Friday, 23 January 2015

Blood is Thicker Than Water.

How many times in life have you heard the expression 'Blood is thicker than water'? It is one of those stock phrases people wheel out at various times and I had never really thought about it until this past week. My dad, who was 80 last October but still working on a voluntary basis every day, took sick very suddenly on the 7th of January & was admitted to the ICU the following morning & died a week later. 
Over that week my mum, brother & I sat with him throughout the day & into the evenings. Initially we thought he was going to be ok but on the Sunday the doctors told us this was 'an end of life experience' for my dad. This is when the phrase became a reality for us, my aunts & uncles, cousins & in-laws all went into action & kept us company, fed us & offered support in any way they could over the next few difficult days as my dad got weaker & weaker.
Growing up I was surrounded by ready made playmates in the guise of my many cousins, we rarely needed too many friends at our parties as we had so many of them around the same age as ourselves. But obviously as we all grew up & got on with our own busy lives we didn't see each other just as much, the girl cousins on my mum's side have tried to meet up once a year for a meal, just to make sure we keep that connection but it has been a while since we were all together. 
My dad's sister has always been great at organising meet ups for us all at least once a year, I usually just get a phone call with the date & time & we spend an afternoon just chatting & reminiscing. 

Since the 15th of January when my dad passed away, the wider family circle again provided so much support for us all; from making teas, sandwiches & food for the many visitors & us during the wake to just being there for us to hold onto at the more difficult times. Sometimes it does take a sad occasion to make families pull together & this was certainly so true for us. I am truly blessed to belong to such a big extended family on my parents' side & on my husband's side. The latter have been through so much themselves in the past 6 months we had all become so much closer already.

I know my dad would be so happy to see us all pulling together, reconnecting & rekindling life-long relationships. So here's to family & I am truly fortunate to belong to one of the best. So a massive thanks to all the Woods', Murdocks, Collins', Buckles, Morris', McCartans, Hartleys, Corrs, O'Neills, Cannings, Kilpatricks,  Cullens & McAndrews for being there when you were needed the most. 

This post is dedicated to Desmond Buckle, a true gentleman & the best husband, dad, father-in-law, papa, uncle, brother & brother-in-law ever. October 19th 1934 - 15th January 2015.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Finding Colors in Nature - A Guest Post from Iceland.

I am grateful to my friend & colleague, Unnur, for sending me this little story about her class. 

Friday, 2 January 2015

1st Outdoor Play Party of 2015!

Welcome to the first Outdoor Play Party for a whole new year & here is to a 2015 filled with great outdoor memories.I hope that more & more teachers & parents realise in 2015 that good quality outdoor play does not require a massive space or loads of expensive resources.
Over the past 8 years in our current playground I have come to realise that children are happiest when they have space to run about, hide from adult eyes, have access to water, mud & sand & most of all have other children to interact with. We have had so much fun exploring 'Bear Woods' on a weekly basis for over a year now & yet, still after each visit, the 2 of us (the main staff) say to each other 'I can't believe how much enjoyment we all get out of that tiny space' - we are still amazed each visit by how a previously unused strip of land can provide us with such an incredible learning space.
A class of 28 children can spend up to 2 hours up here with little or no resources.
I was lucky to get the chance to give a short presentation at a Teachmeet in November all about how we had developed our wild/wooded area with the main school grounds & how this had led to the development of 'Bear Woods'. I hope that some of those listening were able to go back to their schools & look at pieces of underused land with new eyes & see the potential of it.
There is a great book by Claire Warden called 'The Potential of a Puddle', I think there should be a another one for schools to see how they can use the spaces they already have. 
A well used outdoor space - it's not pretty!
Our playground has evolved from being a clean, open, tidy space to become one full of different little areas for children to enjoy exploring. I love it when people visit & 'get' the space immediately, seeing all the play opportunities it offers. I think the best compliment it received was from Peter from Cosy, when he visited he observed that it felt like a much bigger space because of all the various areas created. It is always good to keep evaluating your outdoor space to make sure it meets the needs of the children currently using it, it never ceases to amaze me how each class interacts with the space in a completely different way - some years they spend a lot of time in the little house, other years on the slide, this year the class tend to spend a lot of their time in the mud kitchen, forest area & reading area under the slide.
And brings me neatly to the highpoint of 2014 for me in our outdoor play journey - the addition of our amazing mud kitchen.
Every setting needs a mud kitchen & a friend like Martin!
Thanks to Martin from Highway Farm Activity Centre & Adam (one of our parents) the nursery now has a deluxe mud kitchen in one corner of the playground. I will never be able to repay these 2 for their generosity but I hope they both realise just what an impact this area has had on outdoor play at Windmill.
Who knows what 2015 will bring but I do have plans to create a den in Bear Woods & hopefully another bigger willow den up their too. 
Here is to a great year spent outdoors creating more memories for a whole new generation.

