Category Archives: play

Toddler Takeover @At-Bristol

watering cans
I’ve had a really fabulous day out with my 2 year old and her friend at the bi-monthly Toddler Takeover at At-Bristol.  At-Bristol is an interactive science centre with over 300 hands on exhibits.   The Toddler Takeover is a themed day targeted at the under 5’s.   The theme for today was ‘Come Rain or Come Shine ‘.  I’ve been impressed by the amount of exhibits that my 2 year old can enjoy when visiting with her older sister in the past.  There are 2 under 8’s areas that are always available .  A role play airport including a cockpit where the children can fly a plane, passport control, luggage and an x-ray machine and a hostess trolley.  When my eldest was 4 we spent most of the session playing here.playing airports  The other has an animal theme and includes a tunnel, dressing up, storytelling and a sticky spider’s web game where the aim is to throw bugs at it to try to make them stick in the web.

throwing

I once saw a superb storyteller in this area so was disappointed to have missed the storytelling session today.

As our children were under 3 we only had to pay for the adults therefore the day was good value for money.  In addition to the usual exhibits, there were a number of theme based activities  designed with the under 5’s in mind.  These activities were on the whole well thought out and there was a mixture of child directed hands on activities and more structured adult directed activities.  Some of the activities involved making an end product – a windmill or weather wheel and some were more exploratory such as musical instruments that made weather sounds, pretend snow and water play.  These were suitable for even the youngest children and each of the exhibits included a list of  suggested questions and discussion points .

There were a lot of staff helping the children to make the most of the exhibits including a number of volunteers.  Some staff were better at engaging the children that others but in all I felt that the level of supervision was excellent.

For an extra 50p the children could watch a show in the planetarium.  This was very interactive and visual and at about 15 minutes short enough to keep the children’s attention.  It may have been better presented by someone with experience of working with large groups of under 5’s but he managed to keep the interest of most children.

My little one enjoyed running through the lights best of all and is looking forward to returning with her sister so that they can do it together.

playing with light

We had a lost child incident whilst we were there and would just like to commend the staff for the efficient way that this was dealt with.  The child had wandered from the cafe to the main exhibit area.  When  staff  observed that he was without an adult, 4 members of staff  kept in close contact  without approaching him directly, so as not to alarm him. When reporting the lost child the reception staff immediately alerted all the other staff and the child was found .

On a practical level there are a number of baby change areas and buggy parks throughout and a picnic area where you can sit and eat your own food.  The cafe has its own small play area so the children can play whilst you have a coffee break. Parking is on the expensive side but park and ride or public transport are an option.

As an added bonus to the day out, outside At-Bristol there are a number of water features that on sunny days become a great place for children to splash about in.

splash

My only real suggestion for improvement is that there could have been better signage from outside that the event was going on . I’ll definitely be recommending this to my friends and am looking forward to the next one.

At-Bristol is also a great place to visit with older children too, my 7 year old wants to go tomorrow and is disappointed that she couldn’t come with us today. ‘I want to play with the fake snow’ she said when she found that it was only available for the toddler session.

http://www.at-bristol.org.uk/

Is there any value in pre-schoolers using iPads?

 

As you may have read in previous posts I am very interested in harnessing technology to engage children in early literacy.  I have been reading a number of articles about using iPad with pre-school children and am still yet to come to a satisfactory conclusion. 

In Maine there is an initiative to give iPads to  pre-schools in the hope that it will open up new worlds of learning for students.  It is recognised that this it will take a great deal of thought to achieve optimum benefits.  The hope is that it will be used to open up new avenues for exploration and not purley for entertainment.

 http://new.bangordailynews.com/2011/04/22/education/ipad-use-among-kindergartners-sparks-debate/

This is where I struggle.  My 7-year-old has just been allowed a DSi and I had hoped that she would use it as a camera and music player, creating projects to share . As yet I have only seen her engrossed in solitary activity and pushing her younger sister away.  I fear that this could also be the case with iPads if the applications are not creative and far-reaching enough.  Are there any applications that promote creativity and open-ended activities?  Are there any that are designed to be used with groups of children collaborating on tasks?

I have looked for many recommendations but have so far found that most involve variations on the same theme.  The kind of things that have been around on children’s websites for years – memory match games, puzzles, flashcards, colouring in, matching and tracing. Also I have seen a number of interactive books which are great on some levels but would worry that they would replace important aspects like bedtime stories.

So I’m very much on the fence at the moment .  If anyone has experience of using an iPad with pre-schoolers (particularly in the classroom) or has found any ground breaking applications in line with an active, play based,creative and interactive classroom I would love to hear about your experiences.

