All things Early Years
Monthly Writing Challenge #DiverseEd (13/05/21) ‘Togetherness’
Thinking about this word makes me reflect on what ‘togetherness’ represents to me, in the here and now. ‘Togetherness’ used to represent my family and close friends. Due to the pandemic, this has adjusted.
Instead I think about ‘togetherness’ in terms of the children I teach. We spend so much time together, in joyful experiences and I get to watch them grow and develop. We have created a community with an understanding of ‘togetherness’. We learn together and moreover, respect one another. We accept each other for what we are, frequently discussing how trying to be our best versions, is all that counts. We don’t judge others’ answers and we know we all make mistakes. But we discuss our differences and it is these discussions which bring us closer together. We endeavour to support each other’s well-being.
These relationships within my class don’t just represent peer-to-peer interactions, but teachers to students. I have always prided myself of empowering my class and giving agency. Being together in this pandemic has emphasised the feeling of protectiveness and care for one another.
However, I recently had an experience where this ‘togetherness’ was challenged by my own doing.
There was an incident where I had used a strong voice to a child, for breaking a school requirement and not responding when asked a second time. At the time it had the desired result, as the child followed the rule. As the incident was researched it turned out she was not actually in the wrong, it had been a misunderstanding. I realised this pretty quickly, thankfully, and gave her an apology in front of her peers.
However, the following evening I found out that the child no longer felt ‘together’ with me. She had been shocked and could not accept me in this ‘other’ light. She had never seen me stern but instead knew I was one adukt she could trust. The togetherness had been broken.
I felt more deeply affected about this than I think I have ever have. I don’t know if my feelings are more enhanced now due to the pandemic or it is due to just this strong feeling of togetherness we have created in this community.
The following day, I addressed the situation immediately. I could see in the child’s face an element of trust had gone, the look was guarded.
I apologised deeply and explained why I had spoke strongly. I also reconfirmed that the situation was not the fault of the child, it was based in a misunderstanding. I told her how I was not perfect and I regretted what happened very much. I asked if she wanted to speak about it. I felt very much in the wrong and hoped we could re-connect our togetherness.
Following the discussion she chose to be near me, quietly but actively following my activities. I made an extra effort to try to build back that togetherness, by talking with her and making jokes. Slowly, I saw a smile sometimes pass her lips, but she was not the happy, funny child I had gotten to know so well.
Yet, by lunch time, she was coming to me at play smiling, goofing around and full of personality again.
This taught me just how wonderful, but fragile, togetherness is. My own daughter dealt with a situation for an extended period where she wanted, but could never gain, togetherness which she craved. I think this situation reminded me of my daughter’s which affected me to an even deeper level.
I realise that whilst I hand out togetherness liberally, I am now aware that I can break it down just as easily. This reflection in terms of our social and emotional impact as teachers is incredibly important, especially in the age and unprecedented times we are living in.
Some children respond well to firm words, but others do not. I took the step to issue power rather than reciprocally work together.
I know even more now to be reflective. As adults they trust, we must be careful to always consider the ‘togetherness’ and rapport we have with these amazing individuals we are lucky to spend time with.
I delivered a podcast! (21/04/21)
This was an exciting new challenge for me. I have spoken on two podcasts so far and have one in the running. I have to say, I’ve found them really fun and it’s great to talk with people which have similar views and opinions, it really is validating.
Of course I was pretty nervous with the first one but by the second I felt far more confident. My advice would be stick to talking about the area you feel an expert in, in my case it’s usually what I do in class. When I listened back to the podcast I could tell how more fluent and relaxed I sounded speaking of my work.
It was a great experience and I hope to do more. My next one will be all about my masters research and current action research projects in school. This is a different angle for me but I do look forward to it!
Monthly Writing Challenge #DiverseEd (28/03/21)
I thought I’d give this one a go, the theme is ‘Impact’.
What does Impact mean to you?
What Impact have you had?
What has had Impact on you?
Impact is making someone or something stop and think. It facilitates change. It provokes discussion and can develop new ways of seeing and acting. Impact can lead to changes for the greater good.
