Monday, 18 August 2014

Exploring Wood and Tools - Ideas & Inspiration for all Ages AND a Q Toys Giveaway!

This is a sponsored post in partnership with Q Toys. I assure you though that all opinions are my own and cannot be brought

For the past few months my own girls as well as the children attending my family day care service have had a real interest in working and playing with wood and tools.


It doesn't matter whether it is construction, craft, indoors or outdoors there seems to be always something we can do with our toolboxes or some wood! I've had to get a little creative in my extension activities to keep them busy but it's also been interesting to watch what they come up with as well.

It's a good idea when working with kids to remain as flexible in your ideas as you can. Just because I put a box of tools out with some wood doesn't mean they will use them in the way I intended. I have enjoyed setting out different "invitations to play' over the last few weeks though for both  the toddler and preschool ages. 

Construction, wood and tools make a great activity base for multi-age groups as they are materials that are easily modified for safety and age and keep a toddler's short attention span really well as this age loves to figure out how things work!

I think it's important to keep their play props as 'real' as possible so they can really engage with how they have seen wood and tools being used in their everyday environment and community. It makes for a fantastic sustainable activity as the children can help you collect branches, wood offcuts and other materials from around the home to use in their construction. If you are purchasing resources to promote play with wood and other natural materials then I really urge you to choose quality wooden products like QToys offers over the cheap plastic versions. You and the children will get much more use out of them.

I've also added a few well made and obviously well loved tools from my local second hand market. There's nothing wrong with having a mix of resources but try and make sure you are buying a quality product for your money. 

And when you have spent the money make sure you are thinking outside the toolbox (see what I did there?...Hilarious!) to use those resources in as many ways as possible. Combine them with some second hand favourites and some recycled materials from around the yard and you have all the tools (I know, hilarious aren't I?) that you need for many hours of fun!

Here's a few ways we have been playing and learning with wood and tools in the last few weeks. I warn you, some of these photos are seriously cute!

Wood offcuts and glue...fun for all ages! I added real hammers for the older children and wooden hammers for the toddlers....


Why not set up a 'toolshed' outdoors? We used our climbing frames as sawhorses, a pallet wall and lots of our favourite tools and wood pieces collected from around the house, this kept the toddlers busy for a whole morning!



Invite tools and wood into imaginary play and see what the children come up with...on this day our outdoor bus needed some repairs and the wood needed to be transported to 'the shop' for building apparently.


Use what you have to create opportunities for role play and exploration - here we used a baby doll change station as a workbench....


Explore the use of real tools and props from around the yard...toddlers are perfectly capable of working with tools if closely supervised and it provides so many opportunities for learning. On this particular day it lead to a discussion about the indents and patterns the hammers made on the soft wood.


Don't forget that girls love to work and play with tools too..no matter what their age! Don't miss these sort of opportunities


Use wooden planks , tools and wooden construction blocks to invite the imagination in...


Explore the concept of big and small with the use of natural materials and tools. Here the toddlers had lots of fun working with the big logs and we talked about big and small as I introduced the smaller tree blocks.


The Quins Group (Q Toys)  is a Melbourne-based, Australian owned company that designs and manufactures educational toys, teaching equipment and children's furniture. Every design of Q Toys has a specific educational function in order to foster children's physical and mental development and they believe that a child's skills of self learning are critical for the child's future success in this information age.

I really like that Q Toys do not employ and exploit unskilled labor in production lines in poorly equipped factories as sometimes reported in the plastic toy industry. Q Toys ensure highly skilled workers who work with them get a fair deal and that is important to me and should be important to you too!

Although this is a sponsored post for Q Toys regular readers will have seen many of the Q Toys products featured in my blog and Facebook photos over the past year and know that I am being honest with you when I say I really do love their products! I obviously spend a tad too much money there but let's just keep that between you and me as we wouldn't want to give His Patient Self a mini heart attack now would we? And really, when you find something you love you stick with it.

Here are a few pictures of some of my toys and resources from Q Toys that we have been playing with recently (Am really hoping Daddy doesn't read this ;) ) They are all available now through Q Toys.



