Sunday, 13 October 2013

Settings Day 1 - #playiceland

I was lucky enough to spend 3 days visiting a variety of preschool & primary settings in the wider Reykjavik area in the company of 33 other education practitioners from across the UK & USA. The whole scenario came about through a vision that Tom Shea & Hulda from Fafu Play had way back in March/April. Tom wanted people to see & experience the 'ethos' of Icelandic society first hand, by visiting settings & also for us to share our good practice & experiences with peers from Iceland. Hulda did an amazing organisational job of sorting everyone into groups & managing to find 2 settings a day for us all to visit - no mean feat!

Our group spent the first day in 2 very different settings, the first was a Hjalli school, where they follow the philosophy of Margret Pala and teach the children from the age of 2 upwards in classes divided by gender. Having grown up in a society where children are separated by religion and gender at times, I was intrigued by this system. On reflection I could see why some were in favour of this system but in my opinion it was more for the boys to flourish than to empower the girls, as women in Iceland already seem very independent & strong thinkers. The whole gender divide challenged me less than the lack of resources available to the children. I can see the point of pairing back on 'stuff' & do feel we have too much in our classrooms but I'm not sure how much progression there can be in 3 years spent playing with just hollow blocks. This is one sector I would like to revisit & see as many of the different schools within this model as possible. We observed 2 English lessons & from that it was easy to see why everyone speaks such impeccable English in Iceland, the lesson reminded me of how the children in the main school learn French back home - it was fun & all done through games & songs. I like the pictorial signs in the foyer to encourage as much independence as possible - getting dressed for outdoor play in the snow must be like a military operation!
Learning colours & body parts through play
This I could copy for getting on wet weather gear
The second setting was very special to me, Steikkjaras preschool, as I have had links with this school for over a year & was hoping to be in a Comenius partnership with them for 2 years but were unfortunately unsuccessful.
Bottle babies greeted us at the entrance!
This school is inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach & has close contact with the wonderful nature that surrounds the school. We went off into the forest to meet up with the class who were out on their weekly visit. This setting felt most familiar to me as I could relate the time spent out in the forest to our visits to Peatland or An Creagán but on a larger scale. The children were busy & engaged for the 2.5 hours we were outdoors with them, they played happily on old pieces of machinery & scrambled up on rocks & over river beds & stone bridges. It was very apparent that these children feel a particular affinity with this space because they visit once a week. They wanted to show us an area where older children had cut down trees to make shelters, not that this was an issue, but the fact they left lots of rubbish about made the children cross! The time spent in the forest was unhurried & the children were totally self directed, every teacher kept saying that this was their favourite day of the week & they couldn't believe they got paid to spent the day in the forest having fun. I know from experience that when we had funding to go to the forest once a week for 2 years, it was definitely the least stressful day ever.
After meandering back to the school, the children went to their classroom for some snacks & drinks while we were taken to the staff room to do the same. Staff rooms in Iceland are for relaxing, no computers or work related info on the walls, just coffee machines, candles & flowers. We had a chance to share some photos from our settings & ask questions before being shown around the building. 
A home corner created in a store cupboard!
The rooms in the classrooms are much smaller than any you would see in the UK or Ireland but have lots of different room branching off for the variety of activities. This school, being influenced by Reggio had dedicated studios spaces for art activities & a specialist teacher too.
A room just for art!
I noticed lots of schedules on the walls for children on the Spectrum but could never have picked any child out as having ASD. It made me realise a child who uses a schedule with the Boardmaker symbols could travel anywhere in the world & be able to follow their schedule.
There was a very warm feel to this school, with parents wandering in & out to collect children & stopping to talk with us & ask about our stay. Luckily, in Iceland, they can still have the school doors unlocked.

It is always good to see familiar resources when you are visiting settings elsewhere but also to see things that could be introduced back home. I was very taken by the way choices were made in the Hjalli school & could see me introducing this in 3rd term - the children chose were to play by picking cards & obviously some didn't get their first choice. These choices were also recorded by the staff so they could see which areas a child preferred to go to to or tended to avoid.
Choosing areas to play in & tracking where the children tend to go.
The art work on display in the Steikkjaras preschool was inspiring & something I would like to try with my class - I loved a mobile made up from all those lost 'things' that gather up as the year progresses.

I am eternally grateful to Tom & Hulda & all at Fafu Toys for making this trip possible. I hope they know how much the experiences I had on this visit will influence my practice for many years to come.


  1. Lovely! Such an amazing experience. This is my dream some day to travel and visit preschools world wide. Thank you for sharing. Can't wait to see more.

  2. Thanks Jessica, I know I am very lucky to have had this opportunity & others to see settings across Europe.

  3. A great read Kierna. I look forward to reading more :-) I work in a Hjalli preschool and tend to agree with your comments. Glad you enjoyed your time here. Rachel

    1. Hi, I'm glad that you see my comments as fair, with all your experience.

  4. Hello Kierna

    I'm delighted that it all went so well. It's such a privilege to be able to travel and do this sort of thing, isn't it! The blog post makes for interesting reading.

    Best wishes

    1. Thanks Juliet, it was an incredible experience & even more special as I connected with people I have long admired on facebook & considered as friends. Still hoping the British Council will be able to fund the Latvian event. - fingers & toes crossed.

  5. It is really fun to go back and read all your posts and look at the photos, now that I have been to the setting. :) Many familiar things.

    1. Amazing how a year later you got to see it all for yourself. Looking forward to reading your posts & recognising lots of familiar places xx


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.