Reflections on Dr Lynn McNair’s Keynote at Froebel: Gifts for Our Future 9 by John Dagger

Before hearing Lynn speak at the Gifts for Our Future conference, I had been pre-warned that the content of her presentation might be upsetting.  The title ‘Rules, Rules, Rules, and We’re Not Allowed to Skip’ had already set transition alarm bells ringing and I was not expecting to be uplifted!

Lynn began by grounding the audience in some important Froebelian principles, with ‘discipline being a non-issue in a well conceived educational programme’ jumping out at me in particular.  I have worked for many years in the early stages, and mostly in P1.  More recently I have been practicing in Nursery and the topics of discipline, rewards and self directions are ones I have discussed with colleagues often, especially those still in P1.

It wasn’t very long before Lynn was talking about Golden Time, and the sun and cloud charts that are used with this reward and sanctions system.  My heart sank.  I had used these in my classes.  I thought I had used them well.

I had read about Golden Time many, many years ago, and it had made sense to me at the time.  Everyone else was using it . . . but I had never taken the time to really ask myself “WHY?”  Why do I need this idea of punishment – of loss – of being ‘bad’ or ‘naughty?’  And, more importantly why didn’t the nursery need this system?

In my latter years in P1 I’d like to hope that the system wasn’t really being used – It was just ‘there’.  I had moved on to a much more play based curriculum and interdisciplinary method of teaching and learning.  But it was still there.  In the background.  Looming. . .

It upsets me to think of the pressure I had most likely and unwittingly placed upon my learners.  I have heard first hand, from ex pupils currently in P1 visiting my nursery of how they view the sun and the clouds.  One girl was telling me just a few weeks ago how she worries about a boy in her class who is always on the black cloud.  Knowing the wee lad in question makes me wonder how well he understands the rules of his new environment.  English is an additional language for him, and I suspect he may be finding new routines difficult to understand.

Lynn touched on EAL in her presentation mirroring my thoughts, before moving onto classification.

I made my peace with ‘PIPS’ many years ago (A baseline and end of year assessment tool used in every P1 in Scotland).  They had to be done.  Simple as that, so I made them a game.  I have never ‘taught to the test’ and agree with Lynn who noted that ‘this type of pedagogy celebrates rote learning, memorising and high-stakes testing, while it produces an atmosphere of child passivity and teacher routinisation.’  Froebelian practitioners embrace freedom from rote learning as it opens the door to understanding, and, as I have always championed, all learning has to start from where the learner is.

Lynn then turned her attention to how the curriculum is designed in many Primary settings.  How it can often be a ‘top down’ controlled system, closely aligned with corporate power and military values.  She shared with the audience the words of a P1 explaining how they felt about ‘groups’ and how good or bad a child is at learning in relation to these.  John Hattie’s research would certainly support the child’s question as to why they were even being grouped in the first place.  I was very lucky in my final year as a class teacher to have been in a school which recognised the power of mixed ability learning, of collaborative learning and of challenged based, skill focused learning.   In that last year I even took the plunge and had no groupings in my class.  Everyone made progress.  I was happier, and I hope the children were too.

Lynn concluded by focusing on the transition process and how children view their own school readiness.  Her words have made me reflect on the transition policy we have in place in my current setting, and as Lynn noted, it is probably well intended – but possibly not well enacted.

Lynn’s presentation has already caused much dialogue between myself and colleagues within and beyond my setting.

Lynn’s presentation, although difficult to hear, has held a mirror up to every practitioner involved in transition.

We have been challenged.

We have been challenged to consider new possibilities and to focus on play.

I plan on rising to the challenge.

 

John Dagger

Head Teacher,

Mount Esk Nursery School

Froebel: Gifts for Our Future 9 – Graphic Record

Those who attended the Froebel: Gifts for Our Future 9 Conference in October, may remember Albi Taylor, busily working away at the back of the hall creating a record of the proceedings.

We are delighted to be able to share this wonderful record of the day with you now.

FROEBEL Graphic

More about Albi’s work can be found on her website here.

