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20 Ideas for Celebrating Earth Day

 

20 Ideas for Celebrating Earth Day

 

person holding save our planet sign
Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

The 22nd of April marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.  This was started in 1970 by US Senator Gaylord Nelson, after witnessing the damage caused to the environment from the massive Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969.  In 1990, Earth Day went global with 200 million people, from 141 countries, bringing environmental issues to the world stage.

Since then, Earth Day has grown even bigger and is celebrated each year by more than a billion people worldwide.  Children are now voicing their concerns about climate change, following the lead of inspirational, 16 year old Swede, Greta Thunberg and are skipping school to demonstrate for action.

But why don’t more early years settings introduce their children to sustainable practices? After all, the earlier we introduce this, the more likely it is that they will grow up to become environmentally aware citizens themselves.

It is not as difficult as you may think to begin a journey towards sustainability with children, as many will be familiar with recycling at home. But do they know why we recycle?  The CBBC series Come Outside, has a number of programmes related to this topic.  The episode on Rubbish will provide young children with a greater understanding of just how much rubbish is thrown away each day, and what we can all do to help reduce this.

How are you Going to Celebrate Earth Day?

There are many examples, online, of Earth Day activities that can be created indoors. However just being outside with your children is a much better way to celebrate. Get them outside and interacting with the real world not a facsimile!  Here are some ideas which cater for a range of weather.

Spend the whole day outside.  If you are in a setting that plans through themes then why not give the day over to the children, go outside and follow their lead.  Provide them with lots of loose materials to play with and you can sit back and observe how children learn best by following their own interests.  On sunny day set up shady areas and provide children with lots of water to drink.  On a rainy day, why not set up a den under a large tarp for story telling whilst drinking hot chocolate?

Hold a walk to… day.  Set up an area, if you don’t already have one, for children to park scooters and bikes.  Make it a mufti day – Tell the children to dress in green or make it a bit of fun by getting them to use recyclable materials to make a costume.  You could ask for a donation of £1, from each parent, and use this to buy some resources for planting.

Plant some sunflower seeds.   Each child can plant a seed, in a compostable pot, and look after it. You can either send them home or plant them in a sunny area outside.  After a few weeks, they will have great fun measuring them to see how much they have grown.  In the autumn you will reap the benefits by getting hundreds of seeds for FREE.  Kids love picking these out with their fingers or tweezers (great for fine motor development) and, dependent on the age of the children in your setting, they can be used for planting, counting, creative arts or as loose materials.

Create nature’s perfume – With a pestle and mortar, crush a range of petals, leaves and berries together. Add a little water and grind again.  Pour into small spray bottles and spray for a lovely smell.

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Cloud watching – How often do we slow right down and just observe the natural world? Get children to lay on their backs and watch the clouds pass by.  Look at the different shapes and sizes.  Can they see any pictures in the clouds?  What happens to the clouds when there is wind/no wind?  Read Eric Carle’s Little Cloud, if you have a copy or, if not watch the video here.  Encourage children to make their own cloud pictures outside using shaving cream in tuff trays or, even better on glass or acrylic mirrors as children will be able to look at the reflection of the sky.  You can make the paint puffy, and cloud like, by adding glue to the shaving cream. Should you want colour then add a few drops of food colouring.

Chasing the wind – Tie ribbon, or string, to the handles of re-suable shopping bags for children to run around on a windy day.  Encourage them to observe any changes in the wind such as strength, direction and the effects that this has on their bag.  Fly kites, make windsocks or tie long lengths of ribbon to shrubs or small trees. Throw some feathers in the air – observe what happens to them.  Encourage the children to pretend to be a feather floating gently in the breeze or being whipped up wildly by strong gusts of wind.  Introduce new vocabulary when commenting on children’s play such as gust, breeze, flurry and gale.

Go for a nature walk – Take the children out and about and make a nature bracelet.  Stick double sided tape onto a length of card and wrap it around their wrists.  Children can collect leaves, small sticks and petals to decorate their bracelet.

