Sunday, 23 October 2022

My Froebelian Journey Part 2

"Early Childhood is important in its own righting not merely a preparation for later learning. Learning begins at birth and continues throughout life" 

Tovey H. (2017) Bringing the Froebel Approach to your Early Years Practice p125

I am now 3 sessions in to my Froebel in childhood practice certificate and each online session just strengthens my desire to describe my own practice as Froebelian. It feels like I have come home and am among other practitioners who really get how early years education should be offered to our young children and their families. It is very interesting to see how Tina Bruce's Bedrock Principles are so interwoven with a Frobelian approach as it was these principles that resonated the most with me in 2003-2006 when I undertook further studies after my PGCE in Primary Education. I knew I wanted to teach nursery and that I would have to have robust knowledge of how young children learn to be able to be the best advocate for the type of play based curriculum I wanted to offer. My PGCE year was intense and was focused on primary teaching which seemed to be at odds with how I had seen young children learning in nursery when working as an assistant and later a substitute teacher. 

The biggest issue for me on teaching practice and then when subbing in primary was that stories were no longer read for pleasure. In nursery I had got used to reading or telling at least one story a day to the whole class, then in primary no story was read without there being questions afterwards or a dreaded worksheet to complete. It seemed like there had to be evidence of learning after every activity instead of trusting that the children were learning all the time.  So  I knew I needed further studies more based in early years so I could begin to articulate why I wanted to teach a certain way. I enrolled in a Masters in Early Education and it was whilst attending lectures that I was introduced to Bowlby and gained more insight into Vygotsky & Piaget. I heard about Montessori, Steiner and Froebel and began to read widely on practitioners who were influenced by these methods and approaches. One such person was Tina Bruce, I was just so struck by her Principles and I really enjoyed her style of writing. I loved the reading aspect of the Masters and probably spent more time reading in the library than writing my assignments. I devoured Margaret Edginton's The Nursery Teacher in Action and ordered anything written by Cathy Nutbrown. These were practitioners who had confidence in their approaches and were able to be advocates for the young children in their settings. 

I was terrible at research however, so decided to do an extra module and get a DASE (Diploma in Advanced Studies in Education) rather than do a dissertation to get a Masters. I really enjoyed the assignments and my then Principal was very helpful and read them for me to critique my writing style and to see if he, with no early years background could understand what I was writing about. This lead to us having an incredible relationship were we both learned from each other and he respected my early years knowledge and I was given a lot of freedom in the running of my class. I remember using Bruce's Principles as a way to explain why I would not be taking my nursery class to assembly or to eat in the dinner hall. I was able to articulate that the nursery year was not a preparation for school or P1 but that the young children in my class had a right to be 3 or 4 and had legitimate feelings and needs that should be met in the safe environment of the nursery classroom. These Principles particularly helped me argue for a more slowed down settling in period and of course this in turn does make it easier for the next teacher but it is not the main goal. 

I was very fortunate over the past 18 years to take part in the Comenius and then Erasmus programmes and was able to visit early years settings across Europe and host visits from European pedagogs in my classroom. The idea of kindergarten seems to be so natural and it always baffles me why in Northern Ireland, we only offer our youngest pupils one year of a preschool experience compared to the minimum 3-4 years their European peers are offered. 

