I have blogged quite a few times about how my practice has evolved over the past 13 years mainly as a direct result of being involved in British Council Comenius projects with schools in Poland, Norway, Italy, France & Sweden but I have often wondered whether the same projects ever had as big an impact on any of the other partners.
So last year when the Polish kindergarten contacted me to see if our school was interested in embarking on a new Erasmus Plus (the new name for Comenius projects) Project, I jumped at the chance. This new project is about how to best integrate migrant children into kindergartens & there are 10 partners from 8 different countries involved - U.K (us), Sweden, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Italy & Estonia.
We had our first face-to-face meeting last month in Łodź in Poland and it was so good to have the opportunity to revisit the kindergarten almost 9 years after my last visit.
I first was in Kindergarten 152 in 2005 and was struck immediately by the warm atmosphere and homely feeling in the classrooms, there was a lack of the expensive resources I was used to seeing back home in early years classrooms but there were lots of plants and carpeted areas and a real warmth between the children and teachers. The day was very structured with lots of individual 'lessons' e.g. chess, ballet, English etc. and it felt quite formal. However, it did seem a little chaotic and their teachers always commented on how well behaved our children were when they visited.
So when I revisited at the beginning of March I was delighted to see how their various projects since 2008 have had a huge influence on their practice. The biggest change was that they now have mixed ages classes so in each class there are 3,4,5 & 6 year olds. Every teacher I spoke to was adamant that they would never go back to their former way of having classes of 3-4 year olds, 4-5 year olds & 5-6 year olds. They explained how this new system was very alien to the Polish system and theirs is the only kindergarten in the city to offer it and how many parents were resistant to the idea at first. As the teachers explained, this new way of organising classes means that no teacher has a whole new class at the beginning of a school year, as only a handful of children will move on each year & so the others will help the new children to settle in more easily.
Each classroom was still full of greenery and felt like a home from home but I could immediately see that they were much better resourced - they all have interactive whiteboards and lots more resources. It was very obvious that every teacher had taken on board many of the different strategies for class management and teaching styles that they had seen in each of their partner schools. There was lots of hands on learning rather than direct teaching & embedding learning in concrete experiences with lost of layering, the children were getting so many opportunities to practice their numeracy skills again and again in different ways - simple counting, number identification, physically jumping and counting etc.
Every class we went into it was very obvious that there has been a big emphasis on teaching English in the kindergarten, all the children were very keen to practice with me & I was very impressed by their understanding, it wasn't just learned phrases.
When I first visited in 2005, the outdoor space was very bare and only used in Spring & summer terms. As our partnership with the Norwegian outdoor kindergarten had had such an impact on my practice I was curious to see if anything had changed in their outdoor space too. I was delighted when Grazyna, the director, took me aside and wanted to show me their newly developed outdoor spaces. They have such a huge outdoor area and I as so happy to see al of it being used now and all year round too. It was lovely to be able to go outside with 2 of the classes and see the children playing in the space & I got to chat to the teachers about how the space is used.
I am a firm believer in evolving practice but I also believe that it has to happen slowly and be realistic about each setting - you cannot simply transplant ideas from one country into another - so it was so wonderful to see how this kindergarten has reflected on how they might incorporate ideas or change them to suit their setting and practice. Most of all, I could see that all changes came about because of the difference they could make to the lives of the children and staff and not just because they were a current trend.
You can read more about my project experiences here: