Saturday, 31 May 2014

Box Collage 2014

The class of 2014's version of the Box Collage
The class of 2014's version of the Box Collage.
Last year I saw these fantastic box collages on the Sophia Preschool's Facebook page & I just knew this was a project I could easily do with my nursery class.
The original idea from The Sophia Preschool.
I loved some of the long term art projects that go on over at Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School (TPCNS) - you can follow their art adventures on their Child Art Retrospective blog. Having chatted over the logistics of storing long term art pieces with Lesley from TPCNS, I knew that this was a sticking point for me but the boxes seemed perfect as they could be stored inside each other between layers. They proved to be a big success last year so we decided to make them a regular event.

In September every child brought in an empty cereal box & after using sand paper to key the surface, the children began to add a different layer to them every month or so. The first time they just painted them, then they added some tissue paper, then some tin foil, then more tissue paper & finally some jewels, buttons & feathers.  You can read some more of the process in this previous post over here.
What I love about this project is that it is totally child led, each child does as much or as little as they want & yet at the end each box is uniquely gorgeous with it's many different layers. Some children will take an hour over this, carefully smearing PVA glue all over th box & then gently adding the materials whilst others will spend 10-15 minutes haphazardly sticking the offered materials on & yet when up on the wall for the last month, they all look stunning. (Even if I do say so myself).

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Free Fun - my favourite type of all!

Free is my favourite word - probably true of all teachers, so I love going on regular visits to the amazing Play Resource Belfast to see what delights they have to offer in their scrap store. For an annual membership we can go here as often as we want & basically fill the car with free loot! Part of our membership also enables us to access a bursary to help fund a professional artist coming in to work with the class too.

We usually plan at least 2 visits a year to gather up lots of freebies we know the children will make good use of - you never know what you might find but among the treasures can be plastic bottles, lids, tubs, rolls of paper, tubing, stickers etc. 
Last week I had a meeting in Belfast & used the opportunity to call into Play Resource as I needed to get some of paper people shapes, they also have a great art supply shop for members. When there I couldn't resist a look around the scrap store to see what was on offer. 

I was excited to spy some spray bottle parts in one of the scrap bins & then found another bin full of 1 litre water bottles that they fitted onto perfectly. I knew they would be great for the mud kitchen & to help develop fine motor skills. 

I made some marks on the fence with chalk & the children had great fun squirting at the marks to make them disappear & best of all they have no idea they are developing their fine motor skills & pincer grip!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Sticks in the playground.

