Friday, 27 March 2015

Outdoor Play Party - the mud kitchen is a year old!

 It is hard to believe it but our amazing mud kitchen is a year old, it is actually quite difficult to imagine play without it as it is such an integral part of our outdoor time now.
You can read abut how we got to have such an incredible resource over here.
It is lovely how much the children have made it theirs over the past year and have added little additions like a muddy puddle in one corner & also how they continually make new discoveries about the space every day. 
This week 3 children were delighted to find out they could make marks and handprints on the back of the mud kitchen using water.
We were lucky to have the dad of one of our assistants add a little water station as well so the children have somewhere to store all the precious water from the rain barrel when the carry it over to the mud kitchen.
The most important development in the past year is that the Principal of the school saw the value and breadth of play going on in the mud kitchen in nursery and applied for funding to have one built for the Foundation Stage children (4-6 year olds) by one of our amazing caretakers, who also happens to be a master carpenter.

Some days it is just lovely to sit back in the 'forest area' and listen to the chatter of the children as they play beyond the willow entrance into the mud kitchen.
My favourite post from the last Outdoor Play Party was from Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes in a fab post all about finding numbers in their natural environment.
I love to see teachers of older children taking their classes outdoors and some of the numbers created by the children are incredible.

"Now it’s time for this week’s Outdoor Play Party. We would appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we’ll gladly further share your post on Pinterest. Please feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back. Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the ‘featured at’ button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!"

Friday, 20 March 2015

A perfect outdoor day!



If I am honest, Wednesday & Friday are my favourite days of the week, mainly because these are the days we spend the most time outdoors; on Wednesday we visit Bear Woods & then stay out onto lunchtime & on Fridays we plan to cook something on the fire & again stay out all morning. 
Admittedly some outdoor days are not as much fun as others, especially if it is very wet or cold but so far, this school year we haven't had to abandon the idea of the fire because of too much rain. 
Today, however was a perfect day for bring outside, it was dry & not too cold if a little cloudy. We didn't have a chance to glimpse the partial eclipse but it was a bit surreal for 10 minutes as it got quite dark.
I love getting cooking ideas from the Internet & so far we've discovered chocolate stuffed bananas, ice cones with chocolate, marshmallows & fruit & apples with butter but I think today we found our favourite treat ever - toasted tea cakes!
I had seen them on Mud Pie's page just before Christmas & was determined to try them but then forgot about it until I saw them on offer in a local supermarket a few weeks ago. I contacted Mandy over at Mud Pies to ask her how exactly she cooked them. Weirdly enough, she had just cooked them again that very same day & was able to share some great photos & tips with me.

We had some hot chocolate first while the fire was blazing & then waited until the flames had died down & placed 7-10 tea cakes at a time in the embers. Mandy had advised leaving them in for 30 seconds so the children had fun continue to 10 a few times! When we lifted them out it was so easy to just open the foil & give the children a spoon to dive in & enjoy.

As one boy said 'That was the best idea ever'! and I'd have to agree, so simple & yet so delicious. This is definitely one we'll be doing again.


Friday, 13 March 2015

Outdoor Play Party - an eBook on outdoor provision.


For the latest Outdoor Play Party I am delighted to share a new eBook that I have helped collaborate on with 11 other early years folks from around the UK.
I have no doubt that Twitter has provided me with some of the best Continued Professional Development (CPD) in the best few years, as I have connected with fellow early years enthusiasts around the globe. I was very impressed with an early eBook some of the #eyfstwitterpals (eyfs stands for early years foundation stage) had produced last year showing a month of activities in their settings.
So when Geoff Billing asked if anyone wanted to contribute to another eBook on outdoor provision, I jumped at the chance!


Each of us had to submit 10 posts on any topic of our choosing that we felt would help to inspire others as they develop their outdoor areas. I love that so many of the posts are about every day materials like tyres, sticks, tarpaulins, water & sticks.

