Category Archives: learning environnments

Have You Ever Eaten Every Part of a Plant? We did on our field trip to Oxbow Farm.

Oxbow Farm is my favourite place for field trips.  The guides are wonderfully entertaining and keep the kids motivated with songs, movement, challenges and a fast paced, hands-on journey through the farm.

The children learn about the farm plants and have an opportunity to investigate, pick and taste everything, whilst being shown respect for the plants and their environment.

They eat leafy plants being careful not to stand on the plants.

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Snap off a whole Kale leaf and eat it. “It tastes like broccoli”

They eat seeds, learning about where the seeds come from, how they are spread and dried out in the greenhouse.

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The children collected bean pods in the garden, split the pods and brought the seeds to dry in the greenhouse

taking the beans from their pods

They eat stems. We found tiny celery sticks to try.

They eat flowers. We ate small yellow flowers that tasted like licquorice.

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They eat fruit. We ate juicy apples from the tree and found the seeds inside them.

They eat roots. We pulled salad turnips and carrots from the ground, washed them and ate them.

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tasting a salad turnip. “It tastes a bit spicy”

The children found a caterpillar

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Found out that runner bean leaves stick to you

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and even played hide and seek in the rhubarb

And everyone had a juicy pumpkin to take home.

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I Can’t Be a Teacher who Discourages Mess and Noise

For a teacher like me, who spent her teaching career with under 5’s, I am used to teaching in a messy, noisy environment.  Children are permitted and often encouraged to make a mess and be messy.

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Young children need to do and create things on a large-scale. They use big chunky brushes, they use oversized pieces of paper, they are developing their motor skills through moving around in a large space, they build with big bricks, look at big books and work on the floor.

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Children are developing their language, communication and social skills. They are encouraged to talk as they learn, to ask questions, re-tell events, act out scenarios, explore sounds and negotiate with their peers.

If an early years classroom was always tidy and always quiet, I would be very concerned.

Early years classrooms are well organised. Resources have their place and children are shown how to return resources and take care of them.  But when the children are at play they are rarely tidy.

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Early years classrooms discourage shouting, teach children to take turns when talking in a group and are building the foundations of listening skills but much of their learning is verbal and kinetic so would not and should not be silent.

It makes me so sad to see children at desks in silence once they start school, children walking around the school without making a sound. It saddens me to see lots of whole class teaching where there is little room to be different, make choices or move around the classroom. Carpeted classrooms where we have to be so careful about making a mess, so there are no painting easels, water trays or sand boxes. Where the kindergartners don’t have an outdoor classroom to extend their space and experiences. Mostly, the teachers know that this isn’t right for the children, they do their best to bring fun into the classroom and make learning as active as possible, but their hands are tied by environments, school policies and by national or state curriculum and assessment.

Sometimes I think I should return to teaching to show that there is another way. Mostly, I think I’d end up demoralised, frustrated and constrained by a system with very different values.

Yesterday, for our final art lesson, I wanted the children to have fun with art, to work on a large-scale and be messy. It was to be an outdoor celebration of art.  My plan was to set up a number of art stations outdoors and have a volunteer on each station.  This didn’t quite work to plan due to a shortage of volunteers so I scaled it down to 3 activities.

Activity one

I taped paper to the base of a large paddling pool. The children squirted tempura paint in different colours into the pool.  I then threw in a variety of balls. We worked together, holding the pool and tilting it to make the balls roll in the paint and make a pattern. The children squealed with laughter. They took it in turns to send the balls towards different members of the class and tried different techniques to make balls of different weights and sizes move.

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Activity two

I added powder paint to pots of bubbles and mixed it well.  A large piece of paper was taped to the wall and the children used a variety of bubble wands to blow the coloured bubbles onto the paper and make it pop. They enjoyed touching it with their hands as it popped and dripped down the wall leaving splashes on the floor.

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Activity Three

I would have done this one outside on a large piece of paper too, but I felt the teacher felt more comfortable at a table, so this activity was moved inside. The children blew paint onto their paper with straws and then used sharpies to turn the shape into a character or person.

My teacher was a substitute. She greeted me with a bewildered look when I described the projects. Her face suggested she was unsure that I had thought it through and that it would be a logistical nightmare to manage.

I suppose our priorities were different. I didn’t care if the kids were noisy and overexuberant. I wanted to see them laugh, explore and take risks. I didn’t mind if transitions weren’t completely orderly. The children were excited by what they had experienced and what they were to try next. I didn’t mind if the children were messy and paint got onto the playground. The paint was washable and the weather would wash it away. I didn’t mind that the end product wasn’t beautiful or particularly thoughtful. I  wanted them to see that we don’t always have to sit at a desk to paint, that we can create with our whole bodies and with a variety of materials. I didn’t have a learning goal. I wanted the children to share a new experience and to have fun.

