Reach for the Stars

Area(s) of Focus: kindergarten
Division(s): Primary
Level(s): Kindergarten, Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3

Explore the impact of 5 domains that affect children's social, emotional and academic functioning in the classroom: 1) Use of technology 2) Nutrient-rich foods 3) Physical activity 4) Sleep 5) Relationships

As educators, we have recently encountered a new learning challenge in our school environment. Many of our primary students are not demonstrating a readiness to learn. We see an overall decline in the children’s social, emotional and academic functioning. The children are often emotionally unavailable for learning. Specifically in kindergarten, the children can struggle socially to adapt to the learning environment and regulate their emotions. In Grade 1, as the structure increases, many of our students are reacting with profound behaviour needs. We have seen an increase in anxiety, aggression and extreme anger across the early years and primary division over the past three years.

As educators, we are always trying to fine-tune our teaching practices to meet the needs of our students and their individual learning styles. In May 2016, several primary teachers attended a workshop by Dr. Lynne Kennedy, a paediatric specialist in the areas of child wellness and parenting. Some relevant research was shared with direct implications for the classroom.    

After attending the workshop, we asked ourselves the following:

  • “How can we help all of our learners to regulate their bodies and personal behaviours?”
  • “What factors assist children to be successful as learners?”
  • “How can we increase student engagement for all of our learners?”

Team Members

  • Charlene Stein

    Avon Maitland District School Board

  • Jeanette Hill

    Avon Maitland District School Board

Professional Learning Goals

1. Developed a school-based Reach for the Stars program involving parent communication and support.

  • S – Snacks (healthy and sustaining)
  • T – Technology (appropriate use)
  • A – Activity (physical)
  • R – Relationships
  • S – Sleep

2. Worked collaboratively with colleagues to develop and implement some changes to our school day to promote healthy eating and physical activity.

3. Increased collaboration amongst Designated Early Childhood Educators (DECEs) and primary teachers to identify, develop and implement strategies to assist our students with social, emotional skills and mindfulness.

4. Created an increased sense of reflection amongst colleagues to revise and rethink how we meet the needs of impatient, easily frustrated, anxious and/or angry students.

Activities and Resources

  1. We previously attended a workshop by Dr. Lynne Kenney (May 2016) which was entitled “20 Proven and Effective Self-Regulation Strategies for Children with Sensory Disorders, Learning Disabilities, Anxiety and ADHD.” This informed our thinking and helped us to frame our Reach for the Stars goals.
  2. Huron County Health Unit – We met with our Ontario School Nutrition Program (OSNP) representative to discuss our healthy eating initiative. We also arranged classroom visits with the Life Skills Volunteer coordinator (Health Unit) where grades K-3/4 students took part in preparing creative, healthy snacks to eat during the school day. We also met with our school health nurse who made us aware of resources that are available to our school community.
  3. We targeted the five domains (STARS) and researched their individual impact on children’s academic, social, emotional and behavioural success at school.
  4. We created an informational pamphlet which communicated our project to the families of our primary students. These were professionally printed in colour and distributed during our parent/teacher conferences in November. Unfortunately, we cannot share our pamphlet as part of our report as it contains images of our students.
  5. We created information posters for each of the five project domains and highlighted the impact that each one has on our children at school and home (example: amount of nightly sleep and its impact on student well-being).  These were printed but also sent electronically to our entire school community.  Unfortunately, we cannot share our posters as part of our report as they contain images of our students.
  6. We used our school Twitter account to send facts to parents, relating to our current emphasis from the Reach for the Stars program.
  7. We added a daily morning walk to our school day (most of our primary classes took part) and also augmented our school nutrition program.
  8. We attended the “Ontario School-Based Mental Health Conference” in Toronto. Some of the presenters were Dr. Ross Greene, Lisa Ferentz and Lynn Lyons. Topics included the impact of trauma and attachment in children, anxiety, and collaborative and proactive solutions when working with children with social, emotional and behavioural challenges.
  9. We consulted the Ministry documents, “Well-Being in our Schools, Strength in our Society” engagement paper (November, 2016) and “Ontario’s Well-Being Strategy for Education” discussion document (May 2016).

Unexpected Challenges

1. Daily Walk

  • The daily walk takes time  

In most cases, time is taken from the morning language instructional block. We have found, however, that the remaining time in the block is richer as more students are ready to learn. Less physical breaks are needed in the middle of the block as the children have all received physical activity and proper nutrition at the start of the instructional day.

  •  Morning walk routines need to be established to ensure safety

Grade 1 and 2 students started the morning walk this year in September. At the beginning, we had a “lead class” each day. We had a “follow the leader” approach with the lead class creating actions for the other classes to follow. We also expected the children to stay with their class. Children needed to learn the expected route (i.e., no walking on the grass, no walking behind bushes near the school building) and to keep moving. We also placed teachers and EAs (who were already attached to children or classes participating in the walk) at different points along the route. Once a trust level was established, our expectations relaxed a bit. The children were allowed to mix with other classes and to go ahead. As long as they were moving, the children were allowed to walk or run.  Interestingly, most of our behaviour students (if physically able) are the leaders of the pack and complete the most laps on a given day.

  • Important Note – Our kindergarten class continues to have a bit more structure and routine built into their walk. They stay together and walk/run to certain points along the walk. When the teacher gives the signal, they are allowed to walk/run to the next point. This allows the teacher to keep a good awareness of where the children are at all times. When they are in Grade 1 next year, we feel that they will be ready to “graduate” to increased responsibility and autonomy on the walk.

2. Snack Program

  • Questions needed to be considered: “Who would provide the food and how is it funded?,” “Who would prepare it?” and “How often would the healthy snacks be delivered to the primary classrooms?”.  In our case, healthy snacks were only previously provided in a central location for all students to access when needed. We also needed to consider what snacks to make available and how to distribute and store them.

