Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Can we 'fix' this - yes we can!

Early Years people are great at finding solutions, we generally don't wait around for others to tell us what to do, we go off and find ways to make things happen for ourselves. This became very apparent to me recently during the months before we returned to school after lockdown. I attended lots of on line seminars and workshops and realised that I enjoyed the ones attended by fellow early years people the best. I always came away with lots of ideas and felt very positive after listening to the solutions people around the globe were coming up with to help get back into school and to help the children settle in as easily as possible. 

I stored away many of the ideas as I listened or read about them - like the idea of having a bubble machine to help distract children as they had to leave their parents after a longer than usual time at home. 

When we were told that in the new norm of school reopening parents couldn't be in the building, we had already decided to have settling in time outside so parents could stay initially long before this advice was given by our Education restart committee. 

This pandemic has thrown us all into disarray and caused lots of things that we normally do to be taken away or changed. At another webinar run by Playboard NI the speaker talked about how we, the adults would struggle with how the new school day looked but that the children would accept whatever we presented as normal. This is especially true for me as a nursery teacher, the children have never been to my class before (bar one) so whatever I present as a normal day, is what they accept. 

When we went getting ready to start back, it became clear that our hallway wasn't going to be used like it always had - the children used it to hang up their coats, store spare clothing and each child had a drawer for paintings, drawings, notes home etc. in a unit. Parents would come right into the hallway and spend time chatting to each other. We also used it as space for small group activities like Play to Learn More sessions. But now it was going to be a huge cloakroom that was a totally underside space. The 2 of us who work together looked at it with fresh eyes and wondered if we could use it as space for eating snack? Previously our snack was outside and the children could come and go freely but now we were going to have to sit with them to hand out food, so we decided to put a table out into the hallway and use it for snack. At settling in time the children were in smaller groups of 15 & 12 and just stayed for 2 hours, so we took them inside for snack in groups of 5 or 6. It was a lovely time to chat to the children and help them learn the names etc. Once we had used the space for snack we began to think if we could use it for dinner too, obviously we couldn't get all 27 eating at the same time but we thought we might get 13-14 at a time if we could get suitable seating. I began to look at new tables and benches that would allow us to have a dedicated dining space and luckily thought a combination of funding we were able to buy 2 large tables and a smaller one from the outdoor range at Hope Education. 

In previous years we had made coloured glass lanterns with the children to put candles into and had some left over that I used in the story room to create a more relaxed atmosphere. We brought them out into the hallway and got fairy lights and LED tea lights instead of candles to soften the light so we don't need the overhead fluorescent lights on. 

This immediately seemed to make the atmosphere much calmer and the children were definitely quieter than when the 'big lights' were on. We also have a TV screen that we use to show photos taken that month and the children enjoy looking at these too whilst eating. 

Today we had our first dinners in the new space and it was just wonderful, with only half of the class at a time, it was very quiet and the adult has time to talk to the children. They sat chatting to each other across the tables more easily than before and with benches they were less inclined to be pushing chairs in and out. 

I have been fortunate to visit settings around the globe and was always very envious of their dining spaces, where the adults and children sat together chatting in a very relaxed manner. This was exactly what I wanted to recreate and today as I sat watching the children eating their dinner was the first time I felt we had managed to recreate a little of the lovely relaxed atmosphere I have seen in many Scandinavian settings. 

So, although the world seems like a crazy and quite scary place right now, we have managed to find something good to come out of all this and hopefully the children will enjoy this lovely calm space for many years to come. 

Friday, 2 October 2020

A first visit to Bear Woods for the Class of 2020

The 27 children have all settled into nursery over the past few weeks. This week has been their first in the big class after spending almost 4 weeks in smaller groups of 15 and 12 for just 2 hours a day. This week and next they will be staying for 3 hours before starting full time from the 12th October (all going well!)

We are normally outside every morning for at least an hour and have 2 outdoor days when we stay out all day, just coming in for story and dinner. This year, due to Covid-19 we are staying outside 3 days and only coming in for snack and for an hour 2 days. 

Today all the children got on their rain gear and went for a visit to Bear Woods. We have now been using this wooded space within school grounds since 2014 and one of our current P7 children gave it the name Bear Woods. It is now truly a proper woods and the children have the opportunity to hide among the trees and climb on a big log we have up there and climb up the slope using a rope and roll down the hill. They enjoy looking at their older brothers and sisters over the fence in the main school playground. We have a shed up there where we can keep chalk and tarps etc. so the children had a lot of fun drawing on the shed. There are also mirrored numbers hidden amongst the trees. 

There are yellow lines at the bottom and top of the hill and these show the children where to stop and wait for an adult. The children were brilliant at listening to all the new instructions and stopping before walking up the hill to find the gate into Bear Woods. We had snack up there and the the children were free to explore the area. 

After an hour we all walked back down to the yellow line and stopped before walking back into nursery. 

You can read some more about Bear Woods in this post.


Monday, 15 June 2020

On Line Learning & Learning from Home is not a one size fits all!

My class have been following the caterpillars journey on line but is is not the same as seeing it in person.