About 3 weeks into a new school year there is a box of resources we bring out for the first time & introduce them to the children. We wait for a few weeks until the children are more familiar with the playground & settled into the class yet while they are still in a small group of 13-14. We wait until they are more familiar with us, the staff, and until we know they are ready to listen to us when we explain the 'how' of the way to play with these resources. Every year it never ceases to amaze me how the children will fall upon this crate of sticks & incorporate them into the play almost immediately. Sticks will become a currency in the playground & it is not unusual for the children to employ one of the sand timers to ensure that turns are taken over one particular stick. To my adult eye they are sticks & all look the same but very quickly the children will learn to tell each stick apart & some will just have that special something only a child can see or feel. It is not uncommon to see sticks lying beside a seat as a child has their snack, or set up out of the way while they go to the toilet or on very special occasions a trusted friend may even get the job of minding a stick at such times. We do try to get the children to put the sticks away at tidy-up time but as with most things sometimes the sticks get left lying around the forest area. It is not uncommon to see a child searching around this area for 'their' stick when they come to play the next day. This year there is one child in particular who always has a stick in his hand & one of the others said to me one day about him "He really, really loves sticks doesn't he" and yes he does indeed. There are hardly any photos of him outside without at least 1 stick in his hand.
Not just sticks - a box of treasure!
In the past 6-7 years that we have had sticks as just another resource in the playground we have never had any major incidents with them. The children learn very quickly not to point them each others faces or hit people with them. They are rarely weapons to hurt people with anyway, they tend to be wands, walking sticks, light sabers, firewood, pens etc. We have a box of small sticks around 30cms & then later in the year we have much longer ones and the children are taught to walk about with these long ones upright.
The big sticks are just as popular as the smaller ones.
Once on a trip with another nursery I heard one of their staff say to a child "Put down that stick, it's dangerous" and before I could say a thing one of my class piped up with "Sticks aren't dangerous, you just have to be careful with them!" 
Last week I began to talk about Primary 1, to prepare the children for the move to 'big school' in September. The majority of my class are moving onto P.1 in the same school & so will get to go for a visit to their new teacher for a couple of hours in the next few weeks. As I talked to them about what they knew about P.1 (many have older siblings already in the school) they listed things they thought they might see in their new P.1 classroom - a sand tray, a water tray, Lego, books and blocks. I mentioned they would have snack in P.1 too & then we began to discuss what might be different. Suggestions ranged from - no toys to homework before my stick lover asked "Are there sticks in P.1?" I said I didn't think there were & he sighed & replied that maybe the other children had never learned how to play with them at nursery. But the sad fact is they did as the majority of our primary children do come through the nursery so they have played with sticks safely aged 3 & 4 only to never be allowed to play with them again. 
Sometimes I do worry that I am letting the children in my class do lots of things they won't be allowed to do in primary but then I realise that I am allowing them at least 1 year of risky free play that will hopefully stay with them forever & encourage them to be able to make informed choices about risks when they are older.

If teachers of older children need some ideas of how to introduce sticks & use them in the playground or lessons then please check out the amazing Creative Star Learning Company - Juliet has so many great posts on sticks.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Outdoor Play Party - simple is best!

Welcome to another Outdoor Play Party, it's that time of year when school is manic for me - reports to be written, new parents & children induction days, my class meeting their new P.1 teachers & getting ready for graduation as well as the usual every day learning experiences. So sometimes at this busy time of year it's good to remember that the best things are often the simplest. 
This week I watched my class play contently with Bottle Babies, sticks, water, snails,  buttercups & daisies. This week when we made our weekly visit to Bear Woods the grass had got really long & it was full of wild flowers or weeds, depending on your point of view! The trees are getting much taller & have loads of leaves now & the willow is really bushy. The little space has turned out to be a great asset to have within school grounds.
I love to see how excited the children are each week when they start to get ready for going up into this space, they love the walk up the hill & the fact they can run safely on ahead seems to make it even more special. Best of all is the fact that until this time last year this was just a piece of grass that had to be regularly mowed, so apart from providing us with an incredible asset for outdoor play it is saving the school some money!
 This photo was taken in September when it was just fenced off & now the children have worn little paths through the grass as they weave along the slope playing with their friends.

There were lots of great posts linked up in the last OPP but one of my favourites was from Rain or Shine Mama on how to make simple dens from sticks - I hope in the new year to get donations of old Christmas tree branches so we can make some dens up in Bear Woods. And Linda has some links to other great 'sticky' posts too!
  • Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome!

We'd appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we'll gladly further share your post on FacebookTwitterPinterestPlease feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back.

Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the 'featured' button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!

Friday, 16 May 2014

Why I love Willow!

Taken in April 2014
6 years ago we were lucky to have 3 education officers based at a nearby park who came along one morning to build 3 willow dens in the playground. I had seen how great willow was for showing the seasonal changes from our then weekly visits to the woodland classroom in the park but I honestly don't think I ever really foresaw how great these 3 dens would prove to be.

