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  • 4 Teachers Get Off a Train by Tony McNicoll, Tree of Knowledge

                 Blog by Tony McNicoll from Tree of Knowledge. Would you like to have your blog featured on our website? Email for more information. An English teacher, a Maths teacher, a Music teacher and a PE teacher are travelling by train to a conference for some thoroughly exciting CPD. They alight from the train – the only time you ever alight from anything – and walk to the station exit. They are faced with four options to get to the conference centre. There is a limo driver waiting, a taxi rank just outside with a short queue, a bus-stop nearby and the centre is only a 20 minute walk away. A quick decision is reached that they will race to the centre, each taking a different mode of transport.  They toss a coin, play rock paper scissors, have a quick dance off and end up with the English teacher taking the limo, the maths teacher taking a taxi, the music teacher getting a bus and the PE teacher – being permanently clad in shorts and running shoes anyway – setting off on foot. They arrive at the centre, English teacher first buzzing from the 5 minute limo drive, all excited but not sure why, like a hen do without a hen. Maths takes ten minutes to get there, enjoying a chat with the taxi driver. Music gets dropped off after a quarter of an hour on a city centre bus before waiting five minutes more for PE to stroll around the corner. PE gets a bit of friendly banter for holding everyone up of course which they take in good humour. Conversation immediately centres on English’s limo drive. What was it like? Was it amazing? How did English feel after their VIP treatment? English enjoys the attention and is beaming ear to ear and genuinely feels like a million bucks. Maths and Music have been in taxis and buses before of course so don’t have much to say about their trip, PE is envious now seeing how happy English seems but is refreshed after a quick walk. By the end of the conference our cheery group have been separated by the interminable plenary sessions and networking opportunities so they go off to seek dinner individually. Meeting later on in the hotel bar they discuss their success in finding a tasty meal. English seems frustrated and is already on their second double G&T. They had no idea where to go and resorted to Trip Advisor reviews which indicated that everywhere is awful, nowhere is worth the money and all the staff in the city are atrociously antisocial. In desperation English stayed at the hotel restaurant and paid £27.50 for a cheese toastie and £14.00 for an additional portion of chips – which came in an egg cup. 2/10, would not recommend. Maths isn’t quite as frustrated as their taxi driver tipped them off that the best curry in the city was just around the corner. Arriving, Maths had found the place full of conference delegates occupying tables for one. Apparently, the place was run by the taxi driver’s brother and they split the proceeds from his recommendations. Not a lot of atmosphere and serving food that managed to make a curry as characterful and interesting to the palate as a tin of macaroni cheese. Still better though, they all agreed, than the hotel’s offerings. Music seems in a better mood. They spotted a decent looking place when their bus stopped at one point, no time to check the menu however. Food was acceptable and reasonably priced but Music would have preferred a more extensive choice. With much head-nodding, this was voted the best option so far. All eyes turn to PE who has been the quietest in commenting and commiserating. “Well,” says PE, “I must have passed 15 to 20 restaurants as I walked to the centre. I had a look at all the menus along the way and chatted to some of the staff. But there was one that really stood out. The head waiter told me they had a special on tonight that would be right up my street and if I brought a few friends from the conference we would get some special treatment. Sure enough, in my last session today I let them know about the place and they all came along to check it out. We had a great time! Just the sort of food I like, great service and we got complimentary desserts as there were so many of us!” Nothing but envy from the other three. Before this revelation, they were colleagues and friends. Now however, daggers are being looked from three directions straight to PE. Why, they demand, didn’t you tell us about this place earlier on? We could have met you there! Well, responds PE, we were so busy asking about English’s limo that there wasn’t time. Sitting back, they all ponder the day’s events. Sure, English got a sweet deal with a fancy, flash lift, getting to the conference in record time but the buzz had worn off before first coffee break - what had they benefited in the long run? Maybe PE had the slowest and most physically tiring journey but they benefited from having time. Time to stop, time to look, time to learn. You have time in a limo too of course, time to stare at the crystal disco ball, rummage through the empty minibar, push all the buttons and make the electric tinted windows go up and down, time to take one thousand nine hundred and thirty-eight duck-faced selfies, time to wave and shriek out the window at people who aren’t in the limo – which is the whole point of being in a limo: to remind as many people as possible as loudly as possible that it’s you in the limo, not them. But being the posh fancy person in the posh fancy limo ends the instant you arrive and you step out the door. Then your back to being just another boring muggle. And once you’re on the pavement, all that nonsense you’ve been focusing on suddenly seems more and more just that: nonsense. Buzzy filler in your day. Before you were caught up in the whirl – now though, it’s over and time to move on. But to where? To what? And why??? All the way there you’ll have missed seeing the blue skies, feeling the warm sun. You’ll have bypassed the smell of the coffee shops and buzz of the city.  You’ve not taken the time to look around and see what’s going on, where you are and what’s on offer. To be present. To be…… where you are. No wonder you feel disoriented and confused at times, unsure of your next step. No wonder you worry about what’s coming next. Tomorrow will always be there. Worrying about it today makes you reach for your phone for a distraction. Blocks your chance of taking a useful step towards what it is you truly want to achieve. And what is that? What’s the big dream? The hugely important goal? That massive life-purpose-affirming aspiration? How could you possibly know unless you’ve walked your own path in your own shoes and felt the impact each and every single time your foot struck the ground? Even if the limo is there to make your journey quick and easy, sometimes it is better to walk. Walk every step of the way on your own two feet. Look around, learn about where and who you are. Once you arrive, that’s all you need to know. At Tree of Knowledge we passionately believe in the tangible benefits that first class motivational speaking, team building and leadership workshops can bring. If you'd like to learn more about our inspirational workshops, please contact Blog by Tony McNicoll from Tree of Knowledge. Website: Twitter:  Follow Tony on Twitter: Facebook: LinkedIn:

  • Shared Visions and Values for Outdoor Play in the Early Years

    The vision for all young children is as follows: All children have the right to experience and enjoy the essential and special nature of being outdoors form a very young age.  Young children thrive and their minds and bodies develop best when they have free access to stimulating outdoor environments for learning through play and real experiences.  Knowledgeable and enthusiastic adults are crucial to unlocking the potential of outdoors.  We believe it is essential to underpin the Vision and, in particular, the Values with a rationale for how this thinking came out, and more detailed information on what each Value means in reality. The additional details set out below reflect the thinking that took place and was recorded in the group sessions at the Vision and Values day: 1. Young children should be outdoors as much as indoors and need a well-designed, well-organised, integrated indoor-outdoor environment, preferably with indoors and outdoors available simultaneously. Outdoor provision is an essential part of the child’s daily environment and life, not an option or an extra.  Each half of the indoor-outdoor environment offers significantly different, but complementary, experiences and ways of being to young children.  They should be available simultaneously and be experienced in a joined-up way, with each being given equal status and attention for their contribution to young children’s well-being, health, stimulation and all areas of development. Outdoor space must be considered a necessary part of an early years environment, be well thought through and well organised to maximise its value and usability by children and adults, and design and planning must support developmentally appropriate practice, being driven by children’s interests and needs. 2. Play is the most important activity for young children outside. Play is the means through which children find stimulation, well-being and happiness, and is the means through which they grow physically, intellectually and emotionally.  Play is the most important thing for children to do outside and the most relevant way of offering learning outdoors.  The outdoor environment is very well suited to meeting children’s needs for all types of play, building upon first-hand experiences. 3. Outdoor provision can, and must, offer young children experiences which have a lot of meaning to them and are led by the child. Because of the freedom the outdoors offers to move on a large scale, to be active, noisy and messy and to use all their senses with their whole body, young children engage in the way they most need to explore, make sense of life and express their feeling and ideas.  Many young children relate much more strongly to learning offered outdoors rather than indoors. All areas of learning must be offered through a wide range of holistic experiences, both active and calm, which make the most of what the outdoors has to offer. Outdoor provision needs to be organised so that children are stimulated, and able, to follow their own interests and needs through play-based activity, giving them independence, self-organisation, participation and empowerment.  The adult role is crucial in achieving this effectively. 4. Young children need all the adults around them to understand why outdoor play provision is essential for them, and adults who are committed and able to make its potential available to them. Young children need practitioners who value and enjoy the outdoors themselves, see the potential and consequences it has for young children’s well-being and development, and want to be outside with them.  Attitude, understanding, commitment and positive thinking are important, as well as the skills to make the best use of what the outdoors has to offer and to effectively support child-led learning; the adult role outdoors must be as deeply considered as that indoors.  Practitioners must be able to recognise, capture and share children’s learning outdoors with parents and other people working with the child, so that they too become enthused.  Cultural differences in attitude to the outdoors need to be understood and worked with sensitively to reach the best outcomes for children. 5. The outdoor space and curriculum must harness the special nature of the outdoors, to offer children what the indoors cannot.  This should be the focus for outdoor provision, complementing and extending provision indoors. The outdoors offers young children essential experiences vital to their well-being, health and development in all areas.  Children who miss these experiences are significantly deprived. Outdoors, children can have the freedom to explore different ways of ‘being’, feeling, behaving and interacting; they have space -physical (up as well as sideways), mental and emotional; they have room and permission to be active, interactive, messy, noisy and work on a large scale; they may feel less controlled by adults. The real contact with the elements, seasons and the natural world, the range of perspectives, sensations and environments – multi-dimensional and multi-sensory, and the daily change, uncertainty, surprise and excitement all contribute to the desire young children have to be outside.  It cannot be the same indoors, a child cannot be the same indoors – outdoors is a vital, special and deeply engaging place for young children. 6. Outdoors should be a dynamic, flexible and versatile place where children can choose, create, change and be in charge of their play environment. Outdoor provision can, and should, offer young children an endlessly versatile, changeable and responsive environment for all types of play where they can manipulate, create, control and modify.  This offers a huge sense of freedom, which is not readily available indoors.  It also underpins the development of creativity and the dispositions for learning.  The space itself as well as resources, layout, planning and routines all need to be versatile, open-ended and flexible to maximise their value to the child. 7. Young children must have a rich outdoor environment full of irresistible stimuli, contexts for play, exploration and talk, plenty of real experiences and contact with the natural world and with the community. Through outdoor play, young children can learn the skills of social interaction and friendship, care for living things and their environment, be curious and fascinated, experience awe, wonder and joy and become ‘lost in the experience’.  They can satisfy their deep urge to explore, experiment and understand and become aware of their community and locality, thus developing a sense of connection to the physical, natural and human world. A particular strength of outdoor provision is that it offers children many opportunities to experience the real world, have first-hand experiences, do real tasks and do what adults do, including being involved in the care of the outdoor space.  Settings should make the most of this aspect, with connected play opportunities. An aesthetic awareness of and emotional link to the non-constructed or controlled, multi-sensory and multi-dimensional natural world is a crucial component of human well-being, and increasingly absent in young children’s lives.  The richness of cultural diversity is an important part of our everyday world; this can and should be explored by children through outdoor experiences.  Giving children a sense of belonging to something bigger than the immediate family or setting lays foundations for living as a community. 8. Young children should have long periods of time outside.  They need to know that they can be outside every day, when they want to and that they can develop their ideas for play over time. High quality play outdoors, where children are deeply involved, only emerges when they know they are not hurried.  They need to have time to develop their use of spaces and resources and uninterrupted time to develop their play ideas, or to construct a place and then play in it or to get into problem-solving on a big scale.  They need to be able to return to projects again and again until ‘finished’ with them. Slow learning is good learning, giving time for assimilation.  When children can move between indoors and outside, their play or explorations develop further still.  Young children also need time (and places) to daydream, look on or simply relax outside.  9. Young children need challenge and risk within a framework of security and safety.  The outdoor environment lends itself to offering challenge, helping children learn how to be safe and to be aware of others. Children are seriously disadvantaged if they do not learn how to approach and manage physical and emotional risk.  They can become either timid or reckless, or be unable to cope with consequences.  Young children need to be able to set and meet their own challenges, become aware of their limits and push their abilities (at their own pace), be prepared to make mistakes, and experience the pleasure of feeling capable and competent.  Challenge and its associated risk are vital for this.  Young children also need to learn how to recognise and manage risk as life-skills, so as to become able to act safely, for themselves and others. Safety of young children outdoors is paramount and a culture of ‘risk assessment to enable’ that permeates every aspect of outdoor provision is vital for all settings.  Young children also need to feel secure, nurtured and valued outdoors.  This includes clear behavioural boundaries (using rules to enable freedom), nurturing places and times outside and respect for how individual children prefer to play and learn. 10. Outdoor provision must support inclusion and meet the needs of individuals, offering a diverse range of play-based experiences.  Young children should participate in decisions and actions affecting their outdoor play. Provision for learning outdoors is responsive to the needs of very active learners, those who need sensory or language stimulation and those who need space away from others – it makes provision more inclusive and is a vital learning environment.  When children’s learning styles are valued, their self-image benefits.  Boys, who tend to use active learning modes more than girls and until they are older, are particularly disadvantaged by limited outdoor play. All children need full access to provision outdoors and it is important to know and meet the needs and interests of each child as an individual.  Young children react differently to the spaces and experiences available or created so awareness and flexibility are key to the adult role.  Observation and assessment (formative and summative), and intervention for particular support, must be carried out outside.  While it is important to ensure the safety of all children, it is equally important to ensure all are sufficiently challenged. Young children should take an active part in decisions and actions for outdoor provision, big and small.  Their perspectives and views are critical and must be sought, and they can take an active role in setting up, clearing away and caring for the outdoor space.

