Freedom of choice in ES1

When our ES1 students began in term 1 of this year they encountered a learning space that has been designed to facilitate creative learning opportunities and provide flexible seating arrangements. This choice was nothing new to these beginning students who had come from early learning centres where the program is based on individual needs and interests of each child. There are no designated seats for the children throughout the day which has meant a smooth progression into ES1 for our students. The furniture from NorvaNivel is inviting and easily adjusted to meet the changing needs of the students as well as the tasks we are exploring.



Our students are engaged in a variety of speaking and listening activities which flow into the choices provided in purposeful play. In this way the children get to work on a particular skill before attempting the task independently. One example of this was the lego bridge challenge where students had to communicate and collaborate with a partner to build a bridge that could go over the water that sat between them without touching it. To add an extra element of challenge the children were given a handful of lego as well as a 5 minute time limit….the conversations that developed from this task enabled the children to identify this as an ‘engineering’ task and they wanted to know if it could be possible make the water wider. Another highlight that the children shared from their self reflections was the importance to be able to choose the right pieces of lego and then talk to a partner about how they could both make it together. The children are extremely proud of their bridges and at the end of purposeful play they display them for others to view and appreciate.


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So this brings me to the element of choice….where else in the curriculum can we provide the children with choice, based on something they want to do? This was the question posed at a professional learning meeting and in ES1 we reflected on how we could incorporate this into our literacy block. After much consideration it was decided that we would focus on a particular success criteria from shared reading:

  • I can retell the story

The children were then asked to think about and discuss what activities or resources they could use to enable them to retell a known story. The children decided that they wanted to use-

  1. Whiteboard textas to write and draw on the tables
  2. Finger puppets
  3. Coloured textas and their English books using a story map concept of beginning, middle and end focus
  4. iPads and the children chose the apps of Book Creator, Chatterpix and Seesaw
  5. Playdough
  6. Lego

Over the last two weeks the students have retold the story of “Mr Huff” by Anna Walker and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle.

Image result for Mr Huff bookImage result for the very hungry caterpillar book cover

The children have been extremely engaged and it is obvious that they are enjoying using a variety of materials to retell the story. The only part that requires some management is the level of noise created by the verbal retelling and element of excitement that vibrates throughout the entire room.

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 8.47.54 pm The challenge for myself as an educator will be to continually rethink how I can best support the children I work with in giving them a voice and choice in the daily program and curriculum. Next we are exploring the success criteria of-

  • I can read like a storyteller

Tomorrow I will be asking the children to think of the best activities to enable them to be successful…I wonder what they will choose?


Adventure Learning…from ES1 and beyond!

Giving students voice and choice is very important and at my school that has meant asking students from Kindergarten all the way through to year 7 what they were interested in learning more about.

Step 1: allowing students the opportunity to share ideas they were passionate and excited about.

  • For the older students in stages 2, 3 and 4 they recorded their thinking via Google forms.
  • The younger students in ES1 and Stage 1 verbally shared their thinking during a brainstorming session where ideas were recorded on a glass window with textas. Once the ideas were visible the students then voted to indicate their favourite topic.

Step 2: collating all the information and sharing it with all the staff at our school.

  • For the younger students the ideas ranged from learning more about slime and other science activities to playing Pokemon or Minecraft.
  • For the older students they expressed interest in more active, physical activities and art based activities.
  • The challenge for staff was to choose an interest expressed by students and set up a display in preparation for an ‘open day’ where all the students would have an opportunity to view and then vote on which workshop they wanted to participate in!

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Step 3: waiting and then discovering that students have decided to choose my project as their passion. Then developing and implementing a program that will meet all the needs of students who chose my project.

As daunting as that initial process felt at the time I now realise that we as adults need to challenge ourselves and accept that the students we work with have many hidden skills and abilities that we may not be aware of. Having  colleagues who work collaboratively with you and who support you is another wonderful component of “Adventure Learning”. The first few weeks have been all about allowing the students time to explore aspects of photography as well as art mediums. To say I was blown away by their talent and ability to view the world from many perspectives is an understatement…these students have taken on every new challenge with a true joy of learning!