Over the past 6 years they have never ceased to amaze me each spring when the new leaves grow & I look forward to coming back in August to see how wild they have become. I always remember the first spring they got their leaves many parents were amazed - they thought they were just ornamental stick dens not living ones. And one August when we returned to school we were devastated to discover the groundsmen from the education board had been in over the summer & chopped all the lovely lush foliage right back to the bare sticks. I have since banned them from my part of the school grounds & we try to maintain them ourselves - this year we decided to link 2 of the dens to each other with a canopy between the two.
April 2014

October 2013
This year we were lucky enough to have Martin Besford from Highway Farm Activity Centre over for a visit in March to make us a mud kitchen & he also volunteered (or perhaps I may have suggested it) to help us tame our willow ready for new spring growth. he showed us how to trim it right back & how to weave it properly to allow for new growth, he also persuaded one of the education officers at another woodland site we use to give us loads of new willow to plant along the fence above the nursery playground & in Bear Woods. They also made us a little den up there too.
February 2014 before Martin showed us how to trim them properly.

Sarah (our NVQ student) & Peter (the education officer) making a new willow den in Bear Woods.
Over the past few weeks the willow has gained so much new foliage & at the moment can best be described as being fluffy! I have found it very therapeutic to spend a couple of minutes each week when we are in Bear Woods weaving some of the big willow trees together to make lots of little arches along the fence.
The willow archway that marks the entrance to Bear Woods.
May 2014
The new willow arch & window Martin created in about 20 minutes.
I love them around this time of year when the children really begin to use them as little houses & they love being 'invisible' from adult eyes when they are inside them.
For the past 2 years when we have cut back the willow we have passed on the cuttings to other schools & parents so they can plant their own willow creations too.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Painting on a large scale.

Sometimes the best results come about by sheer accident & those that I have spent ages planning for have been complete wash outs - such is life with young children!

This latest art activity was a perfect example of the former; after creating the paper plate faces last week I had 6 pots of paint left & it just would have been a shame to wash the paint out & down the sink. So I planned for the children to do some free painting this week to use up the left over paint. I had intended for them to just use A4 sized pages but then by sheer chance I found a load of A3 good quality cartridge paper at the bottom of the paper store. So the set up for this activity was for 4 children at a time to just paint on the large pages as they wanted to.I had talked to them about this activity briefly just before home time the day before & we had talked about how they could cover the whole page or just paint on one area.

It was lovely to watch how they all approached this in a different way. Some spent a long time making sure they covered the whole page & then as the first layer began to dry added some more details. There were 2 different types of brushes either very fine or much thicker, some enjoyed making large prints with the larger brushes, almost like spots. 

They enjoyed having black paint & I was most surprised that they didn't just cover the painting with black. They also managed for the most part to keep the brushes in the separate pots - there were 6 various colours on offer.

On this occasion 17 of the 16 children got a chance to take part with others wanting to but we had run out of time but I will offer the others an opportunity to have a go at this activity another day.

**The next day the others had a chance to try this activity & I was impressed that several reluctant mark makers joined in, making treasure maps & a chocolate factory. Having recorded all the painting on the iPads I reluctantly agreed to letting these fab art works going home!

Friday, 9 May 2014

You can't just buy a good outdoor space - Outdoor Play Party.

