Sunday, 30 March 2014

The Planted Adult.

"The more we listen, the more children will talk"
I attended the annual FONT (Forum of Nursery Teachers) conference in Belfast at the weekend & the keynote speaker was Michael Jones from Michael is a speech therapist who then retrained as a teacher & has done lots of work in preschools in the UK. 
His theme for the conference talk was 'Encouraging language in the busy classroom', an extremely useful topic for nursery teachers in N. Ireland where the staff child ratio is 1:13. Michael had lots of great practical tips for encouraging all children to contribute to a conversation at some point in the busy day and it was heartening to realise that we are already doing a lot to facilitate those who are quieter or have language delays in our classroom.
I was particularly struck by his use of the term 'The Planted Adult' - by this he talked about a 'spare' adult who could afford to place themselves at an activity with no chosen aim but to encourage the children to interact & perhaps chat if they wanted to. In an average nursery class with 26 children & 2 adults this would be a complete luxury but as Michael pointed out it doesn't have to happen every day & it can be a student or parent. I remember doing an assignment many years ago as part of my DASE on encouraging oral language in the classroom & the conclusion I came to then, was that it was more likely for a nursery assistant to be able to give the children undivided attention than a teacher who is always on alert & keeping an eye on the whole classroom.

This year in my class we have 27 children and 4 adults as there are a high number of children with statements of special educational needs, this means that there are times when we can have a planted adult, more so than normal. This year at lunch time we have enough adults for each table & I do notice that the quieter children who never chose to talk in the busy classroom will be most talkative over lunch when they know they have the undivided attention of the adult at the lunch table. This 30 minute period when all the children are seated eating lunch & chatting around the table is a perfect chance for each of the adults to sit without any pressure to being doing something else.

Michael mentioned that the book corner is a perfect place for conversations to be struck up & the quieter children to contribute but again, in a busy classroom it is a rare occasion that one of the adults can just afford to sit reading stories without getting distracted by what is going on in the rest of the room. However, I think that ironically good communication among staff is the key for good communication among the children. If the other staff know that today X is going to be in the book corner for 30 minutes then they know that will have to be the ones to answer the phone or doorbell or deal with any other issues or disputes that occur around the room.

As Michael also pointed out, it is sometimes much easier to be a planted adult outdoors than indoors. If your outdoor play space is properly set up the children should be much more autonomous than they can be outside - they need less adult interaction & therefore one of the adults can afford to just be 'in the moment' with a group of children. I see this happening on a regular basis when we are in Bear Woods or on a visit to the forest. It is much more likely to see an adult sitting with a group of children on the grass just being together & chatting outside than inside where there are too many distractions e.g. did that child put a label on their painting, have they got an apron, has someone spilled water on the floor etc.

Next week I plan to go in to school & on our planning day have a good chat with the assistants about freeing one of us every few days to be a planted adult to allow those quieter less confident children the chance to strike up a conversation with that adult or their peers. 

One thing I heard at the conference that will stick with me is that it is the role of a nursery teacher to help children be part of a larger group & to learn how to interact with their peers.
I have always believed that it is the Personal, Social and Emotional Development area that is one of the most important in nursery & that this in turn will help Language Development & it was great to hear someone else with years of experience reinforce this belief. Getting along with others & learning how to actually converse with peers are life skills & way more important than anything else a child may pick up in their nursery year.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Outdoor Play Party - making memories.

Welcome to another Outdoor Play Party - it's great to see lots of new blogs linking up as well as the support from the regulars. Spring is hopefully around the corner for many of us & here's to some slightly warmer outdoor play!
I sometimes worry that the experience I have chosen to give the children in my class does not fully prepare them for the next step in their educational journey. Then I realise that I am preparing them for life not just the formal school setting & more importantly I like to think I am helping to create unique memories for them as they move through life.

I saw these 2 posters on Discover the Forest's Facebook page, please do check out their page & website, both are well worth following. You can find the Facebook page here & the website at
I think it is pretty amazing that in just one year in my class a child can mark of 15 out of the 19 things in these posters, now some of them take place on visits elsewhere but 9 of them can be achieved in our little playground in a school. I think it's not a bad list to judge how good your preschool year was! And more importantly many of them happen everyday & are part & parcel of our outdoor play - playing in the rain & making mud pies, I also like to think we are more than a little unique in that we have a campfire on a weekly basis in the playground too.