  • 5 Talking Tubs to Start Your Year

    Blog written by Steven Watson. If you would like to write a guest blog please email Steven.  If you work at a nursery or school in the UK you will likely be going back into your practice after a well-deserved break. A Talking Tub can be the perfect way to begin your year, as they will give children a way to talk about their summer holidays while giving the practitioner a way to identify any new child interests that have developed over the summer period. The best talking tubs are created from previously identified child interests, but there a number of great topics that you can cover at the beginning of a year using a tub. Talking Tubs are a key part of the Floorbooks approach that will allow you to identify and explore child interests. A Talking Tub is a box filled with a variety of objects about a specific subject. A practitioner will then allow children to take each item out one at a time and fully examine the objects, giving them time to investigate and discuss each object. If a child is particularly excited about an object, the practitioner will then be able to create an activity about that specific subject. For example, at Auchlone we identified an interest in medieval knights from conversations between a number of the children. We then filled our talking tub with a range of items, including a model castle, a few toy weapons, different types of fabric and photos of knights in different types of armour and clothing. From this, we found that a number of the children were interested in the clothing that the knights would wear, and then we began creating our own medieval outfits. Here are our suggestions for a talking tub to kickstart your year, with suggestions as to what you can fill your tub with: Summer Holidays A good topic to begin with is the summer holidays, and what children did during them. Many children return to the setting with a lot of excitement about what they have done over their time away, and a talking tub will allow you as the practitioner to channel that energy. Including items such as miniature airplanes, sand, pictures of the sea, a spade, a small home, a family and different articles of summer clothing can be a good way to learn about what children did over the period. It is likely that children will have developed a number of new interests to explore during their time away. You should try to create as diverse a talking tub as possible, including any experiences you know that the children had. If you a number of your children went on ski holidays, include photos of snow and mountains. A talking tub which is personalised to children will put any new children at ease. Transitions At the end of June 2017 Cults Nursery completed a lovely talking tub about their children's feelings on leaving nursery and starting primary school. If you are with children who are just beginning nursery or primary school, a talking tub can be the perfect way to put any fears at ease. Create an open forum to address some of the fears as well as the exciting things that nursery/school can provide for them. After a month or so this topic can be revisited so that children can discuss how they have found the transition, and will allow them to see that they have been able to conquer their fears.  Autumn/Seasons Depending on when you go back, it may be the perfect time to discuss the changing seasons as we move into Autumn. Autumn is an incredibly colourful month with many learning opportunities. Children are fascinated by Autumn due to the dramatic changes that they can see in trees, and practitioners can use this fascination to create great experiences for children. In your talking tub you can include leaves of different colours, different types of trees, photos of forests, a thermometer, pictures or models of different types of animals, and different types of fabric/clothing. Autumn is a great time to explore different colours through dye making, which is a great activity for measuring and art. Local/National culture Exploring a topic which children hold dear to them and may see as part of themselves is a great way to set them at ease at the beginning of a new term. An investigation into local or national culture is a great way to explore what children have in common with each other and to celebrate their differences. This topic can be expanded to discuss diversity and different cultures from around the world. This can be a particularly good topic during the transition from early years to primary and can encourage shyer children to talk about themselves. The objects that you fill your tub with may vary, from flags and clothing, to photographs of local festivals and events. Some settings choose to begin with a talking tub about the nursery or school to help children feel like they are a part of the setting and to help them feel comfortable moving forward. Risk At Auchlone Nature Kindergarten, we begin every new term with a talking tub about fire. As a fully outdoor nature kindergarten, fire is an integral part of our practice which we use for both cooking as well as heat. A lot of children who join us at Auchlone have never made their own fires before, and some have never had access to the flame from a BBQ before. By filling a talking tub with fire related objects, we can discuss the risks surrounding fire and teach children how to safely risk assess any situation involving fire. We are able to discuss safe distances around the fire pit, how to light a fire and what they should do if they have any concerns. This also lets us talk about the benefits of fire such as creating charcoal for art and being able to cook food, We fill our talking tub with wood, charcoal, ash, wooden figures of fire, a flashlight, a fire blanket, photos of the fire pit and the fire hut and some pre-cooked snacks. This wide range of items lets us look at what fire provides while also giving us many opportunities to discuss all of the risks involved.  What topics will you be discussing in your first few weeks? What talking tubs have you used recently and what did you fill them with? Let us know. Blog written by Steven Watson. If you have any questions or would like to write a guest blog, please email    

