Monday, 29 August 2016

Farewell to the long summer break!

Glamping with my female relatives to celebrate a 50th!
My long summer break was spent reading, drinking lots of coffee & meeting up with family & friends - sometimes during the school year, life just gets too busy to meet up & catch up with everyone so the 7 week break certainly provided the opportunity to do just this. 
Now as I gear up for the start of another school year, I can look back on my holidays and know that I made the most of every chance to have fun!

I started the summer break in Luxembourg with 2 good friends.
A welcome, off grid break in Donegal with my husband & mum.

Our 6th visit to the Edinburgh Festivals!

To finish the long summer break in London was the perfect end!

Here's to a great new school year and many more great breaks to look forward to!

Friday, 1 July 2016

Making separation easier.

The big green chair all ready for a child to climb up to reach the biggest hole.
I am all for making the parting between a child and a parent as easy as possible and not a fan of taking children crying from their parents or parents sneaking off without saying they are leaving. Having said that, if after a few weeks, if we know a child is settled and just prolonging the parting, we may well encourage a parent to leave, knowing their upset child will settle within 2 minutes. I have done a few posts on how we settle children into our nursery class & have to admit, it really does work best if parents are relaxed about the whole process. 
A few years ago, Juliet from Creative Star Learning Company did a lovely post about the different entrances she had noticed at the incredible Highway Farm Activity Centre & I was inspired by their little circular holes in the fences to give little glimpses of what lay beyond. I persuaded our caretaker to cut some into our gate & fence, thinking that this would allow the nursery children to 'spy' out into the main school or others to peek into the nursery playground. I never foresaw how important these little holes would become for many children each morning as they said good bye to their parents. 

Two years on, these holes have become part of the morning ritual and I would recommend them to any setting. The children generally get one of the big chairs & climb up to kiss their parents goodbye through the largest of the holes, some like to watch the car drive off before jumping down to start playing with their friends. 
This year some of the children discovered that there were lots of these holes in the gate & dotted along the fence & it was a truly gorgeous moment to watch 2 parents in particular taking the time to kiss their children through each of these holes - this often involved a 6 foot daddy down on his knees on the pavement on the other side of the fence to ensure he could reach the lowest holes!

I hope that this little touch helped some children to make that parting easier & let them feel they were in control of the separation.
As one little girl commented after her visit to Primary 1 "There are no holes in the fence or door in P.1" so maybe I can persuade the caretaker to get his drill out again!!

You can read more about our settling in 'policy' here:
A link to Creative Star's Highway Farm post:

Friday, 17 June 2016

Creating quiet spaces.

In a noisy and busy playground I think it is very important to provide areas within the space where children can retreat to when they need to be quieter or more reflective. Sometimes the children will create their own spaces within areas too - we have a pallet den at the back of the slide and some days it is used as space to just sit and read books whilst on other days it is a busy hub of climbing children.
Our willow dens have really bloomed in the last few dry weeks and the children are enjoying going into them to have conversations and be away from the business of the wider playground. It is lovely to hear snatches of conversation from within them or singing etc. as two or three children gather inside them.
We created a little reading nook under the slide a few years back and you often find solitary children in there enjoying books or again a little group gathered together sharing a favourite book. This class added a few extra chairs to allow for more friends to pile in. 
The tunnel in between the 2 slides always proves a popular spot for children to gather together and chat or just watch the world go by - it is also the go to spot when a child knows they have done something they shouldn't - I think they realise no adult will be able to get up there to them!

Some quieter children are drawn to the chalk board or to just sitting chalking on the ground, oblivious to everyone and everything else.
When designing new playground spaces I believe that little spaces to be out of sight and away from the hustle and bustle are important. I can only imagine that nursery with 25 other 3 and 4 years olds must be hard for those children who are introverts and they really need time to be allowed to just sit and reflect on they have experienced that day.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Creative use of ICT in the kindergarten.

Those who know me, are well aware that I am always looking for opportunities to travel through work after being bitten by this bug over 12 years ago through the British Council's Comenius programme (now called Erasmus Plus). Between 2004 & 2011, I was fortunate to be involved in projects that allowed me to visit settings in Norway, Italy, Poland, Sweden, France & Turkey. And have also had opportunities to visit Iceland & Lithuania through separate ventures.
So, a few weeks ago, I got an email through to say the British Council were running 3 PDW (professional development workshops) across Europe, and luckily one was really geared for me - Creative use of ICT in the kindergarten. I applied immediately and waited to hear whether I was successful or not, knowing such a course was bound to be very popular. Imagine my delight when I got a place! 
So I travelled to Oslo on the 2nd of June to spend 2 full days & 2 half days engaging with other early years professionals from Norway, Denmark, Malta & Czech Republic. The premise behind the training was to try & get all the participants (46) to go home with not only new ICT ideas & skills but to have found an eTwinning partner. (eTwinning is an on line project between a minimum of 2 schools)
It is great to actually meet up with colleagues before embarking on a project.
From the very first session, I knew this was going to be a great workshop, Peter from Denmark, shared loads of easy ideas to get the youngest children using ICT to acquire new skills or reinforce new knowledge. It wasn't about children all having access to an individual tablet or device or playing loads of games but about learning how to take photos, how to classify photos or justify what they have taken etc. 
Over the 4 days we go to test out lots of different apps & resources & more importantly, to chat to each other about how ICT is integrated into our curriculums. We also had time to listen to some colleagues talking about their practice. 

Me and my new eTwinning partner, Lone from Denmark.
I came back, totally enthused & raring to get going. It is not that common to attend events like this & get something almost every hour that I was able to take back to nursery & use.
I just asked each child to find 3-5 green things around the playground.

