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Many years ago, I attended a training course where we were encouraged to follow the acronym OWLSin our teacher-child interactions. OWLS stood for
Children are naturally full of curiosity. Sometimes questions are asked as a way of thinking out loud and sometimes asked directly to obtain an answer from an adult. In both scenarios, if we follow OWLS we will discover a great deal about the children’s way of thinking and enable them to provide their own hypotheses.
If we are to support, rather than limit, children’s developing understanding, we need to allow them to help us recapture some of the wonder and innocence we have lost and to gain insight into their struggles to make sense of what is often a confusing and worrying world. Teaching is not about imposing our views, concerns or values on others. It is about enabling children to carry out their own investigations and draw their own conclusions. (Margaret Edgington – The Nursery Teacher in Action)
My children watched the fluff flying around the playground and wondered what it was. I’m not sure if they wanted a direct answer from me or a means of discussing possibilities together. I took it as the latter and listened to their thoughts.
The children used their existing knowledge about fairies, clouds, snow and cushion fillers to create hypotheses. They also borrowed ideas from the familiar story Cloudland by John Birningham to create a new story. Their answers could be a springboard to a project where the children create worlds, stories and characters involving the mysterious fluff.
Jerome Bruner explains that when we see children as thinkers, understanding is fostered through collaboration and discussion. The child is encouraged to express their views to achieve a meeting of minds with others with different views.
As the discussion ensued, the girls used their senses to explore the material and build on what they already know about the world to find answers. My role was to build an exchange of understanding between the two children and myself, to find the roots of the children’s systematic knowledge.
As we turned the corner we found a clump of the fluffy stuff.
The children began to construct even more elaborate stories, connecting with worlds they had previously imagined.
Encouraging these moments to develop into projects is described by Carolyn Edwards in The Hundred Languages of Children. She describes the role of the teacher in Reggio Schools.
The teachers constantly pay close attention to the children’s activity. They believe that when children work on a project of interest to them, they will naturally encounter problems and questions they will want to investigate. The teachers’ role is to help the children discover their own problems and questions. At that point, moreover, they will not offer ready solutions but instead help children to focus on a problem or difficulty and formulate hypotheses. Their goal is not so much to facilitate learning in the sense of making it smooth or easy, but rather to stimulate it by making problems more complex, involving or arousing. They ask the children what they need in order to do experiments – even when they realise that a particular approach or hypothesis is not “correct”. They serve as the children’s partners, sustaining the children and offering assistance, resources and strategies to get unstuck when encountering difficulties – Carolyn Edwards.
I wonder how many rich learning opportunities are missed in our school system because there isn’t time to slow down and teach in this way? Perhaps, all the more reason to share these experiences with our children when they are at home.
The children went on to discuss the ‘fluff’ with their friends. One friend told them it comes from a tree and they thought it was Dogwood. The next question was ‘What is a dogwood tree?’. This will be the next step in their discoveries.
For 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.
Shadows provide extraordinary educational opportunities. Not only do they raise a spontaneous curiosity in the child, stimulating his imagination and exercising his emerging intellectual abilities but they are also omnipresent (even more than sand, stones, water or “pencil and paper”, because you only need a bit of sunlight or even a candle to produce them). Perhaps more effectively than other things, shadows can nourish the child’s need to do and to experiment given the ease with which the variables involved in their formation and transformation can be manipulated.
( Guido Peter – The Hundred Languages of Children)
My youngest has become increasingly fascinated by shadows. As we walk along she shouts
I can see your shadow
my shadow is long
With this in mind I thought it would be a nice idea to make shadow shapes and draw around them with pavement chalk. Some shapes worked better than others, my youngest daughter’s shadow looked a little like an embryo!
The girls drew around them. They were particularly interested by the fact that they couldn’t see the whole of their legs. It was a very hot day so only my 4- year- old wanted to colour in the detail. They were very proud of them and pointed them out to their dad every time he walked over the driveway.
drawing around shadows
The finished outline
the finished drawing
My 4- year -old has very poor eyesight and needs practice copying and tracing shapes to enhance her perceptual motor skills . I hate the idea of sitting her down with worksheets so I thought shadow tracing might be a nice alternative. We took a number of objects outside to draw around. We even attempted to draw around her bike, which was a little tricky.
