Posts from the ‘Classroom Set Up’ Category

Work Week Outtakes

The Guinea Pigs are in such good hands – thanks to the Miller’s for taking on such a messy project.

We now have a lawn and a woodshop in our new/old yard.

Justin’s dad and Jacob’s grandma took care of most of our painting – thankfully.

Hanging in the chair, drinking coffee, making jokes (photos by Melanie).

Officially Mystery Bay – teacher aka goofball included (photo by Amy).

We can’t wait to show off the room and yard – so much love was put into it for you guys. So many thanks to all of the parents who showed up to help us out.  We’d still be working on the room if it weren’t for you.

Mystery Bay Take 2 – First Day of School Info


School starts at 9:15 and ends at 3:15!

Our Daily Schedule

  • Gather in the big yard
  • Morning Meeting with Paul/Jobs
  • Everyday Math/Cooking once a week with Kathleen
  • Snack/Big Yard
  • Explode the Code/Spanish once a week
  • Journaling
  • Independent Reading
  • Social Studies and Story with Michelle
  • Lunch/Big Yard
  • Open Classroom/Science Experiment
  • Art Workshop
  • -Art on Monday’s with Tricia
  • -Dance on Tuesday’s with Jenna
  • -Music on Wednesday’s with Katy
  • Thursday’s are fieldtrip days/ we go to Daystar Retirement Village every other Thursday

Please bring these items to leave at school (please label with student’s name):

  1. A change of clothes – layers
  2. Rain boots
  3. Rain coat
  4. A reusable water bottle for cubbie (this is a must and doesn’t include the drink in lunch box)
  5. Lunch (this will go home every night)
  6. A backpack (this will go home every night with their lunch box and any wet clothes, art, projects ect. – this is necessary on Thursdays because when we go on long field trips they will be carrying their own lunches.)

It’s our second year in this classroom (check out our first year) and wowzi does it look different. Sarah was able to buy some brand spanking new furniture (actually slightly used but we’ve always used recycled furniture, hand-me-downs, random stuff saved from the landfill that we made beautiful and bright but now we don’t have to work quite so hard although I did put in quite a few 9:00am until 12:00am in the last two weeks.)

Let’s start with circle because it’s my favorite time of the day – we are going to be so organized this year:





The Guinea Pig (Especially for Ella):

The Typewriter and Journal Making:


Our New, Old, Beautiful Sewing Machine – I have to give a plug to Sewing Machine Service Co. Inc in Renton for being around since 1942 and for being sweet, sincere and for loving old sewing machine’s so much. And thank you Lily!

The Sensory Table:

The Tadpoles, the Millipede, the Stick Bugs, the Fish – you name it, we have it:

And for the first time ever, I have my own area but everyone is welcome:

Paul wasn’t here for the work week but he came in today and we got the studio going, which is going to be Paul’s area and where he will have his Explode the Code and Everyday Math group:

We welcome you to Mystery Bay and can’t wait for all our adventures to come:


Michelle & Paul

What our daily schedule REALLY means:PART 2


During this time, I have set out numerous activities in all areas of the classroom. The students are also able to put the suggested activity away and take something from the shelf that interests them.

In the math area, I often put out math games, geometry puzzles and sorting activities. We have a multitude of other activities available on the math shelf as well such as weaving, magnets, and math cards.

In the writing area, there may be a word game or special gel paper and pens as well as the large white board for writing and letter magnets. Here there are also many options on the shelf such as pencils, colored pencils and pens (we only have markers in the studio on purpose,) there are also many different kinds of paper, writing/reading games, dictionaries (they love looking “the word of the day” up in the dictionary.)

In the science area, I usually rotate this weekly, we have had a sea star/shell investigation, a butterfly specimen investigation and now we have dinosaur bones with books and information. This area is also were we work from when we have our science experiments and it has our beloved vinegar and baking soda and other supplies.

The block area has many wooden blocks to choose from, small Legos, a basket of animals, cars, a wooden building set that has the capabilities of making things with wheels, as well as other random building materials I find out in the world and bring in.

The dress-up and kitchen area have a complete kitchen set, wooden food, a ceramic tea set, food boxes that I have collected from my house, clothes to dress-up in, hats, umbrellas, scarves and a large mirror. This is our imaginative play area and many of the kids like to dress up and pretend that they can’t find themselves anywhere – Jackson is often Pierre’, Jackson’s bother from Paris.

