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!

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Learning at home - Can you find me....?

Gathering some stones and painting them during this time will provide endless resources. 
Here is another idea for those stuck at home with young children during this time of Covid-19. I don't want parents to stress about 'teaching' their young children, rather just enjoy this time with them and watching how they interact with their environment. 

One activity I saw when visiting a kindergarten in Sweden impressed me a lot and this is one that can easily be replicated at home. The children were asked to find 4 objects, 3 the same and 1 different and the children's level of thinking was excellent, way beyond 3 are green and 1 is blue. You can read about that experience here: 


But let's start simple: ask your child to find you 3 things, you decide are they to be the same colour, size, shape, type etc. Once they are confident in this activity you can mix it up a little, can you find me 2 big animals and 1 small animal, 1 long sock and 2 short socks. The sky is the limit with this, you can ask them to find anything or just stick to toys. 
3 is an easy number to start with, children are used to hearing about things in groups of 3 - bears, little pigs, billy goats, owl babies etc. Once your child is confident about 3 you can start asking for 4, 5 etc. Stretch the activity out by asking can you hop and find me, can you crawl and find me. 

You can take this activity outdoors and ask them to find flowers, leaves, shapes etc. if you have a tablet or allow them your phone, let them go find the objects and take a photo and bring it back to you. 

Same but different is another great way to extend this activity, get young children to really look at the items they have collected, ask them what is the same, what is different. Young children are really good at this, much better than adults as they notice the tiniest of details. This is great way to get children thinking about sets and how objects are gathered together by their sameness or difference. Initially you, as the adult might have to give them language to describe their objects e.g. 'Oh so you brought me 2 tiny wooden things and 1 very long thing made out of wool' etc. 
Bottle Babies are brilliant for this activity. 

While you can get out for a walk, ask them to find things that are the same on their walk, as they get more used to this activity you can ask 'why are they the same', allowing the child to tell you why they think they are the same, don't say 'no they are not' if they don't quite get it, just step back a bit and keep giving them reasons why they are the same so they will begin to see it for themselves and be able to say why. 

All this is giving your child an opportunity to develop their listening skills; how many was I asked to get, memory skills; can they remember the number/type as they search around the room or house, language skills and mathematical skills. 

At meal times use this as an activity to get children to help set the table, how many people are there for dinner? How many forks, knives etc. will we need? Can you get me 3 forks and 3 knives and let them set the table. 

The possibilities for this activity are endless and I am sure children will come up with lots of new ways to play this. 

Here is a wonderful website with lots of great ideas for helping young children grasp mathematical concepts:

Monday, 23 March 2020

Some ideas for learning at home - Where is teddy?

We are living in very strange times as the Covid 19 pandemic sweeps across the world. 
My year as a nursery teacher has been cut short and my little class have begun new chapter in their lives, learning at home with their families. I have faith that their families will get through this and have fun during the next few trying weeks and months. 

My friend Juliet over at Creative Star Learning Company has created a lovely set of cards '50 Maths Outdoors, Things to do before you are 6 and 3 quarters'. I plan to send the children in my class photos of some of theses ideas over the coming weeks, so families can get outside and have some fun but the idea can also be built upon indoors or outdoors to allow children to develop key skills. 

Idea no. 25 is 'Where is Teddy?'

This idea allows for some many opportunities for young children to really grasp their positional language and 'feel' it as opposed to just hearing it or rote learning it as a phrase. If parents hide the Teddy (or any toy) and then give instructions, look behind the tree, the child will have the chance to grasp exactly what 'behind', 'on top of', 'beside', 'under' really means. 

This activity can be extended, using a table or chair ask a child to put the toy on the chair, under the chair, in front of the chair etc. - you could also ask them to follow your instructions, it doesn't have to be a toy. Let your child give you instructions to see if they do understand what they are saying. 

This could be extended further by gathering lots of toys, soft or otherwise or random household objects and asking your child to put the saucepan beside the socks or the crocodile in front of the coffee bean, beside the cat, behind the big teddy etc. The possibilities are endless. I can guarantee your young child will have a better understanding of their positional language than if they were just listening to the words being used in every day conversation. 


