Edinburgh Froebel Network Gifts for our Future 11 – conference report

By Valeria Scacchi

I arrived in Edinburgh on a very warm September day while one of the biggest Climate Change global strikes was in full force. As soon as I stepped out of the train station, after a very scenic journey through the length of England, I felt excited for what was to come. I have never been that far north (geographically) before, a very good friend of mine came to Edinburgh not long ago and absolutely fell in love with its atmosphere and people and so I genuinely felt ecstatic with the possibility to explore such a wonderful city. I knew, from my time in academia, that Edinburgh was home to one of the strongest Froebel Networks in the country, made up of a group of extraordinary academics and practitioners who helped to maintain a strong influence over how policy makers organised the learning for young children, with a distinctive Froebelian hue to it, something that I could only aspire to in my practice.

During a pre-conference dinner I got to meet many of the people that were instrumental in creating what I like to call, a ‘Froebelian wave of consciousness’ in Scotland. We sat around a table having dinner, talking about our achievements, our goals and aspirations for the future, and all the various wonderful examples of practice that were developed in so many areas of Scotland. I have to admit, I felt overwhelmed but also grateful to be sitting at a table with so many women that were changing the face of the early years workforce from the bottom up, starting from the practitioners working in the settings in such a vast geographical area. I went back to my hotel after the dinner feeling alive with so many ideas and feeling extremely proud to be calling myself a Froebelian.

Pre-conference dinner with the Edinburgh Froebel Network and Froebelian Friends

The morning after, I was due to work with the Froebel Trust at the conference, we had a stand in the coffee area to distribute our new pamphlet on ‘Songs, rhymes and finger plays’ and to make conference attendees aware of the Froebel Trust and familiar with all the different services we provide for practitioners, students and settings. My colleagues and I arrived early but some attendees were already there, as soon as we set up the table we were absolutely inundated with so many new faces made of enquiring eyes and wondering minds, everyone listened to us with so much interest, and answered back with their own stories of practice, I learned of places that I didn’t know existed before, I listened to practice stories and used the material of the Froebel Trust freely available to help organise inset days for practitioners I never met, trying to make as many people as possible aware of us. At this point I started to understand a lot, I saw why the Edinburgh network was so successful, their ethos and ideas were reflected in the ethos and ideas of an overwhelmingly large number of practitioners. These people worked with children every day, in settings that shared and subscribed strongly to the same ethos of Froebelian practice with young children.

Sharing the work of the Froebel Trust and the new pamphlet on Songs, Rhymes and Finger Plays.

The first speech of the conference was by Sacha Powell, the Froebel Trust CEO. We sat during her speech unable to close our mouth, can you believe that she started from a picture of Peaky Blinders and ended up with our pamphlet on playing with clay for young children? Neither did half of the audience! She crafted her speech to connect popular culture with Froebelian philosophy, the links were modern yet respectful of our heritage and history, it felt like the audience was being taken on a journey and being shown how our life’s occurrences shape the development of our identities. The need for a ‘radical enquiry’ in order to look at a specific situation objectively so that we can put to a side our culturally and environmentally acquired identities was a critical suggestion of her opening speech. Froebelian pedagogy is understood as a pedagogy of time, and can be used as a way to push against standardization and McDonaldization as Ritzer (1993) calls it of education as a whole. Sacha also talked about the concept of seeing unity in diversity, therefore attributing a special strength and importance to the communities that surround us. I felt that this part of her speech resonated with me in particular and I felt proud of working with the Froebel Trust. For those of you who don’t know me or have never met me (believe me, you knew if you did, I am difficult to miss), I have been ‘the different one’ for my whole life, when I was younger it was something I couldn’t control, I just knew that I didn’t feel the need to conform, now this is part of my personal and professional identity and feeling so represented and included in Sacha’s speech was important.

