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 prĂ©cis 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!

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