  • Why you need to start a Floorbook right now! by Melanie Lynchuk

    Guest Blog submitted by Melanie Lynchuk, a Kindergarten teacher living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. If you would like to write a guest blog please contact Steven. I feel like I’m always searching for more information. A new way of learning through the Reggio Emilia approach to education. Lately, I’ve felt that I have read every book and seen every pin on Pinterest about Reggio. Well… I guess Facebook has proven me wrong! If you haven’t joined the hundreds of teacher groups on Facebook, you are missing out on some serious learning opportunities. I find that in the field of Reggio Emilia, especially in Saskatoon, it can be difficult to find other individuals who teach with Reggio-inspired philosophy in mind. There are a select few (who are amazing inspirations), but for the most part, we have only a handful of very experienced educators in this field. Facebook has definitely allowed me to connect with fellow teachers around the world who work with the ideals of Reggio Emilia within their classrooms. What I find so interesting, is to see the posts from teachers who teach in Reggio-Inspired preschools and kindergarten classrooms, compared to those who teach in the public school system within the United States or other provinces in Canada. I love hearing their views on education and how to implement certain elements of Reggio Emilia within a classroom. It’s totally fascinating (and yes, I realize I’m a bit of a nerd because I love it way too much). Anyhow, one day as I was scrolling through Facebook, I paused to read a post from my favourite FaceBook group, The Reggio Emilia Approach. If you are not a part of this group, you need to be. One of the members asked for clarification about floorbooks and how to implement them within a collaborative planning framework with children and fellow colleagues. What?! What the heck is a floorbook? Well, I had no idea. As I read on, I realized I had seen these through Pinterest, but didn’t know the name, and had assumed that they were intended as a way to plan with children. As I have to follow a curriculum, I didn’t read too much into Floorbooks, as I didn’t think I would be able to implement such a tool in the way it is intended. Boy, was I wrong! This post intrigued me. I read each comment and followed each link that was posted to learn more. As I started to unravel what exactly a floorbook could be used for, I saw how this could be an excellent way for me to display documentation throughout the year and also record conversations I have with students about their learning. One of the posts shared took me to Claire Warden’s website. Clare Warden is an educational consultant and has coined the term, “Talking and Thinking Floorbooks.” She even has a book about it! How have I not seen this before?! So what exactly is a Talking and Thinking Floorbook? According to Clare Warden they are: Big book planners made with children on the floor; A way to consult with children about planning, Records and reflections on conversations with children. In my own classroom, it isn’t always possible to truly follow the Reggio Emilia Approach, which is why I am “inspired” by it. However, this notion on floorbooks was one that got me really excited. One teacher had stated that she used them as a way to display documentation as she didn’t have the space to display every piece that was created throughout the year. Well, now this was exactly the problem that I am having currently. Until I returned to work part-time last January, I had always had my own classroom, but now I share the space with another teacher and class. Due to this balance, it’s not possible for me to display all the children’s work and documentation the entire year. I was feeling badly about this because I didn’t feel that I was honouring the work that the children were doing by not displaying the documentation. (Also, I had spent time on documentation that no one was really reading.) So here’s how I have been using our floorbook… 1.I have completely ditched recording the children’s thoughts on large chart paper when we have a discussion about a book, or are planning a project as a group. These ideas always ended up in the recycle bin, and now they are displayed in our book and we are able to reflect on the conversations that we had and share any new learning, adding to the pages. 2. Displaying documentation. Like I said, it’s just not possible for me to keep up documentation. I don’t have the wall space, so it goes in the book. I have decided to leave the book out at our self-registration space, which allows families to flip through the book and see what we have been up to. 3. Adding little pieces of artwork from an invitation or photographs that came from the conversations had in our sharing circle. You can see in the photo posted below, that through a conversation that stemmed from the book, Life in the Lodz Ghetto, a few children painted poppies with watercolours in an invitation. They wanted to add them to the floor book, so we glued them in. This just adds another layer to the learning and the conversations that we had about Remembrance Day, war, and the Holocaust. I thought about ordering a sketchbook that was coiled, but I was too impatient and just ended up putting one together myself. It was super easy and took about five minutes. All I did was take the largest paper I could find in the photocopy room and used a binding machine to add a coil. Done! What’s actually really nice about this, is that because I used a binding machine, I can add pages to it. Mindstretchers offer a DIY Floorbook which also lets you add and remove pages if you do not have access to your own binding machine. So here’s my final thoughts about floorbooks. Maybe I’m not implementing it completely how they are intended, but I think in the field of education, it’s best to do what works for you and your students within your classroom environment. Personally, I have become obsessed! We sit in a circle, recording our thoughts and it is truly magical. Not to mention, each school year I will have this large book that documents the incredible about of learning that took place. Eek! I’m so excited about it! You can purchase Claire's book Talking and Thinking Floorbooks from the Mindstretchers shop. You can also view all of the resources that support the Talking and Thinking Floorbooks approach at the shop. Melanie Lynchuk is a Kindergarten teacher living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. As well as being an educator, Melanie is a mother to two children, Jude who is 4 1/2 and Lulu who is 2 1/2. Melanie learned about the Reggio Emilia Approach in her first year of teaching and has spent the 8 years following, immersing herself in learning about this philosophy, completing her Masters of Education in Early Childhood, focusing on Reggio Emilia. Melanie's passion for teaching and sharing with fellow educators her learning in this area, led her to start a blog. You can follow Melanie's classroom teachings on Instagram, through her Facebook group and on her Facebook page. Photo of Melanie and her family.

