Category Archives: EYFS

The English Early Education System

Storytelling with Shadow Puppets

I recently cleaned out the linen cupboard and gave the kids a huge bag of old sheets to play with. They like to make-up stories and turn them into royal capes or build dens with them. In amongst them was a white sheet. I thought it could be used to build a shadow puppet theatre in the garden.  We have a swing set that isn’t safe to use, so I removed one of the swings and fastened the sheet to the frame.

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The children and I made puppets from cardboard. The children chose characters and I helped them draw them in silhouette. They collected sticks from the garden, whittled them to smooth them out and stuck the cardboard characters on with tape.

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I also found images of hand shadows. I printed and laminated them and stuck them  on the swing set frame for reference.

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We had to do a bit of work cutting back the tree branches to make a clear screen, but soon it was ready. The magical stories they have created have been wonderful.  I think this would be a great resource for a school or pre-school to encourage story telling and build the foundations of story writing. You could build it outdoors or inside with a light source behind.

 

Videoing the story showed the children where they needed to improve. They saw that sometimes you couldn’t see the characters well because they were too low or placed at an angle. They also noticed that the size of the puppet changed according to how close to the screen it was.

I love the way my daughter played with accents and voices.  It particularly love the voice of the bird and banana man in the land of the forgotten.

 

Shadows, like mud are a great, free play resource – check out some of our other shadow explorations or follow my shadow and light pinterest board

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Questions to Encourage Sustained Shared Thinking

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To be perfectly honest I hate that in my profession they keep inventing new buzz words for age old ways of working and interacting with young children.  It feels to me that it is a way to make some feel superior in their understanding to others.  If you don’t quite get what it means it is quite likely something you are already  naturally doing, but without giving it a name.

‘Sustained shared thinking’ occurs when two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate an activity, extend a narrative etc.

Both parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend the understanding. It was more likely to occur when children were interacting 1:1 with an adult or with a single peer partner and during focussed group work.  The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project (2004)

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If you are engaged with a child’s play, if you are working together, listening and sharing ideas, if you are helping a child to understand something, you are likely engaged in sustained shared thinking.  Imagine blowing bubbles for a toddler, they watch the bubbles and watch you blow them.  As the bubbles blow away, the bubbles pop and the child continues to look for them.  You might blow a bubble onto their hand so the child can feel it pop or show them how to pop it with their finger.  The child engages in a new game, popping the bubbles for fun. This is sustained shared thinking.

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I often see questions asked about suitable activities to promote sustained- shared thinking.  Any open-ended, creative activity will lend it self to sustained shared thinking – the key is the level of engagement and nature of interaction between teacher and child. Also any genuine discussions you have with the children when you are learning from one another and discussing in depth opinions, thoughts and ideas are examples of sustained shared thinking.  Take time to listen and understand what the children are thinking, before jumping in with our own ideas.

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It might be helpful to think of these questions.  If you can use these questions in your interactions with the children then you will be engaging in sustained shared thinking.

 

Elaborating

That’s really interesting, can you tell me more?

Re-capping

So you think that…..

You started with…..

Offering own experiences

When I was little I thought that….

I like to listen to music when I am busy.

Clarifying ideas

So we think that the sugar will dissolve in hot water?

I think I understand let me just check what you said.

Suggesting

Can I show you another way?

How about if we try this?

Perhaps we need to think about it?

Reminding

Don’t forget that you said the sugar would dissolve in warm water

Let’s just go back to what you did/said/thought.

Encouraging

You thought really hard about where to put the door, now where could you put the windows?

Speculating

If we try this what might happen?

What other ideas might work?

Are there any other possibilities?

Do you think the 3 bears would like Goldilocks to be their friend?

Asking Open Questions

How did you…?     Why does this…..?   What happens next?

What do you think?  Where would you?

Offering Alternative Viewpoint

Let’s pretend we are…… What might we do?

Perhaps Goldilocks didn’t think she was being mean when she ate the porridge?

Disclaimer: these questions came from training delivered by North Somerset early years team but may originate from another source.

Using Characters and Themes to Inspire Early Learning.