Later in the week we were playing with blocks in the house.
My 2-year old declared
I have a shadow, it’s behind me
Where is the shadow coming from? What makes it appear?
Maybe the fan.
Okay, so let’s turn the fan off and see if they disappear. Has it gone?
My 4-year-old had an idea
I know maybe it’s the light, let’s turn it off. It’s gone!……………oh hang on it’s still there, it’s just fainter.
Shall we see if we have a shadow outside today?
We don’t have a shadow……. Oh wait, when you sit down there is a bit of a shadow.
When we sit down there is a bit of a shadow.
Why do you think that happens?
I don’t know. Let’s see if there are any shadows on the grass. No, not even the dog.
Do the trees have shadows?
Yes and the bushes.
investigating shadows near to the ground
My 2-year-old had an idea,
Maybe the sun has taken away our shadows.
No, that’s not right because the sun makes the shadows.
Maybe when the sun is not there it takes them away?
I know, let’s draw a sun and see if they come back.
I know we can stand in the sun and make it bright colours to see if it comes out.
In the meantime my 9-year-old came to join us. I told them the girls had a bit of a problem that they were trying to solve and wondered if she could work it out.
Why is it that when it is cloudy there are no shadows but when things are close to the ground there is a small shadow?
Maybe it’s because it is darker when you are close to the ground
But there is no sun and you need light to make a shadow.
Yes, but if it was dark I couldn’t make a shadow because it couldn’t get darker.
If we were in the sun and it was too bright what would we do?
Stand in the shade.
What makes the shade?
So what is happening to make the shade?
I don’t understand.
I drew a picture of the sun in the sky with a stick person stood underneath and a tree with a stick person underneath the tree.
Oh, the tree gets in the way of the sun.
At that moment as the girls were standing in their picture of the sun, the sun came out.
I think we might work on reflections as a starting point for our pre-school year . We could
Resurrect the shadow puppet theatre
Use the projector to make and investigate shadows
Place paper on the windows and observe and trace shadows
Continue to talk about and ask questions about shadows when we are out and about.
On the way home from school we were talking about quills. My Harry Potter obsessed 9-year- old had made a quill by putting a biro refill into a feather.
My four-year old asked
Do we have any ink?
No but we can use paint.
We painted with feathers when I was little didn’t we?
We can do that tomorrow if you like. We could use the Peacock feathers we collected at Remlinger Farm.
I set the paints up with a few feathers.
painting with the feathery part made some nice patterns
My 2-year-old suddenly declared
I wrote the word ‘buh’
Buh for bat.
She has been playing a Sesame Street alphabet game on the iPad and is beginning to talk about letters and letter sounds.
Her 4-year old sister asked
How do you spell bat?
How do you think you spell it? What does it begin with?
That’s right and what other sounds are in bat?
Yes, so what is the middle letter?
Bat…b…a…t….. a. B..a..t spells bat.
After a little bit of impromptu literacy I had a brain wave. The girls are really interested in pirates at the moment and I thought we might be able to do some writing with feathers, make a pirate map or maybe we could make a wizard’s spell.
I stained paper with coffee
When it was dry I singed the edges to make it look like an old scroll.
I asked the girls what they would like to do. They decided on a Wizard’s spell.
It will be funny because we don’t even know how to read and write……………. Maybe Wizards write differently to people.
I think this would be a great way to encourage boys in their mark making.
Set up a desk in a role play pirate ship with ink and quills
Make a spell book for children to add their own spells
Add a few feathers and a small pot of paint to your mark making area
Make treasure maps and encourage the children to mark the treasure with an X.
Literacy for under 5’s shouldn’t be about sitting at a table learning letters, tracing over letters or using flashcards. It can be brought into any aspect of play and when children are ready and interested in letters and sounds they will talk about it, ask questions and experiment. Make it fun, make it relevant and they will learn.
To celebrate the 40th birthday of one of the world’s most famous picture books, I have 10 Hungry Caterpillar inspired activities.
Maths: Build caterpillars from dough or clay. Count the number of segments that make up the caterpillar. Play a matching game – place the correct caterpillar on the leaf with the matching colour or number of segments.
