Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Can we 'fix' this - yes we can!

Early Years people are great at finding solutions, we generally don't wait around for others to tell us what to do, we go off and find ways to make things happen for ourselves. This became very apparent to me recently during the months before we returned to school after lockdown. I attended lots of on line seminars and workshops and realised that I enjoyed the ones attended by fellow early years people the best. I always came away with lots of ideas and felt very positive after listening to the solutions people around the globe were coming up with to help get back into school and to help the children settle in as easily as possible. 

I stored away many of the ideas as I listened or read about them - like the idea of having a bubble machine to help distract children as they had to leave their parents after a longer than usual time at home. 

When we were told that in the new norm of school reopening parents couldn't be in the building, we had already decided to have settling in time outside so parents could stay initially long before this advice was given by our Education restart committee. 

This pandemic has thrown us all into disarray and caused lots of things that we normally do to be taken away or changed. At another webinar run by Playboard NI the speaker talked about how we, the adults would struggle with how the new school day looked but that the children would accept whatever we presented as normal. This is especially true for me as a nursery teacher, the children have never been to my class before (bar one) so whatever I present as a normal day, is what they accept. 

When we went getting ready to start back, it became clear that our hallway wasn't going to be used like it always had - the children used it to hang up their coats, store spare clothing and each child had a drawer for paintings, drawings, notes home etc. in a unit. Parents would come right into the hallway and spend time chatting to each other. We also used it as space for small group activities like Play to Learn More sessions. But now it was going to be a huge cloakroom that was a totally underused space. The 2 of us who work together looked at it with fresh eyes and wondered if we could use it as space for eating snack? Previously our snack was outside and the children could come and go freely but now we were going to have to sit with them to hand out food, so we decided to put a table out into the hallway and use it for snack. At settling in time the children were in smaller groups of 15 & 12 and just stayed for 2 hours, so we took them inside for snack in groups of 5 or 6. It was a lovely time to chat to the children and help them learn the names etc. Once we had used the space for snack we began to think if we could use it for dinner too, obviously we couldn't get all 27 eating at the same time but we thought we might get 13-14 at a time if we could get suitable seating. I began to look at new tables and benches that would allow us to have a dedicated dining space and luckily thought a combination of funding we were able to buy 2 large tables and a smaller one from the outdoor range at Hope Education. 

In previous years we had made coloured glass lanterns with the children to put candles into and had some left over that I used in the story room to create a more relaxed atmosphere. We brought them out into the hallway and got fairy lights and LED tea lights instead of candles to soften the light so we don't need the overhead fluorescent lights on. 

This immediately seemed to make the atmosphere much calmer and the children were definitely quieter than when the 'big lights' were on. We also have a TV screen that we use to show photos taken that month and the children enjoy looking at these too whilst eating. 

Today we had our first dinners in the new space and it was just wonderful, with only half of the class at a time, it was very quiet and the adult has time to talk to the children. They sat chatting to each other across the tables more easily than before and with benches they were less inclined to be pushing chairs in and out. 

I have been fortunate to visit settings around the globe and was always very envious of their dining spaces, where the adults and children sat together chatting in a very relaxed manner. This was exactly what I wanted to recreate and today as I sat watching the children eating their dinner was the first time I felt we had managed to recreate a little of the lovely relaxed atmosphere I have seen in many Scandinavian settings. 

So, although the world seems like a crazy and quite scary place right now, we have managed to find something good to come out of all this and hopefully the children will enjoy this lovely calm space for many years to come. 

Friday, 2 October 2020

A first visit to Bear Woods for the Class of 2020

The 27 children have all settled into nursery over the past few weeks. This week has been their first in the big class after spending almost 4 weeks in smaller groups of 15 and 12 for just 2 hours a day. This week and next they will be staying for 3 hours before starting full time from the 12th October (all going well!)

We are normally outside every morning for at least an hour and have 2 outdoor days when we stay out all day, just coming in for story and dinner. This year, due to Covid-19 we are staying outside 3 days and only coming in for snack and for an hour 2 days. 

Today all the children got on their rain gear and went for a visit to Bear Woods. We have now been using this wooded space within school grounds since 2014 and one of our current P7 children gave it the name Bear Woods. It is now truly a proper woods and the children have the opportunity to hide among the trees and climb on a big log we have up there and climb up the slope using a rope and roll down the hill. They enjoy looking at their older brothers and sisters over the fence in the main school playground. We have a shed up there where we can keep chalk and tarps etc. so the children had a lot of fun drawing on the shed. There are also mirrored numbers hidden amongst the trees. 

There are yellow lines at the bottom and top of the hill and these show the children where to stop and wait for an adult. The children were brilliant at listening to all the new instructions and stopping before walking up the hill to find the gate into Bear Woods. We had snack up there and the the children were free to explore the area. 

After an hour we all walked back down to the yellow line and stopped before walking back into nursery. 

You can read some more about Bear Woods in this post.