Thursday, 28 January 2016

Bananas and chocolate on the fire.

In 2008 when I first tasted a chocolate filled banana cooked on a fire I was amazed at just how tasty it was. I hoped that some day I would be able to try cooking this with my nursery class & when we got our Haba outdoor fire it was one of the many things we attempted to cook with the class. 3 years on, it was time to introduce this culinary delight to a whole new class. They were allowed to put 2 squares of chocolate and 2 mini marshmallows into their banana - they all chose to put both into them. These don't take very long on a hot fire and after around 10-15 minutes they were ready to eat. 
In hindsight, the fact that most of the children don't eat bananas, it was ambitious to assume they would eat them this way - they all did try them, I think the lure of the chocolate tempted them but the majority didn't actually like them. However, 7 children and myself thoroughly enjoyed every bit of them!
Not one scrap of banana left!
I think we'll stick to toast & teacakes with this class - though we are going to try beans next week!

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Den Building in Bear Woods.

I have managed to gather up some pallets over the years and it is now a given that any arrive at the school are offered to the nursery before being disposed of!  Last term I managed to make a little den in the playground form 4 pallets and the children use this on a regular basis during the play - it varies between being a stage, a bus or a house.
This year, the class has been struggling with using Bear Woods - they just don't seem to 'get' it - in other years we have had to take very little with us, resource wise, the class have always just played in the space and instinctively invented games just for this space. This year, this particular class are just content to play in the playground, they don't relish the idea of leaving it and believe me they use every inch of space during their play.
At the beginning of the new term we decided to add some new resources to the area to see if it would help enhance the play, we brought 4 pallets up and built a very rough mud kitchen, added a red top to gather water, some sauce pans and utensils & then left 3 pallets to make a den.
Today was he first time since September that I saw the class really play in the space, some sent the whole time making grass soups & stews and we realised that we need some more 'ingredients' for the mud kitchen e.g. bark chips or stones etc. whilst others helped me build a simple den with the pallets and then they added a roof with some of the Christmas tree branches. It was lovely to see them make a pretend fire and have hot chocolate in their new house.

Finally after 3 months I think we might be getting somewhere with this class and they may have begun to realise the potential of Bear Woods!

Friday, 15 January 2016

Enjoying snow through fresh eyes.

Ours were the only footprints in the vast playground.
Sometimes it takes the young children in my class to make me appreciate the simple things in life, like snow. Like most adults I am not a huge fan of snow and I really think it's because we don't ever get enough of it to get used to it! If I think back to 2010 I finally learned how to drive in snow after 2-3 weeks of having to. In general for us adults snow is an inconvenience - it makes getting on with our every day lives a little bit harder than normal. 
However, if I am honest, since becoming a nursery teacher I have begun to look at snow differently - in fact probably all weather! When I wake up to snow on a school day, I get just as excited as a 3 year old and I can't wait to see the reaction of the children as they arrive.
For many of the children in my class this was only the 2nd time they had had snow that they could remember - they all came in so happy & couldn't wait to get on their rain gear and go play with the sleighs & snow & ice around the playground. One child said today was all about smashing in the mud kitchen as he enjoyed breaking up all the ice. I was so impressed by how well this class managed at negotiating turns on the 4 sleighs, usually everyone wants to be pulled along but none wants to do the hard work of pulling!
Could this be the beginnings of a castle built by the older children?
We headed for a walk up to the main school playground, as I knew we'd one of the few classes to get out in the snow today. They children loved running around in the larger space, listening to the snow going crunch, crunch, crush underfoot & exploring the mud kitchen belonging to the older children. They also headed off into the wooded are to see if they could find Bear Woods. 
Who needs chalk when you have snow & fingers!
I think I am so fortunate to get to see the world through the eyes of so many optimistic and enthusiastic young children.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Recycling Christmas Trees!