We have explored photographing miniature people using iPads and iPhones…

Responding to challenges based on elements of light/dark, shadows, colours, shapes and textures…

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Then the students worked on using various art mediums such as water paints, aquarelle pencils, charcoal (including a range of charcoal pencils), a range of lead pencils from 2B – 6B, acrylic paints, oil pastels and Aquash brush pens. Students have also been invited to share ideas that they themselves would like to have opportunities to explore.

From there the students were able to decide on which perspective they wanted to follow to create a portfolio in preparation for week 10 of this term when they will participate in an exhibition of their learning. Within this group of amazing artists there are 17 students altogether with one from ES1 and 2 from stage 1. These 3 students have worked independently as well as with partners throughout the exploration stages and have had a little more guidance with ideas to begin their first artwork and then they will verbally share what they would like follow up in their next series of artwork.

To assist the students in understanding the where to next I provided them with a timeline so they could visually see the framework required to be successful.

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“Adventure learning” is new, not just for the students but for the staff at St Luke’s Catholic College . There has been so much excitement because the students were able to choose something they were interested in and you know its working when the students share with you how much fun they are having and that they can’t wait until its Wednesday because they get to do adventure learning!!!!

Voice and choice through Adventure Learning…where to next?

Exploring ‘weather’ across Key Learning Areas in ES1…

This term in ES1 we have been exploring how weather can affect our lives and the way we live. It became apparent how easily it would be to incorporate more than one subject area in exploring this concept.

  • English
  • Science and Technology
  • Coding
  • Developmental Play

We decided to introduce a technology component during English where the students were provided with the opportunity to learn how to use the app ‘Book Creator’ using an iPad.

Book-Creator2This app enabled the students to build their capabilities with being Digitally Literate which connected directly with our 6 Pillars of learning at St Luke’s Catholic College. The students were engaged with recognising and using all the icons to generate information about the weather they wanted to share through a “Weather Book”. There was plenty of modelling, exploring and editing that has taken place across the term and has provided a forum for students to excel. Some of the elements we explored were-

  • taking and adding photos (resizing and positioning on the page)
  • using the drawing tools
  • recording our voices and sharing a message
  • experimenting with fonts (colour, size and style), emojis and typing letters/words
  • changing the colour of our page

Those students who are still learning to read and write have been successful in sharing their thinking through photos, drawings and voice recordings…so many possibilities!

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The exploration also included incorporating coding with BlueBots where the students have been working in small groups to create outfits that are suitable for the BlueBots to wear in particular seasons when travelling across a grid map.

However, the journey has also meant that the students needed to be reflective learners and they presented their first attempts at creating a map to their peers. After sharing all their information, their audience then gave them feedback which was recorded by one member of the team using an iPad (camera app and using the video component). At the completion of the sharing time each group spent time listening to the feedback, discussing possible outcomes and changes before being given some blank grid squares to try and improve their information and maps.

The students will be explaining the seasons, weather and how it makes us feel to an audience. For example, cold/hot and explain how it influences the clothing choice for the BlueBot. Students will eventually present their final products as a small group to an audience of their peers and other students within the school environment.

The last part of the exploration has been setting up a weather station within the classroom setting where students have been busy exploring and creating their own weather forecasts during developmental play. They have also been able to access this space during literacy groups to build on social skills as well providing speaking and listening experiences.

To assist the students with connecting the writing component with their learning during Science and Technology we added a variety of environmental print together with a map of the world. Other tools have included mini whiteboards, textas, chalk and chalk boards all of which led the children to a variety of writing and representations of their understanding of weather and its impacts on us daily.

Integration allows teachers and students alike to explore, create and wonder about the world…ourselves…and what is yet to come!

What have you explored and challenged yourself about?

Writing in ES1 with mentor texts!

Writing in ES1 takes on many forms…from drawing to experimenting with print…to writing an actual message using letters and words. This journey for children varies immensely and to assist them on becoming the best authors and illustrators they can be we have recently been exploring some mentor texts.

Some of the texts we have used include:

“SUPER MUM” was used to support the students in understanding that some sentences can be brief and repetitive. The students then could add to the sentence a word or group of words to describe their mum –

My mum has X-RAY VISION!

