Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Let's try this again...

It is May 2016.
Yes, 2016.

There's no reason to reflect why it has been forever since I last wrote here. I'm just saying YAY! here we are together again.

This year has brought so much wonderful with it already. With so many friends moving to kindergarten at the end of last year we had the opportunity to welcome many new children to our family for 2016.

One thing I love about the new year is observing the children who become "the big ones". These special people are with us for their second year and have emerged as the older, more experienced members of our group. With experience, growth and development comes a new confidence and a greater sense of independence. While preschools do not have the traditional 'buddy' system that schools adopt we often see our older friends taking on the buddy-role with our newest children. This is a positive relationship for all children and provides us even more insight into the emotional growth and prosocial development of our children.

This year at preschool we are actively pursuing our goals of embedding sustainable practices. So far this year we have removed the old, falling-down garden beds ready to install our new planters. through grant funding we have been able to purchase a shade house which is being installed by a very generous family who have given up their weekend for the task. Our first worm house was set up this week and already they may be the most loved worms in the town!  Our compost barrel is being tended to daily and the children's knowledge of compost and waste is growing constantly. We hope that the children keep their sense of wonder and interest in green living practices so that they can lead the way in the future.

I look forward to sharing more of our insights and adventures with you.

Monday, 29 June 2015

What's happening at pre-school?

We've reached the term break. Can I tell you a little secret? I know you won't tell. This has been a really challenging term. In regard to the children, this term has been amazing. The words, thoughts, actions, ideas, discoveries and collaborations that we have observed these past months have continued to astound and inspire us.
It wasn't the children that challenged us - it was the many outside forces that seemed to be sending us tests...

  • devastating rain and flooding that put so many local people and animals at risk and kept us closed for almost a week.
  • the tree that fell in the yard, the soft-fall that was ruined and the leak in the roof.
  • tree roots in the plumbing that forced us to close for two days.
  • rain that prevented construction work to begin.
  • the day without running water.
  • the two broken air-conditioners.
  • the vegetable garden being eaten by possums.
  • the internet service that was not available for 7 weeks.
Phew! I could get tired just reading that list!

But you know what? Through the trials and challenges that we faced, I feel very strongly that our pre-school has come through with shining light. I feel so proud of the team of educators here and the way that each and every day they brought inspiration and enthusiasm to pre-school.

Challenges are a part of life. As we grow and change (and yes, get older) the types of challenges we are faced with change. But it is how we see these and how we deal with them that make the most significant impact on our lives.

We begin helping children to develop their resilience from an early age. The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia (DEEWR) includes this in Learning Outcome 1: Children Have a Strong Sense of Identity Children develop their emerging autonomy, inter-dependence, resilience and sense of agency.

For some people, resilience appears to be a natural strength. We may know people who seem to take challenge or potential set-backs in their stride and deal with these fluently. For others, this is a skill that needs support, role-modeling and nurturing.

In a typical pre-school day there are many opportunities for educators to support and scaffold children to develop resilience. Imagine some of the following scenarios and how a child may deal with them:
  • A block tower continues to fall each time it reaches a certain height.
  • A favourite toy is lost in the playground.
  • The last seat at the play-dough table has been taken by another child.
  • Today's sandwich has Vegemite on it when they thought it would have cheese and lettuce.
  • Rain has meant that play needs to be indoors today.
  • One friend has said that they would not be your friend.
 By supporting children to work through their challenges and understand their emotional reactions we aim to help each child to develop the skills they need to be resilient in other aspects of their lives both now and in the future. Sometimes as adults it can be easy to dismiss a child's reaction to a situation because we feel that it is unwarranted or we do not see that the problem was all that significant. By taking time to see a situation from the child's perspective we can work with them to use their resilience and intrapersonal intelligence to create solutions and move ahead.

As an adult I find it very useful to put challenges into perspective; to take time to focus on the good that is present and see that one set-back does not define a day. 

So what has been good in the world of pre-school this term?
  • the learning that surrounded the fallen tree.
  • the beautiful new planters that were made from sections of the fallen tree.
  • the replaced soft-fall that looks so beautiful.
  • the opportunity for our children to connect with the community members and trades people who have worked with us to restore our grounds.
  • the winter walk we took through our town to our local school library.
  • the birth of a new precious baby to one of our families.
  • the visit to us by day-old baby goats belonging to a local family.
  • a visit by a local author inspiring us to write letters.
  • excitement about physical activity and fundamental movement skills brought about by the Munch and Move program.
  • our pre-school being nominated for a local business award.
  • my own achievement of being a finalist in the NSW director of the year award.
Looking for the bright side can be a challenge in itself. I like to remember that each time I do this I am inspiring children to do the same thing. This, together with intentional support of children's resilience, is just another way that we are helping each child's sense of being, belonging and becoming.

Sunday, 31 May 2015

Something Colourful to Make!

I love making. There is so much satisfaction in creating something with your own hands. I've had a go at many different crafts. Some I've loved and have continued with, others were great to try just the one time (except wrapping ballons in glue-soaked wool to make Christmas light holders. That wasn't fun. It was just messy!)