  • Staff Appraisals 2017 from the children of Auchlone

    Every year we set aside some time for the children of Auchlone to tell us what they think about the staff team. We all sat around our Talkaround Mat and allowed children time to discuss what they thought of us. As it is every year, the activity proved fun and rewarding for our team and children alike. See what they had to say below:   Mona "Makes things" -boy aged 3 "Reads story" -girl aged 3 "Playing" -boy aged 3 "Makes planes with small sticks" -boy aged 4 "You Mona best teacher" -girl aged 4 "Does talking" -girl aged 5 "I love you Mona" -boy aged 4   Jessica "Smells nice and wears pink jacket like Gail" -boy aged 4 "works all day" -girl aged 4 "tells me story on potty" -girl aged 2 "plays with us" -boys aged 3 "Just plays" -girl aged 4    Anine "She's beautiful and kind" -boy aged 4 "Makes nice snack" -girl aged 4 "Meena!" -boy aged 2 (that’s how he says her name) "Gets us wet in the rain! Hehehe" -girls aged 4   Dannie "I like it when she wears her blue coat because she matches Anine" -boy aged 4 "Lots of things to help Auchlone" -girl aged 4 "Best teacher" -girls aged 4 "that and this (waves hands in air)" -girl aged 2  "Paperwork" -boy aged 3   Gail "I love Gail she's crazy!" -boy aged 4 "She's likable" -boy aged 5 "Nice singing for snack and woods time" -girl aged 4 "Tells me songs on potty" - girl aged 2 "I love Gail!" -boy aged 3 "She's noisy" -girl aged 4 "Plays" -boy aged 2   We highly recommend that you do this activity in your own practice. Learn more about Auchlone Nature Kindergarten by watching our video below:    

  • Is one hour a week outside really enough for under 5's?

    Is one hour a week outside enough for our under 5’s? Jenny McAllister's thoughts on the Scottish Government's Blueprint to 2020: The Expansion of Early Learning and Childcare in Scotland. With the Scottish Government’s commitment to increasing hours of funded childcare in Scotland, attention is now on how this will look in practice with a focus on flexibility, affordability, accessibility and without a doubt the most important aspect: quality of provision. Quality must not be sacrificed for quantity. What does Quality look like? A question I often ask practitioners is ‘What does quality look like?’ As a nature pedagogue the key things for me would be a good length of time and space outdoors and opportunities to learn with nature indoors, outdoors and beyond supported by open, respectful adults.  The abundance of research and related evidence highlighting the benefits of outdoor learning and connections with nature for all children is irrefutable. Within Scotland this is recognised on the whole and ‘outdoor learning’ is embedded in national guidance available to support practitioner’s e.g My World Outdoors (Care Inspectorate 2015) Curriculum for Excellence through Outdoor Learning and Building the Ambition (2014).  As I travel around the country visiting a range of settings it delights me when I see children being provided with nature based high quality learning opportunities indoors, outdoors and beyond into their communities but this is variable across the country from setting to setting. How do we ensure equity so that all children have these opportunities? How much time is enough time? The Blueprint for 2020 Action Plan (Scottish Government Mar 2017) states that “We will build on the commitment to a minimum of one hour per week outdoors by encouraging all providers to have access to a stimulating outdoor play area for children”. With an increase to 30 hours per week funded childcare, this would equate to a maximum of 29 hours a week indoors. Looking at it from a rights based point of view, prisoners in the UK have the right to spend between 30 minutes and an hour outside in the open air each day. I would suggest that we need to do more than this for our children in childcare with the addition of nature based experiences indoors. The Shared Vision and Values for Outdoor Play in the Early Years (The Vision & Values Partnership, 2004) of which our very own Claire Warden. States that “Young children should be outdoors as much as indoors and need a well designed, well-organised, integrated indoor-outdoor environment, preferably with indoors and outdoors available simultaneously.” “Young children should have long periods of time outside. They need to know that they can be outside every day, when they want to and that they can develop their ideas for play over time. High quality play outdoors, where children are deeply involved, only emerges when they know they are not hurried. They need to have time to develop their use of spaces and resources and uninterrupted time to develop their play ideas, or to construct a place and then play in it, or to get into problem-solving on a big scale. They need to be able to return to projects again and again until ‘finished’ with them. Slow learning is good learning, giving time for assimilation. When children can move between indoors and outside, their play or explorations develop further still. Young children also need time (and places) to daydream, look on or simply relax outside.”  My question would be can this be achieved in less than an hour?  (Assuming the hour outside is broken up over a week.)  

  • Making Maple Syrup in Michigan by Rachel Larimore

    This blog was written in early 2016 while Rachel worked at Chippewa Nature Center.  Late February and early March is a magical time in Michigan! At Chippewa Nature Center’s Nature Preschool in Midland, Michigan (United States) we take full advantage of this unique time to connect to nature in a way that is unique to our place in the world. This time of the year is when the maple trees send nutrient-filled from roots to buds in order produce the first leaves of the season. The exciting part is collecting, boiling, and making the sap into sweet and tasty maple syrup. For generations people in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada have been making syrup in the springtime after trees have been dormant for a few months and nighttime temperatures are below freezing and daytime temperatures are above freezing. It’s also important that collection occur before the buds open or the sap becomes bitter—yuck! While all trees have sap the maple tree has a higher concentration of sugar, so it takes less boiling to evaporate the excess water and make syrup. At Nature Preschool we have an annual study of maple trees that includes activities inside, outside, and beyond the play area. When children first arrive in the morning they always sign-in, and during maple syrup season we make these sign-in activities connected to maple syrup. For example, predicting how many gallons of sap we’ll collect that day. In the outdoor play space we have sap buckets hanging from trees so children can check them during free play. Children are often seen integrating maple syrup production into their outdoor imaginative play, such the giant sap blender a group made using a section of pipe. (By the way, we don’t normally blend sap—this was their own extension.)    However, the most exciting activities are when we load up our “sap wagon” and leave the play area. The first day we focus on identifying maple trees by noticing buds, bark, and opposite branching. Once we’ve found the right trees, we drill a hole in the tree, hammer in a spile, and hang a bucket. If we’re really lucky it will be a day where the sap is flowing and will begin dripping immediately. (This of course requires a taste test!) Then, over the course of a couple of weeks we visit those trees every day to see how much sap we have gathered in our buckets. After collecting the sap each day, we head back to the classroom where we measure the sap into one-gallon containers and count our season total. Our goal is 40 gallons of sap because that’s how much sap it takes to make 1 gallon of syrup, which we celebrate with a pancake breakfast! Towards the end of the season we also have an extra special outing where we hike to the nature center’s Sugarhouse to see the sap being boiled in the evaporator pan over the woodstove.    All of these activities are ways to connect children to the natural world unique to our community, which helps create a sense of place. There are many other positive child outcomes, such as children becoming tuned into seasonal changes; classifying; counting; measuring volume; and much more! But most importantly? It’s a fun and magical time to be in the woods—for children and adults alike! Written by Rachel A. Larimore. Rachel Larimore is a previous Director of Education at Chippewa Nature Center in Midland, Michigan, USA. She is a Claire Warden associate trainer. She wrote the book “Establishing a Nature-Based Preschool” and is currently a doctoral student at Michigan State University focusing on nature-based early childhood education. Learn more about Rachel and her work.