Since March 12th my life as nursery teacher has been turned upside down. That is the last day I taught my class, I was at a conference the next day and we had 2 days off the following week for St Patrick's Day but on that Thursday at home time, I never imagined that that would be the last time I would teach my class or that I was saying goodbye for that whole school year. 

Thankfully we had already been using the wonderful Seesaw app with the parents, so we moved seamlessly to home learning. I have been able to maintain contact with the children and their parents over the past months and it has been wonderful to receive photos and videos of the children and to be able to send them feedback and read stories to them. 

However, if anyone is under the illusion that we can easily teach half the class in school & half on line they have have another thing coming, the key to the success of on line learning is that a bond must have already been made between the pupils and the teacher & the parents, in the case of nursery children. 

There is no way I can possible have the same relationship with new children and parents that I have had with those who I have spent actually time with. I think those who teach the youngest children in our system will need time to build up relationships with the children in their classes first before any real on line learning presence can be made use of. 

I know which children have lots of siblings to help keep them busy and entertained, who is an only child, who lives with grandparents or moves between homes mid week. I know their interests and their favourite stories. 
Throughout lockdown I have given my class 3 books to chose from each week, they vote for the order they will be read in. I have throughly enjoyed reading these books but they are almost all books i have already read in person to my class at story time. So I know how they usually react to certain parts of the story or I can say 'Oh you remember what happened when we opened this bit?' But I am missing the instant reaction form the children and I know them, it will not be the same to read stories to children who do not know me or vice versa. For those of us working with young children we will need time to get to know the children in person first and to build up a relationship with them and their parents before we move to on line learning. 
By March I had a pretty good idea of who could do what skills wise and knew how to send appropriate activities home that would be fun whilst building on already developed skills. It is an entirely different concept to try to set home learning activities for parents to do with their children when you don't know the skills the children already have. 

Going forward I intend to use the Seesaw app even more fully with future classes so that we have access to the blog and home learning journals. This will address some of my concerns but there is nothing like face to face learning & relationship building. We have to get this aspect right with the pupils so that the on line learning can be successful. 

On a more positive note, will we ever have evening meetings again where parents have to struggle to get childcare? 

Friday, 12 June 2020

Now is the time to take the learning outdoors.

The little holes allow a child to say goodbye to parents. 
Since 2008 when I had the opportunity to spend a week working in the outdoor class at a Norwegian Barnehage (Kindergarten), you can read about that here: https://nosuchthingasbadweather.blogspot.com/2011/01/stumbling-into-embracing-outdoor-play.html
I have been an advocate for spending as much time as possible outdoors with my nursery class. 

All studies show that children learn more through a hands on approach and this is even more evident outdoors when they can feel the wind, taste the rain or snow and see the seasonal changes. I was that teacher who argued with a four year about wearing a coat but after a few years being outdoors every day, I now know that i don't need to fight with a small child about wearing a coat on a cold day, they will put one on when they begin to feel the cold. Some children are so active they can be warm enough in a body warmer whilst others will need to be layered up like an onion. 

Now, we have a virus in our midst that can live on surfaces for 72 hours, so why would we want to be indoors with the heat on, lots of table top surfaces etc. and possibly up to 15 small children breathing all over the place? Studies are coming though that show there is less chance of catching the virus outdoors


This is our opportunity to fully embrace learning outdoors, instead of money being spent on perspex for desks and stickers and arrows to show where to walk etc. money should be spent on outdoor clothing for all, covered areas to allow classes to be outdoors bu sheltered on wet days and on line training etc. for staff to help them become more confident about being outdoors. 

We started going outdoors first thing over 10 years ago and I now couldn't imagine starting the day indoors. There are more 'distractions' outdoors to catch the childrens' attention but more crucially it is a bigger space to absorb noises that can be overwhelming indoors. A classroom can be a really noisy place and especially at the start of the year it can be too much for a child who is coming from a quiet home environment. 
I am adamant that parents must be part of the settling in procedure and if we are outdoors this is doable under any new regulations. I will not be taking children from parents at a school gate or door. My goal, every year, is for the child to be as happy as possible for their parent to leave. We have little peep hols cut into the fence and gate to allow children to say goodbye to parents on the other side. Of course, there is aways a point when a child is staled but not good at separation and together as a team we agree for the parent to leave and we comfort the upset child until they settle, by this stage we are all comfortable with each other and we trust each other.

I am fortunate, we have sets of outdoor clothing for the children and staff, enough to have a set that can be hung up outdoors between sessions. We have a big covered area that allows us to be outdoors but not in the rain or wind. And most importantly all staff have bought into the outdoor approach that we want. So for September I will be making the most of being outdoors, we have a small playground but it is big enough for the 26 children we usually have so if we have smaller groups it will be even better. We also have another secure wooded area on site that we can also use to give the children a change of scene. 

I only wish our Education Minister and those in charge could also see the potential of the outdoors for allowing nursery education to return to normal capacity long before those planning to be indoors can. 

