Providing opportunities for children to connect with nature isn’t just about exploring natural objects or climbing a tree. Have you considered how often your children experience the natural elements of earth, wind, fire and water? These experiences perhaps come with more challenge (and maybe mess!) but are so important for young children to experience in order for them to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the natural world.
The seasonal event of Bonfire Night, presents a great opportunity for children to experience and learn about fire and fire safety. First hand experiences like this provide children with an engaging and exciting real life experience. A bonfire provides opportunities to learn through all of the senses; feeling the heat of the fire, watching the flames, smelling the smoke and tasting something that has been cooked on the fire. These type of experiences stay with children, embedded in their long term memory. Experiences like this also provide a great opportunity to develop young children’s language skills and provide rich conversations.
There is obviously risk and challenge with setting up a fire, and putting appropriate risk assessments in place is essential. However, there is lots of research to show the importance of engaging in risk and challenge in order to learn to be safe. Perhaps the thought of young children being near a fire, raises concerns about behaviour and whether they will be able to manage a situation such as this.
In our experience, children will rise to the challenge and with lots of adults around to support them and explain how to stay safe, being trusted to enjoy these type of events has a positive impact on their PSED. There is something quite relaxing and mesmerising about watching a fire, and often children become very calm and still.
Bonfires are certainly not just for Bonfire Night! They can be enjoyed all year round and also provide great opportunities for outdoor cooking. We’ve enjoyed popcorn, soup, hotdogs and vegetable kebabs to name a few. We recently delivered an outdoor course, and the practical part showed the participants how to light a fire. The feedback was really positive and the enthusiasm amongst the group was infectious. As an adult working in early years, it feels like such a privilege to be able to share such exciting experiences with the children. Even in adulthood, experiences like bonfires create awe and wonder, so how amazing to be able to provide that for our children!
I’ve just had the privilege of having a coffee morning with some of our new parents, the first time we have been able to do this in over 18 months. It was so lovely to sit together again and the parents really appreciated having some support and face to face contact.
New beginnings can be challenging for us all, and returning to or starting school is full of mixed emotions, often a sense of excitement and anxiety. This is perhaps being felt even more keenly this year, after living with Covid restrictions, and now returning to a ‘new normal’ which perhaps feels familiar but also different.
Supporting each other through these new transitions makes such a difference now we can have more contact. However, it really highlights the importance of having those core values in place within your setting, which can help support everyone in your community. Our values of trust, respect, courage and kindness, feel all the more important at the moment. It has taken a lot of courage for new parents, many of whom who have been quite isolated through Covid, to come and join a new school and hand over their children; trusting us with their most precious being. Equally, for many staff, returning to work has been challenging, and trusting each other and respecting our different experiences and feelings feels all the more important at the moment. Ultimately, though, kindness during new beginnings and new transitions feels so important. I hope our parents and carers feel that everyone has been kind to them and that feeling supported has helped reduce those feelings of anxiety. During Covid, we shared a lot of quotes from the book by Charlie Mackesy, and in this time of new beginnings they seem as important as ever. Hopefully all schools and settings will have many moments of kindness as we transition into a new term.
First hand experiences are so engaging for children, providing many rich learning opportunities. We provide many experiences for our children from cookery, to woodwork and outdoor learning. However, the experiences that seem to have been the most powerful this year have been animal experiences. At the end of the Autumn term, as so many of our usual Christmas plans couldn’t take place, we decided to organise for two donkeys to visit the school. The arrival of Ant and Dec the donkeys, was a big hit! The children were delighted by them, as were the staff and the parents. They provided an exciting experience which brought the community together, which during these times when we are feeling less connected felt so important.
With Spring arriving, and the perfect time for learning about new life and growth and change, we decided to plan more animal experiences for the children; with chicks hatching this week, lambs visiting before we break up for Easter and ducklings to hatch in May. The arrival of 18 eggs at the start of the week has caused great excitement. Watching chicks hatch, really is a moment of awe and wonder, and has prompted lots of rich conversations and curiosity amongst the children. Next week they will learn to care for them and hold them carefully. Sharing photos and videos on our Facebook page, has kept parents up to date of the chick’s progress and has helped support conversations at home. Parents have reported ‘how excited’ their children are and eager to share their learning from school.
Observing children engage with animals is fascinating, and they often bring about a sense of calm and curiosity to children who are otherwise very energetic. There are many ways to include animals in the curriculum, and it doesn’t necessarily need to be experiences which are costly. The garden obviously provides lots of opportunities to connect with living creatures, from snail hunting, or creating a small pond to encourage frogs. Having a school pet or pets visit, is also a great way for children to come into contact with different types of animals. Topsy and Timmy the tortoises have recently joined our school. They arrived as one of our classes was resettling after a period of time off and have provided a brilliant focus for the children, who have been delighted at learning to care for them – giving them a bath has been a highlight!
As we think about what our current cohort of children need, I would argue that they need to feel connected to the real world, to feel part of a community and have learning opportunities where they are not rushed, but can enjoy their learning, guided by enthusiastic adults. Animal experiences can certainly support this. Froebel (founder of the Kindergarten) wisely said ‘The child who has cared for another living thing…is more easily led to care for his own life’. By supporting our children in learning to care for their world, they are more likely to grow up caring for themselves and others.
By Lucy Parker (Deputy Head teacher at Ludwick Nursery)
We are facing the most challenging time in schools and settings at the moment. Supporting families and children at home is a different way of working for us all and trying to do this effectively is a huge learning curve.