How would you like to own one of these beautiful Q Toys wooden toolboxes ? 


We absolutely love ours here and my Tara definitely isn't giving hers up, (she repacks it neatly every day would you believe) but if you head over to the Q Toys Facebook page right now and tag a friend you will get the chance to enter a fantastic giveaway and give your budding builders the opportunity to get creative with their very own wooden toolset. There are 2 up for grabs for lucky readers!

Are you excited? Got to be in it to win it friends so head over to their page quickly and enter now. Entries close 30th August 2014.

Tell me...How did you last have fun with wood?


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Warm Wishes...





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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Working with the Framework Learning Outcomes - Part 1 LINKING

Can we have a little chat for a moment about linking the early years learning framework (ELYF) outcomes and your programming cycle? Because from what I can see this topic is causing educators an awful lot of angst at the moment!



I have received some really heartfelt messages and emails lately from educators asking me to please help them to decipher the EYLF outcomes and advise how to link activities to the outcomes. Some educators have told me they are leaving the profession because they just feel to overwhelmed with this part of the planning cycle.

This really makes me sad because there are so many myths and unrealistic expectations floating about in the early childhood profession at the moment and unfortunately not everyone has the time, inclination or even the thought to challenge these myths or the expectations being placed upon them.

Knowledge and understanding can empower you in many ways, it can give you the confidence to ask questions, challenge directives that aren't explained well, engage in self and service reflection and most of all give you the confidence to ask for support or clarification so you can again feel in control.

I know that to find a path to this knowledge base and the clear answers that you seek can be difficult and frustrating. People who should be supporting and explaining often get caught up in explaining expectations with the use of lots of 'important speak' and flowery jargon to help justify their position. I have found that often they do not fully understand why they are asking someone else to do something a specific way, they just 'know' it must be done this way and therefore you must follow.

Now I'm not saying you should always challenge your boss, director, scheme or management committee but you should endeavour to find the information you need for yourself first in a way that you can understand easily, not through another person's "cheat sheet" or directive. When you understand WHY something is being asked of you then you are able to ask informed questions and seek some clarification. What I'm trying to say is don't give up, just find someone who explains things a little better, in a way you are able to understand and feel confident with. Then come back ready for a discussion with the powers that be about more support or information or even offer an alternative suggestion for a way you would prefer to meet the expectation required of you.

Now that I have that off my chest I'd love to try and be that person for you when it comes to understanding how to best use the learning outcomes. Remember that these are only my thoughts and interpretations and stem from my research on expectations surrounding the eylf and the document itself. They might not be what your management team believes. But hey, not going to let that stop me, it's always good to have a healthy debate and reflect on best practice (I am right though...hehe)

Enough waffling, let me try and break this down a little for you and answer some of the questions I have been receiving lately....

Take a deep breath.....here we go!

How do I plan using the Learning Outcomes?


The NQS says in Element 1.1.2 that “Each child’s current knowledge, ideas, culture, abilities and interests are the foundation of the program” .
Element 1.2.1 states that “Each child’s learning and development is assessed as part of an ongoing cycle of planning, documenting and evaluation"

I believe this indicates that we draw on children's ideas and interests as well as their knowledge, culture and abilities and to be able to do this we must know children well. How do we get to know the children in our care this well? We can do this many ways but one important way is through a form of observation and reflection/evaluation and then being able to use that knowledge to plan for future experiences.

The EYLF talks about about a cycle of planning, documenting and evaluating.You can see what I have written about the planning cycle in this previous post - but really all you need to remember is that the observations and assessment you are recording must be meaningful, they must be specific and they must support you to support the child's learning journey and their steps forward. If it doesn't then you have wasted your time and the child in your care hasn't benefited either. I tend to take a photo of a moment I know is important and then come back to it later to analyse. I also take photos that I know a parent will find important for general parent communication. It is vital to include parents in your planning cycle too and this is why I firmly believe that when talking about outcomes and including them in your programming it should be in a way that everyone can understand.


How do I interpret the Learning Outcomes? 



I'm sorry that I don't have a magic answer to this one for you as I know many find the wording and categories of the framework difficult to understand and interpret.