I read this wonderful piece from Scotland and can but dream: https://www.thecourier.co.uk/fp/news/local/perth-kinross/1320038/coronavirus-how-outdoor-classes-could-be-future-of-schools-after-lockdown/?fbclid=IwAR2f_7mojnkJIXllzrZc25OU-2IrVNovGiGEP4jxfE0USEpmnZZj89E91Nc

We can do this, there are lots of possibilities for smaller groups and better staff/child ratios as flagged up in this piece from Stranmillis University: https://www.stran.ac.uk/life-after-lockdown-in-the-early-years-classroom-embracing-challenges-as-opportunities/?fbclid=IwAR2bPG375tl5Io3WSGqVLYR4VVonAfPPtnXQIOP0PngFKk1RBH1tHHr8Z0k

Monday, 8 June 2020

Discovering that I do in fact love being outdoors!

Ok, so some of you will be surprised to read that I have just discovered that I love being outdoors, after all my blog is mostly about getting outdoors with my nursery class in all weathers etc. However, anyone who has ever done any training with me will know that I always emphasise that outside of school I am to be found on my sofa reading or watching TV.

Well, that has changed when I was suddenly forced to be at home during the lockdown period of this COVID-19 pandemic. Our school was closed and I found myself at home without a class to interact face to face with each day, fortunately we have our class app so can keep in touch virtually but is is not the same. 

However what I did find out is that I began to crave being outdoors, in reality when at school I am outside for at least 90 minutes a day 5 days a week. Now obviously the weather being so wonderful helped being outdoors much easier and attractive but what I noticed most was that I enjoy just being outdoors. I have enjoyed sitting outdoors listening to the bird song, watching the clouds roll by or reading in the garden. And when we did have a few days recently when it was too wet or cold to sit outside, I realised that I really missed being outdoors. I am used to being outdoors 5 days a week and appreciating all different types of weather, I love seeing seasonal changes first hand. I have missed watching the weather every evening to see what plans I can make for the outdoors the next day. I did sit outside under an umbrella one day in the rain to read but in reality I am not outside in the rain like I would be if I was at school. 

When I am in school, I head outside first thing & have 30 minutes to myself before another member of staff arrives and I like that time when it is just me pottering about outside setting up for the day. 
I also discovered that I enjoy silence, I am happy with no distractions except those from nature, I don't want a radio playing in the background or even people chatting to me too much! This made me realise that children too need opportunities to be at peace when outside, quiet spaces where they can be alone or with other quiet children to ponder the world without lots of noise and stimulation. 

Being outdoors is going to be even more important in the coming weeks and months & I can see lots of preschools making the move to be more outdoor based than indoor. The research does seem to be very clear that the virus doe not live or spread as easily outdoors. 

Some of the children coming into my class don't have safe spaces to play in so we try our best to ensure that when they are in nursery they have the opportunity to play in a safe, secure and challenging environment & I am very grateful that I have a quiet outdoor space where I can hang out with my cats (and sometimes other humans!) 

Monday, 27 April 2020

Story time during Lockdown - There are cats in this book.

Whilst nursery is closed I have been recording stories to read to my class. Normally we have a 30 minute story time every day & can read up to 4 books during this time, I am missing doing this & am sure the children are too. So each week I give them a choice of 3 books & then vote through our class app to decide the order they are read in. I had been keeping them just for my class but then I saw that in these exceptional circumstances permission has been given to read books aloud, as long as these posts are removed by then of June. So enjoy some story telling in the mean time & I hope you discover some lovely new books. Just click on the link below. 

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Going on a number or shape hunt. Ideas 33 & 34

More ideas for when the children are at home from school during this pandemic from Creative Star's 50 Maths Outdoors cards.

While we can still go out for a walk with children see what numbers they can find on their walk, where are they, do they recognise them or can they just point them out as numbers?  It all depends on the age of the child, a preschool child might recognise 'their' number (3 or 4) and this is good way to build up their number recognition. Teach them the number of their house as well, it will make the number 'real' to them. 

If you are out for a walk, maybe take a piece of paper with the numbers 0-10 on it and see how many they can mark off, then you can add more with each walk. Do they see any numbers that are the same? I can still remember my excitement when I realised there were numbers on the cars that I passed on a walk when I was a young child. use your phone to take photos of the numbers and make up a number line when you get home. 

Older children could of course add the numbers up that they see and find out which car number plate totals the biggest number. What is the biggest number seen when out walking. Are there odd numbers on one side of your street/road and even on the other? 

Shapes are another thing you could look for out on a walk - there will be 2D and 3D shapes, you could create a tally chart to see which shape is the most popular in your area.  recognising road signs are usually in a shape and why they are different shapes for various messages could be an interesting observation. Why are some circles and some circles? 

Of course numbers and shapes can be combined, like speed limit signs or house number plaques. 

When back home, you could make numbers shapes out of materials in the garden. Draw shapes or numbers on the ground with chalk and ask children to hop to the circle, run to the triangle, jump to number 5 etc. 

I am not expecting parents to be teachers at this strange time but you can have a lot of fun exploring your environment and seeing how your child learns and remembers new information. This is a time to really enjoy how a young child uses their whole environment to absorb new facts and make sense of them. It is not about learning numbers by rote but recognising that numbers have an actual purpose in everyday life and are real, not just something to be learned in a maths lesson.

Have fun!