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  • 5 Fantastic Ideas for Talking Tubs

    If you work at a nursery or school in the UK you will likely be back in your practice after a well-deserved break.  Talking Tubs are a key part of the Floorbooks Approach that will allow you to identify and explore child interests. A Talking Tub is a box filled with a variety of objects about a specific subject. A practitioner will then allow children to take each item out one at a time and fully examine the objects, giving them time to investigate and discuss each object. The best talking tubs are created from previously identified child interests, but there a number of great topics that you can cover at the beginning of a year using a tub.   Here are our suggestions for a talking tub to kickstart your year, with suggestions as to what you can fill your tub with: Summer Holidays A good topic to begin with is the summer holidays and what children did during them. Many children return to the setting with a lot of excitement about what they have done over their time away. A Talking Tub will allow you to channel that energy. Including items such as: miniature airplanes sand pictures of the sea a spade a small home a family summer clothing It is likely that children will have developed a number of new interests to explore during their time away. You should try to create as diverse a Talking Tub as possible, including any experiences you know that the children had. If you know a number of children went on ski holidays, include photos of snow and mountains. A Talking Tub which is personalised to children will put any new children at ease.   Transitions If you are with children who are just beginning nursery or primary school, a Talking Tub can be the perfect way to put any fears at ease. Create an open forum to address some of the fears as well as the exciting things that nursery/school can provide for them. After a month or so this topic can be revisited so that children can discuss how they have found the transition, and will allow them to see that they have been able to conquer their fears.    Autumn/Seasons Depending on when you go back, it may be the perfect time to discuss the changing seasons as we move into Autumn. Autumn is an incredibly colourful month with many learning opportunities. Children are fascinated by Autumn due to the dramatic changes that they can see in trees, and practitioners can use this fascination to create great experiences for children. In your talking tub you can include: leaves of different colours different types of trees photos of forests a thermometer pictures or models of different types of animals different types of fabric/clothing Autumn is a great time to explore different colours through dye making, which is a great activity for measuring and art.   Local/National culture Exploring a topic which children hold dear to them and may see as part of themselves is a great way to set them at ease at the beginning of a new term. An investigation into local or national culture is a great way to explore what children have in common with each other and to celebrate their differences. This topic can be expanded to discuss diversity and different cultures from around the world. This can be a particularly good topic during the transition from early years to primary and can encourage shyer children to talk about themselves. The objects that you fill your tub with may vary, from flags and clothing, to photographs of local festivals and events. Some settings choose to begin with a Talking Tub about the nursery or school to help children feel like they are a part of the setting and to help them feel comfortable moving forward.   Risk At Auchlone Nature Kindergarten, we begin every new term with a Talking Tub about fire. As a fully outdoor nature kindergarten, fire is an integral part of our practice which we use for both cooking as well as heat. A lot of children who join us at Auchlone have never made their own fires before, and some have never had access to the flame from a BBQ before. By filling a Talking Tub with fire related objects, we can discuss the risks surrounding fire and teach children how to safely risk assess any situation involving fire: safe distances around the fire pit how to light a fire what they should do if they have any concerns This also lets us talk about the benefits of fire such as creating charcoal for art and being able to cook food. We fill our Talking Tub with: wood charcoal ash wooden figures of fire a flashlight a fire blanket photos of the fire pit and the fire hut pre-cooked snacks This wide range of items lets us look at what fire provides while also giving us many opportunities to discuss all of the risks involved.  What topics will you be discussing in your first few weeks? What talking tubs have you used recently and what did you fill them with? Let us know.   If you'd like to learn more about creating Talking Tubs, book a place on our upcoming Talking Tubs training course or download our recorded webinar on the topic.  We also sell Talking Tubs for you to fill in your setting.     

