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  • Talking and Thinking Floorbooks: Consulting Children

    This blog is an excerpt from the introduction of Claire Warden's Talking and Thinking Floorbooks book. Please refer to Warden's full book for an in-depth insight into the approach and how to implement it into your setting. It would appear, from the training across the world, that people are aware of what they want to do, but lack a clear methodology to achieve it. The Talking and Thinking Floorbook has been adopted by many centres to support child-initiated planning. They are used in Primary classrooms to develop higher order thinking skills. The UK Department for Education created the foundation stage guidelines for Scotland, England and Wales and based them on certain principles. These principles state that practitioners are required to 'plan and organise the learning environment to provide experiences that build on what children already know'.  This will be demonstrated when practitioners 'enable children to become involved by planning experiences, which are mostly based on real life situations' These relevant, real life situations come out through the Talking and Thinking Floorbook as part of the consultation process. In a project called the Effective Provision for Pre-School Education (E.P.P.E.) Blatchford (2004) looked at the way that children use skills in contexts that are meaningful to them. In the creation of a munching monster that had tubes running through it the author states: 'This idea came from the children and they measured it up and developed it. The biggest problem came with trying to attach the cardboard tubes to the wall. In this way we became involved in shared thinking.'  When the E.P.P.E project looked at different types of experience they found that this type of thinking was particularly important in developing and extending concepts. The group writing in a Talking and Thinking Floorbook explores the shared thinking in a more formal way so that children recall each others ideas and record them through writing, diagrams and photographs. Many children re-visit the books and learn from a previous group's experience or indeed their own ideas from a previous session.  When children engage with an adult and discuss their ideas and thoughts they are entering into a partnership to 'find out'. Fisher (1996) states:  'If children know that they are being trusted and are being given the opportunity to make their own choices and decisions then they also know, because it is part of a negotiation made explicit by the teacher, that they have to fulfill their side of the bargain.' Recording the elements of the 'negotiation' allows children to remind themselves and the adult what they have agreed to do. Talking and Thinking Floorbooks create a child centred approach, which records the evidence of the process of play and the learning that comes from it.  The Talking and Thinking Floorbooks approach is made up of a number of facets that are outlined in the chapters throughout this book. The strategies are all interlinked and can be used when the adults feel the time is right.  The right to be consulted, and subsequently empowered to make decisions, lies at the heart of the way I work.  Consultation with children is important because:  It creates a closer match between the children and the curriculum they are experiencing;  It builds self-esteem and positive attitudes when the learner is involved in the decision making;  It increases the intrinsic motivation that stays with a children throughout life;  Children have a right to be treated with respect. As individuals, we can show respect by valuing their thoughts and opinions.  The initial thoughts, the evidence of the process of learning and play and a summary of ideas are collated in a Talking and Thinking Floorbook, which can reflect the progression over the learning journey.  Talking and Thinking Floorbooks have evolved in my practice over the last 28 years in response to working with children in a variety of environments. When they were initially used we called them Floorbooks because we made them with children on the floor. They then moved into the planning frame and were known as Big Book planners! The term I now use is a 'Talking and Thinking Floorbook' since it reflects their purpose. This purpose which is to encourage thinking skills through thinking skills through talking and listening together in a group, so that children are consulted and can then influence the opportunities taking place.  We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Claire Warden's Talking and Thinking Floorbooks. The full book is available in print copy and also as a digital e-book from the Mindstretchers website. We ship internationally and the physical print includes an A2 poster about Floorbooks and the planning process.   