I hope that people download the eBook & dip in & of it as they explore how best to enhance their outdoor play experiences, whether in a formal setting or just at home. Please follow this link to download it: http://goo.gl/oLVPYN

Please make sure you follow each of the contributors on Twitter so you can keep up with all the great stuff that they continually share.

I don't know about anyone else in this part of the world but I am so ready for Spring & dry, warmer weather! So the post that appealed to me most in the last link up was from Cuddles & Muddles all about how they enjoyed a very simple day in their own back garden in some lovely spring weather.

"Now it’s time for this week’s Outdoor Play Party. We would appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we’ll gladly further share your post on Pinterest. Please feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back. Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the ‘featured at’ button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!"



Friday, 27 February 2015

Outdoor Play Party - Hollow Blocks.


Over the past few years I have had lots of teachers or principals visit who are getting brand new nurseries & want some advice on how to best equip their space. We got a brand new school in 2006 & were given a very healthy budget to refurbish the nursery, so in a way we were luckier than those trying to equip a nursery from scratch - we had lots of the basics already & could afford to indulge in some of the more 'luxury' items e.g. a loft for indoors & lots of blocks from Community Playthings. 


The one piece of advice I give to any one who has a decent budget to set up a nursery or preschool class is to invest in a set of hollow blocks, ideally if you can afford it the original ones from Community Playthings but if not there are lots of other companies making them now too.
In 2006 we bought a class set of hollow blocks & the storage cart & they have been such an asset to the class - ours are used outdoors as we just don't have the space indoors for them. In the past 8 years of constant use from February to June, they have weathered well, 2 of the planks split but this was our own fault as we left them outside in the rain overnight a few times. But luckily you can buy replacement sets easily.

I love watching how each class uses them differently, some years they make tables & chairs & lots of houses are built. Other years they build them as high as possible & love climbing on top of them. Sometimes they are used as props in other play - as robot feet or TV's etc.
I love that the open endedness of these products allows the children to engage with them in any way they want. They also learn very quickly that they are sore if dropped on toes or fingers, slippy on wet days or if your shoes are wet & that if they fall on your head, it really, really hurts!
One member of staff usually sets them up in the morning to get the children playing with them but they are then free to move them about & create whatever they want to with them. 


My favourite post in the last Outdoor Play Party was from Wild Family Fun all about the fun Kim & her sister & their children had over half-term. It was lovely to see her young nephews enjoying such simple yet fun activities as den building & cooking marshmallows. Wonderful memories that I am sure her nephews will remember for a long time.

"Now it’s time for this week’s Outdoor Play Party. We would appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we’ll gladly further share your post on Pinterest. Please feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back. Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the ‘featured at’ button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!"


Thursday, 19 February 2015

Finger painting fun!

I am a big fan of messy painting activities, lots of shaving foam & powder paint & finger paints. Early in the school year it is all just about the process - so the children are just encouraged to play with paint, exploring how it feels or moves on the table. I always enjoy seeing children who don't normally enjoy getting messy really embrace using finger paints.
This month the colours we are concentrating on are pink & blue, sadly the blue finger paint had all dried up but we had lots of white & a little red left, so the children had fun mixing the 2 colours to make pink.
At this stage of the school year, I knew most of them could draw in the paint or make interesting patterns that we could then 'capture' on a page to use a wall display.
'Daddy'
'My little sister'
'My whole family'
'Me'

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Judging children as adults.