2. Imaginary Play: My eldest followed an enveloping schema for years. She would hoard things in little bags and containers and if you ever left anything around that she could climb into, you would find her inside. On one occasion I left a fabric storage bin in her room. She promptly climbed inside declaring that she was in her cocoon and soon emerged as a beautiful butterfly. Provide material, boxes, play tunnels, blankets, wings and deely boppers.
3. Song and Rhyme: Sing the caterpillar on a leaf song or sit behind your child and pretend to crawl a caterpillar up their back. Teach them to ask ‘Whose that climbing up the garden wall?’ and you reply in a caterpillar like voice ‘It’s me’ said the caterpillar ‘I’m learning how to crawl’.
4.Paint symmetrical butterfly pictures: I’m sure we all remember these from school days. Paint on one side, fold the paper over to create a symmetrical print on the other. This can also work well by painting a piece of string, placing it between the folded paper and then pulling it out whilst the paper is still folded.
5. Movement: Read the Hungry Caterpillar and give the children movements to follow during the story. Egg – curl up in a ball, caterpillar – crawl along the floor moving to eat different types of food, big fat caterpillar – stretch out wide, cocoon – spin slowly then hang their head between their legs, staying very still, butterfly – flap their wings and fly.
6. Discovery – it is a little cold yet but once the weather is warmer, grow your own butterflies. We have done this very successfully using kits from Insectlore. It is fascinating to watch how quickly the tiny caterpillars grow and then instinctively hang upside down. You soon get to recognise when the butterflies are ready to emerge and can feed them indoors for a day or 2 before releasing them into the garden. The species that they use tend to stay within your local area for a few days after being released so you can spot them in the garden.
Find out about the butterflies and caterpillars that can be found in your locality, and print pictures of more exotic species.
7. Food: Make a fruit salad using the fruits eaten by the Hungry Caterpillar or taste some of the more unusual foods he ate. We are a big juicing family so we are going to make Hungry Caterpillar juice using:
8.Maths: Turn your finger into a crawling caterpillar and measure things in caterpillar steps.
9. Outdoors – Grow a butterfly garden. I saw some amazing butterflies in our garden last year that are fairly commonplace in this area. I’m definitely going to learn about how I can attract them this year.
10. Visit a Butterfly Farm. I can highly recommend the butterfly house at Bristol Zoo and Felinwynt Rainforest Centre in West Wales. In Seattle there is the Butterfly House at the Pacific Science Centre . Feel free to add any recommendations in the comments.
Getting my children to put things away when they are finished is often a struggle but sometimes it has its advantages. A tub and paintbrush were left on the driveway. After a few rainy days it inevitably filled with water. My 2-year-old picked up the brush, dipped it in the tub and proceeded to paint the garage.
On a sunny day she returned to the tub but couldn’t find her paintbrush. I brought a selection from the garage and as she discovered the different lines the brushes made. Painting on a dry driveway was a very different experience. I later found a paint roller – below are her remarks as she played.
My Children are big fans of Beat Baby and love to play rhyming games. Some of these activities and the way they help with early literacy development are documented in a previous post about Musical Games . Recently we were reading Ros Bayley’s Action Raps and then continued to make up some of our own.
After a few rhymes with me leading the way, my 4-year-old decided to have a try.
There has been a common thread on early education forums recently about how best to share information with parents. Parents are the child’s first educators and most good early education settings will look for ways to share learning journeys with parents. There could be barriers; some busy parents want to rush away without spending time conversing, other families are hard to reach, English is not their first language or they may feel uncomfortable about talking to teachers but it is important to understand a child’s home background and to support learning at home.
Put yourself for one moment in the shoes of a parent who drops their child to your setting at the start of the day and won’t see them again until it is almost bedtime. Imagine you are a parent who has stayed at home with your child for 5 years to suddenly find them in full-time school. Most young children will find it hard to remember what they have done during the day, leaving parents feeling completely out of touch with their child’s world. I remember when my daughter started school for the first time and feeling sad because I was no longer in control of her influences.
Many pre-schools are really good at sharing information. The key worker system means that staff know the children well and nurseries are generally happy to invite parents into the classroom and spend time talking to them. As Karin remarks
Thanks to the thorough keyworkers and pre-school staff we knew everything that went on every day.
Karin talks about the new learning journey parents experience when their children start school as she is learning to be a big school mum and asks
‘ how on earth can we find out what they are getting up to?’