My Thoughts on the Tickell Review of the Early Years Foundation Stage

I usually approach such reading with trepidation, however when Jonathan Douglas Chairman of the National Literacy Trust described it as ‘exhilarating’ my ears pricked up.

The Review recognises the success and popularity of the EYFS and that it will be some time before this will be fully embedded in practice.  It therefore does not recommend radical change, but maintaining  EYFS in its current form whilst  fine tuning certain aspects.  I’m sure this will be a relief to many who are only just getting to grips with the EYFS and dread being faced with even more change. The tone of the report feels very much as though Dame Tickell has listened to the many individuals and organisations involved in the consultation and shows a commitment to the importance of early education. The review supports learning through play, active learning, creativity and critical thinking as characteristics for effective teaching and  recommends  that the EYFS remains inclusive and mandatory.

There are a number of recommendations in the review including:-

  • A greater emphasis on parental partnership .  The EYFS should be more accessible to parents by making sure it is in plain English.  I also think this would really help with the wide range of people that use it and help to remove any ambiguity .  In addition an online interactive version of EYFS is recommended that would be accessible to parents.
  • A reduction of the Early Learning Goals from 69 to 17, with a simple scale defining the skills needed for emerging, expecting and exceeding each goal.  Anything that reduces targets has to be a good thing in my opinion and the examples of the simple scale are very clear.
  • A commitment to greater clarity on the level of paperwork required, alongside the suggestion that paperwork should be reduced.  This sits alongside the recommendation that Ofsted and the Local Authority work together to ensure that no unnecessary demands made.
  • There continues to be an emphasis on formative assessment based on observations of daily activities to illustrate children’s learning.  Summative assessment (the Foundation Stage Profile) will be significantly reduced and there is a call for stronger links between EYFS and KS1.
  • A call to investigate as a matter of urgency the suitability of a ratio of 1:30 in reception classes.
  • A commitment to recruiting a professional and highly qualified workforce including a review of Early Years training courses and a clear progressive structure for qualifications.  I just hope that this quality is maintained by providing financial incentives.
  • A recommended change to the areas of learning. This would create 3 Prime areas – Communication and Language, Personal, Social and Emotional and Physical and 4 further areas through which these will be applied. These would be Literacy, Maths, Expressive Arts and Design and Understanding the World.  I am undecided as to whether the separation of Communication and Language from Literacy will lead to a greater emphasis on speaking and listening or whether it will detract from the interdependence of reading, writing, speaking and listening.  I hope that there will be clear advice as to what early literacy is .  I am a little disheartened that literacy is defined in terms of reading and writing and that definitions have not been reframed for a new technological age.  I am also unsure about the change from Creativity to
  • Expressive Arts and Design.  I am certain that it has been changed to avoid ambiguity, but creativity encompasses so much more than art and design, that I would hope that this would be fostered in diverse ways.  It is good to see that technology has a specific mention in Understanding the World.
  • A review of children’s development at aged 2-2.5  sharing knowledge from all agencies.

The examples of good practice in the appendices make good reading and there are some thought provoking quotations interspersed throughout.  Reading the whole document takes some time, but is worthwhile.  If you didn’t want to read the whole review the summary of recommendations in Annex 2 will give an overview.

I watch with interest to see how policy makers will adopt these recommendations for the new EYFS.

The full consultation report can be viewed  here http://www.education.gov.uk/tickellreview

Can Technology Engage and Improve Boys Literacy?

How many times do you hear stories about boys falling behind girls in their literacy scores?  In the last 2 years the Foundation Stage Profile Results ( assessment at the end of the child’s first year in school) show that girls are outperforming boys and that Communication, Language and Literacy has the widest gap.

My opinion  is that to a large degree it is down to the fact that boys are not motivated by literacy, because it is not taught in a way that is relevant or interesting to them.  It is important that this is addressed at an early age, rather than once they have already lost interest and are failing.

Children are growing up in an increasingly technological world.  Think back to how much has changed in the last 10 years and we can not possibly imagine what life will be like for our youngest children by the time they leave school.  There is no doubt that children’s experience of literacy in the future will be very different to the pen, paper and print concepts they learn about today.  

 Children’s experiences with technology in the home are generally incompatible with  what they see at pre-school or nursery.  In my experience, having visited many nurseries, technology is generally used in a piecemeal way.  If  I compare this to my children’s  experiences at home it is vastly different.  At home my children play on games consoles, operate the television by remote control, talk to family via video chat, watch cartoons on the laptop or mobile phone, take photos and videos using a mobile phone, record their voices onto a laptop or mp3 player, draw pictures on a drawing tablet, play games on a mobile phone, search the internet for information and much more. The richness of their home experiences are not reflected in their learning at pre-school.

