Summer Term 2019
One of our key aims for this year in our continuous effort for self improvement has been to increase the amount of problem solving opportunities that the Little Stars get. This has included experiments, investigations with “gloop”, paint, water or other hands on play but also this involves thinking “outside the box”, or maybe in it….
Giving children as many open ended resources as possible opens up opportunities for open ended play, using their own creativity, imagination and problem solving. Letting them play with such organic, non prescriptive items gives the children ownership of their play, free from boundaries, free from any pre conceived ideas about “how” to play. It gives truth in the claim that a child would rather play with the box than what’s inside it.
Having cleared the vegetable patches of weeds (and undertaken much muddy digging in the process!) we have been starting to plant. We’ve so far got peas on the go, chard, beans tomatoes and some donated squash plants. Waiting for vegetables to grow is also a good lesson in understanding the passing of time.
Spring Term 2019
Reading isn’t just for a day…nor is it just for a “corner”
Those who check into our Facebook Page may have seen this term my criticisms of way ‘World Book Day’ has been turned into a commercial event where supermarket chains tempt parents to buy expensive costumes, or promotes a feeling of guilt to those parents who can’t whip up a magical costume in a day. I don’t however disagree with a Book day, but we don’t need just one “event” to make this happen. Every day is a book day. Every day is a day to dress up.
In the same way, although we do have book “corners” we also have books all over the nursery too, story books, books of maps, information books, hopefully a book for every occasion and for every child. We have books outside, we take them to the woods. And I thought it would be nice to share some of those moments with you.
We have been pleased to welcome our two new French students, Adelaide and Annisa from Agen in the South of France who are spending 10 days with us. They have been getting to know the children and seeing the children interact really does show that language has no barriers when they are this age. They have been teaching us some French too so we have been trying to use French words in routines and for food at snack time as well as learning some French songs:
Food played a focal part in our play and learning this week, with the Rising Stars using real food in the kitchen and The Shooting Stars having a phonics picnic. Chinese New Year gives the perfect opportunity to teach the children about celebrations of different cultures through food as we banqueted on noodles, prawn crackers and fortune cookies, using chopsticks to eat with. The Shooting Stars also watched videos of dancing dragons and then made their own (whilst using fine motor skills in folding the bodies into concertinas and designing faces, when we had lengthy discussions about the expression of the dragons’ eyebrows!); while the Rising Stars got creative making their Chinese lamps, which again provided an opportunity to use fine motor skills in cutting and using a pant brush. In this way we explore peoples and communities (EYFS: The World), as well as physical skills, use of technology, listening, understanding, creative, learning language and descriptive words with even some maths thrown in as we compared length.
I have shared on the Shooting Star page how we incorporate play ideas from the Sunshine Circles practice into daily routines and use them as ‘mindful moments’ but we also come together as a whole group ‘Sunshine Circle’. We start the session welcoming everyone and reiterating our golden rules then the children split off into smaller adult led groups, mixing up the ages. In this way the children can learn from each other. The games fit firmly withing the EYFS areas of learning of PSED and CLL but more than a “learning” opportunity, it is a chance for us all to be individuals but in harmony with each other. Although adults lead the play ideas, they are on the same level as the children, share the fun, the laughter, the discoveries. Verbal and non verbal children can participate and we all learn to trust each other, to listen and to share. We do use sunshine circles to address certain needs of the children: in particular how they give nurture, promote co operation and sharing, listening and attention, communication but I like to look on them as a ray of sunshine that we can all share, sun shine that helps the children to grow, to mature and to gain nourishment from…and of course to shine!
I will try and get some video of us using Sunshine circles but in the meantime you can gain some insight into what happens and the theories behind Sunshine Circles in this video from the theraplay organisation:
Autumn Term 2018
Christmas at Little Star
Writing this as I am at the cusp of the new term of 2019, the festivities of Christmas already seem a distant memory. So much more reason therefore to have a quick look back on the fun we had in the weeks leading up to the end of last…before you take a peak at the fun to expect ahead in the Spring Term for each set of “Stars”
You may have seen in the media recent coverage over the benefits of inter generational relationships, with toddlers visiting and spending time with people 2 generations their senior. With the church having their coffee mornings every Wednesday this interaction is something we have always been able to do and joining the congregation for their Christmas carol service begins our festivities. Even if the children didn’t know the words to all of the carols they delighted in being part of it and made up what they didn’t know and equally enjoyed having an audience to test out their nativity songs on (many smiles were brought to faces as they treated everyone to “The camel song” AKA “I like to move it, move it”
A crafty Christmas
We know how busy it is for families to juggle work and families and doubly so at Christmas, so understandably there were just a handful of parents and family members joining us for the Christmas Craft morning. However we hope your houses were suitably adorned with home made sparkle and creativity thanks to the handiwork of your children.
