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