What a fascinating topic but so huge I almost can not gather my thoughts to collect them together. As I type this on my birthday, after a lovely weekend of family time, I have to say that my and others’ writing has, of late, a huge impact on me. After my trip, writing was the first thing I wanted to do. I feel I have so many ideas and questions waiting to be released and explored. I feel in my forties, I am just finding the confidence to share them and believe they are worthwhile.
Not only that, I want to read and explore others’ ideas. Twitter is new to me and I am absolutely fascinated about the fantastic conversations around education I am privy to there. Reading and then writing helps me digest ideas and embed them.
I have written about educators and consultants who have impacted my practise. I feel writing spreads the word, ignites interest and praises those who have ‘big’ thoughts that they are willing to share. Sharing my findings this way has supported and impacted on my colleagues’ work within my unit.
On a deeper level, impact isn’t afraid of change or challenge.
A colleague’s email about her struggles as a Cypriot with perfect English finding a school to accept her due to this (not as the beyond fabulous teacher she is) had a profound impact on me.
Over the years I had scrolled through adverts for teaching looking for ‘native speakers only’ and was aware that in most international schools I have worked in, where ‘whiteness’ is the norm.
However I didn’t think about it. I guess I considered myself one of the fortunate.
My colleague’s story broke my heart. Processing this in my mind a realisation came when I was in the middle of leading a session with my 4/5 year olds. I realised at that moment that the children I teach may never be able to work in an international school of their choice even when bilingual. I can not imagine how that would feel, as these schools are their normal.
In a Facebook group which I manage, of over 19000 people involved in education, I asked their thoughts on changing the rules. I wanted to no longer allow the terms ‘native speakers only’ when this is not a requirement for a visa or by the government.
The majority were with me, but the small minority who were against impacted upon me even more. Arguments included that I would reduce those adverts (so be it!), that historically this was the way (don’t even go there) and my attempts at creating equality were absolutely pointless. Pointless as it is just one job board and administrators would need to support the change.
But I stood firm and banned this term on my board. This was my impact. I still have people who continue to argue this point, how there should be a ‘quota’ of diversity. But I am resolute that it should always be the best teacher for the job. We need to stop supporting ‘what parents want’ and instead educate them, show these wonderful teachers strengths by sharing their achievements, not just their photo and place of origin. I know my impact has only created a little change, but I hope it will begin a ripple affect. As I get more known I can continue speak about this. Some leaders will listen. Then international schools will be more diverse, representative of the diversity of the community they serve. My friend and my colleagues will be judged in fair and equitable terms.
Recommended Podcasts for Early Years (25/02/21)
This is another area I am finding so interesting. There are now SO many relevant and useful podcasts. Right now I am following:
As a bid to increase my wellbeing during this time, I have begun to take long walks in the evening. I began to explore podcasts, as they were recommended by a close friend. I started with ‘How to fail’ podcasts which I found interesting but I decided to begin to look at professional podcasts for Early Years. I found:
#TeamEarlyChildhood ~ focused discussions with leaders in the field. A fantastic presenter whereby it feels you are listening into a really interesting conversation! Hosts excellent experts within the field, such as: Dr Sue Allingham, Helen Moyett, Dr Helen Williams and Carolyn Silberfeld.
#TheTeachersPodcast ~ there are some very interesting people interviewed on this show who are dedicated to education, within different spheres not only schools. This is not limited to Early Years.
#MuddyPuddleTeacher ~ although in its infancy, I absolutely love this presenter and her training. Her conversation shows she has a depth of knowledge and flows very well with whomever she interviews.
#FoundationStageForum ~ this has a wealth of episodes with influential teachers, speakers and trainers. Excellent presenting and very informative.
#TinyVoiceTalks ~ experts in the field present their pedagogies: for example, Pie Corbett, John Magee and Abby Bayford.
#TheTeachers’PointofView – a really interesting presenter who has spoke to those who work with children and research children. My favourite speakers so far has been Dr Mine Conkbayir (neuroscience).
Finally, not strictly an experts pod but very interesting if you are thinking about developing your career in other ways:
#YourWay – advice on starting an online business, sales and marketing and creating social media content.