Experiences are more than can be offered within the walls of the nursery and it was a Christmas treat for the Shooting Stars to have their snack at the farm shop.
Christmas traditions do of course include feasts and our wonderful cook, Francesca, did not disappoint with a Christmas lunch to rival the best on any table. We even had children to wolfed down the sprouts
Onto the highlights of Christmas week….the Nativity Play and the Christmas party.
We genuinely every year have no idea what’s going to happen on the performance day of our Nativity. All we ensure on the lead up is that everyone has fun and this year we certainly had that. It was the year of ‘Children’s choice’ as we weaved some (not necessarily seasonal) children’s favourite songs into the story…hence the ‘camel song’ of ‘Move it move it’ and the (slightly reluctant) little late angel urging the shepherd boy that he is “still standing” (or the “yeah yeah” song as it is commonly know). For those who couldn’t make it, Elton John didn’t just feature in the John Lewis advert this Christnas!). The children excelled themselves at learning so many songs and to see them enjoy the experience of performing in front of their friends and family was really what the spirit of the nativity is all about. We loved it!
Ending the week was of course party time and the visit from Santa. All the children enjoyed their own party games and the generous donations of food from you all…and of course they must have all been very good as Santa came to join in the fun!
Thank you to all of the many lovely generous presents we received and for the very kind and heartfelt words of thanks in your cards. We feel honoured and privileged to be doing this job, and caring for your most precious of children. Every day is joyous and we look forward to another jam packed fun filled year in 2019
Why Free should be free
I will at the outset make no apologies for making today’s post about WHY we are doing this rather than what we’ve been doing. As many of you know, and are benefiting from it, as of September 2017, the government gave 30 hours of “free” childcare a week to certain eligible parents. Each local authority is given a different hourly rate who then can decide how to pass this on to settings. Here in BANES that figure is £4.30 (which becomes £4/ hr once it is distributed to settings) and providers cannot add any “top up”. I am not here going to highlight the pressure that puts providers under (staff costs in light of (rightly) rising living wage, increasing rents, overheads, inflation). But we are passionate that, apart from our nominal charge for a delicious and nutritious cooked lunch, our parents of 3 year olds (if eligible) can access 30 hours of free childcare. I am understandably proud of being an “outstanding” nursery that has highly qualified staff which includes 3 at degree level across our two settings. I am proud that I have a while workforce of motivated and caring staff who take time to get to know their key children and their parents, who go above and beyond by accessing appropriate resources and specialist support where necessary. I delight in the fact that we have miles of woodland and green free space on our doorstep that the children can delight in sharing and playing in. Every child needs to be able to access this provision, no matter what their economic, cultural or family background. This is why free must remain free.
Diversity is not just a tokenistic gesture
It’s all too easy to say you have ticked the “inclusive” and “multi cultural” box by addressing any cultural or religious festival by, for example making an Easter Bonnet; a dragon for Chinese New Year or a paper lamp for Diwali. And it has been a week of such possible “box ticking” festivals this week that we could have marked by “just” making a Diwali lamp, a fireworks picture or a decorated paper plate and calling it a poppy. But rather we have taken the opportunity to explain the reasons behind fireworks, Diwali and Poppy Day. To this extent the children. and especially the Shooting Stars, have been thinking and talking a lot about battles, baddies, war and killing this week.
How can you explain that poppies respect those who have died without explaining how they died? We give a reason for making the tea lights through telling the story of Rama and Sita and the evil demon king, Ravana, who was killed by Rama’s golden arrow and of course fireworks stem from the story of a planned explosion of the houses of Parliament. Hence we make no excuses for a week of battles, good over evil but also the consequences of War. In fact it is very humbling to share these conversations with 3 and 4 year olds who can show great sensitivity, maturity and intelligence in their comments and questions. Qualities that we hope will stay with them throughout their lives.
