Friday, 19 December 2014

Outdoor Play Party - Managing Risk.

I am so delighted to have Unnur Henrys writing this post. Unnur is a preschool teacher in our partner school Leikskólinn Stekkjarás in Iceland. Here she talks about managing risk with young children & proves that if we trust the children they will rarely put themselves in danger & are more than capable of assessing what is an appropriate risk.
Playing in the snow and Managing Risk. 

I have been reading a few articles about managing risk with children and outdoor learning. I am lucky in the sense that we don't have to fill out any forms or do a Risk Assessment before we set out on our adventures in the woods. We don't even know where we are going most of the time. That decision is made by the children when we come to the cross roads as we call it and vote whether we go to the Wolf forest, container forest, stone bridge, big stone or the kids-grove. The children have come up with all these names over time on our travels through the areas we use. There was a lot of snow outside today, we normally go with a big trolly with a lot of different stuff in it but this day there was nothing brought with us so  we needed to play with the snow and what we found in the woods. This was a day that I as a teacher had to close my mouth and let the children experience and manage the risk on our trip. It was a group of 27 children but this time the group decided to go to two different places and I had the privilege to be with a small group in container forest which is also very close to the stone bridge and a little stream that is always popular. 
Instead of saying 'no we can't go to the stream' I decided to let the children decide for themselves if, what or how we could play there. They were quick to find out that they didn't want to fall in and get wet because it was cold. When we got to the stream they started off throwing some snow in to the stream to watch it melt . Then there was a bit of a competition who could get the biggest ice brick to throw in, I asked them if we could all get a ice brick and see what would happen and someone said that we had made a little glacier. We found some sticks and started to poke them into the snow and ice around the stream, it was very tempting to warn them to be careful but I decided that it was for them to manage the risk there, what was the worst that could happen? Someone would get wet and as I am a teacher prepared for everything I have a full set of dry clothes in my bag Smiling face with open mouth and smiling eyes so I said nothing.

There is a bigger pond not too far away and the children asked if we could go there when there was enough ice on it to skate so I asked how do we know if it is safe? And they were quick to answer; first we find a big stone and throw on the ice then you (me the teacher) test the ice so we don't fall into the water. I promised to let them know when I thought it would be a good idea to go and check the pond, they certainly hadn't forgotten about the fun we had last winter on the ice (see my blog post about this from last winter) 
 http://nosuchthingasbadweather.blogspot.com/2014/01/guest-post-playiceland-on-ice.html
My favourite post from the link up last time was from The Way he Plays all about celebrating a first birthday party in the lovely sunshine and given that it has been so cold here, I loved looking at the beautiful blue skies in this post.

"Now it’s time for this week’s Outdoor Play Party. We would appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we’ll gladly further share your post on Pinterest. Please feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back. Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the ‘featured at’ button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!"

An InLinkz Link-up

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Embracing outdoor play in Winter.

It is of course very easy to advocate for outdoor play in nice weather, when it is dry & mild - warm enough to be outdoors without coats etc. but let's be honest, it is harder on the colder, wetter days.
This week Winter really arrived for us, light snow, thick ice, sleet, driving rain, gale force winds etc. and yet we managed to be outside every day & the children enjoyed themselves & had fun in all those different types of weather. Now of course some children do feel the cold more than others, about 2-3 children tend to get very cold & need lots of extra clothing to help them stay happy outside for the hour. But honesty, the majority are so well dressed for the cold that they are more than happy to play outdoors & could probably stay out longer than the hour if necessary. And then there are about 4-5 children who are the hardiest I have ever seen, they are the ones playing with water even on the coldest days & if their gloves get wet, they just hand them over to get dried & put on another pair!
This week started off with really thick ice, our school is opposite a lough (that's a lake to most people) & so when the moisture of the lough comes across to the car park it turns into a skating rink. It was weird to hear the ice cracking as the cars drove onto it at drop off time & although our playground is more sheltered than the car park it was still covered in a layer of ice. I believe that it is important that the children learn how to walk on ice - it is a skill many adults never learned & that's why you see people creeping along on the footpaths etc. So, whilst we did treat the safety surface which ironically given it's name is treacherous in icy weather we left the tarmac for the children to negotiate for themselves. It was incredible to watch some children gingerly moving about whilst others were able to run about on it. The children enjoyed cracking the ice to expose the green safety surface below. 
On Wednesday we had arranged to walk up to the local nursing home to sing some Christmas songs for the residents & post Santa letters, this has become a real Christmas tradition for our class & the home has an amazing winter wonderland display in the foyer for the children to enjoy before posting their letters in a post box. It was horrendous weather that morning, driving rain & strong winds & we had been through a set of rain gear before 10.00. This is when I am grateful to have 2 sets as by 11.15 when we were getting ready to walk up the hill to the home we needed to get all the children into the second set to help keep them warm & dry on the walk. They had fun marching up the hill, stamping their feet to keep warm. They sang for 2 lots of residents before getting some buns, crisps & juice & posting their letters to Santa, then we braved the wintery weather again for the walk back down the hill for lunch. We did learn that the clumps of bushes dotted along the roadside offered lots of protection from the wind & we certainly missed them on some parts of the road.
We had a light dusting of snow on the Friday & it was sweet to hear some children planning to make a snowman - it was like icing sugar - and I suppose to a 3 year old that is what you do with snow, no matter how thin it is. It was lovely sitting in the snow with the fire lit waiting for the milk to heat up for hot chocolate and the children were fascinated by the way the 'snow' melted under any of the object set down on it.
A perfect circle left by the milk pan!
If this week proved anything to me it's that this class can truly enjoy any weather & make the most of it without too much complaint.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

2014 Edublog Award.

Thanks to the incredibly supportive Juliet Robertson from Creative Star Learning Company, my blog has been shortlisted for Best Teacher Blog in the 2014 Edublog Awards. 
Now, honestly no one sets out to win awards for blogs & I am under no illusion that I will win this award as I am up against 46 other great bloggers, some of whom are what I consider 'big hitters' in the blogosphere. However, I am delighted that my blog about early years education & advocating getting outdoors as much as possible has been recognised by Edublog.
Voting closes on the 15 December & to vote you need to go to the following link http://edublogawards.com/2014-awards/best-teacher-blog-2014/ & click on the thumb symbol below the thumbnail of my blog.
Since I starting blogging & using social media I have connected with so many dedicated & inspiring people around the globe & I have found those working in the early years so willing to share ideas, resources, help with any queries etc. & very supportive of each other.  So it is time all those great early years folks were recognised for their hard work & dedication in raising the profile of this important part of the education sector & so it is fantastic that 2 other early years groups are also recognised under the Best Twitter Hashtag or Twitterchat, #EYTalking & #kinderchat are also up for awards & it would be great to get others sitting up & taking notice of the early years sector. So please take time to vote for both these ones too over here: http://edublogawards.com/2014-awards/best-twitter-hashtag-or-chat-2014/

As I said earlier, it's not about awards or recognition but it is about raising the profile of early years & outdoor education, so all support is gratefully received, thanks, Kierna.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Outdoor Play Party - Winter fun!

Welcome to another Outdoor Play Party, it is so hard to believe it's December & there are only a few weeks left of 2014, time really does seem to go faster & faster every year!
I have just under 2 weeks left of first term & it is incredible how the class has become one big group & enjoys exploring our outdoor spaces & enjoying having a fire in the playground.
So far this year we had just made hot chocolate on the fire but last week we got round to toasting marshmallows & plan to make some toast this week. The children were all brilliant about not touching the fire but loved getting the chance to toast their own marshmallows. I then found some giant ones in a local supermarket so we will have to try toasting them in the New Year!
We had been on trips off site to our partner school for 2 weeks so hadn't been up to visit Bear Woods until this Wednesday & the children were so excited to be getting back to explore this little space. It really never ceases to amaze me how much they love this space & I was able to give a presentation recently to other teachers about making the most of unused spaces within school grounds & it really brought home to me how much the nursery class has gained from this little slope of land being developed just for us. A few weeks ago Mrs Carson & I had taken part in a willow den building morning at An Creagán, after all the support that Peter their biodiversity officer has given to the school we felt like giving something back to An Creagán & gaining some new skills. It was lots of fun & we managed to bring some smaller willow sticks & Mrs Carson built a little mini den up in Bear Woods. The children enjoyed sitting in here reading books this week.
Every year I like to let the children decorate the small bush in the middle of the playground with coloured baubles - it always looks so effective when decorated & cheers the playground up on gloomy, winter mornings.



My favourite post from the last Outdoor Play Party was from Cuddles & Muddles & Muddy Puddles, this post showed how children can be entertained for a long time with a few simple natural resources - sticks, puddles & mud.
"Now it’s time for this week’s Outdoor Play Party. We would appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we’ll gladly further share your post on Pinterest. Please feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back. Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the ‘featured at’ button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!"



Saturday, 29 November 2014

Spaghetti Painting.

I got this idea from Pinterest a couple of years ago but had forgotten about it until a parent gave me a packet of out of date spaghetti.
The children thought it was hilarious that they were going to paint with spaghetti rather than paint brushes. Some were not too keen on the actual texture of the cooked pasta but the majority enjoyed dipping it into the paint & then making it 'dance' across the page - in fact a lot of the children actually danced while doing this activity!
One child said he felt like a spider making a web, as he dragged the pasta around the page. 



* Please don't flood my post with comments about how much you disprove of using food in play. I am well aware many have issues with this but so far in N.Ireland it hasn't been a major issue & this spaghetti was out of date*

Friday, 21 November 2014

Outdoor Play Party. Making a Difference.



I was fortunate to have a fantastic P.G.C.E Early Years student on her teaching practice with us for the past 5 weeks. It was great to have a fresh pair of eyes on our practice & to have someone full of new ideas working with us. Sometimes when you are in the middle of an environment it is very easy to take what you have or do for granted, then someone new comes along & it does make you take stock. 
Lesley from Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School & I chat regularily to reflect on our practice & have often talked about 'being in our bubble', by this we mean that we can get so used to doing what we do in our settings that we can tend to assume everyone is doing the same. For the past 7 years we have been following a similar outdoor play approach; we go outside first thing every day, we allow stick play, going up & down slides, riding bikes in any direction & climbing is actively encouraged. We now just see this as the norm, so it was amazing to watch the initial reaction of the student, she was like a rabbit caught in the headlights, there were just too many 'new' things going on for her to take in! However I have to say, she fully embraced us & our ways, she bought waterproof trousers, boots & a coat. In the past most students have been happy to borrow spares from us but this lady wanted her own 'for next time'. I have no doubt that when she has her own class in the future, she will do her best to introduce some if not all of the many 'firsts' she saw at Windmill!
My favourite post in the last link up was from a lovely new blog to me, Wild Tales Of.....  This fab post is full of practical tips for anyone to try to ensure they can get outside even in the depths of Winter. As Kate points out, living in Seattle if she waits for dry days to just go outside, she is going to spend lots of time indoors!

"Now it’s time for this week’s Outdoor Play Party. We would appreciate it if you included a link back to this post (either in your post or sidebar) to help us spread the word about the importance (and fun!) of outdoor play! In return, we’ll gladly further share your post on Pinterest. Please feel free to grab the Outdoor Play Party button from the sidebar and/or include a text link back. Please note that by contributing you are giving permission for an image and link to your post to be republished if featured.(If you have been featured, please feel free to grab the ‘featured at’ button from the sidebar.) Share your ideas for outdoor play activities with us every other week!"

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Friday, 14 November 2014

Transient Art In Bear Woods.


Mouse mat seats.
My original piece.
Some of you might have already seen the mouse mats I picked up in the scrap store over the summer, I got about 60 of them altogether & figured we would use them as seats when up in Bear Woods. Then we began to use them in the playground as seats around the fire when the logs were damp but we still took some up to Bear Woods each week in case anyone wanted a seat but really when in their rain gear the children are happy enough to just sit on the grass, stumps of pallets. One child had turned them over one day & chalked on the black side, so I then wondered about using them as a background for some transient art. all it took was for me to bring some out & then sit down & start making a picture myself before some children wandered over to see what I was doing & then they wanted to make their own. Some were a little confused by the fact the 'art' didn't stay on the 'page' but once they realised they could tip everything off & then start all over again, they fully embraced the idea. 

The mats are brightly coloured & even the coloured side made a nice background for the art too. Now of course I am mad I didn't take loads more!