Saturday, 28 April 2018

Integration and Support in Preschool - Churchill Fellow 2018.

Becoming a 2018 Churchill Fellow.

I first heard about the Churchill Travel Fellowship Award a few years ago from a 2008 Fellow - Juliet Robertson  you can read about it here on her blog:
I looked into this as a funding option in 2015 after speaking to Juliet about her topic but was unsuccessful in my application. Then another colleague & fellow eTwinner, mentioned that he had become a 2016 Fellow and I decided to apply again. 
am a nursery teacher in a primary school and usually have 26 three & four year olds in my class each year. I teach in Dungannon, a small rural town in Co. Tyrone that had a huge migrant worker influx in the past 5-6 years and this has had a big impact in our school with more and more pupils coming into the school with English as an additional language.
I was appointed Newcomer Coordinator in my school in September 2016 and part of my remit to see how best to support the children and their families and how to help them integrate into our school community. 
Our school began a 2 year Erasmus Plus KA3 Project in 2016 with the theme of 'InEdu inclusive education model for children with migrant backgrounds in preschools' with partners from Poland, Estonia, Romania, Sweden, Macedonia & Czech Republic. 
In March 2017 I was fortunate to be allocated a place on a British Council International Study Visit to Berlin to look at that city had coped with the refugee crisis in 2015. You can read about that visit over here:
I was so impressed by what I saw but as preschool teacher I was curious about how the younger children were coping with being in a new city, country and preschool and how their families were being supported as they settled into a new city. So I found myself thinking about how this could be a theme for a Churchill Fellowship Award and I duly filled in an application and sent it off. I heard in October I had been selected for an interview in London In January 2018. Honestly I was delighted to just get an interview and didn't really think I had a chance of being offered an actual award. But after a robust interview in January I got a letter last month to say I had been awarded a Fellowship and can look forward to travelling to Germany and Sweden in July, during my summer holidays to research how cities within these 2 countries are supporting and integrating migrant preschoolers and their families. 
This week I was fortunate enough to travel back to London to meet up with other Fellows and hear from those who are also Fellows in the Migration category and from previous Fellows - the stories of my new 'colleagues' were very inspiring and I can't wait to follow along on their travels around the world too. 

Applications are now open for 2019 and I would thoroughly recommend applying to anyone who is interested in travelling to learn more about a topic of interest. You can find all the details here:

I have started another blog that will be somewhere for me to record my travels and reflect on what I see, hear and learn whilst talking to those who are working hard to help insure the youngest migrants are being supported and integrated as they begin their new lives far from home. You can follow it here:

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Education Matters - Erasmus Plus Visit to Sweden. Part 1.

Thanks to funding from the British Council's Erasmus Plus KA1 funding, myself and a colleague from Primary 1 were able to travel to Norrköping in Sweden to take part in a job shadowing project in preschools who had previously sent staff to do a similar scheme in our school in 2016.

After a later start than planned, thanks to Storm Emma, we arrived in Stockholm on Monday 5th March and headed to Norrköping by train. Even though we had had some snow on and off since December, we were still enamoured by the lovely deep snow that met us upon arrival. 

We visited 5 preschools in total, 2 inner city ones, 1 very rural and 2 in the suburbs. Both of us loved the classroom set ups - small rooms off a bigger room to allow for lots of small group activity; both child and teacher led. Every preschool had a designated atelier space to allow for in depth creativity on the part of the children. The influence of Reggio was very evident in every school with white walls and lots of recycled materials used for art work. The atelier spaces were well organised and we both remarked that it would be easy to be creative when all materials were easily found.

The children were in mixed aged group classes, with the 1-3 years in one class and the 4-6 year olds in another. It was incredible to see little ones taking part in circle time and joining in with songs and action rhymes by copying their older peers as much as by following the teacher. I was very impressed by the very subtle 'teaching' that was always present during any adult/child interactions and this is very much because the teachers are degree educated with a very clear understanding of child development. There was lots of singing of old, familiar songs and nursery rhymes and lots of movement during this time. Instead of children being expected to sit for long periods on a carpet, they were actively encouraged to get up and move about. One example I enjoyed was 4-6 year olds choosing a number card from a pile (the number & corresponding dots on a hand drawn card), the child had to identify the number and show corresponding number of fingers, then on the back was an instruction e.g. find 4 blue objects, stand on one foot for 10 seconds etc. 
Another small group activity that was very effective was a numeracy 'lesson'. Each child was asked to find 4 objects, 3 had to be the same and 1 different, then they had to explain to the group what was the same and what was different. I was very impressed by the level of thinking from the children, I think that we focus on number too much when looking at maths or colour and size. These children were able to come up with explanations like "These 3 are man made and that 1 is natural" or "These 3 are real animals. that 1 is mythical"! It was obvious they were used to this type of activity and weren't just focussed on a 'right answer', they were engaged in real mathematical thinking. The skilfulness of the adult was also very evident, as the teacher was able to allow the children time to think and not prompt them when they were stalling or unwilling to take part. She also really knew the children and was able to allow a child more time if they needed it or come back to them when she knew they were more ready to take part. The most striking part was the enthusiasm of the children taking part, they were bouncing on their heels and diving forward to take their turn or finding it hard to wait for their turn. 
In the classrooms, there were small boxes of resources dotted around the room for the children to take out as needed, rather than tables set up with resources and clear activities. I guess that as children can spend up to 3 years in a room it makes sense to not have tables set up with specific activities to ensure there is no repetition or boredom.

