Tag Archives: teaching

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.

duck swimming down the waterfall

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.

 

 

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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

 

Who touched your life when you were a child? – Michael Morpurgo’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture

I have finally managed to watch Michael Morpurgo’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture.  How refreshing to hear someone from outside of the world of Education recognising how undervalued the Early Years profession is.  The lack of financial reward and status means that many of the UK’s brightest individuals are discouraged from entering the Early Years profession.  Working with our youngest children is one of the most important occupations of all, as Morpurgo put it

‘a pound spent in the early years can save ten pounds later’

Thank goodness some of us care enough not to desert the profession.

The lecture also decried the target driven education system we have in this country.  When everything relies upon targets and league tables it is easy to forget about the individuality of each child and how their needs can be met.  Morpurgo explained how  in New Zealand children enter school on their 5th birthday, thus allowing teachers time to get to know each child individually , rather than having a class of 30 all arriving at once. Also in Finland, which comes 2nd in the OECD World Education rankings, children do not start school until they are 7 years old.   With an education system built on targets and children starting school at such a young age we are setting our children up for failure.  No wonder we  keep seeing headlines about how boys are failing to read.

Morpurgo argues that the most important part of a child’s education is building trusting relationships, focusing on the unique qualities of each child. When teachers and adults are passionate about a subject, be it reading, music, sport or science they enthuse children to enjoy those things too.  This reminded me of Sir Ken Robinson’s book ‘The Element’.  In this he talks about how each of us have something that we excel at , that we enjoy and is at the core of our very being.  Many of these things are discovered by perceptive and enthusiastic adults when we are children, others of us do not find our ‘element ‘ till much later in life, if at all.

There are a number of people who helped me to find a passion.  My mother read me books, took me to the library and showed me that books were special, instilling in me a love for reading.  The primary school teachers who first put me on the stage in school shows and sowed the seeds for a love of performing and my secondary school English teacher who recognised my talent for writing and called me her ‘shining star’ helped me to believe that I could.

It also made me think of another thought I had earlier in the day as I taught my eldest daughter to play clock patience.  I thought about all the things my grandfather taught me to do when I was young.  Not only clock patience, but how to make a paper hat and paper aeroplane, how to play pick up sticks and two little dickie birds with pieces of paper on your fingers – things that I hope I remember well enough to pass down.

Working in Early Years Education I am sure that we touch children’s lives in many ways, with the experiences we give them, through listening to them and sharing their worlds and understanding their needs.  In some ways it’s a bit sad that few of the children we teach will remember the influence we had on their lives, they wont cite us as someone who touched their life, but I’m pretty certain we did.

For a full transcript of the Dimbleby Lecture    http://www.michaelmorpurgo.com/news/read-michaels-dimbleby-lectur/