Children from other grades who were out at recess, came flocking to see what we were doing, they looked on with envy. The Kindergarten children were full of joy, they talked freely amongst themselves and to me, without inhibition and they helped me to lay the pieces to dry, placing rocks to stop them blowing away. They enjoyed the responsibility, before returning to the classroom to sit at desks, eat their snack and listen to a story in silence.

If you have thoughts about spaces for children Suzanne Axelsson is collecting information about how space affects children’s play and learning outcomes and also, more importantly, how it affects your teaching…. if you cannot teach the way children learn, then it is going to have a HUGE impact…  You can respond to her questions and engage in a conversation about learning spaces here.

 

 

Scrap Workshop:What do children learn from playing with boxes and scrap materials?

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One of my favourite workshops to lead at a local play centre was scrap workshop.

I liked it because it was suitable for all ages, it was a natural extension to my heuristic play workshops with toddlers and it gave children the freedom to develop both creativity and skills.

We collected all kinds of scrap materials, large and small and displayed them in separate containers.

Examples of materials

  • boxes
  • tubes
  • plastic containers
  • fabric
  • pipe cleaners
  • beads
  • shells
  • pinecones
  • bottle tops
  • straws
  • netting

Sometimes we would give the children a project

  • make something that moves
  • make something that makes a sound
  • build a replica of the Mayflower

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or a problem arising from a project or book

  • invent something to help Rapunzel get out of her tower
  • Can you build a house that can’t be blown down
  • How could you be rescued from a desert island?

but best of all we would make sure there was plenty of tape, string, scissors and markers and let them create and explore.

Sometimes they worked on small projects

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a boat with an anchor

or larger group constructions

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they practised threading

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and joining

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made things for dramatic play

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and problem solved

‘ When children engage with people, objects, ideas or events they test things out and solve problems.  They need adults to challenge and extend their thinking. (EYFS 2008 – Active Learning).

 

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How can you balance 3 boxes without them breaking?
They made choices

Provide flexible resources that can be used in many different ways to facilitate children’s play and exploration’  (EYFS 2008 – Supporting every child).

 

joining parts of the boat

and tested strategies

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they discovered how two different materials could work together

‘ Every child’s learning journey takes a personal path based on their own individual interests, experiences and the curriculum on offer.’ (EYFS 2008 – Supporting every child.)

 

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and nobody asked them “What is it?”

Active learners need to have some independence and control over their learning to keep their interest and to develop creativity.’ (EYFS 2008 – Active Learning).

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They worked at a table

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or on the floor

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and made discoveries using all of their senses.

 

An open-ended project like this gives plenty of opportunities to observe and work alongside children, guiding them towards their next steps and sharing ideas together.

’ When children have opportunities to play with ideas in different situations and with a variety of resources, they discover connections and come to new and better understandings and ways of doing things.  Adult support in this process enhances their ability to think critically and ask questions’  (EYFS 2008 – Creativity and critical thinking)

 

filling and emptying

This child wasn’t interested in joining pieces or making anything. They explored filling and emptying.

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This child wrapped and wrapped their construction with tape.  They went on to wrap their hands with string. We provided them with materials they could explore wrapping in more depth – paper sheets, tape, string, ribbons , blankets, paper strips with tubes, poles, boxes, and table legs wrapped in string.

‘ Children need and will respond positively to challenges if they have a good relationship with the practitioner and feel confident to try things out.’ ( EYFS 2008 – Supporting learning).

The children were able to work in mixed ages. The youngest children were 2 and the oldest 10. All the children enjoyed the workshops and learned from and supported one another.

‘ In their play children learn at their highest level’  (EYFS 2008 – Play and Exploration).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big Rock Park

We consider ourselves very lucky to live in an area where there are lots of great parks. Last week saw the grand opening of Big Rock Park, so we took a trip to see what it was like.

I liked that it didn’t have the same old playground equipment.  The slide was built into a hill, with a natural climb up to it and the zip wire was low enough for young children to climb on independently. There were also a number of climbing posts made from tree stumps and plentiful building blocks crafted from branches.

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They have really tried hard to maintain this as a nature park.  The fences are all crafted from rough cut wood and they are still cultivating the meadow around the slide complete with little peep holes. In collaboration with STEM High School, Big Rock Park will design an environmental education programme and promote renewable technology.

Beyond the playground you can head down to the nature trails.  On the way admire the giant nest built by local families last year.

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At Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands centre, in England, the playground (wellyboot land)  had giant bouncy eggs. This nest is crying out for some of those.

