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Easing the Kinder to Grade 1 Transition

The transition from kindergarten to Grade 1 can be exciting for our students, but can also be intimidating and a little scary. Not only are they told that Grade 1 is very different from kindergarten from their parents and others, but adding learning exclusively in a second language is an additional potential stressor. Students will often have been together in the same class with the same educators for the past two years and play outside with only their classes and in a fenced off kinder yard.


Moving into Grade 1, they are leaving that comfortable, more sheltered atmosphere and often moving to different areas of the school, sharing the recess yard with the 'big kids' and entering more structured environments with increased academic expectations. In order to ease students into this transition in a way that makes it a bit easier for them, we need to look at different methods of teaching in the first few weeks and months of school.


This has never been more important than this year where students will be arriving to Grade 1 after 5+ months of no school and most likely little peer socialization outside of their families. Not only that, but they're going to be asked to sit at individual desks and not be able to move freely around the room! No flexible seating, no carpet time, no lots of things we can usually use to help make it a bit easier.


SOOOOO...here are a few things that I've found have made the transition for my students a little less daunting that are still doable in COVID times:


Work - Play Rotations

It's unrealistic to expect our new Grade 1s to be able to sit at a desk and do paper and pencil work on a normal day, let alone after five months of no school. In terms of centres, I have always started by introducing a Work-Play rotation. If I have six centres running, three will be open-ended play-based centres, like pattern blocks, Lego, unifix cubes, etc. Even without any direction, I find students often end up doing something math-based (i.e., creating patterns, symmetry, etc.) and I rarely have to step in to talk about appropriate use of supplies. It also provides a good opportunity to practice how to clean up and put away centres after each rotation.

In terms of the 'Work' centres, I try to keep them relatively low academic demand for the first few weeks, to help students learn to solve problems independently while at centres without getting too frustrated. I will often use 'colorie par code' or these 'Cherche et Trouve' sheets at my first Work centre. Students can use resources in the room to figure out which picture matches the words in the search bar. At lecture à soi, I ask students to spend time on each page looking at all the details in the picture and looking for words that they recognize (i.e., le, la, je, c'est). My last work centre is usually a collaborative game to help encourage oral communication. If you'd like to read more about how I'm planning to continue using these games with COVID restrictions, check out my Literacy Centres COVID-style post from a few weeks ago.


Students rotate through the centres in a Work - Play - Work - Play - Work - Play order to help them develop stamina and practice centre routines (e.g., rotating, clean up, working with others, independent problem solving). I usually keep this kind of rotation pattern for 2-3 weeks before gradually adding more direction.


Increase Work Centres by Adding Fun!

My goal is usually to get to full work centres within 6 weeks of the beginning of the year. The best way I've found to make this a seamless transition is to gradually add parameters around how to use the material at the 'play' centres. Using pattern blocks as an example, I'll have students practice letter formation using Mme Andrea's templates (pictured) or use the pattern blocks to create an image of a target vocabulary and then write the word after. I'll also add lots of hands on word work to develop fine motor and keep the pencil and paper tasks to one or two centres max.


Keeping students moving is a great way to keep work engagement high in the first few months of Grade 1 (and always! 🤩). If you'd like some more ideas of how to make your word work centres more active and my plan for hands-on material during COVID, you can read my past post about Sight Words in Action. I'm planning to give each student an individual kit of math manipulatives so this would be a perfect centre with our current restrictions!


Get outside!

Finding ways to work outside is a great way to help students transition from kinder. The amount of prescribed outdoor learning time is greatly reduced as compared to Kinder and this can be a challenging switch for certain kids. By moving activities that can be easily done outside the classroom to an outdoor environment, we can help those students with the transition. Bonus! This is a great option with our new reality to let students collaborate in physically distanced ways which may be more challenging in a classroom setting.


Taking lessons outside is especially authentic for Science lessons. Why talk about living vs non-living things when we can see it in action outside? At the beginning of the year, when my Grade 1s aren't all able to sound out words to write them down, I'll give them the option of drawing pictures, writing the word or both. Pro tip! Invest in a class set of clipboards to make outdoor learning easier for all involved.


Open-Ended Inquiry

Research shows that the switch from student-led inquiry learning to more direct instruction based on pre-set curriculum competencies (e.g., reading levels, math strands) is one of the most challenging transitions for Grade 1 students (Sink, 2007). While there definitely needs to be some direct instruction, there are still tons of opportunities in curriculum beyond Kinder to allow student-directed learning to happen.


A good example is in the Ontario curriculum where students examine plants as living things. I usually do this unit in the fall, so I grab a bunch of potted fall mums and then just cover my tables, put out some scissors and tell the kiddos to explore. The only direct guidance I give them is to think about questions they have or what they observe because we're going to chat about it after. I walk around and ask the students what they see and what they think. At the end of the period, I have students either draw or write their observations and then we chat as a class. There are so many ways to just let students explore and then come in for some direct teaching and discussion in the end especially in science, math and social studies.


Developing Desk Stamina

While I usually offer a variety of flexible seating options in the classroom, this is not really an option this year. Even having students work in small groups around the classroom during centres is out of the picture. So, desks it is! Like I've said in previous posts, my goal is to do a decent amount of teaching outside to reduce long periods of sitting at desks. Beyond that, I've been brainstorming ways to make it a little easier for our youngest learners.

I like to take opportunities to get my students moving to keep their brains engaged and fresh. Some things I normally use are going to be harder this year like Just Dance and movement games around the class. One thing I have pencilled in to try is some chair yoga and exercises. That way students can still be active, but remain in their assigned space. I would likely lead it myself because there aren't any videos I loved in French with a good sequence, but this video from Cosmic Yoga has a great sequence that I'm planning to use!

Using whole class games is another way to help students develop their desk stamina. Engagement is high and students are still working on oral communication and vocabulary development. Normally, I would play these games at the carpet, but they would definitely work for a desk too. Some of the games I play are Qui est-ce? (free product), a personalized version of Mme Andrea a perdu, Bingo, mot mystère (hangman without the hangman piece for obvious reasons) and a few others.


To sum it up

The transition from Kinder to Grade 1 can quite intimidating and challenging for our youngest learners in a normal year, so with this year's challenges, those feelings will only be magnified. Thinking about ways we can make the unfamiliar seem a little bit more fun and a little less scary can really help make the transition more successful. Ask yourself 'What aspects of their learning have changed from the Kinder program?' and 'How can I gradually shift from what they know to what they need to know how to do?'. Let the intersection between those two answers guide your plan!


Stay tuned...

Next week, I'll be talking about morning routines and mindset!


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