It’s getting exciting! (25/02/21)
This past month has been a whirlwind! I’ve been really busy on projects and I’m absolutely loving it. I have written three articles for TES and have signed up to present at Kathy Brodie’s ‘Early Years Summit‘.
How did I get started with this? I began to update my social media. I improved my LinkedIn profile and connected with influential trainers and experts in the field. I joined many relevant groups. I have found Twitter even easier, following again influential Early Years folk. I have just learnt so much so quickly. The world seems smaller somewhat and I am noticing that their is an abundance of free webinars and conferences to get our community connecting. I can not emphasise enough what a useful site ‘Eventbrite’ is for finding these.
But to get back on topic, I simply wrote to ‘TES International’ and pitched articles. Three of which were accepted. The editor is dynamic and really positive, which made me feel great about my writing.
With these three articles published, alongside other articles I have put forward to ISN (International School Network – join this and watch this space, I think it will be big!) and International Teacher Magazine, I felt my self-confidence has really grown. One article I wrote stayed with me long after writing it, ‘5 ways to help EAL learners‘ .
I approached my Assistant Head and now we have been in discussions about action research within my school, identifying the best ways to support our learners. I reflected that only through conversations we learn excellent practise and alongside observations we could create something which would really support our children to learn.
As I scrolled through Twitter I noticed that Kathy Brodie was looking for Speech and Language specialists to sign up for her Language Summit. And I just thought, why not. I have spent years working with EAL and pre-verbal children in many different contexts. I contacted her a bit concerned I was out of my depth. But she returned a message so positive and encouraging, I’m doing it. Speaking in a conference in which 35,000 teachers tune in to. I hope to share practical tips from my own research and experience, working with young, multilingual children.
So there you go. What I am trying to say is – now is the time to reach for the stars! Experts, trainers and teachers are beginning to connect as our world moves online.
I am so excited for this and grateful to be part of it.
Training for international schools: the ‘Drawing Club’ – Greg Botrill (30/01/21)
This week I was lucky enough to attend Greg Botrill’s online training. I applied for my CPD and the Deputy Head sent the course around my teammates. A total of four of us attended from the same school. I have never stopped raving about Greg to my teammates in Reception but my Year 1 colleague also asked what I thought of him. The words that sprung to mind were quirky, fun, inspiring and you won’t be bored!
His training was just that. He began by talking through his passion for Early Years, of how we are as adults co-players within a child’s world but still firmly rooted in the adult world. He discussed the ‘3Ms’, a term which I had discovered in his book, ‘Can I go play now?’ (see blog entry below). The ‘3Ms’ include Mark-Making, Maths and Making Conversation. Greg then showed us how to incorporate all of these in a daily ‘drawing club’ session.
Drawing club comprises of exploring a book for one week, in different ways. The first two days involve reading the text, whilst the further three involve thinking of fun and interesting ways to use our imagination with a book as prompt. He shared an example using the text, ‘Not now Bernard!’
The first day of drawing club involved drawing a monster, the second a house, the third and subsequent days drawing answers to questions such as, what would the monster need to eat to get the taste of Bernard out of his mouth? I love how Greg’s ideas are so wicked or fun, I could envision children in my class laughing at this question.
The next day, I decided to begin to ‘sprinkle the magic’ as Greg says. We were reading ‘Winnie the Witch’s Birthday.’ I drew a witch with a pointy hat, different number fingers on each side and detailed stripy boots. First I described her and discussed the detail I had drawn. and the shapes used. I directed their attention to both the numbers and word I had written. I then ask what the number 8 on her hat could represent. I had a few answers, such as Winnie’s age or her favourite number. I told the children to closely look at the hat and notice the spider. We counted the legs – 8! I then asked what the word was at the bottom. One or two children read ‘cat’. I explained that only if the WHOLE class read the word would the magic happen. They did, and a cat stood next to her (which I drew).