Christmas tree branches soaking up the mud!
A few years ago we had a very wet Autumn and with constant use, the grass area in the playground turned to mud, it wasn't fun to use anymore as the children kept slipping over and getting plastered in mud every time they wanted to use this part of the space. In a social media group I was in, someone mentioned recycling old Christmas trees as a good 'floor' for a muddy forest area and so I decided to try this too. 
A parent who worked at the local recycling centre arrived one day with a load of cut up Christmas trees for us to spread around the grass muddy area. It worked brilliantly, the mud was soaked up and there was a gorgeous smell as the children trampled the branches into the ground. We also had instant loose parts, as the children incorporated the branches, cones & sticks into their play. When the branches had lost their leaves we were left with a real forest feel to the area and now 3 years on, the children actually refer to it as the forest. Some days when the children are playing in there, it is hard to remember it is just a part of our playground and not an actual forest area!
As our old forest 'floor' had begun to break down I put out an appeal for any old Christmas trees earlier this week & got three, one was already chopped up, I cut up the second but the third was the largest one - given to us by the Parent Council - as it brought over late in the day I just left it in the fire circle area and planned to cut it up the next morning. 
The children however had other ideas - as soon as they saw it they wanted to climb into it & water it! I chopped the top off and some of the taller branches but left the rest of the tree intact for several of them to enjoy playing with all morning.
So much fun to be had 'riding' on a Christmas tree!
I had just cut off the top of the second tree and left it as a mini tree that the children could move about - it was funny to watch as it moved around the playground over the 4 days.
The chopped up branches were used to make soups, stews and juice!
The plan is to cut the big tree up a bit more and take the branches up to Bear Woods to create some loose parts for den building, the children asked if it could stay in the fire circle until we need to move it to light the fire so I may leave the bulk of the tree in the forest area for the children to play around. 
Icelandic fun with Christmas trees.
You might also enjoy this wonderful guest post that Unnur Henrys did over on Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School's blog on what the children in her Icelandic preschool got up to with their old Christmas trees.

I've linked this post up to Life Unexpected's Whatever the Weather Wednesday link - pop over to see lots more inspiring outdoor ideas.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Simple Fun!

The children came back after two weeks off and I was delighted that they all came happily into nursery and settled easily back into routine - I always worry a little the night before that they won't!!
However, I should know better, they were all glad to see their friends again and enjoy playing outside and it really did seems as if it it was just like an ordinary Monday after any weekend.
It was, however, quite dark and wet but they just grabbed their torches and made the most of their playtime.
I had asked for old Christmas trees to be donated to the nursery and managed to get two already, the branches were strewn around the forest area of the playground to replenish the old branches and bark chips. After two weeks of constant rain the mud kitchen was full of water, every bowl and pot or pan and the sink were overflowing. Several children couldn't wait to get into the rain clothes and head over there to start 'cooking'. One girl added some Christmas tree branches and leaves to make 'Christmas juice' - I must say the smell was delicious!
On mornings like this, it is hard to find a better job - sitting in the rain on a tree stump being served Christmas juice or spaghetti (water with willow leaves)! The tree branches prove more loose parts for play as one child used the top of one the trees as a whisk to make her soup!
Christmas juice!
Inside, meanwhile, we had water beads in the water tray for endless hours of fun - it is so magical to watch the clear ones 'disappear' in the water and the children were very careful not to let them bounce over the floor too much. They decided they were slippy, slimy, soft and like jelly.
I can't wait to see what adventures we will have in term 2.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

The importance of resilience.

As an avid coffee drinker, I often think of some post as brewing or percolating long before they are published. Sometimes I can write a post & publish it immediately and other times I write it & rewrite it over an over in my head before I manage to actually type it up. I woke up the other day with a post in my head about resilience and as I got ready to write it I checked out what was happening on Twitter and discovered another colleague had just published a post on the same topic!! I have included a link to Pamela's post here:
So, what are my thoughts on resilience? I firmly believe that it is one of the key qualities that should be taught in school - especially in the early years. If a child has resilience they will be able to cope with whatever life throws at them without it crippling them. 
I think that self-esteem and resilience are complimentary but not necessarily both needed in equal quantities. 
I think that resilience is best built up outdoors where young children learn to fall and get up again, to fail at certain tasks but to keep trying again and again but primarily thought play. Resilience takes time and practice and will not develop overnight, I have talked before about how young children will complete a puzzle only to tip it out again and again until they can do it in minutes with no help at all - repetition is how we all learn but sadly I think many adults don't get the same opportunities for repetition.
A few years ago I took part in a 'Pay it Forward' with other preschools around the globe and my class received a package from Ayn of Little Illuminations - in the package were 2 Pete the Cat books. Little did I know how these books would become such a firm favourite with my class every year and that these are a great book for 'teaching' resilience. On non-uniform days some children will appear in white tights and invariably they will fall in a muddy puddle in the playground. Before they begin to cry at the sight of their previously pristine tights I will remind them of Pete the cat & his white shoes - they then usually laugh and begin to sing 'I love my muddy tights'!! 
Unfortunately as long as our education system focuses on results  and grades rather than skills more and more children will learn to give up at the first hurdle. How many of us dropped a subject at secondary level because we knew we wouldn't get a good grade it in? 
I like that our preschool curriculum in N.I mentions perserverance as a skill - this is something that will always help later in life too.
Whilst children need resilience it is actually as adults that we probably encounter more obstacles and this skill comes into play. It's what makes some of us laugh during particularly hard times and know that it will pass and it's not the worst thing that can happen. This September we had 2 children stung by wasps and for one poor child it was on his very first day of nursery. His resilience ensured he was able to come back the next day and go outside whilst many would have refused to come back and we most certainly were prepared for him not wanting to go outside. A few weeks later and another child was stung again, as he cried he kept saying 'When will it stop hurting?' - he already knew it was temporary and his resilience allowed him to concentrate on his pain free future. 
So for 2016 I will continue to encourage the children in my class to keep on trying again and again and accept that things won't always go according to plan but that the world will keep on turning regardless!