4 year olds can be sophisticated, funny, articulate, creative & skilled negotiators but they are ultimately 4 year olds!
Last week Channel 4 showed a 'fly on the wall' documentary of a handful of 4 year olds as they settled into nursery. (http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-secret-life-of-4-year-olds)  It was filmed over 6 months & edited down into an hour. 
As a nursery class teacher I loved it. I could see traits of some children in my current class in one or two of the children & could identify with many of the struggles the children went through. The programme was a pretty good reflection of all the personal, social & emotional skills that children learn at preschool. 
What I didn't like about the programme was the reaction of adults to a couple of the children in particular. I purposely stayed off the main social media sites during & after the programme as I knew there would be horrible things being flung about by adults about little children.
Those who unleashed vitriol on 4 year olds, showed themselves up. The children showed more maturity than that! These were 4 year olds, not adults, some may have only been talking in full sentences for less than 2 years & yet adults were judging their behaviours as unacceptable! As a nursery teacher, I saw inappropriate, rash, impulsive behaviour but nothing that wasn't perfectly acceptable for someone who had only been on the earth for 4 years or less! Anyone who spends anytime with 4 year olds knows they can be totally irrational & driven by emotions when it comes to decision making. It is perfectly ok. What people should have taken away from that documentary was how many skills the children had to develop or hone in a short time & what a crucial role the adult has in a preschool setting. We spend our time, especially in the first term, modelling how to negotiate turn taking, sharing resources, making friends, solving arguments etc. None of this just just happens, it has to be modelled over and over, all through the year but the payback when a child who previously snatched resources or cried when they wanted something, begins to use an egg timer for turn taking or verbalise why they want something so badly is well worth all the tears & tantrums. 
I hope that the parents who chose to allow their children take part aren't regretting this experience in light of the horrible reaction by some grown ups. It was a brave decision & most likely at times uncomfortable viewing for some, no parent wants to see their child in a bad light or being rejected by others. I hope they could all see the progress that had been made after 6 months as the children gained more skills in their journey to becoming valuable members of society.
As for the argument that it was an invasion of privacy as the children couldn't give permission, if people are going down that route then be prepared to stop all observations in preschool & put the cameras away. 
I think this programme should be seen as a valuable insight into just how hard working with preschoolers can be, it is messy, emotional & exhausting but when it comes together it is the best job in the world.
Please remember that we, the adults, should never ever look at a child & judge them as a peer. They are just finding their way in the world & need all the support & understanding we can muster. 
More importantly, never underestimate the negotiating skills of a 4 year old, there is a reason why most young children have their parents wrapped round their little finger!

I enjoyed this review from The Guardian of the programme (http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2015/feb/11/secret-life-of-four-year-olds-review)  - anyone who spends time with young children knows they really do have the best way of trading insults!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Outdoor Play Party - Crate Fun!

 
I have done a previous post on the wonderful crates I have in the playground over here but I felt it was time to write another post on these amazing resources!
I can't get enough of crates: milk crates, bread crates, shopping crates, you name a crate & I will find a use for it!
Our milk crates, now referred to as 'H' crates by Cosy have been a firm playground favourite for over 8 years now, they provide seating outdoors & the fact they are plastic means they can stay outside all year round. When not being used as seats, they are great for allowing children to reach up build higher towers or to gain access to their wellies. Lined up they make brilliant walkways & they can be stacked up to a maximum of 3 to make thrones. 
We now have several bread crates in use too, some for storage under the shelves in the mud kitchen, some for use with the bread crate dolley, the latter provides hours of fun as the children take turns pulling each other around the playground.
We also have one as a 'trampoline' in the forest area.
Then we acquired some of those green shopping crates from a well known supermarket. They are brilliant for climbing over & around & balancing planks to make walkways. These are also used a lot in my setting as storage for resources.
The best thing about crates is that they provide drainage so sticks & resources can stay outside without becoming sodden on wet days. 
My favourite post from the last OPP was from Jessica over Growing Inch by Inch - her post Sometimes I just Ignore the Children resonated so much with me & my practice. It was one of the biggest things I took away from a week I spent in a kindergarten in Norway - to step back from the play outside & allow the children to take ownership. Now our role in the playground is one of observers rather than actively teaching.

"Now it’s time for this week’s Outdoor Play Party. We would appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we’ll gladly further share your post on Pinterest. Please feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back. Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the ‘featured at’ button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!"