Thursday, 16 March 2017

Developing your Practice.

I have blogged quite a few times about how my practice has evolved over the past 13 years mainly as a direct result of being involved in British Council Comenius projects with schools in Poland, Norway, Italy, France & Sweden but I have often wondered whether the same projects ever had as big an impact on any of the other partners.
So last year when the Polish kindergarten contacted me to see if our school was interested in embarking on a new Erasmus Plus (the new name for Comenius projects) Project, I jumped at the chance. This new project is about how to best integrate migrant children into kindergartens & there are 10 partners from 8 different countries involved - U.K (us), Sweden, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Italy & Estonia. 
We had our first face-to-face meeting last month in Łodź in Poland and it was so good to have the opportunity to revisit the kindergarten almost 9 years after my last visit. 

I first was in Kindergarten 152 in 2005 and was struck immediately by the warm atmosphere and homely feeling in the classrooms, there was a lack of the expensive resources I was used to seeing back home in early years classrooms but there were lots of plants and carpeted areas and a real warmth between the children and teachers. The day was very structured with lots of individual 'lessons' e.g. chess, ballet, English etc. and it felt quite formal. However, it did seem a little chaotic and their teachers always commented on how well behaved our children were when they visited.
So when I revisited at the beginning of March I was delighted to see how their various projects since 2008 have had a huge influence on their practice. The biggest change was that they now have mixed ages classes so in each class there are 3,4,5 & 6 year olds. Every teacher I spoke to was adamant that they would never go back to their former way of having classes of 3-4 year olds, 4-5 year olds  & 5-6 year olds. They explained how this new system was very alien to the Polish system and theirs is the only kindergarten in the city to offer it and how many parents were resistant to the idea at first. As the teachers explained, this new way of organising classes means that no teacher has a whole new class at the beginning of a school year, as only a handful of children will move on each year & so the others will help the new children to settle in more easily.

Each classroom was still full of greenery and felt like a home from home but I could immediately see that they were much better resourced - they all have interactive whiteboards and lots more resources. It was very obvious that every teacher had taken on board many of the different strategies for class management and teaching styles that they had seen in each of their partner schools. There was lots of hands on learning rather than direct teaching & embedding learning in concrete experiences with lost of layering, the children were getting so many opportunities to practice their numeracy skills again and again in different ways - simple counting, number identification, physically jumping and counting etc. 
Every class we went into it was very obvious that there has been a big emphasis on teaching English in the kindergarten, all the children were very keen to practice with me & I was very impressed by their understanding, it wasn't just learned phrases. 
When I first visited in 2005, the outdoor space was very bare and only used in Spring & summer terms. As our partnership with the Norwegian outdoor kindergarten had had such an impact on my practice I was curious to see if anything had changed in their outdoor space too. I was delighted when Grazyna, the director, took me aside and wanted to show me their newly developed outdoor spaces. They have such a huge outdoor area and I as so happy to see al of it being used now and all year round too. It was lovely to be able to go outside with 2 of the classes and see the children playing in the space & I got to chat to the teachers about how the space is used. 
I am a firm believer in evolving practice but I also believe that it has to happen slowly and be realistic about each setting - you cannot simply transplant ideas from one country into another - so it was so wonderful to see how this kindergarten has reflected on how they might incorporate ideas or change them to suit their setting and practice. Most of all, I could see that all changes came about because of the difference they could make to the lives of the children and staff and not just because they were a current trend. 

You can read more about my project experiences here: 

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Introducing two year olds to the wider outdoors - guest post from Iceland.