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Standing up for play!

This poster is by Jo Haynes from Nature's Footprints
I came to teaching later than most - 8 years in fact - and I did a year of training through the Post Graduate Certificate in Education(PGCE) in Primary. However, I knew I wanted to be a nursery teacher so was prepared to go back and do further studies when I graduated as a teacher so that I could compete with those who had trained specifically in early years. I went on to do my Diploma in Advanced Studies (DASE) in Early Years over 3 years as a part time student in the evenings. This further study provided me with more in depth knowledge than had been possible during the 1 year PGCE, the fact it was completed alongside my day to day teaching in nursery also made it much more relevant than any other post teaching studies. It helped to make me more confident in my approach as I learned about the various theorists and advocates for early years. It meant that I was able to stand up for a play based curriculum with a bank of experts to call upon to back me up. Every nursery teacher approaches their job differently and the preschool curriculum in N.I allows us a lot of freedom to interpret it as we wish but I have found that by having a further layer of knowledge I can stand up much easier when the downward pressures of the school curriculum try to creep into nursery. I can say with confidence that I firmly believe there is no need for nursery children to have an allocated P.E time in the main school hall - they get all the physical development opportunities they require during high quality outdoor play.

I constantly refer to Tina Bruce's Principles of Play and keep them to the forefront when planning at all times. It helps that our educations boards all came together a few years ago to make fabulous resources as guidance for play based learning - indoors and outdoors and embedded Tina Bruce's Principles into the guides. Here is a link to the guides :
Unfortunately there is very little continued professional development (CPD) for teachers now and little encouragement to do any further studies after initial qualification. Therefore they are lots of teachers in early years settings who do not have this same depth of knowledge or confidence in their practice - they know why they want their young  pupils to learn thorough play but they don't quite know how to articulate this to others. More children attend nursery units - attached to primary schools - than stand alone nursery schools now in N.I. Yet many of the teachers work alone, with no other direct colleague and have to fight to be heard by management and some have to really stand firm against pressures to make the nursery class more like a foundation stage class with lots of very adult led structured times in the day e.g. circle time, primary movement, P.E etc. A high quality nursery day is supposed to offer long periods of uninterrupted outdoor and indoor play as well as a 30 minute story time but often teachers are under pressure to constantly stop play to shoe horn more structured learning times into the day. Therefore we need to form our own clusters to provide professional support to each other and those of us with more experience need to ensure we reach out to newly qualified colleagues or those new to their jobs in nursery units and playgroups. It is all about ensuring we stand up for our pupils to have the opportunity to learn in a play based environment and I would argue to actually help our colleagues in primary to see the value of a play based curriculum and how it is the best way for young children to learn. 
EPPNI research ( in 2010 found "Children who attended high quality pre-schools were 2.4 times more likely in English, and 3.4 times more likely in mathematics, to attain level 5 than children without pre-school experience." and this backs up the argument for highly qualified staff who can articulate with confidence why they are providing such a play rich environment in preschool. I once heard an inspector say that as long as you could justify what you were doing in your practice, they would have no issue with it. I have always kept that to the forefront when planning anything in my setting. I do worry about practitioners who see an idea on social media & then try to replicate it without understanding where the original practitioner has come from or their environment, my main concern is sustainability - if you don't understand why you are doing something, you won't know what to do when it either goes wrong or someone challenges you. 
Like the young pupils in our care we do need to keep on learning and questioning and we need to be as open-minded as possible to new ideas and challenges but always keep in mind those many, many experts who have come before us and who have become advocates for young children and their right to a play based learning environment.
For me the key is continuing to network with like-minded individuals around the world so we can share ideas and stand up for play and this also helps me to build my knowledge and gain more kudos of my approach. Here's to a 2016 filled with loads of high quality play based learning environments for all.