The children were drawn in at this point. I showed them the little button near her and I asked, what would happen if I pressed it? The children weren’t sure. I called one child to press it and I coloured Winnie green. We counted the fingers (3 plus 2 more) which linked to our next weeks Maths plans (adding two small groups). I said there was a problem with the fingers though. The children knew that fingers should be the same on each hand. One child said “draw one more finger!”, a link to our maths which was taught that week. I then looked at the ‘big’ numbers near Winnie’s head. I explained it was a password. There was a murmur across the class and a few children told me they knew about passwords. This encouraged a discussion about, what is a password? I said if we could all read the numbers she would disappear! Did we want her to disappear? Yes they said. So after teaching how to read a ‘hundred’ number, they counted up in hundreds and she disappeared.
The amount of conversation, focus and excitement I received from the children sparked me to continue this the following day by drawing the house. This time many more children began to wonder about my secret numbers, passwords and words. I could see the higher level thinking going on, but not just with the usual three or four children. One little boy, who has always struggled to focus, was fully focussed at the back of the carpet. I asked him, “Would you like to press the secret button?”, in which he sprang up.
In term 3 the children will be given the opportunity to sit with me in ‘not-play’ work to all make these pictures. But until then I will keep sprinkling the magic. This week one boy drew his own witch with password and another drew a spaceship with three digit numbers. It was incredibly detailed. I asked him why he drew the numbers and he said he just wanted to. I think Greg rightfully deserves his (apparent) name of the ‘Wizard of Early Years’ as his teaching encapsulates joy and excitement which I argue is in every child, as teachers we just need to find the hook. I would also argue that there are actually ‘4Ms’ in drawing club: Making conversation, Maths, Mark-Making and Magic!
I took the ‘Drawing Club’ training for international schools. If you are interested you can click this link.
Supporting Early Years with developing narratives (10/01/21)
It was a busy run up to the end of last term, with a show and all the extra events. But I managed to try out a new concept (for me) to support my class develop their spoken English, confidence and role-play skills. We have been using the Mouse and Me class texts from Oxford University Press. These have simple stories with repetitive texts, which for the first term we followed each week. During these read aloud sessions I encouraged the children to sit how they wanted to, where they wanted to, gathered around the book. For each repetitive line I asked the children to copy mine. As these sessions progressed I began to ask the children to, with talk partners, discuss comprehension and inference questions. Objectives I targeted in my guided reading sessions I used as a whole class in these sessions, for example, predicting on. As the texts are very simple the children had a real chance to do this as they could generate the ideas. As I use both these texts and more advanced readers I feel they have really helped to build the children’s confidence of answering questions and sharing ideas. As the story always begins ‘one…day’ (insert the weather), we then could guess the day by looking at the window in the picture, so children become clear about how these stories start. We refer back to our weather board and discuss if it matches the weather of the day too.
Towards the end of term one, I discussed with my year leader how we could continue to extend these texts. I have always been interested in Paley’s helicopter stories, a video which can be viewed here. I know my children struggle with English and lack confidence to use it, therefore I do not feel that creating stories, just yet, would be appropriate. My leader and I decided we could try modelling these stories with our ‘actors’. I tried this and it was a roaring success. The children were so motivated, remembering lines easily (as they were repeated) and even the quietest child was desperate to join in.
In the new term I will continue to use these stories and act them, then I hope prior to Chinese New Year we can try our own stories…as simple as they may be. I would love to see them creating their own books, as my class did last year, so I will create a little book with drawings as a lead-in perhaps. It would be so exciting if I could witness again my little ones story-telling with one another.
Following Early Years Podcasts and Webinars (17/10/20)
I have just begun to follow podcasts and I can honestly say this has become my new reading! I am constantly on the search for new and relevant material and whilst I love reading books and articles, I struggle to find the time. Instead, I have been listening to training and interviews and really I feel, as an auditory learner this has really cemented some new ideas. Recently I listened to Early Excellence webinar on Continous Provision and picked up several tips for my construction area. I have just found a new teachers podcast, which both Alistair Bryce~Clegg and Greg Botrill have interviewed on. If you’d like to listen too, here is the link.
