Status Update

😓🙈

It wasn’t that long ago that this is the way I felt. I was working part time and had only been at my school for a half term.

“Was is because of the lice?” I hear you say. No. It wasn’t the worms either.

I “quit” teaching because of the constantly moving goal posts, the pressure on teachers to push through uninspiring and soul destroying curriculums in a way that was not right for children. Standard. I quit teaching because of sadness and feeling defeated.

This was the year that I attended planning meetings with a team of people who were not only unkind but had a view so completely different to me about teaching young children that it was offensive. Like, it was primitive. I used to go home and cry. (insert teeny tiny violin here. 🎻 Who knew there was an emoji for self pity?! )

This was the year I got a shit observation because “you didn’t use the worksheets we had made” and instead I took the learning objective of a plan other teachers had told me I had to teach and instead gathered things from the forest to use practically instead of on a worksheet as a compromise to the crap that I was asked to deliver.

This was the year I worked at a school that had no continuous provision.

This was the year that I looked at the class of 30 inner city children and could see that they had not had any continuous provision.

This was the year I spent days and days giving my time to the school, creating mud kitchens and a digging pit, an artist studio and role play in a place that did not do any of this – but instead relied on a space at a table for every child as they entered Year R.

This was the year that all children were expected to paint a ladybird and not stray from the learning objective.

This was the year that I failed a class of 30 children because I wasn’t strong enough to stand up and tell anyone I thought it was wrong.

I lasted a term there and I left with self esteem so low that I decided I wouldn’t ever return to teaching.

Then I realised I could not afford to put cakes and marshmallows on the shopping list anymore and that swimming lessons for the kids might have to wait “until later”. So I applied for a job in a school that I had never set foot in before. I didn’t get the job (it wasn’t right for me- I wasn’t right for it). But I was offered a different one in Early Years there and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve found a school with a head teacher who has not only belief in play but the courage to allow a curriculum that is risky and very different to the other schools in our catchment and beyond. With people who are kind and that try to learn about current research in pedagogy and care about the children they teach – beyond reading and writing and maths.

So I’m still teaching, and I really couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do than teach Early Years. Honestly, if they take me out of there I’ll quit again and find another job in Early Years somewhere else. I’ve turned in to one of those teachers that I looked at as an NQT and thought were incredibly silly not to want to embrace the entire key stages. I’d rather not. I’d rather stay where I am.

If you’re a new teacher (or an ‘old’ one like me) and find yourself in a school that is not ready to embrace modern pedagogy and do the very best it can for children, then there is hope – there are schools out there that do. There are schools out there who are itching for change. Don’t give up and be a melodramatic tit like me, but do move schools in a less embarrassingly public fashion. #facebookmemoriesmakemecringe #teaching #iloveeyfs #school

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Why I won’t be sending out handprint reindeer this year…

I’ve been teaching a while, and I’m still getting the hang of things – the ever changing curriculum, the jiggling goal posts, judgement, planning crazes and non-rigorous research informed government initiatives are all part of the teaching game. I’m also still learning, like many other teachers, about children.

Education and learning, I’ve learnt, is different for every child. Why? Because every child is unique, every child is different (why did I sing that in a Monty Python ‘every sperm is sacred tune’?!) Every teacher and indeed every human on our planet are individual in every way- no two of us are the same. So why do we treat children this way?

Well, being a teacher is often like being Eddard Stark at the end of Season 1 of Game of Thrones. You’re always trying your best, but someone somewhere is going to have your head for something. You’re trying your best to juggle unreasonable workloads imposed upon you by people who aren’t actually teachers or educational practitioners of any sort and you’re trying your absolute best to ensure all children in your care are safe, happy and thriving. So before I make my Christmas handprint statement I just want to say – I get it. I totally get why you might do it. Especially in week 8 of the longest term ever. EVER! (I’m honestly ready to sack Father Christmas off now).

But ‘handprint art’ just isn’t something I believe in anymore. Children placing their hands in a place driven by an adult holding their arm, to make a picture that is chosen by an adult, to give to an adult, each picture exactly the same as the other is something I don’t roll with these days. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of it. I made finger print Christmas cards in a desperate attempt to get the order back to PAFs back in October. But I don’t believe what I did was right.