In the early years sector, we probably have the most experience of building relationships with our families. Developing positive and trusting relationships between school/setting and home is one of our core principles. So not having that close contact with our families during the current time, feels very frustrating and at odds with our beliefs. Therefsore, finding ways to stay connected to our families is so important. Having now had two lockdowns, where many of our children have been at home, we, like many schools and settings have thought hard about how to support our families while they have their children at home. Our approach has been to ensure communication is consistent and clear, to be aware that many of our families will need bespoke support, to acknowledge how hard it is for families and staff and that trying to maintain a sense of connection to our community is essential.
Developing a ‘core’ learning offer to families, has perhaps been the easier part. Like many, we have become more adapt at making videos and using video calls to stay connected and we are now offering daily welcome/rhyme time sessions, weekly story videos, alongside activities and ideas. We have ensured we have kept our pedagogy at the centre of what we are offer. ‘Twinkl’ worksheets are not part of our curriculum and we have continued to focus on what is important to us, such as sharing ideas for outdoor learning, engaging with stories and songs, promoting learning through first hand experiences such as sharing the recipe sequence cards which the children would use in nursery. However, we have been mindful that children are at home and have access to different resources. In the first lockdown, once we were able to get out and about more, we offered families the chance to come to school to collect resources and learning packs.
These were incredibly popular, and we have restarted this again. There has also been the opportunity for parents to collect resources that they might not have at home. For older children, lack of technology is proving to be a big disadvantage, younger children need access to resources to support their play and learning and many families will not have resources such as paper, pens, craft materials and books easily accessible. We have offered a wide range of packs and resources to collect including – puppet making bags, mark making bags, cookery ingredients, number rhyme packs, clay, craft materials and library books.
Response from a parent: ‘We picked up the goody bag yesterday and enjoyed making a puppet today and he loved it that much he decorated the bag too!’
The emphasis and importance on personalised connection and support, has been essential when supporting our families with children with SEND. Throughout the pandemic, we have consistently prioritised the need to stay in regular contact with all of our families. By understanding each family’s needs, we have been able to tailor our offer to meet the needs of each individual child. We have been able to personalise the frequency and timing of phone calls, emails, videos and live sessions and home learning to maximise potential for engagement.
The genuinely strong connections between home and school have allowed parents the space and the trust to share their own family context and as a result, has deepened our understanding of their child’s strengths, interests, relationships and needs. This in-depth insight, like never before, has really meant we can work together with parents to support the ‘whole’ child.
Our remote offer for children with SEND has evolved to be a very fluid one with learning opportunities and strategies being highly personalised to both the child’s needs and the family context – this has been a genuine enabler to optimise their engagement in learning. We understand that ‘home learning’ a 3-4 year old, with additional needs, will never benefit from a one size fits all approach. We use a range of methods to engage our families enabling them to access these at a time that works for the child and the family. Providing remote learning through a combination of live sessions, recorded videos, differentiated activities linked to children’s next steps and interests, delivering learning packages and through coaching and suggesting, has maximised potential for meaningful engagement and progress with our value of ‘feeling connected’, being the driving force.
Keeping learning personalised has been really important. A positive example of this was the use of the personalised visual timetable. Once the child had a picture of her car, doll and the specific shop she was going to, her and her mum were able to get to the shops happily. A standard timetable, which was previously shared, hadn’t worked. We are sure that we are all dreaming of the day when our settings are full again and we can freely mix and invite our parents and carers back in. But hopefully, through this difficult time there will come positives and one of these will be a deeper understanding of working with families and the need to constantly strengthen that partnership.
By Claire Turner (SENCo) and Lucy Parker (Deputy Head)
Claire and Lucy both work at Ludwick Nursery School.
By Lucy Parker
As we have recently celebrated Diwali, I’m wondering if some of you may have offered your children the opportunity to make a clay diva lamp? Clay often comes out for specific activities like this and can be an engaging experience. However, this is often the first time children have had any experience with clay. I sometimes think clay is a ‘forgotten’ resource. Like many resources in early years, such as wooden blocks and sand, clay has historical significance. Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852), the founder of the Kindergarten included materials like clay in his educational approach. It is Froebel we have to thank for wooden blocks, which are still a staple of the early years classroom, but clay does not have such high visibility.
Providing children with access to play and explore with clay gives them a rich and exciting learning opportunity and I would really recommend it becomes part of your continuous provision. As an open ended, natural material, it can be anything the child wants it to be. Clay provides children with opportunities to engage in imaginative play and the ability to transform the clay, through rolling and squeezing means ideas can be explored rapidly. As an open-ended natural material, it allows more complex, imaginative ideas to be represented. Adding other natural objects to clay, can support children’s creativity, such as stones, shells, sticks and buttons. In the photo on the right, sticks and fir cones are used to create a cake with candles.
Clay is unique, as it is malleable but when fired becomes a hard permanent object. Therefore, making a lasting object (like a diva lamp) can be engaging and exciting. However, before children make something tangible they need to have explored clay and found out what it can do. The exploratory stage can be exciting – try putting a whole bag of clay out to explore or adding lots of water.
Practitioners can begin to model skills as the children become more familiar with clay. The photo on the left shows a child who has independently made a series of pots, after having the method of making a pinch pot modelled to her.
Clay can also be used to develop and support children’s interests. Adding dinosaurs to the clay area, with natural objects provided these children with opportunity to make dinosaur habitats.
If you are thinking of developing clay provision in your setting, do look at the pamphlet from the Froebel Trust (https://www.froebel.org.uk/training-and-resources/pamphlets). This also includes practical tips for setting up a clay table.
If you would like any more advice or would like some clay training for your setting, do get in touch – email@example.com
Lucy Parker (Lucy is Deputy Head at Ludwick Nursery School and the Lead for Acorns Teaching School Alliance. She is a Froebel trained teacher and a trustee of The Froebel Trust)