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Make a journey stick – Give each child a long piece of string or wool then ask them to find a stick.  Ask them to look for objects along the route, which will remind them of their journey.  The objects can be attached to the stick by wrapping them with the string or wool.  Each stick will be unique and will support children in discussing their journey on their return by acting as a visual reminder.

Go on a litter hunt in your local area. Sort the objects by materials on your return.  You can link this to maths by creating either a pictogram, carroll or venn diagram on the ground to display how much of each material was found, how much could be recycled and how much would be sent to landfill.  This is a good way to get children talking about the environment and how they have a part to play in looking after it.

Collect rainwater to water the garden.  Challenge older children to find ways of harvesting rain water. Challenge younger children to develop a way of transporting water from one place to another e.g from the outside tap to the planting area, without  buckets!   Provide a range of loose materials to aid the development of trial and error and problem solving.

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We’re going on a bee hunt – Look out for dandelions, as these are one of the first flowering plants in spring to attract bees. Observe bee’s carefully and ask open ended questions of the children.  Use non-fiction texts to discover the answers to their questions together. Make a Bug Hotel.

Dig over the soil ready for planting for a great gross motor workout.  Use child sized tools such as those recently on sale at Lidl. Encourage children to lookout for worms when doing this and use information books to find out all about them.  Throw some seed bombs around, particularly those that attract butterflies and bee’s.

Create some environmental art using loose materials outside.  Why not link this with St George’s Day, which is the day after on 23rd April, to make a dragon from loose materials?

Create Mandala’s  outside by using chalks and/or natural materials. These circular designs are important to Hindu’s and Buddhists as they represent the universe. We had many Hindu families at my school and invited parents to come in to help the children create mandala’s, with beautiful results. Great for parental engagement.

Plant dye art  – Hammer leaves and petals onto some absorbent material to create some Hama Zoma artwork. This beautiful art form originated in Japan and is so easy to do with children and it’s great for developing upper arm strength too.  If you are short on flowers in your outdoor area, ask parents to bring in cut flowers that are past their sell by date, as these will do just as well.

Plant a herb garden – Herbs are a great addition to any outdoor area.  I always had a sensory garden with lots and lots of herbs as there is a wide variety to choose from. Many are also very hardy which is good when there are so many little fingers touching them.  Lavender is not officially a herb but are often grown in herb gardens. The strong perfume makes for great sensory bags and they will attract lots of bee’s and other insects into your garden too.

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Develop biodiversity in the garden by zoning areas to encourage a range of different wildlife.  Create a woodpile or stumpery, let an area of grass grow long so children can look for insects with a butterfly net in the summer or create a small pond from a sink or large dish.

Create bird baths, boxes and feeders by recycling plastic bottles – These are a great way for children to observe birds throughout the year. Provide them with some binoculars for a better look!

Read (or tell) a story outside – Get comfy on cushions and  blankets, lay down and listen to a story. Why not read stories with an environmental message such as The Lorax.

Make nature prints.  Use round discs of clay to imprint leaves, sticks and flowers.  These can be kept natural, or painted then varnished for a beautiful keep sake. Alternatively, children can work together to create a group nature print, on a large length of paper, by dipping leaves, twigs/, berries etc into paint and placing onto the paper.

Whatever you choose to do, just get the children outside, whatever the weather, and have a HAPPY EARTH DAY.

 

 

Loose parts – the key to inventiveness and creativity!

Loose parts – the key to inventiveness and creativity!

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Although no longer class based, I cannot resist the lure of loose materials as, once you have seen first hand how they develop creativity, ingenuity and problem solving, there is no going back!

As a result, I still cannot help visiting charity shops and repurposing materials, that might ordinarily be destined for landfill, in order to update my collection. Fortunately, they do get used in training as well as providing my 6 year old granddaughter with endless opportunities for play. However, with an ever growing collection, storage is becoming a bit of an issue!