If every child is unique, then we should be letting our children show this. So what if little Bobby likes to draw Daleks in mud and Sandra (?!) enjoys scribbling in big circles? So what if Greta has drawn a picture of a meadow with Santa sat in the middle eating a ham sandwich entirely in HB grey and Frank has made a mosaic out of broken tiles in the shape of his little sisters big toe? It’s what makes children individual that show us their potential. Their imaginations and their thoughts are so important and so valuable. That’s why I don’t make reindeer handprints. I don’t make clay rockets for an entirely different reason. 😶

Our atelier has produced a range of individual art and the children have spent more time talking with one another about their lives and thoughts, more time reflecting on their learning, adapting and thinking and their processes, more time learning about mixing colours and textures and more time being proud of the process and finished articles. They have never demonstrated this whilst pushing their hand in to a paint sponge and printing it onto paper. They make completely child initiated choices that show how wonderful each and every child is.

The “constantly evolving” classroom

If you work with me you’ll know how much I bloody love moving things around. Firstly, I enjoy going to sleep at night being certain that underneath the units are completely clear of shit. Secondly, I feel like it’s an absolutely essential part of being an Early Years teacher.

Every day the children come to school. They treat the classroom exactly as I want them to: as a home from home. Children access every area of the classroom independently and know that they can always ask if they feel stuck. It works, but it’s taken time for it to be this way.

Aside from learning through observing the footfall of children during their continuous provision, the main reason for changing stuff around is to ensure that the space flows. As much as I hate to say it, angled furniture seems to encourage the flow to various areas of provision, although it does my head in. The best thing to conquer my desire for straight-ness whilst ensuring the flow is maintained is through the addition of circular tables. There’s little better than a low perfectly circular table in the classroom. I love them for two reasons: they change the flow of those who walk through provision and they are great for encouraging communication. Very rarely have we only one child around a circular table, whereas often we saw children individually sat or stood at little rectangle tables.

The more interesting the furniture, the more I love it. I love strange tables and baskets and bits and bobs. They promote inquisitive nature. They promote ‘special-ness-ness’ much more than the fold out red tables that were in Year R previously. Children visit them more often and seem to almost link their learning to the places at which it happened. (Sounds like I have a mini research project in the pipeline).

Very often I’ll stand in the middle of the room and watch the children play independently, admiring their focus and learning. The minute that the children are showing me something is the moment things change. For example, the deconstructed role play area. I both love and hate this place. On one hand it’s where dreams are made and creativity comes to life. On the other it’s a vat of crap that’s piled in a way that I try to see as neat, but resembles a compost heap. Anyway, it was working really well – imaginative play, creativity and loads of rich conversations were had there. After a few weeks it dwindled. Tubes were being rolled about the place and little learning was occurring. We switched this about, took away some of the masses of stuff that we had there and suddenly the children were back to their creative selves. Nothing had changed but replacement and reduction meant children gained a new focus in this area.

Similarly the writing station changed today. I hate it. I hate looking at it. It makes me itchy and uneasy. But the children loved it. The aim was to engage boys in more writing opportunities indoors (ooh stereotypical, I know!) and so far it looks like it’s encouraging them to make marks. A bit of dark, a bit of secret writing and hey presto! they’re all fucking authors. Well, they’re in it and making marks and that suits me just fine today.

So I will continue to have the piss taken out of me for moving shit around. I will take it on the chin, for every move I make is to ensure the children in class are getting a bloody good start to their lives and thrive as human beings. Even if it is annoying for adults to see 😋

The actual very best sort of teacher ever.

The children in class have settled (you know they’ve settled when they’re running in every morning and helping themselves to handfuls of snack, whilst I pop up behind them, swiftly passing them a Numicon shape whilst saying “15 hoops! 15 hoops!” In my most shrill voice ever).

They feel safe, they’re content, or at least they look like they feel this way. Most importantly (!) they’re beginning to understand my jokes and that glazed expression has disappeared from their faces every time I do something silly. They’re having fun, and that means I’m having fun…we are heading to a really awesome place together where learning starts to get a little bit nutty. I know I’ve reached that place with the class when I do my silly dance in the middle of some song or other we are learning and they actually laugh. Or when I tell them a story about trumps and they think it’s funny because they’ve actually started listening to the words that I read loud to them. (Must fund the book with no pictures in the library to read to them…if you’ve never read this it’s a must read – buy it here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=the+book+with+no+pictures&index=aps&tag=hydrukspg-21&ref=pd_sl_8xeu8qbsuk_e&adgrpid=54717661378&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvadid=259110368085&hvpos=1t1&hvnetw=g&hvrand=2295712738062489060&hvqmt=e&hvdev=m&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9045799&hvtargid=kwd-360959094197)

