Monday, 5 December 2016

What to do with 1000's of conkers!

Loose parts in abundance!
In October our Parent Council (PTA) asked the children to collect conkers for the Hallowe'en party and offered prizes for those who brought the most in in each class. They were surprised by the sheer amount that were collected and after making conker snakes with all the children at the party, they had 2 bins full of them left over to donate to nursery. 
We have enough to fill up the bottom of one of the pallet dens!
Since then the children have had fun cooking with them in the mud kitchen, rolling them down the slope in Bear Woods, planting some to see if we can grow some chestnut trees and generally incorporating them into their play. 
We had added them to most activities indoors too - the dough, water, sand etc. & plan to paint with them soon too.
Candles on the birthday cakes.
It has been fascinating to see all the early maths coming out with the conkers, some have made patterns with them on the crates or lined them up to count. One child began to put them into some upturned giant Lego blocks to make 'birthday cakes'  & this was followed with others putting loads into some bilibos and 'cooking' them on the fire - I do love it when the children transfer experiences into their play scenarios.
The Lego blocks are the sticks, as they have seen me set a fire & they are cooking chocolate cake!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Using resources creatively.

Sometimes we adults lose sight of the fact that resources can be used in so many different ways and they don't have to have a fixed end result. Luckily young children always see the potential of any resource to be anything they want it to be and aren't constrained by the same beliefs that we adults might have. Every 2 weeks when we plan as a staff, we sit in the store where all the resources are kept so we can look at them differently and mull over which resources might work together. At the end of the day some of our 'experiments' work and others don't but mostly they are a success as the 3 and 4 years olds embrace any opportunity to use resources in so many different ways.
I suppose we need to see all resources as loose parts!
A few years ago we invested in some Polydron and it quickly became a favourite of everyone - there just needs to be loads of it so there is no arguments over the pieces. It is a very versatile resource as it works on it's own or with other pieces added to it. Up until now we had added small world figures so the children could make houses etc. but then this week we put the rectangular magnetic boards out with them and it was incredible to see how the children embraced the chance to use the Polydron on a flat surface. Some built them up in the traditional way making boxes etc. whilst others began to make patterns and then add figures into the shapes.
One child made ' a lovely sunny day', we'll be evaluating this mix of resources as a success and certainly be putting this out again soon.
"It's a lovely sunny day" - can you see the grass, sky & sun?

Friday, 25 November 2016

A cold & frosty week of fun!

This past week the temperatures have dropped considerably in N.I, most mornings it was -2c when I was arriving at school and it didn't get higher than 4c during the day. The heavy frost that was on the ground stayed all day & it there was so much ice to be found around the playground.
Of course some children feel the cold more than others plus some aren't dressed appropriately for the cold weather. I have talked this over with colleagues who run outdoor preschools & we all agree that some parents should be made to stand in the playground for an hour for them to appreciate how cold it can be!
We have a supply of extra coats, fleeces, hats & gloves and some children will even need an extra pair of trousers to keep warm. On days like this we generally stay out for 40 minutes, then go inside and come back out after lunch when it is a little warmer & the children are warmer after being inside for a couple of hours.
We brought out some straws and the children had fun blowing down them to melt the frost.
Luckily on Tuesday when we had a trip to one of our partner schools to play in their amazing outdoor space, the temperatures rose a little and the children had so much exploring this great site & some even discarded their gloves and hats after running about for an hour or two. 
A beautiful sunset over the nursery on Monday evening.
We have two days a week where we stay outside until lunchtime - Tuesdays & Thursdays. This week it was just so cold on Thursday that I knew we'd have to get the children warmed up again before venturing up to our wooded area known as Bear Woods. So after playing outside for 40 minutes we gathered all the children in the cosy story room & got them ready for going back outside again - the children wear waterproofs when visiting Bear Woods & we made sure everyone had gloves & a hat. The path up to Bear Woods was very slippery but even when some children slipped over, they just laughed and got back up again. They had some snack in Bear Woods - it turns out they really like brioche! 
Then after lots of running about & sliding down the frost slope, we set off on a big adventure - to explore the much bigger wooded area in the main school grounds - Big Bear Woods! The children loved clambering about in this space & roaming along the paths. This area is open onto the main playground but we put some rope across part of the area & told the children to stay behind the rope & they did. 
Exploring 'Big Bear Woods' in the frost.
This is definitely an area we will revisit as the children liked having all the space to explore. 
The Friday was as cold as the Monday had been so we stayed outside for 40 minutes & had some hot chocolate to warm us al up before venturing indoors for a few hours. Then after lunch the children were all ready to go out again & had fun finding a large piece of ice that they tried to stand on without slipping.