The right to play on your own terms
On these pages before we have talked about the role of the adult in supporting and caring for you children here at nursery, and also ideas about how you as parents can help them learn at home. But to what extent should we”scaffold” their play or be “teachers”? I prefer the idea of being play partners. It is a topic that we as a team discussed recently and staff reflected on times when children seemed to stop play when adults intervened, or other times when the children actively invite us into their games. What we as adults have to remember is to be respectful of the rules of play that the children have created and not immediately impose our own adult interpretations. To scaffold play and learning is not always about “teaching” or “depositing” knowledge. It’s not about trying to shoe horn in time and numbers to a game of trains; nor writing out tickets. It’s about igniting a fire and a passion. To think outside the box so let’s tale a risk occasionally …and let them play!
And somewhere where we see a whole lot of child initiated and quality play happening is the garden. Boundaries have been lifted, there seem fewer rules (hey..children are encouraged to run out here!). Of course, that and some intelligent and creative resources and space design…you’ve got to give us adults some credit for some things ;). But take a look at a snapshot of one day out in the garden and see for yourself what quality play is going on:
To be literate literally means ‘to be able to read and write’ and to be literate enables us to access other areas of learning and fascination. It is without doubt a key aim of ours, to ensure that the children at Little Stars are literate beings by the time they leave us. This does not mean we expect them to write and read sentences. We do not use flash cards or work sheets. We do not have “literacy lessons”. So how do our Little Stars become literate, right from the moment they come through our doors? Over the next few weeks of this term I will be looking at the building blocks that build the foundations of literacy, from playing in gloop, to sharing stories, from managing and understanding their own emotions and behaviours to going on a walk together.
Headlines recently from Education Secretary, Damian Hinds reported the “scandal” of children starting school unable to talk in sentences and read simple words. The new proposed changes to the EYFS includes emphasis on vocabulary in the area of ‘communication and language’. Whilst that warrants unpicking (maybe at a later stage but for starters, Michael Rosen gives a valid response ) let’s look at how we develop effective language and communication each day from the youngest to oldest.
First and foremost therefore is something that appears the most simple and yet arguably the most important factor : speaking together, with children rather than at children . Staff at Little Star Nursery ensure that they spend quality time talking with the children and not just through guided activities but spontaneous conversation that relies on sustained shared thinking where both parties contribute to the interaction.
Sustained shared thinking relies on quality questioning with open ended responses so as to eliminate the child’s feeling of a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. It involves tuning in to what the child is really saying and not just what we think they should be saying; showing genuine interest: giving good eye contact, smiling, nodding; asking children to elaborate as well as giving them opportunities for extended vocabulary: “I really want to know more about that”, “Yes it is a car. It’s a big, red car”; clarifying ideas: “So you think this ball will go faster. Shall we try?”; suggesting, using encouragement and extending thinking: “I can see you’ve drawn a very happy face. Shall we add some ears maybe?”
So what can you do at home to hep your children read and write? It’s as simple as talking…about anything…what you see in Tesco, what’s happening in Paw Patrol, sharing books (any books), build up vocabulary by describing what you see, sing together, ask open ended questions and never ask anything that you don’t think they may not know the answer to. Be interested in your child, share their wonder, their joy and humour.
Someone who worked in a nursery “class” recently asked me how often do we read to the children? “All the time” I replied, to her surprise as the children in her class could go a whole day without having reading “scheduled” in as it didn’t meet the learning outcomes prescribed for that day. What learning outcome cannot be covered by books and story? Story telling is one of the oldest traditions we have (in fact one of the oldest books, The Bible, is based on story telling).
Let’s look at the evidence and “science” behind reading. Storytelling and shared reading activities have consistently been shown to improve children’s language comprehension skills (put simply, how they understand what words mean in the very beginning). You look at and share pictures together. A baby points to a picture of a zebra and you tell them the word. As they develop speech they say the word ‘zebra’. You build upon that, ‘Yes a stripy zebra’. As the child grows they ask more questions and you give explanations: “The zebra is eating” and eventually the child will learn that the zebra is eating grass in the plains of Africa and so on and so on. This knowledge is learnt much better and more fully by seeing and discussing rather than having an abstract idea given to them.
