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:
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:

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:

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!)