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'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.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Bush Walking

Today is a very special day at pre-school. There is a little more excitement than usual. A little more magic seems to be around. You see, after much planning and conversation we have had our first bush walk. We hope the first of many.

Each day we are blessed to be in a very natural pre-school environment. Our children have a wide open space to explore. We have an abundance of plants and a vegetable garden. There are spaces to play together and spaces to have time alone.

But outside of our fences is a world of beautiful bushland. We have the pleasure of observing wildlife in its natural environment including kangaroos, koalas, lizards and an array of birds. There is a mysterious tin cottage close by that is often the subject of conversation. We are able to watch horse riders and motor-cyclists travel on the tracks nearby.

Our educator team shared the vision of taking the children beyond our fences and to have the shared experience of seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling the bushland up close. Having this move from vision to reality was a very special moment for our team.

It is very important to us that the children's voices are heard in all aspects of the planning and implementation of bush walking. After tidying our indoor environment today we gathered together to have a conversation about the event. What struck us immediately during this were the thoughtful contributions made by the children. We were reminded of how very capable young children are.

We invited the children to ask any questions they might have.

One friend commented “if you step on a snake it will bite you”. Sam used this as  a platform for talking about what we have learned about snakes from our retile expert and also about the protocol of what we would do if we did actually see a snake. Another friend joined this conversation by adding “if you don’t hurt snakes they won’t hurt you”.

The question was asked “what if we see people on motorbikes?” A friend answered this by suggesting “if the teachers blow their whistle then maybe they’ll stop”. This was a very thoughtful comment by our friend as we have a safety rule at pre-school that says if a teacher blows their safety whistle, everyone stops and listens. It also highlighted to us the unique perspective taking of pre-school children.

The next question was asked: “what if we got lost”. This was an excellent question. We used this to discuss the safety aspects that would be implemented: head counts throughout the walk, staying together, having a teacher at the front, middle and rear of the group, the carrying of the telephone and safety whistles and the safe path that we have selected.

Using the words of our children we created some rules for our walks:

1.       If a teacher blows the whistle we all stop, look and listen.

2.       If we see a snake we stand perfectly still.

3.       We use walking feet, looking eyes and listening ears.

4.       We look carefully around but we don’t touch.

Before we set out we asked the children what we thought they might see on the walk. We had a very interesting list that included koalas sleeping in trees, kangaroos, joey kangaroos, a ladybug, snails, a dinosaur, crocodiles, maybe a pond and a bunny rabbit. We wondered if we asked this question before each walk if the responses would change as the children gained more experience.

The walk itself was amazing – even more than we imagined. It seemed for the first part of the walk that "going on a bush walk" was the focus. There seemed to be some fast, serious stepping as though we were headed to a destination. At one stage we said to our friends "we are ON our busk walk right now! Let's look around and see what we see" This seemed to slow the pace down and soon se heard enthusiastic voices saying "look what I found!" "can you take a picture of this?"

We were able to see the opposite side of the tin hit that we see each day from our yard. We looked down to see our playground from the outside. We saw many forms of ant hills. There were flowers of many colours, coloured fungus and moss, wattle in many stages of bloom, tall trees and tiny ones.

The trip back to pre-school was much longer as the friends seemed much more aware of the surroundings and were much more comfortable calling the group to look at their discoveries. The presence of a tiny flower or the impression of a horses hoof in the clay were reason to pause and share. 
Upon return we reflected on the walk and discussed what we may like to learn more about. Today a friend suggested learning about ant homes. This provides a natural link form the walking to our pre-school inclusions.
As educators we cannot describe the joy of taking our friends outside of the boundaries of pre-school and seeing first-hand the environment that we observe from inside the fences each day. Listening to the comments and descriptions of the children demonstrated how much the children were taking from this experience. We see that this program of bush walks really promotes our sense of belonging and being.  Each of these are very important aspects, really part of the foundation, of our pre-school. We belong to our community; we belong together as a pre-school family. As we walk together and share our observations we are very focused on being here in the now; seeing what the world is like at this moment; being who we are and using the knowledge that we have at this time.
In case you were wondering, today we didn't see any dinosaurs.
Fascinating rock formation. 

A native climbing plant. We have recently purchased this plant for our pre-school garden.
One of the ant homes that we found interesting.

The rear of the tin shack that we see from our yard.

Beautiful fungus that stood out due to its beautiful colour.

A dried tree root that stopped us all in our tracks.