I think that we could make our own little posters of things we have achieved outdoors before the age of 4 

  • Toasting marshmallows.
  • Playing with sticks.
  • Whittling.
  • Using hammers & nails.
  • Going up a slide.
  • Paint using rain.
That is just off the top of my head, I'm sure we could make an even longer list if we really thought about it!

Once again thanks to all those who linked up in the last OPP, the post I'm featuring this time is from Misplaced Brit on a breakfast picnic on the beach. I have a real affinity with beaches outside of the usual summer time use & love that they had to dig themselves little holes in the sand to sit in to enjoy flapjacks & hot drinks. 
  • Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome!

We'd appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we'll gladly further share your post on FacebookTwitterPinterestPlease feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back.

Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the 'featured' button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!

Saturday, 22 March 2014

A deluxe mud kitchen!

An amazingly talented & generous friend to have!
Through the world of social media I have made some amazing connections with educators around the world. It is great to 'chat' on line but even better to meet up in person. Last October thanks to the inaugural PlayIceland Outdoor Learning Conference organised by Fafu I was able to meet up with 2 online friends - Lesley from Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School & Martin from Highway Farm Activity Centre in Iceland. It was great to discover we actually got on just as well in person as we did online!
Myself, Martin & Lesley in Iceland 2013
At the conference we all had to give presentations about our settings & I'm sure everyone who was there would agree that Martin's passion shone through the most of all & we all could see that there is something really special going on for children & families at Highway Farm.
When the 5 days were up we were sad to say goodbye but at least Martin & I knew we were near enough to each other to be able to plan to meet up again pretty soon. 
Fast forward to March & Martin arranged to come over & spend 3 days in the nursery seeing how we do things in our setting. Having spent some time in his company I also knew that when he asked if he could do anything for us when he was over, he meant it, it wasn't just a polite question. We talked about creating something in Bear Woods but then decided that it would be better to do something more permanent in the playground that would be used everyday. So after chatting it over for a few weeks it was decided that Martin would build us a mud kitchen. When I mentioned this to one of the dads in school he offered to help & so a fantastic partnership was born! We exchanged photos of mud kitchens we had seen online & a final rough plan for one was decided. Adam, the wonderful dad, agreed to get all the building materials (I did think it was going to be pallets) & even sourced us a cast iron sink. He was so enthusiastic & nearly every morning had another idea for the kitchen to share with me.

Martin arrived on the Tuesday evening & spent Wednesday morning in school with us, then Adam took him off to his place to measure up & cut all the materials ready to start building it on the Friday. In total, Martin reckoned they spent 5 hours on it! In between Martin (who has boundless energy) also managed to spend a day at An Creagan & persuaded Peter, their education officer, to come back to school with him & spend an hour & a half planting around 200 willow plants around the school grounds & make a willow den in Bear Woods. Sarah our fantastic NVQ student stayed back 2 of the days to help too & can now add willow weaving etc. to her CV!

A bit of willow weaving & planting with Martin, Sarah & Peter.
On the Friday morning, Martin joined us for our regular campfire cook out and simultaneously tamed some of our willow dens & leveled off the mud patch ready for the kitchen installation. 
When he lifted the pallet off the ground (that covered a large deep hole in the mud patch) & set it up on logs & tyres the children really thought this was the mud kitchen & were so happy!
The children thought this was the mud kitchen & were delighted with it!
Martin & Adam then went off site to build the kitchen up at Adam's house before bringing it back in 2 pieces to the nursery to have it installed just in time for the class to see if before they went home for the weekend. 
It was so lovely to see how excited they were by it, they went out in small groups to see it & when they came back I asked them what they had noticed. I got replies of "It has a sink, and clean taps - because they are new, and a cooker & shelves & things to cook with". 
As the parents arrived some were dragged outside to see it & admire it. I can't wait to see how they play & interact with this amazing new space on Monday & it really has added another dimension to our outdoor space. 
For the past few weeks parents throughout the school have been donating items for the mud kitchen so we have several boxes of pots, pans, bun trays & utensils. 
I don't think the children or staff can ever thank Martin or Adam enough for what they have provided for the nursery.
Our mud patch & 'kitchen' before & after!
A long lasting friendship has been cemented & a connection between our 2 settings - Martin runs an outdoor preschool called Little Explorers - and staff from our setting hope to go & visit to get some more great ideas to bring back to ours to enhance our outdoor learning environment even further.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Best job in the World!

