Category Archives: Jane’s Blog
Some of the things I am thinking about just now concerning Early Years in general. All are personal and don’t necessarily represent the ideas of our setting, committee or parents. Just some things that come to mind and I feel like talking about and maybe stimulating some discussion.
I attended a very interesting course on Risk and Resilience this week organised by Circle of Life Rediscovery and given by Tim Gill. I’ve referred to Tim’s writings often in my practice and studies and it was great to meet him and listen to him in person.
The course was delivered in the middle of a wood near Laughton in England, unfortunately a dreich, cold day so we were huddled under a tarpaulin and round a fire. Not the easiest of conditions to take notes but I wanted to highlight a couple of the things Tim mentioned that really stuck with me. One, was from Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer. In her 2012 Annual Report she suggested that we need to expose children to low doses of risk and challenge so that they develop the skills to let them deal with life’s challenges. Being a “medical” officer Dame Sally phrased this as inoculating children to allow them to develop immunity to life’s challenges, a great analogy. Tim’s own blog on this can be found in his “Chief Medical Officer prescribes play and risk as well as pills“post.
Tim also showed us this graphic from a Daily Mail article which shows how much more restricted children are today in their ability to wander and play on their own. Moreover, much of children’s play today is adult directed reducing children’s ability to develop skills such as independence, confidence and responsibility. As adults, he suggested, we need to find ways to compensate them for this reduction in play opportunity and freedom.
I found this article an interesting read on the value of mathematical experiences in early years. The idea that out of a 6 hour day American pre-schoolers are exposed to only 58 seconds of maths is quite astounding. I’m confident that in Scotland we are doing far better than that. In our setting maths concepts are embedded everywhere from counting how many children are present and comparing that to how many chairs and cups we need for snack. We weigh and measure when we bake, we match colours and contrast size and weight. In the woods this week we were directly experiencing the size and weight of stones we were throwing in the water and the height of the splashes they made! We tried to work out what was the tallest tree, we compared colours and shapes of flowers and leaves.
I tend to agree that we perhaps place more emphasis on the need for literacy in early years with schemes like Bookbug and Play, Talk and Read. I’m certain however that, in practice, maths concepts are just as deeply embedded.
“Learn by play” has become a cliché, but it’s also become one of the most controversial subjects around the world among educational researchers and academics. Have you ever stopped to watch how children interact/engage with their toys? Which toys do they enjoy playing with most. Which ones last the longest? Which ones are always recycled […]
Great article on why adults need to step back and allow children time and space to make their own play
As I near the end of my university course I cant help but reflect on how we measure success. In order to achieve my degree I have to complete a set of assignments and pass them to a certain standard. The assignments are, in general, to produce an essay which meets the required marking criteria. So far I’ve managed this with varying success. My ability to interpret the question and provide a sufficiently eloquent and research based essay in a certain number of words is what determines my mark. My essay skills however (as you’ll know if you’ve stuck with reading this post thus far) are not that great. I’m not eloquent, I’ll use 20 words when 2 would be perfectly sufficient. I’m better at explaining verbally. The subjective nature of reading and marking an essay is also a factor and my interpretation of what the essay should be about may not be quite what the marker was looking for. So, reflecting back, my success in achieving the degree (and my fingers are crossed here) will really not reflect the significant learning I have achieved rather my ability to produce assignments which match the markers needs.
Over the last few months I have been visited by the Care Inspectorate in both of the settings I manage. The reports we have received have been very positive and our practice rated overall as very good with some aspects considered excellent. I doubt that many people working in early years do so to please the Care Inspectorate (at least I hope not) but, in many ways, for me, this affirmation of our practice is more important to me than the academic qualification I hope to gain. For me it means that the learning I have achieved is not an essay written on paper it has been transferred to practice which is making a difference. At playgroup I have a picture on the wall of one of our children who was experimenting with pens and had drawn all over her hands and face. It is captioned with the phrase “Evidence of learning should be on the child and not a worksheet”. I cant help but feel that that applies to my learning too. It doesn’t really matter what result I get in my degree or even what the Care Inspector sees on her visit. The impact of my learning too will be, hopefully, on the children.
A good read on the benefits and experiences fires bring to pre-school children : The last sentence particularly resonates “Whilst fires will aways burn out, it’s my aim that the experiential memory of it won’t. That’s what Forest School is about for me: creating and cementing positive memories of a childhood based outdoors, and picking up a few extra skills in the process.”
Last week was the second of our Woodland Play Sessions and , yet again, we were so fortunate with the weather. Our woodland site is so beautiful, the colours of the autumn leaves this year are just stunning. It was amazing to see how different the site appears with fewer leaves on the trees and far more on the ground and how the children adapt to the different challenges of the environment. The play outdoors always amazes me. I often see fellow ELC practitioners (mostly from England where they are in common parlance in the EYFS) discussing WOW moments for children but at Woodland Play last week there were two very significant WOW moments for me.