Conference Review by Alison Hawkins

What an amazing and inspirational Froebel conference took place in Edinburgh yesterday. It was attended by 320 delegates, plus behind the scene stalwarts who beavered away to provide an interesting, thought provoking agenda. It was opened with a précis of the history of Froebel’s influence across our nation and the important message that our Froebelian Practice is essential in countering the somewhat utilitarianism of the current educational climate. We were implored to continue our reflective practice and stick with our philosophy – now backed by the evidence of neuroscience. It was stated that Froebelians provide nurturing environments indoors and out which allow children to develop and to be their own person with their own voice.

Dr Lynn McNair then gave an account of her PhD research ‘Rules, rules, rules and we’re not allowed to skip’. More than one person was moved to tears as she described (in a rapid romp through) her findings, punctuated by the quotes of children and their families – illustrating the contrast between early years’ settings and P1….though there was acknowledgement of the ‘change that is afoot’. I have witnessed so often the exact scenarios she articulated as ‘past pupils’ visit and bemoan the lack of play, choices and opportunities to decision-make at school.

Jane Dyke then took the floor and we heard an entertaining and uplifting account of the history and development of ‘Yellow Dot’ nurseries. Jane, after meeting Edinburgh Froebelians and Prof Tina Bruce, embarked on turning the whole ethos of her nursery chain around into settings which properly serve children, enrich their daily lives and provide love and attention as would be found in a child’s home. What I thought was particularly helpful to many was Jane’s repeated comment that nothing was turned round overnight, and that they remain on a journey. For those endeavouring to alter practice (perhaps ‘fighting’ to alter practice) this was a reassuring model.

In the afternoon workshops resulting from a two year story-telling research project, were held. Practitioners – sponsored by the Froebel Trust – had set out to discover ‘what impact has story telling on language development in early years?’. Ten presentations were given which summed up the paths in which the research had gone in various settings, and gave illustrations of the methodology used, and the outcomes.

It is certainly also worth mentioning the coffee and pastries plus the delicious vegetarian lunch which punctuated the day!

I was very proud to have Wester Coates Nursery School so well represented!

Saturday Seminar – Woodwork

On Saturday 3rd June, we held our third Saturday Seminar which explored woodwork as a Froebelian occupation.

The seminar was led by Pete Moorhouse, an Artist Educator and Early Years Consultant who has extensive experience of working with young children on woodwork. Pete’s practice has been very much influenced by Froebel’s principles. He is passionate about hands and minds working together and encouraging creativity. He has been trying to get schools all over the country to reintroduce woodwork, and is always looking for opportunities to spread the word about the wonders of creative woodwork for early years children.

Pete talked to us about the history of woodwork with children which can certainly be traced at least as far back as Froebel. By the turn of the nineteenth century, almost all schools provided woodwork for children and it was an integral part of early years pedagogy. Both the Rachel McMillan Open Air Nursery School and Susan Isaac’s the Maltings House School incorporated woodwork areas. By the 1950’s and 60’s schools were turning away from woodwork and by the 1980’s and 90’s it was almost completely gone from nurseries due to a culture of litigation and fear of risk.

However, woodwork empowers children, it builds confidence and gives children a sense of agency. It covers most areas of the curriculum and supports children to think critically and solve problems.

Not having a woodwork area means that children miss out on important experiences including the opportunity to assess and manage risk.

Pete then introduced us to the tools that were most appropriate to use with children and we explored how to use them.

We had lots of opportunities to give it a go and create our own objects.

Seminar feedback

“A workshop not to be missed! So many tips and tricks to ensure working with wood and tools is a successful and fulfilling experience for children. Great to have the opportunity for the practical experience too – very therapeutic!”

“[I] now have more confidence in the use of tools and how to introduce these to the children. I was reminded of how many learning opportunities are supported through woodwork.”

“[It’s] given me a great insight into the possibilities at the woodwork bench and how we can extend what we are already doing.”

“Having attended this session with hardly any woodwork experience, I am leaving inspired, confident and excited to develop the skill, knowledge and practice of woodwork with the children, staff and families.”