Often this is based on fear, an uncertainty about introducing children to technology (especially screen based) because it will lead children to become lazy and replace more healthy, active or outdoor pursuits.  I recognise those fears; none of us want our children to grow up as screen junkies or for technology to replace important things like reading to your child.  However, I would argue that as technology is evolving, it is becoming more accessible to pre-school children and the opportunity to use it in innovative ways in a play based setting presents itself.  Technology is an ever growing part of their lives and it is important that it is utilised as a natural part of children’s play in pre-school settings.

Boys generally love anything technological and lack interest in reading and writing – this is a generalisation but on the whole it is the case.  I hear people ask all the time ‘ how can I get my son off the computer?’  So maybe instead of trying to ban the things they are interested in we should be using it to our advantage.  I was told a story just a few days ago about how a boy aged 11 who could never understand how anyone could choose reading or writing as a pastime and had joined a computer club at school.  The teachers had shown them how to create animations and story boards.  Following this he has gone away and invented characters, writing comic books and animated stories with such enthusiasm that he couldn’t get to the club quickly enough. 

If we can encourage this enthusiasm at pre-school, maybe we could avoid many of the negative feelings that boys have around literacy and inspire them to be literate in a different way.

This premise forms the basis of my proposal for Phd research ( subject to finding the necessary funding). The hypothesis is that if boys were given opportunities to learn the foundations of literacy through technology, then they would be motivated to learn and this would in turn improve their literacy outcomes.  I would  create a play based environment whereby children could explore the underpinning skills of literacy, through the medium of technology.  This would occur alongside more traditional activities to see whether the technological experiences were more engaging. Technology would be integrated into ongoing practices of teaching and learning.  Each classroom would be designed around the needs and interests of the children. Technology would be freely available and would be used both indoors and outdoors.  I would hope that it would also inform those who create technology, software and applications highlighting possible future developments.  To work together to provide suitable experiences for our youngest children that would reframe  long held notions of literacy.

Turning 40 Part 2 – Is Eeyore in his 40’s?…. and more thoughts about Eeyore.

eeyore14

I picked up a book in my doctor’s surgery , ‘Forty-fied – How to be a Fortysomething’ by Malcolm Burgess.

I loved this quote

Eeyore is probably 40, seeing that his stuffing is falling out, he’s terminally depressed and surrounded by annoying energetic younger things who know that the only way to cheer him up is to give him a nice jam jar with a burst balloon for his birthday, about which he is expected to be sadly euphoric

I don’t feel like my stuffing is falling out but after having 3 kids,  I look at pictures of myself when I turned 30 and compare it to the tired woman with grey roots, developing wrinkles and a post baby tummy and wonder if we are the same person.  I love the stuff about presents which are also discussed elsewhere in the book.  I keep getting asked what I would like for my birthday but I don’t really want or need anything.  I’d quite like a boob job but at £5,000 that’s a bit above most budgets, permanent hair removal,  decent hair cut, a trip somewhere?  I’m doing quite well with presents from my husband, I have a spa day, haircut and photo shoot and tickets to see Rufus Wainwright and my neighbour has bought me tickets for the ballet – so I’m far from Eeyore’s realm.

To be honest I’m actually not that depressed about turning 40 – it’s a turning point for me.  The end of my childbearing days hence a chance to get my figure , career and social life back on track.  Maybe not straight away (I still have 2 children under 5) but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I hope I’m not an Eeyore.  In Benjamin Hoff’s wonderful book ‘The Te of Piglet’ ( a follow up to the’ Tao of Pooh’), he describes the Eeyore effect.  Those in life who enjoy being unhappy, who are so obsessed with the bad things in life that the good things pass them by.  The most poignant part of his Eeyore discussion  is that of the Eeyore educators.  These try to force too much inappropriate information on children too soon, so that children get stuck.  An Eeyore educator’s answer to failing test results would be to send them to school earlier,  taking away their creativity and play .

Piglet

picked a large bunch and trotted along, smelling them, and feeling very happy, until he came to the place where Eeyore was.

‘Oh Eeyore’, began Piglet a little nervously, because Eeyore was busy.

Eeyore put out a paw and waved him away.

‘Tomorrow’ said Eeyore. ‘Or the next day’.

I think we all recognise this in our busy lives, how we often say ‘In a minute’ but for the child who lives in the moment, that moment becomes lost. Hopefully turning 40 doesn’t mean turning into Eeyore, but rather being a Piglet or a Pooh.  As Piglet says in the closing line of ‘The Te of Piglet’

For me, it also seems like a beginning.

Someone to Watch Over Me – Childhood Risks

I’m so pleased that my eldest (almost 7) has finally started to play in the street with her friends.  It is well known that if you ask adults about the most memorable and enjoyable times from their childhood they will almost always involve being out of doors, with friends and with no adults around.  I can’t remember a time when I didn’t play out in the street, I certainly have clear memories of being 3 years old and doing so.  When we moved from the city to a cul-de-sac before we had children, I hoped that we would find somewhere that our children could play in relative safety from traffic.

