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

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 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.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Love and Peace

I don't watch a lot of news television. I don't watch evening current affairs programs.
Because I don't want to. I cannot un-see what see on these programs.
Images from violent crime. War. Murder. Hate crime. Robbery. Devastation.
Yes, I know that these things happen in the world, sometimes a little closer that I would like to imagine HOWEVER I find that the way news and information is presented to us via most networks is is with maximum shock value and minimal fact and integrity.

Wow, a bit of a rant today?
Well, yes.

Across the last week I've been at home more and also in the car more being that it is school holidays. This has meant that I have been exposed to more reporting media than is typical for me. In the last week we have had many violent crimes in our country and several murders.We probably have had some fantastic things happen also...but these rarely make the news.

The murder of Stephanie Scott really struck me hard. A beautiful young woman, ready to marry the love of her life and celebrate this with her friends and family, taken from the world in circumstances that we do not wish to imagine.

I suppose that I have been trying to get to the why of this and many other quite unbelievable crimes that have occurred recently.

The outpouring of love and support that emerged during the search for Stephanie Scott and after she was finally found did give me a feeling that there remains a connectedness between people. When times are darkest we often see the true strength of people.

So I began to think,from an early childhood perspective, what can we do to support children to develop this sense of community spirit, love and respect for their fellow human beings, kindness and empathy for all living things and also the ability to be resilient? How can we support children to know that they have options; they have people willing to listen; that they are worth listening to; that they have the potential for greatness and can achieve their dreams?

It may be quite naive to think that we can rid the world of all crime through positive early childhood programs but you know what - I'd like to make a good go at it!

I began to make a list of the ways in which we can support our children, be it in the pre-school setting or at home. This is not a definitive list. It is not a recipe for success. It is a starting point.

  • Create a sense of belonging. The  Early Years Learning Framework (DEEWR 2009) has belonging in its title: Belonging, Being & Becoming. A sense of belonging is vital for any person to feel connected. Children need to know that they are safe and in a place that they can be themselves. They need to be accepted for who they are and shown that we are glad to have them with us. Belonging looks like smiling; like welcoming arms. It sounds like familiar greetings and shared communication. Belonging has a shared identity and lets us know who we are. 
  • Celebrate Being. Showing children that who they are right now is something special. We all have a past and we have a future. But one of those we've been to and the other we will get to. In time. Right now there is time to be, time to learn, time to use the skills and knowledge that you have at this moment. We can accept and appreciate children without constantly preparing them for the next step. 
  • Slow down and love your world. Yes, I know. That's a tough one sometimes. I understand that. As a full time working wife and mother with way too many interests I know that we can feel pulled in many directions. But there's such a beautiful world all around us. Perhaps as adults we need to practice...just step outside. Look up. Look down. Look at the people around you. Look at a plant. Check out a bug. If you gave yourself just 10 minutes to really look around you would be amazed at what you see. Often, children are great at seeing the little things. But we need to make sure that they are given the time. I find that connectedness with my world feels strongest when I am in touch with it. When I walk through my town and look at the beauty in nature, see the constructed environments and say hello to people  I feel so much a part of my surroundings. This happens daily at pre-school. We aim to develop a sense of pride in our community and a respect for our community members. 
  • Be very aware of the messages that children are receiving.  A child may not be sitting in front of a news program but they may still be taking in the stories and images that it contains. I do not believe that, in a home setting, we need to shield children from every negative aspect of life but I do strongly believe that this information needs to come from a balanced source that is focused on sharing and building resilience more than glamorising and creating drama. Show your children that you will answer their questions. Be honest and tell them "I don't know" if you cannot answer them. Help children to understand that the negative happenings in our world are not the norm. Help them to see the positives in their own world and look for positive, uplifting stories that you can share.
  •  I realise that again this is more suited to your home setting, but begin to help your children understand the very basics of mental health issues. This has come to light more in my own world as we have had word of several tragic suicides in the past months. I know that understanding the complexities of mental health is not what my son needs right now however I aim to teach him, over time, that there are many ways in which our mindset and our mental health can affect us. As he grows I would like him to be aware of his friends and to recognise if they are having a hard time. I would like him to recognise these signs in himself, should they appear, and know where he can go to get the support he needs. In a pre-school setting this may look like taking care of friends when  they are sad. Practicing asking your friend "are you ok?" if they look like they need help. Having educators who take time to listen and do so without interruption or judgement.
It is an old cliche to say that children are our future but it is the truth. NOW is the time for us  to be the ones who support them in becoming strong in themselves, safe in their world, connected to their community, connected to the wider world, empathetic to all people and resilient in themselves.