Waking Up

I spent some time in Baby House today, during a gentle patch in their afternoon. Whilst I was there, some children were waking up from their sleeps. As I watched the educators help the children readjust to the room, I found myself thinking about an article I read recently by Anne Stonehouse. She was talking about babies and very young children transitioning from the bedroom to the play room, and the significance of this time. I watched as these babies were gently taken from the darkened bedroom to the bathroom, where they were gently dressed. I watched as the educators carried these babies into the play room, speaking softly to them and letting them know what was going on. I watched these babies take a moment to sit and just be, then once they were ready, move off to say hello or to play. Not one baby was distressed. Not one educator was rushed. Everyone took their time and moved gently and calmly about the space. It all just felt so kind, the way these educators recognised the children’s need to move slowly and gently between sleep and awake. Their intentionality during this time, the way the educators seemed to place themselves and make themselves accessible, the way only one educator helped one child at a time get out of bed, was so considered, and so responsive to the children. What a beautiful way for these children to start the afternoon. What a beautiful way for me to start theRead more

Children’s Documentation

Documentation and assessment for learning are an important part of what we do as early childhood educators. Documentation helps us to recognise what is working, what isn’t, what opportunities there are, what children know and what children are thinking about. It is essential for planning, reflecting and assessing against the Early Years Learning Framework and for measuring the ‘distance traveled’ by children. But what about children’s documentation; children’s versions of what they know and see? Their self assessment, their understanding of what they have learned and how far they have come? How do educators capture this and use it to inform their planning, reflection and assessment? Sturt House have introduced journalling as a tool to enable children to document their own learning. Each child has their own learning journal, which travels between Sturt House and home, and operates separately to their learning portfolio. As well as this, there are two journals that track learning relating to two key curriculum areas; gardening and cooking. The educators use these journals as a way of sharing the role of ‘documentor’ with children. The journals are a place where the child’s voice sits beside the educator’s voice, creating a balanced and shared perspective on events and experiences. The challenge for children’s documentation is finding ways for all children to be heard. Sturt House achieve this by taking a wider view of what constitutes recording. Children are supported to share their thinking in a variety of ways. Some children choose to write, have their wordsRead more

Into the Wild

One of the exciting things we are exploring at Flinders is nature play; the idea that getting out of the everyday spaces and into the wild offers children an opportunity to take risks both physically, emotionally and cognitively. The Sturt House children recently did just that; took a risk (after an extensive risk assessment) and left the centre, heading into the wild space between the Flinders and the university. The educators planned this experience believing that leaving the centre and entering the wild would build learning dispositions in children, such as resilience, persistence and risk management. And it is obvious these opportunities did present themselves when you look at the photographs taken during the walk. The children left the path and tackled long grass, muddy puddles and slippery hillsides, all of which required dedication, commitment and team work to overcome. Perry commented; “See, I just go straight through; nothing stops me!” demonstrating the positivity and persistence the children experienced. The biggest challenge the children faced was getting up and down the steep hill. They shared theories with each other; walking sideways, not running, taking your time and being careful, going down on bottoms, and walking on the grass instead of the track as it had more grip. “Hey take my hand and I’ll pull you up!” one child called to the next. The children were then able to test their theories and discover which one worked best for them, then test this result on the next hillside. Science is aRead more

Playful Numeracy

We’ve been very interested in a collection of wild peach stones that Sturt House shared with us in Preschool House over the last couple of months. Initially, I set up the lovely little balls in a tray with a collection of spoons and some different sized glass jars. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I predicted it could become a space for some playful numeracy.  And playful numeracy did emerge. Children were intrigued from the first morning the provocation was offered. I observed their play over the morning, noticing how children combined the different resources in different ways. Some children filled each jar using handfuls of stones that they dropped in masses, and some carefully and methodically moved one stone at a time into the jar using a spoon. Some children took delight in pouring the stones from one vessel to another, and some children worked to ‘trap’ the stones underneath the upturned jars. But all children were deeply engaged with what they were doing. That afternoon, I took a moment to sit quietly with the children at the table. Saffron was beside me. She had two jars, one big and one small. She filled the small one first, and as she filled it, she counted the peach stones. She made it to twenty before making eye contact with me and asking what comes next – “21” I answered and she continued on. “27. 27 peach stones fit in the small jar” Saffron announced. “Now how many fit inRead more


The other day I was washing the dishes whilst having a conversation with two of the children, Violet and Perry. We chatted about many things, and eventually our conversation led to their families. I suggested they might like to do a painting for their families, and Violet informed me she had already done so. “Would you like to make a painting for Preschool House then? You see these frames here? We could put your paintings in there when they dry” I offered. Violet and Perry smiled wide and turned around to the easel to begin painting. It was interesting to watch them. Both Violet and Perry are very capable artists who regularly paint, draw and sculpt. Today, however, watching them paint, I felt there was something different in their focus, some deeper level of attentiveness. I regularly noticed them taking the time to step back and look at their work, perhaps considering where to make the next mark or what colour to add. I wondered if it was the offer to frame their work that had made a difference to their focus, or if it was my focus that had changed; was I watching them in a different way, knowing that their work would be displayed on the wall? We hung the paintings up to dry once they were finished. When it was time to go home, Perry checked his work and said; “It’s dry now! You can put it in the frame!” His mum looked at me questioningly, andRead more