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As you head into the trails you have a number of paths available, all well signposted.  The trails aren’t very long, so perfect for little legs to explore.

Leading towards the trail is another little guest.

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Where would Big Rock Park be without a big rock?

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This was easily the main attraction. The trails circle around the rock and lead back to this wonderful natural climbing area.

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We loved the new park and will be heading back soon with the older children, who were sad that they missed it.

Spring Babies

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On our walk to school every day, my daughter loves to stop and look at leaves and flowers, to take a short cut through the woods or to save worms stranded on the path.  Often there isn’t enough time to stop and share her observations and wonders.  It is important therefore, that I make time to walk with her when we aren’t constrained by time.

Last week, when I was out running, we spotted ducklings on the local pond.  I decided to take a walk and see what other babies we could find.

Our first  observation was a deep, vibrating sound, a little like a honking goose. The sound followed us but we couldn’t see anything. We thought perhaps it was a type of frog or maybe a bug.

We sat on the bank and watched the ducks come in and out of the water.

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As we carried on around the pond, we came across a family of geese.

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We watched them until they swam away. Passing a smaller pond,we decided to rest there a while, watching the birds and dragonflies.  We noticed ladybirds on the lupins.  Looking closer, we could see the leaves and stems were covered in aphids.  On the centre of one leaf was a pair of ladybirds, who proceeded to fight, just like in the ‘Bad Tempered Ladybird’ by Eric Carle.

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As we sat watching the ladybirds, the geese came swooping across the sky and landed in the pond with a splash.

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The spring baby theme has continued. We found a salamander with its eggs in a friends back garden, a newt in the drain and a tiny frog in our worm composter.

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The birds are building a nest in our bird box and we expect to hear the babies soon.

 

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We noticed that the frog spawn has gone from the storm water pond and if you look closely you can see tiny tadpoles swimming.

To top it all off, the horse at preschool finally gave birth to a foal.

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However simple, the wildlife we see  around us every day, is a constant source of wonder.  I hope my children will always see the world this way.

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This photograph depicts what all childhood should be; full of the magic and excitement of the unexplored. It reminds me of the magical tales of Enid Blyton that inspired me to pretend to run away to the woods, when I was a child. My friends and I would sometimes pack a picnic or a bag of sweets and sit deep in the trees, listening to the streams and waiting for magic to happen.

From Nature and her overflowing soul

I had received so much that all my thoughts

Were steeped in feeling.

William Wordsworth

 

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.

 

You’re My Kind of Mum Friend Because…..

A few weeks ago I went for a walk to the park with my  daughter. She likes to climb to the top of the climbing frame and play pirates. The game involves roaming the edges of the park for interesting treasures and on this day, she discovered big rocks.  She proceeded to pick them up and roll them down the bank, watching them crash at the bottom. The only other child at the park was a little younger than my daughter and after observing her for a while, she found her own rock.  She used all of her efforts to lift the rock and proudly show it to her mum. At which point, she was greeted  with a look of horror and her mum quickly took the rock away and ushered her to ‘more suitable’ pursuits.

This kind of reaction is very familiar.  When my children were toddlers, other parents would often ask me if my children were okay when they climbed a ladder and slid down the longest slide, as I observed from a distance. I have never been a parent to shadow my child’s every move and rarely feel the need to step in.

It is always refreshing to find a parent who shares my attitude.  On a recent trip to the park with a friend, I was so happy to find someone who not only didn’t bat an eyelid when my eldest started paddling barefooted in the cold wet mud but actively encouraged the others to join in. When the children threw rocks on the ground to see if they would break , she gave them advice on how to do it safely, rather than stopping them because it was too dangerous.

You are my kind of mum friend because you let all these experiences happen.

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It’s fun to stand on the roundabout, when we fell, we worked out how we needed to balance to stay on.

 

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When you are 5 you can climb a big rock without any help.
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I can test the ice if I stand on the edge and throw sticks to see if it will break.

 

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I explore the size of the ripples as I throw stones into the pond.  If I get too close I might get wet and the water is cold!
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Mud is good – the squishier the better!
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We don’t need a swimming costume to get wet.
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Who can find the biggest branch?

 

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Don’t tell me it’s cold, I need to feel it!
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Puddles are the best!

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It’s okay to play – even when you’re almost 12.
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If I ride on my coat, I go faster.
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It’s okay to remove your shoes and coat when it isn’t quite Spring.

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Take off your shirt and play with a stick.
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I’m going to have a shower. I’m getting very wet, now the rain is staying on me.

And when you let these things happen, with a little bit of support they will have the courage to jump.

 

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