The most surprising thing was the fact that children were allowed to be in rooms on their own, sometimes with a door closed, building with blocks or drawing large scale on the wall by tracing an image from a data projector. 
On average there were between 18-20 children per class with 3 adults, one teacher and two assistants and this certainly allowed for more small group activity and a calm atmosphere. I was impressed by the pace of the day, it was slow and very much child led and there was no rushing between activities as is often the case back home. Every activity was a learning opportunity - snack time, lunch time, getting dressed to go outside - even toileting. If I take one thing back, it's to slow down and allow the 3 & 4 year olds in my class to have more time to take in all that they are experiencing in a day. Because our children only get 1 year in each class at school, the tendency can be to try to cram too much into that year but I intend to try and slow the pace. 

A big thanks to all the staff at Sörgården, Äppellunden and Parks förskola and to the British Council for this opportunity. 

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Polydron, Dice & Poker Chips - Take 2!

I wrote a post back in June about how adding some dice to our Polydron had made it become a much more versatile resource than it already was - I love Polydron and the plan for this year is to invest in more of it. 
Today one child decided to build on the floor with it rather than up on the Tuff Spot, he began by laying all the squares down, others then joined him snaking out into the hallway. They all worked really well together and there was lot son chat about what they building, what they could add etc. When the squares were exhausted they began to add the triangles to the outside, then the Pentagons and these allowed the 'snake' to go around the corner and then they decided to add the dice and finally the poker chips. 
This activity kept this group of children busy and engaged for up to 2 hours and made me realise that it is important to allow the children the opportunity to build on a flat surface too. As we need the tables on dinner days, perhaps on a lunch day we could have it outside and remove some of the tables to all the children to build on this scale again in the classroom.

Here is the last post I did on the Polydron & dice:

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

'Snow' such thing as bad weather!

Bear Woods in the Snow.
Every week we have an outdoor day when the class spent the majority of the day outdoors no matter what the weather and this week it was a cold, icy and a little snowy - not very deep or fluffy snow but snow none the less.
The children enjoyed exploring the playground and making mini snowmen, balancing on the crates and tree stumps even though they were slippy and pulling each other on the plastic sleds.

Instead of a big fire we did some tin can cooking, which I first heard about from Martin over at Highway Farm Activity Centre, the children enjoyed dipping apple and mini marshmallows into the melted chocolate - next time we'll use cocktail sticks instead of skewers.

Before heading inside for a story and a lovely hot dinner, some of the children who were still in their rain gear, headed up the hill above the nursery to visit Bear Woods and make some snow angels on the grass. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Enjoying a new outdoor space.

The hill/mountain!
For the past 9 years we have been very fortunate to be able to make use of the amazing outdoor space at a local special school nearby. We have been in partnerships with their nursery class a few times as well but this year we are just enjoying visiting the sensory garden and playing with their nursery children. 

Today all the children got hopped up in their 'rain gear' with hats & gloves and we headed off on a huge yellow bus to have fun in the forest. Lots of mummies came along too to help out. 

The children had their snack first before going for a walk around the garden to see all the places they could play, then they were able to just explore the site for an hour and some of their new friends from the nursery class in the school joined them. 
There are lots of oak trees in the space so loads of leaves to enjoy - the children loved climbing up the hill/mountain and some enjoyed rolling or running down it even more. Sometimes they even managed to fly through the air & skid to a stop in the leaves!
Some children spent a long time searching for trees to climb and were very pleased to find one or two.

When we were leaving all the children asked when they can return to the forest again of more fun.
Back at school, the wobbly bridge & hill were declared the best parts of the visit.
The wobbly bridge.
Thanks to all those parents who came along to help out. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Different types of outdoor play.