With more and more pressure being  placed on settings to increase their GLD (Good Level of Development) year on year, it now seems that much of the school day is spent on the delivery of reading, writing and maths. This narrowing of the curriculum, to ensure better outcomes in the specific areas of learning, contradicts the Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage which states that All areas of learning and development are important and inter-connected.’ (P7) 

Yet, in the drive for the GLD,  children are losing opportunities to explore, investigate and experiment with a range of materials and opportunities for creative and imaginative play are being constricted. All of these are integral to the ELGs in Expressive Arts and Design.  Yet when children are provided with such opportunities, the characteristics of effective learning can be truly observed.

WHY LOOSE PARTS?

When writing about the theory of loose parts, Simon Nicholson stated that …..‘In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kind of variables in it.’

The following video is a good example of how the open ended nature of loose materials can be used to demonstrate  ‘…experimenting with colour, design, texture, form and function’ (Using Media and Materials) and using ‘...what they have learnt about media and materials in original ways, thinking about uses and purposes.‘ (Being Imaginative).

I think this video is beneficial for a whole range of CPD purposes.

  • The narration is a great way of supporting staff, new to this way of working, with ideas of what to notice and look out for when observing.
  • It captures how children will observe one another, which is a great way for them to gather a range of different ideas and adapt these to create their own.
  • It also showcases differences in spacial awareness  as some children will use the edges and corners of the canvas in their creations, others will work in the middle and some will create 2 dimensional representations, whilst other will be in 3d.

Most of all, I particularly like the way it showcases the unique child.  All the children shown took a different approach to the placement of the materials.  The young boy, in particular, was much more physical in his approach and really looked at the placement of materials from different angles.

If you are wanting to introduce some loose materials in your setting, having a designated space and a defined area for the large scale placement of loose parts, as seen in the video, really helps.

But this will depend on whether you want to use loose materials on a large or small scale, in one defined area or integrated into all areas of the environment.

WORKING ON A LARGE SCALE INSIDE 

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  • You can use a large canvas to define the working area.  I recently bought a set of several canvases from Lidl for the fantastic price of £7.99!
  • Large frames can be used, as per the video or, several smaller canvases can be placed side by side and secured, if required, by taping together underneath.
  • A length of material can be taped to the floor or carpet squares taped together underneath, to define the working area.
  • I keep the hardboard backs of large picture frames as this is a very stable surface on which to display loose materials.  These can be used as is, or a border added by using ribbon or coloured tape.  Alternatively, a pattern can be created on cellophane, laid over the top and taped in place underneath for children to decorate or infill with the loose materials.  Many settings do this on a smaller scale using letters and numbers.
  • Keep cardboard inserts from large picture frames (as seen above). These can be used to frame loose parts pictures and patterns. Alternatively, the border can be decorated with loose materials, which can be stuck down and used to frame other pieces of work for display.
  • A raised stage area can be easily be created from a large palette, covered with hardboard or carpet.
  • Resources placed around the perimeter of the area enable children to access them easily and independently. Alternatively, have some low shelving with baskets of materials that children can take out and replace as, and when needed.
  • As with anything new, don’t put out everything in one go!  Start with a small selection of resources to see what the children do with them and add to this as they become more confident in using the materials.
  • You can leave the resources for children to use as they will or you can provide them with a challenge, such as creating Valentine’s or Mother’s Day pictures or creating repeating patterns or even shapes.
  • The transitory nature of the materials means that you will need to take photos of completed work.  Have children’s name cards nearby as they can place these alongside their work to identify them.
  • A4 photos of these would make for a great art gallery, alongside children’s comments, photos of the process and documentation of the learning taking place.

WORKING ON A SMALL SCALE INSIDE

When working on a smaller scale it is useful, and very effective, to have a defined area for each picture in order to showcase children’s creations.  You can see three examples below – a cork board (which has been used as loose part and incorporated into the picture), a rectangular piece of purple felt and a square of coloured paper or card.