Our local grocery store partnered with us in providing and preparing the food. Our EA staff became involved in the process of picking up and distributing the food to the classrooms before school. We also demonstrated an increased need for further funds from our OSNP grant and networked with our school representative to make this possible.

3. More time please!

We would have liked to plan an event for our parent community which would further highlight the goals of our Reach for the Stars program. We had approached some of our community representatives (e.g., Conservation Authority – active living and Police Office – technology safety) to explore their interest and availability in attending an evening event and providing short informational workshops for families. We considered providing food and also planning outdoor activities for the children to entice the families to attend.

After numerous discussions about the format and organization, we decided that this event would require more time and energy. Due to time restraints, we put the event on hold until next school year. Our school’s 50th Anniversary was also a main event which drew upon our school council and staff resources. We hope to plan an event for our parent community sometime in the fall of 2017.

We have come to realize that our project is a process which will evolve and expand with time. We set too many goals to accomplish in the first year. To be effective, we need more time to develop and achieve long-term and lasting change with our student population. Next year, the continuum will include what we have already set in place and also be expanded upon to involve a parent evening event and a further expanded healthy snack initiative.

Enhancing Student Learning and Development

Promoting well-being is one of the four interconnected goals of Achieving Excellence, Ontario’s renewed vision for educators. This goal is based on the principle that our education system needs to help students build the knowledge and skills associated with positive well-being so that students can become healthy, active and engaged citizens. Our morning walk and snack time deepens the well-being of our students where by several cognitive, emotional, social and physical needs are met within our students.


  • Concentration, student engagement and attention span has improved in the first block
  • Senses are heightened when outdoors, whether seeing worms, bird nests, rainbows, hearing birds or smelling the freshness of the air after it rains
  • Science curriculum is incidentally taught in relevant ways (seasonal changes, insects, weather – rain, fog, shadows)
  • Authentic writing opportunities are increased due to the outdoor experiences and discussions
  • It is noted that the children are less settled and attentive on days when the weather prevents us from going outside

Emotional Needs

  • Students who have emotional needs at the beginning of the day (e.g., the need to talk about a problem at home, peer issue, worry – a pet dying) have an opportunity to voice it with a teacher or peer
  • Fresh air and sunshine have a positive effect on everyone’s mood (for teachers, too!)

Social Needs

  • Increased connections and relationships amongst educators and students
  • Teachers are allowed to hear stories about personal experiences from the previous night (e.g., losing a tooth, hockey game)
  • Students interact and talk to one another
  • Social skills opportunities can be integrated into the morning walk (tribes, assigned conversation topics)
  • Students have the opportunity to interact and talk to siblings or peers from other classes
  • A group mindset is developed (i.e., in our class, we like going outside, rain or shine, because we know that it helps our brains and bodies) and a positive school community is enhanced

Physical Needs

  • Endurance, fitness and persistence is built
  • Daily requirements for DPA are covered
  • Students are more calm and ready to learn for a longer, sustained period after the morning walk
  • Physical stamina increases and children see growth over time (e.g., number of laps around the school)

Other Benefits

  • Behaviour kids love it – there’s a huge buy-in from them – it’s also something they are largely successful with
  • The students look forward to this morning activity and express disappointment when weather prevents them from going outside for the physical activity
  • An opportunity to touch base with children who don’t normally demand our attention during the school day
  • The need for additional physical movement (e.g., Go Noodle, Brain Gym) during the instructional day is diminished. This decreases physical activity transitions during the instructional block which can break the flow of classroom activity.


Information about emerging research and Reach for the Stars project activities were shared with families in several ways:

  • Pamphlet – with project objectives and overview
  • Posters – highlighting the five domains
  • School Twitter account – informative tweets concerning health and well-being
  • School newsletter

Our team shared the progress of our project with the primary staff at monthly division meetings and with the whole staff at staff meetings throughout the year.

An information report regarding the success of our morning walk was prepared and given to our student support lead teacher (for our school board). She expressed a desire to share the information with principals and teachers, some of which have expressed the desire to try new strategies to enhance student well-being within their unique student populations.

Project Evaluation

As we reflect at the end of our project, we consider the project to have been a great success. We are pleased to have met all of our learning goals. We recognize that the ultimate success has been found in our students. They are more engaged in learning, and appear happier, more settled and connected to one another and with their educators. The most successful part of our project (the morning walk) did not cost a thing and was a very successful tool in promoting positive, healthy development within our students in relation to their physical and mental health. We plan to continue the morning walk again next September.

Our own professional learning goals have been met. We used the release time to deepen our understanding of the impact that nutrition, healthy relationships and active living can have and how we can support families by providing these opportunities during the school day. We also gained a better understanding of certain experiences that can impact the well-being of our students that are outside of the school day (i.e., sleep, exposure to technology, trauma, mental health issues, healthy relationships). We were reminded that, as educators, we can have a positive impact, even when early exposures and experiences have been somewhat detrimental to student well-being in the early, formative years.

Resources Used

Well-Being in our Schools, Strength in our Society – engagement paper (November 2016)

Ontario’s Well-Being Strategy for Education – discussion document (May 2016)

Dr. Lynne Kenney – paediatric specialist in the areas of child wellness and parenting

Lynn Lyons – clinical social worker and psychotherapist, speaker and author (e.g., Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous & Independent Children)

Lisa Ferentz – recognized expert and speaker in the treatment and impact of trauma in children and adolescents

Dr. Ross Greene – author, speaker and developer of the Collaborative and Proactive Solutions model (CPS) which is applied to kids with social, emotional and behavioural challenges

Resources Created

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