My mum is STRONG!

While the book “Pearl Barley and Charley Parsley” helped the students to unpack what really great friends look like, sound like and make you feel. This also served a dual purpose in that it connected to the school pillars of ‘witness’, ‘manage’ and ‘relate’ to assist the students in becoming more skilled in their social interactions and building friendships.


The students used the text as a basis for creating messages informing others about “really great friends”. To begin the writing process the modelled writing task was based on the students response to what “really great friends” might do eg invite others to play, share their toys, help each other. This became a reference point for the students to refer back to during their own independent writing time. The students were also able to use words from around the room, the word wall, word cards and alphabet cards to support their writing.

The other texts were used to explore the use of “onomatopoeia” words and these generated some very interesting messages. The students especially enjoyed “BARNYARD BOOGIE” where many different onomatopoeia words were incorporated within the text including speech bubbles. Over the space of a week the students added to a growing story about a cow during modelled and shared writing. Each day we would reread the story to ensure that the next part of the message made sense. From this interest we created a list of onomatopoeia words which we continue to add to as we read more texts and this is displayed near the word wall for students to use. The exciting part of using these mentor texts was watching the students all trying to add their own message through drawings and writing. Many incorporated speech bubbles of their own and onomatopoeia words eg MOO!

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When I reflect on how the students have progressed with their writing since Term 1, I know they have come such a long way and yet there is still so much more to discover…each child’s journey is totally unique and with support from teachers, their peers and the wonderful mentor texts they will continue to explore and grow as writers and illustrators!!

One child’s journey thus far…

The progression from drawing, to labelling, to forming a simple sentence and then to becoming a confident writer can take a relatively short amount of time or it can take a much longer time span…what is important is the idea of seeing yourself as a writer and someone who can share a message. We need to encourage our students to take a risk and expose them to a large variety of mentor texts.

What is your favourite mentor text to share with your students? 







Finishing the term well in ES1…

Its hard to believe that 11 weeks of learning and discovery have now come to an end. On Monday morning after ES1 Navy led the whole school in prayer, our principal encouraged the students to “Finish the term well!” I paused to ponder on how it actually began and the journey that has unfolded thus far. When we began this term there were so many new components for ES1:

  1. New staff
  2. New students and families
  3. New buildings

The increase in  numbers required a new approach to everything we did from playing and learning within the classroom to outside in the playground. Last year we finished the year with 29 ES1 students and 2 staff, while this year we began with 86 ES1 students and 4 staff…so what happened?

We have become a very comprehensive team of 4 dedicated Early Childhood teachers who seek to meet the needs of the individual students through observations, play based learning and programs that are constantly changing to reflect the ever changing skills and abilities of the students we work with. We begin our day with purposeful playing that enables the students to take control and drive their own learning. So far in ES1 we have a Police Station, a Post Office and a Doctor’s Surgery across the 2 learning spaces that students explore and interact with. On any given morning all 86 students are free to move around the 3 ES1 spaces (2 classrooms and outside COLA) to follow their interests and build new friendships across the entire stage. This has been a gradual change over the term and the students are really enjoying the freedom of choice. Many of the students like to begin the morning being very active outside playing with balls, building with the large blocks or even painting on the concrete with water. Other students have a favourite space inside whether that be the writing table, role play area or even the play dough table.

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So life at school has continued to evolve and change….as a staff of 4 we meet for “professional learning” once a week with our stage leaders who support us every step of the way in our own professional journey of discovery. We have also connected with the staff from our early learning centre, CELC, to look at how to have a natural progression of tracking students growth and learning through play from the early years through to ES1 and beyond (Pre-post school where students will have 15 years of learning and growing). Other resources that we have been provided with have included articles to read and then  unpack and discuss as a team. From here we then meet to share our own observations of students, evaluate the program and then work on where to next for learning and programming. Did I happen to mention that we also meet once a week on a Monday for whole school staff meetings and professional learning……yes we are busy but oh so lucky to have colleagues who are nurturing, supportive and collaborative! Oh, I also forgot to add we had Peer Review for ES1 at the end of this term where we presented 2 KLA’s (Creative Arts and Religious Education programs) within a group of 4 schools to show how we meet NESA outcomes.

