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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

 

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Home All Day with a Preschooler? How to Make it Through the Day.

 

wp_20130204_001Before my second child was born, I used to feel sad that my eldest didn’t have a sibling to play with. I don’t remember finding it particularly difficult to find things to fill our days though. I didn’t have one child at home for another seven years, this time the experience was very different. As the youngest child, my daughter had never spent any time without her sisters. She is a very easy going child but suddenly seemed at a loss. She wanted to know what we were doing and constantly asked me to play games with her, unless I put the television on (and then I felt guilty).  This was a new experience for me and it took me a while to navigate.  If you are in a similar situation, you may find some of these strategies helpful.

Home alone with young kids all day: 6 strategies for success.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the Musical

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I took a blogging break this summer to concentrate on travelling with my family and now I am back, I have lots to share from my busy summer.  Today is Roald Dahl day and would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, so I thought it would be fitting to share my thoughts on the West End musical production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

This was our first visit to London with the children.  We only travel home every few years, so we wanted to show them the sights and experience a West End show.  To be honest, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wasn’t our first choice of show and we arrived with a little uncertainty.  We couldn’t have chosen anything more memorable or spectacular.  From curtain up it was visually mesmerising.  Costume and set design were out of this world and totally lived up to the company’s aim to astound the audience.

Roald Dahl’s original story was preserved throughout but was cleverly tweaked with  modern touches. The children were characterised perfectly and wonderfully portrayed by the cast.  My kids spent time discussing who they would like to play;  ballet dancing Veruca Salt, video game obsessed Mike Teavee or Violet Beauregarde the acrobatic child star. The parents were also brought to life in quirky and interesting ways.

Directed by Sam Mendes, this is the first stage adaptation in 50 years and completely surpassed my expectations.  We all came out of the theatre feeling a little emotional. We had clearly witnessed something  unique and special.

If you get a chance to see it before it closes at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 2017, I highly recommend it.  Don’t despair if not, a UK tour is coming soon and for US audiences, the Broadway production will open in 2017.

Disclaimer: This is a personal recommendation, no monetary compensation or complimentary tickets were received for writing this post.

 

A Picture Book for Father’s Day.

My Amazing Dad is an endearing picture book that would be perfect for Father’s Day.  The simple text tells of a dad who isn’t very good at practical things like mowing the lawn and fixing things but is great at having fun. The dad in the book is a stay at home dad and the children love that he is unconventional.  This is a nice touch, moving away from traditional parenting norms that you see in most children’s books.

It would be a great book to inspire a dad project at school or pre-school provoking questions like

What is your dad good at?

What fun things do you do with your dad?

What things is he not so good at?

What makes your dad amazing?

What do dad’s do?

Depending on the family situations of the children in your class, you may want to do this as a class discussion or on a one-to-one basis.

Disclaimer: A copy of the book was received for review purposes. This post contains affiliate links.

 

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.

Teacher? Play Worker? Educator? What’s in a Name?

beachcombingMany years ago, straight from college and failing to find a teaching opportunity in my locality, I accepted a job  leading a play scheme. This was a new concept at the time, the first after-school and holiday club in my town. I learned a lot. I learned that play doesn’t need to have an end product in mind, I learned the importance of open-ended materials and space, I learned how to work with parents and the huge responsibility of being in charge of somebody else’s child.  Through play work I learned that I loved working with the youngest children  in a play-based environment. I no longer looked for teaching posts with 7-11 year olds but volunteered at a local nursery school to learn the trade of being an early years teacher.

As a young aspiring teacher, I was never proud of my title – play worker.  I was always sure to let people know that I was actually a qualified teacher, that I had been to university for four years and wasn’t just a child care worker. When I got my first teaching post, it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Stuck in a classroom of five and six-year olds with nothing to play with apart from a pack of modelling clay, I was quickly disillusioned.

My next job, in a nursery was very different. I worked with a team of teachers and nursery nurses who bounced ideas off one other, who valued play, who cared that the kids were happy and were passionate that teaching was far more than imparting knowledge.  I watched, I listened and I learned. One of my colleagues was wonderful with the children and the parents loved her but she didn’t have a single child-care qualification. I quickly learned that having a teaching qualification didn’t make me better than those less qualified ; we could all learn from one another and had our own contribution to make.

Teacher Tom’s post, I’m Not Sure That’s Teaching ,reminded me of this. Tom questions the meaning of the word teacher and whether or not those who follow the children’s interests, supporting them as they go, are teachers as most people perceive them.

Peter Moss describes Loris Malaguzzi’s role in the schools of Reggio Emilia, as an educational leader whose role was

Not to tell others what to do, not to lead a pliant following wherever he chose – it was to create and evolve an educational project in his city, but always in relation with others and in a spirit of participation and co-operation

I’m currently reading a selection of Loris Malaguzzi’s writings and speeches. The rise of the preschools in Reggio Emilia as a reaction to education built on pre-determined knowledge imparted bit by bit, seems to ring truer today than it ever has.

Labels are complicated and to this day I’m not really sure what I’d prefer to be called. A teacher? educator? play worker? early childhood professional? I’m not sure any of them are quite right. Perhaps that is why I often struggle for a title when people ask me what I do.

Most of the children I have worked with in my career have called me Rachel. Not teacher Rachel, Miss Rachel or Mrs McClary  but simply Rachel. Perhaps titles don’t matter that much after all.

 

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