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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

  • 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.

  • 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 her learning in this area with fellow educators 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.

  • 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 kate@mindstretchers.co.uk. 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 steven.watson@mindstretchers.co.uk. Looking for advice about forest school training? Email kate@mindstretchers.co.uk.  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. 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  

  • How Floorbooks can re-engage children

    Floorbooks are a part of the Talking and Thinking Floorbook Approach® as developed by Claire Warden (1994), and discussed in Claire's book Talking and Thinking Floorbooks (3rd ed, 2015). Floorbooks are a child-led approach to documentation and planning which give children a place to write down or draw their thoughts about a topic, or for an adult to write down accurate child voices. The Talking and Thinking Floorbook Approach can be adopted by any educator working with 0-11 year olds. A common problem for educators is trying to re-engage with children who have lost interest either in a specific topic or in occasionally in many topics. Floorbooks are often cited as a useful tool to re-engage children, but why? Here are 5 reasons why Floorbooks are seen as a useful re-engagement tool. #1 Learning is entirely based on child interests Lesson plans can be created from themes which children show an interest in. By following up on Possible Lines of Development (PLODs) and really listening to what children are saying a practitioner can ensure that any learning is of real interest to children. Instead of getting children to learn through abstract examples that they may not understand or that they have no interest in, we can teach complex subjects such as flight or engineering through every day interests like birds and boxes. Both adults and children are much more engaged when learning about something they genuinely want to learn about, and we should be trying to include such interests in every day learning. Not only will this engage them but it can greatly boost their confidence with oral and writing skills as well as their creativity.  #2 They cater to all learning styles Everybody has a dominant learning style, whether it is Visual, Auditory or Kinesthetic. Floorbooks allow us to appeal to all kinds of learners. Visual learners will benefit from being able to write down their thoughts or by creating small and personal diagrams on the Floorbook. Auditory learners will benefit from group discussions around a Talkaround Mat about the learners, and will be able to create links in their learning through such discussions. Talking Tubs encourage children to pass around objects and really get a feel for a variety of objects related to the wider topic, appealing to Kinesthetic learners. The voice of the child is always evidenced in the Floorbook through writing or recordings alongside photos and drawings which show active engagement. If the evidence shows that a particular child hasn’t been engaging much then the practitioner can adjust their style to re-engage with a particular child. #3 Multiple ongoing themes A Floorbook is not limited to one topic: a good Floorbook should flow like a river down the learning interests of children. At Auchlone Nature Kindergarten near Crieff, we recently completed a Floorbook which started about medieval knights. From knights, discussion began about the types of clothing they would wear and how it differs from clothing today. After identifying a real interest from the children we were able to create a learning experience about clothing, which alerted us to a further interest around colours and dyes. While investigating dyes, we included a mathematics activities about litres and mixtures. Without using the Talking and Thinking Floorbooks Approach we may never have discovered a child interest and the learning may have stopped at medieval knights. A child may not be interested in the current topic, but the Floorbook approach will allow you to follow different lines of enquiry at the same time with different groups of children. A Floorbook about birds may have two different activities going at the same time: one group may be investigating eggs and lifecycles whereas another group may choose to investigate nests, habitats and structures. By really listening to children and giving them the freedom and the confidence to lead their own learning we can keep them engaged. #4 Empowered Learners The child-led nature of Floorbooks means that children become proactive learners very quickly. Whenever I visit Auchlone, it is immediately clear how confident children can become from engaging with the approach on the daily basis. We should view children as young authors and illustrators: a Floorbook simply gives them a canvas to express their ideas and imagination. A key part of the Floorbook is that we allow children a sense of ownership over it. All of the children sign or mark the inner cover in some way, reinforcing the idea that they are taking ownership of their own learning. They will be able to take pride in their learning because of the Floorbook that they have helped to create, and revisiting their Floorbook in the future will help to develop new links in their learning. Letting children take direct control of their learning through following up on PLODs and asking open ended questions will not only improve confidence but will also inspire children. #5 They are informative and fun Play is such a key part of every child’s upbringing and education. In discussing all of the ways that children are engaged by Floorbooks, it can be easy to forget that they work so well because children genuinely enjoy creating them. The entire Floorbook approach appeals to a child's expressive side. We don't force a Floorbook upon any child, but instead provide it as an optional way to express themselves. Many children struggle under heavily structured and formalised learning. An informal approach, even if it isn't adopted every day, can make learning seem like less of a lesson and more like a fun activity. My biggest piece of advice to anyone looking to use the Floorbooks approach to engage children is this: be enthusiastic; be passionate; be committed to child-led learning, and be supportive to boost child confidence levels. By really understanding and believing in the ethos behind the approach you will be able to re-engage with children. You can join our Floorbooks Facebook Group or visit our website to find out more about the Talking and Thinking Floorbooks Approach. Blog written by Steven Watson.   Do you have an idea or topic you would like discussed in a blog? Email steven.watson@mindstretchers.co.uk with your sugesstions and feedback.  Share this blog on Facebook: Share