One child put a lego brick on a stick & gathered some other sticks to make a fire to toast it on! 

I have to admit I do like cold, dry weather the best and the frost made everything look so pretty. 

Sunday, 6 November 2016

When educators are trusted. #educationiceland

Team #educationiceland
I have just returned from a week in Iceland as part of the #educationiceland group organised by Martin Besford of Highway Farm Activity Centre in Cornwall  & Unnur Henrys of Stekkjarás Leikskóli, Hafnarfjordur, Iceland. The original idea behind this visit was to bring a group of educators from the Cornwall area over to Iceland to begin to make links with schools between the 2 areas - however in the end there were people from outside Cornwall too. 
Martin & Unnur met up for the first time 3 years ago when Martin & I were part of another  group that visited Iceland - #playiceland - organised by Hulda & Tom of Fafu. I had become friends with Unnur through social media & knew I had to visit her school when I got the opportunity to go to Iceland, luckily her school was willing to have 2 groups visit over the 2 days we were looking around schools. Martin & Unnur became firm friends & their respective schools have become partners & have visited each others settings frequently in the past 3 years.
So, when these two said they were organising week long visit & a conference and asked me to come along and do a workshop at it, I jumped at the chance to firstly get another chance to spend time in Unnur's school but secondly to meet up again with people who have become firm friends in the past 3 years - Martin, Unnur & Lesley from Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School.

In October 2013 when I first visited Stekkjarás Leikskóli, it was a fairly new school - just 7 years old and the ethos was very much Reggio based. You can read about this original visit here:
3 years ago what I noticed was that Unnur was an extremely enthusiastic educator who was passionate about getting her class outdoors & using the amazing forest area that was right on the school's doorstep. The biggest question most of us had was how she managed to take 2 year olds out into such a vast space, as the classes were mixed aged groups with children ranging from 2 - 5 in every class. Unnur & I had connected when she had seen some photos of my class outdoors and we had begun to chat on line about the various ways we could convince our colleagues to embrace the outdoors too. 
This time round I could see that Unnur is much more confident in her practice and is very much an expert in this field - I could see that other colleagues looked to her for advice or ideas on how to enhance their outdoor experiences. By going twice a week every week with her classes, Unnur has become so much more confident in all that she does in the space, it is now very much 'their' space, the children are very familiar with it, as some of them have being going there for 3 years & the staff aren't afraid to take resources with them to use in the space - or take fallen trees back to use in the school.
This space & the way this preschool uses it is unique to them & this beautiful wild setting - they could have tried to replicate things they had seen online or in other countries but instead by visiting other settings & countries, the staff are all confident to know what will work for them & what won't.

But of me the biggest message is that the staff were allowed the time to explore the space and to decide on an ethos that suited them, they don't have the pressure from above to comply to certain whims that are seen to be the latest 'must have' in education. More and more staff members are making use of the wonderful outdoor space because they can see the benefits, the children are happier & there are plenty of little natural decorations around the school that they have brought back with them over the past few years. The teachers in this school have embraced every opportunity to widen their perspective and especially Unnur, who has visited lots of settings across the UK and further a field to help sustain her enthusiasm and embed her wonderful outdoor practice into her every day teaching.  It was wonderful to see her lead a maths lesson out in the forest and to see how every opportunity of training has been harnessed by her and brought back to be used in her own setting.
Unnur a passionate & enthusiastic educator.
For those us from the UK & US who were spending time at the school, the biggest questions featured around paper work & risk management. The teachers from Scotland & England were amazed that their colleagues in Iceland don't have endless reams of paper work to fill out before they can take classes off site & they don't have the same pressure to capture data to prove that the children in their classes are learning - parents and school boards are confident that the teachers are working hard each day to ensure progression in learning & they TRUST the teachers to get on with jobs without constant observations and lots of paper work to prove it. 

I only wish Iceland & Ireland were nearer so I could visit Unnur's school more often & that our classes could meet up - my class were so delighted to see my photos from my visit but also very disappointed that they can't go & meet the children too!