The first was just how relevant and appropriate learning is outside. When we arrived on site Louisa and I immediately took the decision not to allow the children to play in the burn. It was significantly higher than when we’d been on site the previous session because of the snowfall a couple of days before. When the children arrived on site we asked them to take a look at the water and think about how it was different. There followed a (brief) discussion on how snow had fallen because it is now winter. The snow had melted and turned into water and the water had run down from the hills and fields and into the burn. The burn was now fuller and flowing faster because of the extra water. The water was now deeper than the height of the children’s wellies. If the water was higher than the wellies then the water would go in the wellies, feet would get wet and cold and we would be sad.
If you think about this short discussion it links almost everywhere in the curriculum. There are links to geography in land formations of hills and rivers and to seasons and weather.Science in the melting of snow to water. Maths in the concept of volume, height and comparisons, language in the descriptions and discussions, social and emotional considerations in thinking about getting wet and feeling sad. And, all in such a relevant and appropriate context. It really is WOW for me.
The second WOW moment came about because we decided to make a fire. This was our first fire on site and it wasn’t really planned and, although I had my fire box with me, I had no dry wood etc. The children however, remembering our initial try outs with the fire and steel the previous week, were keen to build a fire and so we decided to give it a go. It was remarkable successful given my novice skills. The children were all mesmerised by the flames and it was lovely to sit around the camp fire and have our hot chocolate and snack. The WOW moment for me though was when I watched our parent helper (much more camp fire savvy than me) blow on the fire to keep it going. We did this at training but used a balloon pump which meant that the children could also be involved in this process. I hadn’t thought about it at all in training or when I’ve done it to get my wood burning stove going, its just something you do to stoke up a fire. But, sitting with the children and explaining why we blow on the fire raised the inevitable question of why, when we blow on a candle, it puts the flame out, but when we blow on a fire it makes it go. I’m sure someone will be able to provide a straightforward way of explaining this to a group of 3 year olds but, I have to say, that, put on the spot, I was stumped to provide a suitable explanation. So, the second WOW moment for me was that, as adults, we do so much without thinking or really understanding. Its really good to be challenged , to be made to think because that’s how we learn. And, I mean “we”, its not just the children who are learning, I am too.
Having attended 2 conferences this week (it’s been a busy one), I brought home a few messages, a couple of which, in particular, stick with me. From the Grounds for Learning conference on Striking a Balance when Managing Risk came the thought that we need to provide our children with the risk and challenges that they need to allow emotional development. Our teens are struggling with the pressures of modern life, bullying, exam stress, eating disorders to name a few. Perhaps by allowing our younger children to develop the emotional benefits of confidence, self-esteem, self awareness and resilience among others that risk and challenge bring then they will be better equipped to deal with the pressures of life when they hit the teenage years.
The Early Years Scotland conference key note speaker was Ferre Laevers and he provided a real pause for thought for me when he said that we cannot change a child’s IQ. He suggested that we can’t make or teach a child to be more or less clever. I’m still trying to get my head around that one but my understanding is that, despite all the resources we can provide to support learning, if the child is not feeling predisposed to learning then its not going to happen. As early years professionals Prof Laevers considers, we can influence how a child feels – we can provide the environment and support systems they need to allow them to develop the emotional skills, the self-esteem, the confidence, the ability to develop relationships – all of which will work towards building the motivation and resilience a child needs if they want to learn.
Thinking about these messages in tandem, it strikes me that, while education on the face of it seems to be all about teaching literacy, numeracy, science and technology, what is really necessary is for us to allow children to develop the emotional and social skills. Its almost as if these have been overwhelmed by academia and yet, without them as a foundation, the academic structures we try to build seem a little precarious.
This week our playgroup moves to the woods where we aim to provide our children with challenge and risk as well as some fun, hot chocolate and biscuits. In our beautiful part of Scotland our children are not short of exposure to the natural environment but this opportunity to mould and shape their own experiences in it will hopefully provide our children with the sound social and emotional foundations that will support their academic learning.
It seems a bit like Karma that a blog post from Juliet Robertson popped up at the top of my news feed this morning – particularly when I see it was actually written in 2012. The post is titled “we are the influencers” and elaborates how with the right amount of motivation and belief in something then change can happen. In our playgroup change is happening and its very exciting!
Juliet’s post ends with a lovely quotation from Margaret Mead and while we may not be trying to change the world I think its still appropriate –
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever does.”