As a parent there are a few simple things that can help. Start by asking very specific questions – Did you like the story you read today? What was your favourite thing that happened today? Who did you play with at playtime?
Chat to the other parents in the playground, children usually tell different stories and you may start to piece things together.
Encourage your child’s teacher to help you to find out by suggesting some of the things below. Start your discussion with it would be really helpful if …
As teachers there are things we can do to help. When parents feel valued and a part of their child’s learning and fully informed about what, why and how their children are learning, it is less likely that there will be a feeling of them and us.
Here are some of the ideas I have seen working well in practice
In my opinion this is the most effective way of showing parents what their children are doing. Documentation tells the story of what children have been doing by representing the stages of learning, using photograhs, anecdotes from the children, examples of work and teacher analysis. In this way parents can see what their child is doing, what they are learning and why they are doing it. Carlina Rinaldi president of Reggio Children in Italy says,
documentation is more than simply assessing or displaying the work of the children. “One of my definitions of documentation is that it is first of all an act of love,”
This describes perfectly the warmth that emanates from the documentation in Reggio Emilia – it is like shouting from the rooftops – look at what our children are doing. Isn’t it fascinating? Come and join in. Many good examples of documentation of children’s learning can be found in the projects of Sightlines Initiative.
Learning diaries have been available for every Foundation Stage child (up until the end of their first year at school) in the UK since 2008. These show the learning journeys of individual children through photographs, children’s comments and teacher analysis of learning. The diaries are an excellent record of progress and should move with the children when they go to school. Parents should be made aware that they are available to be viewed at all times and encouraged to comment about learning at home.
Learning diaries work best when they are, as the title suggests, a record of children’s learning. My first encounter with learning diaries was when working with children with additional needs, as a way of understanding what was happening at home and how that translated into their behaviour at school. In my experience this shared aspect of the diary is sometimes missed. Emphasise that this is the child’s book and it is important that everyone involved with the child shares information to build up a complete picture of the child.
If parents are struggling to get information from their children about the day at school it can be useful to display a timetable. Some specific information is also helpful, such as today we read this story or we looked at seeds and berries.
Not all will agree but I think that modern technology could revolutionise the way we build partnerships with parents. Allowing parents access to your email (preferably not your personal one) is a great way of sharing experience though I would suggest creating guidelines. Perhaps suggest that the email is for sending anecdotes about events or things they have been doing at home that they may like to share or build on in class. Teachers could send photographs to parents during the day of their children’s learning or maybe create an online version of the learning diary? I once had a childminder who even in the days before smartphones sent my daughter home with a sheet of thumbnail photos depicting what she had been doing that day. This meant so much and gave me a great starting point for talking about her day.
Open door policies.
In my experience most pre-schools and schools profess to have an open-door policy but in reality it means little. Many encourage parents to help at school and this is a great way of understanding what children are doing at school. However for working parents and those with younger siblings this is not always an option.
Most nurseries and pre-schools invite parents in to the classroom to collect their child. Parents have the chance to familiarise themselves with the environment, children can show their parents what they have been doing and there is a chance to talk to the staff. It surprised me when my daughter started at a school based nursery that children were handed to parents at the door and we weren’t invited in.
It can help parents to feel a part of their child’s day if the room remains set up at the end of the day and they are able to wander around with their child talking about what they have learned. Clearly this can be difficult if younger siblings start to play with toys or children don’t want to leave, so simply leaving one or 2 things out is sufficient. Outlining rules about this being a talking/sharing time not a play time should also help along with setting a clear time for leaving. Not all children/parents will want to stay every day. Perhaps encourage a parents’ rota for helping clear away.
The benefits of the above are plentiful
Parents will not continually demand information from you about their children as they will feel better informed.
Parents will be less anxious about their children if they feel a part of their life at school/nursery.
The children will be more likely to share what they have done with their parents by proudly showing their documentation and learning diaries.
Children can encourage parents to contribute to learning diaries creating a clear picture of the child for the teacher.
Photographs are a wonderful way of sharing information with families for whom English is not their first language.
Parents will feel better equipped to support their child’s learning at home.
With thanks to North Somerset Early Years advisory team, Liz Maggs, Hilltop Pre-School and Early Birds Nursery – Long Ashton for images and learning diary extracts.