Sunday, 9 February 2020

Maths in the early years.

Like most people I have had a love/hate relationship with maths my whole life, I loved it at primary because of particular teachers but quickly I came to hate it at secondary school and in fact was so bad at it, I only passed my 'O' level after being coached outside school. I actually developed a fear of maths and would break out in a cold sweat when asked to do mental maths etc. and my P.G.C.E year did nothing to convince me that maths was a subject I could do or enjoy. However luckily since I began teaching in nursery I have fallen in love with maths as subject again. 

If you had asked me a few years ago, I would have said that young children can learn their key academic skills in nursery through play by carefully chosen material to allow them to just develop skills like knowing colours, shapes, numbers, letters etc. But now I have revised this belief and it has been a journey that has coincided with many different events all coming together to help me realise that we need to actually teach key skills in a playful way with a particular emphasis on maths.

I have made some great on line friendships with other early years educators and some of them have helped me begin to realise that I do have a role as a teacher rather a mere facilitator in in classroom. I have been so fortunate to meet up with some of these friends and see them interact with young children, either in their own setting or with children in another setting. Unnur Henrys, a friend and colleague who teaches in Iceland has taught me so much about maths acquisition. I have watched her playing with dice in the forest with children as young as 2 who were excited to match items to the right number. Unnur has inspired me to have large dice in my playground to allow children to explore maths in their play. Lesley Romanoff, another friend and colleague in the U.S had shown me how smaller dice could be incorporated into everyday play inside and used as another 'loose part'. Before seeing them in her setting I would not have thought to have dice in my nursery classroom. Now I can't imagine not having them.

In 2018 our school began 2 new Erasmus Plus projects, a KA2 maths based project with preschools in Turkey, Finland, Croatia, Greece and Denmark  and a KA2 staff based CPD project. During the latter I got the opportunity to do a course in Iceland with Kristín and Sarah from Smart Teachers Play More that opened my eyes to the possibilities of how to teach core academic skills in playful manner. In our KA2 I have been fortunate to learn many new maths & science games and activities from my partners, you can read about this project here: http://nosuchthingasbadweather.blogspot.com/2019/10/erasmus-plus-ka2-finland.html

Sharing some maths activities with children in our partner school in Croatia. 
So, for the past 18 months we have been running 40 minute Play to Learn More sessions with the children once a week, they take part in small groups of 6 or 7 at a time. It has really opened my eyes to the fact that I need to teach key skills and allow children time to revisit these skills again and again in order to prefect them. The main classroom and playground are still set up in such a way as to allow the children to explore materials and transfer skills learned during the teaching session to their play sessions but we are purposely planning what exact skills we ant to teach during our PTLM sessions. 

PTLM sessions on colour and number. 
We were fortunate to have Juliet Robertson from Creative Star Learning Company deliver training last year locally and she introduced me to the owners of the Hungarian ten frame and since then I have found this resource invaluable in helping the children to begin the see the 'numberless' of 10. This particular resource seems easier for younger children than the traditional square ten frame. 

The Hungarian ten frame in action during play sessions indoors and outdoors. 
I was really interested to read the latest paper from The East London Research School this week that has shown that early maths has to be taught and can not just be simply picked up during play in preschools.  This paper can be read here: https://researchschool.org.uk/eastlondon/news/early-maths-easy-as-one-two-three/
In particular this sentence stood out for me "As a result, Davenall agrees with Sue Gifford’s earlier finding that children are 'unlikely to learn about number through independent play ... a laissez-faire approach to children learning maths in the 'secret garden of play' does not work. Opportunities may be there, but children will not necessarily take advantage of them'"

So I will continue to flood my classroom and playground with maths resources as before but I will consciously teach the children how to use them first before putting them out, some will continue to explore them in a mathematical way whilst others will simply play with them, that is ok but I'll know that I have at least given them all the skills to be a mathematician and to love, enjoy and be excited by maths. 

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Iceland: Leikur ad læra - Play To Learn More

I love how small the world has become since social media came along, it is now so much easier to connect with people around the world and find like-minded individuals to connect with to share ideas etc. I have 'met' so many preschool teachers around the world on Facebook and Twitter and have enjoying learning from them as we discuss our practice and curriculums. 

However, nothing beats meeting up in person with someone and finding a true connection in real life. In 2013 I got the opportunity through Fafu (an Icelandic company) to go to Iceland as part of #PlayIceland with 33 other educators from around the UK and US. You can read about this visit in these two posts: https://nosuchthingasbadweather.blogspot.com/2013/10/settings-day-1-playiceland.html

During this visit on Day 2 we visited an incredible newly built school and one of their staff, Kristín, took the time to show us around the school, give us a taster session of a new way she was trying out teaching in the school. Then at the sharing event where we gave presentations about our settings, we heard from Kristín about her new venture Leikur að læra  she was just about to launch to have young children learning core skills through movement. We became friends on Facebook and stayed in touch. 
My colleagues & me in Iceland in February 2019
Roll on 2018 and our school secured funding through Erasmus Plus KA1 for staff to attend training and courses around Europe and Kristín's course were the first I thought of. In 2019 8 of our staff both teaching and non teaching travelled to Spain and Iceland to attend one of her week long courses Smart Teachers Play More. These courses are facilitated by Kristín and Sarah (who has a business called Smart English in Spain)
This has been one of the best courses I have ever attended and I recommend this to any one working in a school. You can read about the course in this post: https://nosuchthingasbadweather.blogspot.com/2019/07/erasmusplus-key-action-1.html
Through this course another colleague, Jill, also did the course and began to offer Play to Learn More sessions locally and our school signed up all the classes for 4 weeks of activities with Jill. as both of us in the nursery are now trained we then ran sessions with our class over 6 weeks from Easter until June. 
These sessions were the most fun I think we have all had whilst learning and let's face it as a nursery teacher every day is filed with fun! But more importantly the P1 teacher has noticed that the children are much more secure in their core skills this year after lots of practice during our PTLM sessions. 
Some of our PTLM activities. 
Whilst in Iceland in February for the course, Kristín mentioned that she was running a conference in October on Outdoor Learning and wondered if I would like to come along to do a workshop. I jumped at the chance, of course. 

In May Kristín came to Belfast to run a taster session for PTLM for local teachers and stayed with me and visited my class for a morning. 
Myself, Kristín & Jill in May 2019

So fast forward to October 2019 and I found myself on a flight to Iceland via Finland (where I had just been on an Erasmus Plus mobility) and attending a conference for over 450 teachers from Iceland who spent the whole day doing workshops to help them develop outdoor play and core learning skills for young children. The conference was held in an agricultural college and many of the events like lunch, coffee took place in an old green house with fish pond and exotic plants. The workshops were mostly outdoors but also some were inside. 

My workshop was titled 'Outdoor Learning - it doesn't have to cost a lot' and I had to run it 4 times over the day with between 20 and 40 participants at a time. It took place outside in the most amazing grounds of the college and thankfully it was dry but very windy. The teachers were so receptive and engaged and willing share ideas from their practice too. It was wonderful to have this opportunity to talk with international colleagues and compare similar issues and discuss what was different about our settings and practice. 

This is my 4th visit to Iceland and each time I visit I fall in love with it and it's people a little more. They are some of the warmest people I have every met and even more hospitable than the Irish. They have a true connection to nature and a respect for their environment that is lacking in a lot of other places. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to hang out with friends old and new and learn from each other. It also helped me firm up ideas for further workshops and  most importantly I learned that I had to change my pronunciation of the words eight and shape to be understood!

A huge thanks to Unnur & Kristín (and her whole family) for picking me up, putting me up and drinking coffee with me over the few days I got to stay in Iceland. 