There were lost of Christmassy posts linked up in the last OPP so no surprise my featured post has that theme - I loved this one from Little Steps on how they went to choose their Christmas tree, it was lovely to see the family exploring the tree farm before picking the one they wanted to take home & decorate. This seems like a lovely family tradition to create.
"Now it’s time for this week’s Outdoor Play Party. We would 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 Pinterest. Please 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 at’ button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!"

Monday, 29 December 2014


Apologies for taking so long to say thanks for the support & votes for the 2014 Edublog Teacher's Blog of the year award but it's been a busy few weeks.
I was absolutely delighted to have been nominated for this award by an incredibly supportive & inspiring fellow blogger: Juliet from Creative Star Learning Company. (
Then I was so flattered to have actually made the shortlist of 47, especially as I was the lone early years teacher in the category. 
In the end, after an amazing campaign to raise awareness of the award by a current parent, I made it into 4th place!
As I pointed out in an earlier post, I don't blog for awards but it is always great to be recognised by others for the contribution you are making within your field. When I started blogging in January 2011, it was mainly because I felt that my outdoor play approach was a good one & that perhaps I could help other nursery teachers to begin to see that they can go outdoors every day & to help people see the potential of their outdoor space.
Now almost 4 years on, the blog has proved to be a great tool for self-evaluation; it has helped me to look at my practice with a more critical eye & to always question what I am doing & to, hopefully, explain why I am doing things a certain way. 
Thanks again to Juliet & Julie for helping me reach 4th place!

Farewell to 2014.

Some years are more memorable than others e.g. the year I met my husband, graduated college, got married etc.
I am a natural optimist but some years really test even the most positive types. 2014 was certainly such a year for me; my father-in-law & sister-in-law both died of cancer within 4 months of each other. The latter death hit the whole family hard, as my sister-in-law was so young (43) and had so much to live for. 
In the days after her death I was so glad to be at work, surrounded by young children who were a constant reminder of all that is good with the world. I have said it before, I am so lucky to be a nursery teacher, I get to laugh & hear laughter daily. 
If I learned one thing in the past 12 months it's that life is precious, 2014 had started with my niece awakening from a medically induced coma 18 days after a car accident. This certainly brought us much closer as a family and it helped us face challenging times over the year as her mum bravely battled her cancer. 

Life is to be lived, grabbing every chance & opportunity but most importantly for me, I have learned not to waste time trying to figure out why some people act they way they do. I generally give everyone a fair chance. & until they do something directly to me, I give them the benefit of the doubt.
I am looking forward to seeing the end of 2014 & can only hope 2015 is an easier year for those around me. 

So my resolution for 2015 is to believe in myself, be kind to others, give people a break; everyone can have an 'off' day & to stop stressing about the little things I can't change.
Mostly I am going to celebrate reaching another birthday, enjoy working with the young children in my class & seeing life through their eyes.
Here's to a better year for all those struggling with whatever life has thrown at them & go easy on people, you just never know what battles they are going through.
This post is dedicated to Alphy & Nuala Corr who passed away on July 13th and November 23rd 2014.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

The excitement of a new Cosy catalogue!

