Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Quality Time in our Garden

Today was a day filled with energy.
Busy energy.
The kind of energy that, when shared, gets things done!

We did not place  any equipment or toys in our outdoor environment today. Instead, we invited our children to contribute to our gardens. The result? A class of pre-schoolers, 3 educators and a treasured volunteer parent all working side by side to continue our ongoing environmental development.

Reflecting our day and on National Quality Framework Quality Area 3 I feel that this is an area that our pre-school embraces daily and with passion. This passion comes from being immersed in our unique setting and the shared vision of educators and family members. Tying all of this together is our philosophy.  As in all early childhood settings, our shared philosophy puts into words the deeply held values of our service and provides each of us with the reminder of what we strive to create.

What skills, understandings and values were supported during our garden morning?
  • Plants have a cycle of life. Many food bearing plants need to be removed and replaced at the end of their season.
  • Not all plants are able to be grown at all times of the year.
  • The roots of a plant have important jobs to do: they bring water from the ground and they also help to hold the plant in the ground.
  • Problem solving: how do we bring water to the courtyard when the hose does not reach that far? How can we move the rocks to the dry river bed garden when the bags are too heavy to move? How can we stop the wildlife from eating our young plants?
  • Buying special plants can help to raise money for people who are sick.
  • Items that are not needed anymore - such as old roof tiles - can be repurposed to use in our gardens.
  • Shade is needed for some plants but not good for others.
  • Many living creatures share our yard with us although many are only seen when we spend time in our garden.
  • Team work and a shared sense of achievement.
And what is growing at pre-school at the moment?
Sweet corn, climbing beans, mixed lettuce, purple basil, tomato, tri colour capsicum, oregano, parsley, silver beet, coriander, strawberries, raspberries, cherry tomatoes, cabbage and mint.

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Take a Look Around...

Today I'm not at pre-school. And yes, I really miss it!

BUT I am on an adventure that includes meeting with passionate people and being inspired in my work by learning from some really knowledgeable people. Days like these always make me return to work with a spring in my step and a heightened vision.

I grew up in  an area away from where I now live. Being quite a distance I rarely travel to my old town. Today, however, I needed to drive through it on my way to Sydney.

Wow! What a change.

There was a restaurant where the book shop used to be.
The car dealership where we used to stop for stickers after school was in the midst of being demolished.
The high school (MY high school!) had many new buildings and tall fences.
The record store (where I used to buy all my music on vinyl) sat empty.
The school where I did kindergarten is no longer a school.

There was so much to see. Traveling further down the highway I noticed areas of bushland that were being built out. New areas of shops and service stations.
There was so much to look at that I almost wished that I was a passenger.

As I sat at a set of traffic lights I had a moment of realisation. I had driven down this road many times in the past and it was all still so fascinating to me.

Then I thought...imagine being a child on a car journey. There is so much to see. There is so much to ask about. There is so much to talk about. So many journeys represent the first time in a particular place for children.

But... do we make the most of these opportunities? Is the distraction of movies or hand-held devices so great that we spend valuable travelling time together but really apart?

I'm a mum. I understand that car trips can be challenging. I've done a 20 hour car trip with my child. More than once! But I also know that this special time, when children are young, is so very valuable. There is a world of interest outside of the car windows. There is a world of interest INSIDE the car also.

SO how can we rediscover the joys of travel with children? It's important to remember that every child is different. What captivates one child will be of less interest to another. Some ideas that you could try...
  • Talk about your journey before you begin. It may be a hour to the shops. It may be several hours on the way to a holiday. Where are you going? Where is it on a map? What do you think you might see on the way? Writing down your child's predictions and revisiting these when you return is a valuable literacy experience together with an opportunity to extend your conversation.
  • How many different types of animals do you see? How many types of machinery? How many umbrellas can you count on a rainy trip? Your child's interests and ages will help you choose items of interest.
  • Open-ended questions can be fantastic for conversations starters: How do you think they made that building? Where do you think these trucks go at night? Where do you think that person is travelling to?
  • Old fashioned "Spotto" is a fantastic game to promote observation skills and literacy. This is easily adaptable for children of different ages. The internet may also help you to find pictures of places or objects that you may see on the way if realistic pictures would be most suitable.
  • Spend time with your child creating a playlist/ cd of music for your trip. Singing together is a beautiful experience. Perhaps you could have a mixture of children's songs and contemporary music.
  • Share the telling of a story. You could give the introduction and encourage your child to add to this. If your child is younger, you might be able to ask questions to prompt (e.g. Kat walked along the path under the dark, hanging jungle trees...what kind of animal did he se on the rock up ahead?)
  • If you have time, make unplanned stops in your trip. Encourage your child to point out something that they would like to look at. Take a photo here to promote recall and conversation later.
I know that there are times on a long journey where a movie can help your child to relax. There's nothing bad about that! But the moments that we spend together - REALLY together - they're the ones that make memories.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Literacy and Numeracy in Action

As a student at university I found myself drawn to the subjects of literacy and numeracy in early childhood settings. I had the privilege of being taught by passionate professors who shared with me (ok, they shared this with everyone but sometimes I felt like the messages were talking only to me!) a love of the emergent learning that occurs in the early childhood years.

Decades later and I still feel the joy of seeing children in the pre-school setting using literacy and numeracy in their daily lives.