Sometimes it felt like I was trying to cram 3-4 years of play experiences into 1 year and my day in nursery felt frantic as I tried to have it all. It felt very disjointed with lots of stopping play to transition to the next activity. I had the opportunity to listen to a webinar by the Froebel Trust and first heard the term 'wallowing in play' and it struck me as something I needed to work towards offering in my setting. If I am completely honest the recent Covid 19 pandemic was the turning point for me as a practioner, I was able to take part in many online trainings and webinars and I began to see how I could slow the routine down in my classroom to allow children time to actually get in to deeper play experiences. When visiting European kindergartens I was always struck by the gentle flow of the day, transitions were seamless and didn't always involve the whole class but more importantly staff and children had a lot more trust in each other - it was common for children to be out of sight and rarely did I see a whole group sitting looking an adult awaiting instruction. One big jarring aspect for me in my class was that we needed to clear the room to set up for dinner & this meant the children had to be in the story room for at least 30 minutes every day while the room was set up. I saw lovely dinner routines in the kindergartens I visited and really wanted to offer something similiar but we didn't have the space for a separate eating room or did we? Cue the pandemic and suddenly we closed the doors to families and children were dropped off and picked up from a gate or door and families were no longer coming into the setting & we had a big hallway sitting doing nothing. We took the decision to turn the hallway into a dedicated eating space and create a calm environment where half the class at a time could eat together whilst the other half remained at play. This has had the effect of slowing the whole routine down, children now have a choice, do they want to go for dinner now or in the second group? It allows for a relaxed ebb and flow in the play as the group dynamic changes from 27 to 13 or 14 children. 

Our current set up was inspired by Alison Clarke's research on 'Slow Pedagogy' (available here on the Froebel Trust website) and during the last 2 years I found myself drawing closer and closer to Froebel and those practitioners who are doing their best to reflect his approach in their settings. I love the term 'Slow Pedagogy' and am striving to ensure I try my best to offer such an approach in my classroom. As I continue on my journey I am constantly reminded of why I embarked on further studies over 16 years ago and why I need to keep on learning and connecting with other pedagogues who have similiar outlooks as myself. 

Sunday, 25 September 2022

Enjoying a fire in nursery.

I have now been lighting a fire with my nursery class for over 10 years and at this point it feels very much part of the routine of the class. Before we ever light an actual fire we spend time teaching the children how to move safely around the fire, so as a class we sit round the fire pit and practise how to move seats by walking around the back of the seating area and not moving across the are circle. At present my class of 27 children are still in 2 smaller groups of 14 and 13 for 2 hours per day, so we use this settling in time as the perfect way to introduce fire safety and have a fire while in the smaller groups. 

We have a high percentage of children from a Newcomer (English is not their home language) this year so it is even more important to have lots fo practise time to make sure these children have grasped the rules. (If need be we have had families come in and run through the 'rules' with they child in their home language).

After a few run throughs we felt the groups were ready for a real fire and decided to start with the best science experiment of all times - popcorn. The children were so excited to have a fire but were a little disappointed when they saw the 'raw' popcorn - one child said 'My popcorn at home is big popcorn', so it was wonderful to allow them to see, hear and smell the transformation of the kernels. No matter ho many times I cook popcorn I always love that 'Ooooh' moment when the lid is lifted and the children see the 'big popcorn'. We have had 2 fires now with this class, popcorn and toasted brioche. They love the ritual so far, gathering around the fire pit, watching me set and light it and waiting to see what will happen to the food we are cooking. 

I regularly have other teachers come to visit on our fire days so they can see how it all operates and I am glad to say most if not all, go back to their own settings and begin to have fires with their classes. 

My Froebelian Journey

 "Play is the highest level of child development. It is the spontaneous expression of thought and feeling.....This is the meaning of the word 'play'..." 

Froebel (1826)in Lilley (1967), p.83-4

For those who are new to my blog or don't know my story, here is a short synopsis. 

I went back in 1999 to do my PGCE in Primary Education after years of resisting the pull of teaching. You can read more about that journey in this post:

But suffice to say I become a teacher in 2000 and was determined to teach nursery or preschool rather than primary and so as soon as I had a job as a nursery teacher I began my Masters in Early Education so I could have a better understanding of how the young children I was going to be teaching operated and how I could best teach them. I ended up stopping at a DASE (this means I didn't do a dissertation) and this extra qualification certainly gave me the confidence to defend my practice and the rights of the young children I teach to an age appropriate curriculum. 

In the past 16 years I have read widely and attended many conferences in person and online and engaged with colleagues across the world to help me develop my knowledge and understanding of the youngest children in our education system. I have been fortunate to visit settings across Europe thanks to different funding programmes and engage in discussions with colleagues across the globe. These visits and interactions have had a huge influence on my practice. During all my time as a nursery teacher I felt myself drawn to one particular theorist - Friedrich Froebel, something about his ideas and approach just resonated with me. 