As the books give visual cues, so the children learn to de code what they are seeing. They know that the pictures carry meaning and after listening to the story being told, they can tell the story for themselves. This de coding will lead on to realising that the letters on the page make words and these are the words that carry the meaning. The way you share a book with your child can also help them along the road to reading. Books with rhyming endings encourage them to finish the lines; talking about what they have just read; about the characters; what they liked, what they didn’t like. Connect it to your own experiences (we had to look for hairy toes in our vegetable patch last Summer when we picked the beans!).
‘The Hairy Toe’ is certainly one of the firm favourites with both Rising and Shooting Stars and we hear the children telling the story over and over again. This brings me onto the subject of the type of story or book you are reading. Really one could argue that there is no such thing as a right or wrong book and this is true as long as it fires the imagination. The Hairy Toe is so scarily brilliant as it builds tension right from the start and ends with a terrifying climax, that gets to the children each time, even though we know the ending. ‘The Bugaboo’ is another favourite that has deliciously fiendish characters in; the children roar with laughter each time I read ‘The Book with no words’ even though they know each time what the format is (and always ends up with me making very silly noises). We all love to be a little bit shocked, just look at the popularity of Roal Dahl whose characters are wickedly wonderful. Sadly compare these to the vast majority of reading scheme books children are introduced to at school……
But it’s not just books. The techniques of ‘Active story making’ brings stories alive and is based on the oldest way of telling stories: verbally. Using a simple story, such as the Rising Stars have been doing with ‘Dear Zoo’ they can use props to help them tell the story with each other.
In brief, enjoy books together. The best experiences are shared ones. When you love reading them 9 times out of 10 the children will love listening to them.
Whilst all of these topics are worthy of research papers this is the subject that I hold dear to my heart so I will try to be as succinct as possible.
Learning to write is liberating. Some people can only think through ideas if they write it down; whilst stories can be verbal and passed on down through generations, at some point they need to be written to preserve them. There is a debate over the value given to the written word these days, in an age of the computer and electronic devises that make the need for using a pen almost worthless in adult life. And yet children still need to write. Even if we disregard the need for writing as a necessity for passing tests and exams, the importance of being able to literally “make your mark” should not be undervalued. I shall talk a little now about what that mark may be.
Writing is a form of expression. Is is not learning how to trace, because that is merely learning how to trace. We want writing to be meaningful to children. This is why every scribble they make, every mark in pen, crayon, paint, in sand, in gloop should be recognised and praised. Talk to your children about what they are drawing, writing or painting but try not to ask “what is it?”, in fact limit questions at all. Often comments can encourage them to tell you more: “Oh I like that yellow, It reminds me of the sun:” (to which they often indignantly return with some sort of comment! “No it’s a dinosaur”).
As I said earlier, we live in a digital age where children are seeing adults write less and less but if they do it is very powerful, Like in many situations, they copy,mimic, try to be grown up, and so some of the most heartening moments are when I over hear and observe children writing out their own timetable for the day, writing children’s names down on their own outings log or “doing their paperwork”. This is making writing meaningful. Help your children at home by writing out lists together.
But writing does not come naturally to some children. While I dislike many of the proposed changes to the new EYFS goals, one good thing is that they have separated fine motor and gross motor skills in the ‘Physical development’ section. Controlling your hands for a successful pen grip is not easy. In fact there are some bones in the wrists of boys that are not even fully developed until they are 7 so for us to force them to use a pen for “neat writing” is physically hard. This is why early development and use of all muscles of the arm can help. Messy play, using big gross motor movements, using a big brush, a mop, all these are helping the journey towards writing.
It’s also not about having a “writing area”. Yes, in our Shooting Star room there is a table that holds the pen pots and other writing resources but these are portable. There are also pens in the book corner, in the role play area. chalk can be used on the floor.
In the Rising Star room again pens are found in the home corner, the mark making caddy can be taken anywhere and often the right place for these toddlers is the floor (it’s much easier and more supported to write lying down with the support of the floor for your arms than at a table). Writing isn’t just for inside. Forms of mark making becomes relevant outdoors too, for example creating your treasure map for pirates.