Just recently at work I’ve felt a bit lost. I’ve been looking about the place and not really knowing what to do, who to interact with, how to interact…part of this is the Summer holiday mind blank that hits me after six weeks off without engaging my brain in education, but this year has been quite different – week 5 of school and I’m still in a bit of a pickle. The reason, after much reflection, is the unusual qualities of this years pupils. And I don’t mean unusual qualities like the ability one child has to itch the bottom of their foot with their teeth, but the level of confidence and independence they have. I’ve been prepping myself for guiding children to use the provision. I have done this, and will be doing this for some time but the kids in class just pick it up (not in the tidying up sense – that’s a different ball game) They seem to be cracking on all on their own. Or maybe it’s not that at all, maybe I just feel lost for the sake of feeling lost, uninspired and already bloomin’ tired out? It may be because I have not had a full nights sleep in six years (cheers kids!) or maybe it’s because the sun has gone away. Either way, whatever it is I’m definitely underperforming, and it’s going to stop now. And I know I give myself a hard time, but I really do like to do things well.

I’ve had time to stand and watch and adapt provision and analyse foot fall and baseline by observation and play and all of that shiz that we do…it’s been great. Now it’s time to engage my brain and light that fire that I seemed to have lost. The ‘on it’ fire.

We trialled an objective led planning format last year, and are cracking on in that manner this year, whilst trying to be entirely child centred and child led. That means that all of the enhancements in class are a reflection of those interests, however obscure. So far the children’s interests have been incredibly difficult to tease out, and where there were interests, there have been little resources in the bank to be truly responsive. Instead we have relied heavily on the core basis of our continuous provision. We have loose parts construction, deconstructed role play and a load of open ended resources in small world and around provision. What has been hard is teasing out the interests and giving children a real crack at using their imaginations, whilst sprinkling what we actually can gather in resources around the setting.

Now I need to be more ‘on it’ – I need to make sure that I’m making every interaction count, every enhancement inspiring and every provocation irresistible.

I’m going to start by finding a gigantic box like the sort you get if you buy a new fridge freezer and then I’m going to sit in it. I won’t be able to see out, because the box I’m hunting for it gigantic. I’m going to sit in it, and my little buddies are going to sit in it. I’m going to sit in a box with my little buddies and I’m going to chat to them. We’re going to chat about whatever their little minds spew out. I’m going to listen to them in the way that they’ve learnt to listen to me, because I know I have observed them, and I know I talk to them all the time, but I’m not sure I’ve actually listened to them in the way that I should, and if I’m not listening then where are they going to turn when they’re struggling?

It’s so hard at the start of the year to not get jaded by the day to day stuff – the changing of clothes, the wiping of tears, the magic green hand towels and the other stuff like coordinating subjects, writing action plans etc. It’s hard to look over the classroom and see what’s happening, without actually exploring and delving in to the world that the children are experiencing. So my ‘not so new new year resolution’ is to listen more, to actually listen, not just presume I understand what a child is trying to say to me. And to get back ‘on it’, because the children in my class deserve my very best.

Oh, and to eat less biscuits.

Here’s a photo of my son demonstrating what it must be like to be a child at school talking to me. No longer!

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The power of little people

Every year I worry about the children coming to school. As a mother myself I know the feeling of giving your child to a stranger and hoping to god that they stay safe and are happy. I also remember how small my son Jacob was when he started school, and although he is a Spring born, he still seemed so small. I worried about him feeling lost. I worried about him feeling sad or being hurt and having nobody to give him a cuddle.

Jacob’s first day at school

I have attended so many meetings where pre school teachers and Reception teachers have told me they aren’t allowed to cuddle the children in their class, and it always fills me with sadness. When my son is in Pre school and needs a cuddle, I’m certain that I want him to have one, and I guarantee he receives one. I’m not entirely sure my son would have had a cuddle from his original reception teacher, but his teachers since her departure have been loving, and his exceptional Year 1 teacher (a man no less! Crazy, I know!) was really caring. That made me feel at ease, and I think it meant that he has been allowed to express how he is feeling as he knows those feelings have been valued and validated.

If a child needs a cuddle and wants a cuddle, then they will receive a cuddle. It’s part of caring for our children and encouraging them to grow emotionally.

Anyway, I digress… I had a few minutes to stop and reflect about the week that has just passed. I compared the fear that I had at the start of the week, before I got to know some of the children attending our school, to how I feel now. Here’s what I have learnt…children (this is pretty crazy) are powerful little people. Like, super powerful, yo.

They have come in to school with their special grown ups, in to an unfamiliar place and trusted me to look after them. Me! I struggle to dress myself in the mornings. Me! They have put their entire trust in me to keep them safe. They believe everything I say and trust that everything I do is for good. When they grab hold of my leg, or my hand, or throw their hands around my neck in some sort of ninja fashion I know they are leaning on me for support.

Imagine being an adult and being in this situation – you’ve only ever been with your special grown up, you’re placed into a weird setting, told “here’s your teacher” and left there. You don’t know what’s beyond the classroom and the outdoor garden, you don’t know any other person there, you don’t know what the noise is beyond the hedge. Your alone. The children starting school are the most amazing people ever. They trust, they believe and they are brave.

Since Monday, the children have grown in confidence. They go places they’ve never been before, like teeny tiny explorers navigating their way to the office with the sacred register, dodging big people and fallen lunchboxes and taking the right turns along the way.

By Friday we knew each other well. We were braver than before and made new friendships in the most beautiful ways possible.


“Can I be your friend?”

“Yes”


From walking in like deer in headlights the children have begun working independently. They are developing relationships and dealing with new situations in their stride. They are accessing all areas of provision and creating the most wonderful structures from our deconstructed role play and loose parts. I can’t wait to see how far these kids are going to go this year!

The power of children: they surprise me every single day and remind me how intelligent and and loving they are to the most unfamiliar people.

Note: I expect this is a honeymoon period. Fully bracing myself for carnage next week!

Take me to the beach

Woolacombe bay – home to surfers, rock pools and incredibly beach space (when the tide is out, obvs). It is here that we have been holiday-ing for the week and here that my sons have grown before my very eyes. We saw a board up advertising National Trust Rock Pooling and we decided to take a walk. When we arrived, we were provided with rock pooling tools and were talked to by the beach rangers (what a bloody cool job?! I think it is cool for 2 reasons – 1) it’s on the beach and I love the beach. 2)being called a ranger sounds awesome! Can we now be grass rangers? Or for the inner city teachers, Concrete rangers?!) We were then set off to discover. And boy did we discover! SUCH FUN! In fact, next time I come I’m not planning on taking the kids…

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Firstly, if you live near the beach, I’d like to express my jealousy – the seaside has always been one of my favourite places and if I wasn’t such a home bird, I would be living by the sands myself. If you work in a school near the beach, I am also jealous – beach school sounds and looks incredible. If you work in a school near the beach and don’t use it daily, then you need to ask yourself ‘why the hell not?!’ because it opens up such a range of brilliant learning. I saw it happen in all of the children I watched on the beach today. And with some of the adults too…

I saw it in the eyes of the lady, who had bought with her two small twins to the beach. Her supportive family teamed up to take one and leave her to look after the other. They were all doing an excellent job – the mother and children were brilliantly attentive and although smaller than perhaps 3, their curiosity and awe was beautiful to see. We rock pooled for about an hour, and about half way through I heard the mother shriek. I immediately turn and watch one of her children run full speed in to a rock pool, not realising the depth of the water and go completely underneath the water. She floated face down in the water for what seemed like an age, but was in reality a moment. As I lunge forward to assist, her mother had already grabbed her by the scruff and pulled her to safety. It was my first reminder that the sea was dangerous and that you can watch your children as closely as you like, you can try to give them just the right amount of freedom and you can teach them to be independent in the right ways, but sometimes shit things happen. Sometimes there are different lessons to be learnt, and sometimes there are little things there to remind us of how dangerous the ocean is, even at low tide, and how precious life is. I thought to myself ‘I don’t have a first aid kit, I don’t have a water rope, I have not assessed the risk of this activity’ but here we all are, being adventurers and treading through tunnels of slate in search of sea critters. And yes, that little girl fell into the water, but it was worth the risk. I can’t imagine she will run full speed in to a pool of water again. I can’t imagine her mother will ever forget it either.

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As I watched my own kids – brave little explorers – I thought about why we were doing this. I know, it is fun. But why was it so fun for all of us? I know my husband found it fun, because I hardly saw him the hour we were there and when we did he emerged a little less tidy and looking like a proud schoolboy, clutching his finds with pride. He enjoyed the hunt, the find. I did too, but my joy came from watching the children. My own children, who were playing and exploring in this unfamiliar environment. They were engaged, motivated and thinking both creatively and critically. When I looked around at others, I saw it too.