Children’s Gardens

Did you happen to watch Gardening Australia on Saturday evening? They did a special on children’s gardens and gardens for families, and the episode really resonated with me. So much of what they were talking about is what we are trying to achieve at Flinders. Costa went to Kings Park in Perth and played in their natural play space, and the way he talked about risk, imagination and natural play was so exciting. The school in Melbourne was truly inspiring; the beautiful plantings, use of open ended space, access to loose parts and consideration for ‘outdoor rooms’ are all brilliant examples of natural, flexible outdoor play. The biggest thing I was excited by was the fact that the broader community is starting to talk about the importance of natural spaces and appropriate levels of risk for children. Natural play spaces provide children with opportunities to explore creative, open ended play, to assess and take risks, and to build a relationship with the natural world. These are the kinds of things research is showing to be best for children’s learning and development, and these are the kinds of environments all early childhood services (and the broader community, for that matter!) should be providing for children. You can catch the episode on iView here: http://www.abc.net.au/iview/#/view/39659 Catch it while you can, it  expires in 9 days!

Can I Really?

I’ve spent a fair bit of time working on a lovely post about numeracy and play at Flinders that has been discarded because in Adelaide it has finally started to RAIN! So we have begun implementing our winter play program. Now this is all becoming very familiar for the educators here at Flinders, but I think I had forgotten for a minute what a significant part of our program winter play is for the children. Especially the children who have only just started. So I help the five or so children who are ready to play outside get into their rain suits and put on their gumboots, get into mine, and off we go. As we we stand out in the rain, hearing it fall onto our hoods, I notice one child, Connor, looking at me intently. “It’s all wet” he says. “It is. It’s raining” I reply. “Do we need to wipe it down?” he wonders, and I reply; “No, you are in your rain suit, you will stay dry.” “Can I go in the sand pit?” he asks, eyes wide. “Of course! You can go anywhere you like!” I tell him. “Can I jump  in the puddles?” he continues, and I nod again, smiling. With a swift intake of breath, Connor heads down the creek bed and straight to the edge of a puddle. He jumps, landing with a splash, and the look on his face is complete and utter delight. And this is the moment I realiseRead more

Making our Mark

After viewing the Hundred Languages of Children exhibition recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about visual art and mark making. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the significance of children making their mark, be it through writing their name, drawing something that is important to them, or simply and quite literally “making a mark.” The other morning a parent came into Preschool House and noticed Perry working in the art space. He was painting with dye paints on the upright easel and at the top of the page he had written his name. “Oh, look!” the parent commented; “He’s written his name!” She was right, of course, he had written his name. And this got me thinking. The art space tends to be the place where children first learn to ‘make their mark’. This is the space where educators and adults demonstrate, over and over and over again, the importance of putting your name to something. It may be one of the first places children discover what their name looks like; not just what it sounds like but what the letters  look like when written down. This is a powerful lesson. Not only does the naming of a child’s work give them a sense of ownership and value, it also teaches significant literacy concepts. Sounds have a concrete connection to symbols. Many people understand the symbols in the same way. So the educator who puts away the dry paintings at the end of the day may not always recognise the individual artisticRead more

Winter Outdoor Play

Over the last couple of months in Preschool and Sturt Houses we have been preparing for winter and our winter outdoor play program. We developed and implemented this for the first time last year to great success, and are eagre to start again. It’s amazing to see the incredible learning and engagement that takes place in the winter gardens; a special kind of magic happens. I’ve been reviewing all the documentation from our journey last year and it’s been brilliant to think about it all over again. You can have a look at our story here: http://www.earlyyears.sa.edu.au/files/links/WinterOutdoorPlayFinal.pdf As I reviewed our story, I decided to revisit the video that kind of started it all; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mIi1WkFhGvc Unfortunately, you can no longer view the whole film, however I have very clear memories of watching it over and over last year as we developed our plan. After this version cuts out, the original film eventually documents the children’s journey as they climb to the top of quite a significant mountain. When I watched this video for the first time, I was struck by two things. The first was the concept of “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,” which is not the standard way of thinking in Australia. We are spoilt for good weather and tend to forget that compared many parts of the world, a winter’s day in Adelaide is quite nice! This is the idea that underpinned our planning as we developed our winter play program; no badRead more

Environments for Learning – Outdoors

A natural progression from a discussion about indoor environments is a discussion about outdoor environments. There is something special about outdoor environments for children; a special kind of magic happens when children play outside. Research shows us that children play outdoors much less now than their parents did when they were growing up, so access to outdoor play is particularly important for contemporary children. At Flinders, we take outdoor play seriously. Really seriously. All our buildings implement indoor-outdoor play and our philosophy clearly states our intention to blur the boundaries between indoor and outdoor spaces. But why? Why do we commit to playing outdoors for such a long period of time? And further, why do we commit to playing outdoors for such a long period of time in natural environments? Why do we have gardens? Why do we have trees and branches and logs and stumps? There exists currently a huge gap between research and practice in regards to natural outdoor environments. Drive past many early childhood services and you will see plastic resources, plastic matting, level surfaces and artificial sources of shade. Well-intentioned focusses on safe environments for children sucked the life out of many early childhood settings, leaving us with generic, dull, “safe” settings. What wasn’t predicted by these well-intentioned decision-makers was the long term impact on children’s ability to independently assess risk and hazards. Or the burns children have received from plastic matting as it overheats in summer. Or the potential behavioural issues that can present when children areRead more