  • Why I love Forest School

      Our senior trainer Kate Hookham tells us why she loves Forest School. Kate is what you would describe as an outdoors person. She loves nothing more using outdoor adventures and explorations to create valuable learning opportunities. From running around with the children at Auchlone Nature Kindergarten to maintaining the tools and grounds at our centre for excellence, getting Kate to sit down with you for an interview can be quite the task. With our upcoming Forest School courses  we wanted to speak with Kate about why she is passionate about the methodology.   Q: So Kate, lets talk about one of your passions - Forest School. Can you give us a quick description of what Forest School actually is? KH: Of course I can. Forest School is an approach developed by group of students and their lecturers from Bridgewater College in England after they visited Scandinavia in 1993. They were amazed by the learning methods used and so developed what they saw into a 3 level course in 1995.  Forest school, in essence, is when a trained practitioner takes a group of children to a woodland space to learn. The duration is often one afternoon a week for a period of 6 weeks. It is usually associated with bush craft and the construction of a shelter and the use of knots, tools and fire but this is not essential. Forest School Level 2 allows you to become an assistant forest school leader, whereas Forest School Level 3 allows you to become a forest school leader. Q: What is the difference between Forest School and other Outdoor Learning methodologies? KH: Forest school is certified or can be a qualification depending on which agency you undertaken your training with and which country you reside in. Forest School is often bush craft focused and for a 6 week block. Outdoor learning on the other hand is an ethos. The Forest School approach could be part of your approach to outdoor learning. It is one of many different and viable methodologies. Equally you could follow the Journeys into Nature approach using the elements to explore outdoor learning and teach STEAM, or even schematic outdoor learning. Infographic about outdoor learning created from the England Natural Connections Project 2016 Q: It's a bit of a silly question, but do you have to actually have a nearby forest to take part in Forest School training? KH: No question is a silly question! You don't necessarily have to have woodland to use as it's the methodology that's important. We use the wood around Auchlone and have found it to provide children with many different learning opportunities, however not all settings have access to such a space. You can use any type of outdoor area from beaches to forests and even your own outdoor area. So long as there are sufficient outdoor resources and you are following the methodology go for it. Q: So how does the forest school methodology actually benefit children? KH: It builds up their confidence to survive and thrive in an outdoor environment. We use aspects of forest school at Auchlone and you can see how quickly children build their confidence and skills. At first, some of them can be hesitant but after a few weeks they all love it. They learn how and when to undertake Benefit Risk Assessments, how to use tools, and hit all their basic physiological needs: keeping warm, dry, having enough to eat, drink and use nature as a learning tool. Q: It definitely benefits children then, but how does it help educators and their settings? KH: A lot of educators that we work with find the idea of taking children outdoors quite intimidating, especially if it involves taking them into the beyond and remote locations. Completing forest school training can give them confidence to take children outside to learn and play. It will even help the educator boost their own skills and learn how to step outside of their comfort zone by taking risks. It of course looks good on your Curriculum Vitae and the outdoor paediatrics first aid course is something, in my opinion, all staff who take children outside should have. Settings should also be aware that while forest school is fantastic, it's not the only outdoor learning ethos out there. Settings should consider what it is they need and go for what will work best for their staff, location and resources.  Photograph: leaves on a Talkaround Mat after Auchlone Nature Kindergarten's leaf hunt Q: What is your favourite thing about Forest School? KH: I am a bit of a bush craft geek and so I love learning new crafts, knots and things to cook on the fire. I love taking these new ideas to the children at Auchlone and at our holiday camps and experimenting and playing with them. For instance, at our October Camp last year I brought in some jellyfish and tried to make some jellyfish burgers with the children. They did turn out more like risotto and I don't think the office staff were too happy when I forced them to try it [she laughs]. The children absolutely loved it though and wanted to learn more about fish which is the whole point. I also really enjoy tool care and maintanence - as any of my colleagues will tell you, I am quite fussy about our tools! Q: What would be your top forest school tips to an educator? KH: Be prepared! Always have your kit ready and frequently check it to make sure it's in good condition. Make sure you go with the interests of the children and the weather for that day. And don't be afraid to try new things - I am constantly looking for new ideas to share with colleagues and to try out. You can never know enough about nature and bush craft. There is always something to learn and so much online or in great books. Q: Finally, what would you say to anyone who is considering starting their Forest School training? KH: If you love the outdoors but are a little nervous about going outside it will reassure you and justify to others why you are doing it. If you're confident in the outdoors already it will still help to sharpen your skills and understandings and will give you the qualification you need to create or support a forest school setting. It's also a tonne of fun and you get to spend time with me - you should definitely do it! Mindstretchers is running Forest School Level 2 and Forest School Level 3 training in October this year. Get in touch or visit our Forest School page for more information.   

  • Floorbooks in a Gaidhlig Medium Setting: A tool for promoting language

    In this week's guest blog Chrissie Ford from Balivanich School talks about her experiences of using the Talking and Thinking Floorbooks Approach to develop both the Gaelic and English languages. Would you like your blog to feature on our website? Email enquiries@mindstretchers.co.uk.  We are based in a nursery which has two baby rooms (1-3 years) as well as two 3-5 rooms (one each Gaelic and English).  We have tried lots of different approaches to our planning but found it challenging, especially with our 1-3 rooms. Not only are they just learning to use language but some children were coming into the Gaelic room having never been exposed to the language before.  As we use the total immersion approach we found that the children were struggling a little with the language when they hadn't been used to hearing it. After attending Talking and Thinking Floorbooks Level 1 training with Mindstretchers we decided to introduce the approach and test it out. We realised early on that the children were not able to add many ideas due to the language barrier so we began to use a book as a centre focus in order to introduce basic language and give them the tools to develop their oral skills. We also try to follow the same book in both our baby rooms so that we are able to share ideas and as well as enable the children in the English room to learn some Gaelic.  Generally we use a book that we have in the Scottish Book Trust Bookbug bags as they are printed in both Gaelic and English.  Combining a story and a Floorbook in this way proved to be really useful in developing the oracy of both languages. Previously we have read: “We’re going on a bear hunt”/ “Tha sinn a dol a shireadh mathan” “Ten Little Pirates”/ “Na deich spuinnich beaga” As an introduction, we spend time reading the book to the children for a few days while creating a Talking Tub based on the book. We note down any comments that the children make during the reading and add these to our tub. After the first couple of readings, we find that the children have usually picked up one or two Gaelic words; we tell them that they are correct for any English words that they recognised and then repeat the word in Gaelic to support this. When we introduce the talking tub, we pass around the objects and observe how the children investigate them, what they do with them and anything they say about them. This is the information we use to expand our planning; follow the children’s interests to introduce and support child led activities. We record all the information in the Floorbook and anything specific to the child is recorded in their individual Family Books. An extra part to our planning is that at the beginning we go through the book we are using and we make a note of some of the words we would like to focus on by using the 3 tiers table from Highland Council’s Emergent Literacy approach.  This contains words we know the child knows (tier one), words we would like them to learn during the story (tier 2) and words that are more difficult and therefore ‘bonus words’ if they do learn them (tier 3).  We share this with the parents and each child has one in their home diary to allow parents to help us with their child’s learning. We also put one of these into individual Family Books and highlight the words the child is able to say/understand and date beside each one to allow parents to see progress, making the Family Book a good home link. I would say that developing Gaelic through using the Floorbooks has definitely been successful.  We have noticed that as we generally develop their learning using a book focus, they have specific sections of the book that they show interest in and from there it is easy for us as staff to be able to hone in and put a much deeper emphasis on that part of their learning and understanding.  We have also found that they are much more able to link learning from book to book and they quite often recall things that they learned in the past to what they are doing in the present.  We have certainly seen the use of language develop much faster than it used to and we think this is down to using the Floorbook to concentrate on the direction the children take us. It has been great to use in conjunction with the aforementioned Emerging Literacy approach.  Both approaches have tied in very well together especially with the age of the children we work with. Working with the same book focus in both the English and Gaelic rooms has developed the language really well amongst other children in both rooms; they are now becoming bilingual through linking words in the story together both in Gaelic and in English. I hope that this helps give a bit of inspiration into how we use Talking and Thinking Floorbooks and gives you some ideas as to how you can develop additional languages through Floorbooks. Would you like to know more about the Talking and Thinking Floorbooks Approach? Join Claire Warden for a live webinar or listen in to one of our pre-recorded webinars and improve your use of Floorbooks. Guest blog written by Chrissie Ford from Balivanich School. Would you like your blog to feature on our website? Email enquiries@mindstretchers.co.uk.

  • The Talking and Thinking Floorbook® Approach with Claire Warden

    In this short video, Claire Warden explores Talking and Thinking Floorbooks®. Transcript below. For more information about The Talking and Thinking Floorbook Approach® you can read Claire's book "Talking and Thinking Floorbooks" or join her for an online webinar. One of the questions I'm asked a lot about the Floorbook Approach is "is there a set sequence?" Like any methodology I would argue that you have to be responsive to what your children need on that particular day. But as a general rule, what you would tend to have is the first part of that cycle which is about noticing: it's about observing and seeing what children are doing and saying to you. So that becomes your starting point; it tells you where you journey is going to go. Then what you do is you have your Talking Tub; your Talking Tub is there to guide the conversation. It's not going to dictate or show children how to do things: it is going to provocate dialogue. Through those conversations with that talking tub at group time, or just generally in the main play environment, you start to hear more in-depth reflections. Then what you do is you write down those reflections - they go into the Floorbook and we write down verbatim, what children are talking to us about. We photograph their enquiries - both in the general and in the epistemic play environment, but also within the child and adult conversations. Then what you do is you have to analyse those voices because there will be so many. You analyse them to create the PLOD - the Possible Line of Direction or Development. In that, what you are saying is "we are going do this, or the activity", but you must always put on the PLOD why you're doing it. I'm going to do this because I'm going to learn this. I'm going to provide hammers and cloths in order to explore the place of chlorophyll in plants. By looking at the learning attached to the activity it means that we can get this much clearer connection for children. When we've done that, it's all very nice and you might stop at that point. But if you are going to use a Floorbook for planning and for documentation of that planning, then what you need to do at the back of your Floorbook is to have a 2D mind map which is called the Learning Journey. As you write those PLODs and tick and date them to say that they've been done, what you then do is transfer that into the line of enquiry map (the learning journey map) at the back of the book. This lets you say "if you want any information on what we did about plant dyes, find it on page 31." It is almost like an index to your Floorbook. For planning requirements in this country, Scotland, and in many other countries there is a curriculum. And the curriculum really is there to help people understand the breadth and balance of the experiences that children need to explore within a certain age frame. So what we do with ours is rather than cutting up that curriculum at the very beginning and "creating activities", we would say at the back of the Floorbook "these are all the outcomes" and then we tick them and page number/date them to say "we feel we have addressed this outcome through the experiences that you can see in this Floorbook."  All of that process takes time. People say "well how long does a Floorbook last?" Well it could last 3 weeks and then what happens is the interest dies away. Rather than stopping it completely, you just let it sit for a while and then you may find that that interest reemerges later. At this point, you would go back to the original Floorbook, date the page to show that gap, but then write and carry on the learning journey as it develops from that point. There is a lot of detail that comes into the Floorbook approach, but as an overview I would hold onto that use of the Floorbook to provoke conversation. The writing down, the language and the communication of the child in whichever way they communicate with you. Always think back about "what are we learning here?" and "what are the things that I can really help children to explore and develop?" There is a progression in thinking, and that is what makes the difference between a Floorbook and a learning journal or a scrapbook.  For more information about The Talking and Thinking Floorbook Approach® you can read Claire's book "Talking and Thinking Floorbooks" or join her for an online webinar.

  • 5 Ways to Help Kinaesthetic Children Learn

      “Kinaesthetic learners learn by experiencing in a practical way, through doing, moving and touching.” Call & Featherstone (2010) Kinaesthetic children learn through movement, both small and large scale. The Floorbook Approach developed by Claire Warden suggest different ways to facilitate learning for these children, by helping children: Work on the Talking and Thinking Tree as they move around during a session. Share thinking on consultation boards when they are outside. Share ideas on large outdoor Talking and Thinking Trees so they can run to and from the tree, gathering objects from around the nursery or outside. Share their ideas as they walk or crawl around the Talkaround Mat. Engage with 3D Talking Tubs so they can handle objects and talk at the same time.   What is a Talking and Thinking Tree? Through working with young children, and those that respond to movement based learning, Claire Warden felt there was a need to create a way for children to share their ideas whilst being on the move. The Talking and Thinking Tree can be an artificial tree or a real one. Its purpose is to focus the children on a point so that gathering their ideas becomes a physical, active process rather than a sedentary one.   Four reasons to use a Talking and Thinking Tree: Visualisation can boost the brain’s ability to remember information. Affirmation provided by the feedback loop of putting objects on a tree encourages children to share. The Talking and Thinking Tree focuses children in visual, kinaesthetic and sensorial ways. The accompanying talk stimulates the auditory sense. Children’s ideas can be sorted along physical ‘lines of thought’ to make planning more coherent. Any new strategy stimulates interest from a group of children. At first the interest takes over the thinking. Gradually as the novelty wears off children integrate the strategies into the main play room. The feeling of achievement must be powerful, since often reluctant writers will create leaf after leaf just to hang them on the tree. The feedback loop is immediate and encourages them to keep on recording their thinking. Children have a great ability to develop an understanding of the world around them; they will share it in a way that makes sense to them which is often not in the language or style the adults use.  The Talking and Thinking Tree is a strategy that allows kinaesthetic children to engage in learning at any stage of education.   If you would like to find out more about using Talking and Thinking Trees in your setting, Claire Warden is covering this topic in her next webinar on Thursday 7th December. From setting up the tree to using the leaves to explore lines of thought, Claire will explain the process from start to finish.  Find out more…    

  • Talking and Thinking Floorbooks: Consulting Children

    This blog is an excerpt from the introduction of Claire Warden's Talking and Thinking Floorbooks book. Please refer to Warden's full book for an in-depth insight into the approach and how to implement it into your setting. It would appear, from the training across the world, that people are aware of what they want to do, but lack a clear methodology to achieve it. The Talking and Thinking Floorbook has been adopted by many centres to support child-initiated planning. They are used in Primary classrooms to develop higher order thinking skills. The UK Department for Education created the foundation stage guidelines for Scotland, England and Wales and based them on certain principles. These principles state that practitioners are required to 'plan and organise the learning environment to provide experiences that build on what children already know'.  This will be demonstrated when practitioners 'enable children to become involved by planning experiences, which are mostly based on real life situations' These relevant, real life situations come out through the Talking and Thinking Floorbook as part of the consultation process. In a project called the Effective Provision for Pre-School Education (E.P.P.E.) Blatchford (2004) looked at the way that children use skills in contexts that are meaningful to them. In the creation of a munching monster that had tubes running through it the author states: 'This idea came from the children and they measured it up and developed it. The biggest problem came with trying to attach the cardboard tubes to the wall. In this way we became involved in shared thinking.'  When the E.P.P.E project looked at different types of experience they found that this type of thinking was particularly important in developing and extending concepts. The group writing in a Talking and Thinking Floorbook explores the shared thinking in a more formal way so that children recall each others ideas and record them through writing, diagrams and photographs. Many children re-visit the books and learn from a previous group's experience or indeed their own ideas from a previous session.  When children engage with an adult and discuss their ideas and thoughts they are entering into a partnership to 'find out'. Fisher (1996) states:  'If children know that they are being trusted and are being given the opportunity to make their own choices and decisions then they also know, because it is part of a negotiation made explicit by the teacher, that they have to fulfill their side of the bargain.' Recording the elements of the 'negotiation' allows children to remind themselves and the adult what they have agreed to do. Talking and Thinking Floorbooks create a child centred approach, which records the evidence of the process of play and the learning that comes from it.  The Talking and Thinking Floorbooks approach is made up of a number of facets that are outlined in the chapters throughout this book. The strategies are all interlinked and can be used when the adults feel the time is right.  The right to be consulted, and subsequently empowered to make decisions, lies at the heart of the way I work.  Consultation with children is important because:  It creates a closer match between the children and the curriculum they are experiencing;  It builds self-esteem and positive attitudes when the learner is involved in the decision making;  It increases the intrinsic motivation that stays with a children throughout life;  Children have a right to be treated with respect. As individuals, we can show respect by valuing their thoughts and opinions.  The initial thoughts, the evidence of the process of learning and play and a summary of ideas are collated in a Talking and Thinking Floorbook, which can reflect the progression over the learning journey.  Talking and Thinking Floorbooks have evolved in my practice over the last 28 years in response to working with children in a variety of environments. When they were initially used we called them Floorbooks because we made them with children on the floor. They then moved into the planning frame and were known as Big Book planners! The term I now use is a 'Talking and Thinking Floorbook' since it reflects their purpose. This purpose which is to encourage thinking skills through thinking skills through talking and listening together in a group, so that children are consulted and can then influence the opportunities taking place.  We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Claire Warden's Talking and Thinking Floorbooks. The full book is available in print copy and also as a digital e-book from the Mindstretchers website. We ship internationally and the physical print includes an A2 poster about Floorbooks and the planning process.   

  • Nurture through Nature: Metal and Sound

      This blog is an excerpt from Claire Warden's book Nurture through Nature. In this excerpt Warden discusses the use of metal as a natural resource to create learning experiences for young children. Please refer to Warden's full book to see the full chapter as well as how to use natural resources in your setting. The sound and feel of running a stick along a fence is firmly placed in childhood memories. Metal has a different sound that can be incorporated into experiences with more natural materials to enrich experiences for children.  The experiences for older children may well include observations of the changes in different types of metal. With very young children who are mouthing I do use stainless steel for its inert qualities whilst still giving wonderful auditory opportunities.  [I was recently] in Iceland in an area designed for two year olds. The sand was volcanic and therefore black. Children spend long blocks of time outside each day and were encouraged to risk assess. A group of 3 boys aged 2 years found some sticks on the far side of the outdoor area. The play started by drumming on the side of the wooden house, after 10 minutes of this exploration the boys split up and started to hit other objects. One found that the fence made a harder, louder noise. The noise attracted other boys to the area. they played on the fence for several minutes before carrying on their journey around the area. As part of that exploration they walked along a wooden platform in the eaves of the shelter. The sides of the hut are faced with corrugated iron panels. Using the same sticks the boy moved along the walkway alternating walking and running. By running their sticks along the fence the sound is linked to kinaesthetics. The adults here support their involvement with noise through offering metal objects to hang on strings alongside the hut. The resonance and vibration within metal gives a very distinctive sound. Creative outdoor areas should have a variety of experiences that explore the sound, reflection and use of metal.  Children are orally stimulated before birth. Some expectant mothers wear a metal pendant with an inner ball that creates a chime of a particular pitch. When this noise is heard after the baby is born it has a soothing effect since it is associated with the security of being in the womb. The sounds that surround children should be a balance of stimulation and harmony. Young babies take so much from the environment that we as adults have filtered out. It is very easy to bombard them with too much stimulation rather than allowing them to root themselves to someone.  Metal can be used for gentle outdoor chimes played by the wind for babies; toddlers can enjoy chime spaces that are full of metal tubes to run through and dance within. One aspect of any instrument is that there is enough space for the sound vibration. Creating sound walls with metal tubes, pan lids, metal car wheel hubcaps - will all need to be suspended a short distance away from the wall to create effective sound.  Imagine the joy of creating a musical tree covered with stainless steel rings that hum when you stand near to them - use a stainless steel musical wand to play the rings and there will be potential of wondrous musical opportunities.  Young children are kinesthetic and when movement is at the core of the outdoor area, we can use children's feet and movement as music. Offer Wellingtons, shoes or clogs with metal tips and watch to see the change in movement as the children enjoy auditory stimulation linked to kinetics - children start to dance on drain covers, even tap their feet whilst they are standing.  Metal spoons and metal pans make the best mud pies but since they are constantly damp it is worth considering the type of metal you use as many will rust very quickly. I would say however that rust is a part of a cycle of decay and can be used as an opportunity for discussion of environmental issues. Real pots and pans supported role play to create pretend food inside, and this was applied to play outside through the creation of food for a hedgehog. The containers that were provided included colanders, measures tubes and bowls to provide choice and exploration. Children under three engage in transformational play through most of their day since their pliable brain is creating connections between experiences. This enables them to store frameworks of understanding until they make a new discovery. The provision of metal materials inside and out will enable children to extend their thinking and application of their ideas.  In the rest of the chapter, Claire discusses a learning story about hollow stainless steel balls engaging children in transporting and trajectory schemas for longer blocks of time.    We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Claire Warden's Nurture through Nature. The full book is available in print copy and also as a digital e-book from the Mindstretchers website. We ship internationally.

  • Why should children go outdoors? The Potential of a Puddle.

    The following blog is an excerpt from chapter 1 of Claire Warden's Potential of a Puddle. This book discusses effective outdoor practice and advocates for children in nature. In chapter 1, Warden argues why she believes that all children should be able to play outdoors. Please refer to Potential of a Puddle to read all 8 of Warden's main arguments.  Given all of the apparent challenges, why do we still persist in the promotion of play in a high-quality outdoor environment? What unique benefits can children gain outdoors? A sense of freedom Many children lead 'organised' and often sedentary lives, whether indoors sitting at a computer or a television, at a club, or in a car. The freedom that many of us felt in our youth is being curtailed by highly structured experiences in enclosed environments that are usually indoors. Children need a sense of autonomy if they are able to develop a belief in themselves. Effective outdoor play provides a greater sense of freedom: for example the opportunity to make a large-scale structure that you want to hide in, a project that you want to develop over a series of days, using your own choice of materials, is full of emotional learning.  Freedom can be expressed through the amount of time provided, the space the children can access and the choice of resources.  Experiencing the weather Human beings are part of nature, but many children and adults have become removed from it. Nature is often conveniently packaged or sanitised so that we experience it only from inside a car, or on a walkway through a wood.  Young children have a natural connectedness to nature: their joy of standing in a puddle or watching a worm move is central to their understanding of who they are in the world. Instead of presenting nature in packages, we need to follow young children and engage in more experiences to feel it. Experiencing the weather is the one totally unique aspect of outdoor play. Children naturally move in an environment that is constantly changing from minute to minute and from season to season. These changes create an exciting space to play. Light changes, casting shadows and patterns of coloured light; the wind moves objects both fixed and free; the rain makes the world a shiny place with light bouncing off surfaces that previously looked dull.  Sensorial learning that changes with the seasons The sensory aspects of natural environments provide unique opportunities for learning outdoors. We now know a great deal about the way that learning takes place in the brain, and the sensorium is the part of the brain in which sensations take place. We all learn in different ways and have a preferred learning style. Plastic materials are widely used in centres to motivate young children, but they engage mainly visual learners. Sensory materials such as grass, leaves, water, mud, wood and rock all naturally occur in a well designed outdoor area. The sensorial experience of nature ensures that we feel the wind, smell the grass, hear the bird song, see the colours change and sometimes eat the carrots we have grown. "Children need to have space to be able to move with speed, to run, climb, balance and skip." Learning through movement Children need to have space to be able to move with speed, to run, climb, balance and skip. The physical mastery of the body is important for the reinforcement of the neural pathways in the brain that are connected to all aspects of learning. Children need to be stimulated by movement, whether through watching objects such as wind-socks, trees, kites or feathers blowing in the wind; through sitting on moving objects such as swings; or through controlling the movement of their own bodies.  Developing a positive attitude towards the world we live in: citizenship Involving children in the design, creation and care of the outdoor environment is an excellent and meaningful way of developing the skills and knowledge required to become caring and responsible citizens. For example, children can create small arable fields and then tend the plants with care and concern, from the first planting to the harvest of the crop. Experiential learning has been a model used in early education for some time, because it is effective. Watering plants, digging, handling mini-beasts that have an emotional connection to a child and are more likely to stay with them into adulthood. Involving children as partners in the learning process ensures that both adult and child see the outdoor area as a place for learning and teaching, a shared two-way process.   We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Claire Warden's Potential of a Puddle. The full book is available in print copy and also as a digital e-book from the Mindstretchers website. We ship internationally.

  • Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools - Creating a vision

    The following blog is an excerpt from chapter 1 of Claire Warden's Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools. This book provides valuable insights on how to create and manage a Nature Kindergarten or Forest School program. In chapter 1, Warden explains how she came to implement the first Nature Kindergarten in Scotland and explores the different values she used to underpin the approach. Please refer to Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools to read all 13 of her underpinning values.  'Tell me... What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?' -Mary Oliver The journey started several years ago when I received a phone call from a lovely person called Sarah. As a mother, she was looking for someone to support a local nursery to prevent its closure. My great 'Life Plan' had not included the development and implementation of a methodology. Sometimes life has a way of unfolding, and for me these forays have afforded a wealth of wonderful experiences across the globe. So, after a meeting with a group of parents we decided to develop the centre as our definition of a Nature Kindergarten linked to the models seen in parts of Scandinavia and Europe.  The term Nature Kindergarten has come to stand for our definition and approach of naturalistic wild spaces that provide children with a landscape in which to play for very long blocks of time. The approach or methodology about how you work with them in that space is as important and has key aspects that we consider to be effective and essential to our definition. A summary of the key aspects of Nature Kindergarten are defined in each chapter of this book. The Nature Kindergarten journey and this book that stems from it are personal to me. I would like the concept to be personal for you too and to this end, each chapter has some key points to think about or for you to follow on your journey.  Our decision to create a centre was an absolute conviction that 'natural' spaces both in terms of resources, environments and the mentoring skills of the staff are the most effective and appropriate for children. The more I see, the more it makes you reflect on what is defined as high quality childcare. As I travel the world listening to practitioners who work in a variety of spaces, with a variety of children and their families, I developed an opinion that some f the western traditions developing in childcare and education are not always the best for the inner child.  These are the values I use to underpin the approach we have: Small numbers of children in home styled spaceThe rise of large centres with hundreds of children on roll concerns me for both the emotional aspects of the children but also how the relationship develops with the families they come from, so we decided to create centres akin to children's houses, small units of no more than twenty children in local spaces, so that the link within the local community is supported and in some cases developed. The houses are set up to be just that, small units with cosy spaces, often with log stoves for heat, blankets and slipers make the lodges homely places with direct year round access to wild spaces, everyday.  Mixed age group sessionsThe children work in family groups with 2-5 years old in the same group, this creates what I feel is a more 'normal' way to learn. Family units have the natural age range and give the children a buffer zone where they can be 'emotionally polished' to smooth off some of the aspects and behaviours that do not suit a community based space. The apprenticeship approach to learning has been used for a long time in education and is very effective as long as all children within it experience challenge in their thinking.  Community hubIn some instances when families do not have extended family around them, urban lifestyles can actually lead to some isolation if there is no common meeting place. Day care of children whether playgroup, family centres, toddler groups or nurseries offer this forum for parents and carers to network and become involved in the community of the centre - a 'fellowship' as Froebel would have said. We decided to offer social experiences such as felt making classes, jewellery making, construction days, eco-days or family sessions for adults to create connections, both within nursery but also at weekends, holidays and evenings.  Open-ended resources in visually simple spacesThe rise of over-designed resources with too small a role for creativity can lead to children who are too prescribed in their thinking. The ability to vocalise and reflect, to inspire, and to problem solve are attributes that have come from a place where children have been given some autonomy and the space to 'think outside the box', both in terms of the curriculum and the spaces they are in. The resources we put into the centres are flexible and open-ended that ensures they have multiple uses across the curriculum. The spaces are defined after watching children and their play behaviours so that the organisation of the space makes sense to the children using it. For example the play dough or clay goes into a role play area or as a medium for connecting blocks or modelling characters to use in small worlds both inside and out.  Risk full learningThe most complex hazards are removed in the nature kindergartens, but the risk remains. The development of a risk adverse society is creating what Tim Gill calls the 'shrinking horizons of childhood' where the independence and freedom of childhood has been curtailed. If we listen to experts from other parts of the world such as America, we find Richard Louv talking of the 'criminalisation of natural play' through public response to children playing in a stream. On the other side of the world we find Sue Elliot who is supporting the development of naturalistic spaces in Australia. The global aspect of the work I now do provides me with the wonderful opportunity to meet the children and these people across the globe. There is a global trend towards risk aversion, but alongside it is a tenacious group of people fighting for a children's right to feel 'the knot in his stomach', the adrenaline, when you start to move out of the comfort zone. The naturalistic spaces are first and foremost for the children, their experiences outside have inspired many people to reflect on their own provision no matter how small or urbanised.  Eco friendly and sustainable livingThe rise of plastic and especially unrecyclable plastic materials has been a concern for the company for some time. Previously, increases in Local Authority funding and grants has lead to a rapid advance in the amount of plastic equipment in centres that in the cause of technology are designed to ping and 'whirr'. There are two aspects of this that concern me. Firstly, is the environmental impact where the amount of plastic going into landfill sites is truly staggering. Given that the children using the resources are going to be the ones facing the waste minimisation and handling it is only right that we start to ask questions on their behalf so that the earth is still beautiful in sixty years time. Where do broken resources from educational spaces go? Do people ask about the disposable options when they buy a resource? Our approach has risen out of an ecological awareness. It almost passes as a given that all the Nature Kindergartens hold a green eco school status. For international readers, this is a quality indicator in Scottish education that ensures that centres work in environmentally aware communities, encouraging children to reduce waste, power use, litter, water use, and promote sustainability, healthy eating, biodiversity and the use of school grounds.  Secondly, the closed resources often have very limited play affordance and therefore flexibility to the learner. If too much emphasis is placed ojn the artificiality of materials, trying to replicate reality, I would question why not just use real materials. In most cases they are far more sustainable, especially if they have had a natural evolution, for instance wooden wheels.  We hope you enjoyed this except from Nature Kindergartens and Forest Schools by Claire Warden. The full book is available from the Mindstretchers shop in both a physical print format as well as a digital e-book. We are able to ship internationally. 

  • 4 Teachers Get Off a Train by Tony McNicoll, Tree of Knowledge

                 Blog by Tony McNicoll from Tree of Knowledge. Would you like to have your blog featured on our website? Email steven.watson@mindstretchers.co.uk for more information. An English teacher, a Maths teacher, a Music teacher and a PE teacher are travelling by train to a conference for some thoroughly exciting CPD. They alight from the train – the only time you ever alight from anything – and walk to the station exit. They are faced with four options to get to the conference centre. There is a limo driver waiting, a taxi rank just outside with a short queue, a bus-stop nearby and the centre is only a 20 minute walk away. A quick decision is reached that they will race to the centre, each taking a different mode of transport.  They toss a coin, play rock paper scissors, have a quick dance off and end up with the English teacher taking the limo, the maths teacher taking a taxi, the music teacher getting a bus and the PE teacher – being permanently clad in shorts and running shoes anyway – setting off on foot. They arrive at the centre, English teacher first buzzing from the 5 minute limo drive, all excited but not sure why, like a hen do without a hen. Maths takes ten minutes to get there, enjoying a chat with the taxi driver. Music gets dropped off after a quarter of an hour on a city centre bus before waiting five minutes more for PE to stroll around the corner. PE gets a bit of friendly banter for holding everyone up of course which they take in good humour. Conversation immediately centres on English’s limo drive. What was it like? Was it amazing? How did English feel after their VIP treatment? English enjoys the attention and is beaming ear to ear and genuinely feels like a million bucks. Maths and Music have been in taxis and buses before of course so don’t have much to say about their trip, PE is envious now seeing how happy English seems but is refreshed after a quick walk. By the end of the conference our cheery group have been separated by the interminable plenary sessions and networking opportunities so they go off to seek dinner individually. Meeting later on in the hotel bar they discuss their success in finding a tasty meal. English seems frustrated and is already on their second double G&T. They had no idea where to go and resorted to Trip Advisor reviews which indicated that everywhere is awful, nowhere is worth the money and all the staff in the city are atrociously antisocial. In desperation English stayed at the hotel restaurant and paid £27.50 for a cheese toastie and £14.00 for an additional portion of chips – which came in an egg cup. 2/10, would not recommend. Maths isn’t quite as frustrated as their taxi driver tipped them off that the best curry in the city was just around the corner. Arriving, Maths had found the place full of conference delegates occupying tables for one. Apparently, the place was run by the taxi driver’s brother and they split the proceeds from his recommendations. Not a lot of atmosphere and serving food that managed to make a curry as characterful and interesting to the palate as a tin of macaroni cheese. Still better though, they all agreed, than the hotel’s offerings. Music seems in a better mood. They spotted a decent looking place when their bus stopped at one point, no time to check the menu however. Food was acceptable and reasonably priced but Music would have preferred a more extensive choice. With much head-nodding, this was voted the best option so far. All eyes turn to PE who has been the quietest in commenting and commiserating. “Well,” says PE, “I must have passed 15 to 20 restaurants as I walked to the centre. I had a look at all the menus along the way and chatted to some of the staff. But there was one that really stood out. The head waiter told me they had a special on tonight that would be right up my street and if I brought a few friends from the conference we would get some special treatment. Sure enough, in my last session today I let them know about the place and they all came along to check it out. We had a great time! Just the sort of food I like, great service and we got complimentary desserts as there were so many of us!” Nothing but envy from the other three. Before this revelation, they were colleagues and friends. Now however, daggers are being looked from three directions straight to PE. Why, they demand, didn’t you tell us about this place earlier on? We could have met you there! Well, responds PE, we were so busy asking about English’s limo that there wasn’t time. Sitting back, they all ponder the day’s events. Sure, English got a sweet deal with a fancy, flash lift, getting to the conference in record time but the buzz had worn off before first coffee break - what had they benefited in the long run? Maybe PE had the slowest and most physically tiring journey but they benefited from having time. Time to stop, time to look, time to learn. You have time in a limo too of course, time to stare at the crystal disco ball, rummage through the empty minibar, push all the buttons and make the electric tinted windows go up and down, time to take one thousand nine hundred and thirty-eight duck-faced selfies, time to wave and shriek out the window at people who aren’t in the limo – which is the whole point of being in a limo: to remind as many people as possible as loudly as possible that it’s you in the limo, not them. But being the posh fancy person in the posh fancy limo ends the instant you arrive and you step out the door. Then your back to being just another boring muggle. And once you’re on the pavement, all that nonsense you’ve been focusing on suddenly seems more and more just that: nonsense. Buzzy filler in your day. Before you were caught up in the whirl – now though, it’s over and time to move on. But to where? To what? And why??? All the way there you’ll have missed seeing the blue skies, feeling the warm sun. You’ll have bypassed the smell of the coffee shops and buzz of the city.  You’ve not taken the time to look around and see what’s going on, where you are and what’s on offer. To be present. To be…… where you are. No wonder you feel disoriented and confused at times, unsure of your next step. No wonder you worry about what’s coming next. Tomorrow will always be there. Worrying about it today makes you reach for your phone for a distraction. Blocks your chance of taking a useful step towards what it is you truly want to achieve. And what is that? What’s the big dream? The hugely important goal? That massive life-purpose-affirming aspiration? How could you possibly know unless you’ve walked your own path in your own shoes and felt the impact each and every single time your foot struck the ground? Even if the limo is there to make your journey quick and easy, sometimes it is better to walk. Walk every step of the way on your own two feet. Look around, learn about where and who you are. Once you arrive, that’s all you need to know. At Tree of Knowledge we passionately believe in the tangible benefits that first class motivational speaking, team building and leadership workshops can bring. If you'd like to learn more about our inspirational workshops, please contact happy@treeof.com. Blog by Tony McNicoll from Tree of Knowledge. Website: www.treeof.com Twitter: https://twitter.com/Tree_Of  Follow Tony on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tonypresents Facebook: www.facebook.com/tree.of.knowledge LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/company/tok-scotland-ltd

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