So here I am 16 years after I finished my DASE in Early Education, embarking on a new course through the University of Edinburgh  - A Froebel in Childhood Practice Certificate. This course can be done in person over 2 week in the summer but I am doing it online over 8 months.

You can find out more about this course here:

I am looking forward to delving deeper into all things Froebel and learning about other settings and practitioners who are already well on their Frobelian journey. I hope it will challenge me as a teacher and help me to introduce some new ideas to my classroom. After just one 3 hour session I already have lots of ideas about engaging families more widely and after the past two years it seems the perfect time to welcome families back into nursery and to strengthen the partnership between school and home. 

Even before Covid we spent a huge part of the nursery day outdoors but since 2020 have been based outside for the majority of the nursery day and it was great to learn from Dr Jane Reed that this is exactly how Froebel ran his kindergarten in Bad Blankenburg.

I will be using my blog as a journal to record and reflect on my journey as well as sharing some of the things I get up to with my nursery class. 

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Let's Visit Numberland!

The Numberland Numbers from Haba. 

 In November 2020 I was fortunate to watch an episode of Early Years TV where Kathy Brodie interviewed Barbara Schindelhauer from Numberland. I just loved Barbara's enthusiasm for maths and the concept of Numberland really appealed to me as it encouraged deeper thinking about numbers and attributes of number than just by colour, shape or size. You can visit Barbara's website here: Numberland

It reminded me of a visit to a Swedish preschool where I saw young children using much deeper thinking about same and different than we would normally see in our settings, a child had brought 3 things that were different to show the teacher and one of the attributes was that the dinosaur was extinct and the other animals were still alive, it was far beyond the 'They all have 4 legs or are green ' that I expected. 

In Numberland each number has a house a garden, I loved that the houses had the amount of corresponding windows for each number and the gardens were shapes that could also have properties connected to that number e.g. a triangle for number 3, a pentagon for number 5 etc. I know as a preschool teacher that young children have no problem seeing anything as an animate object and I knew my class would love the wooden numbers with their faces and the fact that each number has a matching attribute to their numberness e.g. number 2 has 2 feathers on the hat, number 9 has 9 teeth. 

I made contact with Barbara straight afterwards and we began chatting through messenger and I ended up buying a set of the wooden numbers for my classroom. When they arrived I was so impressed by the quality and couldn't wait for the children to explore with them. Of course then we went back into lockdown and remote learning so the children didn't get to actually play with them until March. However I took them home with me so I could start to use them with the children during some live sessions. I was fortunate to have some little wooden houses that I could use for numbers as they had the right number of windows. During the live sessions I would hold up a house and the children would shout whose house it was & then they had to go get that same number of objects to show me. 

These wooden houses from Cosy were just perfect!

I had also downloaded the printable booklet from Numberland and it allowed me to make up laminated paper copies of the numbers, houses and gardens for the children to interact with more readily once we got back to nursery.

The printable Numberland resources. 

The wooden resources are made by Haba in Germany and anyone who has ever come across their products knows just how beautifully made and robust they are. Whilst a colleague was searching for a local supplier for the HABA fire pit she came across an Irish supplier called Jaggo Educational and I was delighted to discover they not only sold the fire pit but also all the Numberland resources, as it was becoming harder for them to be sourced from Germany thanks to Brexit. You can visit their website and specifically the Numberland resources here: Jaggo

The HABA fire pit that we use weekly in nursery. 
Once we got chatting to Jaggo about supplying schools in the North of Ireland a new partnership was formed & I ended up buying a fire pit for my garden too.
I also got the Numberland set of wooden houses, more numbers and number lane and blocks to try out with my class. 