“The light bulb moment has to be the sanding board, so simple yet so effective.”

“I can’t wait to set our woodwork bench set up and get going!”
Pete Moorhouse’s website can be found here.

Pete’s book Woodwork in the Early Years, can be found here as a downloadable pdf or ordered as a print copy.

 

Wee Builders @ the National Galleries of Scotland

The Edinburgh Froebel Network is supporting the Wee Builders project at the National Galleries of Scotland, which aims to welcome more children and families to the Galleries. The Network is lending sets of mini unit blocks for children to use to build their own creations in the Scottish National Gallery, inspired by the art around them.

 

Saturday Seminar – Schema

On the 27th May we held our second Saturday Seminar which explored how understanding children’s schema, supports mark making and early literacy.

The seminar was led by Stella Louis, an accredited Froebel travelling tutor who has been involved in extensive work on sharing knowledge and understanding of young children’s schemas with parents.

The seminar focused on helping practitioners to use schema theory to analyse children’s symbolic representations and plan next steps to better understand the links between, symbolic representation, mark marking, thinking and emergent writing.

Books about Schema

Stella described how schema are life long, cross cultural and travel over space and time. Stella challenged us to identify drawings by a young child, prehistoric art or art from another culture. It was a challenge!

Examples of radial schemas – who drew them?

Feedback from participants included

“[I now have] a much deeper understanding of observation interconnections and the vital role the adult plays in supporting schematic behaviour.”

“Keen to continue to develop my knowledge of schema and share with colleagues the huge emotional importance of schemas and the importance to children’s development.”

“As a team [we’re going to] look at quality of observations, planning and resources to support and extend.”

“So much to take away from today. This will influence future staff meetings.”

“I will carefully consider my observation and would like to support others at work to do the same – considering SIGNIFICANT learning and how to develop concepts behind particular schemas.”

“[I] valued the opportunity to revisit this subject in some depth and to be inspired by Stella. Will now work on staff development.”

“I hope to spread my knowledge of schemas with my team and adapt my observations.”

 

Stella Louis is an early years consultant who has worked as a nursery nurse, nursery manager, DCE course coordinator and Early Years Training coordinator. She wrote her first book in 2008 on understanding children’s schemas and has had articles published in Nursery World and Early Education. 

Stella has developed a sustained interest in working with parents and is involved in research on sharing knowledge and understanding of young children’s schemas with parents. Stella is currently studying for a Doctorate in Education and is a Froebelian-trained travelling tutor, working in the UK and in South Africa in an initiative funded by the Froebel Trust.

Edinburgh Froebel Network Saturday Seminars are supported by the Froebel Trust.

Guest Blog – Clay Seminar

We are delighted to post a guest blog from Laura MacPhail, who attended the Clay seminar on 13th May 2017.

Laura:  Feeling confident and inspired by the practical Clay Workshop led by Thelma Miller I took a mobile clay kit into Nursery.

The children were curious and keen to experience manipulating the clay for themselves. It was the first time they had worked with clay and there was a lot of discussion around how the clay felt and changed as they worked with it.

The children could connect the clay to mud and the ground and wanted to learn more about where it came from.

They made up stories about their clay creations which they shared with each other.

The children were very engaged, exploring, experimenting and playing with this natural resource.

 

Thank you Laura for sharing your work.

Saturday Seminar – Clay

On the 13th May, we held our first Saturday Seminar which explored Froebel’s 20th Occupation, Clay.

The workshop was led by Thelma Miller, an accredited Froebel travelling tutor, and together we explored the special properties of clay, how to look after it and how to make it manageable in a setting. We were encouraged to think about why it is such an important experience for children and how to support and extend their learning.

Feedback from participants was fantastic.

“What a wonderful sensorial experience that connects us to the earth – wonderful for all humans.”

“Loved it! Great to share practical work led by an expert.”

“What a wonderful way to spend Saturday morning- empty head thinking time- who needs a spa!”

“It was inspiring and really enjoyable!”