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!


Friday, 12 September 2014

Outdoor Play party - Alfreton N.S - Forest school sites.



Fab little mud kitchen in Granny Greenwood's Garden.
During our 3 day visit to Derby we were lucky enough to spend a whole day at the incredibly inspiring Alfreton Nursery School. I have already written posts on their indoor & outdoor space but their forest school sites - yes that is plural - need a separate post altogether.
Alfreton Nursery first established a separate site to offer a forest school experience within their school grounds, they fenced off an area & called it 'Granny Greenwood's Garden' - they have a puppet called Granny Greenwood who lives in there. The site is only 8 years old but it feels so much older & is well established with a willow tunnel & cave, over 50 silver birch trees, some fruit trees, meandering paths, a seating area & bug wall.
This space felt so established & there was so much evidence of it being well used by the children, with a lovely rough mud kitchen in sight & lots of little piles of leaves & bark chipping dotted around.
The nursery use this space in their first few terms at school with focussed forest school sessions. It really feels like it is much further away from the main playground than it actually is. 
The bug wall.

Little dens tucked away.
Hard to believe this site is only 8 years old.
Ugly fencing is screened off.
Then when they are more confident they progress onto the much bigger woodland site the nursery has established in the past 18 months. This site was gained from some green space owned by the local secondary school & is a little further away from the main playground but all still within walking distance. Again, it was hard to believe this was only 18 months old as again the trees looked so established. I think the large patches of wild grasses & floweres helped it look so inviting too. Within this site, they have a brilliant plastic bottle green house with loads of little plants all thriving away inside. 
Built on a Saturday morning by staff, governors & parents.
There are bug houses, willow dens & a fire circle. Recently the parents, staff & governors came together to build a polytunnel with a view to creating a big greenhouse but then discovered that it was too hard to get water to this facility. So now the plan is to make into a big den for the children to enjoy with camouflage netting etc. 
A much bigger space.

Seeing both these sites was a brilliant experience for us all - our little wooded area is so much smaller but I was able to get lots of ideas to take back to help make Bear Woods an even more inviting space - like creating bark chipping paths through the trees & grass. For one of my colleagues it was inspiring for her to see what can be done with a blank green space in a small matter of time.

If I took one thing away from my time in Derby visiting the various schools, it was to try & create as much of a wild area within school grounds as you can & that it is possible to achieve it in a short space of time. I was so glad that we had already taken a step in the right direction with planting our woodland areas in 2013.

If you would like to read more about Alfreton Nursery School, please check out this case study.

Once again thanks to Peter, Nicola & Angela for all their patience with our many questions!
Many thanks to all those linked up & supported the last Outdoor Play Party, it's always brilliant to see so many post about enjoying the outdoors. My favourite from last time was from Mum in Search on how she & her children had taken part in a tree planting activity & on revisiting 2 years later, the children were excited to discover they had created a little piece of bush! This post reminded of how amazing it has been to have our own woodland area developing over the past 18 months. I can't wait to see it as it matures like the sites at Alfreton.

  • 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!
     


    Friday, 5 September 2014

    Exploring the outdoors.


    Den building.
    A whole new class started this week at Windmill in the nursery class, there will be 28 in the class but so far 25 have started with the final 3 joining next week. 
    The weather has been typical for going back to school - sunny & warm! This has been perfect for allowing a whole new set of children to explore the playground. From Wednesday we started our day outdoors & after a few tantrums about wanting to be inside first by Friday all the children had no problem just going outside straight away.

    The children have loved exploring the mud kitchen that we were fortunate to have built by Martin from Highway Farm Activity Centre & Adam, one of our dads last year. You can more about that here. It has been lovely to watch them using the bark chippings, leaves & pine cones to 'make' ice-cream, chocolate cake & pasta. 
    A feast being prepared in the mud kitchen.
    I got some help to trim the willow dens & some of the branches were left behind to create a forest feel to the bark chip area & then on one of the days 2 girls spent the morning putting the cut branches back into the dens & they added sticks & planks, they said they were like the little pigs!

    The class also embraced the Bottle Babies into their play with little or no prompting - they became babies in the prams, ice-cream, drinks & sauces for their cooking in the mud kitchen.
    A shop full of ice-cream waiting to be bought.
    The best thing so far has been that all the parents have really bought into our outdoor play approach & really seem to appreciate how the playground works & how it enables the children to begin to embrace risky play& the value of loose parts for imaginative play. So here's to a whole new year of outdoor play the Windmill way!

    Friday, 29 August 2014

    Outdoor Play Party - Guest Post 5.

    For the final summer Outdoor Play Party guest post, I am returning to the inspirational Lesley Romanoff, Director of Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School.
    "Sit Stones" and concentration cards along with a book I used for inspiration, "A Handful of Quiet" by Thich Nhat Hanh
    Networking helps with Planning
    Over the summer I began planning for our new school year and how to introduce different components that will expand our outdoor education.

