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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 steven.watson@mindstretchers.co.uk 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 happy@treeof.com. Blog by Tony McNicoll from Tree of Knowledge. Website: www.treeof.com Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tree_Of  Follow Tony on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tonypresents Facebook: www.facebook.com/tree.of.knowledge LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/company/tok-scotland-ltd

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. http://www.ecia.org.au/documents/item/46 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  

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