The “living room,” story area, is used during this time for listening to books on tape, reading books alone and to each other, gathering on the couches to chat, playing records and sometimes the math or writing manipulatives are brought to the living room rug for further floor exploration.

We also have a recycling construction area in the classroom that has buckets of recyclable materials such as paper rolls, thread and needles, ribbon, boxes, natural items such as pinecones, rocks, sticks, beeswax. This area also has tape, scissors, glue, hole punches and anything we might possibly use to create any type of table top construction project.

The art studio has many projects throughout this time. The shelves are lined with all types of craft items including paint. There is an easel but painting can also be used on the tables. We have play dough, clay, beads, stickers, cutting, writing, and gluing materials available. I usually set up a specific art project during open studio time but again the students are welcome to work from the shelves as well.

This time also incorporates snack time (where everyone comes to the table together and then we go out to the big yard where we have the climber, the bikes, the animals and the garden (the classroom is also available during this time.)

During this time, we also do our classroom jobs which include, taking care of the bunnies and guinea pigs, the fish, the stick bugs, and the plants. Other jobs include the calendar, number of the day and what is available in the classroom (we do these at morning meeting.)

This open classroom/studio and big yard time is the students time to do what they wish. It is two hours of personal investigation, exploration and cooperation. They can do anything they want as long at it is safe and doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s work. This is the heart of our program. Kids are discovering their interests. Their interests are also changing with age. Many times a student will spend an hour working on one self-directed project. They never tire of this time of the day and they are always engaged and eager to delve into their own math, science, writing and art projects.


First Day of School Information

Monday, September 11th is our first day of class.

Mystery Bay will be starting class at 9:15 sharpplease be on time because for the exception of the first day of school we will be starting with circle at 9:15 and this is where we talk about our activities for the day and we will be doing things such as the daily calendar, the number of the day (we are going to log the number of days of school and at day 100 we are going to have a celebration) and classroom job assignments.

For the fist day of school we will delay our circle time so that the students can discover the new classroom and show their families around. So much energy has gone into making this environment a place of discovery, learning and fun. After you have explored the room, we will be saying our goodbyes and starting circle with just the students this year.

Please bring these items to leave at school (please label with student’s name):

  1. A change of clothes
  2. Rain boots
  3. Rain coat
  4. A reusable water bottle
  5. Lunch (this will go home every night)
  6. A backpack (this will go home every night with their lunchbox and any wet clothes, art, projects ect.)

Here is the schedule:

  • 9:15 Morning Meeting and Classroom jobs
  • 9:45 Classroom and Studio
  • 10:45 Clean up and snack
  • 11:15 Big Yard
  • 11:45 Math Focus
  • 12:15 Journal Writing/Independent Reading
  • 12:40 Lunch
  • 1:00 Big Yard
  • 1:45 Science Project
  • 2:15 Spanish/Music/Other Extra Curricular Activities from visiting professionals
  • 3:15 Time to go Home

Enjoy the rest of your vacation and check out the photos of our new classroom below…

The classroom “livingroom”:

The block area with the Seattle mural:

The kitchen area:

Dress up:

Writing materials:

Science area:

Recycling construction area:

Math area:


Art studio:

Just outside our door – in the big yard:

Even though the areas have names and certain materials, the subjects will be integrated and emergent. You may find us doing math in the living room and science in the art studio – you never can tell. Over the next few weeks, I will be breaking down the schedule for you and expanding on what goes into each area and time – such as what exactly happens at morning meeting or at independent reading time. Everything has a purpose, an intention and a way for me to assess how everyone is doing (hopefully without the student’s even realizing it – because isn’t that really the point.)

See you Monday…


And the Count Down Begins…

It’s almost time to start school again and if you’re going to be in Mystery Bay, it’s almost time for Kindergarten, 1st or 2nd grade. I just got back from my trip to San Francisco where I mostly hung out at City Light Books (I love the beat writers.)

Our flight back into Seattle was delayed because our plane’s engine broke as we were taxing down the runway and we had to change planes. Sooooo, I bought a couple of trashy magazines to pass the time; Time and Newsweek. I don’t usually read these magazines as they are mostly filled with scare tactics and governmental hoopla but it was late and I needed something to keep me awake.