I am often asked what are the key must have items for a good outdoor space that will engage children & keep them coming back again & again for more high quality play experiences.
Here are my must haves: access to water, sticks, mud, sand, tyres (any movable loose parts) & quiet spaces.
Note no mention of expensive resources.
Vast amounts of space is certainly not one of them and yet for some reason many primary school playgrounds are big, wide open spaces with tarmac.
Too much space creates a problem on it's own - what do all children do when they are confronted with a lot of space - they run of course & tarmac & running children crashing onto each other is a recipe for disaster. Now I am not saying that running has no place in a playground, of course it does but far to often I see playgrounds where that is all the children do & I'm sorry but to me that is sign of boredom, the children can think of nothing else to do but run round & round & round.
The most important element is the children but next to that is to be able to create little pockets of areas within the bigger space, all children love to have places where they can be out of sight or at least feel as if they are out of sight. A playground should never just be about a large piece of fixed equipment & safety surface, that should just be part of it.
When we got our new school building in 2006, we were delighted to be in lovely open space as for 18 months we had been cramped into a tiny corner of the playground while the building went on. But very quickly we discovered that there were no nooks or crannies within this lovely new space. It was also so clean & bright that we were loath to let the children mess it up with chalk or paint etc. So over the past 8 years we have spent time observing how the children use the space & adding to it, adapting what we have & creating lots of little areas within the one space. 
A cosy outdoor reading area.
We noticed that children would gather under one of the platforms on the slide structure with books, by chance I had bought a tarp in the £1 section of a local supermarket that turned out to be too tiny for any real use but was perfect for creating 2 'walls' under the slide so a book corner was created.
We got 3 willow dens put in in 2008 & they were one of the best things ever & I would recommend these to any school with space for them. They allow the children to create whole worlds within a busy playground, they especially come into their own in the summer term when they are covered in leaves & the children love to hide away in them. They tend to see them as houses & go to visit each other from one to the other - often ringing a doorbell to gain entrance!
We have 3 willow dens & have now joined these 2 together with a new arch.
With constant use our grass wore away & rather than see this as a problem we decided to embrace the muddiness & create a forest area. First we put down old Christmas tree branches & then bark chippings, pine cones & any tree branches that people will donate to us.

We initially put down old branches to soak up the mud, now we have bark chippings or mulch.
This has created an amazing 'natural' area with in the stark playground & it is wonderful to see children playing away in this area as if they were in a much bigger forest.
Thanks to the amazing Martin from Highway Farm Activity Centre & a brilliant dad, we also know have a deluxe mud kitchen in one corner for the children to enjoy making concoctions & 'baking'. We also have access to water thanks to a water barrel (we call it a water butt but I know Americans find this very funny).
Our amazing mud kitchen.
Another dad built us a great big sandpit under the verandah area many years ago & it is a brilliant asset to have. 
5 years ago a parent built this for us.
I think it is important to have a covered area so that children can be outside but not standing in torrential rain, the area needs to be large enough to allow a whole class to be in the space if need be. Some afternoons, we have the doors open & the children know they can play between the classroom & the covered area. We have deliberately chosen not to put doors on this area as we don't want it feel like an indoor area.
For anyone moving into a new space I would advise that you spend some time in the outdoor area observing how the children use the space, where does the sun shine most, where do the puddles gather etc. But most importantly, the outdoor space should never be finished, it should be a constant work in progress!

Once again there were loads of great Outdoor Play ideas linked up in the last OPP but a couple jumped out at me immediately as they featured 2 of my favourite books - The Bear Hunt & The Gruffalo. Mummy Mishaps was celebrating the 25th anniversary of Michael Rosen's well loved classic & red Rose Mummy took part in a Gruffalo trail organised by the Forestry Commission.
Mummy Mishaps
We're going a bear hunt, we're going to catch a big one...
Red Rose Mummy
How amazing is this - Julia Donaldson reading the Gruffalo!

  • Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome!

We'd appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we'll gladly further share your post on FacebookTwitterPinterestPlease feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back.

Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the 'featured' button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

A Vital Partnership.

Recently the media has been stirring up what can only be described as 'hysteria' about young children not being able to build with blocks because they are too used to tablet devices & coming into school still in nappies. You can read these articles here & here
In my professional experience both these articles are based on urban myths but the most worrying part of both is that they are based on either hearsay from Headteachers or a survey of teachers.
Parenting & teaching should be a collaborative process - building upon layers of experience.
I have been teaching nursery for 14 years & I worked as a nursery assistant for 18 months before that & I have only had 1 child come into my class still in nappies NOT for a medical reason. That child was the eldest child in the family & his mum just didn't know how to go about toilet training him. Once the nursery assistant who had 3 young children of her own, talked her through the process he was out of nappies in a matter of weeks.

