Thursday, 18 January 2018

Polydron, Dice & Poker Chips - Take 2!


I wrote a post back in June about how adding some dice to our Polydron had made it become a much more versatile resource than it already was - I love Polydron and the plan for this year is to invest in more of it. 
Today one child decided to build on the floor with it rather than up on the Tuff Spot, he began by laying all the squares down, others then joined him snaking out into the hallway. They all worked really well together and there was lot son chat about what they building, what they could add etc. When the squares were exhausted they began to add the triangles to the outside, then the Pentagons and these allowed the 'snake' to go around the corner and then they decided to add the dice and finally the poker chips. 
This activity kept this group of children busy and engaged for up to 2 hours and made me realise that it is important to allow the children the opportunity to build on a flat surface too. As we need the tables on dinner days, perhaps on a lunch day we could have it outside and remove some of the tables to all the children to build on this scale again in the classroom.

Here is the last post I did on the Polydron & dice: https://nosuchthingasbadweather.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/dice-what-great-addition.html

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

'Snow' such thing as bad weather!

Bear Woods in the Snow.
Every week we have an outdoor day when the class spent the majority of the day outdoors no matter what the weather and this week it was a cold, icy and a little snowy - not very deep or fluffy snow but snow none the less.
The children enjoyed exploring the playground and making mini snowmen, balancing on the crates and tree stumps even though they were slippy and pulling each other on the plastic sleds.
 

Instead of a big fire we did some tin can cooking, which I first heard about from Martin over at Highway Farm Activity Centre, the children enjoyed dipping apple and mini marshmallows into the melted chocolate - next time we'll use cocktail sticks instead of skewers.

Before heading inside for a story and a lovely hot dinner, some of the children who were still in their rain gear, headed up the hill above the nursery to visit Bear Woods and make some snow angels on the grass. 

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Enjoying a new outdoor space.

The hill/mountain!
For the past 9 years we have been very fortunate to be able to make use of the amazing outdoor space at a local special school nearby. We have been in partnerships with their nursery class a few times as well but this year we are just enjoying visiting the sensory garden and playing with their nursery children. 

Today all the children got hopped up in their 'rain gear' with hats & gloves and we headed off on a huge yellow bus to have fun in the forest. Lots of mummies came along too to help out. 

The children had their snack first before going for a walk around the garden to see all the places they could play, then they were able to just explore the site for an hour and some of their new friends from the nursery class in the school joined them. 
There are lots of oak trees in the space so loads of leaves to enjoy - the children loved climbing up the hill/mountain and some enjoyed rolling or running down it even more. Sometimes they even managed to fly through the air & skid to a stop in the leaves!
Some children spent a long time searching for trees to climb and were very pleased to find one or two.

When we were leaving all the children asked when they can return to the forest again of more fun.
Back at school, the wobbly bridge & hill were declared the best parts of the visit.
The wobbly bridge.
Thanks to all those parents who came along to help out. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Different types of outdoor play.

"I have pink hoop & a pink Bottle Baby"
We had a very short week at school this week as the children came back on a Thursday after almost a full week off for Hallowe'en. As a preschool teacher I'm not a fan of being off that long so early in the school year as it usually means we have a few children unsettled for a week or so after being off again, so soon after having just settled into school. However, it's something we just have to deal with each year and we always hope that the majority of the children are glad to come back and see their new friends and enjoy exploring new resources and activities in the playground and classroom. 
The weather helped us this week as it was dry and cold - my favourite type of weather, if I am being totally honest. I love it when the playground is dry and the children can sit about on the ground without getting dirty and wet and it so lovely to be able to enjoy all resources without them being covered in dirt - let's be honest in our damp Irish climate most of the time everything is coated in a layer of damp dirt!
It is always interesting to watch as the children become more confident in the outdoor space and begin to explore more of the resources - it can take weeks for each new class to begin to interact with some of the permanent fixtures and some years they can be ignored altogether unless an adult deliberately creates an invitation to play. 
The box pallet is perfect for perfecting climbing before moving onto the pallet den.
This week it was as if it was the first time some of the children noticed that the pallet house was perfect for climbing on - up until now they have filled it with bread crates and used it as giant communal 'trampoline'. We have a box type pallet in the 'forest area' within the playground that they climb in and out of all the time but up until this week no one had attempted to climb on the one at the back of the playground. 
The feeling of satisfaction that each child felt upon their ascent to the top to sit with their friends looking over the playground was a sight to behold. 


