Friday, 27 February 2015

Outdoor Play Party - Hollow Blocks.

Over the past few years I have had lots of teachers or principals visit who are getting brand new nurseries & want some advice on how to best equip their space. We got a brand new school in 2006 & were given a very healthy budget to refurbish the nursery, so in a way we were luckier than those trying to equip a nursery from scratch - we had lots of the basics already & could afford to indulge in some of the more 'luxury' items e.g. a loft for indoors & lots of blocks from Community Playthings. 

The one piece of advice I give to any one who has a decent budget to set up a nursery or preschool class is to invest in a set of hollow blocks, ideally if you can afford it the original ones from Community Playthings but if not there are lots of other companies making them now too.
In 2006 we bought a class set of hollow blocks & the storage cart & they have been such an asset to the class - ours are used outdoors as we just don't have the space indoors for them. In the past 8 years of constant use from February to June, they have weathered well, 2 of the planks split but this was our own fault as we left them outside in the rain overnight a few times. But luckily you can buy replacement sets easily.

I love watching how each class uses them differently, some years they make tables & chairs & lots of houses are built. Other years they build them as high as possible & love climbing on top of them. Sometimes they are used as props in other play - as robot feet or TV's etc.
I love that the open endedness of these products allows the children to engage with them in any way they want. They also learn very quickly that they are sore if dropped on toes or fingers, slippy on wet days or if your shoes are wet & that if they fall on your head, it really, really hurts!
One member of staff usually sets them up in the morning to get the children playing with them but they are then free to move them about & create whatever they want to with them. 

My favourite post in the last Outdoor Play Party was from Wild Family Fun all about the fun Kim & her sister & their children had over half-term. It was lovely to see her young nephews enjoying such simple yet fun activities as den building & cooking marshmallows. Wonderful memories that I am sure her nephews will remember for a long time.

"Now it’s time for this week’s Outdoor Play Party. We would 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 Pinterest. Please 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 at’ button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!"

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Finger painting fun!

I am a big fan of messy painting activities, lots of shaving foam & powder paint & finger paints. Early in the school year it is all just about the process - so the children are just encouraged to play with paint, exploring how it feels or moves on the table. I always enjoy seeing children who don't normally enjoy getting messy really embrace using finger paints.
This month the colours we are concentrating on are pink & blue, sadly the blue finger paint had all dried up but we had lots of white & a little red left, so the children had fun mixing the 2 colours to make pink.
At this stage of the school year, I knew most of them could draw in the paint or make interesting patterns that we could then 'capture' on a page to use a wall display.
'My little sister'
'My whole family'

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Judging children as adults.

4 year olds can be sophisticated, funny, articulate, creative & skilled negotiators but they are ultimately 4 year olds!
Last week Channel 4 showed a 'fly on the wall' documentary of a handful of 4 year olds as they settled into nursery. (  It was filmed over 6 months & edited down into an hour. 
As a nursery class teacher I loved it. I could see traits of some children in my current class in one or two of the children & could identify with many of the struggles the children went through. The programme was a pretty good reflection of all the personal, social & emotional skills that children learn at preschool. 
What I didn't like about the programme was the reaction of adults to a couple of the children in particular. I purposely stayed off the main social media sites during & after the programme as I knew there would be horrible things being flung about by adults about little children.
Those who unleashed vitriol on 4 year olds, showed themselves up. The children showed more maturity than that! These were 4 year olds, not adults, some may have only been talking in full sentences for less than 2 years & yet adults were judging their behaviours as unacceptable! As a nursery teacher, I saw inappropriate, rash, impulsive behaviour but nothing that wasn't perfectly acceptable for someone who had only been on the earth for 4 years or less! Anyone who spends anytime with 4 year olds knows they can be totally irrational & driven by emotions when it comes to decision making. It is perfectly ok. What people should have taken away from that documentary was how many skills the children had to develop or hone in a short time & what a crucial role the adult has in a preschool setting. We spend our time, especially in the first term, modelling how to negotiate turn taking, sharing resources, making friends, solving arguments etc. None of this just just happens, it has to be modelled over and over, all through the year but the payback when a child who previously snatched resources or cried when they wanted something, begins to use an egg timer for turn taking or verbalise why they want something so badly is well worth all the tears & tantrums. 
I hope that the parents who chose to allow their children take part aren't regretting this experience in light of the horrible reaction by some grown ups. It was a brave decision & most likely at times uncomfortable viewing for some, no parent wants to see their child in a bad light or being rejected by others. I hope they could all see the progress that had been made after 6 months as the children gained more skills in their journey to becoming valuable members of society.
As for the argument that it was an invasion of privacy as the children couldn't give permission, if people are going down that route then be prepared to stop all observations in preschool & put the cameras away. 
I think this programme should be seen as a valuable insight into just how hard working with preschoolers can be, it is messy, emotional & exhausting but when it comes together it is the best job in the world.
Please remember that we, the adults, should never ever look at a child & judge them as a peer. They are just finding their way in the world & need all the support & understanding we can muster. 
More importantly, never underestimate the negotiating skills of a 4 year old, there is a reason why most young children have their parents wrapped round their little finger!

