Teaching Tools / Thoughts and Opinions

The Snow Fort: Learning about Learning

So we had quite the storm yesterday (and we are off for the week, so no snow day here) and took advantage of going out to play. This next bit may shock those that know me, since I would be considered an “in-doorsy” person for sure.

I built a snow fort.


snow fort 4

Nothing fancy, but it got me thinking about education and learning. Here are my 4 take-aways from the experience:

Interest and satisfaction are key to effort.

I mentioned being “in-doorsy” and that is an understatement, but once I started my fort there was enormous satisfaction as it got taller and taller. I kept going because I wanted to “just finish this level”. I kept going even though my 4 and 6-year-old girls had long since abandoned me. I was interested in it and was pleasantly satisfied as it rose above my head (I was on my knees, but still…).

This is something we can give kids. A way to see where they are headed and a sense of accomplishment along the way. I created some goal cards for oIMG_2204ur Writer’s Workshop time so students would know what I wanted them to focus on whether I was with them or not. I was expecting that they would at least remind the other adults in my room what they should focus on. I was pleasantly surprised at how much my students have grown to love them! My students LOVE to earn their check marks and REALLY LOVE when I take it off and give them a new (harder) goal. They accomplish something something and move forward.

A love of learning is important as well. I heard the words “math is boring” just last week. I HATE hearing that something we are doing is boring, but I couldn’t disagree. We were within a long line of lessons that were all very similar. So, I threw together a quick worksheet and we did bowling to practice subtraction from 10. This time I heard “THAT was MATH! It was so awesome!”. I am certain that they took so much more away. I am realistic and know that every day can’t be bowling, but maybe more of them can.

snow fort blog 2

You learn more by actually doing it.

I swear I just heard you say, “duh”. Yet we often need this reminder. My first level of snow fort was not done well. I was just forming it with my hands and getting very tired while doing it. I finally decided to get a bucket and a shovel and the next layer flew up. The third layer got better as I got more efficient even though the snow was more and more out of my reach. I made mistakes, learned from them, and got better each time.

snow fort 3

Shelters we created so our eggs could hibernate as part of our hibernation unit. https://goo.gl/LuQyQo

However many times we hear it, it is still a shift to let kids actually do the learning. However, when they come to the conclusions on their own they will remember it better. Kindergartners (and probably all other kids) hate making mistakes. We need to teach them they mistakes are OK and move into that (buzz words) growth mindset. During science we have really shifted to more hands on and inquiry in our units. Students make predictions and I don’t (gasp) let them go back and make that prediction correct on their paper. We talk about why they made that prediction and what they know now. This reminded me to make sure to do things more than once, so students can see the benefit of what they know now. Build a shelter, fail, and let them try it again!

So many “outside” factors interfere with learning.

So I was plugging along and was not cold at all. Then, some snow went up my sleeve and came in direct contact with my skin. It was cold and I didn’t like it. It was so distracting and certainly slowed me down because I was uncomfortable. It didn’t stop my hands from working, but it took a little of the fun away for sure.

Our students come with so much more than snow up their sleeve. They have trouble focusing, struggles at home, or just not enough sleep. I would call myself an understanding person, but even I have days when I need to step back and remember what students are dealing with. It is hard to focus on reading if you are worried about where your next meal will come from. It may be difficult to write if your shoes are too tight. There are some things we can help with, and others we have to find ways to work through. Give it time and be ready to listen.

Learning needs to be for you.

So my kids left me out there. I am sure the cars driving by were wondering shy this crazy woman was all alone in the front yard with a Lowes bucket and gardening shovel making a fort…with no children in sight. I was wondering why I hadn’t decided to build behind my house, but it was too late. I was having fun. I wanted to finish it. It wasn’t for them. In fact we never went back out and they have yet to play in it. It was for me. I put in more effort and learned more because it was for me.

We give lots of rewards these days and I am guilty of it too. Students read, color stars, and get a pencil. They do something above and beyond and get a blue buck. However, they will only ever truly “buy-in” to learning if it is for them. It’s a hard thing in kindergarten, but I try to show them how amazing it is to know how to read, or count, or write. This last point has been my goal since I started teaching. For now, I will focus on making learning fun and enjoyable, so they want to do it again. I want them be sad when I say, “We aren’t doing writing today.” instead of cheering. It’s hard, but it’s a good reminder to step back and see what I can do differently.Snow fort blog 1


If you have any ideas for reaching these goals in the classroom, please share!




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