  • Why I love Forest School

      Our senior trainer Kate Hookham tells us why she loves Forest School in an interview with Steven. Kate is what you would describe as an outdoors person. She loves nothing more using outdoor adventures and explorations to create valuable learning opportunities. From running around with the children at Auchlone to maintaining the tools and grounds at our center for excellence, getting Kate to sit down with you for an interview can be quite the task. With our upcoming Forest School courses I wanted to speak with Kate about why she is passionate about the methodology. *Please note that this interview is just one person's experiences of forest school in the UK and does not constitute a specific definition of forest school, and nor is it the only way that forest school training can be run.    SW: So Kate, lets talk about one of your passions - Forest School. Can you give us a quick description of what Forest School actually is? KH: No! [She laughs] Of course I can. Forest School is an approach developed by group of students and their lecturers from Bridgewater College in England after they visited Scandinavia in 1993. They were amazed by the learning methods used and so developed what they saw into a 3 level course in 1995.  Forest school, in essence, is when a trained practitioner takes a group of children to a woodland space to learn. The duration is often one afternoon a week for a period of 6 weeks. It is usually associated with bush craft and the construction of a shelter and the use of knots, tools and fire but this is not essential. Forest School Level 2 allows you to become an assistant forest school leader, whereas Forest School Level 3 allows you to become a forest school leader. SW: What is the difference between Forest School and other Outdoor Learning methodologies? KH: Forest school is certified or can be a qualification depending on which agency you undertaken your training with and which country you reside in. Forest School is often bush craft focused and for a 6 week block. Outdoor learning on the other hand is an ethos. The Forest School approach could be part of your approach to outdoor learning. It is one of many different and viable methodologies. Equally you could follow the Journeys into Nature approach using the elements to explore outdoor learning and teach STEAM, or even schematic outdoor learning. Infographic about outdoor learning created from the England Natural Connections Project 2016 SW: It's a bit of a silly question, but do you have to actually have a nearby forest to take part in Forest School training? KH: No question is a silly question! You don't necessarily have to have woodland to use as it's the methodology that's important. We use the wood around Auchlone and have found it to provide children with many different learning opportunities, however not all settings have access to such a space. You can use any type of outdoor area from beaches to forests and even your own outdoor area. So long as there are sufficient outdoor resources and you are following the methodology go for it. SW: So how does the forest school methodology actually benefit children? KH: It builds up their confidence to survive and thrive in an outdoor environment. We use aspects of forest school at Auchlone and you can see how quickly children build their confidence and skills. At first, some of them can be hesitant but after a few weeks they all love it. They learn how and when to undertake Benefit Risk Assessments, how to use tools, and hit all their basic physiological needs: keeping warm, dry, having enough to eat, drink and use nature as a learning tool. SW: It definitely benefits children then, but how does it help educators and their settings? KH: A lot of educators that we work with find the idea of taking children outdoors quite intimidating, especially if it involves taking them into the beyond and remote locations. Completing forest school training can give them confidence to take children outside to learn and play. It will even help the educator boost their own skills and learn how to step outside of their comfort zone by taking risks. It of course looks good on your Curriculum Vitae and the outdoor paediatrics first aid course is something, in my opinion, all staff who take children outside should have. Settings should also be aware that while forest school is fantastic, it's not the only outdoor learning ethos out there. Settings should consider what it is they need and go for what will work best for their staff, location and resources.  Photograph: leaves on a Talkaround Mat after Auchlone Nature Kindergarten's leaf hunt SW: What is your favourite thing about Forest School? KH: I am a bit of a bush craft geek and so I love learning new crafts, knots and things to cook on the fire. I love taking these new ideas to the children at Auchlone and at our holiday camps and experimenting and playing with them. For instance, at our October Camp last year I brought in some jellyfish and tried to make some jellyfish burgers with the children. They did turn out more like risotto and I don't think the office staff were too happy when I forced them to try it [she laughs]. The children absolutely loved it though and wanted to learn more about fish which is the whole point. I also really enjoy tool care and maintanence - as any of my colleagues will tell you, I am quite fussy about our tools! SW: What would be your top forest school tips to an educator? KH: Be prepared! Always have your kit ready and frequently check it to make sure it's in good condition. Make sure you go with the interests of the children and the weather for that day. And don't be afraid to try new things - I am constantly looking for new ideas to share with colleagues and to try out. You can never know enough about nature and bush craft. There is always something to learn and so much online or in great books. SW: Finally, what would you say to anyone who is considering starting their Forest School training? KH: If you love the outdoors but are a little nervous about going outside it will reassure you and justify to others why you are doing it. If you're confident in the outdoors already it will still help to sharpen your skills and understandings and will give you the qualification you need to create or support a forest school setting. It's also a tonne of fun and you get to spend time with me - you should definitely do it! SW: Well thanks for your time Kate! That's all my questions over. KH: If anyone wants to know more about forest school or has any questions they're free to email me at Now if you'll excuse me I can hear some wood whittlers calling my name! Mindstretchers is running Forest School Level 2 and Forest School Level 3 training in May this year. Get in touch or visit our Forest School page for more information.  Blog written by Steven Watson, interviewee Kate Hookham.  Feedback on this blog? Email Looking for advice about forest school training? Email  Share  