On any given day, this could be a caterpillar tree in my world!
Some days I find myself thinking just how fortunate I am to be a nursery teacher - it is the best job in the world in my opinion!
I am surrounded by optimists who believe in themselves & their capabilities, if they fall they get up again & keep on trying. They know that practice makes perfect & that when you do master walking along a plank for the first time, you have to try it again & again until you can run along it.

These sort of things are fairly typical things I get to enjoy as a nursery teacher. 
A child finding some bark off some of the tree stumps & announcing it to be 'pineapple', some others around her accepting this & gathering enough 'pineapple' to have a whole shop! Then taking it over to the (unused) fire grill, gathering some sticks & cooking the pineapple. 
Children busy in 'the forest' (this is what we call the former grassy area of the playground) cooking some soup for a witch, as you do, with Christmas tree branches & water in a cauldron because everyone knows witches like tree branches.
Or using the planks & crates to create 4 walkways from the sand pit to the playground & trip trapping over them as billy goats with the odd child popping up from underneath being a troll. 
We have a crate full of sticks for the children to play with yet for some reason 1 stick in particular is the most popular & the 3 minute timer is in constant use when we are outside as children negotiate turns with this precious resource. To my adult eye it is a stick, to them it is so special it is worth fighting over.

But I think the aspect of my job that I really enjoy the most is that most of the children are still at a preoperational phase. This term used by Piaget covered the whole egocentric outlook of young children but I am referring more to the animist stage they are at - inanimate objects can have feelings  & intentions e.g. a teddy bear etc.
I love that most of the children can really believe that is they drop a soft toy it might have a sore head or need Mr Bump (our ice pack) to put on the sore head. I think as an adult I enjoy being able to enter back into this phase that most people have to leave around the age of 7 or 8. I get to believe that a leaf might talk or have feelings!

Another aspect of my job is that I get to enjoy picture books, I can usually be found in the children's section of any bookshop long after I have spent time browsing in the regular section. And I have been the only adult in a queue to meet Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler. I get to believe in a Gruffalo, or talking fish or lonely beasts!
Meeting Axel Scheffler - a major highlight!
I think being a nursery teacher keep me young in outlook & if I'm honest probably slightly mad!! It is very hard to sometimes step out of this world when the school day ends & I do get some funny looks from my husband sometimes if I begin to talk to a spider!!
I have said this before if I won the lottery in the morning I would keep on teaching nursery, it truly is the best job in the world.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Outdoor Play Party - Guest post from Iceland.

Delighted to have Unnur from Leikskólinn Stekkjarás guest posting again this week on the topic of loose parts - in this case fish boxes!

Unnur writes: "I took several boxes out of the garage and threw in to our sandbox and sure enough few of the youngest boys were quick to grab them and set off on a mission. I decided to follow them with the camera. and did I have fun :)!!

The first mission was to go and fill them up with some "goodies" so they could go to the mountain to sell some fruits and vegetables. The drive to the mountain was a bit difficult, with a heavy load, (in the boxes were a pair of sunglasses a shovel and their hats :-))
They decided to go to a car park but the cars had broken down so the question came up what would be easier to push or drag their cars. After they parked the cars they needed to go to a store and do some shopping for pasta, meat and fish, because they wanted to eat healthy.
On the way back from the shopping trip, the sun was trying to shine, so they put on their sun glasses They decided to lay down to sunbathe because that is what mums want there sons to do.
A fun day playing with fishboxes, that came all the way from Grimsby Town to Iceland. No one wanted to use them apart from us. We are so so lucky!!!!"
There were some brilliant outdoor play ideas linked up in the last OPP but my favourite was from Mommy Loves Trees about how outdoor play leads to successful adults - this post struck a chord with me & reinforced my belief in making sure the children in my class get good quality outdoor play experiences.

  • Any kind of children's outdoor play-related posts are welcome!

We'd appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we'll gladly further share your post on FacebookTwitterPinterestPlease feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back.

Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the 'featured' button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Not all boots are the same!

***This is not a sponsored post***

I have learned that cheap is not necessarily good & there are some things I won't compromise on - coffee being the main one, I refuse to buy cheap coffee believing that you really do get what you pay for. 
Now 4 years ago we invested in good quality snow boots from Cotton Traders, my assistant & I wear them 5 days a week, 10 months a year & these proved to be comfortable, warm & completely waterproof. Even on the iciest of mornings these boots proved effective & has fantastic treads & I wore them in heavy snow when visiting Iceland. I think because we tend to be kneeling down a lot helping children in & out of wellies/shoes & rain gear, eventually both of our boots split across the top. 
I went in search of them again but they had increased a lot in price so I decided to try a cheaper alternative - wrong idea!

Pair 1 - not waterproof at all!
The first pair I bought proved to not be truly waterproof, on the first really wet morning as I stood in a puddle I could feel my feet getting wetter & wetter. Then I ordered another pair that looked exactly like the Cotton Traders ones but of course they weren't the same.
Pair 2 - the incredible sock eating boots!
First off the Cotton Trader boots are generously sized to allow for extra socks & they have a velcro tab on the ankle to keep the boots secure. The cheaper pair I ordered were too tight to allow a warm pair of socks to be worn but more importantly because they had no fastening at the top these boots ate my socks!!
Pair 3 - warm & comfortable with a good tread..
So I finally accepted that I should have known better & just bought the good ones that I knew work for everyday use in the first place. Luckily by now, Spring had arrived & they were reduced. But I have learned my lesson, when these ones wear out I will go straight to Cotton Traders to replace them, no faffing about with cheaper alternatives!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Sharing ideas.

I got the idea of using tree branches to sop up the mud online.
Since I started blogging & using social media I have made so many connections with other educators who have become friends & people I can call upon for advice or support. I have said before, being a teacher in a single entry school can be isolating as there is no direct colleague to call upon for support. For the past 2 years I have had weekly on line chats with the incredible Lesley from Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School (TPCNS), we call them our international staff meetings and that is exactly what they are. We have shared ideas & problems over the past couple of years & come to realise that we are experiencing the same sort of issues within our classes even though we are miles apart.
I first saw Bottle Babies at TPCNS & was able to question Lesley about them on-line.
I love that fact that the early years people on Twitter are so willing to share good practice & ideas that have worked for them, last week as my class were using straws to blow on some ice to melt it I couldn't help but think of the amazing Nicola who had shared this idea with a little video one night during a #kinderchat meet up.

Every night of the week there are on line chats on Twitter amongst teachers who feel passionate about their jobs & want to share ideas & bounce suggestions off each other. These people really do feel like friends by now & by sharing ideas I feel that my teaching has definitely being enriched & even reinvigorated by being open to trying new ideas from around the world. Try checking out the following any night of the week #niedchat #edchatie #kinderchat #eytalking.
By asking on-line I got advice on how to weave our willow.
There are of course those who are skeptical about social media & make comments about those of us who are chatting about school things at 9 o'clock at night or at the weekends. But guess what? Who cares what they say, I am getting so much from these on line connections & as a result my class are benefiting so that's all that really matters.
An on-line chat solved the issue of how to create these mini-mes for TPCNS.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Spring is in the air.

One of my favourite art activities each year is when the children paint daffodils - it really does seem that Spring has arrived once these cheery paintings are up on the wall. It also never ceases to amaze me how each child approaches this in their own unique way. Some start with the yellow flower first while others will paint the stalks in & then add the flowers.
Every year the incredible talent of the 3 & 4 year olds always impresses me. I hope they never lose their belief that they can paint anything they want to & that is no 'right' way to do it.