Other examples could include coasters, table mats, table runners, trays and cork boards of different shapes, sizes and colours.  The list is endless!

There are some absolutely wonderful examples of just how inventive and creative children can be, using a range of loose materials on Facebook and Instagram.  They also provide some great ideas for a range of different materials and storage.

Stimulating Learning with Rachel  Instagram page, showcases a huge variety of creations, all constructed by nursery children, whereas Jack Veldhuizen’s Facebook page does the same with children aged 4 – 7.  I also love the way in which he shows how he stores his vast array of loose parts so that they are accessible for all children, stacked on shelves in plastic take away containers. He encourages children to get out a selection of about 8 or 9 tubs to use at any one time.

One of the very inventive ways of adding to his collection of loose parts, is to cover a range of cardboard boxes and cylinders with masking tape, paint them in bright colours then add strips of magnetic tape to them. The outcomes are amazing with many projects being collaborative.   Time consuming to be sure, but very, very cost effective as the costs are minimal.  Why not set aside a weekly staff meeting to do this and incorporate this into a wellbeing session – talk as you paint.  This is very therapeutic and will provide  practitioners with the opportunity to relax as well as provide children with many more variables for their creations.

INTEGRATING LOOSE PARTS ACROSS THE ENVIRONMENT 

Another way of introducing loose parts is to add them to different areas around  your environment.

Role Play – the addition of different lengths, and pieces, of material rather than pre-ordained dressing up outfits, opens up possibilities.  No longer will children just be princesses or doctors, they can use their imagination to the fullest extent and problem solve just how and where these materials can be used and what for.

This child accessed materials and tools independently to make a space ship to enhance her play.  Lots of ideas, ingenuity and problem solving were evidenced as she worked out how to attach the different materials. Her fine motor skills were being developed as she  used tools effectively, tied knots and manipulated the tape.

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Using loose materials provides for great observations, across all areas of learning,  and great evidence for the characteristics of effective learning as long as the process, and not just the end result, is documented.

Small world – why not remove the plastic dolls house, or castle, and instead provide a box of blocks, small logs and wood slices, along with wooden and cardboard reels of different sizes to enable children to create  a range of structures on different levels.  You can take this even further by adding pegs which children can ‘dress’ with loose materials to make a range of characters.

If this seems a step too far, you can add a range of loose materials to your small world structures for children to create the setting – strips of fake grass, small logs, sticks, leaves, pine cones, some kitchen foil.  All can be used to enhance imagination and develop children’s narratives.

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Construction area – All too often I have seen this area awash with plastic construction kits such as mobilo, duplo and stickle bricks, along with an assortment of wooden blocks.  There is nothing wrong with this, rather it’s the lack of challenge or enhancement of play opportunities which results in play stagnating and you may find children, who use this area often, building similar things day after day.

Introduce loose materials into this area and you will see the play change, as children explore what they can do with them and incorporate them into their play.  Observe children’s play to decide which materials will fit into current interests.  If children are using magnetic play kits, for example, introduce tins of different sizes as well as a range of  other materials, which can incorporated into the play by the addition of  strips of magnetic tape, thereby opening up a huge range of construction opportunities.

Loris Malaguzzi summed this up when he stated that “The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.”

The possibilities for loose parts in this area are endless such as small logs, wood slices, lengths of guttering, crates, cardboard boxes, string, ribbon…..the list can go on and on.

WORKING WITH LOOSE MATERIALS OUTSIDE 

I used loose materials with great success for many years and the children never ceased to amaze me at how they used them and for what for.  I also was encouraged to see that it was the process of the building that was far more important than the outcome and many children seemed to intrinsically know this.