I enjoyed this review from The Guardian of the programme (  - anyone who spends time with young children knows they really do have the best way of trading insults!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Outdoor Play Party - Crate Fun!

I have done a previous post on the wonderful crates I have in the playground over here but I felt it was time to write another post on these amazing resources!
I can't get enough of crates: milk crates, bread crates, shopping crates, you name a crate & I will find a use for it!
Our milk crates, now referred to as 'H' crates by Cosy have been a firm playground favourite for over 8 years now, they provide seating outdoors & the fact they are plastic means they can stay outside all year round. When not being used as seats, they are great for allowing children to reach up build higher towers or to gain access to their wellies. Lined up they make brilliant walkways & they can be stacked up to a maximum of 3 to make thrones. 
We now have several bread crates in use too, some for storage under the shelves in the mud kitchen, some for use with the bread crate dolley, the latter provides hours of fun as the children take turns pulling each other around the playground.
We also have one as a 'trampoline' in the forest area.
Then we acquired some of those green shopping crates from a well known supermarket. They are brilliant for climbing over & around & balancing planks to make walkways. These are also used a lot in my setting as storage for resources.
The best thing about crates is that they provide drainage so sticks & resources can stay outside without becoming sodden on wet days. 
My favourite post from the last OPP was from Jessica over Growing Inch by Inch - her post Sometimes I just Ignore the Children resonated so much with me & my practice. It was one of the biggest things I took away from a week I spent in a kindergarten in Norway - to step back from the play outside & allow the children to take ownership. Now our role in the playground is one of observers rather than actively teaching.

"Now it’s time for this week’s Outdoor Play Party. We would 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 Pinterest. Please 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 at’ button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!"

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Living. Learning. Together.

This year my class are involved in a year long project funded by the Integrated Education Fund ( I.E.F) - Living. Learning. Together. with 2 classes from a local special school. Since November my class have been 3 times to visit our partner school, once to play together in their lovely new playground & twice to have music sessions with Jo Jingles & play together outside. This month we hosted a 2 day visit from our new friends & all the children (40 in total: 28 of mine & 12 from the other school) got the chance to work with a professional artist - Grainne Kielty from Artworks. 
On the first day Grainne made clay footprints with all the children to be made into an outdoor art piece for Bear Woods.

The children loved pressing a shoe or welly boot into the clay & then looking at the pattern it had made.
On the second day Grainne & the children made some felt, they loved this whole experience & we had a couple of students visiting that day who got totally involved too. 

As the clay footprints are staying in school we decided that each child would get a felt square to take home from the 2 day experience. 
The felt the children helped to make was cut into squares so each child can have one to keep.
Next month we will travel to the other school to work with Grainne again over 2 days to create some more fab artwork. 
It is always lovely to see the children playing together & at this age they are almost oblivious to the wheelchairs some of the children are in. They concentrate on the similarities rather than any differences, so they noticed children with the same wellies or coat or hair bands. 
We will be hosting our partners another day for a drumming circle & then our project will finish with a picnic in the amazing grounds of our partner school with all the parents invited along to see what we have achieved together all year.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Ice, ice baby!

I went back to work this week after almost 3 weeks off - my dad had taken ill suddenly & died within a week. Getting back to school was important to me but I also knew I needed to take time to make sure I was in the right place when I returned. Luckily working with 3 & 4 year olds is the best possible tonic for helping anyone get over a sad event.

The past few weeks we have lots of snow & because it was so cold most of it lay around for a few weeks. It was amazing to see the mud kitchen transformed by snow & ice - I was informed it was no longer a mud kitchen but an Elsa kitchen - the power of Disney!

The safety surface (I have talked before about the irony of it's name) is also so slippy & icy in very cold weather but this week it was coated in a thick layer of ice, so in parts where it is in the shade it reseembled an ice rink. It never ceases to amaze me how small children can run & jump on icy surfaces that most adults creep along on!
One of the tyre tops had come off & got frozen solid onto the ground in the snow, eventually after a week when it thawed out enough to lift it a perfect ice circle was left underneath.

Every tyre held a hidden treasure of ice & the children had such fun trying to get the shapes out as intact as possible & all the various containers around the playground had ice in them & as a lot of them were circles there were lots of ice pizzas on offer in the Mud Elsa kitchen.

Some of the children could have stayed outside for hours playing with the ice & water, it is always incredible how some never seem to feel the cold.
Because it was cold but dry we were able to go out again after lunch when it was a little warmer. (if it's wet it is not worth putting a second set of rain gear on the children for that 30 minute playtime).

The children has so much fun finding 'treasure' in the ice - cutlery, sticks, leaves, pieces of chalk, beech nuts, gumballs & hickory nuts. 
The biggest casualty in the icy weather is the Bottle Babies & many of them froze up then cracked but even these provided lots of fun as the children discovered if they stood on a cracked Bottle baby they could create a little spray of water.

I know I'm not meant to ever complain about the weather or have a favourite type but if I'm honest I love it when it's cold & dry!