George Greenaway Elementary SD#36 Surrey

School Name: George Greenaway Elementary

School District: SD#36 Surrey

Inquiry Team Members: Kerri Hutchinson:
Kim DeSchutter

Inquiry Team Contact Email:

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)

Curricular Area(s): Arts Education, Language Arts – Oral Language, Science, Social Studies

Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Experiential learning, First Peoples Principles of Learning, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? How do children develop a sense of place in a joyful, playful, and meaningful way

Scanning: We have noticed that while our students love to be outdoors we are often using the playground or ‘man made’ equipment when we are outside. Through beginning our journey with the ‘Walking Curriculum’ we noticed the fascination that students had with materials they found outside (rocks, acorns, leaves, etc). Many of our students were new to the vocabulary of these nature items and exposure to free play in the natural world. As Early Learning teachers, we have noticed how difficult it is to develop a sense of place with our students – connected to FPPLS – in a developmentally appropriate way.

Focus: As Kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers, we love reading picture books with our classes. We often find there is joy, comfort, and ease in reading and discussing books. It was definitely an entry point for us when we began developing an understanding of the importance of embedding FPPL into our classrooms. Over the past couple years, we collected a library of beautiful picture books written by Indigenous authors that we read to our classes. We discussed the authors, made connections to the beautiful stories, and reflected on the books’ enduring ideas. We know young children are capable of big thinking, yet, recently we wondered if the ideas we were ‘teaching’ were really being understood by all our students. Were our students seeing connections to this land, community, people, and place? Was there joy…passion…curiosity in their learning? We wondered how else young children might genuinely, joyfully, and authentically begin to develop a sense of place and connection to land? A connection that isn’t only ‘taught to them’ but is ‘felt’ in them. How does learning really come alive in the hearts and minds of our youngest learners?

Hunch: Each year we strive to help students develop an understanding of place, their connection to the natural world, and FPPL; however, we have found it challenging to do this in a way that is authentic and developmentally appropriate for young children to learn and understand. We believe children learn through engaging in their senses and stories, with materials and time to reflect and connect their experiences to new knowledge. This inquiry will help us think about how the children interact and make sense of our ‘place’ through art process which is a natural way for children to learn, make meaning, and discover the world. Barriers could include knowledge around our place – as it is new to both teachers, provisions of arts-based materials, and time given to create, reflect, and connect art to a bigger picture.

New Professional Learning: We plan to explore a variety of activities and cognitive tools that will foster imaginative exploration by combining arts-based learning with place-based learning. We will be using “The Art of Land Based Early Learning (Volume 1 and 2) to help support us in this learning. We are also hoping to use “Pacific Northwest Plant Knowledge cards” to help support our own learning. We are hoping this changes our practice by discovering a meaningful, engaging, and hands-on way for students to better understand and come to know the importance of place and it’s connection to the First Peoples.

Taking Action: This year we are both new staff at George Greenaway Elementary. Kim teaches 19 Kindergarten and Grade 1 students, and Kerri teaches 20 Kindergarteners. Just like our Kindergarten students, we too are new to the community and the stories of this place. We started by reflecting on what we did believe to be true about how young children learn.

We believe deeply that young children learn with their full bodies, hearts, and minds. They learn best when they can touch, feel, make noise, create a mess, have repeated experiences, and have time after to revisit and reflect on their learning. Young children’s learning is not linear, nor is it fragile. It is often bold, messy, playful, and fun! They learn when they are interested in what we are exploring. So, we wondered, what were they already interested in?

During this time, we had just begun the ‘Walking Curriculum.’ We started each nature walk in an acknowledgment circle of the Semiahmoo, Kwantlen, Katzie, and other Coast Salish Peoples. We learned to say ‘thank you’ in halkomelem while we acknowledged the land and people in a circle together. As time went on, and our students became more familiar with our acknowledgment, and students began saying their own acknowledgments in our circle too.

While we set out on our nature walks each day, we tried to look honestly at what our students were interested in. There was one particular stretch on our walk that was a muddy, soupy, grassy, squishy mess to walk through. As teachers, we even considered changing our walking route to detour around the mess of the mud! Yet, on our 9th walk a student cheered as we turned the corner and said “YES! The mud squish. That’s my favourite part!” We decided to step right into this ooey, gooey, place with our students that they just couldn’t (or wouldn’t!) stay away from. What was there to learn about mud? How would this help our students develop their sense of community and place? What about the mess!? What would other people think!?

Each day we lingered a little longer in the ‘mud squish.’ Some students jumped in with both feet (and hands) while others poked sticks in it from the sidelines. We developed a range of vocabulary as students described the texture and scent of the mud. The ease of jumping into muddy patches and the difficulty of pulling yourself back out. After reflecting on our nature walk, we asked our students: ‘What is mud?’

“It’s water and dirt.” E

“Squishy and puffy.” N

“It’s brown” A

“…but also got bits of grass and rocks in it.” AD

“Mud has to be mixed with rain.” G

“it comes from rain, but the sun dries it up and if it rains again mud can come back again.” B

“Mud grows with more rain.” A

“Mud can sink you like a big vacuum” EG

“Its disgusting water.” GN

The following week we asked the students – ‘What do you wonder about mud?’

“Does rain melt mud?’ B

“Why is mud sticky?” M

“Is mud made of quick sand?” G

“How deep does the mud go down?” D

“Are there bugs in the mud?” E

“What is inside the mud?” E

We wanted to explore those ideas and look more closely at ‘What lives inside mud?’

We brought scoops of mud back into the classroom and looked under it with a digital microscope. We found rocks, grass, leaves, sticks, and even bits of frost inside our mud chunks. The students wondered what the holes in the mud could be from. “I think its’ homes for the bugs. One time when I lifted up a really huge big rock underneath it guess what – there was bugs! And they went down deep, down in the dirt in their homes.” J

We also asked the students – ‘Why is mud an important part of our land?’

We used mud as an art medium to paint our theories. “This is a flower, you need mud because it grows up from mud when its sunny and rainy.” K “This is the sun and rain and this is the thunder and wind and the mud is on the ground and it rains. There’s so much mud and the grass can grow and the worms live there too. When its sunny you can see a rainbow.” Z

Checking: We think our focus on getting really ‘hands-on’ with the land, creating meaningful experiences with the land together as a group, and reflecting on this process, provided our students with a more developmentally appropriate experience. We wanted our kids to really dig into learning on the land and I think we did this. I think this also helped us build a community as a class of learners as we all have that new experience of the ‘mud squish’ together.

Reflections/Advice: Over the months the ‘Mud Squish’ has gifted both us, and our classes, a new story and experience connected to our place. The experiences we had were filled with messy joy and formed a greater context for our discussions. During this time, we have been mindful of using cognitive tools such as Activeness: Engaging through Bodily Senses, Emotions, and Sense of Relation, as well as Feeling and Place-making: Formation of Emotional Attachment. The FPPL that we were mindful of weaving in included: 1) Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (connectedness, reciprocal relationships, and a sense of place), 2) Learning takes patience and time​, it ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, and the land. For us, being mindful of the cognitive tools and FPPL we were embedding, really supported our understanding of what we were seeing in our students, what learning existed, and what our next steps might be. I think this ‘teacher lens’ elevated our understanding of the playfulness we were seeing in our students and helped us linger a little longer in the joyful muddy mess! While our experiences in the ‘Mud Squish’ were just one small part of our year so far, we continue to wonder, what other possibilities could exist if our youngest learners had time to do what they do best – play, create, and immerse themselves (mind, body and heart) in their place?

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