I once observed a group of 4 children, 3 boys and a girl, trying to build a den from canes and lengths of material.  They tried a number of different ways of getting the canes to stand up, finding that upturned plant pots were the best as the canes could be inserted into the drainage holes.  However, they encountered a problem in that there were only 3 pots and their plan required 4! They spent most of the morning trying out different pots, buckets and other containers to get the last cane to stand upright!.  The fact that they didn’t succeed didn’t matter, it was their confidence in taking a trial and error approach along with the level of discussion and numerous ideas that they had during the process that was important.

Loose parts outside can include everything from crates, logs, tyres, planks, ladders, canes, sticks, material, camouflage netting, tarpaulins and ropes to large blocks, bricks, guttering, pipes and even small palettes. The list is endless!

As Vygotsky stated,  ‘It must not be forgotten that the basic law of children’s creativity is that its value lies not in its results, not in the product of creation, but in the process itself.  It is not important what children create,  but that they do create, that they exercise and implement their creative imagination.’  

The beauty of loose materials is that they can be assembled, dis-assembled, re-combined and re-used in a myriad of ways, over and over again, making them the most truly child led, engaging, cost effective and eco-friendly resource.

 

  

Why you should SAY NO to the pilot of the Reception Baseline Assessment

Why you should SAY NO to the pilot of the Reception Baseline Assessment

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Letters have already been received at schools around the country, asking them to participate in the pilot of the Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA), due to start in September.  Here we go on the merry-go-round again! How many times are we going to have to go through this process before the government understands that this is a waste of time and a waste of the 10 million pounds paid to NFER to develop the baseline package.

The basic premise for the re-introduction of the baseline as advertised by the Standards and Testing Agency, in the video below, is that “there is no account of the work schools do with their pupils between Reception and Year 2.”   It states that ‘The baseline for current progress measures is taken from KS1 assessment.” 

This is misleading and completely untrue! There are in fact, two major assessments undertaken in both reception (Early Learning Goals) and year one (Phonics Screening Check), prior to the KS1 assessment.

The EYFS Profile Handbook (2019) p9, states that ” ….the EYFS profile provides an accurate national data set relating to levels of child development at the end of the EYFS. DfE uses this to monitor changes in levels of children’s development and their readiness for the next phase of their education, both nationally and locally.”

Baseline – a history 

This is not the first time that baseline assessment has been introduced.  It was first introduced by the Labour government in 1997.  I participated in this, during it’s final year, in 2001/02.  There was no requirement to test and we had 6 weeks to baseline children, in our case through observations, before sending the results off to the local authority.

The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile came into being in 2002.  It was designed to be a summative assessment at the end of the EYFS which provided “…a well rounded picture of a child’s knowledge, understanding and abilities, their progress against expected levels, and their readiness for Year 1.”  (EYFSP Handbook 2019  p 14) This information is shared with parents and enables a dialogue between reception and year one teachers which supports them in planning an effective curriculum to meet the needs of all children and provides a baseline on entry to the national curriculum.  

The  coalition government reintroduced the baseline in 2015  but instead of going with one provider allowed schools to choose from one of three.  More than 70% of schools used Early Excellence,  as this was more in keeping with the ethos of good early years practice, as assessment was formed through observation.

The baseline was abolished in 2016 when the government stated, what we knew all along, that it was impossible to standardise scores across 3 different systems.

The Conservative government announced its plans to restore baseline assessment in 2017. After putting this out to tender it was announced, in March 2018, that National Foundation for Education Research (NFER), one of the providers of the 2015 baseline, was successful in securing the tender.

Interestingly, the other two,  previous,  providers declined to bid.  A spokesman for CEM stated that their views were incompatible with that of the government as they believed  “…that the central focus of any baseline assessment should be to give teachers reliable information from which they can learn more about the children in their care and adapt their approaches to learning accordingly. We are not convinced that the government share this vision for the assessment and our understanding is that reporting pupil information back to teachers and schools will be very limited.”