In conclusion, this conference was a wonderful experience, such an important meeting of enquiring eyes and wondering minds all united in our differences under the umbrella of a philosophy that made us feel like we belong, Froebel unites us and suddenly it really doesn’t matter that you have pink hair because what you have inside is much more important than how you look. Thank you for this wonderful conference!

Gifts for our Future 11; Looking inwards, looking outwards, looking forwards.

Conference Report

Once upon a time a little seed (planted by a group of educators who lived a life inspired by Friedrich Froebel) lay under the soil nurtured by the passing of the seasons, and nourished in succession by the warmth of the sun and the falling of the rain. It’s tap root held strong – let us call it Tina – and branching out from it was a mass of lateral roots matted together in belief of a strong future – let us refer to this growing strength as the embryonic Edinburgh Froebel network.
The seed germinated and pushed through its first few shoots. Fed by the loyal minerals and goodness from the root mass the shoots grew taller and wider and multiplied until they budded, blossomed and bloomed. In keeping with nature’s life cycle each bloom gave pleasure, attracted a gathering of beings who looked, and learned and cared for them. The flowers did their job, and at the end of their magnificent summer show died back spreading the own seed heads which dropped to the ground beneath them or were carried further afield on the winds of the world.
Once upon a time there were many little seeds – all one family but germinating and growing in their own back yards…

And so one might summarise the 2019 Edinburgh Network Conference. Entitled Looking Inwards, Looking Outwards, Looking Forwards, it was held in the John McIntyre Centre, The University of Edinburgh, Pollock Halls. Following the high quality, informative, challenging and thought-provoking academic inputs of last year from visiting speakers (in celebration of our first ten years of existence) this year saw a return to a format which married keynote talks from expertise on our doorstep with workshops conducted by graduates of the Froebel In Childhood Practice courses running throughout Scotland.

We are always grateful for the sponsorship of the Froebel Trust and it was therefore fitting that the opening remarks were delivered by its director, Professor Sacha Powell, who reminded us that our own backgrounds play an important part on how we perceive opportunity and experiences. She stressed unity in diversity, and strength in community asking us to continue building a dialogic approach amongst ourselves – for the sharing of ideas,  and professional discussion is what leads to policy change. At the same time she cautioned against too much talking, from us as professionals, at children, but instead asked that we should listen more to their voices.
At all times, she implored, we should stick to our Froebelian values and support one another.

It seemed apparent that the body of attendees had indeed deep felt beliefs that Froebel’s principles, examined and stripped back and posed in current vocabulary, are the bedrock and foundation of today’s care and learning which truly nurture a young child. Therefore it came as no surprise that as one we admired the research undertaken by Dr Lynn McNair and Luke Addison which concluded that sterile tick list tracking of children’s milestones set against generic ‘norms’ does nothing but disservice to individual little people who have character, and interests and skills and abilities far beyond the reach of ‘testing’.  Their answer to addressing this was to suggest that ‘living stories’ be kept whereby experiences had by children could be described and commented on by practitioner and child, documenting learning, reaction and thoughts. These personal accounts would build up to a rich folio of meaningful records over which the owner had control. Again children’s lead and voice would be paramount.

The effect of this delivery was so strong there was initially – as in the first few moments following an emotional musical recital – a pause, intake of breath and great applause. Fortunately a coffee break followed allowing people to regain their equilibrium, network, look at and read the academic posters on display, shop for  ‘Froebel Gifts’, order from the Community Playthings stall and relocate to break out rooms where workshops (led by the aforementioned new seedlings and blooms) took place.

Each delegate could attend two, previously chosen, workshops over the day.

Four passionate representatives from the “Power of Partnership Group” – a cluster of Midlothian nurseries and primary schools who have worked over the last year in collaboration with each other to provide a free flow, Froebelian approach to daily life for their children through nursery to  P2 – gave an account of its development  sharing their progress, ups and downs and impact. Involving over thirty professionals its success has underpinned relevant, happy and successful care and education, and it continues to spread as others learn from them and new promoted posts for two members results in further involvement from new settings.