Really, the only thing that worked for me was reading the framework and focusing on the dot points rather than the headings. It is not enough to just read the principles and main headings of the outcomes. You need to read through the dot points underneath and think about how the activities you currently offer might fit into those areas.

If you find it difficult to understand the examples given then step away from the boxes and think about the children you currently have in care in relation to a learning outcome, use your own words. For example...How do you ensure that the children have a strong sense of identity? How might you see this? How can you support them and promote their learning in this area? Think about these questions in the context of your own service rather than what is written in a book.

The most common mistake I see is educators trying to slot one activity into just one outcome. Why do we need to be so rigid? Why put that pressure on yourself? Why not think holistically and consider that the activity might actually fall under a few outcomes and that is perfectly ok? Also consider that one activity might meet different outcomes for different children. It does not need to be an exact science.

I'm going to explore a few more strategies for interpreting the outcomes in part 2 of this series.

How do I know which activity goes with which outcome?

As I mentioned above, please step away from needing to'match' activities with outcomes and check off the boxes as you do so. If you are offering a wide range of activities, incorporating natural playspaces into your environment, and offering the use of quality resources and natural materials then you are more than likely already covering the majority of the outcomes and principles with just your everyday activities.

I tend to plan my program with outcomes in mind but I don't try and match activities or ensure I cover a certain number of them each week. The children's interests and child led activities will also form an important part of my planning cycle over a 2 week period.

For example a simple activity with scissors can fall under a number of the outcomes when you consider the children are cutting 'everyday food ' pictures from recycled paper to explore healthy eating and sustainability. They are also practising colour recognition, eye hand coordination, fine motor skills, problem solving and communicating.

I pretty much use my learning outcomes after the fact. I'd rather not box myself into an outcome per experience, because really I think that many children get many different things/outcomes out of one particular learning experience, so I think its hard to say "ok for this experience I'm hoping to get x outcome. When in fact I'll end up getting a, b, c, m and n, for different children. So I tend to use my observations and other documentation to explore the outcomes met. I incorporate the EYLF wording into this documentation rather than a specific number (eg. 1.1 etc)

I tend to just observe something interesting from a child and then think about which outcomes it matches up with and record/assess that way. In terms of my program I sometimes write up my intentional teaching with a planned outcome in mind but everything else I just add after its happened.

So how do I do that? Here's a brief example of a short observation using the wording of the eylf instead of labelling the experience with an outcome number...

Ruby asked if she could pick the mandarin from the tree as we sat eating morning tea outside. She has been demonstrating a growing appreciation and care for plants in our environment recently through watering and weeding. She has been showing an interest  in incorporating the plants and vegetables from the backyard gardens into her social and dramatic play allowing her to investigate, project and explore new ideas, especially in the sandpit and outdoor cafe. I asked Ruby which mandarin she would choose for morning tea and she replied "the orange one because it is not green" demonstrating that she is able to observe, notice and respond to changes in the environment around her. As she sat down with her mandarin she requested a bowl and then began squeezing the juice from the mandarin while telling us "this is how you make some juice for the shop". I observed Ruby putting the seeds aside on the table and when I asked what she planned on doing with the seeds she replied "I'm going to plant them with my Daddy in the garden to make more trees". 

This observation clearly demonstrates Ruby has a growing understanding of sustainable practices as well as an increased understanding of the interdependence between the land, people and plants. Through everyday access to a range of natural materials in her play environment Ruby is showing through moments like this that she has an emerging respect and appreciation for the natural environment. I'd like to explore and challenge this emerging interest in growing food and eating it and introduce the basic concept and importance of our interdependence of living things.

Did you connect this observation with Outcome 2 - Children are connected with and contribute to their world? I've basically combined a observation with a part analysis here for the purposes of showing you an example. I would include the same sort of wording when planning my extension activity based on this observation.

