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 to 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.


  1. did you make the routine cards yourself? I like the pictures on them and would love to do this in my home daycare.
    Thank you Cyndi

    1. Hi Cyndi, these images are from a programme called 'Boardmaker', they are known as PECS & originally intended to be used with children on the Austistic Spectrum. I found it fascinating to see them in other countries & it made me realise a child on the Spectrum could go anywhere in the world & be ok with these cards.