I set the room up for a visit to Numberland and incorporated some of the Play to Learn More methods (read more about that here: Play to Learn More)
The children loved the concept of going to visit the numbers in their land and getting to see where they lived etc. After a few small group sessions I then allowed the children to just play freely with the numbers and their houses - 0-4. It was lovely to hear them chatting to each other and saying 'hey number 2 can I come visit you?' and 'Number 3 you would like this bike because it has 3 wheels' etc.
For after Easter I have set up 1-3 on a little table for the children to play with and during Numberland sessions in small groups we can explore more deeply who or what might visit each number because of their attibutes e.g. a cat could visit number 1 because she has 1 tail or number 4 because of her legs etc. 

I can't wait to see the children interact more and more with these beautiful resources and to learn more from Barbara. 

Monday, 11 January 2021

Play Based Learning

So here in N. Ireland we are back to online learning as schools are closed to the majority of pupils. Moving online this Lockdown should been more manageable for most as schools have spent the last few months upskilling staff and pupils for this very situation - even though we would all prefer to teach face to face any day. 

Play with water outdoors to explore match and science. 

In preschool a lot of classes already use an online tool to keep in touch with parents and share what is going on in the classroom so that makes it easy to switch to home learning in many ways but this pandemic has made it harder to let parents experience a play based curriculum in person. 

Normally at this time of the year we would have a whole term behind us and parents would have been in and out of the classroom on a regular basis. In my setting many would have spent at least 10-15 minutes playing outside each morning with their child, joined us on school trips and visits and taken part in Stay and Play sessions. Even at pick up time, many parents would have enjoyed their child showing them what resources they had been playing with that afternoon or hoped to play with the next day. Monday to Thursday parents and children would have poured over a selection of books to take home and enjoy each evening. Last term was so different and definitely not how a preschool experience should be for parents. Parents have had to drop their children at the playground gate and pick them up from the back door every day, they haven't got into the school building at all and haven't been able to stay to see their child playing in the playground. I have uploaded videos and photos to our class app and school website but it is not the same as actually getting to spend an hour or two in the nursery or on a trip with us.

Make shapes, letters or numbers outdoors. 

So, now we move to online learning for our nursery children and for many parents this is an anxious time, especially if they have other older children at home and are trying to juggle work for themselves too. But as I listened to many questions from anxious parents I realised what an impact NOT being in the nursery this year has had on their perceptions of learning for a preschooler. 

For a preschooler the next few weeks are not about sitting up at a table learning letter, shapes or numbers from books or tracing letters etc. In my setting all learning is done through play, at no point do we sit the children down and say 'Now we are going to learn shapes etc.' and that isn't how it should be done at home either. 

Learning all about shapes whilst playing

There are 4 parts to the nursery day that I think it would be helpful to try and have at home some days - snack, lunch, tidy up and story are big transition times of the nursery day and they provide a welcome break between other types of play and learning. This year our day is even less structured and all the staff agree that is is a more pleasant day for all concerned. 

If parents want to help their child learn at home set up their toys for them and encourage your children to play independently for at least 30 minutes, if you have other children at home even better as they can play together. Let children role play and dress up, let them play with small world figures - people, animals etc. encourage them to chat away as they play, if you have time to join is do but it is important for them to learn to play on their own too. As children play with their small toys they are learning how to sort - they might put all the small animals together or all the ones on 2 legs or ones with babies. they might sort by colour, shape or size. Hopefully you will hear them chattering away to themselves as they try to make sense of their world through play - you will probably hear 'your voice' in there sometimes too as children repeat phrases you might say to them a lot. I always enjoy but also cringe when I see children playing out being the teacher with their peers and see them holding a book like I do or saying things they have heard me say (I hear the phrase 'Excuse me' a lot as I must say this as a way to show I am not happy with some behaviour!)

Play a game to teach prepositions - put crocodile in front of, side, behind etc. 

You could have a couple different types of play set up for them - building with blocks, lego etc. and drawing, small world play and books, don't be afraid to set out the clean laundry and ask children to sort it into piles of who it belongs to in the family, sorting socks is a great skill and a fun task for children whilst a terrible one for adults! Get them to sort out the cutlery too. 

if you can set them up at the sink with some water and toys and allow them to explore early maths and science through water play - this can of course be done outside too with a basin or bucket. Young children will endlessly fill and pour from one container to another and this is all great for understanding capacity and volume. On these very cold nights fill up some old containers with water and put some small toys into them and have fun trying to get them out the next day if they freeze.