The order I completed this process was first to be in the moment with Ruby, discuss and problem solve with her, listen to her learning journey, I took some photos as I always have my camera close by for these moments. I remembered her words because I thought they were so very significant so they stuck with me. I didn't turn away and lose focus because I was writing something down, I was actually joining in and experiencing. Later at rest time when I loaded photos onto the computer I was reminded of this special moment and saved a few photos relating to this moment in Ruby's observation folder in her electronic portfolio on my computer. Sometimes I also add some notes at this stage but not often.When I began to write my 'Our Day' daily reflection/communication sheet for the parents (and my own records) I included this moment briefly as a dot point with some of Ruby's own words included along with a picture. This then acts as another record I have to use for next week's forward planning even if I haven't as yet completed the formal observation. I just include the date along with the planned activity relating to this day of the Our Day form onto next week's program under 'children's interests' or 'individual focus activity'. So it's like a shortcut really and another way that I use my Our Day forms to cover many documentation areas if i am short on time.

Later in the week I arranged the photos quickly into a collage and added the observation above while sitting with the framework beside me. By using the language of the outcomes in this way I have gained a much deeper and clearer understanding of the EYLF and the terminology used. If I have time I will then add a short analysis to my forward planning form but often this gets done at a later time and then I will plan an extension activity from this analysis...again including the wording of the EYLF. To me this means a lot more than just putting the outcome number next to an observation. You still have to write an observation, you aren't making more work, by including the wording in your observation you are actually saving yourself time further along the planning cycle...and others will understand what you are recording.

Obviously, I have just tried to explain this as briefly as I could but it's hard to explain everything when writing. Please ask any questions you might have and i'll try to answer. Remember though that this is the system that works for me, it might not for you but I hope it helps in some way! Take what you find useful and modify it to your own needs.

Why don't I like the use of 'cheat sheets'?

Look, I understand the attraction of them. Someone lists a whole lot of activities next to an outcome and you just write the number of the outcome beside the activity on your program.

But can I ask you whether they have helped you to understand the outcomes, whether you have questioned why that activity fits with that outcome, whether it is actually the same for 2 different children or whether that activity actually crosses over to a number of learning outcomes? Do you have to rely on these cheat sheets to program? If you answered yes then I wonder if you are actually meeting the needs of individual children and also understanding that it is the activity that provides the learning experience not the outcome number you have decided upon.

If you are spending so much time just linking the outcome number to an activity using this method then I believe you are possibly missing out on the joy of the planned experience and other learning possibilities because you have already made your decision according to your cheat sheet. A cheat sheet is also someone else's interpretation of the framework learning outcomes and may not reflect your own philosophy, environment or children in your care.

Just something to think about next time you look at a cheat sheet.

Do I need to link my planned activities to the learning outcomes?

The short answer is no. Nowhere does it say you need to do this. Your planning cycle does need to show that you are providing activities and learning opportunities that support children to progress in all of the outcome areas but there is no requirement to link everything you put on your weekly plan to an outcome unless you really feel it helps you to do this.

So no you don't need codes, boxes, numbers or coloured dots unless it's something that supports you in your planning cycle and saves you time somehow.

As I explained above I designed my program template with the principles and learning outcomes of the EYLF in mind so that I know at a glance whether my planning is meeting all areas. Some weeks I might have more planned in one outcome than another but there is nothing wrong with that, it is all about balance and looking ahead on the journey rather than just focusing on each week.

I am also confident that my indoor and outdoor environments, resources and interactions with the children also demonstrate my commitment to learning journey's across all of the eylf learning outcomes.

I personally don't have the time or energy to worry about writing numbers and linking activities but because I have read and interpreted the document in my own way I can  now easily keep in mind the activities that will fall under each outcome. And seriously, if we get it wrong (because we all interpret in different ways) the world is not actually going to come to an end is it? The children will still be having fun, there will still be learning opportunities provided and you will still be a good educator. Cut yourself some slack.

I think this phrase from the EYLF Myths and Realities factsheet is important to note "The emphasis in the EYLF is on planning for learning—not just planning activities. Some activities and resources may regularly be available to children, but as well, educators need to plan and organise particular experiences that support children to make progress towards each learning outcome. Educators may also plan other strategies, such as specific one-on-one interactions, to assist each child’s learning and development."