Most if not all of the children in my class also have daily access to some sort of tablet device & yet not one of them struggles to engage with & enjoy playing with traditional resources, like blocks, lego, sticks or mud.

I feel very strongly that parents are under more pressure than ever to get everything right with less support than ever before. More & more parents don't have an older relative to call upon for advice on parenting issues. Many are not living nearby their own families anymore or their parents are still young enough to be working full time so aren't there to give that support that previous generations enjoyed.

Many are also working full-time so their children are in daycare, I am not a parent but I know from my nieces & nephews that toilet training usually means being house bound for at least a week. Working parents who use their time off to go on a family holiday aren't going to have the luxury of more time off to remain at home to toilet train a child, it may have to be unpaid leave.

In June when I hold an information night for the new parents there are always a few who confess that their child is not yet toilet trained, this is usually told in hushed, embarrassed, apologetic tones. I hate to stereotype but it is normally boys, under our system, we can't refuse to take children who aren't yet toilet trained but would obviously prefer that they were. I normally reassure these parents that 2 months is long time in child development & that their child will probably be toilet trained by the time September rolls round. Many plan to take a week off in the summer just for this purpose, forgoing a week of holidays.

I am also always very aware that for many parents, I am the first teacher they have come into contact with since their own school days - and they may not have positive memories of this time. It is vital that we build a good relationship from the start, they have been the primary educators of their child for the past 3-4 years & it is therefore very important that we work together to ensure their child has the best possible nursery experience before embarking on their long formal schooling experience. There needs to be communication both ways if their child is going to flourish & if parents feel that as a teacher I am judging their parenting skills this will never happen. The fact that I am not a parent can be a bonus, as I explain to them that I am a teacher not a parent & so I rely on them to help me gain a full picture of their child. I need to know if they didn't sleep the night before, have a fear of balloons etc. Parents need to know that we are in a partnership.

That's why I approach articles as mentioned above with a certain scepticism, they only serve to berate parents & make them feel under attack & as anyone knows, this will then put them on the defensive.
The old proverb 'It takes a village to raise a child' is still as relevant today but sadly probably not as common, parents are more isolated than before with fewer opportunities to tap into older more experienced adults for support. 

Friday, 2 May 2014

Compost Bin Fun!

Sometimes even the most mundane objects can provide hours of fun for young children. A few years ago, our local council gave all schools a number of compost bins. A couple were set up in the main school playground but with us having 8 weeks off in the summer it proved too long a period to leave the bins unattended & so it was decided against using them for their intended purpose.
Last year when I spied them sitting in an outdoor store I grabbed 5 & brought them round to the nursery playground. It didn't take long for the children to engage with them & we had weeks of fun playing with them. We decided to keep them as a 3rd term resource as we have bikes for 1st & 2nd term & then in the last term we tend to spread all over the playground with larger resources like the Community Playthings Hollow Blocks & these bins.

When I brought them into the playground on Tuesday, the children fell upon them immediately. At first they climbed in & out of them through the door at the bottom & for some this tiny entrance took a lot of courage to tackle. Others figured out if they took their coats off it was easier to fit inside. It was great to see another class enjoy these resources & the giggles as 2 children crammed into one bin & tried to walk around the space - this took a lot of cooperation & coordination!

Before long someone had tipped a bin over & discovered the joy of rolling about inside it. This class also put one at the bottom of the slide & had a great time flying down the slide into the bin & out the other side!
Then some of them had the idea to join 2 together to make a tunnel, before long they had joined 4 in a row & they spent ages crawling form one end to the other, at times a head would pop up through the door to shout to their friends. They wanted to create a door at the end of the tunnel & figured out the Fafu Poppies were perfect for this purpose. (They did want 5 but the one at the bottom of the slide was not up for grabs)
4 make an even better tunnel experience.
Once again the children proved to me that they don't need expensive resources to have fun.

If you enjoyed this compost bin fun post check out this one from Creative Star Learning Company.