This week’s cover of Newsweek reads “The New First Grade: Too Much Too Soon?” I read this article right away and I hope that other people read it too because if this article is in such a main stream publication, then we are really creating a scary place for our kids to learn and grow. Our kids need us to let them be kids and learn at their pace and find learning to be fun and an adventure – it shouldn’t be a race or a test or a job. It makes me so sad that at midnight last night I was ranting and raving and crying in an airport.

Well, back to our world; a land without written tests and government issued fill in the dots and pressures to read and write or you can’t go outside and play. Learning is fun and we are going to prove that this coming year. The classroom is looking so beautiful. I can’t wait for everyone to see it. Paul and I painted a beautiful Seattle skyline in the block area and Emma and Harriette helped me decide where to put some of the cherry blossoms late one night over chocolate and caramel.

I’ll try to post some photos but I’m really just so excited to see their surprised faces when they show the parents around on Monday morning. I’ll post first day information soon.

’till then

“We Make the Road by Walking” A lifelong Journey – Building a K-2 Learning Environment

The following article will be published in the Autumn issue of Natural Learning Magazine:


“We Make the Road by Walking”

A Lifelong Journey – Building a K-2 Learning Environment

By Michelle Taylor

Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.” ~John Dewey

Before you can teach, you have to know yourself – your past, your passions, your learning style and the affect you will have on your students.

I grew up in a small northern town with one choice for schooling. It was public, it was harsh, and it was all I knew. When I think about my school experience, my heart catapults – I feel alone, afraid and ashamed. Sitting at my desk in first grade, I felt like I could never do anything right. I did not know the rules. I was confused and waited with terror to raise my hand when my name was called. I didn’t want to be caught daydreaming and be embarrassed in front of the entire class. I don’t think I had “bad” teachers, although I’m not sure I had “good” ones. I was just a product in the school system.

When my grandmother died, I found some of my ditto papers from first grade. They had stamps on them that read, “Poor” and had a frowning face. Others had generic “Good” stickers as well. Was this supposed to help me learn? I was SIX! The other memory that stands out in my mind was on the first day of school. We were given our “reading” books for the entire year. This was a large compilation of stories. I was so excited. I LOVED books and still do, amazingly enough. It was such a treat. I once snuck a book home in my bag, to my great-grandmothers house. I sat on her lap and read her the entire book, cover to cover. Reading became my escape from school but I felt like I had to do it on my own and on the sly.

Many of the stories in my text book were the “Dick and Jane” stories – it was my first realization of fiction. But as much as I liked reading and having the book, I wish there had been a story I could have related to. My mom was a single mom on welfare with a boyfriend. I had a half sister and mostly lived with my grand parents. There were no stories for me. There were also no stories for the other half of the class who were American Indian – our school was on the reservation and the book only had white faces on the pages.

Taking this experience with me, I made it through all thirteen years with some help from a teacher who was actually interested in critical thinking. She showed me what literature was and how to challenge authority. I went through high school with one thought in mind. I will be invisible, get good grades, go to college and get out of the small town. I graduated, went to The Evergreen State College and then to Sarah Lawrence College for my Masters. Neither of these schools gives grades and both of these schools insist that you create your own education. Here I finally was able to discover what kind of learner I am. What I love. What makes my heart back-beat in a positive, passionate way. Here I learned how to help others find these same things out about themselves.

During graduate school I taught at the Ella Baker Alternative School in New York City. Most of the kids were bused in from the Bronx and Harlem. In my K/1 class I learned the ways in which a classroom can be integrated, overlapping and emergent. There were students of all ethnicities and we read books with people of all ethnicities. Math was done with blocks, writing was done with paint, and living was done by skating in Central Park and visiting the public library once a week.

When I started working at my current teaching position, at a small community school, I brought my entire life of learning with me. Little did I know this was to be the soul of my teaching-life. Two years ago I was handed a blank classroom and a list of students. For the first time in my life, there was no curriculum, no expectation, and no lesson to be learned except from the students themselves. For two years I have had many of the same preschool students. We are a family. We love each other. We look out for each other. We play. And we play hard. Play is how we learn. Play is our natural state of being. It cannot be stopped. It should not be stopped.

So here we are, looking to September. My class is the first K-2 class at the community school. Here I have been handed my little family of ten kids, a new classroom to grow into, the public school standards (as a guideline) and a room full of used furniture and supplies. It is my job to create our next few years together. It is tricky. It is overwhelming. It is my dream.

First of all, I know my kids. I know what they like. I know how they learn. This I believe is the most important part of being a teacher. I know that Jessie has been able to read for a year but that he can barely make a J with a pen and paper. But I do know that if given a huge piece of paper upright on an easel with paint and a brush, that he can make an artistic J that he runs to show his friends. I know that Britta is sensitive about talking in a group or having her feelings known, but that in the middle of story time will pipe up with an idea or just need to tell me that she loves me. I know that she cannot be quieted during this time because this is when she feels comfortable sharing. I know that Jack does everything he’s asked before he’s asked, and so I encourage him to rebel and take chances.

Knowing my kids, knowing their passions and needs, I enter my new classroom with only them on my mind. I invite them in to help, to share in the experience, to tell me what they would like, what they want to see in the class. I have them sit at the tables and try the chairs to see if they are comfortable – if they can reach the manipulatives and supplies. I invite them to sit, to stand, to walk around. They think I’m funny and wonder at the mystery of my requests. I tell them like I always do. I let them in on my thoughts. I want to hear from them. This is our room. I’ve learned that as a teacher, you have to let the ego go first. It’s not about me. Well, it’s a little bit about me as I am a part of the community, but it’s mostly about them and their needs.

We’ve chosen to create a “living room” in our classroom. It has two loveseats, a huge comfy chair, end tables, plants, a bookcase, lamps, tapestries and rugs. It is our center, our meeting place, our place to share stories. I want them to be at ease, to communicate, to relax into learning, to not be afraid or uncomfortable behind a desk. Our circle time usually consists of the students telling each other about their lives. Where they’ve been, who they’ve seen, or what might happen. This is their learning experience, it should be about them.

But I’ve also learned that as much as I want this experience to be “home schooling” at school, there is a certain amount of parent expectation that goes with Kindergarten, First, Second grade and on. There are concerns that float around at parent meetings such as: “Will this class be academic enough?” “What does the math curriculum look like?” “Will my child be able to read at the end of Kindergarten?” “Will you be following the Washington State Public School Standards?” And as much as I would like to say – “Children learn what they need to learn when they are ready to learn it,” every time they ask me one of these questions – I know that this will not be the answer they need to help them sleep at night or to allow them to keep their child at our school. I’ve had to build a curriculum that incorporates “standards” but that allows those standards to be met in a way that is real life learning.

Our “curriculum” looks like living. We will be learning math in the organic garden – creating a grid for planting, sorting and counting the seeds, measuring the growth of the plants, and weighing and distributing the harvest. Our reading and writing will be stories from our own lives – writing about our days, journaling about our garden, writing letters to our friends, writing and expressing orally the description of the dead bird we found on a walk and brought back to investigate and bury. Part of our “curriculum” includes bi-weekly visits to the public library and to a retirement home. We want to broaden our community and share our days with our elders – we want to bring stories and songs and share food.

Much like my first grade class, our community of students doesn’t look like the “Dick & Jane” stories either, nor do most classrooms. In our classroom we honor this. We have families with two moms and a son, a family of one mom and a son, a family with a mom, a dad, a son, a daughter and a grandmother with MS who is taken care of by the family. We have a student who is adopted from China and her dad is from India. We have a family from Canada. We have a family going through a divorce. The class is ethnically, spiritually, socio-economically and in all ways diverse. We stand up for diversity. We stand up to hatred and name calling. We confront stereotypes that we witness in the world and the stereotypes that come up within our group. We often have conversations about what boys can wear and what girls can wear, what professions girls can be and what professions boys can be and about how we can all wear and be anything we want to be.

The community we are building is emerging and growing and cannot be contained. I cannot say what will happen – I don’t know myself and this makes learning exciting for all of us. The student’s passions are my passions and my passions often become the student’s passions because we have brought our interests to each other genuinely and honestly without the pretext of a set curriculum, with rules provided by someone who doesn’t share our same experiences.

When a student says to me, “Michelle, let’s build a city,” I find the recycling box and the glue and the paint and it turns into a two week project which includes math, reading, science and writing – with a love for the work. We build a city out of cardboard and plastic bottles that are painted and glued. Someone says, “We need street lights,” so we find some tooth picks, Styrofoam, and make street lamps along with some old twinkle lights to string about the city. Someone says, “we need street signs,” and we make up names and write and draw signs.” Someone says, “We need pipes for the water,” and we find rubber tubing that they string about the city, feeding the water supply to the entire town. Someone says, “We need a flag,” and a flag is drawn, cut and put on the top of the highest building. Someone says, “It’s snowing,” and we find cotton balls and glitter to finish off the winter cityscape. It is amazing and beautiful and emerges from the students themselves.

The students are discovering something new in their lives everyday. What does it take to make a city? What does a bean come from – is it a tree or a bush? How do we know where to dig for the potatoes? Look at the pattern in the bee hive, it looks like our blocks, it looks like the leaves in the trees. If we give them enough time, space and materials, they discover the world all over again. They are carpenters, engineers, scientists, mathematicians, artists, organic gardeners, writers, readers, caretakers, fighters of social justice, negotiators – invested in their world. The work they do has to be relevant to their lives. It must be in context. They must do the discovering through repetition, trial and error and by making a gigantic mess. They must find the answers, find more questions. In fact, not finding or being given the answer adds mystery and longing to the learning process. If you have the answer, you are finished. If you have more questions, you have to keep experimenting to find the answers – thus the love of learning and the making of meaning.

The other day, I took my class on a walk around the neighborhood. We picked up trash, found an old typewriter, picked wild blackberries and wild apples. We walked through the alley behind our school. It was the first time we had done this and they were amazed at our school from this point of view. There is a giant hill and we looked down on the yard and yelled to a teacher who wanted some apples. It was fascinating. They felt larger than life – larger than their school. It’s all about perspective and trying to see things from a new angle. How can we turn it, twist it, bite into it, so that we can discover something new about it.

Really it’s all about intention and it is all intentional. The classroom jobs which include cleaning and feeding the animals, create a sense of community and caretaking. The materials we use are natural and often come from the environment. They are materials you would find for working to make things you need at home, at work, at play. The interaction with the preschool classes and the elders is our way of sharing our school family with others and our way of bridging ages and experiences. The garden is for feeding us, our classmates, our families, and our visitors. The intention is for our school experience to echo a home experience – what do we need to live, to survive, to enjoy the company of each other while measuring to build, while writing to communicate, while growing and cooking food to feed each other, while sharing our stories to entertain and explain our individual experiences when we are away from each other.

There are no promises here of “reading by the end of kindergarten,” there are no expectations of “product” to hang on the refrigerator, nor will our students be “products.” We encourage daydreaming. Hand-raising is optional. You can’t define us – we probably won’t be like any other K-2 classroom. But there is the promise that we will, “Make the road by walking” one step at a time through our days together as an investigating, nurturing, and loving classroom family.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~Margaret Mead

I hope they won’t want to lick the wall…

Kathleen (Brigit’s mom) and Amy (Neve’s mom) take on the classroom walls by creating an all new color pallet. We now have one chocolate wall and we will soon have three light sage walls with just an accent of pink.

I loved walking into the classroom today to see parents coming together to make the classroom their own.

So far…

The “living room” is really coming around & Anne Marie (Isabel’s mom has volunteered to cover the loveseat!!! – YAY!!!)

And the rest of the room…(this is just for comparison – in a few weeks it will be stunning!)

Working away tomorrow & Friday (stop in for a chat if you feel like it.)

Peace out.

The Emergent Classroom

I spent Thursday and Friday in my new classroom, mostly moving things from place to place. I have set up the “living room”(which is the story/circle area as well,) the recycling material construction zone, the math area and the block area. I have the kitchen/house area, writing area and art studio set up in my head. I have the space set aside for these areas but need to wait for some of the furniture coming from my preschool classroom. I’m still working on where the location of the science area is going to be.

Even though I have all of these areas designated, I plan on having them all be integrated, overlapping and emergent. I’m an emergent curriculum teacher. I can plan and plan but the minute a subject or interest pops up with the students, I’m off and running – collecting materials, finding books and delving in whole heartedly.

I’m most passionate when the kids are most passionate – the most amazing moments in teaching are when a student or a group of students takes on their passions and discovers the newness in what we as teachers or adults consider old-news. It always makes me see the world from another perspective and gives me hope and a better view of the world.

Just remember…

recycling is a wonderful thing – not everything has to be new. As long as it’s clean and safe, it’s a good thing to reuse. Besides, it’s seems like “new things” come with all these chemicals attached that must wear off – YIKES!

The carpet may be well walked upon, the fabrics may slant match and the tables may have perma-scratches but we are helping save the earth, our resources and our health by using things again and again.  We’re also setting an example.

So, I’m off in search of found objects – donations welcome (new & used.)

“We make the road by walking.” ~Paulo Freire

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