digital drawings for my STEM Puns project.
  2. Why did you become a teacher? While I was doing science outreach work in schools and summer camps, I found a passion for teaching and connecting with learners. Teaching is both fun and challenging in how dynamic it is, and I find that so fulfilling.
  3. Why did you start a teaching blog? I started this teaching blog because I find sharing what I am learning and doing to be extremely motivating. On my teaching Instagram (@madame_i_am), I found that writing helps me to reflect on my teaching, and drives me to continue learning and trying new things while also making it easier to share with colleagues. I have learned so much from other teaching blogs, so I am thrilled to be working on my own now.
  4. What grades have you taught? I have taught K-6 French Immersion in a variety of roles. My practicum placements were K/1 and grade 6. My first contract was covering a maternity leave in a 2/3 class. The following year, my first full year as a classroom teacher was in a 4/5 class. After that, I taught two years of Kindergarten, followed by this past year’s K/1 class. This upcoming year I will be back to Kindergarten.
  5. Where did you get the name for your blog? I go by Madame Allen at school, and a few Septembers ago as a I was thinking of starting my teaching Instagram account, one of my new Kindergarten students called me “Madame I Am”.

I’d love to read your answers to these questions (or any other questions you might have) in the comments!

Self-Portraits in the Early Years

One of the first things that I (and many of my colleagues) invite Kindergarten students to do at the beginning of the school year is to draw themselves. These first-day drawings are such a special piece of developmental evidence, and they become even more remarkable when seen alongside subsequent drawings from that school year and beyond. It’s truly a remarkable thing to witness this evidence of students’ growth and development.

Professional Development

At the beginning of May I took part in a wonderful session put on by two of my Kindergarten colleagues from our division that renewed my excitement about the power and potential in self-portraits.

I created this Sketchnote to record and share some of my learning and inspiration from the session. Many thanks to Wendy and Donna for sharing their ideas and experiences!

More Than Peach Project

Bellen, the Creator of the More Than Peach Project shares a lot of important thoughts and resources on her Instagram page @morethanpeachproject. She has a fabulous line of products that showcase many crayon options for a variety of skin colours.

Kindergarten Self-Portraits

I plan for at least one self-portrait per month in Kindergarten. Students love to see these up on the wall and in their memory books, and I love seeing them light up when they recognize themselves and notice the increasing level of detail in their work. Here are a few examples of self-portrait activities:

What is your favourite self-portrait activity to do with students?

Planning Tips for K/1

I hope your summer is off to a lovely, relaxing start! I chose this timing for my K/1 post so that I could compile many things I’ve found helpful this year into this one place and make it available to anyone who might find it helpful moving into summer/fall:

  1. Collaboration and connection with colleagues is absolutely key, especially if you are lucky enough to have grade-level colleagues at your school. It’s also great to reach out to colleagues at other schools and through social media. Check out my previous posts (links below) for some examples of great Instagram accounts to follow.
  2. Pre-made resources are so helpful. Of course you should adapt them to your students’ needs, but they have been a huge help for me in preventing burnout and showing up better for my students. You can check out these blog posts with my favourite resources for Kindergarten & my favourite resources for Grade 1. And here are some of the resources that I found helpful for remote learning this year.
  3. Reusing and differentiating resources wherever you can is super helpful. Lots of activities and centres can be tweaked to be more or less complex (e.g. by changing which numbers are used in a number sense activity and colour-coding with orange being 1-10 and yellow being 11-20), and that helps meet everyone where they are regardless of their grade. Things that grade 1s are using at the beginning of the year can be particularly useful in working with your Ks towards the end of the year.
  4. Be intentional with direct instruction, and consider what might be helpful for everyone (such as printing and vocabulary mini-lessons) and what might be better to teach when your Ks or 1s are working independently on something else (such as teaching your 1s a writing lesson while Ks are working on simple letter practice games).

What are your tips for teaching a combined class?

Favourite Resources for Kindergarten French Immersion

I have been teaching Kindergarten for the past 3 years, and I am excited to be continuing my Kindergarten adventure next year. This past year I was teaching a K/1 combined class, so last week I shared some of my favourite resources for Grade 1 French Immersion. This week I am sharing some of my favourites for la maternelle:

Literacy Programs

  • Handwriting Without Tears
    • This is a multi-sensory program for learning letter formation, and it comes highly recommended by the Occupational Therapists I have had the privilege to work with. They have some great products like chalkboards, flip crayons, magnets, wood pieces, and Mat Man who is the star of songs & stories and is a great helper for teaching us about how to draw a people. I love the wood pieces because you can add loose parts.
  • Jolly Phonique
    • This is great for providing visuals and actions to combine sounds, and it works perfectly for Grade 1 as well!

TPT Resources

Instagram/Blog Inspiration

What are your favourite resources for French Immersion Kindergarten?

Favourite Resources for Grade 1 French Immersion

This year I have been teaching a K/1 combined class, which has been a great experience for me overall because of the team I work with. (It was also cool because my first practicum placement as a student-teacher was K/1!) I have learned so much from collaborating with my Grade 1 team members – I have been fortunate enough to have three stellar, experienced teachers to work with, and that has been especially helpful during remote learning! Next year I have been assigned to Kindergarten, and I feel a lot more confident in that role with a greater sense of Grade 1.

I have also benefited from resources and ideas created and shared by the fabulous early years French Immersion community I’ve connected with through Instagram. Not having to create these resources from scratch really saved me, and helped me to better show up for my students.

Instagram/Blog Inspiration for Grade 1

Image from teachinginhighheels.blogspot.com

Teachers Pay Teachers Resources for Grade 1

What are your favourite resources and ideas for Grade 1 French Immersion?

Anti-Racism Learning Resources

Here are some authors and their resources that have helped me, as someone with white privilege, in my anti-racism learning recently.


1. Aim to financially support BIPOC organizations, creators, artists, and businesses wherever possible.

2. Going into their space means you are agreeing to not treat them like Google or demand emotional labour by processing your understanding and questions in the comments section. Go in to read and listen and most of the time stay quiet.

Resources for Adults

Resources for Teaching K/1+

What resources have you found to help further learning about anti-racism?