Now, I don't finish everything I start. I just consider my (many) unfinished items as works in progress. Judging by the amount of these I have a lot of progress to be made!

I gather loads of ideas for crafty projects on my Pinterest page. Some of my favourites are gifts to make and projects for pre-school.Today's project could be used for both. This is something you could easily do at home! They make lovely little gifts and are great for items in party bags as you can make them to suit any theme.

Hey! I bet you'd like to know what they are!

Becc's Funky Shaped Melted Crayons

What you need:

Crayons These could be lots of left over ones that your child no longer uses or, like me, you could pick up some boxes of crayons during sales. I've done this a few times now and I have found that Crayola work best. They seem to have a great balance of wax and colour. Other crayons tended to separate and be more waxy when melted.
Silicon baking or ice trays in any shape.
Baking tray, bowl.

You'll need to remove the paper from your crayons. If you're using old crayons and your child has already done this for you then you're one step ahead! If you're starting with wrapped crayons then you'll need to fill a bowl with warm water and place your crayons in. Leave them to soak until you see the paper begin to unravel. You might be tempted to take your crayons out early and try peeling them by hand. My advice...WAIT!! You'll find it easier to let the water do the work for you.

Using a sharp knife cut your crayons into small pieces. Really small work well in the melting process. If you want to have pure colour, wipe your knife between crayons and separate your pieces.

Place your crayon pieces into your mold. I found that filling to the top worked well. You can use any colour combination that you like! Support your filled mold on baking tray  and place into your preheated oven. I set mine at a fan-forced 160 degrees  but you can experiment with your own at home. Once you see that your crayons are just melted remove them from the heat and place them on the bench to cool.

Once your crayons have cooled you can pop them out of the mold and you'll have some fabulous funky crayons! They'll be superbly unique. They'll be gorgeous. They'll be extra special because you've made them yourself.

If you do make your own funky crayons feel free to email a picture to me at  clarencetowndirector@cscommunity.org.au

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Collaboration with Children

Returning from holidays in term two we had a campsite set up in the pre-school. It was a beautiful space with natural morning light flowing in. The cellophane campfire was a source of many hot meals. Binoculars spied kangaroos and koalas...even the odd dinosaur! The space was alive.

And then...it was not. As we observed last week, on Wednesday the campsite was still in its set-up state at morning tea time. Thursday was the same. Nothing was touched. The space was almost pristine. And Friday? Yes. Untouched.

Obviously the camping area had run its course. But where to next?

I reflected back on past decades of early childhood and the way that  program decisions were made. We would simply have decided what it was that we thought the children would like and we would set it up. It would probably have been a surprise in their morning - what you had yesterday is gone and now there's something new: play with it.

But now…as our understandings of outstanding pedagogy have emerged, the process is so much more dynamic. Each day we have twenty great minds to consult with; twenty people who know how they would like to spend their time: our children!

The opportunity to participate in shared decision making, perspective taking and also the stating of reason and constructive argument is so valuable for children.  Having authentic input into the environment and its inclusions provides children with ownership and a shared sense of belonging.

Is this really important?
Does it make a difference in the children's day?

Yes, it is.
Yes, it does.

While all settings are unique, in my own experiences I have observed that the more collaboration we have with children in designing the environment, the more engaged their play is. I see that children's behaviour is more positive as they are interacting in a space that they want to be in with provisions that they have collaborated on.

Please don't get the wrong idea! Our pre-school is not an unplanned space that relies entirely on children's planning skills! As educators we are able to create a balance between the planned and spontaneous; the child initiated happenings and those that are specifically included. As trained and experiences educators we have the knowledge of child development and the deep knowledge of each child and know what we need to introduce and when. What we also know is that children are the heart of what we do and their partnership with us is invaluable.

So what happened in the dramatic play space?

Well, it was unanimous that the camp site should be packed away. As one friend put it "I don't like camping when it's raining". Another child suggested that we put the trains here. "We haven't used the trains for ages" he reminded us. Bringing out the planning diary we wrote down the ideas that the children shared and soon the design took shape.  We would have the blocks with the photos of our town on them "so that the train can stop at Clarence Town", road signs "so the trains know what they have to do", colourful blocks "to make a station where the people can get off", people "or there wont be anyone to drive the train". The idea of having a hill was proposed and became a source of discussion. The idea was questioned by a friend who said "if we have a hill the train can't go on it". We asked if he could elaborate on this and he clearly explained "trains go up a bridge, they don't drive on hills". And so we added a bridge to our plan.

One idea that completed our plan came from a friend, 4, who suggested "we have to have the cars". We inquired why this was. "So they can stop at the ding-ding," he answered, "you know, when you drive along and you see the light flash and then the ding-ding rings and that means you have to stop 'cause there's a train coming".

Looking at the train area that was created from this plan we can see that it is one of the most busy spaces in the room! The large floor area, usually holding dramatic play furniture, provides ample space for movement. The tracks are being constructed with peer assistance and the carriages being shared. Some friends are more focused on the construction of the towns and buildings while others spend much of their time driving. There is something for everyone and plenty of scope for additions that may naturally extend the play.