    Lots of different ideas were swirling about, many inspired by a session led by Amy Beam at the Irvine Nature Preschool Conference. I used our international staff meetings with Kierna (Learning for Life) and Martin Besford (Highway Farm Activity Center) to work out details.

    First things first – we introduced cooking campfires last year and then worked out the hiccups during our Summer Tinkering sessions. Both Martin and Kierna have a collection of great things to cook over the campfire, so there were plenty of ideas to share about good things to eat!

    After the summer sessions were over, Kierna and I talked about how each time we were scheduled to hold a campfire a few key things would happen; to begin, we both agreed that the fire consistently signaled the same thing to the children -- as soon as the fire is lit, the children gather ‘round and instantly settle. It is a very easy, quiet time and storytelling is a perfect fit. The other thing that would happen is that I would find out that I had forgotten something inside the school, like a hot pad, the tongs, or I would have to make several trips back into the school, for matches or platters. We both agreed that having a bin that held all the gear needed for a campfire session in one place. After talking it through, we put together a list of must-haves from materials to light the fire, safety (I have a fire extinguisher, protective hot pads, and a fire blanket), to utensils and prep items needed for cooking.
    Inspired by both Martin and Kierna, we will be offering regular sessions for nature studies that will include components of dramatic play, art, adventure, and simply enjoying the outdoors. We will begin these sessions slowly (another thing I learned from these two) working at first in our own play yard and then moving out, as the weather cools, to our local park grounds.
    I have worked out plans for the children to create their own knapsacks that will also serve as seating. These knapsacks will hold a clipboard, a pen, and a small muslin bag that I have personalized for each child. Inside the bag is a small stone for each child to use as something I am calling a “sit stone.” We will use these stones as a way to begin each session outdoors. I also made small cards to fit inside the muslin bags along with the stones which will help the children visualize different components of nature as they sit with their stones. Later they can use these cards to find something that matches during their play (I made both color cards and object cards). We will use the clipboards, pens, and paper to document their discoveries and play.

    This Summer work brought about a lot of idea sharing and inspiration. Now school begins and the real work will bring about new ideas and inspiration. I am glad that I have Martin and Kierna to share both the successes and the failures and get their feedback as we go along!

    Once again thanks to all those who supported the last Outdoor Play Party by linking up or leaving a comment. My featured post from the last one is from Wild Family Fun - 3 generations went hiking up Pen-y-Fan & the photos prove how much the youngest family member really enjoyed this challenging experience.


    • 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!






    Monday, 25 August 2014

    What? No break!

    There is a core team of 3 of us in the nursery class, myself the teacher & 2 nursery assistants who job share. However almost every year we end up with extra staff members ranging from assistants for specific children or students training to be assistants or teachers. Throughout the year I also may need to call upon support staff from the primary to cover for sickness. 
    I know nursery is not for everyone but aside from the differences between how a primary class is run as compared to nursery the biggest difference, dare I say shock, for most is that there is no break or lunchtime for staff. 
    Anyone who has ever spent any time in a school learns pretty quickly how important the morning breaktime & lunchtime become to all staff. I would say breaktime more so even than lunch as many staff will use their lunchtime to run errands but if that 10-15 minute morning break is interfered with there will usually be a mass revolt!

    I always love to witness the reactions when new staff members ask about breaks, their faces when told there are none range from horror to despair! If I am out for the day & a substitute teacher, new to nursery, is covering, I can always guarantee a footnote on their feedback of the day commenting on how they don't know how I cope with no tea/coffee break!

    Those who know me, will testify that I love coffee & yet I can cope very well without my copious cups of it when back at school. We have purchased lots of travel mugs in case anyone really, really has to have a cuppa through the day. However, I generally prefer to savour my coffee & would rather wait until after 2 o'clock to really enjoy my coffee than try to drink it during the session.  Also, let's be honest here, the nursery day is so busy that drinking coffee during the session would only lead to having to make time to go to the toilet!!!

    On the flip side after 14 years of operating this way I know can't imagine having to work to set times interrupted with 2 breaks, I love that the nursery day can be more fluid & flexible. The only clock watching revolves around when the dinners will be arriving from the primary or the parents will be coming to collect children! 

    I guess everyone gets used to their way of working & I wouldn't want to change mine but I wish primary colleagues would bear in mind that I have been working non-stop since 8.50 until around 2.00 & that if they come down & I'm eating my lunch I'm not slacking! Nor can I make meetings at 2 unless they are prepared for me to be munching away on my lunch through the meeting! 

    Sunday, 24 August 2014

    Settling in to nursery - Part 2 - It's all about routine.

