“Everyone is different…”

“But that means everyone can fit in” (Paddington The Movie, 2014)

Just from one quote, Paddington the Movie could stem a lot of lessons about inclusion, respecting diversity and expressing feelings. However, this was not the reason behind watching this film. We had been told about Paddington the Movie in our social studies elective as it showed migration in a different way to looking at this from a crisis point of view for example in World War II. This quote just shows the diversity of the movie and how much can be taken from it. The film could be looked at with a class for health and wellbeing purposes or for social studies.

Whilst I was watching it I was thinking more from a social studies perspective as, as I have said, it was why we were prompted to watch it. Right from the beginning of the film there were a multitude of different topics in social studies that the film could act as a stimulus for. Therefore, I am going to go through the ideas I felt could be derived from the film.

Firstly, in the film the reason behind Paddington moving to London was due to a natural disaster. An earthquake hit “The Darkest Peru” and caused devastated in their jungle. The earthquake also killed Paddington’s uncle. This could be a stimulus for a class discussion of how  Paddington would be feeling at this time, what the class would do in Paddington’s situation: would they stay in a ruined home/dangerous place or would they move away? This can also be used as a stimulus to look into natural disasters, can these happen where the children live? Where is the closest or most recent natural disaster? How did this affect the people of those towns?

Paddington is then left to evacuate to London on his own because his auntie is too old to move away. This can be linked directly to World War II topic where the children are forced to leave their homes to move to the countryside without any of their family or knowing where they would end up but they knew it would be the safety option in the end. The movie does make this direct correlation to the war and therefore could be an interesting discussion point. Another way to make the human connection the Paddington in this situation, the class could be asked if they were to move today and could only take a small bag, what would they put in this bag? Would the class be practical and pack food like Paddington did with his Marmalade or warm clothing or would they choose to pack things that are more modern such as phones, iPads, make up etc. This could create a discussion as to why they would take these items? Where would they charge them if they did not have a home? This takes the lesson right back to the children and can create a sense that children could be materialistic and why in a time of crisis materialistic possession would not always be most helpful.

Another small link to WWII can come through artefacts. In Paddington the Movie, Millicent, who tries to capture and stuff Paddington can be seen wearing a gas mask similar to those that would have been worn in WWII. This can be a stimulus for discussing historic artefacts. The children could guess what she is wearing and why she is wearing it? If they already know what it is, the children could discuss where else they might have found out about this artefact.

Through the film, Paddington’s idea of home and family changes. At first, Paddington does not feel like he belongs in London. He misses the Peruvian Jungle and his auntie dearly. He feels unwanted by Mr Brown but Mrs Brown tries to include Paddington into the family and find him a long term home. This could be related back to terrorist attacks or WWII through looking at how communities pull together in a time of need, how friendly Londoners/Mancunians have been in recent events to strike their city and take people in when necessary. The children could discuss how they can be helpful to their community or how they would feel taking in a stranger or being taken in by a strange family. By the end of the film, Paddington is finally settled into life in London and is now living with the Brown family permanently. Paddington says that although the Brown’s are a strange tribe and life in London is different to the Peruvian Jungle, he feels more at home now. And Mrs Brown tells him in London “Everyone is different, but that means everyone can fit in”. Even a bear.

Overall, I think throughout many points in the film it could be paused and used as a discussion piece. The movie as a whole could also be a great stimulus for many lessons regarding migration, crisis, natural disasters, inclusion, diversity and human connections.

Take a Wonder into the Woods

As the old favourite goes – if you go down to the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise.

After missing my placement lifestyle of being so relaxed and enjoying nature, that and after reading ‘Nearby Nature: A Buffer of Life Stress Among Rural Children’ (Wells and Evans, 2003) – I decided to drag my flat mate, Steph, on a stroll around the country park nearest our flat. What I anticipated to just be a wonder around a picturesque park was quite different. I did not realise all of the different activities the country parks had to offer for families/children.

The first weekend, we visited Crombie Country Park. Crombie Country Park had multiple different walking routes the longest walk being around the loch and only at a distance of 2 and 3/4 miles with another 3 slightly shorter routes as well. Before we went off on our walk, I was not aware of what Crombie had to offer, especially for children, even the spectacular scenic views surprised me. Amongst the beautiful scenery however there were a host of surprises to keep the children entertained. There were activities such as find the giants, an orienteering course with different levels and little woodland “animals” hidden around our walk.

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Find the Giants in the trees

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Part of the orienteering course for the children

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The hidden animals

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No excuse to not take the children here!