 

Using Characters and Themes to Inspire Early Learning  supports practitioners in planning and resourcing topics based around popular themes in the early years. Each theme is introduced through a ‘spark’. The ‘sparks’ are an object, or group  of objects, found in the classroom, for example a magic seed.  The projects then develop by presenting letters, posters, postcards etc. from a characters ( these can be found in the appendix of each section).  The characters in the book have been invented by the writers, Jo Ayers and Louise Robson but I see no reason for not utilising other familiar, book, TV or film characters.

Each chapter introduces a new character and theme, including pirates, knights and castles and people who help us.  For those settings who revisit these themes every year, the sparks and resources presented in the book would offer an exciting new angle for engaging the children.

Who is it for?

The book is targeted at teachers in the 3-5 age group, personally I felt some of the themes and activities were more suited to the upper age group, but I would still use the sparks with a younger group and adapt activities to their level and to fit the classroom environment.

How Does it Work?

The book emphasises planning with the children after igniting the initial spark, gathering evidence from comments, questions, observations, photographs and recordings.

The introduction states that topics were chosen based on gathering children together and asking them about their favourite interests.  I would have liked clearer descriptions of the  children’s involvement in the planning, as some of the topics felt more adult directed than others.  In a session which began by finding a mysterious seed, an alien is grows in the seed but it is also mentioned that this could also be an insect.  I would have liked to have seen a description of the thought process behind the decision to make it an alien. Did the children decide it was an alien?  There is a good mind map in the appendix showing the children’s comments and questions which explains this to a certain extent, but I would have liked a little more clarification as to how these comments and questions fed into planning.

The Activities

The chapters are clearly laid out and contain plenty of photographs and support materials.  I would have preferred to see the support materials alongside the description of the activity rather than in the appendix ,as I found flicking between the two distracting. The scenarios weren’t always easy to visualise without reading the materials in the appendix.

I particularly loved the Nancy the Knight and Lord Lawrence chapter for a meaningful approach to the topic of castles. I felt the description of this topic flowed well and the activities were hands on and playful.  I could also see how the children led the learning in this topic.

Who would Benefit Most From this Book?

The book would be a great resource for settings following a topic based approach. It would add wonder and awe to familiar topics and I can see it working really well in reception, kindergarten or year 1 classrooms.  I love the idea of the sparks and think these could also be useful in settings that use more in the moment planning.  With a bit of imagination, one could listen and observe the children, discover their interests and invent a character and scenario that would help them answer questions or develop their interests further. This book would be a great starting point for doing that..  For a theatre person like myself, I can easily imagine adopting this approach in the classroom but it may not be for everyone.

What Did I Think

I love the approach but wish the book was laid out a little differently. I really wanted to hear the story of how each project developed, to hear the children’s voices and see how the children’s ideas and questions led to the next stage of the project or even perhaps how different classes adapted the same scenarios but in different ways.

There is plenty in the book for those who would like to try this approach by following scenarios that work for others or for those who want to try this fun approach but adapt it in their own way.  I think it would be a great addition to a teaching library for new teachers, teachers looking to add a but of fun to their curriculum or those looking for a different approach to topic based learning.

The authors are keen to see how settings are adapting their approach on their social media channels  – Facebook and Twitter

 

We’re Going on a Bug Hunt

Some children hate bugs, they think they are disgusting or scary. That’s why I love our annual preschool bug hunt in the  woods. The children look for bugs, find out about them, collect them in bug jars and bring them back to observe in a terrarium for a few weeks.

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In our front garden we have a wildflower border.  As we pass it each day we look out for bees, ladybirds and butterflies. When we found aphids on the lupins, we hoped they would attract ladybirds.

“Why can’t we spray them?” my daughter asked. She had been learning about aphids at school.

“If we spray them”, I explained, it will disrupt the ecosystem, “the ladybirds won’t come and ladybirds are good food for birds.  If we kill off all the bugs we will have fewer birds and small mammals in the garden.”

They don’t like every bug – they are a little afraid of spiders, think mosquitoes are a nuisance and my youngest is a little unsure about worms but they don’t see that as a reason to kill them. We know the worms in our compost bin turn our scraps into compost for the garden , spiders can be left alone if they live outside and they are good because they eat flies and even mosquitoes provide food for bats and birds. This is a useful resource for explaining to children why bugs are good.

There are two kinds of bug we don’t collect on the bug hunt.

  1. Termites because they will eat our preschool.  The children know that termites are important for breaking down old wood from fallen trees but they need to stay in the woods.

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2. Slugs because they will eat all the produce we have planted.  There is plenty of food for them in the woods.

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There were other bugs to collect.

Lots of worms and millipedes.

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Spiders

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and evidence of caterpillars munching leaves.

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We looked up
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and down.
looking for bugs in a decomposing log

We saw evidence of how the bugs break down an old tree log so that it can go back into the soil.
tree log hollowed out

It gets smaller every year, we used to be able to fit inside.

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Sometimes it is useful to add a focus to a walk and those tiny bugs can easily be forgotten, so next time you walk with your kids, turn over some logs and stones and see what you can find.

Do We Over Complicate Loose Parts?

 

WP_20160324_006For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term loose parts, check out my post on the theory of loose parts. In simple terms, loose parts are moveable objects that can be used to create, explore and discover.

Educators often collect loose parts for their environments.  Collections include buttons, feathers, beads, coins, shells and seeds. Loose parts are added to clay and dough, left in baskets around the room, used for weighing and measuring, to create art, on light and mirror tables and added to block play. I think though, that sometimes educators over-complicate loose parts. We get so excited about the different things we can provide for the children and the beautiful ways we can present them, that it is easy to forget the true essence of the theory of loose parts.

I was reminded as I played with my daughter at the park, that loose parts are everywhere.  If we as educators don’t provide loose parts, the children will find them.  A brick will become a piece of food, a calculator  is a telephone, a sheet will become a cloak or torn paper will be money. Playing with loose parts is the way I played as a child, playing shops with empty boxes or filling empty bottles with leaves, petals, dirt and water.  For the child, loose parts are everywhere, they probably don’t call them loose parts but they will find them.

For me the theory of loose parts is an attitude to how children play.  It is an acceptance that children may use what is in their environment and make their own choices about what to do with it.  Materials do not have to be displayed or stored beautifully, they simply need to be there.  The following video illustrates children’s natural ability to find and use loose parts creatively.

 

Art Lessons: Abstract Painting to Music

 

WP_20160318_003One way to ensure that you don’t end up with a wall of identical paintings is to introduce children to abstract art.  We used the book The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art as a starting point.  The book tells the story of Kandinsky’s ability to ‘see music’ and ‘hear paintings’.

I explained that abstract art is not about creating a particular thing but is about expressing how you feel.

Each child had a pallet of acrylic paints, 2 different sized paintbrushes, a canvas, a pot of water and paper towel to wash and dry  the brushes.  I showed them how to clean their brushes by washing it in the water and drying it with the paper towel.

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The children began when I played the music – I chose a quiet piece to add focus, Dvorak’s Largo from Symphony no. 9.

Some children were engrossed in colour mixing, while others enjoyed layering colours one on top of the other.  Some concentrated on texture and others focused on shape and colour.

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The strong focus on process lead to an interesting discussion with the teacher after class.  We lamented the lack of time children in Kindergarten and beyond, to experiment with paint and the impact this has on their motor development. I always feel my lessons should be in at least 2 parts, one for discovery and process and the another to create a product. I wish there was time for the children to practice skills and develop.  My eldest daughter attends a school where the whole curriculum is taught through the medium of visual and performing arts – are there any creative elementary teachers out there doing the same?

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I Finally Made Play Dough that Isn’t Sticky

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I am terrible at making play dough.  For years I have experimented with all kinds of recipes, cold, cooked and microwaved but all of them turn out in a sticky mess within 24 hours.  That is until a pre school teacher shared this simple formula with me.  Mix 2 cups of corn starch/ corn flour with 1 cup of hair conditioner. Finally a recipe that works!

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Feel your skin, it’s really nice and smooth.

 

The texture is slightly less firm and more crumbly than standard play dough but it has a lovely silky texture and led to some interesting creations.

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I made a face

 

 

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Me too
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The first time I made a snowman, it was really good and then I noticed that it kept going down all the time. It’s like a melting snowman.

 

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I added some silly putty to it to make this design