Now for the new buildings

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Last year we had 3 learning spaces, now at the end of term 1 we still have these learning spaces plus 3 levels in the NEW HUB…on level 1 is Stage 1 and soon to be Year 7 (space opens in the beginning of Term 2); level 2 you will find Stage 2 and the staff room; level 3 is Stage 3…..we remain very happy in the existing ES1 spaces as we eagerly await the new School of Foundations building (the footings and foundations have begun this term). In saying this we have been working on managing our time and routines to assist the ES1 students move from our buildings through to the HUB where they are picked up in the afternoon. We are slowly improving and the students are learning to manage themselves and take responsibility for their own belongings.

So whats the next step in our ever growing plan…….streamlining routines and implementing effective transition times……but I will elaborate more in my next Blog!!

So did we “Finish well”?……I believe we did and each student has shown growth and change over the last 11 weeks…reflect, evaluate and move forward…..

A new year….focus on learning in ES1!

A new beginning for ES1 has meant an increase in staff and student numbers…..more than doubled in fact!

What this simply means is there are now 4 Early Childhood teachers working together to program and implement a focused, play based program for 86 students (this figure will change as families move into their new homes and students begin at our school in Term 2- we belong to a new growth area in Sydney, Australia called Marsden Park). The students are placed into 2 class groups and have 2 teachers that observe and plan for them on a daily basis. The structures within these spaces vary dependent on the learning taking place: small focus groups, shared and modelled reading/writing groups, needs based grouping, mixed ability groups (so that students can be the peer teachers and leaders of their learning).

PLAY is still a driving force behind the teaching and learning of students in Early Stage One. This year we are incorporating our speaking and listening together with our focus on writing (drawing and story telling as a beginning step) based on meaningful experiences. Our 6 Pillars have also had an impact on our planning and implementing of play experiences. We are ensuring that we encourage and support our students to work on communicating/collaborating. Next term we will increase this to focus on relating to others and managing themselves.


One of the outcomes for the students this term is-

Identify positive ways to initiate, join and interrupt conversations with adults and peers;

Indicators include –

Students can

  1. Engage in conversations using their own experiences
  2. Communicate easily with familiar people and initiate conversations in group settings
  3. Interact and engage with teachers in conversation
  4. Use appropriate voice levels, eye contact and body language
  5. Listen attentively for long periods of time – have consistent use of eye contact when listening

Communicating is something we do on a daily basis and children need opportunities to develop and practise these skills while working and playing in games and situations that also require them to be collaborative.  Children will become more confident when given positive models to work from and feedback as to what was working and how they can improve.

We begin our day together playing for 20 minutes where the students are the leaders and drive their own learning. They work on their skills to communicate, collaborate, problem solve and build friendships. This term the children have been extremely interested in dressing up as police officers so we have built a Police station within our classroom to enhance conversations and provide more role playing opportunities. The children have been busy writing messages to each other and recording if anyone needs any help with finding missing items or animals!Role playing police

Our Police Station evolved from my observations of group of boys running around the classroom shooting at each other to us sitting down and having a conversation about what their game was all about. From this conversation I realised that the boys thought police only shot at “baddies” all day long. So we all contributed to the discussion of what police officers may do during the day and then the boys made suggestions about what a police station would need…….play is a powerful tool for learning.

How have you changed your classroom to meet the needs of your students?

New year… focus for learning!

Why is play so important?

After a new beginning in a brand new school that values and celebrates the “whole” child its time to PAUSE…….EVALUATE………QUESTION……..where to next?

A question that we keep asking ourselves is “How can we make the learning look different and have meaning for each individual child?” The answer that continues to resonate is allowing our students to learn through play.

So that is our “where to” next perspective, enabling our students to learn through purposeful playing that connects to enhancing their social emotional skills while supporting and challenging their oral communication development. A major challenge has always been providing enough time for the students to explore their chosen activity and build on the play observed. Add to this the quandary of meeting all Key Learning area outcomes and so the problem solving begins….pushing the boundaries so that as children move from an early childhood setting into school, the classroom setting and program reflects the needs and natural curiosity of each child!Playing in term 4

What might this look like in 2018 and what will we need to do?

At St Luke’s Catholic College, Marsden Park we are already achieving so much due to the flexibility of our learning spaces and the ability of our staff to take a risk and try something new! Being a role model for our students is very important and allowing them the freedom to grow and learn while encouraging autonomy are essential ingredients towards creating “life long learners”. In a previous blog posting called “Connecting purposeful play with speaking and listening” I shared how we had connected playing with our schools 6 Pillars of learning and social skills. Our new challenge is to rethink how we present and encapsulate play into the daily learning so that there is a flow on from the early childhood settings where children are used to accessing a variety of learning centres on a daily basis to an Early Stage One classroom where we have a Focus 160 perspective (English 100 minutes and maths 60 minutes EVERY day) to consider. One new perspective being considered is incorporating modelled/shared writing into the actual play time and children will pause during their play to gather in a play space and record a message about what is happening. The students will then return to their play and have more time to add to the play occurring around them and have access to writing materials so as to record their own message. Remembering that at the beginning of the year drawing and painting is a form of writing and a way of recording ideas and thinking. Writing may be taking place in the block and engineering space or dramatic play………the solutions are endless……..but we need to keep pushing the boundaries because the way children learn are so diverse and unique. Play is serious learning!

Why play?

Giving children a voice is essential to a successful play based program so we will begin by observing, interacting with our new children and communicating with them so as to learn what they are interested in and how best to meet all their needs.

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So many skills can be developed through play!






Will play always look the same?……..probably not……….will it evolve?………..most definitely………..will we make mistakes?………..yes because that is our evidence that we are trying……….will we learn from our mistakes?

Well you’ll have to come back next year and find out………learning = infinite possibilities!

At my school children will learn how to be responsible global citizens, how to think creatively and critically, how to communicate and work collaboratively, a school that fosters imagination and innovation.

Fun, learning and innovative thinking…CODING in ES1!

When you hear the term “coding” what do you immediately think about?

Word Cloud CodingMinion coding picture

Something that requires hard thinking?

An expertise in Mathematics or Science?

Well in ES1 we are incorporating coding across the curriculum from Literacy activities to Mathematics to Science and Technology……we are all learning, both teachers and students alike.




We began our journey of coding with exploring how BeeBots could be used in a variety of contexts and as it connected so well to the Mathematics strand of Length (describes and compares lengths and distances using everyday language MAe-9MG) we used them to measure lengths and distances both on the carpet space as well as paper grids. The students were given a word problem to solve:
Help the BeeBot robot reach its flower. How far did the BeeBot travel?

The students also worked collaboratively in small groups to think critically and creatively about how they could add complexities to their grid map with structures or barriers that the BeeBot had to be programmed to move around. The students were extremely engaged in these learning opportunities. It was at this point that our school began investigating the types of robotics that would best suit each year stage within the school setting. For ES1 we decided the BlueBots would enable students to consolidate skills already learnt but would add an extra element of challenge with connecting the BlueBot via the iPad and BlueBot app. Mapping that not only encouraged problem solving skills but enhanced opportunities for further developing communication and language skills.

Coding can also happen without using the actual BlueBot.

During developmental play the students were given the opportunity to code using the key arrow cards and help Rosie find her way home. The students were given picture cards to assist in the retelling of the story together with the actual book “Rosie’s Walk” by Pat Hutchins.               

The cards enabled the students to plan a sequence of steps that they could alter and change as they communicated with each member of their group to achieve their goal. “Rosie’s Walk” combines reading, speaking and listening together with mathematical language and concepts about position.

This learning experience was followed by the students combining the cards with the robot. They had to transfer  the sequence of the cards to the BlueBot to see if their code was successful in getting their bee from one point on the map to the other. This is still a skill they are currently working on and the opportunities these failures and successes present are invaluable for building resilience and problem solving.