The pilot is due to start in September 2019 and there has been much debate on the pro’s and cons of participation, on social media.  Although the vast majority of early years practitioners are not in favour of testing, as a way of establishing a baseline, many are considering participating in the assessment so that they can provide feedback on the baseline with a hope to influencing the outcome.   Others are adamant that there is no point, as feedback will be ignored and they dont see the point of putting a cohort of children through testing unless they are made to.

The RBA becomes statutory in 2020/21 but it wont be until the academic year 2027/28, that we will know whether or not the governments claim that it can effectively measure pupil progress from Reception to Year 6, is true.

Outcomes from the Baseline Trials

Trialling of the test material has been completed in more than 300 schools, with 3,000 children however, the DfE has declined to publish the data.

There have been calls from early years teachers, academics and experts for the DfE to publish their findings.   Sue Cowley, early  years expert and author stated that “This is £10 million of taxpayers’ money being used to develop a compulsory test for a non-statutory phase of education,…… The public has a right to know what the trial data shows.”  (TES 8/3/19)

In addition self regulation, which has been shown to be a greater indicator of future success than academic testing and which was more warmly received by practitioners,  will be removed from the test as the trials showed that this took longer to administer. A spokesperson for the STA stated that  “The Department for Education has decided not to include self-regulation in the assessment to enable greater coverage and reliability of the other content areas in the time available.” 

The DfE said that it was not usual to publish results of trials but would publish the pilot results however, given the contentious nature of this assessment, publishing the results of the trials would ensure that concerns around transparency, were addressed and allow for some open and honest debate.

Baseline – the case against 

It is quite ludicrous that there will soon be a statutory test within a non-statutory part of education.  Children do not have to attend school until the term after their 5th birthday, meaning that parents can delay children starting in reception or, for summer born children, opt out of reception completely for them to start in year one.

All schools do some sort of baseline to ensure that the learning and development needs of children are catered for and to be able to show progress. However, this is usually through observation. The introduction of the RBA has nothing to do with informing practice or supporting children’s development (as the information is not going to be shared with schools), instead it will be used to hold schools to account several years later. 

The introduction of the RBA is completely at odds with current legislation and goes against current statutory guidance on assessment in early years.  The EYFS Profile Handbook 2019 (P10) states that:

Reliable and accurate assessment at the end of the EYFS is underpinned by the following principles:

assessment is based primarily on the practitioner’s knowledge of the childknowledge is gained predominantly from observation and interaction in a range of daily activities and events

responsible pedagogy must be in place so that the provision enables each child to demonstrate their learning and development fully

embedded learning is identified by assessing what a child can do consistently and independently in a range of everyday situations

As anyone who has worked with young children will tell you what children say or do one day, is often very different from the next.  This is acknowledged in the EYFSP Handbook which states that “…..practitioners should note the learning that a child demonstrates spontaneously, independently and consistently in a range of contexts.” (P6)

This is why over 70% of schools chose Early Excellence in the previous baseline, as observation has been proven to be the most accurate and effective method of assessing young children.

That said, how can a 20 minute test of a 4 year old, in their first few weeks of school,  possibly provide accurate information for baseline? And how can this information, which most likely will be flawed given the nature of interactions with young children, some who speak another language and others with additional needs, be used to hold schools to account several years later?

This is one of the main flaws of the RBA. If you are starting with flawed data you will end up with flawed data several years later.  This is looking more and more like an ill-considered, impetuous and very, very costly experiment.

It is also unclear how progress can be accurately assessed in schools where mobility is an issue.  Schools with high mobility, for example in areas where there is temporary housing, are likely to have a large number of children who completed the RBA, move school before Year 6.  It is also highly likely that they will also have a number of children starting school in year groups other than reception.   How is this going to be accounted for? Are the scores from the baseline to travel with children from school to school? These are questions that have not yet been answered.

