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Nau Mai Haere mai. Welcome to Mairtown Kindergarten's blog.

21 Princes Street, Kensington, Whangarei, New Zealand

Phone: 09 437 2742

Email: mairtown@nka.org.nz

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Thursday, 21 June 2018

Fire Thursday provides valuable learning

Autumn is such a beautiful time of year, where the leaves start to fall off the trees and more importantly the temperature starts to cool down to winter.  These are exciting times for us at kindergarten as we patiently wait for the weather to change and the temperature drop so we can start our open fire for cooking.  I was pretty excited when I realised that Christine and I would be the lucky teachers cooking on our first fire for winter 2018.

Our fire day helps to rekindle my own childhood memories of cooking on an open fire. There is certainly something special about sitting around the fire on a cool winter’s day, cooking delicious food.  That is exactly what we do at Mairtown kindergarten; during our cool winter months we hold our greatly anticipated ‘Fire Thursday’. 

This is our seventh year of holding weekly fires every Thursday morning during term two and three.  Now it is truly a well-loved tradition at kindergarten and our children fondly know Thursday as ‘Fire Thursday’. 

The creation of fire is an essential factor of a Nature programme.  It is one of the four elements and provides opportunities for children to experience success and self-accomplishment when starting a fire from scratch that will ultimately cook food.

I love how our fire day provides our children with so much valuable learning.  Well before the first fire is lit, we engage with our kindergarten community to discuss our plans to minimise risks associated with having fire.  During the build up to the first fire we engage with our children to share and discuss thoughts of how to keep safe around fire. It so lovely to see our children who have experienced ‘Fire Thursday’, take on the role of leadership in sharing the rules and reflecting about what they enjoy.

Whānau time provides an excellent opportunity to have discussions and share ideas about how to be safe around the fire.  We actually bring our fire (not lit) inside onto our mat, where we get our children to role model how to keep themselves safe around the fire. Keeping everyone safe is our key priority, one of the many measures we have in place is a safety bubble that is drawn around our fire. 

Important rules that our children shared; “No going in the safety bubble, only the teachers are allowed to go in there.” “Walking around the fire, cause if you run you might get burnt.”  “No scarfs or capes by the fire cause if it’s windy it might blow them in the fire.”  “If you be silly near the fire, the teachers will tell you to go away.”

I think it is brilliant how our children seem to have a sense of responsibility for their own well-being and that of others.  I know that our children are excellent at remembering the rules and are quick to point out if I am wearing a scarf on fire day.  Wisdom Commons describes responsibility as ownership and committing ourselves to lead, to create, to solve problems and then following through.  It involves taking risks and working hard.  Being responsible can be daunting but also rewarding.  (Wisdom Commons)

Our children are involved throughout the process of preparing the fire, and all have great expertise and knowledge of what is required to get the fire going.  There are always keen helpers to scrunch the newspaper, and lay the kindling ready for the teachers to light.  Of course there is the food to prepare too and our children can choose to be involved with measuring the ingredients, working the dough and picking the rosemary to cut it and add to the oil. 

Cooking is all about people.  Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together.  No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat.  Guy Fieri

The key purpose of our fire is to cook kai; so far this season we have had a particular favourite of the homemade garlic and rosemary bread (including gluten-free).  Previously our menu has also included cheese toasties, pikelets and delicious little sausages.

Sometimes once the fire is lit it can take a little while for the fire to heat up enough to start cooking.  These times can provide the perfect opportunity for our children to practice their patient muscles while they wait for their turn to cook.  I believe it is a valuable lifelong skill to learn patience and know that they will eventually get to cook.  Childspace explains Patience is about waiting and having confidence in a positive outcome.  When we are patient we are able and willing to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay.  We work with quiet, steady perseverance and diligence.

One thing I love about winter is having a fire and I know Fire Thursday is very much looked forward to by many.  It is wonderful to sit around the lovely warm fire on a cool winter’s day, to sit and chat or sing with each other and cook delicious kai, hopefully creating many new memories and skills for lifelong learning.

Everybody loves fire!  Fire is amazing, beautiful and warm.  It has historically brought people together.  It’s where you come to make food and sing and tell stories.  (Eric Westervelt, April 3, 2015)

Ngā mihi, Susie

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Revisiting how we 'prepare' children for school at Mairtown Kindergarten!

Transition to school and how early childhood services 'prepare' children for school are continuously a hot topic of conversation for both parents and caregivers and teachers alike. Recently I have had a number of conversations in regards to this topic with whānau from Kindergarten so I thought it would timely to re-share a blog I wrote a few years back.

 We often get asked how we support children in getting ready for primary school. How do we teach them their ‘ABC’s and 123’s?’ and there is the occasional question thrown our way in regards to whether we run a ‘four year old or school prep’ programme. The response that we have to these queries is often meet with surprise and astonishment.

As a team at Mairtown we are very clear about how we view ‘school readiness’ and how this is implemented into our programme and the environment. This view is underpinned by a number of aspects which include building on children’s social competencies, developing independence, and developing good attitudes towards risk taking and learning. 

This is supported by plentiful opportunities for free play, lots of hands on ‘real’ experiences, using the arts as a language for children to express their ideas and knowledge, allowing children to revisit learning experiences over and over and through having an environment that is predicable (to name just a few things). 

We believe that if we support children in a holistic manner then they will thrive, their self-confidence will grow, which will in turn give them an array of skills that they can utilise not only during their transition to school but also throughout their lives.

I thought I would break a few of these aspects down briefly. So firstly, why is developing social competencies important for getting ready for school? Developing positive social competencies supports children in working well with others, it helps with self-regulation and communicating feelings. All these skills are welcomed warmly when children enter their new entrant classroom.

Rubin and Rose-Krasnor (1992) define social competence as, “the ability to achieve personal goals in social interaction while simultaneously maintaining positive relationships with others over time and across situations.”

As teachers of young children we foster developing strong social competencies by celebrating and giving a lot of positive praise when we see children working hard on regulating their emotions, communicating their feelings, listening, negotiating, sharing, turn taking and showing empathy. Play is one of the best ways that children explore different ways that social competencies work.

Play is something that we celebrate and don’t take for granted as we know that children use play to explore many different concepts, life skills and learning areas. It is disappointing when we hear comments about how children are ‘just playing’ so we will defend play and its greatness by explaining the importance of it, how this supports learning and preparation for school. Play involves working together, concentrating and following through with tasks, being creative, exploring language and self-expression, building on confidence, developing gross and fine motor skills to name just a few things.

Davis (2014) acknowledges that "Play isn’t some sort of soft approach before the ‘real’ learning begins. That idea is a hangover from education’s industrial era. Play has been consistently described across time as central to cognitive, language, cultural, and social development.”

At Mairtown Kindergarten we thoughtfully provide an engaging environment, follow children’s interests, actively listen to the child, give them time and space and allow children the access to authentic and real experiences. By doing this we are showing that we value them and the flow on effect is that they feel empowered and encouraged to give things a go. Having a positive attitude towards trying things out is also going to be of great value in the classroom and through out life.

“Children understand and remember concepts best when they learn from direct personal experience.”  (Joseph Cornell)

Having a positive attitude towards risk taking and doing things that make you feel a little worried creates lots of empowering learning experiences. We create an environment that promotes risk taking, encourages children to assess risk and work out what is appropriate etc. We gently assist them through these experiences, small steps to large leaps.

"Risk perception is like a muscle that needs to be developed and flexed."  (Blincoe, 2015)

Risk taking is not only tree climbing and rock jumping, risk taking can be supported in many areas for example the simple act of putting pen to paper, asking another child to play with them and using the hot glue gun after burning the end of their finger. All of this helps develop a positive attitude towards risk taking and is wonderful for lifelong learning.

 “Successful learners have positive beliefs and attitudes towards learning. They are not afraid of new experiences and can see learning opportunities in many different settings.” 
(Alberta, 2002)

 A predictable environment, full of open ended resources is another tool that we use to support our children in developing skills and knowledge to support their ‘school readiness’. By providing an environment that is predictable this nurtures a strong sense of belonging for our children and their families as they quickly learn where they can find things and access resources to support their interests. Open ended resources are so wonderful because they support creative thinking and meaningful engagement for our children.

Along with this we also leave resources and experiences set out for lengthy periods of time to allow children to revisit experiences over and over again. We know that new learning is influenced greatly by past learning and children’s developing knowledge is fostered greatly when they have the opportunity to continually revisit learning experiences. “If we continually change the materials, experiences and resources that children play with, then we risk short-changing children’s experience. While some change is important to maintain children’s interest and introduce new ideas, change for the sake of change reduces the chances children have to re-engage with and master materials and ideas. Children will benefit more from deep involvement with a few well-chosen experiences than from superficial involvement with many.” (NQS-PLP, 2012).

 So while children are involved in all this play based learning in our thoughtfully set up environment they are engaging with many different learning concepts that they will take with them to primary school. They are playing with mathematical, scientific and literacy concepts to name just a few things. Children are more motivated to engage in meaningful learning experiences when they are having fun and their interests are acknowledged.

We want our children to leave Mairtown Kindergarten capable and competent, with a wonderful attitude towards learning and risk taking. We want them to have a bag of tricks full of skills and knowledge that will give them the confidence to ‘give things a go’ and not be afraid to not always succeed at a task, knowing that in failure comes rich learning.

One of the biggest and most frustrating comments that we hear every so often is, ‘Now my child is heading off to school to do real learning!’ At Mairtown we have children who are living and breathing meaningful learning every day and we are proud to be providing them with these opportunities. This is the time when children are developing lifelong learning skills, attitudes and ways of being that will support them for many years to come. We take our jobs of fostering this very seriously, we are professionals who care deeply about what we do and in no way want to stifle our children’s desire to learn about and question their world. Yes we want our children to know how to write their names, recognise colours, shapes and how to count to ten. However more importantly we want them to feel empowered and valued and we whole heartedly try our hardest to accomplish this. 

“The goal of early childhood education should be to activate the child’s own natural desire to learn.” (Maria Montessori)

Hei konā mai,