  • The System: using Floorbooks to support inclusion by Rebecca Thompson

      The System: using Floorbooks to support inclusion I watched him for about two weeks, walking up and down the perimeter of the yard. It didn’t concern me that he wasn’t ‘playing’ because I knew he had an intention. They (the system) thought it was because he wanted to get out. Although I didn’t know what he was doing, I wasn’t convinced that it was plotting escape. In a place where you should only be limited by your imagination, you were limited in your imagination. The environment certainly didn’t give you much to work with! Concrete drains, steel fences as high as the eye could see and one measly plastic balance beam 2 inches off the ground. He walked. He continued to walk up and down the concrete drain-way and around the fence line for weeks and weeks. Then one day, he peered in the drain and put his ear to it. Going from looking to listening to looking again, he began to walk in a strange square-like figure eight around the ostensible outdoor space. I watched. I wished I could give him more. More things to engage him. I thought we needed more things. In a place where you should only be limited by your imagination we needed more things right!? I cried louder for more things. In two weeks we got much more things for him and the other children to engage with. He walked. He continued to walk. And when ‘things’ were in his way, he moved them. He was frequently checking the drain with his eyes and ears, engrossed with it on a daily basis. I had to write this down. I wrote. I watched him and I recorded stories about his legs, his arms, his eyes, his ears and his brain. I showed it to the world of boxes and ticks and labels and names. Nothing made sense. He wasn’t interested in writing or even talking to me about what I had written in the boxes. The only people that were concerned with this writing was the system. How would he go to school if he couldn’t write!? He continued to walk. But today, I walked with him. I didn’t wonder, I didn’t despair. I walked. I stopped writing and just walked. I did this for weeks and simultaneously decided to place a collection of shared writing in a floorbook in the ‘cool down’ area for children to re-visit and write about. We also decided to have a teacher there too, just in case anyone needed some help to write. He stopped. He stopped walking. When no one was looking he went to book corner. To the book. He wrote. He made his mark. He showed me the way. The way to the sea, you see. He was walking the drains, the underground plumbing. He made a map of the entire plumbing system underneath the ground. He walked to work it out, walking and listening and looking. Feeling and sensing the environment around him with much more than just his eyes. This is a story about how Floorbooks enabled a group of educators to reach a child with Autism. The opportunity for this child to draw the plumbing system under the ground enabled them to communicate regularly. His ideas, thoughts, feelings and opinions were finally heard. We stopped writing about his legs, arms and brain and started to see his meaning on paper. Floorbooks are a window to the sense children make of the world. Everyone is heard when Floorbooks are the voice. The book was left in the book corner right near his favourite cushion and when nothing made sense he would revisit his maps. He was also allowing other children to track his maps with their fingers and they talked about them with each other. This is how he shared ideas with peers, not exactly how the box wanted him to, but instead how he wanted to. Often we expect children to come up with some sort of drawing or representation of their learning after they learn it, or even to write their name. The pressure placed on them to ‘produce’ this can often impact on the ‘product’. We as teachers also place pressure on ourselves to document what is not there. This story shows that if a climate of support and ease with no pressure is created children are more likely to share genuine representations of their thinking and we are more likely to want to write about it. Because let’s face it we do not all think the same and nor should we! The safety and security of a Floorbook allowed him to connect and communicate with us. We knew that it wasn’t simply allowing him to draw in a communal book that allowed for this engagement. Floorbooks are so much more than that. Our role (the adult) was important: we needed to foster and facilitate the thinking and sharing as it occurred, but in a way that he and his peers would be motivated to participate. Some of his peers requested daily to go back to the maps and track them. They asked questions about plumbing and drainage systems and we tested it out using pipes and water. We also talked about the rain and catchment and how we conserve water. Each person had something to bring to the thinking as it evolved and sometimes we worried that his voice would get lost in the ‘projects’. We just kept bringing it back (using Talking Tubs as our refocus) and remembering why we started the journey in the first place. It was to look at the fascination of water systems in concrete jungle but it was also to resist a system that put him in a box. More Information One of the barriers to the successful inclusion of children with additional needs is that of ‘participation’. Children have ‘access’ to early childhood settings by welcoming the enrolment, including the child physically in to the setting with other children. Most of the time children are participating in the program in some form however a closer look at the quality and level of participation is crucial in order to be beneficial for all stakeholders. This means taking in to account how your documentation is offered and if it is accessible to children in the way they can offer their skills, knowledge and insight. By using Floorbooks as a way to map progress, not only teachers but children, families and community members can help to plan for high expectations resulting in good outcomes for the child. This blog was written by Rebecca of Stone & Sprocket Rebecca is an Early Childhood Consultant operating on the east coast of New South Wales, Australia. With 17 years experience and a Master of Inclusive Education, Rebecca supports her community in the successful inclusion of children with additional needs. With many years spent focusing on building strategies around the child to fit in, Rebecca’s focus has turned to using environments (physical and interpersonal) as a consideration in supporting participation and enacting rights. This is where an automatic kinship with nature pedagogy propelled her in to combining the two: nature and inclusion. She strongly believes that the ownership, sense of self, mindfulness and multiple senses engaged that children experience when outdoors is the catalyst for social justice. Rebecca is running a Floorbooks course in Melbourne. Find out more information here. Want to learn more about Floorbooks? Join the discussion on our Floorbooks Facebook Group Visit our training dates page to see all available Floorbook training in the UK Visit the Claire Warden website to see all available Floorbooks training internationally  Complete one of our online courses wherever you are References Allen, K. & Cowdery, G. (2015) The Exceptional Child. Inclusion in Early Childhood Education, 8th Edn, Cengage Learning, USA: Stamford. Bowes, J. (2004) Children, Families & Communities. Contexts and Consequences, 2nd Edn, Oxford, VIC: South Melbourne. Cook, R., Klein, M. & tessier, A. (2004) Adapting early Childhood Curricula for Children in Inclusive Settings, 6th Edn, Pearson, USA: New Jersey. Warden, C. (2015) Learning with Nature. Embedding Outdoor Practice, Sage, London. Share  

