Sunday, 19 October 2014

Nourishing Creativity.

I don't often go for controversial statements on my blog but here goes: my grammar school education stifled my creative side at the age of 11. At primary I was a fairly good all round student who enjoyed all subjects equally but once I started grammar school I was being constantly told that I was no good at certain subjects or needed to work harder. This was especially true of the more creative subjects like art & home economics (or domestic science as it was in my day) but also maths & science. So I think around the age of 12 I began to actually believe that I was no good at art or drawing or thinking creatively & I shut down that side of my brain & concentrated on bring more academic & 'wordy'. 
I would also say I began to believe that I wasn't practically minded as I was instead bound for university & an academic route, I often heard it said that many teachers (university graduates in general) have no common sense & I really think I believed that.

Fast forward to 2013 when I had the opportunity to become friends with & then spend time in the company of two incredibly practical, creative & innovative people. I use the term entrepreneurs in the real sense of the word when describing these two men, they never stop seeing the potential in things & are constantly challenging themselves to make the next thing or create the best resource they can. Neither rests on their laurels & by spending time with them I too began to view things differently. 
Martin, came over to visit & built us a mud kitchen in 2 days! (with the help & supply of materials by a dad)
'Mr Cosy' as I like to refer to Pete!
They are Martin Besford from Highway Farm Activity Centre,  (www.highwayfarm.com& Peter Ellse from Cosy Direct, (www.pinterest.com/cosydirect/pins/I feel very privileged to have spent time in their company & to have them as friends. I would also describe them both as being more like hyperactive 3 year olds than grown men but I do believe that is what makes them both so successful in what they do. If you spend any time in their company, you can't help but feel that anything is possible & sure what's to lose by trying something new or out of your comfort zone. Don't get me wrong, both are the ultimate in professionalism when required to give presentations or running successful businesses but their enthusiasm for life is infectious. As a direct result of being friends with these two I have rediscovered my creative side! 

I signed up for an 8 week art course this Autumn & was convinced I'd really struggle with the whole creative side of it, as I was so sure I was not artistic, I often joke that I can't even draw a stick man. However, this course has been a real eye opener, mainly because the artist, Anna O'Kane, puts no expectations on any of us. She shows us lots of open ended inspirations & then encourages us to have a go for ourselves. There is never a set look for any end product & each week the 17 of us all usually end up engrossed for an hour & half & with totally different pieces at the end of each session. It has been so refreshing for me to have others pass by as I work & comment 'Oh you are so creative' or 'You have great ideas', I almost feel like looking behind me to see who they are talking to! 
The idea was to make a willow lantern - I just saw a fish the minute the willow was bent!
In the past 5 weeks I have really begun to see the value of being allowed to try new things without fear of getting it wrong or making a mess. It is weird that the very approach I make sure to have with the children in my class is the one I should have been taking in life for myself. That can do attitude is what makes me love teaching nursery & the fact that the children are willing to take risks, try new experiences on a daily basis & dust themselves down if or when it goes wrong & just try again, makes it the most rewarding job in the world. 
So here's to nurturing the creative side in us all & realising that we are never too old to learn new things, embrace different experiences or think outside the box. 

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Printing - circles.

This is my print - just experimenting with the shapes & textures.
Sometimes I like to do large art activities that a group of children can work on together, without a particular end product in sight. It is always a good activity early in the school year & sometimes draws those reluctant painters in too.
I signed up for an 8 week art course down in Belfast at the Play Resource Centre & each week we get to try different art styles or approaches using mostly the materials from the scrap store, paint & glue. It has been great as I can get new ideas for my class but also can visit the scrap store before the class starts & pick up some new materials for class. Last week I had spied these round foam circles & then in the class we also used some foam dabbers, that were on sale in the art shop. 
So I decided to let the class have a free reign with these foam shapes & different colours of paint on white card. Some were very precise just printing circles, whilst others used them more like a paint brush to sweep paint across the page. 
I was particularly pleased when one child, who hasn't painted yet or even really got messy, decided to join in & he even wore an apron - a major step for him. He loved squeezing all the paint from the sponges onto the page before getting his hands onto the page & moving the paint around like finger paint. The white card was shiny so the paint slipped around on the surface.
I loved watching one boy print with one colour & a big circle & then add a different colour with the smaller circle into the middle of the first print. Some spent ages at this activity while others did a few marks & then wanted to move on elsewhere. 
At the end of the hour or so, they had created some lovely art work to hang up in the story room. When I went back the next week there were smaller foam circles in the scrap store in the same material that I plan to gather up next week for some more printing fun.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Outdoor Play Party - Visit to Kylemore N.S.