Have you been on LinkedIn recently? I have been reading more and more about how useful a resource it can be for networking. I already follow many Early Years groups on Facebook and I have noticed authors and researchers often reply to posts there. But how about networking with these industry professional on LinkedIn? I really am not sure about that, is it a privacy invasion? Jan Dubiel had visited our school, I had met him personally, so I felt no problem with connecting with him. I also feel if I had trained with a specialist, yes that could be ok too. But I really wanted to follow Greg Botrill, so I just tried it! He connected with me and we started a discussion. I explained that I would be doing a little research for him this week as he had requested through his Facebook group. He also mentioned that he would also be leading some international training. So I would say, if you want to build up your contacts and you genuinely want to learn from another professional, then connect! I’m glad I did. I wonder too if building up contacts this way will be a support when I eventually move on. I certainly am interested in other EY units and establishing links at this stage I think can only benefit.
*Update, I connected with an EY Trainer on Twitter who I had met a year or so ago and was offered a job! I’m very happy where I am but this shows the power of networking. Twitter is interesting as I have kept my connections very professional and it allows me to follow many EY organisations and key people.
Open Ended Resources (08/09/20)
As I continue to learn and develop in my Early Years Practice there is one aspect of resourcing which has been a clear success: open-ended resources. When I walk around my provision and observe, I see the highest level of sustained focus and engagement with those children using the open-ended resources. I see that these children are able to extend their learning, be highly creative and become what Vygotsky stated, ‘the head taller’ than him or herself. For example, children who tend to run around a room and lack focus were together creating an intricate jet and could name the different parts to me. A child which focused on drawing created a balancing loose parts structure which showed she understood symmetry and design. Children who were at times unresponsive during whole class learning input I could see creating an amazing 3-D structure with poles outside, negotiating with others. However, when I notice the driving garages I see here the children only use cars, often to the same outcome and game. If we put other figures in this area they go untouched.
I can highly recommend:
Outside: Poles and drapes for making dens, obstacle course crates and planks of wood, tyres and chairs and large construction pieces.
Inside: Large and small wooden blocks, junk modelling, different fabrics for dress up but also in the block area for creating different surfaces, loose parts in one area as well is being available in the sand and water.
Muddy Puddle Training (05/09/20)
I’ve just began a new online training course through Muddy Puddle Teacher. I wanted to know more about outdoor learning and so far I have been enjoying the training. Level 1 has been pretty commonsense, but level 2 has some interesting insights into using sustainable materials and taking the children outside. I have adapted my plan next week to encourage use of the outside environment, instead of using pre made family figures I thought we could remind ourselves of the Stick Man story and have a search outside for our own stick families. I thought about the discussion which could come from this activity, not only would we name family members we would discuss size of each (would baby be as big as dad?) which would reach Maths objectives, plus we could role play with these characters in the construction area or magformers. So the original one objective, discussing and recognizing family members, could potentially involve Maths and Speaking and Listening. I am already seeing the potential of this course. So far, the only negative aspect I see is the constant typos within the training PDFs, it brings down the professionalism of the training material. The next module, Training 3, covers mindfulness and reflection. I will update about this later.
My Latest Greatest Read…Can I go and play now? Greg Bottrill (26/08/20)
I didn’t think I’d be writing a blog this week, three days back in at school. But I had to write about this book. Last year I followed Greg Bottrill’s message centre with my class with interest, alongside his videos, Play School TV. The children were fascinated by the videos, as was I. So simple but so engaging, Greg and his dogs are up for discovery in the woods, which drew both the children and myself in. Then creating messages with secret symbols, the children could not wait to do this. So I bought his book. I have just begun his book but I feel as if he can read my mind, his views and ideas replicate mine in so many ways. He is so clear about the need for play in Early Years, harnessing the wonder and excitement for learning young children have. As I feel in my own learning journey within Early Years, he is scathing towards tight timetables for Literacy and Numeracy hours. The following paragraph is so well summarised, I had to include it here:
“When we impose this [Numeracy and Literacy hour] we remove freedom. We constrain excitement, language, engagement, happiness and opportunity. We kill children with timetables. I come to school as a 4-year-old and I want to create a pig house for my imaginary pigs at home, but the adult world comes crashing in like the last calvary and says no, put that down, its maths now you must come with me and count unifix cubes. Instantly as a child I’ve switched off. I am being taken from something that I want to do, to something that I have to do.” (Greg Botrill (2018) Can I go and Play now? p.32)
This really resonates with me and makes me stop and think. I am so grateful I work in a school where play is not stopped for adult-led activities, instead I can go to the play. Circle times are used to share skills with a small group after, therefore when children enter play they know it won’t be stopped abruptly. Greg continues:
“…our timetable needs to balance the maximum amount of time for the richness of play with the necessary time it takes to deliver the skills on the carpet” (p.32).
To Ask or not to Ask? (10/08/20)
I have had an interesting situation arise. I have worked within two different pods within a school. The first was free choice of items, whatever was out the children could play with. That meant, upon reflection, we may not have had a huge amount of items within the sand and water, due to the physicality of tidying up these each time. Throughout the year the children loved using both sand and water and I never thought any more of this. At the end of every day we tidied all the sand and water toys away. However, now I am in a different pod. Here there are ‘please ask’ labels on sand and water toys which I consider to be loose parts. A small selection of loose parts are available however the children can request these other parts to enhance their own play. Initially when I considered this idea I echoed the Early Years idea that all items should be available at all times. But then what really happens in reality of all these parts were dumped into the sand and water every day? In this pod the children learn to ask, they take a reasonable amount of this ‘loose part’ (be it jewels, marbles, small plastic creatures) and then they know they are responsible for putting it away. Initially I had come into this pod thinking we needed to discuss the ‘please ask’ but now I think I should try it, would it widen the childrens’ experiences and selections? Would it help them learn how many small ‘loose parts’ to select and use within the sand/water area. What are your thoughts? I think I will try it and see as I continue to learn within Early Years.
Revision: 26/08/20 : I couldn’t do it! Instead I created a smaller collection of things which could be accessed by the children at all times 🙂 I would hate for a child to not have the confidence to ask for a resource or be unaware of all the resources available.
Reflections – Transitioning from Year 1 to Early Years (01/08/20)
After teaching for the past year in Reception, I’ve come to reflect of the differences in pedagogy, structure and learning between Year 1 and Reception. I have always felt a real divide between these two year groups, with the change in pedagogy towards a ‘taught’ curriculum. As though young children are vessels to be filled with our ideas and concepts, rather than curious explorers who work within an emergent Early Years environment. I researched this and created narratives exploring this as part of my Masters’ programme and I felt a sense of relief when my request to move back to Early Years was granted.
The sense of defined objectives for children to reach in Year 1 I think is the most difficult demand to follow for educators who support developmentally appropriate practice. I wonder if there were less objectives within Year 1, there would be a greater potential to complete adult-led activities then to evidence, or at times not, these skills during play. Instead, as I have taught within Year 1 in two different schools, I feel the pressure for Year 1 children to have ‘mastered’ these objectives through adult-led learning, at juxtaposition with what we know about child development.
More so, as my Reception year progressed (with a short break in the middle due to COVID), I felt the need to encourage children towards what I felt what was valued within education having come from Primary. I knew what would be expected of them when they began Year 1. So we began to look at sentence writing. What was interesting some children flew with this, enjoying the task and at times extending themselves. Being in what I consider a privileged position of being the Early Years Teacher, I was able to not enforce this, but just to provide the scaffolding for the task. It has become more clear through these activities, that some children are not at that development milestone.
As a Year 1 Teacher I felt instead that children were just resisting what had been decided for them was appropriate (through the British National curriculum objectives). I felt they were not ready for formal ways of working. I found the adult-led activities tiring, a means to an end, especially in terms of writing, a means to an outcome. Reflecting on all I have learnt and through my return to Foundation Stage, I feel more than ever a reform needs to happen within Year 1 and beyond, to bring children back to learning in creative, relevant ways. A curriculum which values both adult-led and child-led learning.
As Early Years Teachers we know how children learn best, when they are lost in the moment of the activity and we choose the correct time to add the teachable moment, or we provide the resource, or we stand back and observe. Then perhaps we return to their ideas later, in our planning or discussions. I feel as an Early Years Teacher I am a researcher, learning about every child and individually supporting their interests. Throughout Primary I feel the Early Years pedagogy of inquiry should be the way forward.
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