  • Ideas for Talking Tubs: Winter and Summer

      Welcome to Floorbooks Friday, a blogging session in which we at Mindstretchers will try to answer some of the common questions surrounding Floorbooks as well ideas and tips for their use. Floorbooks are part of the Talking and Thinking Floorbook Approach™ as developed by Claire Warden (1994) in her book Talking and Thinking Floorbooks (3rd ed, 2015). Last week we launched our TES Resources Shop (where we provide downloadable talking tub planners and lesson plans.) Since then we’ve had a lot of requests for more information about talking tubs. When I first got to grips with Talking Tubs it was quite daunting to try and think of items to fill one with, especially if they are based on an unexpected Possible Line of Development (PLOD.) However, with experience and experimentation you can quickly become an expert talking tubs user. In a 0-11 setting, seasons can be great themes for learning and lend themselves well to PLODs. Depending on where you are in the world, you’re either going into Winter or Summer. To help you get started with a seasonal talking tub, we’ve come up with ideas for both a winter and a summer tub.  Both are from previous PLODs developed at Auchlone Nature Kindergarten. Talking Tubs work best when based on PLODs: when a child shows an interest in a particular topic (such as birds) a talking tub can be used in conjunction with a Floorbook to create a really valuable learning experience which is linked to the curriculum. In selecting your items you should consider what will create discussion and stimulate interest for children. You should avoid filling a tub for the sake of filling a tub: as with many things, it is the quality of the items rather than the quantity. You also do not want to overload children with ideas.  Winter Talking Tub (find a general Winter talking tub planner here) On a cold winter’s day at Auchlone Nature Kindergarten the children were mesmerized when snow began to fall in between the trees. The team decided it was a great opportunity to create a talking tub on snow and ice to teach about changing temperatures and how nature adapts. The tubs were filled with the following items (examples of open ended questions which a practitioner can ask to generate discussion are included): A photo of Auchlone covered in snow from the day discussion started: why is snow cold, where does snow come from and how is it made, how does weather work? A photo of ice (after the investigation the children went out to look for actual ice which they couldn’t find due to the increase in temperature): where does ice come from and where does it go, what do fish do if they’re under the ice, why is ice slippery?   Model igloo: why don’t igloos melt, who builds igloos, where and why are igloos built, why don’t they use bricks or sticks instead of ice, how do people stay warm inside an igloo Thermometer: why is summer warm and winter cold, how do weather forecasters know what the weather will be? Thermometers are currently on sale at our shop.  Brown and white fur (said to be from a rabbit): what do animals do in winter, why do rabbits change colour, what colours do animals change to? Pine Cones and acorns: why do trees make pine cones, why do squirrels bury nuts and seeds? Hibernation Den (a small basket filled with leaves, sticks, a small piece of fabric and other materials. It is designed to look like a bed where an animal could sleep): where do animals go during winter, why do they sleep for so long, why don’t they get hungry? Summer Items (find a general Summer talking tub planner here) A group of children were discussing what they were going to be doing over the summer holidays. It was clear that some of them were very excited by the idea of getting to go to a warm beach. The staff decided this interest in beaches was a good theme to create discussion. The tubs were filled with the following items (examples of open ended questions which a practitioner can ask to generate discussion are included): Fishing line and lures: why do things float, what do fish eat, how do we get food? Parasol: why do parasols make shade, why do we need shade? Model and photos of fish: how do fish breath underwater, how do fish swim, why do fish have scales? Treasure (coins, assorted gemstones and metals): why are objects buried, how long are objects buried for, how deep can we dig underground? Photos of waves: where do waves come from, why is the sea salty, where do waves go, Seashells: what creates seashells, what pushes them up onto the beach? Model ship and fabric: how do ships float, how do sailors know where they are going, what materials work as sails? Driftwood: why does wood float, what can you build with the wood, would driftwood be good for making a fire? Tub of sand: why are things buried under the sand, why does sand feel soft, how did sand get to the beach? General Tips: A practitioner needs to be creative and think about items which children can easily identify as representing a specific topic. For example, in our Beaches talking tub a bucket was too big so the practitioner picked a small spade to represent the activity. Instead of drift wood, sticks from nearby trees were collected. Larger objects can also be brought in, but to utilize the talking tub they need to be small enough to pass around and grip. In our examples we carefully chose items to appeal to a range of learning styles. The animal fur and the tub of sand were to allow children to really run their hands through the objects and let them feel them. The photographs allow more visual learners to connect with the object and think about it. To get the most out of your talking tub you should try and appeal to as many learning styles as possible. Almost anything can arise as a PLOD. We need to encourage children to create their own learning links, and help to support this learning. For instance, the driftwood might cause a child to remember their dog playing with wood on the beach. This could lead to a discussion and investigation into dogs which the practitioner wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. As a practitioner you must be open, ask open ended questions, and be prepared to adventure into the unknown with your children. If you are looking for specific talking tub planners, we now provide them on our TES store. We have a planner for winter and for summer (as well as a special bundle of all 4 seasons) to help you get started and begin generating ideas. Want to know more about Talking Tubs? Come on our Provocations for Thinking: Talking Tubs course or email for information about booking it in your setting.   What would you fill a winter animals and beach tub with? Let us know in the comments on Facebook. You can also join our Floorbooks Facebook group! Blog written by Steven Watson. Is there a topic you would like discussed in a future blog or do you have feedback on this one? Email Share this blog on Facebook: Share

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