This post is written by Unnur Henrysdottir, a preschool colleague from Hafnarfjordur in Iceland who I was fortunate enough to connect with over 4 years ago and have subsequently visited on 2 occasions. She is an inspiring practitioner and has been so kind to give us a little glimpse into how she introduces her youngest pupils to the wider outdoor experience beyond the playground.
Lesley ( from Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School)  Unnur & myself in Reykjavik last October.
Unnur writes: Here is a little inside into our trips with the youngest students in my class to the woods.This year my class has four different age groups and the youngest in the group are just two, so even though the walk to our woods is not that long it can be little difficult for short feet fully clothed in thick winter overalls. 
 My motto is to go and explore, have fun and maybe come back with some stones or sticks if we are lucky. With the younger children, rather than go on the same day every week we go when the weather is decent.  The older group goes every Tuesday, good weather or not. In the big woods were we take the older children to, it's full of places with trees to crawl between and places to get lost. So instead of going there and feeling like I would be stopping the younger ones from exploring what ever they want to I was lucky enough to find a more open space for us to practice. 
There are still some trees to use, there is a mysterious house/cabin there with a door but no keyhole so how do we go about opening this mysterious door?  And there is a big fish tank there full of gravel to play with. There is even a big trolley there to sit in and play with.

We always take our school trolley with us and in that we put things like drinks, snacks and few things to play with, like dices, magnifying glasses, a white cloth to write on or use to look at things we find and would like to explore better. It is always good when you can go out to play and explore and follow the children's curiosity. 

I find that because we keep going to the same place, we find the children get confident in what they are going to do and are more capable of taking on new challenges which is what I like to see with my group. 

Until next time best regards from us in Blásteinn Iceland 

You can follow more of the adventures of this wonderful preschool here over on Facebook:ás-leikskóli-344648402319950/

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Lots & Lots of outdoor fun!

The weather has been so changeable recently, either very cold and dry or mild and wet. I'm honestly not sure which I prefer because although the drier weather is welcome the cold isn't & yet on the damp, wet, mild days everyone gets wet & dirty whilst playing in the playground! But then the damp weather provides lots of water for the mud kitchen.
The children have had fun building outdoors, playing with clay to & making patterns with sticks etc. 
A fire with popcorn & marshmallows.
A clay spider.
For 6 weeks we will be having 3 outdoor mornings as the children are taking part in a 6 week programme with Aidan from Sporty Tots and it's easier to have the room set up for lunch & play outside whilst 1/2 the class at a time goes over to the main school hall for a 30 minute session of Sporty Tots. Our other outdoor mornings are Tuesday, when we have our fire and Thursday when we go to visit Bear Woods. This year, the class are loving their time up in Bear Woods and can easily put in 45 minutes climbing on the log snake, rolling down the slope, climbing up the slope, cooking in the mud kitchen, chatting to their older siblings in the main school over the fence and looking for buds and leaves & signs of Spring. A few years ago one of our caretakers built seats up in Bear Woods for the class to sit on at snack time and this year one child discovered that it's possible to roll a ball along the seats & it has become a popular game with this class - one child sits at each end of the bench and they roll the ball between them, it works as well on the ones on the slope as the one at the top on the slope. It is lovely to watch the children playing together and laughing as they try to roll the ball up the bench. 

The benches are perfect for rolling a ball up & down.
Today 3 boys stood in the den and watched over the fence at the nursery below, the school carpark, the delivery vans  & the traffic passing by the school. They had a wonderful conversation about how some of the delivery men had taken all the toys from the nursery to turn them into food, they were able to tell me exactly what item would be a certain piece of food e.g. the bouncers were to be roast potatoes!
Watching the world go by!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Building, building everywhere!

This week we started back after a two break for Christmas, it is always a bit of worry whether some children will find it hard to settle back in after the break but almost of all the children had no problem at all coming back in and settling straight to play. Most in fact, were delighted to see their friends again and couldn't wait to explore the playground again. 
It is always interesting to reflect on how far the children have come in just 4 months & sometimes it's easy for us the adults to forget how many new skills they have achieved since September. It's always good to read over the observations and for all staff to chat about how children used to be to help us appreciate the progress they have made. It is wonderful to watch a child come to pick a book to take home when you remember that same child not wanting to take part in such activities a few weeks ago, or to see someone get an egg timer to ensure they get a turn with a resource with no prompting from any of the adults. 
The past few days the children enjoyed building lots of different structures and we could definitely see an increase in concentration and perseverance at such activities. 
It's always great to see the 'harder' resources in action and to see how the children can really engage with them and extend their play - it never ceases to amaze me what the children can build as sometimes we as adults can only think of limited ways to use resources!