  • Nurture through Nature: Metal and Sound

      This blog is an excerpt from Claire Warden's book Nurture through Nature. In this excerpt Warden discusses the use of metal as a natural resource to create learning experiences for young children. Please refer to Warden's full book to see the full chapter as well as how to use natural resources in your setting. The sound and feel of running a stick along a fence is firmly placed in childhood memories. Metal has a different sound that can be incorporated into experiences with more natural materials to enrich experiences for children.  The experiences for older children may well include observations of the changes in different types of metal. With very young children who are mouthing I do use stainless steel for its inert qualities whilst still giving wonderful auditory opportunities.  [I was recently] in Iceland in an area designed for two year olds. The sand was volcanic and therefore black. Children spend long blocks of time outside each day and were encouraged to risk assess. A group of 3 boys aged 2 years found some sticks on the far side of the outdoor area. The play started by drumming on the side of the wooden house, after 10 minutes of this exploration the boys split up and started to hit other objects. One found that the fence made a harder, louder noise. The noise attracted other boys to the area. they played on the fence for several minutes before carrying on their journey around the area. As part of that exploration they walked along a wooden platform in the eaves of the shelter. The sides of the hut are faced with corrugated iron panels. Using the same sticks the boy moved along the walkway alternating walking and running. By running their sticks along the fence the sound is linked to kinaesthetics. The adults here support their involvement with noise through offering metal objects to hang on strings alongside the hut. The resonance and vibration within metal gives a very distinctive sound. Creative outdoor areas should have a variety of experiences that explore the sound, reflection and use of metal.  Children are orally stimulated before birth. Some expectant mothers wear a metal pendant with an inner ball that creates a chime of a particular pitch. When this noise is heard after the baby is born it has a soothing effect since it is associated with the security of being in the womb. The sounds that surround children should be a balance of stimulation and harmony. Young babies take so much from the environment that we as adults have filtered out. It is very easy to bombard them with too much stimulation rather than allowing them to root themselves to someone.  Metal can be used for gentle outdoor chimes played by the wind for babies; toddlers can enjoy chime spaces that are full of metal tubes to run through and dance within. One aspect of any instrument is that there is enough space for the sound vibration. Creating sound walls with metal tubes, pan lids, metal car wheel hubcaps - will all need to be suspended a short distance away from the wall to create effective sound.  Imagine the joy of creating a musical tree covered with stainless steel rings that hum when you stand near to them - use a stainless steel musical wand to play the rings and there will be potential of wondrous musical opportunities.  Young children are kinesthetic and when movement is at the core of the outdoor area, we can use children's feet and movement as music. Offer Wellingtons, shoes or clogs with metal tips and watch to see the change in movement as the children enjoy auditory stimulation linked to kinetics - children start to dance on drain covers, even tap their feet whilst they are standing.  Metal spoons and metal pans make the best mud pies but since they are constantly damp it is worth considering the type of metal you use as many will rust very quickly. I would say however that rust is a part of a cycle of decay and can be used as an opportunity for discussion of environmental issues. Real pots and pans supported role play to create pretend food inside, and this was applied to play outside through the creation of food for a hedgehog. The containers that were provided included colanders, measures tubes and bowls to provide choice and exploration. Children under three engage in transformational play through most of their day since their pliable brain is creating connections between experiences. This enables them to store frameworks of understanding until they make a new discovery. The provision of metal materials inside and out will enable children to extend their thinking and application of their ideas.  In the rest of the chapter, Claire discusses a learning story about hollow stainless steel balls engaging children in transporting and trajectory schemas for longer blocks of time.    We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Claire Warden's Nurture through Nature. The full book is available in print copy and also as a digital e-book from the Mindstretchers website. We ship internationally.

  • Why should children go outdoors? The Potential of a Puddle.