There are few things that feel as special as they did when I was a child, now I admit that I am lucky to work with preschoolers as I do get to witness many events through their eyes but it still doesn't feel as magical as my own childhood experiences!
Every year when my mum's Autumn/Winter Grattan catalogue used to drop through the door my brother & I would almost burst with the anticipation of what toys might lie within! We would spend weeks leafing through the toy section dreaming of what delights Santa might bring us that Christmas. 
Since then, nothing has ever made me feel that way until I discovered Cosy a couple of years ago!
In our school every teacher gets a set amount of money each Spring to spend on requisition, some approach this with as much enthusiasm as a trip to the dentist (in fairness for those teaching older pupils, it can't be that much fun) whereas I love this time, I pour over the various catalogues whittling down my wish list until it fits within budget. However in the past few years all the educational supply catalogues have started to look the same apart from the variety of prices & don't get me started on the fact schools in N.Ireland are charged more for the same products by a particular company!
BUT when I found a Cosy catalogue, on the recommendation of Juliet Robertson of Creative Star Learning Company, I knew I had found a new firm favourite. 3 years on, it is still the best catalogue out there, it is brimming full of quirky & affordable ideas. Almost every page has something I have been searching for & you can tell most new products have been inspired by other teachers, they are practical & you know the children will love them. 
Cosy are a young company & full of enthusiasm, their products are fun & practical. My all time favourite (for now) is the bread crate dolley, I got one last year & my class had so much fun with it, to hear them laughing as they ride around on this whilst bouncing off tyres was brilliant. It is always hard to judge products from a photo & sometimes you need to see them in action to actual see how 'worth' it they are. I know of a colleague who bought a bread crate dolley after seeing it in action in my playground as she had passed by it many times in the catalogue.  
In the latest catalogue I have many new favourites & a long list of 'I have to have that' items but I'll have to wait to see what budget I have this year before making my final decision. However, here are a few of my favourites:

New improved Tuff spot den covers, I love my tuff spots & always encourage the children to see how they can play under it as well as on the top. Turning them into a little quiet hideaway within a busy classroom will help many teachers as we struggle to accommodate more & more children with sensory issues. But it will also create another play area for everyone, we all know children love to feel out of sight of adults.

Various outdoor nature buntings, there are trees/leaves, wild flowers & birds to choose from. I can see these becoming a big feature of many playground fences.

I just have to get some marshmallow forks, much more environmentally friendly than always using throw away skewers.
A quirky favourite are the impressionist lollipops, I can just imagine these dotted around the playground or Bear Woods in my setting. And best of all they can be decorated by the children too to make them more personal to your own space.

I love the wavy log sets & think they are fantastic value but more importantly,the hollows will create ready made spaces so more pushing & shoving to get settled on a log!
My N.Ireland humour is drawn to the metal bin lids!
Having seen the natural number line planks used as seating in a friend's setting I now know they have so many uses.
The rustic number line planks used as seating at the incredible Highway Farm Activity Centre.
In this latest catalogue there are loads of resources for older children to take the learning outdoors e.g. A natural fraction set - genius!
So, if you are the kind of person who can get lost in an educational supply catalogue for a few hours, make sure you ring 01332 370152 & order your own copy today. I promise you won't be disappointed & how could a company based in a building called The Chocolate Factory not appeal!

Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Art in Bear Woods.

I wrote about the children enjoying creating transient art up in Bear Woods in a previous post over here:
So for our last visit to Bear Woods for 2014 I took some tinsel & bows up as to see if the children would like to try & make some Christmas art with the mouse mats.
Although tinsel may not be still in favour for the majority of people anymore, I think it will always hold a special place in the hearts of preschool teachers & young children!
The children fell on the bag of Christmas 'stuff' with such enthusiasm & soon were creating lots of pieces with a lovely sparkly, festive feel. One child had a big fat piece of tinsel & declared it was a 'baby dragon' & with it's bright red eyes it did look very effective. Some others then tried to create other creatures too whilst some just wanted to see how many pieces they could fit on the mouse mat.
'A baby dragon'
Then one child discovered the little bows could be fitted onto the bare tree branches & so they began to decorate one of the Alder trees. 
By the time we were leaving Bear Woods was looking very festive indeed.