Once upon a time.
In January, we will have been open for a year. A whole year! It seems unbelievable really. Although definitely one of the most challenging at times, things I have ever done is open the Kindergarten. It's also been a truly breathtaking experience.
When I wrote my business plan, planned and ordered my equipment, and thought about outdoor access for Early Years children in my own setting, I imagined the cohort would be three to four years old. Everything was planned to accommodate the age group. Imagine my surprise, when my lovely little group of explorers were all aged just turned two years!
This led to quite a lot of reflection. I have thought back to when I was training back in 2008, for my NVQ levels 2 & 3, and I worked with two year olds then. It was like travelling back in time ten years. I returned to old approaches and tweaked them to fit the current group. Simple things, like the almost complete overhaul of the use of loose parts with children under three years (Tiny glass beads-choking risk anyone?!) Even to the dreaded 'circle time', which for two year olds, can be incredibly hard work. I relearned quite quickly that children of this age group respond better to whole body movement, songs and rhymes. They love action rhymes the most. Baby shark is a guaranteed winner every. single. time. We sing it on our way back to Kindergarten after a long walk, it gives the toddlers a sudden burst of new energy. Songs, stories and rhymes are a key focus for us, as the benefits for children's speech and language development are so great from it.
Physically, the children are thriving. I'm a firm believer that children need to develop physically first, after this, all other areas will fall into place. They walk, run, climb, dance, splash and slide safely, confidently and mainly (they are two years old) happily. They're very brave, and starting to climb independently when we're out. Fallen trees, low walls, hills of varying degrees of steepness. They are resilient, they fall, some days, often. Depending on how steady they are in their welly boots, and how uneven the ground is. They jump up, brush off and try whatever they were doing again.
I've been amazed at their ability to recall previous learning experiences. They know acorns, conkers, walnuts, catkins, dandelions, daisies, daffodils, poppies, a range of fungus (and not to touch it) stinging nettles, blackberries, holly, fern (dinosaur ferns), 'Popping seeds'- this is Himalayan balsam, they spent all summer returning to it and squeezing the seed pods, causing them to 'pop' and buzz in their hands. Red kites, buzzards, horses and riders, sheep, lambs, rams, donkeys and so much more.
A huge success has been oral storytelling. I visited a storytelling festival in the summer, taking my mum and my two children (4, 18months) with me. I listened to some amazing tellers, including Taffy Thomas, who I had long admired. My four year old was given a riddle by him, and I felt so honoured on her behalf, we're now the proud owners of a signed copy of his book. Borrowing and adapting slightly, some of the tales I heard, has been one of the most positive things I have implemented at Kindergarten. The response from the toddlers to a particularly good version of Henny Penny has been astounding. These little two year olds can recall and retell the story, they remember key points, and they join in with the most wonderful enthusiasm and excitement. I'm in the process of gathering more, so if anyone knows a great tale for me to share with two year olds, do share via email!
There have been difficult moments. Things have needed to be reconsidered, reworked and adapted or saved for later. Not all experiences have been positive.
But it's so, so worth it...
From top left: A trip to Parndon wood, finding and showing us jelly ear fungus (troll ears), Walking back for lunch.
Song time in the forest (dingle dangle scarecrow), our kite on a breezy day, investigating the local Ford.
Natural collections for Hapa Zome art, natural paintbrushes, a butterfly we found after very heavy rain.
The wagon, puddles, songtime.