If you have time, the biggest thing you can do is read with your child or get an older sibling to, they will benefit from time reading aloud and the younger child will gain so much. When reading one to one a child gets time to look at the pictures and discover small details, they are hearing rhyming words and understanding how words sound and this will all help them when begin to learn to read. You can point out 'their' letter when it appears in words and what other names or words have that letter. In preschool it is all about giving a context to learning - it is more important that a child recognise their letter in lots of different places that they learn to recite the alphabet without knowing what the letters actually mean. 

Young children learn by doing and by having fun rather than sitting up at a table with books etc. Go for a walk if you can and have fun counting how many steps between lamp posts, what numbers you can see or letters or shapes. 

During the next few weeks I'll try and write a few more posts about how to try and have some fun whilst learning at home. Best of luck to everyone who is trying to home school, work from home and manage younger children. You can do this and schools have got your back. 

Friday, 18 December 2020

Seeing the positives of a pandemic!

We made it - my class survived the first term in nursery during a worldwide pandemic and man do I feel like I have dodged a huge moving juggernaut. I am fortunate to have lots of fellow educators around the world to connect with and share ideas, compare notes and tease out solutions to problems. I would have been lost without the friendship and support of these people the last few months as we navigated the unknown terrain of teaching with a deadly virus amidst us. 

I have tried my best to remain upbeat, I am an optimist after all but at times it was so hard to ignore the criticism being heaped on schools - we were lazy and hiding away during the initial lockdown and then we were being unrealistic when asking for lots of reassurances before reopening and now again we are being accused of being difficult and whinging because schools were asking for early closure so staff and families could relax and know they would not be self isolating over Christmas. We just can't win it seems. The same people who were calling for schools to open and 'get on with it' are now calling for them to close and it is so frustrating that we, the actual people in the thick of it are usually the last to know anything. 

But this is not a post where I moan and complain about how the powers that be seem to really dislike school staff, instead I am going to reflect on the all the good things that have emerged during the past few months in my setting.

Our lovely new dedicated dining area. 

A very wise friend, who used to be an inspector but is now an educational consultant, advised me to keep track of the benefits of any of the changes implemented because of Covid so I could justify why I was keeping them when we can go back to a normal school day. I loved this idea because I can see so many benefits to the changes we had to make and like my favourite tool, a risk benefit analysis, I can already see the benefits of the changes far outweigh any negatives. 

So what changes will we be keeping? 

We have always started our day outdoors and can't imagine doing this any other way after 13 years BUT we never start outdoors during the initial settling in period. There are too many indoor skills to be taught first so we usually don't start the outdoor session until the 4th or 5th day. The children have to learn where the toilets are, where to hang their coats up, store their change of clothes, put their artwork etc. and that is all indoors, normally after 3 days of repeating these tasks we feel we can now start outdoors but this year we settled everyone in from outdoors and it worked so we definitely won't be starting indoors again. In fact we didn't go indoors for the first week at all except to show a child where the toilet was. We settled the children in much slower and in smaller groups and I will argue to keep this too, we had 6-7 children for 2 hours over 4 days and it was so lovely to get to know them in the small group and to feel they were happy to  explore the playground in a small group. 

