Friday, 17 April 2015

Art Outdoors.

A panorama of Bear Woods -showing the nursery & main school below & beside it.
We have an amazing scrap store in Belfast: The Play Resource; that offers busaries to schools to allow them to have professional artist come in to work with the children. Over the past 7 years we have availed if this scheme and the nursery is full of fabulous one off pieces of art work the children have created during this time. This year I was lucky enough to secure the services of artist Fionnuala Duffin & when we chatted about what she could do with the children, I mentioned wanting to have some large scale outdoor art for Bear Woods & the playground. Fionnuala will be working with the class over 4 days this month, a Friday & a Monday. On the Fridays we will actually create the art up in Bear Woods & then on the Mondays make some more pieces to add to Bear Woods or for the playground.
I had to send Fionnnula photos of the type of fencing we had etc. so she knew what materials to bring with her.
The finished woven sea scape with lovely boat bobbing along.
Today we had our first session up in Bear Woods and although it was dry it was a little chilly to start with. As Fridays are our outdoor days before we went up to Bear Woods we had made some creme egg popcorn, the children had declared this sticky & delicious! After this lovely gooey treat we all headed up the hill to see Fionnuala. At the moment there is some building work going on in the main school playground so the children can't run ahead anymore and they know they have to walk with or behind the lead adult. There was also great excitement because there was a new shed in the space too. This is for the gardening club but it will provide 3 wooden walls for us to 'play' with and eventually make a shelter off plus it has provided a proper home for our camping toilet. 
Fionnuala had lots of strips of coloured material and she had clearly marked a top and bottom to the piece so the children could see where to weave. They had lots of fun doing this & some spent the whole session engrossed in the activity whilst others just dipped in and out.
Eventually the sun came out and we decided to make a path using bags of bark chippings. Of course some of these became extra 'loose parts' for play as they were moved about in some of the dumper trucks that stay up in Bear Woods. 
The path created using bark chippings.
When we all had to go back down to nursery for lunch, Fionnuala finished off the woven sea score by adding a lovely orange boat. The children were very excited to see it when they went outside to the playground after lunch, that is a huge advantage of Bear Woods being just above the nursery.
On Monday we hope to make some jelly fish and decorate CDs to hang around the playground to brighten up dark mornings.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Outdoor Play Party - enhancing a play space.

 I recently had time to reflect on how our playground had evolved over the past 9 years and whilst it is true we have added lots of new 'stuff' to the space, none of it has cost any money. The initial outlay of costs had happened before we moved into the new school - with the safety surface, tarmac, grass and fixed equipment. Then for the past 9 years as we have added to the space it has been donations of logs or tree stumps, bark chips or grass cuttings. We are all in 'finder' mode all the time, so when one assistant visited her mother who was gathering up all the leaves and beechnuts in her garden, she knew these would be perfect to add to our forest area.
The Bottle Babies enhance play in so many ways & are essentially free, especially if you can persuade parents to gather them up for you & then you just fill me with things you have lying around anyway - old pen lids, straws, sequins or glitter etc.
The mud kitchen which is our biggest fixed asset added in the last year was kindly built for us by a friend and a very willing parent who provided all the materials. As I said in the last Outdoor Play Party, this element has created a whole new layer to the play outdoors, as the children enjoy cooking and preparing so many meals for us and each other on a daily basis.
In third term we introduce the big compost bins as another resource for the children to incorporate into their play.
The biggest message I would like to get across to all those who are developing their outdoor space is to try and create as much as you can for as little as possible. We all know the term 'loose parts' now and it is these movable pieces that provide the best resources to enhance play. If they haven't cost a lot of money then you will be less inclined to worry about the children moving them around or incorporating them into various play scenarios.
From the last link up my favourite post was from Cuddles & Muddles on the simple joy of running. There is nothing as joyous for young children as having the freedom to just run up or down even the slightest incline.
"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!"


Thursday, 2 April 2015

My reasons for fixed equipment in the playground.

I was speaking at a conference last month on getting children outdoors & before it started one of the other speakers and I were chatting over coffee. Annie was over from England and wanted to get a 'feel' for typical playground set ups in Northern Ireland, she asked me how I felt about fixed equipment.
This is a hot topic for many schools, 5 years ago big climbing structures or slides were discouraged; the argument being they don't allow for progression whereas more recently new settings are installing them again.
After thinking about our slide, I had no problem saying that if I had to go back 9 years to when we moved into our new space, I would still invest in a piece of fixed equipment. Here are my reasons, our playground is quite unique as far as school settings go, it looks very different to the average playground that small children and their parents are used to. Therefore the slide provides something familiar to the children when they start with us, just as settings have home corners inside for the children to feel comfortable in the alien school environment, the slide does the same outside.
Most children coming into nursery have heard the following messages 'Put that stick down, don't play with dirt, don't pick THAT up, be careful' etc. etc. so when presented with our playground it could be overwhelming. We have lots of sticks, logs, tree stumps, mud, bark chippings, tyres and other 'loose parts' that the children do begin to interact with and weave into their play as time progresses but first they need to see something they recognise and know how to play with and this is where the slide comes into play.
When confronted with a playground like this, children and parents need to recognise something familiar!
Sometimes this is the first time a child lets a parent out of sight, when they climb up the steps and go through the tunnel to go down one of the slides. It is also where they first begin to interact with their new peers. 
I also firmly believe that it does allow for progression, some children spend the whole of first term trying to get up the slide! Their play differs from term to term as they incorporate the slide into their scenarios, it can be anything they want it to be - a ship, a rocket, a house etc. 
The tunnel provides a quiet space for children to hang out just chatting to each other. We have created a reading space underneath it and this space is always in use.
They love to discover the joys of creating a water slide by pouring water down it for friends to whizz past them & it takes a certain skill to come down a very wet slide on a rainy day & manage to stop at the bottom!
Another big factor for advocating for fixed equipment is the set up involved in an engaging outdoor space, it already takes us around 20 minutes to set up without having to unpack and build a wooden climbing frame or slide, not to mention it saves our backs.
So, yes, in answer to Annie's question, I am firmly in favour of fixed equipment being used a piece to enhance an outdoor space but I don't think it should be the centre piece instead it should provide a backdrop to a much wider play experience than an ordinary standard playground could ever offer. The reason many playgrounds are underused it not because the equipment is useless but because it is not enhanced by moveable loose parts.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Outdoor Play Party - the mud kitchen is a year old!

 It is hard to believe it but our amazing mud kitchen is a year old, it is actually quite difficult to imagine play without it as it is such an integral part of our outdoor time now.
You can read abut how we got to have such an incredible resource over here.
It is lovely how much the children have made it theirs over the past year and have added little additions like a muddy puddle in one corner & also how they continually make new discoveries about the space every day. 
This week 3 children were delighted to find out they could make marks and handprints on the back of the mud kitchen using water.
We were lucky to have the dad of one of our assistants add a little water station as well so the children have somewhere to store all the precious water from the rain barrel when the carry it over to the mud kitchen.
The most important development in the past year is that the Principal of the school saw the value and breadth of play going on in the mud kitchen in nursery and applied for funding to have one built for the Foundation Stage children (4-6 year olds) by one of our amazing caretakers, who also happens to be a master carpenter.

Some days it is just lovely to sit back in the 'forest area' and listen to the chatter of the children as they play beyond the willow entrance into the mud kitchen.
My favourite post from the last Outdoor Play Party was from Rubber Boots and Elf Shoes in a fab post all about finding numbers in their natural environment.
I love to see teachers of older children taking their classes outdoors and some of the numbers created by the children are incredible.

"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!"

Friday, 20 March 2015

A perfect outdoor day!



If I am honest, Wednesday & Friday are my favourite days of the week, mainly because these are the days we spend the most time outdoors; on Wednesday we visit Bear Woods & then stay out onto lunchtime & on Fridays we plan to cook something on the fire & again stay out all morning. 
Admittedly some outdoor days are not as much fun as others, especially if it is very wet or cold but so far, this school year we haven't had to abandon the idea of the fire because of too much rain. 
Today, however was a perfect day for bring outside, it was dry & not too cold if a little cloudy. We didn't have a chance to glimpse the partial eclipse but it was a bit surreal for 10 minutes as it got quite dark.
I love getting cooking ideas from the Internet & so far we've discovered chocolate stuffed bananas, ice cones with chocolate, marshmallows & fruit & apples with butter but I think today we found our favourite treat ever - toasted tea cakes!
I had seen them on Mud Pie's page just before Christmas & was determined to try them but then forgot about it until I saw them on offer in a local supermarket a few weeks ago. I contacted Mandy over at Mud Pies to ask her how exactly she cooked them. Weirdly enough, she had just cooked them again that very same day & was able to share some great photos & tips with me.

We had some hot chocolate first while the fire was blazing & then waited until the flames had died down & placed 7-10 tea cakes at a time in the embers. Mandy had advised leaving them in for 30 seconds so the children had fun continue to 10 a few times! When we lifted them out it was so easy to just open the foil & give the children a spoon to dive in & enjoy.

As one boy said 'That was the best idea ever'! and I'd have to agree, so simple & yet so delicious. This is definitely one we'll be doing again.


Friday, 13 March 2015

Outdoor Play Party - an eBook on outdoor provision.


For the latest Outdoor Play Party I am delighted to share a new eBook that I have helped collaborate on with 11 other early years folks from around the UK.
I have no doubt that Twitter has provided me with some of the best Continued Professional Development (CPD) in the best few years, as I have connected with fellow early years enthusiasts around the globe. I was very impressed with an early eBook some of the #eyfstwitterpals (eyfs stands for early years foundation stage) had produced last year showing a month of activities in their settings.
So when Geoff Billing asked if anyone wanted to contribute to another eBook on outdoor provision, I jumped at the chance!


Each of us had to submit 10 posts on any topic of our choosing that we felt would help to inspire others as they develop their outdoor areas. I love that so many of the posts are about every day materials like tyres, sticks, tarpaulins, water & sticks.

I hope that people download the eBook & dip in & of it as they explore how best to enhance their outdoor play experiences, whether in a formal setting or just at home. Please follow this link to download it: http://goo.gl/oLVPYN

Please make sure you follow each of the contributors on Twitter so you can keep up with all the great stuff that they continually share.

I don't know about anyone else in this part of the world but I am so ready for Spring & dry, warmer weather! So the post that appealed to me most in the last link up was from Cuddles & Muddles all about how they enjoyed a very simple day in their own back garden in some lovely spring weather.

"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!"



Friday, 27 February 2015

Outdoor Play Party - Hollow Blocks.


Over the past few years I have had lots of teachers or principals visit who are getting brand new nurseries & want some advice on how to best equip their space. We got a brand new school in 2006 & were given a very healthy budget to refurbish the nursery, so in a way we were luckier than those trying to equip a nursery from scratch - we had lots of the basics already & could afford to indulge in some of the more 'luxury' items e.g. a loft for indoors & lots of blocks from Community Playthings. 


The one piece of advice I give to any one who has a decent budget to set up a nursery or preschool class is to invest in a set of hollow blocks, ideally if you can afford it the original ones from Community Playthings but if not there are lots of other companies making them now too.
In 2006 we bought a class set of hollow blocks & the storage cart & they have been such an asset to the class - ours are used outdoors as we just don't have the space indoors for them. In the past 8 years of constant use from February to June, they have weathered well, 2 of the planks split but this was our own fault as we left them outside in the rain overnight a few times. But luckily you can buy replacement sets easily.

I love watching how each class uses them differently, some years they make tables & chairs & lots of houses are built. Other years they build them as high as possible & love climbing on top of them. Sometimes they are used as props in other play - as robot feet or TV's etc.
I love that the open endedness of these products allows the children to engage with them in any way they want. They also learn very quickly that they are sore if dropped on toes or fingers, slippy on wet days or if your shoes are wet & that if they fall on your head, it really, really hurts!
One member of staff usually sets them up in the morning to get the children playing with them but they are then free to move them about & create whatever they want to with them. 


My favourite post in the last Outdoor Play Party was from Wild Family Fun all about the fun Kim & her sister & their children had over half-term. It was lovely to see her young nephews enjoying such simple yet fun activities as den building & cooking marshmallows. Wonderful memories that I am sure her nephews will remember for a long time.

"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!"