The power of pine cones!

The Power of a Pine Cone!

About 3 Sundays ago I suggested an afternoon walk to my husband. He has 30 years experience of being married to a primary school teacher so his question, as he collected his carrier bag, was not ‘where are we going?’ but ‘ok, what are we collecting today?’ ‘Pine cones’ was my reply and off we went to the woods. An hour later we had 2 bags of pine cones of all shapes and sizes.
Why? Because a simple pine cone can be one of the most useful resources in a classroom and it’s free! As I say to my staff, stay with me, I haven’t lost it completely!

I love natural resources.

A basket of pine cones in your role play can become any type of food the children imagine, how much more creative than the bright coloured plastic pieces that are standard? Pine cones can be currency in a shop, children will work out their own denominations and values, 5 small pine cones might be worth 1 large one. Think about the mathematical possibilities!

A basket of pine cones in your creative area. I have seen them turned into animals, wheels, people or just decorated for the satisfaction of adding decoration. Resist the temptation to add googly eyes with the suggestion of hedgehogs as you will end up with 30 formulaic hedgehogs and lose the opportunity for individual creativity.

I think you’re probably getting the idea! Pine cones in small world will become people, trees etc. In construction they will be added to structures and models.

I used my pine cones in a whole school assembly to talk about uniqueness. We marvelled at the uniqueness of each pine cone. How pine cones look the same but each one is different and amazing. This led us to think about the uniqueness of each of us, how we are all different but each of us is amazing. I gave each class a pine cone to take back to their classroom to remind them to value themselves and each other.

Over the last 2 weeks it has been very special to receive gifts of pine cones from the children. A little girl knocked on my office door with a pine cone wrapped up in home made wrapping paper and a label ‘To Mrs N love from A x’. She said ‘I know you like pine cones and you gave us all one to remind us how special we are so I found one for you because you are special too’.

The power of a pine cone, need I say more!
Oh and by the way it’s conkers this week, get your carrier bag Mr N!




Magic Potions for Learning

Magic Potions for Learning!
As a Head Teacher I have the privilege and pleasure to spend time in many classrooms across the course of a week. Reflecting today on the week gone by I felt I had to tell you about some joyous learning that has been happening in one of my KS2 classrooms.
Firstly to set the scene:
As a school, over the last year, we have been working hard to develop active play-based learning across all key stages. This has involved examining our curriculum, our environment and most importantly our shared pedagogy of how children learn.
At staff meeting this week I gave a reminder of what we believe about how children learn with quotes from some of the theorists whose work underpins our approach. I have included these below.
Children learn through:
• Movement- ’thought in action’ Margaret Donaldson (1978).
• Curiosity- ‘I am neither very clever nor especially gifted. I am only very, very curious’ Einstein.
• Imagination- ‘Imagination is not just a cute faculty that children use to weave fantasies: It is one of the most effective tools in the learner’s toolbox’ Guy Claxton.
• Creativity- ‘Creativity should not be considered a separate mental faculty but a characteristic of our way of thinking, knowing and making choices’ Loris Malaguzzi (Reggio Emilia).
• Hands-on experience- ‘Playing around with materials or ideas just to see what happens is a powerful way of asking questions’ Guy Claxton.
• Play- ‘In play, a child is always above his average age, above his daily behaviour; in play, it is as if he were a head taller than himself’ Vygotsky.

This week in my Year 4 classroom with one of my youngest teachers who has just completed her NQT year I have witnessed all these things!
The children came into the classroom on the first day of term to find a Potions Lab all set up ready for experimentation and an Alice in Wonderland themed book area amongst other opportunities in the classroom provision. Over the last 8 days they have created potions, written spells and recipes, learnt about measures through weighing and measuring ingredients for their potions, learnt about solids, liquids and gases, engaged in role play in the potions lab, written poetry, listened to magical music, worked out prices of potion ingredients, designed potion bottles, started to read Alice in Wonderland and learnt about imperative verbs. All this in a context that allows children to move, talk, be ‘hands on’, be curious, be creative, use their imagination, be creative and most of all to PLAY.
I have been popping in and out during the last week and the children have been fully motivated and engaged on each occasion. There have been many magical moments. A little girl writing a potion recipe on specially prepared tea stained paper told me ‘this is special potion paper and we’ve got a whole basket of it over there!’
On Thursday evening the teacher transformed her classroom ready for Potions Day. The children arrived dressed as witches, wizards, Harry Potter. The staff transformed themselves into witches and mad scientists! The children walked into a magical environment with spiders, webs, bats etc.
Another of our whole school aims is to:
Create an ‘irresistible learning environment’.
Margaret McMillan describes it as ‘an environment where learning will almost be inevitable.’
Or Reggio Emilia ‘an environment that itself teaches the children’.
Or Tina Bruce ‘A truly enabling environment provides the stimulation and the positive relationships that support children to feel safe enough to explore. But it has to be the kind of environment that allows children to ‘wallow’ and take as much time as they need’
I would challenge any adult or child to spend a day in that kind of environment without learning anything-impossible! They were immersed in exciting, irresistible provocations with adults who were allowing freedom to explore, the children had time to ‘wallow’ in everything on offer. They spent the day going to the nature area to collect sticks to make wands, designing and creating potions, following potion recipes and creating edible magic wands. They brought science, maths and English work to assembly to celebrate with the rest of the school.
I am thinking of putting this notice on every classroom door!





When is a wine rack not a wine rack?

When is a wine rack not a wine rack?

When you give it to a class of children!

No, I haven’t gone completely mad. Yes, I did give a wine rack to my class for their small world area.
It came from my parents house one weekend when they were clearing out and I thought it looked a bit like a castle. That was about a far as my thinking went. I would put it out with the small world resources and see what happened. Considering that we also had a ‘proper’ plastic castle, complete with firing cannons, working drawbridge, knights with swords, I wasn’t expecting much interest.
As usual, my class proved me wrong!
It started with the characters living in/on it as a classic castle with some fantasy stories being told. Then it became a ‘fantasy cave castle’ complete with experimentation with patterns and glass beads. Each child that played brought something new to the story. But my favourite idea came completely child-initiated from a group of boys. I should note, these boys were the ones previously arguing over the plastic castle. They found some wooden lolly sticks and set up a challenge of how many they could weave and balance across the beams. A fantastic opportunity to develop those fine motor skills! We enhanced the challenge by adding in the wooden people. How many people can you balance on the lolly sticks? Clip boards were found, tables drawn up, scores recorded, rules decided…they were hooked! They sat and concentrated on this task for the best part of the morning session. Over an hour of concentration from 5-6 year old boys is a thing of beauty.
Oh and the plastic castle? That was packed away because “there’s too many bits, Miss.”
Well, you can’t argue with that.


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Go away, I’m busy!


Go away I’m busy!

As a trainee teacher I was always taught to ask questions as much as possible, make sure they are open, make sure they are probing, sit with a group of children and guide them through their learning, through effective questioning.
I took my son, William, to a local park where he spent an hour or more playing in the rather wet sand pit, busily putting sand into the water bottle he’d found.
I was fascinated by what he was doing and went over to discuss it with him. After some rather short answers to my beautifully structured, open questions, he looked at me, sighed and said,’mummy go away I’m busy’.
Following this comment I thought, do we really have to be questioning children until they are totally sick of it, and it made me think about my role as a facilitator not a teacher. I had…

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Put that back!

Put that back!
During my training and NQT year in year one I was warned about children ‘transporting’ (taking resources from one area to another) around the classroom and was told I need to train them to stop this as early on as possible. This means only using resources in the area that they have been put by the teacher. I have to be honest; I’ve never had an issue with transporting. Children see the world in a very different way to adults and frequently think of far more imaginative ways to use resources than we would be able to. I learned a lesson this week from a group of children about how to get the most out of an investigation area!
Having spent the holidays creating my provision areas, the area that I was least impressed with at the end was my investigation area. We are learning about materials this term so I stocked it with books about materials, a variety of natural and man-made materials, beads, shells, sorting hoops… but I wasn’t inspired by it. I thought “I’ll see how it goes but I’ll have to think of something exciting to change it into.”
I needn’t have worried; on our second day in the classroom a group of children changed it for me. It started with two girls laying out all the different buttons and beads on the flat stones to make a display. They then fetched the money from the maths area so that they could turn it into a jewellery shop. For the rest of the afternoon they were engrossed in sorting the beads and working out how much they should charge for them.
The next morning when they arrived in the classroom they found a sign saying ‘jewellery shop’ attached to the shelves and some jewellery design sheets had been added. That morning was spent designing necklaces and labelling the various materials that they would need to make them. One little girl insisted that the beads all be threaded in a repeating pattern. So back to the maths area they went to retrieve the wooden beads and thread and experimented with different repeating patterns. At this point, apart from the enhancements I put in provision and the occasional question, there had been no direct adult input. They knew I was there to help but made it very clear that they didn’t need me- this was THEIR area now!
My time to become directly involved came that afternoon. The children had found they couldn’t use the chunky shoelaces to thread the metal buttons and beads as it was too wide- did I have anything thinner? After a quick rummage in the cupboard I found blunt needles and embroidery thread. Would this do? Yes, they decided it would do. So we sat for the next hour, threading beads and deciding which of the beads we liked best and why. We priced up our beautiful creations, found the correct change to pay for them and modelled them around the classroom for all to see. Next week we will be photographing our jewellery and creating a catalogue with descriptions of the products to take for the head teacher to place her order.
I NEVER would have thought of making a jewellery shop as an area of provision. But in the space of a couple of days those children have found more learning opportunities in that investigation area than I could ever have hoped! It got me thinking- would this have happened if I had told them to “put that back!”?
To finish, a quote from “The Irresistible Classroom” by Community Playthings,
“Crossover between activity areas is natural. A child making spectacles in the workshop for role play, or bringing pebbles from the investigative area to decorate a block tower in the construction area, is making intelligent connections. This should be encouraged – after all, the goal of education is for children to lead their own learning forward!”




Your NQT year: what they DON’T tell you

It’s the start of the year again! NQTs up and down the country are starting out in their first teaching post and this time last year I was one of them. So I thought I would share some of what I have learned in the last 12 months.

  • Find your song.

I was told this by a very good friend who was an NQT mentor.  Hers was “I’m still standing” by Elton John. Mine was “ROAR” by Katy Perry. Find your song and listen to it in times of crisis. Blast it in the car, sing it in the shower, set it as your ring tone… This song will be your mantra.

  • Tacky back!

If you don’t have hessian display boards; cream backing paper, tacky back and whiteboard pens will keep you sane. Tacky back your working walls. When I moved to my second school this was a revelation for me! You can write directly onto the wall and wipe off again easily. No changing backing paper or laminating resources for hours! It takes some time at the beginning of the year but worth every second.

  • Share, share, SHARE!

Share everything. Found a great resource? Share it! Got an idea? Don’t keep it to yourself. I’m a big believer in treating others how you would like to be treated. If you were struggling with assessments or needed inspiration for a lesson plan, wouldn’t you want someone to help? Even though you’re an NQT you still have great ideas. Share them.

  • Look after yourself.

It’s a hard year and everyone wants to hit the ground running, but don’t make yourself ill.  I’m not talking about eating your vegetables, drinking plenty of water, taking vitamins, getting plenty sleep… I’m talking about really taking time to feel human. Go home BEFORE 5 o’clock every once in a while. Buy yourself a chocolate bar just BECAUSE. Keep emergency jelly babies in your cupboard.  DON’T laminate that lettering that’s only going to be on the wall for a week.

  • Take risks

You are new, fresh, and full of wonderful (and possibly weird) ideas. But the weird and wonderful are usually the most memorable to the children. Want to build junk models in literacy? Do it! Fancy taking the children outside for a giant water/gloop investigation? Why not? Want a tiger to come to tea? YES! (All true events!) You will never get this time back again. Yes, it’s scary doing something ‘different’ that maybe does’t fit the mould. But as long as the children are safe, having fun and most importantly, learning, then have a go! You never know, you might just inspire someone.

  • Hang out with friends that AREN’T TEACHERS.

Those people who don’t use phrases like, “I need to laminate some tadpoles” or, “Well I was in the cupboard looking for a polar bear” on a daily basis. People that don’t talk in acronyms, “Sorry I can’t come out, I’ve got to place an order with YPO, update my APP, calculate the percentage of GLD, fill in the EYFSP and make a presentation to put on the IWB.” Sound familiar? Find these people and enjoy hanging out with them whilst NOT talking about “what little Freddie has gone and done again.” It will keep you functioning like a (vaguely) normal human being.

  • Find a quote, saying, story, person…

…anything to keep you going when you are getting stressed and wondering “why am I doing this?!” (it happens to us all) So on a rainy Tuesday afternoon when the carpet is covered with corn flour, your sink is blocked with spaghetti, you’re coming down with tonsillitis and you’ve got an LEA inspector arriving the following morning (again, all true events!), you have something to remind yourself why you got into this crazy profession in the first place! Mine was a poster I saw online. It simple says “Let them be little.” Find yours, print it, and keep it easily accessible for instant motivation.

  • Find your school Auntie/Uncle.

This might be the person who works alongside you in your year group. It could be your teaching assistant. It could be someone who works at completely the opposite end of the school to you. The point is, you know that you can walk into their classroom at any time to celebrate, laugh, cry, bang your head against a wall, or (depending on the situation) all the above simultaneously. Trust me, they are your saviour.

I could go on. Your NQT year will be like no other year in your career. You will laugh. You will cry. You will plan lessons and 5 minutes in think, “what was I thinking?!” You will make amazing friends. You will eat a lot of biscuits. You will learn more than you can possibly imagine. Most importantly, you will spend a year working with the most brutally honest, wonderfully creative, hilariously funny, fantastically unique people on this earth: children. And what a privilege that is.

Good Luck!