Saturday, 15 October 2016

When a book becomes real!

One of the best parts of my job as a nursery teacher is that I get to enjoy reading children's books, of course I have my favourites and it's always good when the class enjoy them too! And sometimes the books we have read become a big part of play, the old classics like The 3 little Pigs etc. are always going to be incorporated into play but I love it when a more obscure book catches their imaginations and becomes part of their real life too!

This week we read 'Snip Snap' by Maria Bergman & Nick Maland, this is one of those books with a repeated refrain that the children can join in with and the illustrations are fabulous too. I have been reading it for many years and I can honestly say this is the first time any class has used it later for a role play scenario.
This year I have a class who are very detail driven, they notice the smallest things in lots of illustrations and this book was no exception. The alligator comes up onto the street through an open manhole cover and some of the children really honed in on this detail. "From under the street?" they asked me, "under where we walk?" asked another, "it's just a book isn't it, it's not real though?" asked another. This last question was probably prompted by the fact that I have reassured them before reading any books about witches or monsters or trolls by reminding them it is book and not real life. 

So, lo and behold, two days after we read the book, I brought out the chalks and showed the children that they could draw anywhere on the ground or tyres around the playground, one child was chalking on the ground and discovered a manhole cover. He quickly drew a pattern on the cover and said "That's to keep the alligator from getting up". Others gathered round and a whole discussion began on whether there was an actual alligator down there under the playground. They concluded, that whilst there might well be one (or several) down there, that our manhole cover was fixed so tightly in place that no alligator was ever going to come up through it!

Saturday, 1 October 2016

A month of fun!

The first climb up onto the summer seat - always a good moment!
I can't believe the first month of a whole new school year is over - there is no doubt that September is the hardest month as we get all 26 children settled into nursery, for many it is the first time they have been with anyone other than family. This year we also have 6 little ones who don't speak English so it has been difficult for some of them to settle - it must be do hard when you know the adults don't understand you or you can't understand them. 

It never ceases to amaze me every year at how quickly the 2 different groups become one big class & begin to gel and play together. Once most are settled and happy to let their parents go it is definitely easier to have the class as one group and we can really begin to get the routines of nursery into place. The class have been embracing every opportunity offered to them & I love their enthusiasm for tackling lots of new experiences. 

We are very fortunate that we will have 3 childcare students working with us this term so we will have a 3rd adult every day but even at this early stage I can say that this class is proving a very manageable one with just the 2 of us. We'll enjoy the next 3 weeks of getting to know names, having the whole new experience of lunch & dinner in nursery, exploring the playground in a variety of weathers & making our first visit to Bear Woods. 

Here are just some photos of some of things the class have been enjoying so far:
"It's my name" 

"It's a crocodile"

Saturday, 10 September 2016

So many skills in such a short time!

This is our daily routine, established on day 3.
Here I am 7 days in to a brand new term and with 24 of the 26 children having started, I am taking stock of all the new skills that they already taken on board in such a short time:

  • To wear a uniform.
  • To be part of a group of 12 other children.
  • To share 2 adults with 12 other children.
  • To walk through a room full of enticing toys & go outside.
  • To say goodbye to their parents or carers (not everyone's at this stage just yet)
  • To make a good attempt at taking their own shoes off.
  • To put wellies on to play in the sand.
  • To find their shoes & then take their wellies off.
  • To pull their sleeves up before washing their hands
  • To find their ticket for snack
  • To put a straw into a milk carton
  • To take the peel of a banana
  • To use a recycling food bin
  • Learning staff names
  • Learning peers names
  • Turn taking in a large group
  • To climb over lots of obstacles in the playground
  • To put a page on the easel before painting using magnets
  • To find their name & putting in on their finished art work
  • To take their page off & put it on the dryer
  • To leave a painting overnight before taking it home
  • To tidy up in small groups of 4 or 5
  • To listen to a short story
  • To sit in the story room
  • To wait for their parents or carers to come back
  • To have fun & make new friends
  • To walk away from all the lovely new resources, knowing they can come the next day
  • To take just 1 sweet from a full box on a Friday
When you see them all listed like that it is quite incredible and no wonder the children are tired! 
I am so adamant that preschool should be all about developing these important life skills and allowing young children to develop them at their pace. 
Here's to a fun filled year with all 26 children exploring and enjoying making new friends and learning lots of new skills.