Our playground allows for all types of play, those who want to run about or climb and take part in more robust play can do so but equally there are quiet spaces of those who want to time to sit and read or just 'be'. 
A reading area has been created under the slide with some crates and 'wrap arounds' from Mindstretchers. 
I moved the large Lego bricks out into the playground this week and the children took full advantage of the large area to spread out and make bigger structures. 
Just by moving the Lego & turning the crates over a whole new play scenario was created. 
I find that if resources stay in the same place the children begin to ignore them after a while - it is almost as if they become part of the landscape and are not really seen anymore. So every so often, we'll move the bricks or crates or logs and see what the children will make of them in their new space. And I suppose that's why so many people are now wary of too much fixed equipment in playgrounds.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Risk or opportunity?


Stumps - provide so many different learning opportunities, they are not just for climbing or sitting on!

This past month we have had 3 teachers working in the nursery & Primary 1 from Madrid, they were over as part of an Erasmus Plus Job Shadowing opportunity & spent the 4 weeks observing practice in both classes and gathering information on how to create a more inclusive ethos in their school. 
Marta, Rosa and Maria from Madrid. 
The Principal was one of the 3 visitors and on her first day in nursery was a bit worried about being back in the classroom after 9 years out in a management role but she very quickly was able to get back into a more hands on mode. She was a very warm person and the children were drawn to her to read them books etc. 
I had sent them an email to warn them that they'd be spending the first hour outside when in the nursery and at first they thought I was joking but when they realised I was serious they all came well prepared to be outdoors no matter what the weather. 
On the first day in the nursery there were lots of questions being asked mostly about the weather - I don't think anyone had prepared the poor Spanish for our grey skies and lack of sunshine! They couldn't get over the fact that the children were all happy to be outdoors even on a cold & damp morning, they wanted to know why the parents weren't complaining about their children being outside, they asked would we go outside in heavy rain or snow? I remember asking similar questions when I visited a kindergarten in Norway. They were also quite taken aback at some of our resources - weren't the tree stumps too dangerous? What if the children fell while climbing on them? Didn't they get slippy in the damp weather? 

At first I could see that the Principal was a little stressed as she watched children climbing on the planks, logs and stumps and she rushed to help children who fell or slipped but gradually as she spent more time watching them and us & how we reacted to falls etc. she began to relax. 
After a couple of days, we had a conversation about what she had observed so far and it was wonderful to see how much she had taken on board in such a short time. It reminded me that sometimes we do need to see things first hand for us to really 'get it'. She explained how she had realised that while the children might stumble or fall on the slippy logs, they all got up and went back to keep on trying, she had watched them practising again and again until they knew which ones were wobblier or slippier than the others and how some would jump down and skip over those ones whilst others would just take it more slowly. Most of all it was our reactions that she had picked up on - we didn't rush over making a big fuss is a child fell, instead all adults stayed very calm and as a result, unless badly hurt, most children were happy to get some sympathy and just keep on climbing. Even if a child who was crying and upset they liked that we had a designated seat for the injured child to rest on while 'Mr Bump' was applied & then they would just get up and continue to play. 

A few days ago, this article about risk in outdoor settings was shared on social media https://tinytrees.org/2017/10/17/how-safe-are-outdoor-preschools-results-from-a-uw-study/ and it made me think about how we, as adults, can worry too much about the whole 'what might happen if..' scenarios when we think about young children taking risks. We have lots of life experience and obviously a lot more than the children in our care but we also have to stop ourselves from always thinking of the worst case scenario. In my experience a child who falls off a log when climbing will rarely be off climbing ever again, yes they might get a scrape or bruise but they also know that it won't happen every time they climb. As someone once pointed out, if a baby gave up trying to walk every time they fell, none of us would ever have learned how to walk. 

After 4 weeks in the nursery, the visiting teachers could see that the children were very happy outdoors, they were busy and purposeful in their play. The principal could see that there were less arguments outdoors and most of all she kept saying 'Your children are all so happy, there is no crying' and she could see that they were ready for more settled play when we moved indoors too. Sometimes it is good to have another person question your practice and make you explain why you do things a certain way or have particular resources, it is always good to reflect on your practice. 
Here is a another good article on the importance of daily outdoor play opportunities: https://www.childtrends.org/year-round-outdoor-play-can-boost-kids-performance-school/

Friday, 27 October 2017

It is ok to be alone!

I prefer a child who knows their own mind and doesn't others to enjoy playing somewhere. 

"No one will play with me"
"X won't play with me"
"Y keeps following me"
"I have no one to play with"
"I want to sit beside X"
"I don't want to sit beside X"
"X isn't my friend anymore"

Anyone who works with preschool children will have heard these phrases and many other variations throughout the school day. The children in nursery are aged between 3 and 2 months and 4 and 2 months when they start school in our system in N. Ireland and sometimes we, the adults, forget that is a very short time to have been on this planet and that there are so many new emotions and experiences to be had once they are in a much bigger group of peers. many of the children in my class come into nursery straight from being at home with a parent/grandparent or carer, some will have siblings, some won't and others will have been with other children in daycare or with a child minder but I can guarantee none of them have been in a group with 26 other peers and just 2 adults for the majority of their day.