Its exciting to be coming to the end of one journey and the start of another. Starting next month (October 2016) we plan to deliver Woodland Play Sessions at Gargunnock Playgroup. The long journey of planning and developing these sessions is coming to an end and the new exciting path of delivering and developing these sessions about to start.
Over the last few years, and particularly since commencing study for my BA in Childhood Practice, I’ve become more and more enthusiastic about the benefits of outdoor learning. Forest Kindergarten training last year consolidated this and allowed me to see the benefits in practice. Huge developments in our playgroup garden allowed me to bring many aspects of outdoor learning into our setting and, working with Louisa and parents, we have worked towards providing free flow indoor and outdoor play at every session.
Now, we have taken the huge step of moving from our playgroup garden into a woodland area at Gargunnock House which we have been fortunate to have visited often over the years. For one week every month we will be immersed in nature and our aim is to provide challenge and excitement and to develop curiosity, imagination and creativity as well as fostering empathy and respect for our natural environment. Our children will benefit from experiences which naturally offer risk developing confidence, self esteem and resilience.
These benefits of outdoor play are increasingly being recognised as significantly beneficial to children’s learning and development and we are delighted to be one of the first playgroups in our area to offer this type of experience.
An open parents meeting on Saturday was held successfully in torrential rain, proving that the weather won’t stop play. The children loved guddling in the burn, I think it became a competition to see who could get the wettest, we had a tarpaulin up for some shelter and hot chocolate and biscuits for snack. The adults were all enthused, motivated and excited to see our woodland play site. As an early years worker it gives me tremendous pleasure to see parents so actively engaged in being involved and helping to make this happen. Its been a busy road and there is a long journey ahead but, what an adventure.
I posted a link to an article on the benefits of playing in mud around this time last year but following some comments at our AGM last week I thought I would link back to it.
Over the last session at playgroup we have been able to embrace outdoor play so much more and we have seen how much our children have loved and benefited from access to our fantastic garden area. For many parents, however, the reality of this means dirty clothes and an increase in washing. As the mother of 4 boys I can understand and fully appreciate that this is an unwelcome addition to the household workload so, I thought I would just summarise some of the benefits mud play brings and why, in my opinion, that extra load of washing is worth the effort.
Mud is good for you, it has recognised physical, psychological and emotional benefits. The bacteria (mycobacterium vaccae if you want its official name, google it if you want to read the myriad of research on its effects) in soil stimulates our brains to release serotonin which makes us feel happier and consequently less prone to depression. There is research to show that our 21st century addiction to cleanliness has led to an increase in allergies and asthma, access to mud and dirt consequently should buck that trend.
The physical skills involved in playing mud are also therapeutic – relate it to the stress relief felt when pounding a lump of bread dough or tenderising a piece of meat – the physical contact, feel, texture and consistency which can be altered, amended and adjusted without limit, then, think of the imagination which children pour into their creations and how it stimulates their thinking and ability to invent and innovate. Maths, science and language are all involved when you consider quantities, volumes, consistency, texture and experimentation. Understanding of nature increase when children have direct experience of their creations freezing or drying out in the sun (wishful thinking here). Creativity and imagination lead to mud pies which are birthday cakes for fairies, ice cream, tomato soup among many, many others. Then we have the social skills, the communication, negotiation, sharing and cooperation that is fostered. Making a mud pie can be a solitary activity but more often it is shared with children taking turns at stirring or mixing while others might be out looking for vital and important ingredients, and, usually, the finished product is presented and served with pride to yet another participant in the play.
Children also are experiencing risk, taking a chance when playing with mud. Children who know their parents are a little unsure about the mess might see this as a challenge, their opportunity to experiment, to push a boundary and this fosters their attitudes to challenge and adventures in later life, to increase the chances that they will be creative thinkers and innovators rather than people who simply follow rules. Mud is an open-ended medium which children can mould, re-mould, discard, scoop up again ad infinitum. With no wrong answers in this type of play, no limits or boundaries children’s independence and confidence is enhanced increasing their feelings of self-worth and self-belief.
So, while I have to say that I regularly look at the muddy hands and clothes and think (worry) “what a mess, what will Mum think” I also take a step back, look at the smiles, recognise the concentration and determination and appreciate the learning experiences that are being achieved. I hope you will too.
Two articles appeared on my news feed yesterday both relating to children’s play and accompanied by photographs. The sequential nature of the articles probably emphasised the differences but I couldn’t help but be struck by the images attached to the articles. I”m sure one is a catalogue image so I’m likely being unkind by saying I was struck by the sterile nature of the image, its bright colours and very clean sand, grass, staged children and clothes, while, the other, in contrast was taken on an overcast day with the neutral colours of natural objects and children engrossed in play. Both articles were advocating for children and play but in such contrasting ways and its probably not hard to guess where I see more fun and learning going on.