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Last week all the nursery staff went to visit another nursery in Coleraine. We hope to make visits like this part of our CPD this year & having been lucky enough to visit settings around the world, I know the long reaching benefits such visits can have. 
Kylemore N.S was established in 1976, so it is among the first purpose built nursery schools in N. Ireland. I love visiting older, more established settings as they always have a wealth of resources built up over the past years and Kylemore is no exception. We were particularly interested in visiting the outdoor spaces but spent some time indoors too of course. The principal is a good friend of mine, Marian McCouaig & we had travelled over to Derby in July to visit nurseries & I had visited Kylemore last year with staff & governors from Alfreton N.S in Derby, so I knew there was a lot for us to see here.
Kylemore has an amazing outdoor space, it is divided up into 3 distinct areas & one is currently under repair. The main playground that the classes were playing in the afternoon we visited is probably bigger than our whole space & even within this mainly tarmaced space there are little natural parts to soften it all. A small grassy, sloped area runs along the back of the playground & there is a lovely willow den built on this slope & incorporating some steps. 



The large enclosed sand pit area with the steps up into the willow on the LHS.
They are lucky to have a big enclosed sand pit in one corner, this is one of the biggest I've seen in any nursery & offered enough space for lots of children to be in it at the same time, with pulleys & diggers etc. 
In the middle of the playground children had made an obstacle course with bread & shopping crates & all around there were lots of planters full of vegetables. 
When we visited there were around 52 children on site & yet it never seemed noisy or chaotic as they operate a free flow system so they were never all in the one space at the same time. However, they don't have a covered area at all, so if it is raining it would be impossible for them to be outside without all the children getting very wet.
Closed off from this main area was another space that used to have a large slide & climbing frame but this had come to the end of it's life & is not going to be replaced with traditional fixed equipment, I can't wait to revisit in a year or so & see what they have put in it's place. Around this area was a fenced in pond & lovely meandering path way under some trees. They are very lucky to have lots of mature trees all around the site.


The best part, in my opinion, was another area were they have bark chips & trees & an amazing willow den, that a whole class can sit inside for stories. Marian is lucky enough to have an amazing caretaker who took time over the summer to weave in all the new growth to make this willow den look very lush even in October.


In this more natural 'forest area' they have also built a permanent fire circle for their Haba fire grill & I loved the use of a red top for a lid!

This part of the playground felt so different to the main part & was so quiet, with all the tress that were around. I think I would spend most of my time over in this space, there were quirky little additions on the fence - lids that could be painted on etc.


The best element of the nursery's outdoor space that the children were using lots of 'free or found' items to enhance their play & it felt like a space children are allowed to just 'be' rather than a pristine adult planned space.


My featured post from last OPP was from Catherine over at Adventure Togs on why playing in nature is so important for children.

  • Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome!


  • We'd 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 FacebookTwitterPinterestPlease 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' button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!


    Tuesday, 30 September 2014

    Simple is best!

    Our fab mud kitchen built by Martin & Adam last year.
    The past month has been unseasonably dry & warm, the children have been fine in their poloshirts or jumpers & haven't needed coats at all. It has also allowed them to fully explore the playground, sometimes if it is very wet early on, we find the children are reluctant to wear the rain gear & stay under the verandah area. They have had such great fun in the mud kitchen & it's been so dry they haven't even needed rain gear on, just their wellies. This has made me realise that a canopy over the mud kitchen would make such a big difference, so this is on my list of things to do in the next 6 months or so. You can read about how we got such a brilliant mud kitchen over here.
    It is incredible how the children just naturally incorporate the many loose parts around the forest area in their play - the long pinecones have become sausages, the glittery gumballs are decorations for cakes. They have all really enjoyed using the 3 willow dens too, they have become their houses, some girls have even added more branches & planks to decorate them. 
    I loved that these 2 children decided to cook on a fire in their house!

    Who knew a couple of years ago when our grass wore away in a particularly wet Autumn that having to put down bark chippings would prove to one of the best decisions we ever made!
    A cake with lots of decorations on the top!

    Friday, 26 September 2014

    Outdoor Play Party - settling in to nursery.


    The children have now been in nursery for almost 4 weeks & most are well settled & enjoying exploring the outdoor areas at school. They were very excited to go on a visit to Bear Woods for the first time this week too. Even though we know the children loved this space last year, we still worried whether another class would find it just as exciting but we shouldn't have worried! They all got on their rain gear & had so much fun playing on the grassy slope & having a picnic for snack time. It was very interesting to watch how unsure many of the children were walking on a slope & around the various tree stumps & branches lying around on the grass, not to mention the long grass. Once again we were reminded of how invaluable this whole experience is for the children as they develop their vestibular system in readiness for a more sedentary experience next year.


    I can't believe how tall some of the alder trees are in just 18 months - some are bigger than me (5 foot 10) & yet were below my knee when planted. It was lovely to see some berries on the guelder rose & catkins on the alder, you can really see seasonal changes in this space. 

    They were great at gathering loads of grass to bring back down the guinea-pigs - we plan to bring them up with us next week so they can trim some of the long grass for us!

    The 2 groups go together next week for the first time & it'll be interesting to see how the play changes in a bigger group as they both have very different ways of playing at the moment. The 1st group love to make dens with planks & sticks in the forest area while the 2nd group love to play at being super heroes!

    The past few weeks have proved that most children are happiest outside & they don't need lots of expensive resources to have fun.

    This post from Wild Family Fun was my favourite from the last OPP, it sounded like my idea of perfect day too & I like to think we recreate a little bit of this in Bear Woods.




  • Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome!


  • We'd 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 FacebookTwitterPinterestPlease 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' button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!

    Saturday, 20 September 2014

    Preparing for a visit to Bear Woods.

    Peter from An Creagan made this sign for us.
    From experience it is best to plan well ahead before any visits to new & unfamiliar places with young children. This year I have a bigger class than usual, 28 as opposed to 26 and in that class there are several children with additional needs & others who speak little or no English. Therefore I can't just spring surprises on them & expect no tantrums or upsets. For the past 3 weeks they have had enough new experiences thrown at them almost every day & we have tried from around the 3rd day to have a very set routine for them to begin to understand the flow of their day. (At the moment their day is only for a 2 hour session) The basic routine is outdoor play, indoor play, tidy up time, story & then home. Some are still struggling to grasp this routine & the 2 hours is too much for others & their session has been shortened by 30-15 minutes. I would much rather a child went home 30 minutes earlier but happy than stayed the 2 hours but was crying or unsettled towards the end. 
    This week I began to talk about Bear Woods, this is our little wild area within the school grounds that is planted with alder, guilder rose, rowan & birch trees. Last year we used this area on a weekly basis & we were amazed at how much the children enjoyed & looked forward to their time in this tiny fenced off area. It really proved to us, the adults, that children don't need vast forest areas or loads of resources to enjoy being outside in a natural environment. We can see the area from the playground, I talked about how we would walk up the hill to get there & that they could run ahead but must stop at the red circle on the fence. Some enjoyed looking at the red circle from the top of the slide. I talked about they must never open the gate - that's a job for grown ups!
    Running up the hill towards the red circle on the gate.
    I also brought a set of rain gear (our waterproof coats & dungarees) into the story room so they could see what they will wear, with several children with sensory issues I was very concerned that this may be a big issue for them, many children with sensory issues hate the sound & feel of the rain gear. The next day most couldn't wait to get trying on the rain gear for themselves & many have put it on every day since. 
    However, I forgot that 3 & 4 year olds don't really understand the concept of next week & after the first day of talking about going to Bear Woods, several arrived in the following morning all excited & ready to go there & then! So that day I drew the number of 'sleeps' until we go on the whiteboard in the story room & each day we rub another sleep off until they will begin to see the actual day getting closer!


    A small sloping piece of grass dotted with saplings - but guess what to 3 & 4 year olds it quickly became 'Bear Woods'!

    We plan to go up to Bear Woods every Wednesday & it will be perfect to have 2 weeks to explore the space in the smaller groups of 15 & 13 before the whole class begins to go there. 

    I hope that this year the class enjoy this small space as much as the children did last year, it never ceased to amaze us each week how excited & happy they were to go there. It also proved to us that children don't need loads of fancy resources to have fun! It also was a great reminder to us, the adults, how trees help to make the seasons even more noticeable.
     
    A Guelder Rose in flower in spring.
    The alder trees had lots of caterpillars last September.
     


     

     

    Sunday, 14 September 2014

    What did you do at school today?


    For many parents a child starting nursery or preschool is the first time their child has been out of their care & been under the influence of another adult. It can be very hard for some parents to 'lose' their child for a part of the day, especially if they have been at home with their child for the past 3-4 years - it must be quite lonely. So it stands to reason that most will ask their child at pick up time - 'What did you do today?'. They want to know what their child has been doing in nursery without them. Most young children will reply "nothing" or "played" and this has to be frustrating for the parent who really wants a blow by blow account of what has happened from they left the child until they pick them up again. 
    So,  I thought it would be helpful for parents to see all the skills the children have already learnt in the past two weeks. This is what your child has been doing in school for the past 10 days, they have learned some if not all of the following: 

    To say goodbye to their parent/carer & trust they will come back at home time.
    To walk through an inticing classroom, full of toys & head out into the playground.
    To wash their hands & get a 'ticket' for snack.
    To use the pointed end of a straw to pierce the hole in the milk carton.
    To put the empty cup or carton into a blue tray.
    To wear an apron when playing at the water or painting.
    To label their own art work.
    To take turns using the sand timers.
    To try & take off their own shoes & put on their welly boots & vice versa.
    To try & take off their own jumpers & put them back on again.
    To tidy up the classroom.
    To be part of a group of 15 or 13. 
    To listen to a short story.
    To begin to understand that when they need an adult they will have to wait.
    To follow a group instruction - when the teacher says 'Time to go into the storyroom' - they know to all head off into the room together. **this is one that takes the most time for all children to grasp.
    To sit on a seat in the storyroom without bouncing! 
    To wait for their name to be called before going out fo the storyroom at home time.
    To move their picture to the right to self register & to the left to show they are going home.
    To only take 1 sweet out of a box of lots of sweets on a Friday.
    To play with sticks & how not to point them at eyes!
    The tickets needed for snack.
    The ticket has to go in the box on the snack table.
     It is actually quite incredible when you see the list to see all they have accomplished in just 10 days & I'm sure I'll think of other skills when I've published this post!