This has come at an opportune moment as I have just finished reading ‘Beware Dangerism’ by Gever Tulley, which discusses the irrational fears that we have about our children’s safety and how this makes them less able to deal with risks and challenges.  Gever runs a school called Tinkering School which encourages children to build and take things apart using real tools.  This reminded me of photographs that a colleague of mine shared on her return from visiting forest schools in Denmark.  I saw pictures of under 5’s using sharp knives with great skill to whittle sticks.  She talked of how one of the schools had been on the coast and the children were sent off without adult supervision onto the beach, with the only rule that they were to go no further than the edge of the water.  They were called back hours later by a bell.  This approach reminds me of the hours that I used to spend in the woods near our house as a child.  We used to often pretend we had run away – the idea of being independent was always a thrill I’m sure that I am often looked upon as a bad mother.  On holiday last summer another parent looked horrified as my 18 month old stood waiting to go down a big slide.  I watched as her child looked worried about going down the smaller one and an adult stayed carefully by her side.  I looked at the other parent and said ‘She’ll be fine , she does it all the time with her sister’ as she launched herself down the slide smiling and laughing.  I often see parents holding their children on reins as they attempt to climb in playgrounds, as if they are afraid to let them try anything on their own.  I once had an argument with a lady in a charity shop because I was letting my daughter touch china pots whilst I was next to her supervising.  The lady very crossly asked her to stop and I asked her how my child was expected to learn to be careful with things if she wasn’t allowed to touch them under adult supervision.  I want my children to try things with confidence and not to grow up cautious and timid, I never underestimate what they can do as long as they have clear safety  rules.

Lenore Skenazy has a great blog  that talks about kids and risk taking many daft restrictions on children

I see and I forget, I hear and I remember,I do and I understand.

 

 

The Chinese proverb above illustrates the common practice of active learning in early years education, except that maybe we would say ‘ I play and I understand’.

Early years educators are often criticised for having an easy job, because all we do is play.  I would argue that play is one of the most important things we do, not only as children, but also into adulthood.  Play gives us freedom as it is one of the few things that we do that has no external goal.  Play is both therapeutic and a way of self regulating experience (Jennings).  In play we can select our own materials and are free to choose what to do with them, helping  to work out solutions to conflicts and understand one’s self.  Maybe we should all take time out from our busy lives to play.

As an adult I rarely play, we might play with our children, but generally this is following their agenda or playing a rule based game.  How many of us play for play’s sake ? Why don’t we build dens in the woods or take out a lump of clay and model with it?

I was once on a course with Jenny Moseley who asked us to sit for 5 minutes with an egg.  We had to stay in our own space and were allowed to do whatever we liked with the egg in that time.  Who would have thought that a simple egg could be so absorbing?  It became my complete focus for that 5 minutes and we were then asked to put our thoughts on paper to share with others – the words poured out of me without hesitation.826egg

I think that real understanding is achieved through more than just play.  If we look at some of the most highly respected early years establishments, in particular the pre- schools of Reggio Emilia,  there is one thing that sets them apart.  The schools founder Loris Malaguzzi describes the teachers role as learning and relearning with the children. A favourite saying is ‘catching the ball that the children throw us’. That is not simply asking the children to tell you what the teacher already knows but retaining what the children give with a sense of wonder.  We can learn a lot about the way children think by listening to them.  Often they are viewed as funny or cute comments – like when my 2 year old saw manure on the road and asked ‘Mummy has the road done a poo?’, but these little comments tell us a lot about the way children think.

In the pre-schools of Reggio Emilia  projects are based around what the children say and do.  They would go that extra step to give the children a complete experience .  A project on supermarkets for example, led them to not only visit during the day but also when the shop was closed, helping to encourage further discussion and enhance the children’s play.  In the Reggio schools understanding is not achieved through simply ‘doing’ but also by having the chance to reflect and build on those experiences. It is important that when children ask questions we ask what they think and that their interpretation is seen as important.  It is not the answers that are important but the process of discovery.

In our own work as teachers and parents we can learn so much from our children if we listen , share and take time to reflect both alone and together. In our own lives too , if we take time to step back and really absorb ourselves in something as with the egg exercise, we learn far more than rushing around doing things. Rather than always focusing on the present, the reflection time helps us to work out what to do next.  I believe therefore that the proverb should be

I see and I forget

I hear and I remember

I do and with reflection I understand.

For further information on Jenny Mosley’s work  http://www.circle-time.co.uk

For further information regarding the schools of Reggio Emilia  http://www.sightlines-initiative.com/