There has already been a downward pressure in schools, post introduction of the Phonics Screening Check, for children being taught phonics earlier and earlier.  We have also all seen the damage caused by teaching to the test in Year 6, where the curriculum is reduced to a daily diet of reading, writing, SPAG and maths!  The introduction of the RBA may well influence provision in nurseries, many of which have, misguidedly, already started teaching phonics and writing. It could also subject young children to inappropriate hot housing by well meaning parents.

More importantly, the implementation of the test will impede practitioners from properly catering for the children in their care at a crucial time of transition.  The beginning of the year is a crucial time in reception as this is the time when rules and routines are established. There is a huge emphasis on personal, social and emotional development as practitioners support children in developing attributes such as collaboration and perseverance, which is crucial if they are to become independent and autonomous.  Taking one adult away for up to thirty, twenty minute tests will significantly impede this vital process.

What Now?

It is looking like this long term experiment will be going ahead and we shall have a long wait to see the outcome.   Please don’t subject the children in your care to testing just to see what it is like. It is not fair to them nor is it likely to give you any real contextualised information about them.    If you think that your views are going to be listened to then you are sadly mistaken.  Many highly qualified experts in the field have not been listened to and unfortunately the government is highly unlikely to listen to teachers, who they have shown, again and again, that they fail to trust!

Were I still in class I would be inclined to observe the children, as per usual then, wherever possible, complete the tablet assessments myself using my observations.  This would be a more accurate way of assessing what a child knows, over time and in a range of contexts, and is good early years practice as stated in the current early years statutory guidance.

More importantly, it would enable me to do what I needed to do in the first weeks of term, settling children, building relationships with them and introducing them to the new routines and ways in which they can work together, which is far more important for developing self regulation than a 20 minute test!

If you are committed to doing what you can to stop the RBA then you would be better joining More Than A Score and campaigning against it, rather than trialling it yourself!

 

The Great British Spring Clean

The Great British Spring Clean

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I came across the Great British Spring Clean on Facebook recently and decided to sign the family up. I was really  disappointed at how few clean ups are registered in my local area with none seemingly from schools or early years settings. Hopefully, as the date draws closer, more will join.

Environmental awareness has been in the news a lot lately with children, from around the country, missing school to demand that the government takes action on  climate change.  It also was recently reported that the earth has just 12 short years before it reaches tipping point.

Extinction level events in the animal kingdom have already begun, with one of the most devastating being the rapid decline in the insect world.  Insects form a vital part of the food chain and deterioration in their numbers will affect the mass production of fruits and vegetables. I’ve noticed a huge decline in the number of bee’s, and other insects, visiting my garden over the past 2 years, despite consciously planting species that attract insects and providing for different habitats.

In their rush to prepare children earlier and earlier for testing, schools are missing out on a vital element of the curriculum which will empower the next generation to learn about and look after the environment.  Ecological awareness and sustainability covers all areas of the curriculum and enables children to develop a greater understanding of how our actions impact on the environment and how, by changing our behaviour this can be mitigated.

But what can we, as early years practitioners, do to ensure that our youngest people are involved in this?  As with all things, we need to start with day to day practices and routines in our settings.   Children imitate what they see and if we model behaviour that has a positive impact on the environment then they will follow suit.

If we pass these values onto the young children in our care then we are raising the next generation with the knowledge and enthusiasm to effect real change. After all, they are the generation that will inherit the world that we, by our behaviour, are changing today!

Start simple by providing recycling bins – one for fruit/veg scraps, which can be composted, one for recycling and one for rubbish.  Get the children to take the food scraps to the compost heap or bin and let them see, first hand, how food scraps, leaves and cuttings all break down to make compost, which they can then use to enrich the soil.  Discuss the importance of recycling, with children in context, as and when the opportunity arises and these attitudes will soon be embedded in your setting.