We begin our day outdoors and more often than not the children run out into the playground and begin playing immediately - they are excited to return to play with resources they had enjoyed the day before or to explore new ones for the first time. Sometimes parents will stay and watch to see how their child is settling in to the class and it is usual to have a parent ask 'Do they not play with the other children?' when they see their child head over to an activity where there are no other peers whilst ignoring another one that may have a crowd of children at it. They might also ask 'Do they have a friend yet?' or "Who do they play with?'. When a parent asks the former question I always ask them to actually observe the group of children for a short while and they we talk about how most if not all of that group are playing alongside each other rather than together. I try to explain about the different stages of play that young children move through as described by Mildred Parten in the 1920's. (There is a good article describing them on this site -  https://pathways.org/blog/kids-learn-play-6-stages-play-development/ 
I feel that anyone can enjoy these stages of play at different times of the day and not just as a set stage they move through as they get older and solitary play has its place in life even as children become older. 

We usually hold parent/teacher meetings in late October/early November and I always stress how important it is when a child is happy in their own company and knows what they want rather than having to rely on others before they choose to play somewhere. It is a truly great quality to have already realised at the age of 3 or 4 that you are responsible for your own happiness and contentment rather than waiting for others to fulfil it.
Sometimes it's good to be alone in your own thoughts when you are surrounded by a large group of peers. 
In fact it can be more of an issue if young children make very firm friendships that exclude others or totally rely on each other and are lost if their friend is off sick or doesn't want to do exactly the same thing as them. So often that "X isn't my friend anymore' refrain actually means that X wants to play in the sand but Y doesn't. Or another child has managed to break into the previous solid twosome. 
When a sympathetic adult teases through some of those familiar refrains, it is more likely that the child claiming no-one will play with them, hasn't yet acquired the skills to know that you have to ask people to play with you or have the skill to know how to join in an already established game. Parents might watch a group of children all running around 'playing together' and wonder why their child is over playing on their own but in fact if asked none of those running around could tell you what they are playing, they are just caught up in the game of chase!

Some children will make firm friendships very early on in nursery and it might well continue as the children progress up through the school whilst others will peter out as the children get older. In fact it is more common for young children to have very fluid 'friendships' as they test out most of their newly developed social skills. 
Here is another helpful article on the minefield of friendships with young children: https://www.parentmap.com/article/they-wont-play-with-me-what-to-do-when-your-child-is-left-out




Sunday, 24 September 2017

Seeing the world from another point of view.


A whole new class of children has begun to settle into the nursery, this year we have 27 three and four year olds and most of them have settled into nursery without too many problems. So far they have only been attending nursery for 2 hours in 2 smaller groups of 13 and 14 but on Friday they all joined up together as one big class and next week they will stay for 3 hours before going to the full time of 4 hours and 45 minutes the following week. 

It is amazing how many new skills they have already mastered and how easily they accept the routine of nursery, so on Friday when they were in a much larger group most took to it  easily. It was interesting to watch them initially playing with the peers they have already met over the past 3 weeks but gradually over the morning they began to mix more and by 11.00 it was hard to imagine they hadn't all been together all along. 

A big rite of passage in the class is when some children discover they can stand up on the outdoor seat to see over the fence into the wider world that lies beyond the nursery playground. For some it is a matter of being able to see the 'big school' where they have siblings attending, others might spot 'God's House' as there are several churches visible in the nearby town, others will recognise the sports pitches above the school where older siblings go to play in a local football team.

However, for me the biggest new view point for any nursery child is that of a peer, for some it is first time they have come into contact with someone their own age who has just as many opinions and demands as them. In first term, we hear lots of 'But I want it' as the children grapple with the whole concept of turn taking. And it can take some a long time to realise that another child has feelings just a big as them. For me, this is what nursery is all about - developing empathy for others and self esteem for yourself. Some children come into the setting with lots of empathy already whilst others have varying degrees of it or none at all. 

On Friday when they were all one big class, one child who is struggling with separation from his parent was crying and it was interesting to see the others reactions, some were close to crying themselves, some were annoyed by the noise and had no sympathy at all for the child whilst one or two rallied round him and tried to offer comfort - either by physically patting him while he was trying to make sense of the big feelings he was experiencing or by telling him how they missed their parent too. I was particularly impressed by one child, who speaks the same home language as the poor upset child, it was the first time they were meeting and yet this child took time to come over and offer a comforting presence to the upset child. He told me how he was going to be his friend and helped me find things that might help him settle. When it was time for his parent to come back, she was so happy to hear that her child had had another to help him deal with his big emotions. 

I look forward to another year of adventures with the class and hope to share some of them with you all through this blog. 

Here is an article I came across about how to help a young child develop empathy: 
https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/5-how-to-help-your-child-develop-empathy