As I look through the NSW Education Department's Early Stage 1 Syllabus  and consider the outcomes for children in kindergarten I see that children who attend quality early education programs are at such an advantage when it comes to formal schooling. Through play-based curriculum, responsive and intentional teaching and thoughtfully planned learning environments we are able to encourage children to develop skills and concepts in their own unique ways. This is life-long learning. This is a wealth of knowledge and experience that children take with them into kindergarten.

Here is a Literacy and Numeracy Snapshot of our pre-school (so far) this week:
  • Our grass-heads are growing. The children compared which cups held the longest hair, which was the shortest and how many were the same. They described to each other with cups held the most sprouting seeds. They hypothesized why some cups were full of grass and others had little.
  • Block constructions continued to be based upon tall buildings. Children described their constructions as being tall, taller and tallest. They compared the height of buildings to their own heights. Some friends collaborated on their constructions with comments made such as "you're taller than me so you can reach higher on the building". Displays of Sydney skyscrapers and iconic buildings encouraged conversation about shape, height and construction methods. Friends pondered the idea "how do they stay up if they're so high? Our buildings fall down if they get too high".
  • With much conversation about names, a basket of cardboard letters were placed at the light table. With verbal assistance form an educator, children have used the letters to create their own names, names of their siblings and their friends. We observed the interaction where an educator said the name of the letter "i". One friend used her finger to draw an "i" on the light table, telling her friend "it looks like this...it's a little line with a dot at the top". Her friend replied "I have one of them in my name!" and was able to locate the letter within the large selection of other letters. Requesting a list of other names to make, our educator brought out her notebook and scribed the list, demonstrating how she wrote the words that were said. As a group the children and educator moved to the computer where the names were typed and printed ready for use.
  • The children noticed that some names were short to spell while others were longer. This led to a spontaneous transition activity where the syllables in names were clapped and counted.
  • A new resource arrived tightly wrapped in a large cardboard box. Before opening this we invited each child to predict what was in the box. We lifted it to feel the mass; we discussed the sound that it made and compared this to sounds that we knew; we compared the size of the box to the size of objects that we predicted. Each person's guess was written on the lid of the parcel and read aloud as each child arrived and made their prediction.
  • A snake came to visit us for the day (a non-venomous snake safely housed in a large jar) and so we accessed the internet to research information about this snake. This information was shared during a group gathering where children were also able to verbally share their knowledge and experience with snakes. 
  • Four kookaburras have taken up residence in our yard. By counting these beautiful birds we are able to tell if they are all here or if some are missing. Our friends are able to describe how many we have at any time and how many are not here.
  • The snow peas in our garden were planted as seeds. The children noticed that these are "taller than the rocket plants now" and "almost up to the top of the tee-pee". They observed and described that the carrots "have not grown as tall as the rocket yet".
Do you know, I could continue writing this. There is so much dynamic learning that occurs in every moment of our day. Literacy and numeracy are EVERYWHERE. They do not exist in the isolation
of lessons or instruction.
If you began to note the ways in which numeracy and literacy occur in your day you would probably be amazingly surprised.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Recently in my community we gained a second supermarket. I have to admit that I'm in two minds about how I feel about this. On one hand I feel like we were just a target on the multi-nationals radar who saw us as a good investment. But I do have to be honest when I say that it's nice to have variety and choice. A little bit of competition does go a long way.

I visited this giant store very recently early in the morning on my way to pre-school. I had a small window of time and only needed a few items for our day.
On my second walk around the aisles I realised that I really had no idea where anything was. I could feel myself rushing and so not really paying close attention. In reality I was flustered and ready to give up. As I entered my final aisle a very kind voice asked me "can I help you?"

The voice came from a smiling lady who was filling a shelf. Her smile was like a gift. I was so caught up in my own rush that I hadn't even considered reaching out for help.
I asked the lady if she could please let me know where the plastic cups were kept. "Come on, I'll show you" she said, and off we walked together to the correct shelf (that I may have already walked past!)

Not only did this lady walk with me to the section I needed, she also took the time to point out that one particular brand was new and was very economical for a quality product. This kind lady asked me if there was anything else she could do to help. As there was not she looked right at me and said "you have a really great day" and then returned to her work.

I walked to the checkout with a smile on my face. I felt so very calm and connected. Approaching the checkout, the next worker that I met smiled and asked "how has your morning been so far". I told her that it was great, thanks to the person who had taken the time to hep me. Her cheery manner continued and before I knew it I was ready to leave. "I hope you have a fantastic day" the lady said as she looked at me and smiled.

I couldn't help but smile back.
I actually found  myself smiling all the way back to the car and as I drove away.

A little kindness. Personal help. A genuine smile. These were such simple actions but they impacted greatly on me.

I thought about this throughout the day. I began to relate this to pre-school and I asked myself:
  • do we help family members and visitors, particularly those new to our service, to feel relaxed as they find their way?
  • do our families receive the same level of care, enthusiasm and support across all aspects of our service?
  • do people leave our pre-school feeling the smile that comes from personal service and knowing that we have a genuine interest in their wellbeing?
The answer to each of these was yes. But it is something that we should always be aware of.

Early Childhood services are very accomplished at working well with young children. Being, Belonging and Becoming are aspects of pre-school that are central to what we do and are very well supported within our programs. But young children are not our only important stakeholders. Parents and family members are the most influential people in the lives of children. The wellbeing of families is a very important factor in the wellbeing of children. By upholding professional standards, by approaching all aspects of our work with enthusiasm and consideration of our families we can contribute to the extended lives of our pre-school family.