One child spent all morning playing with the 'Lasy' first building a windmill 'like on our jumpers' and then a 'big long thing' - it was indeed a very long thing, it stretched across the classroom and it took a lot of patience to join all the little 'H' shapes together.

"It's a round thing" - of course, silly me!
Another child stacked up some cardboard cylinders that we have in the block corner and found my hat on the shelf nearby & made her mummy - she then decided that it needed her own scarf too, I helped tie it on. She was very proud of her creation and we left up until the next morning so her mummy could see it too. 

As we begin second term, I can't wait to see what amazing structures the children will create as we add more resources together. 

You can find out more about LASY here:

Thursday, 15 December 2016

"Fablon" art.

Sometimes I forget about easy art activities like "fablon" art (some call is sticky backed plastic), last week when the children had finished snack but we were still outside for another hour, I remembered about some fablon I had in the office & decided to let them make a snowman to brighten up the door to the playground. We have lots of small tissue squares & offcuts that were perfect for this.

I cut the shape of the snowman out & the children enjoyed covering all the plastic up until we had a colourful snowman to display on the door. Then another day, I decided to let them use what was left to create some art for the story room window. The first time, it was weird as only girls got involved whereas the second time it was a very mixed group that enjoyed the activity. 

Luckily one of the assistants found a big roll of fablon & now we can make loads more lovely colourful stainless effect art for the doors & windows!

A big thanks to Monica for some of the photos.

Monday, 5 December 2016

What to do with 1000's of conkers!

Loose parts in abundance!
In October our Parent Council (PTA) asked the children to collect conkers for the Hallowe'en party and offered prizes for those who brought the most in in each class. They were surprised by the sheer amount that were collected and after making conker snakes with all the children at the party, they had 2 bins full of them left over to donate to nursery. 
We have enough to fill up the bottom of one of the pallet dens!
Since then the children have had fun cooking with them in the mud kitchen, rolling them down the slope in Bear Woods, planting some to see if we can grow some chestnut trees and generally incorporating them into their play. 
We had added them to most activities indoors too - the dough, water, sand etc. & plan to paint with them soon too.
Candles on the birthday cakes.
It has been fascinating to see all the early maths coming out with the conkers, some have made patterns with them on the crates or lined them up to count. One child began to put them into some upturned giant Lego blocks to make 'birthday cakes'  & this was followed with others putting loads into some bilibos and 'cooking' them on the fire - I do love it when the children transfer experiences into their play scenarios.
The Lego blocks are the sticks, as they have seen me set a fire & they are cooking chocolate cake!

Friday, 2 December 2016

Using resources creatively.

Sometimes we adults lose sight of the fact that resources can be used in so many different ways and they don't have to have a fixed end result. Luckily young children always see the potential of any resource to be anything they want it to be and aren't constrained by the same beliefs that we adults might have. Every 2 weeks when we plan as a staff, we sit in the store where all the resources are kept so we can look at them differently and mull over which resources might work together. At the end of the day some of our 'experiments' work and others don't but mostly they are a success as the 3 and 4 years olds embrace any opportunity to use resources in so many different ways.
I suppose we need to see all resources as loose parts!
A few years ago we invested in some Polydron and it quickly became a favourite of everyone - there just needs to be loads of it so there is no arguments over the pieces. It is a very versatile resource as it works on it's own or with other pieces added to it. Up until now we had added small world figures so the children could make houses etc. but then this week we put the rectangular magnetic boards out with them and it was incredible to see how the children embraced the chance to use the Polydron on a flat surface. Some built them up in the traditional way making boxes etc. whilst others began to make patterns and then add figures into the shapes.
One child made ' a lovely sunny day', we'll be evaluating this mix of resources as a success and certainly be putting this out again soon.
"It's a lovely sunny day" - can you see the grass, sky & sun?