Not one child left that beach that had not taken risks, solved problems, imagined situations, made links within their experiences, showing satisfaction and pride, working collaboratively, engaging in new experiences and challenging themselves. Why on earth are we not all teaching Early Years on the beach?!

Or in the river for that matter. Or in the woodlands even. Or in the overgrown pond. Why on earth do we let the four walls of our classrooms confine us? I still know practitioners who schedule “Outside times” – it’s absolutely bloody madness because I have never seen such a spectrum of learning occur inside the classroom like I did on the beach today. So please, open the doors all day, walk to the nature reserve, cross the main road to the green and you will see the changes in the children you teach.

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The value of play: what I learnt from my 3 year old

Today, in the middle of our all inclusive holiday, we rested. The deciding moment for this day of rest was when my eldest cried because missed the dog, who he’s ignored for the past year of its existence. He cried because there were too many steps to the apartment. He cried because he didn’t want pudding and he cried because 6 hours in the pool wasn’t quite enough. So today we rested.

By ‘rest’ I mean played games in the apartment, ate a lot and took a short stroll down the beach. No swimming today (thank fuck! Why is it that every other family are swimming, taking a break on the lounger, dipping their feet and reading a book and mine are swimming from the second we reach the pool to the time I have to drag them away?! My body looked like an elephants arse hole by the end of the day. Bravo other mums looking relaxed)

My youngest has been going for it full pelt also, but is not yet swimming independently and so uses less energy. Instead he’s spent most of the time clinging to an adult whilst we encourage him to float his bum and kick his legs. This has, of course, resulted in some ‘kicked mummy’s bottoms down’ and ‘reveal nipple to all’ moves. Not cool. He occasionally stepped casually into the water from the edge which gave me time to correct my swimwear.

We came on holiday hoping that Joshua would learn to swim. Every day in the water is bound to make him swim, right?! Apparently not. He doesn’t care for swimming. Even when we let go of him he clings on like a limpet, so we have just decided he’s not yet ready. Or he’s just very lazy.

During our relaxing-not-relaxing-at-all-should- have- sent- them -to -kids -club- but -instead- thought- we -would- spend -quality -time -together- this- holiday day we have mostly been playing top trumps with Jacob (and laughing at the word trump) and playing animals with Joshua.

Joshua loves a bloody animal. In fact, the highlights of the holiday for him are making friends with a pigeon who he has named Journey (he’s even been talking about Journey in his dreams) and petting the stray cats around the complex (insert panic mum tetanus jab moments here). Being the superhero mother I am, I purchased some mini boxes of playmobil animals for the flight out (fuck knows what I’m going to do on the return journey as I exhausted all bribes on the trip out). Anyway, the mini otter set and mini puppy dog walker set were a magnificent hit. And we’ve been playing with them ever since. Joshua packed several other playmobil animals for holiday, and they’ve all been getting on like a house on fire. Dreading the usual ‘mummy, set the animals up with me’ conversation, I avoided playing with him for the first day.

On the second day I gave up and played animals and I was really surprised. Somewhere between the Canary Islands and London he had grown up. Every single little experience we had on our route was noted, banked and understood. His glassy look and apparent vacancy at the airport through to bedtime on the first night was all a con.

“Mummy, let’s play animal hotels”

“Animal hotels? Ok. I wonder what is at the animal hotel?”

“You can be the owl and this (handing me a playmobil laptop) is where you put the names when we come in. Then you give the animals who are all in this line a number to stay in. There’s a restaurant too and they want to eat. Sometimes there’s a tea party too for the animals at the hotel. Hello I’ve come to stay the night. Two nights please in room seventeen with a balcony not downstairs”

And then we played. All of the animals had a wonderful time. Some flew home and some stayed another night. Some ate three courses at the hotel restaurant and some just came and went to sleep. One snake was poorly, but recovered quickly with some calpol. Joshua allowed me to make suggestions and change the plot. He responded with real character and used words I’ve never heard him use before, in sequences I’ve never heard him use before.

This was not the same game we had played repetitively for the past few weeks. This was brilliant.

He did not, however, approve of putting a turtle on a lead for the hotel turtle parade. Shame.

I know I have to let my kids ‘be bored and develop their own imaginative play’ (more on that disaster later) but the value of play is so critical in order to develop and understand how amazing children are. Play with me, play with their friends, playing with unfamiliar folk and playing solo. They all hold their own value and before I’m quick to suggest another game when Joshua asks to play animals I’m going to give it a chance. Who knows what adventures they might go on next?!