In just 2 days since I have been back, the children have had so much fun using the iPads to document their favourite things in the playground, green things or just created a guessing game based on shoes! 5 children & I also made a very short movie using StopMotion. I honestly hadn't though this was something nursery children could do until I saw some of the movies coming out of the Norwegian kindergartens. 
A great idea that was shared was from a Danish colleague - they use BookCreator to make transition books for their children. This is such a lovely idea & I want to try it for next year.
A major highlight for me was the unexpected opportunity to visit 2 kindergartens on the Saturday afternoon. 
So, my advice to any colleagues is, to keep an eye out for future PDW's on offer from the British Council & get your application in. 
For more information about eTwinning check out this link:
Find more information on Erasmus Plus here:

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

A great day in the forest.

We were very fortunate with the weather for our second trip to 'the big forest' at An Creagan. Last visit some of the children struggled to really enjoy the experience and were mainly concerned with eating their lunch! So this time, we were prepared and had some mini breadsticks for them to enjoy upon arrival, so they could then head off to explore the site with something in their tummies.
They seemed much more comfortable in the face this time round and enjoyed all of the great opportunities on offer - climbing up the steep banks, resting on the various platforms dotted around the banks, playing in the treehouse and looking for newts in the ponds.
The fairy tea party area had lovely new bunting and Peter was busy stripping the bark off some freshly cut spruce trees to make giant pencils. 
The beauty of this wonderful space is that it affords lots of opportunities for children to sit quietly and enjoy listening to the birds singing or the laughter and shouts of their friends. 

We enjoyed our lunch outside and then after a little play in the park beside 'The Wild Woods', we headed back to nursery on the bus. 

Friday, 20 May 2016

Enjoying a rainy morning.

Watching the world go by from the top of a compost bin!

The willow has burst into life with the sunshine & some rain.
For the past few weeks we have had amazingly dry & sunny weather - it has been fantastic, the children have been able to ditch their coats & jumpers & enjoy playing in the forest area & mud kitchen without having to don welly boots and rain clothes. It meant that some of the children who are not as keen on getting wet or muddy ventured in there to have some fun too.
However, some the children found a downside to this weather - the rain barrel has been empty, so no endless supply of water to play with. This all changed on Thursday of this week & the group of children who fully embrace the mud kitchen and full on water play were delighted.
"A cocktail from the mud kitchen!"
Even though we go outside every morning, on really wet days I need to set up something to entice the first few children out from under the cover of the verandah & I have found the powder paints are the best draw every time. As it was our outdoor day, it also meant that some children could decide at 10.30 to get on their rain gear as they had at least another 40 mins to enjoy being out in the rain. These two sat mixing the rain & powder paint for ages, they didn't really have an end goal as far as painting but I could hear them chatting away about what colours they were creating.
Some of the children then took some of the pink paint over to the mud kitchen to make 'cocktails' - they enjoyed picking leaves from some of the trees or using bark chips to add some colour.

All in all we spent over 2 hours outside in the heavy rain - we even managed to cook some popcorn on the fire in the covered verandah area. As I was moving around the playground I could hear lost of humming & singing as those children who were busy in the mud kitchen or mixing the paints proved that it really is about the right clothing & a great attitude.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Art as a process.

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up" Pablo Picasso
This week my class got to paint their 'paper people', these are always a big hit with the class and they love to see them up on display and there is always lots of excitement when they take them home. Last week before we broke up for a long weekend I explained they would be painting these large paper people shapes, one child got very excited as he knew there was one at home already belonging to his older brother. 
Now, many might see these templates as cookie cutter art but I would argue against this view. Templates have a place in any art process - these paper shapes give the children a starting point but no one is in any way similar to any other. I was amazed 5 years ago when one by one each child painted their paper person mostly blue to show they were wearing their uniform. It had never happened before and so far hasn't happened again, this year the children embraced the chance to paint using all the colours on offer and mixing them up to make different shades etc. 
I think in preschool we need to give as many different art opportunities as we can and it is part of our role to actually encourage children to take part in representational art activities as well as purely creative art activities. 

The children loved painting these 'rock babies' for us to enjoy playing with in the playground. It was a wonderful process to see the paint running off the rocks and opportunities to paint 3d objects should be encouraged as much as possible too.
Young children can paint representational images if given time & space to look closely at what they are being asked to paint. Another piece of art the children were very proud of when it was all displayed was their daffodil paintings. They are again, all very different but it was important that I as, the teacher, encouraged them to look at the flowers and really think about how they could paint their representational image.
Every 6 to 8 weeks we ask the children to draw a self portrait for their portfolio booklets and it is wonderful to see these develop over the school year. They usually have 6 portraits by June and it is a great visual way for the staff, parents and children to see how  skills have developed over the year. When drawing these, the children are encouraged to look into a mirror and again, really think about what they are going to draw. From experience, talking about these self portraits the day before is usually a great way to encourage the children to be even more ready to attempt the task.
Another art opportunity is provided on the iPads and this year we got a few iCrayons so that the children get the chance to practice their pencil grip while drawing on them rather than using their finger. 
I think preschool teachers have to ensure that the young children in their classes begin to see that there is a place for representational and creative art. Young children are probably the best at being able to see the potential of any image to be whatever they want it to be but they lose this as they get older. I do fear that the latter gets less of an emphasis in the lower primary end and that is why I hear 7 or 8 year olds tell me that they are 'rubbish at art/drawing' yet I remember them as being very creative in nursery. 
Then I hear colleagues who teach further up the school lament about how unimaginative pupils can be when it comes to more creative art - they will hear lots of 'what am I supposed to draw/paint?'
Unfortunately as there are more and more budget cuts in education, art will be squeezed out even further in primary school timetables and the opportunity for children to begin to fully understand the place for representational and creative art and to realise each has it's own value will be lost.