    The following blog is an excerpt from chapter 1 of Claire Warden's Potential of a Puddle. This book discusses effective outdoor practice and advocates for children in nature. In chapter 1, Warden argues why she believes that all children should be able to play outdoors. Please refer to Potential of a Puddle to read all 8 of Warden's main arguments.  Given all of the apparent challenges, why do we still persist in the promotion of play in a high-quality outdoor environment? What unique benefits can children gain outdoors? A sense of freedom Many children lead 'organised' and often sedentary lives, whether indoors sitting at a computer or a television, at a club, or in a car. The freedom that many of us felt in our youth is being curtailed by highly structured experiences in enclosed environments that are usually indoors. Children need a sense of autonomy if they are able to develop a belief in themselves. Effective outdoor play provides a greater sense of freedom: for example the opportunity to make a large-scale structure that you want to hide in, a project that you want to develop over a series of days, using your own choice of materials, is full of emotional learning.  Freedom can be expressed through the amount of time provided, the space the children can access and the choice of resources.  Experiencing the weather Human beings are part of nature, but many children and adults have become removed from it. Nature is often conveniently packaged or sanitised so that we experience it only from inside a car, or on a walkway through a wood.  Young children have a natural connectedness to nature: their joy of standing in a puddle or watching a worm move is central to their understanding of who they are in the world. Instead of presenting nature in packages, we need to follow young children and engage in more experiences to feel it. Experiencing the weather is the one totally unique aspect of outdoor play. Children naturally move in an environment that is constantly changing from minute to minute and from season to season. These changes create an exciting space to play. Light changes, casting shadows and patterns of coloured light; the wind moves objects both fixed and free; the rain makes the world a shiny place with light bouncing off surfaces that previously looked dull.  Sensorial learning that changes with the seasons The sensory aspects of natural environments provide unique opportunities for learning outdoors. We now know a great deal about the way that learning takes place in the brain, and the sensorium is the part of the brain in which sensations take place. We all learn in different ways and have a preferred learning style. Plastic materials are widely used in centres to motivate young children, but they engage mainly visual learners. Sensory materials such as grass, leaves, water, mud, wood and rock all naturally occur in a well designed outdoor area. The sensorial experience of nature ensures that we feel the wind, smell the grass, hear the bird song, see the colours change and sometimes eat the carrots we have grown. "Children need to have space to be able to move with speed, to run, climb, balance and skip." Learning through movement Children need to have space to be able to move with speed, to run, climb, balance and skip. The physical mastery of the body is important for the reinforcement of the neural pathways in the brain that are connected to all aspects of learning. Children need to be stimulated by movement, whether through watching objects such as wind-socks, trees, kites or feathers blowing in the wind; through sitting on moving objects such as swings; or through controlling the movement of their own bodies.  Developing a positive attitude towards the world we live in: citizenship Involving children in the design, creation and care of the outdoor environment is an excellent and meaningful way of developing the skills and knowledge required to become caring and responsible citizens. For example, children can create small arable fields and then tend the plants with care and concern, from the first planting to the harvest of the crop. Experiential learning has been a model used in early education for some time, because it is effective. Watering plants, digging, handling mini-beasts that have an emotional connection to a child and are more likely to stay with them into adulthood. Involving children as partners in the learning process ensures that both adult and child see the outdoor area as a place for learning and teaching, a shared two-way process.   We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Claire Warden's Potential of a Puddle. The full book is available in print copy and also as a digital e-book from the Mindstretchers website. We ship internationally.

  • Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools - Creating a vision

    The following blog is an excerpt from chapter 1 of Claire Warden's Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools. This book provides valuable insights on how to create and manage a Nature Kindergarten or Forest School program. In chapter 1, Warden explains how she came to implement the first Nature Kindergarten in Scotland and explores the different values she used to underpin the approach. Please refer to Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools to read all 13 of her underpinning values.  'Tell me... What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?' -Mary Oliver The journey started several years ago when I received a phone call from a lovely person called Sarah. As a mother, she was looking for someone to support a local nursery to prevent its closure. My great 'Life Plan' had not included the development and implementation of a methodology. Sometimes life has a way of unfolding, and for me these forays have afforded a wealth of wonderful experiences across the globe. So, after a meeting with a group of parents we decided to develop the centre as our definition of a Nature Kindergarten linked to the models seen in parts of Scandinavia and Europe.  The term Nature Kindergarten has come to stand for our definition and approach of naturalistic wild spaces that provide children with a landscape in which to play for very long blocks of time. The approach or methodology about how you work with them in that space is as important and has key aspects that we consider to be effective and essential to our definition. A summary of the key aspects of Nature Kindergarten are defined in each chapter of this book. The Nature Kindergarten journey and this book that stems from it are personal to me. I would like the concept to be personal for you too and to this end, each chapter has some key points to think about or for you to follow on your journey.  Our decision to create a centre was an absolute conviction that 'natural' spaces both in terms of resources, environments and the mentoring skills of the staff are the most effective and appropriate for children. The more I see, the more it makes you reflect on what is defined as high quality childcare. As I travel the world listening to practitioners who work in a variety of spaces, with a variety of children and their families, I developed an opinion that some f the western traditions developing in childcare and education are not always the best for the inner child.  These are the values I use to underpin the approach we have: Small numbers of children in home styled spaceThe rise of large centres with hundreds of children on roll concerns me for both the emotional aspects of the children but also how the relationship develops with the families they come from, so we decided to create centres akin to children's houses, small units of no more than twenty children in local spaces, so that the link within the local community is supported and in some cases developed. The houses are set up to be just that, small units with cosy spaces, often with log stoves for heat, blankets and slipers make the lodges homely places with direct year round access to wild spaces, everyday.  Mixed age group sessionsThe children work in family groups with 2-5 years old in the same group, this creates what I feel is a more 'normal' way to learn. Family units have the natural age range and give the children a buffer zone where they can be 'emotionally polished' to smooth off some of the aspects and behaviours that do not suit a community based space. The apprenticeship approach to learning has been used for a long time in education and is very effective as long as all children within it experience challenge in their thinking.  Community hubIn some instances when families do not have extended family around them, urban lifestyles can actually lead to some isolation if there is no common meeting place. Day care of children whether playgroup, family centres, toddler groups or nurseries offer this forum for parents and carers to network and become involved in the community of the centre - a 'fellowship' as Froebel would have said. We decided to offer social experiences such as felt making classes, jewellery making, construction days, eco-days or family sessions for adults to create connections, both within nursery but also at weekends, holidays and evenings.  Open-ended resources in visually simple spacesThe rise of over-designed resources with too small a role for creativity can lead to children who are too prescribed in their thinking. The ability to vocalise and reflect, to inspire, and to problem solve are attributes that have come from a place where children have been given some autonomy and the space to 'think outside the box', both in terms of the curriculum and the spaces they are in. The resources we put into the centres are flexible and open-ended that ensures they have multiple uses across the curriculum. The spaces are defined after watching children and their play behaviours so that the organisation of the space makes sense to the children using it. For example the play dough or clay goes into a role play area or as a medium for connecting blocks or modelling characters to use in small worlds both inside and out.  Risk full learningThe most complex hazards are removed in the nature kindergartens, but the risk remains. The development of a risk adverse society is creating what Tim Gill calls the 'shrinking horizons of childhood' where the independence and freedom of childhood has been curtailed. If we listen to experts from other parts of the world such as America, we find Richard Louv talking of the 'criminalisation of natural play' through public response to children playing in a stream. On the other side of the world we find Sue Elliot who is supporting the development of naturalistic spaces in Australia. The global aspect of the work I now do provides me with the wonderful opportunity to meet the children and these people across the globe. There is a global trend towards risk aversion, but alongside it is a tenacious group of people fighting for a children's right to feel 'the knot in his stomach', the adrenaline, when you start to move out of the comfort zone. The naturalistic spaces are first and foremost for the children, their experiences outside have inspired many people to reflect on their own provision no matter how small or urbanised.  Eco friendly and sustainable livingThe rise of plastic and especially unrecyclable plastic materials has been a concern for the company for some time. Previously, increases in Local Authority funding and grants has lead to a rapid advance in the amount of plastic equipment in centres that in the cause of technology are designed to ping and 'whirr'. There are two aspects of this that concern me. Firstly, is the environmental impact where the amount of plastic going into landfill sites is truly staggering. Given that the children using the resources are going to be the ones facing the waste minimisation and handling it is only right that we start to ask questions on their behalf so that the earth is still beautiful in sixty years time. Where do broken resources from educational spaces go? Do people ask about the disposable options when they buy a resource? Our approach has risen out of an ecological awareness. It almost passes as a given that all the Nature Kindergartens hold a green eco school status. For international readers, this is a quality indicator in Scottish education that ensures that centres work in environmentally aware communities, encouraging children to reduce waste, power use, litter, water use, and promote sustainability, healthy eating, biodiversity and the use of school grounds.  Secondly, the closed resources often have very limited play affordance and therefore flexibility to the learner. If too much emphasis is placed ojn the artificiality of materials, trying to replicate reality, I would question why not just use real materials. In most cases they are far more sustainable, especially if they have had a natural evolution, for instance wooden wheels.  We hope you enjoyed this except from Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools by Claire Warden. The full book is available from the Mindstretchers shop in both a physical print format as well as a digital e-book. We are able to ship internationally. 

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