Crombie Country Park also had the facilities for tree top trails, a play park, a young naturalist programme on a Saturday and a picnic/bbq area. Amongst this, there ranger team are on hand for activities such as arts and crafts or guided walks as well as school trips from nursery through to secondary to assist teachers and lead outdoor activities in the park.

A week later, after still being in awe at Crombie, Steph and I headed out to Monikie Country Park just across from Crombie. Whilst Monikie has less trails to offer that we could find, they were currently hosting the Dragon Matrix, which I am devastated I never managed to go to, which took up a lot of the park forrest areas. However, Monikie had a beautiful walk around the lake, a play park for children, a huge green space and lots of picnic tables where a few families were enjoying a picnic. Even with all of these facilities and resources, there were only two or three families at Monikie as well.

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The Dragon Matrix – cross curricular learning – outdoor education, art and technology!

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Perfect for the family – a beautiful walk and a great play park.

However, even with all of these different activities and play parks for the children, both Monikie and Crombie Country Parks were surprisingly quiet. There were only one or maybe two families that Steph and I noticed in either of the two parks. Considering the fact we went on a weekend, during the afternoon, once I realised all of the activities and the park, I did expect there to be more families at the parks. As after Steph and I had discussed, this is what my of our parents would have taken us to do on a weekend when we were younger. This made me really reflect on my recent reading about outdoor education particularly this quote below from Adam (2013, p.524).

“Accompanying the obesity concerns are fears for children’s safety which are leading to increased indoor activities (Jenkinson 2001; Palmer 2006; Coster 2007; Waller 2007; Alexander 2008). This trend towards children being ushered indoors has occurred despite the fact that statistics about risk outside the home are relatively small compared to parental fears (Coster 2007; Waller 2007; Alexander 2008; Layard and Dunn 2009).”

This shows thimg_2558at due to parents fears in this contemporary society and the desire to keep their children safe, they’re wrapping their children up in cotton wool and not allowing/taking them outside to experience these amazing resources and opportunities that the Country Parks offer.

Steph and I are determined to make these walks a weekly event with Forfar Loch Country Park next on our list. I would definitely recommend taking a break from all of the assignment or work and getting yourself to one of the country park to see all of the fantastic natural resources and activities they can offer for yourself or for your class. Why be stressed when you can go play outside and call it educational?

 

References 

Adam, K. (2013) ‘Childhood in Crisis? Perceptions of 7-11 year olds on being a child and the implications for education’s well-being agenda’ in Education 3-13 International Journal of Primary, Elementary and Early Years Education, 41(3) pp.523-537 London: Routledge

Outdoor play in Early Years

For my second week back at nursery, I was asked to spend my afternoon outdoors. This request was met by my delight at the chance to have a look into some more learning in the outdoor particularly as this is an age that I have had no experience working outdoors with.

In the nursery there are no set lessons or plans for the children and they are free to play how they want, it was a chance to see what the children would do with their outdoor free play opportunities. Due to the fact that parents in this contemporary society are trying to protect their children as best as possible, this unfortunately means that children are not getting the opportunities to “exercise their bodies or to encounter the excitement and challenges of the outdoors. As a consequence an increasing number of children have weight problems. Current figures suggest that 22.9 per cent of four- and five-year-olds are either overweight or obese” (Dowling, 2010, p.172-3).

Whilst I was outside with the other practitioner, Mrs H, we got chatting about the limitations of outdoor play in the primary setting. Mrs H and myself discussed the fact that the children whilst in nursery had the choice to play outdoors in all weather conditions and the nursery practitioners had no choice but to be outdoors as well in all conditions. The only thing the children were told on this particular day was that they had to have a jacket on to play outside. However, on the other side of a fence, life for the children in the primary school was much different. Children were running round in the cold without jackets on but the minute the slightest bit of rain came on, the children were ushered indoors for the last ten minutes of lunch break. This is very common primary schools. It is almost as if teachers are worried of children getting cold whereas from what I can remember as a child as well as from the experience I had today, children tend to want to be outside regardless of the weather conditions. It was really important for me to see the difference between the nurseries practice and the primary stage practice.

This made me reflect on the idea of learning in the outdoors and the fact that the majority of teachers, regardless of this being a vital part of the CfE, only viewing outdoor education as a one of lesson when the weather is nice.  However, as the nursery children proved to me – they do not care what the weather is like, as long as they are having fun, enjoying themselves and getting to play, they are more than happy to be outdoors in the rain. Robertson (2014) stated weather as one of the common reasons that teachers worry about before they start outdoor learning. This should not be a worry for teachers as on my Learning from Life placement with Adventure Aberdeen there was not a single session we considered cancelling due to the weather – the students were just equipped by the centre with appropriate clothing for the activity and weather. Therefore, when teachers are planning for an outdoor education lesson, they should advise parents in advance that the class will be going outdoors and that children will need the appropriate clothing for this and remind them we are in Scotland. Teachers also need a degree of flexibility when planning for learning outdoors as Robertson (2014) suggests as the weather may not allow for one activity but this does not mean the lesson should be cancelled but simply adapted to fit with the weather

With weather, I have experienced both extremes whilst at camp and whilst on placement. As already stated on placement, the children were out in all weather conditions from sunny days in the sea to snow sand sledging. However, at camp, the as soon as it rained – in a little bit – the children’s activities were changed from normal schedule to rainy day schedule. This meant that the children were kept indoors even when it was just drizzling. You could tell from the children that this was frustrating for them as they looked forward to the activities they had selected and these were often cancelled, normally these days were back to back. In my views, if Scandinavians countries can have children out in all weathers and this clearly has an impact on their children’s wellbeing and education then we should follow the lead of Adventure Aberdeen and the Scandinavian countries and try to get our children out in all weather conditions.  In contrast to the nursery and the primary setting this is two extremes on the scale although it rather remarkably shows the same point – a little bit of rain can totally hinder the joy the children are having outdoors.

Children, in my view, should, like in the nursery, have the opportunity to have their voice heard and make decisions for themselves as to whether or not during their free play time they would like to stay outdoors in any weather, as long as they have appropriate clothing for the weather on, or if they would prefer to go inside. I understand that this is not always possible as the children need to be supervised and this would be stretching the playground assistance, there could possibly be solutions, for example the children who want to play indoors go to the games hall instead of their classrooms.

Reference

Dowling, M (2010) Young Children’s Personal, Social and Emotional Development 3rd Edn. London: Sage Publications

Robertson, J. (2014) Dirty Teaching: A Beginner’s Guide to Learning Outdoors Wales: Independent Thinking Press

The Issues with the Outdoors

Reflect on what you have read. What challenges may there be when beginning outdoor learning with a class? How would you plan and prepare for this?

Evidence – Write a reflection on the positive aspects and challenges of outdoor learning. Plan an outdoor learning lesson with a focus on Health & Wellbeing. Where will you go? What experiences/activities will you organise to ensure the Health and Wellbeing outcomes are met?

Taking a class outdoors for learning as I realised on my Learning from Placement there can be numerous risks. There were lengthy risk assessment documents for every potential risk that could happen on every activity they provided. However, whilst on placement, not once did we have any incidents during the 6 week period I was there.  This is due to the fact that the correct measures were in place because of the risk assessments.

In the beginning stages of taking a class outdoors and away from the school grounds, my biggest fear is losing a child. I am aware that if I build relationships with all my pupils and have the ability to trust them, then this should not be an issue. Setting the correct boundaries with the children and not allowing them totally freedom at first to make sure they are all able to come back when asked or stop where told to do means that I will still have control over the situation whilst allowing the children to have that freedom outdoors.

I believe thoroughly in the power of play and the effects being outdoors can have on children, especially since being on my placement in second year. I think that the outdoors generally has the ability to give children the sense of responsibility, freedom, independence, challenges, builds resilience and defines personalities. It has a huge impact on health and wellbeing in children as Stirling council, in particularly St. Ninians Primary, has proved with their daily mile challenge. Getting their children outdoors every day for their day mile has reduced obesity levels to the point where no child in St. Ninians is obese.

Although teaching outdoors come with its own set of risks. These cannot stop children from going outdoors. In a time when playing outside is quickly deteriorating due to fears of risks and of people: in my opinion, teachers and schools are in a position to educate. They should be taking children outdoors for their health and wellbeing and to educate children as well as parents on safe places to be outdoors and what the children can learn from being outdoors. When I take my class outdoors, I feel I have a basic knowledge already on places in Aberdeen that I could go or organisations that I could contact for resources or help. However, there will still be risks – which will always be there but through risk assessment and risk management, working with my children to build responsible citizens then these can be a part of learning.

When I was reading through chapter 11 of Dirty Teacher, there were issues such as weather, poisonous plants and wasps which are all valid issues but issues that can be overcome none the less. When I was working with Adventure Aberdeen, we never cancelled a session due to the weather – even in the snow in May. When I plan on doing an outdoor session with my class I will be advising parents in advance that we will be going outdoors and that children will need the appropriate clothing for this and remind them we are in Scotland – hopefully if its summer to send them with both a rain jacket and sunscreen but if we are in winter to make sure they will be well wrapped up. At Adventure Aberdeen, there were multiple times we were supposed to do activities that were water based activities but due to the weather these plans had to change, much to the disappointment of some children. However, the session was never completely cancelled – as Juliet suggested in chapter 11 – we changed the session to fit with the weather and it changed to a session where the children would always be active, such as cycling.

With weather, I have experienced both extremes whilst at camp and whilst on placement. As already stated on placement, the children were out in all weather conditions from sunny days in the sea to snow sand sledging. However, at camp, the as soon as it rained – in a little bit – the children’s activities were changed from normal schedule to rainy day schedule. This meant that the children were kept indoors even when it was just drizzling. You could tell from the children that this was frustrating for them as they looked forward to the activities they had selected and these were often cancelled, normally these days were back to back. In my views, if Scandinavians countries can have children out in all weathers and this clearly has an impact on their children’s wellbeing and education then we should follow the lead of Adventure Aberdeen and the Scandinavian countries and try to get our children out in all weather conditions.

Another issues that Juliet raised was poison plants. Poison plants or endangered plants were constantly surrounding children when I was out on placement. However, in the woods, if any plants were endangered or poisonous, the had a red stick next to them. This drew attention to them which could have made children go over and touch them but instead the inquisitive children wanted to know why there was a red stick in the forest and what it meant. This is an idea that can be taken into the local area or the playground to bring attention to the plants but can also be explained before to the children before we leave the classroom that if they see the red stick then it means not to touch the plant because it can be dangerous.

A final idea that Juliet suggested was to do with the animals we find out in nature such as wasps and spiders. Juliet’s idea of a wasp drill I think is a brilliant idea as children can tend to panic when a wasp comes near them. This idea can mean that it would significantly reduce the risk of children being hurt by a wasp. This would also lead into different lessons such as instruction written on helping other children to minimise their risk of being hurt and they find a wasp, which is already died, to investigate wasps further. The idea of creating a spider web with wool was something I thought was a way to explore spiders and it could be a topic of discussion for why spiders make webs. However, if I was doing this with children and we were looking at the outdoors, I would take them outdoors for this. I would have my class outdoors with ropes getting them to create a web using the ropes and the trees in a forest, making sure the web was tight and had little holes. I would then get the groups to discuss why they thought the spiders web needed to be tight and compact. This means that we can use the outdoors for learning interdisciplinary: taking art through the creating the web; using the web we have created to learn and discuss spiders; then use the outdoors to try and find some spider as well as discussing if we should or shouldn’t touch them; but also discussing what other animals we can find in the forest.

Upstart Dundee Launch

Upstart is a campaign for a nationwide moment to push back the starting age for school in Scotland from 4 or 5 years old to 7 years old to allow time for play and for children to be a child for as long as possible.

Queue the mad panic from parents. But just wait… There are so many benefits it may be time to step out of your comfort zone and into a new adventure and here is why.

comfort zone

The lecture theatre was filled in Dundee – Brenda (the Convener of Upstart) expected around 30 people but with a keen audience of over 330 people turned out it was the biggest launch for Upstart yet.

Upstart Launch

So why would we want children to start school later?

I have already looked into this in an early blog post available here.

In Scotland, we are keen advocates of learning everything as quickly as we can and we have one of the lowest school starting ages in Scotland with only 12% of countries worldwide having their children start school at 4-5 years old where as 66% of countries have children start school at 6 years old and the remaining 22% of countries have their children start school at 7 years old. An OECD survey shows that the 22% of countries that have their children start school at 7 years old are the countries with the children who tend to do the best academically.

Those countries that start at the age of 7 years old have a play-based kindergarden for 3-7 years old but by the age of 11 years old there is no difference in reading ability and those who start school at 7 years old are in fact keener to learn to read than their peers who started school at 5 years old.

In Finland, they do the least number of hour of schooling in the developed world yet still get the best results. They start school aged 7. They play until the age of 7. They lead healthier lives physically and mentally, they live longer and they are still better academically.

If we are living longer lives as adults, which Brenda quoted could be until 120 years old for this generation, then why are we continuing to decrease the time that a child spends playing?

The idea that children should play until the age of 7 is not a new idea. Sue Palmer, the founder of the Upstart movement and a language and literacy specialist, informed us at the launch that the idea originated from the Greeks.

The benefits of play are extensive. Sue Palmer and Dr Suzanne Zeedyk stated that free play build and influences many areas of our lives: it builds resilience, problem solving skills, social and communication skills, self-regulation, a love of learning. Free play influences creativity, sensory development, emotional experiences, friendships, a child’s thinking ability, motoric development, and the quality of marriage in later life. But the problem? Free play, such as playing in a sandpit, does not look like learning and in Scotland we love to push education.

Prince George at two years old is off to “nursey school” – into school at two years old. But according to the press it is not for the Prince to have a chance to play to develop all of the skills above it is to get him “into lessons” (The Telegraph, The Daily Mail and The Metro). We are too quick these days to put extra pressure onto children by adding the element of schoolification to early education.

The experiences a child has clearly affects the kind of adult you are. The pressure put on children currently has a clear impact on their mental health as children and as adults. In Scotland, there is a real decline of play – due to the school starting age and the development of technology. 2 in 3 children aged between 5 and 16 years old have their own tablets and at least a quarter of children are sent to bed with their tablets. In Scotland, there is also a huge increase in mental health problems and there is a widening achievement gap. How does our First Minister plan to fix this? By putting yet MORE pressure on children and teachers by reintroducing standardise testing – they didn’t work with the old 5-14 curriculum so why are we going back to this idea? Why do we not move forward for a 21st century change? Into a new revolution. A new adventure. An adventure where play and childhood is at the forefront?

Convinced? Follow the national Upstart movement on Facebook here and on twitter @UpstartScot.

Still unsure? Have a look at some more evidence

The Right to Play – Are Scotland Doing Enough?

In 1989, the United Nations introduced the Convention on the Rights of the Child which was ratified by the United Kingdom in 1991.

In the Convention on the Rights of the Child article 31 states that “States Parties recognize the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.” (Unicef, No Date Given, p.9). I am interested to investigate if Scotland are doing enough in the early stages of a child’s life to allow them to engage in play. I have recently been looking at Sweden’s education system for the early years and their outlook on childhood and play. I am going to compare the two systems to see if Scotland are doing enough to allow children to play.

The first crucial difference in the two educational systems is the school starting stage. In Scotland children start school between the ages of 4 and 5 where as in Sweden children do not start school until the age of 7. In Sweden, the children however do go to preschool from a very early age – this is heavily funded by the government to support parents who are working or in education themselves – it roughly costs around £7.50 per day including food per child. The children leave preschool with no knowledge or learning of reading and writing at the age of 7 however by the age of 10 there is no difference in the league tables for reading and writing in Sweden with any other country. Parents and the Government believe that children should have the chance to play and develop before they begin school which is why they go to preschool to develop their social skills.

On the other hand, in Scotland, from as early as possible children are sent to school to learn to read and write. The government suggest they do this to allow parents to go back to work/education as early as possible. However, this means that from an early age children are taking away from the right to play and are made to begin their learning through planned lessons where as in the early years in Sweden the children have no planned lessons giving them the freedom to play and explore, particularly in the outdoors – a huge part of the Swedish Education system is based upon their push for outdoor education and play. Comparing this to Sweden and the league table results suggests immediately we are not doing enough to encourage play in the early years of childhood which is a right of the child.

However, in the Early Learning and Childcare Entitlement produced by the Scottish Government (No Date Given, No Page) it states that the Scottish Government are continually trying to improve the standard of early learning as well as its flexibility and cost for all families. Since August 2014, children, aged between 3 and 4/5 years old (for the majority of children – there are cases where it is from the age of 2 years old), in Scotland are entitled to 600 hours of free early learning and childcare. This gives children the chance for meaningful play to encourage children socialising from a young age before going to school. However, in comparison to Sweden although they have to pay for their preschool, it is a small expense as it is heavily subsidised by their government, children can attend preschool to play for a much longer period from as early as a parent wants to the age of 7. This gives the child more opportunity and time for meaningful play before entering school than there is in Scotland.

There are opportunities for play in the Scottish Education System, enough to meet the right of the child in article 31. However, I personally feel that the Scottish Government could be doing more to encourage play particularly at a young age especially in comparison to the Swedish Education System.

 

References

Scottish Government (No Date Given) Early Learning and Childcare Available at: http://www.gov.scot/Topics/People/Young-People/early-years/parenting-early-learning/childcare (Accessed on 20/01/16)

Unicef (No Date Given) The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Available at: http://www.unicef.org.uk/Documents/Publication-pdfs/UNCRC_PRESS200910web.pdf (Accessed on 20/01/16)