We are also incorporating coding and BlueBots with our Science and Technology unit “On the Move” where the students are solving the driving question:

How can you design a map that helps the BlueBot move around, stopping at a minimum of 4 stations to learn how objects move and get to his school on time?

The students are working in small groups and began by firstly communicating their ideas and referring to a blank grid map. Then after communicating they began working collaboratively to record their ideas on the maps. There was a lot of innovative, creative and critical thinking happening. Some groups needed support with allocating roles and responsibilities. This is the first draft and our next lesson will begin with each group presenting their draft to the class for some peer feedback.

Learning really does equal infinite possibilities……….FUN, EXPLORING and PLAY! 


Sharing, reflecting and leading in ES1.

As we near the end of Term 3 its time to pause and take a moment to reflect and share the importance of giving students the opportunities to voice what they have discovered about themselves as “learners”. At my school this year instead of the traditional parent teacher interviews, we explored and implemented student led conferences.

There were lots of questions and hard thinking about what that might look like across all stages of learning………and for me, especially ES1. The first step was to match the 6 pillars, with the stage outcomes and learning tasks that the students had worked on during Semester One of this year. Then an integral part was having picture cues that allowed the students to stop and reflect how they were progressing with their overall efforts and learning.

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It was important to use student friendly language such as “I can” statements that enabled the students to firstly reflect and then evaluate how they felt they had  achieved within that outcome/pillar. They then had to prove that their choice of faces were correct by providing evidence either through their actions, verbal responses and their recorded work (assessment tasks as well as KLA work books). After completing the self-evaluation sheets each child had 3 strengths and 1 area to work on highlighted and ready to be presented to their parents during their student led conference.

Parents attended an information night prior to booking in for the student led conferences so that they understood the process, what to expect and how best to support their child during the conference……..a new beginning for families!

The students viewed a video that showed what happened at a Kindergarten student led conference and then practiced so that they knew what to do both with actions as well as words. We added picture cues as reminders.

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Picture cues for the students to refer back to during the student led conference

What did I discover? These conferences empowered my ES1 students in a way that I had never imagined possible! The students were able to articulate what the faces meant and explain the task they were reflecting on and then share their evidence. Even those students who are quiet participants in the classroom took control of the conference and proudly shared with their parents about their strengths and what they wanted to work on. Harry, student led conference

So if you ask me do I have leaders in ES1 the simple answer is YES! Students need a voice and in student led conferences they have a unique opportunity to share what they are good at and highlight what they know is something to work on.

Connecting purposeful play with speaking and listening!

As we know ‘play’ is serious learning for children so it makes sense then to make important connections between playing and oral communication skills. The Early Stage 1 English syllabus enables this through the following outcome statements:

  • Communicate through speaking, listening, reading, writing, viewing and representing
  • Think in ways that are imaginative, creative, interpretive and critical
  • Express themselves and their relationships with others and their world

So what does that look like in my classroom?

Developmental play in ES1-

There are 5 activities planned for developmental play every day and the students choose a different activity each day that allows them to build on their communication skills of speaking and listening. Each teacher has a focus group of students to work with on a daily basis to enable them to develop and consolidate their oral language. Other students who are good role models for speaking and use of vocabulary are included within these activities. The planned activities are based on the individual needs of the students within the class and are rotated on a fortnightly basis. In this way students can improve and consolidate their learning opportunities and use of oral language from the first week. There are times that we change elements within the activity to challenge the students and extend their critical thinking and their ability to work collaboratively. There are 10-12 minutes provided to complete the activities and at times the students will negotiate for more time so that they can test out their creations or complete their task…..all part of the learning journey. We also reflect on our learning and make connections to our 6 school pillars of learning.

These 6 pillars of learning link directly with the Across Curriculum Documents of the Australian Curriculum. We have also embedded them into our developmental play program to show how they link to all our learning and syllabus documents.

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Programming format for developmental play.

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  One of the activity and sign in sheets for developmental play.





Every day we are working on our speaking and listening skills……..

Every day we are learning the value of play and how it connects to assist us with being creative and critical thinkers, to communicate and work collaboratively, manage ourselves and relate to others!




We are all life long learners and play is part of that journey……….where is your journey taking you to?