Coming down the path to head to Bear Woods and this is how the families leave the nursery each day too. 
Our restart document had allowed for parents in the playground at settling in time and we took full advantage of this with the small groups of 6-7 children, we did ask only one parent to attend if possible and they dotted themselves around the outdoor space over the 2 days of their child only attending 1 hour. We also had their taster day of 1 hour in August rather than June and we are definitely keeping this as it was much easier to meet the children on week and then have them come back the next week to actually start nursery. And this was the first year in a long time that most parents were away and children settled within the first week. We had 3 children who were more reluctant to say goodbye but even those parents were away within 30 minutes each morning. The biggest asset we have is that our entrance gate leads straight from the carpark into the playground and a few years ago we got holes cut into it to allow children to say goodbye through the gate and then watch parents drive or walk away. But guess what? We are in our building 14 years and they was the first time we ever thought to use the second gate we have at the other end of the playground! Home time has always been staggered over 15 minutes but as parents were having to stand 2 metres apart there was a real traffic jam at home time as one parent was leaving and another trying to come in the gate, so we started to look at how we could alleviate this without having parents come into the building. It was at his point we remembered we had 2 gates and so we now use one as an entrance and the other as an exit and everyone is easily accommodated in the 15 minutes. 

We also realised that this other 'exit' gate was a much better way for us to take the children out of the playground to go to Bear Woods as it avoids being near the carpark and we can let the children go ahead down the path at the side of the nursery on the way back and into the playground by themselves. I have no idea why it took us 14 years to realise this but there you go!

The fact that we have so much moveable furniture on wheels has also really come into itself this term, we simply moved the unit where children put artwork, hats, gloves, notes or water bottles into from the hallway into the classroom at the back door so they can gather everything on their way home. They can also now put their artwork straight into the drawers instead of having to walk across the classroom and out into the hallway - where some invariable got distracted by books or toys and an adult had to go look for them. We won't ever use the hallway as it was before so that unit can stay at the back door and we will also use this as the main entrance from now as it is under the covered area and allows parents to collect their children from the building whilst staying dry on wet days. 

You can read about how we have turned our hallway into a dining area in this post: and suffice to say that will be staying as is no matter what. 

Another positive is that all the children could put their own coats on by the middle of October. Normally we start outdoors and then move indoors so it is rare that the children are taking coats off and on again everyday. But now with so much hand washing and coming indoors to eat snack and dinner, they are taking their coats on and off a lot this year. One of the main assistants had always tried to show the children how to use the Montessori Coat Flip to put their coats on but as it wasn't a regular activity it never really 'took' but this year it has been amazing. The children are so proud of themselves and enjoy putting their coats on and some are now moving onto zipping them up unaided too. 

Not having to clear the room for dinner has been the biggest change for us and one that we will fight to keep. This has had a huge impact on the routine of the day as normally we had to stop everything at some point in the morning to tidy up and then have story so the room could be set up for dinner. Now that we eat in a dedicated space that is set up already we can just play away uninterrupted and call half the class at a time for snack and dinner. Both myself and the main assistant visited a meeting in Finland last October and we both feel that we now have that same relaxed feel that we got in this kindergarten and that I have witnessed in settings in Iceland, Sweden and Norway. The nursery day flows even easier now we aren't stopping everything to hear the classroom for dinner. We are seeing a totally different ebb and flow to the play as well as the children have longer periods to enjoy playing together and in smaller groups as the day unfolds. It is lovely to have smaller groups playing for at least 30 minutes through the day as the other group is eating inside. We are also seeing that some children are getting that opportunity to warm up to play before deciding to put on their rain gear and go and play with water or in the mud kitchen whereas before they would have been told it was too late to do that as we were getting ready to go indoors or have dinner. Now if children are in their rain gear we simply take their coats off but keep the dungarees on over dinner and then they can go straight back into messy pay again afterwards. 

Having time to enjoy playing with friends outdoors over a longer period has huge benefits. 
We also decided to let them take their shoes/boots off in the dining area to recreate that more homely feel and they love this and it is definitely one to keep too. We now have a long tuff spot just for shoes in the dining area. 

Taking shoes/boots off to eat has proved very popular. 

Another nursery colleague said to me that she now felt we were back to how nursery was supposed to be before we all tried to recreate too many routines and do too much rather than simply letting the children play and I totally agree. I thought I had a relaxed, play based day until the term when I look back and realise how it was more like a hamster wheel of activities as we tried to cram too much in a 5 hour day. 