In other rooms Froebel’s occupations – the sewing, woodwork and weaving of his day – were revisited and the relevances and benefits to today’s children outlined. Blocks and their mathematical importance through construction and schematic play were reported on, as was Tynecastle’s Child Garden journey. The importance of outdoor learning, of the involvement of parents, of risk taking, of early literacy, of play therapy all provided a platform for professional dialogue and learning.

Back in the main Pentland Suite Lynn Taylor from Education Scotland told us about  updates to come in Building the Ambition, and illustrated thorough her own learning journey how one can grow and change and develop. She reminded us of the importance of stepping back and taking stock, and questioning ‘where are we’, ‘where do we want to be’ and ‘how are we going to get there’.

Martine Leitch then romped unhesitatingly through the where, how and whys of children’s playing. There was no debate over the fact that play pedagogy is the way forward. To Martine, and to the delight of her audience, it is a done deal; similarly there was no question for whom this pedagogical approach applied. It is for all children in her school…nursery to P7. Stick to our principles, be brave, grab the opportunity for a new narrative, stand up for our beliefs and let our children be creative she advocated. Yes there is a place for active learning she said, but it is not the same as play…and play is a child’s right. Through play children venture beyond their comfort zones and use their curiosity – questioning, experimenting and exploring. Froebelian principles punctuated Martine’s lecture, and those who had the privilege of listening saw first hand yet another sapling standing strong in our Froebelian Garden.

The concluding remarks were given by Jane Whinnett  as she thanked, on our behalf, organisers, facilitators, presenters and attendees and mentioned the history of Edinburgh Froebelian gatherings stretching as far back as 1848.

I apologise if I have overlooked any contribution to the day  – it was fast and furious – and  as Jane said she felt people had ‘played a blinder’…the dictionary definition of which is ‘played skilfully and successfully’.
Last year I ended the conference report by saying ‘from small acorns mighty oak trees grow’…and after yesterday I feel confident in stating we have, on our doorstep, the growth of some healthy forests.

Alison J Hawkins
Wester Coates Nursery
Edinburgh

Froebel Networks Gathering 27th April 2019. ‘Link always link’.

On 27th April 2019, around 50 Froebelians met in Richmond for the third Froebel Networks Gathering. This is the annual event for all Froebelians to get together and catch up!

The theme for the day was ‘link, always link: the importance of connectivity’ and Professor Tina Bruce reminded us of the importance of connection, to each other, the past, present and future.

Dr Yukio Nishida, Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at the University of New England, presented on the Froebelian Occupation of Paper Folding. Felicity Thomas revealed her ‘Bag of Occupations’. Reports were given from the various Networks in the UK, including the Edinburgh Network, the Travelling Tutors Network and the National and International Networks. We also heard from The Froebel Trust including what support and grants are available to practitioners. Dr Lynne McNair updated us on the new MA in Edinburgh and Dr Fengling Tang and Dr Sally Howe spoke about the Froebel Course at Roehampton.

There was a display of artefacts from the Froebel Archive, student posters from the Edinburgh University Froebel Course, as well as other displays of Froebelian activities and the Froebel Gifts were on sale.

3rd Annual Froebel Networks Gathering Day, 27th April 2019

Congratulations to Jane Whinnett MBE.

We are absolutely delighted that Jane Whinnett, one of the founding members of the Edinburgh Froebel Network, was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year Honours List.

This award recognises Jane’s outstanding contribution to Early Childhood education in her many roles of teacher, head teacher, tutor, author and trustee of the Froebel Trust. Jane’s work has had a positive impact on thousands of children and families, not only those she has directly taught, but also through her involvement in the training of hundreds of practitioners and through the many presentations she has given. Jane’s chapter in Early Childhood Practice: Froebel Today is widely disseminated and also referenced in the Care Inspectorate publication, Our Creative Journey.

The members of the Edinburgh Froebel Network Masterclass Players & Storytellers group, raised a glass (or two) to celebrate her achievement.

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.