Young children have limited experience of the world but I have always found Come Outside, a BBC children’s programme, really useful for providing my reception aged children with information on things outside their immediate experience, in a simple and accessible way.   The episode about Rubbish gives a great insight into how their rubbish bag from home is just one of many.  Children can find out what happens to their rubbish after it is taken away and how recycling changes what they see as rubbish, into new and useable everyday objects such as bottles.

THREATS TO COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS

For settings on the coast, or those who operate Beach Schools, why not focus your efforts on collecting plastic nurdles.  These are tiny, nugget sized pieces of plastic used by industry as a raw material to make a range of plastic products and are often released into the environment accidentally or through mishandling.

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Image courtesy of https://www.aquarium.co.za

It is thought that there are millions of nurdles in the seas, around our shores, which are washed onto many of our beaches with the tide.  Nurdles attract and absorb other pollutants and over time breakdown into smaller and smaller pieces that enter the food chain when they are swallowed by fish and other creatures.  Approximately 127,500 pellets were collected on just a 100 metre stretch of beach in Widemouth Bay, earlier this year.

Why not organise a group to search for these damaging pollutants on a beach near you?You can use the Nurdle Map to help identify beaches near you that have been found to contain nurdles.

LINKS TO THE CURRICULUM

Teaching children about the positive impact they can have on the environment can’t start too early.  After all, we expect them to tidy up after themselves, dont we?  This isn’t that different, just on a wider scale but the benefits are so much greater, for them and for everyone else.

There are some great ideas online, such as the examples below, for linking The Great British Spring Clean to the curriculum.

These can be found on the eco school website (which has an EYFS as well as primary pathway).

  • English – write an instructional text about how to safely conduct a litter pick: ‘Litter-acy’
  • Maths – record the different litter items found during a litter pick in a graph or chart
  • Art – use ‘clean’ litter to create artworks and sculptures

There are many other ways of linking this to the curriculum for example, children can create posters or invitations for friends and family prior to the event. Alternatively, on completion of the litter pick, they can weigh each bag then combine the totals to find the total weight of litter collected.

FOREST SCHOOL AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Fire in tree

‘Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints’ is a saying that is often heard in connection with forest school. However this saying isn’t strictly true as it’s common practice for forest schoolers to act as guardians of their local environment and take home with them any litter that they find.  Environmental awareness and sustainability is one of the key principles of Forest School and settings that follow this approach have this embedded into their way of working.

Whilst undertaking my forest school training,  I took reception aged children into the local woodland every week and they very quickly came to understand that they could have a say and effect real change in looking after the woodland. They viewed the walk in and out of the woods as an opportunity to collect any litter as well as document any damage to the woodland, such as a fire set at the base of trees, or fly tipping,  which I then would report the relevant department at the local authority .

Why not take a bag to collect litter when going on your next nature walk? This is a great way to develop children’s understanding of the amount of litter  that is needlessly thrown away.  On your return, sort the litter with the children to demonstrate how much is actual rubbish and how much can be recycled, as this will provide children with a more concrete understanding of the impact they can have on their locality.

JOIN UP

Participating in events such as The Great British Spring Clean, promotes and develops community involvement and enables children to better understand environmental issues impacting their local area and discover what they can do to address this.

Schools can register for the event and will be automatically entered into a competition, with a prize of £1,000 for school equipment.  This shouldn’t deter nurseries from participating however, why not contact local schools to find out who is joining the Great British Spring Clean and join in with them?  This is a great way of forging links with other settings too!

Last year 126,000 children and young people participated. Along with the 244,000 other volunteers, across the country, they collected 630,000 bags of litter but more importantly, they hopefully gained a greater insight into the small life changes that they can make to make their local environment a better place to live for them, their families and local wildlife.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why you need to get your babies outside!

Why you need to get your babies outside!

adorable autumn baby blur
Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

We all know the benefits of getting children outside but how often do the youngest children in our care get this opportunity?  Being outside is vital for young babies and even the very youngest will respond to the change of environment as the sights, smells and sounds outside will interest and intrigue them.