  • The Leaf Hunt

          At Auchlone Nature Kindergarten, as well as many other settings around the world, the changing of the seasons can often capture the imaginations of children. This week at Auchlone the children and staff took part in a leaf hunt to find different types of leaves, observing how the differing colours represent the change in the season. As is encouraged through Claire Warden’s Talking and Thinking Floorbook Approach, different children were interested in different topics. Some children were interested in the different vibrant colours, while others wanted to learn about “where leaves went” after they had rotted and disappeared.  A few children discussed how the changing seasons affect leaves: At the end of the adventure all of the leaves were laid out onto a Talkaround Mat to allow children to examine the entire range of different textures, designs and colours. This type of experiential learning is crucial to nurturing a child’s relationship with nature. Manager Danielle Ramsay said “last year we gathered a lot of shades of red, so we will try the colour wheel again next week to see if there are any changes in the leaves.” This continued exploration through nature and the seasons provides valuable learning experiences for children. We look forward to hearing about how the leaves change! Auchlone Nature Kindergarten is based near Crieff, Scotland. Children spend 80% of their time outdoors with the centre practicing Claire Warden philosophies on a daily basis. Every 2nd Thursday is Auchlone Thursday where we discuss what has been happening at Auchlone in recent weeks.  You can visit Auchlone on our Nature Kindergarten Days. Share this blog on Facebook: Share  

  • But what is a Floorbook?

      Share Blog written by Steven Watson. Do you want to write a guest blog? Email Steven for more information.  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). For our first ever Floorbooks Friday we have decided to answer the age old question “but what actually is a Floorbook?” There are many different descriptions and uses of a Floorbook, and as such it can be easy to get confused as to what a Floorbook actually is. We have compiled a list of 4 main definitions of a Floorbook to help you get started on your Floorbooks journey.     A Floorbook is... A child-led learning resource  A key aspect of the Floorbook is that the approach is child-led. Children decide what the flow of the lesson will be depending on what has taken their interest, with adults being able to develop these ideas further. Using what children are interested in to create lessons allows the curriculum to be carried out in an innovative and fun way.     A Floorbook is... A method of developing Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) Floorbooks encourage children to question and be critical of concepts which they hold a personal interest in. By challenging children to create links in their own learning we can develop higher order thinking. Floorbooks are a method of finding out what children know before, during and after a block of structured experiences. They are therefore a great record of showing how HOTS have improved.     A Floorbook is... A Planning Tool Through use of a Floorbook practitioners can create Possible Lines of Development (PLODs) which will allow for future lesson planning. 3D mind mapping and Talking Tubs are often at the centre of a lesson involving floorbooks. From this it is easy for practitioners to see what children are interested in and therefore what future lessons can cover.     A Floorbook is... At the heart of excellent child centered learning When used to their full extent, Floorbooks will be at the heart of your practice through the Talking and Thinking Floorbooks Approach. Children can access a Floorbook whenever they wish to, and floorbooks can be used on as and when is appropriate to create and support lessons. Adopting the approach in your setting will create an environment of listening and encouragement which children will flourish in. You can learn more about Floorbooks at Claire Warden’s “Introduction to Floorbooks” online course. Of course, there are many more definitions, key features and benefits of a Floorbook than just the four listed above. It is also a genuine record of children’s voices, a way to engage with all types of learners, a collaborative project, a source of pride for children, an exhibit to show parents, a Monet of ideas, a piece of art, and much, much more. For a much more in-depth lesson on Floorbooks and how they can benefit your practice, check our training dates to find training near you. Alternatively you can email steph@mindstretchers.co.uk to discuss bespoke training in your setting. Blog by Steven Watson with help from Senior Trainer Kate Hookham.  Do you have an idea for a blog or is there something you’d like discussed? Email steven.watson@mindstretchers.co.uk  Share this blog on Facebook: Share  

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