Erasmus Plus KA2 Finland

Our school is involved in a two year Erasmus Plus KA2 Project 'European New Generation' with preschools from Denmark, Turkey, Croatia, Finland and Greece. You can read some more about the project in this post: http://nosuchthingasbadweather.blogspot.com/2019/03/maths-everywhere.html

So far we have all met up in Turkey and N.Ireland and then this past week we had our third meeting in Finland. Our project is all about STEM/STEAM in the early years curriculum and at some of the meetings the partners share some games for the children in the host school to enjoy playing. This has been a great way for us as educators to gain some new ideas and gather lots of new innovative maths lessons. 

 This project has helped us as staff in the nursery and Foundation Stage classes to realise how to ensure that maths is integrated into all aspects of learning and not just seen as a stand alone subject - this is more of an issue for colleagues in the primary when curriculum subjects are very clearly divided up. In nursery and preschool, in general, we tend to teach subjects across the board all day long and realise that maths is everywhere and not just something to be taught for an hour a day.

In Finland we got to take part in some outdoor games with a small group of children and share some maths activities indoors with them too. We also spent time in the forest watching the children take part in maths/ICT games, this was followed by having lunch around the fire.

As I watched some of my partners in the forest it made me realise how far we as a nursery have come on our outdoor journey and how we as a staff have developed our outdoor curriculum over the past 10 years. When I visited Norway in 2008 and took part in a job shadow in an outdoor preschool, I spent a lot of time asking 'Can they do that, should they be up there, are they allowed to do that?' as is was so different from our playground and outdoor play. This time I was very comfortable in the forest and almost blasé about the adventurous, risky play that we saw but I could see some of my other partners were amazed by it and it made us realise that we have benefitted so much from being involved in European projects since 2004.

Sometimes you enter a project with one aim but end up with a completely different one or you get something out of a partnership that you never expected and of course life long friendships are made. 

Our next meeting is in Croatia and then we have 3 more left before the project comes to an end. The children and staff in Windmill can only but benefit from all the shared learning going on from across Europe. 
of course the idea that we are now being dragged out of the EU and that the possibilities of the amazing Erasmus opportunities may be lost for out students and staff makes me so angry but in the meantime I will continue to take part in projects and learn from my colleagues. 

To end on a more positive note, our school was recently awarded the International School Award by the British Council.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

New Experiences are Good.

Climbing up the slope using a rope is always a popular activity.
We are very fortunate to have two wooded areas within school grounds that were planted by pupils, parents and staff over 5 years ago. The nursery has the sole use of one of them, called Bear Woods and it is just above the nursery accessible by a path that runs around the front of the building. 
This week we decided to introduce our new class of 28 3 - 4 years olds to this space. So far the children have been staying for 2 hours in separate groups of 15 & 18 and today was the last day before the groups merge into one big class. This proved the ideal opportunity to take the children up in the smaller groups to allow them time and space to explore Bear Woods and learn some of the ground rules. 

There aren't many rules for when we go to Bear Woods but the ones we do have are important: 
A grown up goes first through the nursery gate and the children must follow behind until they reach the first white line. 
The children can run ahead once we reach the first white line but have to stop at the second white line. 
Then when coming back the rules are the same: 
A grown up first through the gate of Bear Woods until we reach the first white line.
Run ahead but stop at the second white line. 
The children can just run ahead on the path or go through a willow tunnel parents created last year during a maintenance morning for the wooded areas. 

The willow tunnel - you can see the nursery playground below.
Once we get to Bear Woods the children have a small snack and when finished eating they can go play. This small area has really become a proper wood in the past couple of years and it is wonderful to see the children explore this space and enjoy just being outdoors with very little resources. 
The area we have is on a slope and it really challenges the children at first to navigate walking up and down the gradient & sometimes they enjoy just rolling down the hill.
Today as we arrived one child commented "Woah this is very steep, we need to concentrate guys!"

An adult usually goes to stand at the second white line just to make sure the children stop( as the path is out into the main school car park) but today I was so impressed when both groups stopped without anyone having to remind them. 


I can't wait to have a year of fun and adventures in our our little piece of nature.