    This post is to follow on from an earlier one I wrote about how the children are settled in to my class - you can read it over here. The whole month of September is about settling in & in fact I would go so far as to say the first term is also mainly concerned with settling in. By the 2nd week of October we generally have the whole class established as one big group & all the children who are ready are staying for the whole day, in my case that is from 8.50 - 1.45.

    I make no apologies for taking the whole of September slowly & having the children in 2 smaller separate groups of 13/14 for only 2 hours per day. Whilst it is true that more & more children are coming into nursery with prior experience of another preschool setting, many in my school are still coming from home & nursery is their first experience of being away from their main carer. The key for us as a staff is that we are ultimately strangers to the children, no matter whether they have been in & out of the school collecting older siblings, they have never spent any significant time in our company & solely in our care. We also don't know them & how they 'tick' - it takes a few weeks to begin to understand how each child operates, who can work away on their own, who needs lots of reassurance to complete tasks & who needs to just come & lean on an adult for a few minutes during the busy session.

    From about the 3rd day we try & establish the basic routine that will be the mainstay of the class all year - outdoor play, indoor play, storytime & then home. We add certain routines to this as the days & weeks unfold - snack time, tidying-up, self-registration etc. This is our 4th year of having this way of settling in & looking back we feel that we have it just right now, yes the first 2 weeks are the hardest as we have to explain what we are doing & why we are doing it, but in general by week 3 the children have found their rhythm & it all seems to fall into place. It is very easy for us, the adults, to forget how many new experiences the children have to come grips with in those first 2 weeks. We know how it all works but can forget that they don't & we need to start all over again every year & teach so many new 'skills'. 

    It starts with even the basics of learning that they have to wait in the hallway for the main classroom door to open, for the first week I actually have to lock that door & explain to the children & parents that they have to wait until 8.50 for the door to be opened as we are setting the room up for the day in that time. But after the 1st week I rarely have ot ever lock that door again, as the children & parents just know to sit in the hallway, chatting to each other & looking through the photo books until the main door is opened. For the 1st 2 days we start off indoors & then go outdoors but by day 3 we establish going outdoors first. This again takes a few days of explaining to some children that we are playing outside first, then going inside before they all just accept this routine. By week 3 it is just the norm that all the children & parents walk through the classroom to the playground each morning without stopping to play indoors. As each day unfolds, the children become more confident in the fact that they will get time to play inside & outside & they begin to relax & stop that almost manic, rushed play we see in the early days. 
    The routine stays much the same for the first month.
    It is quite common to see the children over at the visual timetable in the first month, quietly going over the routine, almost reasuring themselves as they move through the morning.
    They have so many new things to learn: taking turns for snack, in my class they have to also get a 'ticket' & put it into a box on the snack table to show us they have had snack. This is a crucial part of learning their symbol & we have the symbols on display just outside the bathroom so it is an easy step to establish the whole routine of washing their hands before snack, then geting their ticket & taking it to the box. We usually start with snack inside, so an adult can be on hand to gently remind them of this routine for a week or so before we move it outdoors. When it's outdoors they need to be a lot more independent & able to remember all the elements of routine with little or no adult prompting.
    The tickets & the ticket box.
    Outdoor snack when the routine is secure.
    We use aprons during water play & painting, so they have to learn to put these on & off again & also to know that when there are no aprons there is no room at that activity. In the first week or so, we don't force the apron issue as I'd rather a child tried playing at all the activities than avoided it because they don't want to wear an apron.
    Taking turns is a big part of being in a larger group & we have found having sand timers really helps with this crucial skill. We have 1, 3, 5 & 10 minute timers. Initially the staff have to model how to use them to help with disputes but we generally find by the end of September the children lift the timers themselves & bring them over to let their peers know that they are wating for a turn with a toy or resource.
    For the last 10-15 minutes they go into the storyroom to listen to some short stories & talk about the names of the staff & their peers. For some children this is sometimes the first time that they allow a parent to be out of sight. I also stress that parents etc. can't come into the storyroom at this time, just me, the teacher & the children. This is an important break for many as they allow their parent to remain outside in the classrooom while they go into the storyroom. 
    After 4 weeks we put the 2 groups together & honestly so far it has always happened without a hitch, we have talked about the other children so many times & looked at photos of them that when they do meet they almost feel as if they already know each other. After a couple of days staying for 3 hours together we can move to the longer full day system with lunch & the children accept this change easily after having had 4 weeks in a smaller group. By the middle of October the stress of settling in time has been long forgotten & it can be hard to even remember that the class was ever 2 distinct groups. I feel we have finally found a settlin in system that really suits everyone & more importanly it allows time for us all to become comfortable with each other & it mean less issues when the children move onto the next phase on their educational journey.