Friday, 18 December 2020

Seeing the positives of a pandemic!

We made it - my class survived the first term in nursery during a worldwide pandemic and man do I feel like I have dodged a huge moving juggernaut. I am fortunate to have lots of fellow educators around the world to connect with and share ideas, compare notes and tease out solutions to problems. I would have been lost without the friendship and support of these people the last few months as we navigated the unknown terrain of teaching with a deadly virus amidst us. 

I have tried my best to remain upbeat, I am an optimist after all but at times it was so hard to ignore the criticism being heaped on schools - we were lazy and hiding away during the initial lockdown and then we were being unrealistic when asking for lots of reassurances before reopening and now again we are being accused of being difficult and whinging because schools were asking for early closure so staff and families could relax and know they would not be self isolating over Christmas. We just can't win it seems. The same people who were calling for schools to open and 'get on with it' are now calling for them to close and it is so frustrating that we, the actual people in the thick of it are usually the last to know anything. 

But this is not a post where I moan and complain about how the powers that be seem to really dislike school staff, instead I am going to reflect on the all the good things that have emerged during the past few months in my setting.

Our lovely new dedicated dining area. 

A very wise friend, who used to be an inspector but is now an educational consultant, advised me to keep track of the benefits of any of the changes implemented because of Covid so I could justify why I was keeping them when we can go back to a normal school day. I loved this idea because I can see so many benefits to the changes we had to make and like my favourite tool, a risk benefit analysis, I can already see the benifits of the changes far outweigh any negatives. 

So what changes will we be keeping? 

We have always started out day outdoors and can't imagine doing this any other way after 13 years BUT we never start outdoors during the initial settling in period. There are too many indoor skills to be taught first so we usually don't start the outdoor session until the 4th or 5th day. The children have to learn where the toilets are, where to hang their coats up, store their change of clothes, put their artwork etc. and that is all indoors, normally after 3 days of repeating these tasks we feel we can now start outdoors but this year we settled everyone in from outdoors and it worked so we definite
ly won't be starting indoors again. In fact we didn't go indoors for the first week at all except to show a child where the toilet was. We settled the children in much slower and in smaller groups and I will argue to keep this too, we had 6-7 children for 2 hours over 4 days and it was so lovely to get to know them in the small group and to feel they were happy to  explore the playground in a small group. 

Coming down the path to head to Bear Woods and this is how the families leave the nursery each day too. 
Our restart document had allowed for parents in the playground at settling in time and we took full advantage of this with the small groups of 6-7 children, we did ask only one parent to attend if possible and they dotted themselves around the outdoor space over the 2 days of their child only attending 1 hour. We also had their taster day of 1 hour in August rather than June and we are definitely keeping this as it was much easier to meet the children on week and then have them come back the next week to actually start nursery. And this was the first year in a long time that most parents were away and children settled within the first week. We had 3 children who were more reluctant to say goodbye but even those parents were away within 30 minutes each morning. The biggest asset we have is that our entrance gate leads straight from the carpark into the playground and a few years ago we got holes cut into it to allow children to say goodbye through the gate and then watch parents drive or walk away. But guess what we are in our building 14 years and they was the first time we ever thought to use the second gate we have at the other end of the playground! Home time has always been staggered over 15 minutes but as parents were having to start 2 metres apart there was a real traffic jam at home time as one parent was leaving and another trying to come in the gate, so we started to look at how we could alleviate this without having parents come into the building. It was at his point we remembered we had 2 gates and so we now use one as an entrance and the other as an exit and sometime is all easily accommodated in the 15 minutes. 

We also realised that this other 'exit' gate was a much better way for us to take the children out of the playground to go to Bear Woods as it avoids being near the carpark and we can let the children go ahead down the path at the side of the nursery on the way back and into the playground by themselves. I have no idea why it took us 14 years to realise this but there you go!

The fact that we have so much moveable furniture on wheels has also really come into itself this term, we simply moved the unit where children put artwork, hats, gloves, notes or water bottles into from the hallway into the classroom at the back door so they can gather everything on their way home. They can also now put their artwork straight into the drawers instead of having to walk across the classroom and out into the hallway - where some invariable got distracted by books or toys and an adult had to go look for them. We won't ever use the hallway as it was before so that unit can stay at the back door and we will also use this as the main entrance from now as it is under the covered area and allows parents to collect their children from the building whilst staying dry on wet days. 

You can read about how we have turned our hallway into a dining area in this post: and suffice to say that will be staying as is no matter what. 

Another positive is that all the children could put their own coats on by the middle of October. Normally we start outdoors and then move indoors so it is rare that the children are taking coats off and on again everyday. But now with so much hand washing and coming indoors to eat snack and dinner, they are taking their coats on and off a lot this year. One of the main assistants had always tried to show the children how to use the Montessori Coat Flip to put their coats on but as it wasn't a regular activity it never really 'took' but this year it has been amazing. The children are so proud of themselves and enjoy putting their coats on and some are now moving onto zipping them up unaided too. 

Not having to clear the room for dinner has been the biggest change for us and one that we will fight to keep. This has had a huge impact on the routine of the day as normally we had to stop everything at some point in the morning to tidy up and then have story so the room could be set up for dinner. Now that we eat in a dedicated space that is set up already we can just play away uninterrupted and call half the class at a time for snack and dinner. Both myself and the main assistant visited a meeting in Finland last October and we both feel that we now have that same relaxed feel that we got in this kindergarten and that I have witnessed in settings in Iceland, Sweden and Norway. The nursery day flows even easier now we aren't stopping everything to hear the classroom for dinner. We are seeing a totally different ebb and flow to the play as well as the children have longer periods to enjoy playing together and in smaller groups as the day unfolds. It is lovely to have smaller groups playing for at least 30 minutes through the day as the other group is eating inside. We are also seeing that some children are getting that opportunity to warm up to play before deciding to put on their rain gear and go and play with water or in the mud kitchen whereas before they would have been told it was too late to do that as we were getting ready to go indoors or have dinner. Now if children are in their rain gear we simply take their coats off but keep the dungarees on over dinner and then they can go straight back into messy pay again afterwards. 

Having time to enjoy playing with friends outdoors over a longer period has huge benefits. 
We also decided to let them take their shoes/boots off in the dining area to recreate that more homely feel and they love this and it is definitely one to keep too. We now have a long tuff spot just for shoes in the dining area. 

Taking shoes/boots off to eat has proved very popular. 

Another nursery colleague said to me that she now felt we were back to how nursery was supposed to be before we all tried to recreate too many routines and do too much rather than simply letting the children play and I totally agree. I thought I had a relaxed, play based day until the term when I look back and realise how it was more like a hamster wheel of activities as we tried to cram too much in a 5 hour day. 

If we can we spend the day outdoors, only coming in to eat and for a story at the end of the day and so far it has fabulous. Obviously why the colder, wet days on the New Year we will probably move indoors around 11.30 so one group can have dinner and the other play in the classroom before swapping over. This means we have turned our day around and now spend the majority of time outdoors with a maximum of 40 minutes spend at indoor play, we will of course review this as the year progresses. 

So in conclusion, I won't miss all the cleaning and worrying about catching this virus but I will definitely be thankful that we had this opportunity to rediscover the joy of a truly play based curriculum and being based more outdoors than indoors. 

If we need to we can get the whole class seated for dinner together.