Keeping this in mind let's talk about observations in regard to showing links to the outcome areas.

 Do I need to link my individual and group observations to the learning outcomes?

I cannot find any evidence in the NQS or EYLF that supports the notion that educators need to physically link their observations or other information they have collected about individual children to the Principles and Practices on their documentation.
"The NQS suggests that assessors may need to sight documentation demonstrating that the five learning outcomes are evident in documentation of children’s learning’. (Element 1.1.1) The information gathered about the child should be analysed and linked to the Learning Outcomes.However, when analysing a child’s learning, educators assess progress over a period of time, rather than ‘leaping to a judgement’ linked to an Outcome.Young children will be ‘working towards’ the learning outcomes and documentation should make this progress visible to the educator and others."


Documentation demonstrating that the 5 learning outcomes are evident in your planning and the children's journey does not mean limiting yourself or a child to an outcome number. Your documentation just needs to show their progress towards the learning outcomes over time. There are many ways to do this rather than just focusing on what outcome was met for one specific activity last Monday. You need to shift your thinking and focus on the child's overall journey. If you let go of the expectation that you need to first link everything correctly to the framework you might be able to get back to just being in the moment with the child as you work together and begin to collect your 'evidence' holistically. 

You might realise that you can actually use the language and ideas of the framework outcomes as you write your documentation (learning stories, obs etc) rather than trying to add numbers everywhere to show your brilliance ;) Using the language of the outcomes but with your own style will truly save you so much time yet you will be meeting all documentation expectations I promise! Read through the example I gave above. I also try to use this wording in parent communication and daily reflections so it can all form part of my evidence of working towards the outcomes and principle of the EYLF

Using your own words will help you understand the EYLF more deeply and also enable you to see the outcomes being expressed differently between children. Try to write in a way that will enable your 'word pictures' to clearly identify all outcomes with not a number in sight!.

Consider also the other ways you can demonstrate a commitment to the EYLF outcomes....Your policies should reflect them, your behaviour and interactions should reflect them and they will be evident in your professional reflections. Just because you can show someone an observation that identifies an example of a particular principle, practice or outcome doesn't convince me that they are applied consistently.

 

Why is it important for others to understand 'my system'?

I firmly believe that your planning and documentation should be transparent to all and easily understood.

A pretty program with lots of linking numbers , colours or coded symbols may make perfect sense to you but not to anyone else. Do you have the time to continually explain your system to work colleagues, parents, coordinators? Why do you need to I hear you ask. Thanks, I'm glad you asked (trying to pretend I'm not just talking to myself here!)

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Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Plunger Painting - Fun for all ages!


When I saw these small plungers while out shopping last week I knew I had to have them. Now I realise not everyone would look at sink plungers and immediately think 'yes, I need 5 of them!" but it's the way my mind works!

Actually the look the cashier gave me as I plonked them all down at the checkout was indeed quite priceless. Is it just me or do you find yourself often saying "I run a family day care service they aren't just for me".

I've actually got a few ideas in mind for these little beauties but I decided to do the obvious first. Well I thought it was obvious when I saw them!


I grabbed some plastic bowls, added some paint and we were ready to go...



A little word of warning...this activity is best done outside as they can get rather 'exuberant' with the plunging and paint.


The activity appealed to the mixed age group with the preschoolers enjoying it as much as the toddlers.


It encouraged lots of communication about colours and big circles. The older girls also worked out they could make patterns and representations like caterpillars.


The toddlers just loved being able to use their muscles and push down hard on the paper to make circles and splatters.


Having to grasp the longer handles and push down hard was a very different movement from using a brush to paint with. The old children soon worked out that they had more control if they grasped the handle lower down toward the plunger.







This activity is not only lots of fun but it's really easy to clean up. Just a quick rinse of the plungers in a bucket of water and some plastic over the trays to keep the paint for another day.



They make lovely prints and the children were very excited to show their parents their 'circles' that afternoon.



I've got some more ideas for ways to use the plungers coming up soon.....in the meantime let's see what else I can find to shock the checkout operator!

What is the strangest thing you have used for painting with kids?


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Warm Wishes...
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