If we can we spend the day outdoors, only coming in to eat and for a story at the end of the day and so far it has fabulous. Obviously why the colder, wet days on the New Year we will probably move indoors around 11.30 so one group can have dinner and the other play in the classroom before swapping over. This means we have turned our day around and now spend the majority of time outdoors with a maximum of 40 minutes spend at indoor play, we will of course review this as the year progresses. 

So in conclusion, I won't miss all the cleaning and worrying about catching this virus but I will definitely be thankful that we had this opportunity to rediscover the joy of a truly play based curriculum and being based more outdoors than indoors. 

If we need to we can get the whole class seated for dinner together. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Can we 'fix' this - yes we can!

Early Years people are great at finding solutions, we generally don't wait around for others to tell us what to do, we go off and find ways to make things happen for ourselves. This became very apparent to me recently during the months before we returned to school after lockdown. I attended lots of on line seminars and workshops and realised that I enjoyed the ones attended by fellow early years people the best. I always came away with lots of ideas and felt very positive after listening to the solutions people around the globe were coming up with to help get back into school and to help the children settle in as easily as possible. 

I stored away many of the ideas as I listened or read about them - like the idea of having a bubble machine to help distract children as they had to leave their parents after a longer than usual time at home. 

When we were told that in the new norm of school reopening parents couldn't be in the building, we had already decided to have settling in time outside so parents could stay initially long before this advice was given by our Education restart committee. 

This pandemic has thrown us all into disarray and caused lots of things that we normally do to be taken away or changed. At another webinar run by Playboard NI the speaker talked about how we, the adults would struggle with how the new school day looked but that the children would accept whatever we presented as normal. This is especially true for me as a nursery teacher, the children have never been to my class before (bar one) so whatever I present as a normal day, is what they accept. 

When we went getting ready to start back, it became clear that our hallway wasn't going to be used like it always had - the children used it to hang up their coats, store spare clothing and each child had a drawer for paintings, drawings, notes home etc. in a unit. Parents would come right into the hallway and spend time chatting to each other. We also used it as space for small group activities like Play to Learn More sessions. But now it was going to be a huge cloakroom that was a totally underused space. The 2 of us who work together looked at it with fresh eyes and wondered if we could use it as space for eating snack? Previously our snack was outside and the children could come and go freely but now we were going to have to sit with them to hand out food, so we decided to put a table out into the hallway and use it for snack. At settling in time the children were in smaller groups of 15 & 12 and just stayed for 2 hours, so we took them inside for snack in groups of 5 or 6. It was a lovely time to chat to the children and help them learn the names etc. Once we had used the space for snack we began to think if we could use it for dinner too, obviously we couldn't get all 27 eating at the same time but we thought we might get 13-14 at a time if we could get suitable seating. I began to look at new tables and benches that would allow us to have a dedicated dining space and luckily thought a combination of funding we were able to buy 2 large tables and a smaller one from the outdoor range at Hope Education. 

In previous years we had made coloured glass lanterns with the children to put candles into and had some left over that I used in the story room to create a more relaxed atmosphere. We brought them out into the hallway and got fairy lights and LED tea lights instead of candles to soften the light so we don't need the overhead fluorescent lights on. 

This immediately seemed to make the atmosphere much calmer and the children were definitely quieter than when the 'big lights' were on. We also have a TV screen that we use to show photos taken that month and the children enjoy looking at these too whilst eating. 

Today we had our first dinners in the new space and it was just wonderful, with only half of the class at a time, it was very quiet and the adult has time to talk to the children. They sat chatting to each other across the tables more easily than before and with benches they were less inclined to be pushing chairs in and out. 

I have been fortunate to visit settings around the globe and was always very envious of their dining spaces, where the adults and children sat together chatting in a very relaxed manner. This was exactly what I wanted to recreate and today as I sat watching the children eating their dinner was the first time I felt we had managed to recreate a little of the lovely relaxed atmosphere I have seen in many Scandinavian settings. 

So, although the world seems like a crazy and quite scary place right now, we have managed to find something good to come out of all this and hopefully the children will enjoy this lovely calm space for many years to come.