"I have pink hoop & a pink Bottle Baby"
We had a very short week at school this week as the children came back on a Thursday after almost a full week off for Hallowe'en. As a preschool teacher I'm not a fan of being off that long so early in the school year as it usually means we have a few children unsettled for a week or so after being off again, so soon after having just settled into school. However, it's something we just have to deal with each year and we always hope that the majority of the children are glad to come back and see their new friends and enjoy exploring new resources and activities in the playground and classroom. 
The weather helped us this week as it was dry and cold - my favourite type of weather, if I am being totally honest. I love it when the playground is dry and the children can sit about on the ground without getting dirty and wet and it so lovely to be able to enjoy all resources without them being covered in dirt - let's be honest in our damp Irish climate most of the time everything is coated in a layer of damp dirt!
It is always interesting to watch as the children become more confident in the outdoor space and begin to explore more of the resources - it can take weeks for each new class to begin to interact with some of the permanent fixtures and some years they can be ignored altogether unless an adult deliberately creates an invitation to play. 
The box pallet is perfect for perfecting climbing before moving onto the pallet den.
This week it was as if it was the first time some of the children noticed that the pallet house was perfect for climbing on - up until now they have filled it with bread crates and used it as giant communal 'trampoline'. We have a box type pallet in the 'forest area' within the playground that they climb in and out of all the time but up until this week no one had attempted to climb on the one at the back of the playground. 
The feeling of satisfaction that each child felt upon their ascent to the top to sit with their friends looking over the playground was a sight to behold. 

Our playground allows for all types of play, those who want to run about or climb and take part in more robust play can do so but equally there are quiet spaces of those who want to time to sit and read or just 'be'. 
A reading area has been created under the slide with some crates and 'wrap arounds' from Mindstretchers. 
I moved the large Lego bricks out into the playground this week and the children took full advantage of the large area to spread out and make bigger structures. 
Just by moving the Lego & turning the crates over a whole new play scenario was created. 
I find that if resources stay in the same place the children begin to ignore them after a while - it is almost as if they become part of the landscape and are not really seen anymore. So every so often, we'll move the bricks or crates or logs and see what the children will make of them in their new space. And I suppose that's why so many people are now wary of too much fixed equipment in playgrounds.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Risk or opportunity?

Stumps - provide so many different learning opportunities, they are not just for climbing or sitting on!

This past month we have had 3 teachers working in the nursery & Primary 1 from Madrid, they were over as part of an Erasmus Plus Job Shadowing opportunity & spent the 4 weeks observing practice in both classes and gathering information on how to create a more inclusive ethos in their school. 
Marta, Rosa and Maria from Madrid. 
The Principal was one of the 3 visitors and on her first day in nursery was a bit worried about being back in the classroom after 9 years out in a management role but she very quickly was able to get back into a more hands on mode. She was a very warm person and the children were drawn to her to read them books etc. 
I had sent them an email to warn them that they'd be spending the first hour outside when in the nursery and at first they thought I was joking but when they realised I was serious they all came well prepared to be outdoors no matter what the weather. 
On the first day in the nursery there were lots of questions being asked mostly about the weather - I don't think anyone had prepared the poor Spanish for our grey skies and lack of sunshine! They couldn't get over the fact that the children were all happy to be outdoors even on a cold & damp morning, they wanted to know why the parents weren't complaining about their children being outside, they asked would we go outside in heavy rain or snow? I remember asking similar questions when I visited a kindergarten in Norway. They were also quite taken aback at some of our resources - weren't the tree stumps too dangerous? What if the children fell while climbing on them? Didn't they get slippy in the damp weather? 

At first I could see that the Principal was a little stressed as she watched children climbing on the planks, logs and stumps and she rushed to help children who fell or slipped but gradually as she spent more time watching them and us & how we reacted to falls etc. she began to relax. 
After a couple of days, we had a conversation about what she had observed so far and it was wonderful to see how much she had taken on board in such a short time. It reminded me that sometimes we do need to see things first hand for us to really 'get it'. She explained how she had realised that while the children might stumble or fall on the slippy logs, they all got up and went back to keep on trying, she had watched them practising again and again until they knew which ones were wobblier or slippier than the others and how some would jump down and skip over those ones whilst others would just take it more slowly. Most of all it was our reactions that she had picked up on - we didn't rush over making a big fuss is a child fell, instead all adults stayed very calm and as a result, unless badly hurt, most children were happy to get some sympathy and just keep on climbing. Even if a child who was crying and upset they liked that we had a designated seat for the injured child to rest on while 'Mr Bump' was applied & then they would just get up and continue to play. 

A few days ago, this article about risk in outdoor settings was shared on social media and it made me think about how we, as adults, can worry too much about the whole 'what might happen if..' scenarios when we think about young children taking risks. We have lots of life experience and obviously a lot more than the children in our care but we also have to stop ourselves from always thinking of the worst case scenario. In my experience a child who falls off a log when climbing will rarely be off climbing ever again, yes they might get a scrape or bruise but they also know that it won't happen every time they climb. As someone once pointed out, if a baby gave up trying to walk every time they fell, none of us would ever have learned how to walk. 

After 4 weeks in the nursery, the visiting teachers could see that the children were very happy outdoors, they were busy and purposeful in their play. The principal could see that there were less arguments outdoors and most of all she kept saying 'Your children are all so happy, there is no crying' and she could see that they were ready for more settled play when we moved indoors too. Sometimes it is good to have another person question your practice and make you explain why you do things a certain way or have particular resources, it is always good to reflect on your practice. 
Here is a another good article on the importance of daily outdoor play opportunities: