Haere mai! Welcome to Mairtown Kindergarten's blog.

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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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,

Thursday, 3 May 2018

The Story Continues: Capturing Children’s Thoughts and Ideas (Thinking about Sunflowers)

Last term I wrote about the beginning adventures of our some of our work with sunflowers, I mentioned how we spent a great deal of time wondering, questioning, examining and making discoveries about these beautiful flowers though our use of observational drawing. Many of our children at Mairtown have fully engaged in these opportunities to draw, but for those that chose not to, they still participated by watching their friends with interest and certainly joined in the many lively conversations we had been having as they carefully examined the flowers. These conversations have generally revolved around the three questions I used to guide the children’s thinking: What do you know about sunflowers? What do you notice as you look at the sunflowers? And What do you think or wonder about? (to read the original post from a couple of months ago click here).

Our conversations and discoveries have certainly been enlightening and very rewarding. As the children have each discussed their own knowledge, observations, thoughts and wonderings they have shared these with me and their peers. What I love when listening to children working together in groups, is when their ideas don’t always match those of their friends – when they disagree!  This is when thinking really opens up, more debating happens which of course enhances the learning for all involved.

'Remarkable things can happen when children work in small groups investigating topics that fascinate them as they build on each other’s discoveries and explanations'. Ursula Kolbe

However, as time moved on and our work gradually progressed we began to discuss the idea of translating the stunning 2-dimensional drawings and paintings that had been created, into 3 dimensional sculptures. As their teacher, my aim here was to continue to pursue the children’s interest in these gorgeous flowers, in particular the structural element of them, to encourage the children to continue their work as the self-motivated scientists they had become so far. So, with a focus on structure, detail and texture, (I really felt we needed to use a textural resource), we initially turned to clay. At Mairtown we are very familiar with using clay, so this also seemed a natural choice for the children and one that everyone was happy about, diving eagerly in.

Thinking in three dimensions demands an imaginative leap, and the plastic malleable nature of clay makes it an ideal medium for learning about form (NCCA).

Clay is a medium we value greatly at Mairtown, and it’s for that reason that it is available almost every day for the children to explore and create with. One of the great things about clay is that it is highly responsive to touch whilst also being very forgiving. As soon as children pick up their clay they instinctively begin to mould and shape it. It is them that is in charge and they soon realise they can command the clay’s movements through their own self-expression and imagination. The other benefit, is that it allows children to try out a theory, make a mistake, and then alter it if this wasn’t quite right or what they had in mind.

Making mistakes is essential for self-improvement but can be difficult and even an obstacle for some children. The forgiving quality of clay, and therefore the ability to readily fix mistakes, gives the child a sense of control over their projects success which improves self-esteem and self-expression as they realise that mistakes aren’t going to stop their progress. (P. Storms)

As we sat down to begin creating our sunflowers, it became clear how engaging in clay work (like drawing) is also a language for children to explore and communicate all their ideas. The clay allowed the children to revisit their past drawings, or for some that hadn’t engaged in drawing, their past conversations and observations. With the clay the children looked at the outline of the sunflower, the way it stands up, the thickness and length of the petals, incorporating this thinking into each sculpture.

Like drawing, clay work enables children to make their ideas visible – but in three dimensions. It can be an exciting experience for children to discover that they have made something with a ‘back’ and ‘sides’ as well as a ‘front’, and even an ‘inside’ and an ‘underneath’ (Kolbe, 2009).

Seeing how eager and involved the children were in this work, I opened up the idea that they could also choose to add any other resources to their work in order to create their final sculpture.  Some of the resources the children choose to draw upon were beads, feathers, wire and paint, whilst a selection of tools the children used in order to assist them in their work were bowls, sticks, fabric, wire cutters, pliers and hot glue guns.

A few children seeing the wire choose to create their whole pieces with this resource, interestingly a resource that is still fairly new to them, so therefore this took great practice and learning, in order to gain control over. Wire is much trickier to control than you initially think. For example, Max noticed when he worked on his wire petals, ‘Just as I get it right, it moves again into something else!’

Enabling children to revisit and therefore revise their ideas about sunflowers is an essential aspect of learning. Each new resource offered to the children drew attention to a different aspect of the flower. By using a range of different tools, techniques and materials they were truly able to explore an idea in much greater depth and from multiple perspectives. For instance, many children were able to use their original drawings to guide their sculptural work, and I am wondering if some may take the opportunity to now use their sculpture to refine their drawings, based on their new discoveries?

Sculptural work, is fascinating and takes over the whole body, indeed often quite literally requiring the strength of the child’s whole body to manipulate the desired material into position. Watching the children at their work, I was mindful not to question as I had in our earlier work with drawings. I let the children talk to me and of course responded, but I felt my questions would have distracted them from their deep and meaningful exploration. I didn’t need the children to verbalise their thinking, knowledge or learning. Quite simply by watching them at their work, as they created these beautiful pieces, I could see the knowledge, the thinking and the learning each individual child had discovered about the sunflowers. The perspective of each child is quite clear when you look at the finished sculptures.

Each time children re-visit their work, their thinking deepens: they recognise inconsistencies, notice new details highlighted by a particular medium, and see things from a new perspective, or discover connections among them (Pelo, 2007).

The variety of work has been amazing, and each sculpture is so different. Even though I kept my own dialogue to a minimum during the children’s work, most children did choose to revisit the questions we have pondered on earlier at some point, What do we know about sunflowers, What have we observed about sunflowers, and What we wondered about with sunflowers? Most of this sharing occurred at the end of their work. Perhaps this was when their minds were free to discover what they had sculpturally created and to then use this as a visual cue to explore their thinking at an even deeper level.

Here is some of this thinking:

Georgia: Some petals are not fat, and some are fat…I need to leave space here for the stalk…all sunflowers have petals and they have stripes on the petals and on the stalks. If they didn’t have stalks they would fall to the ground. Sunflowers are so soft, and they need lots of sun.

Max: I made it all metal, it’s a sunflower made from beads, orange and yellow. So, you see, sunflowers have petals, seeds a stalk and leaves. They need lots of water and sun too. I really like this (looking at his sculpture) it’s cool, It looks like a real sunflower but it has a stick instead of a stalk.

Amelia: The petals are yellow and see, they have lines. I’ll do lines too after I painted them yellow. They have lots of seeds, brown and black and brown and black. The stalk is taller (than I have made), but I can’t do mine taller, it too falley over if I do that.

Painting is so poetic, while sculpture is more logical and scientific and makes you worry about gravity. Damien Hirst

Ngā mihi nui,