In October I joined the Play Iceland trip as a present to myself; my first nursery is due to be thirty the following month. I had aspired to go for the last two years – so now I had the best excuse to do it!
It was so good to meet with such a broad range of enthusiastic people from different parts of the world. We visited some nurseries, some geographical highlights of the country and ate very well. The time was jam-packed with ‘goodies’ and lots to see.
I believe play is the backbone of a child’s best learning and developmental experiences. Play is what children instinctively do, with what they have at hand and will naturally incorporate cross-curricular elements. Putting it another way, children will play at what they intrinsically need to do, and it is their work, how they learn best and in totally holistic ways. I think children are determined and know what they need to find out about and adult intervention is not necessarily appropriate.
I think the adult’s role is to facilitate the play by offering opportunities for an optimum experience (possibly to extend the play by enabling the child to discover an additional resource), to be available if help is requested, to observe where children play and, observe and record what they achieve. This knowledge then is used to improve the ‘enabling environment’ by encompassing each child’s interests and the next appropriate steps for each child and the group.
In Iceland, play was in many cases very simply provided. Outside was used for children to be free. Toddlers walked across beaches with rocks of wet slippery seaweed, exploring the wet underfoot to gather small shells. They climbed big rocks and later carried sieves, not long taken from the fire-pit, to share the popcorn with their friends. Not an accident book in sight. No ushering adults. No challenging behaviour. Managing behaviour just not necessary.
Inside, the classrooms were uncluttered and children trusted to play without adult supervision in adjoining small rooms with doors closed.
One (in a demountable type of building) was very homely with table lamps and quality ornaments adorning shelves and windowsills.
I sat here, in the communal area and watched staff work in harmony. They went about their duties in a calm and orderly way – loading snack trolleys, sometimes with a child in tow. I admired this sereneness and wondered how I could mirror this at home in my own settings. Children played in the cloakrooms and corridors and were not disturbed. Parents encouraged to participate; to add their vision for the nursery and to share which stories they have read to their child – producing this ‘fat’ caterpillar.
The other nursery was airy, with high ceilings – a modern building. A storyteller captivated children with traditional stories about trolls and elves. She used natural resources to represent each character or feature; for example, a large rough stick for the troll and material for the fire. “We like to scare the children” she kindly told us before she began.
In the gym, children freely climbed wall bars and swung from high gym rings. They were learning about Sloths, which rippled through every activity; music, physical activity, arts & crafts.
Teachers, who had planned the theme, were led by children’s enthusiasm. Their own gesticulated and vocal passion radiated and touched me. What impression would we give them at home?
Overall, my impression was of a conflicting approach. In many ways the children had open-ended play, they could investigate and find out for themselves but then in other ways encouraged to make ‘the end product’. For example, children’s pictures reflected one painted by Van Gough; in colour and with circular motions. Then there were the sloths…..
This bothered me, we say “It’s not what they take home in their hands that is important but what they take home in their head”. However, the happiness of everyone was evident. Children respected each other and adults cherished the children and their play.
With the nurseries, I also was challenged with the sparseness of the environment in comparison to my own nursery rooms. ‘Less is more’ they say, but how would children learn to use scissors at the time that was right for them, if they weren’t accessible? I am passionate for a play-led ‘curriculum’ and open-ended play but if a resource wasn’t freely available, was this not ‘stifling’ or restricting play and opportunities?
Another challenge was little records of achievement (one appeared to have none at all) and no plans for next steps. However, I totally grasped it was about planning the next experience or adult-directed activity in the departments of arts, craft and music. Using the outside areas; in the school playground or further afield, was used to its full potential, for long periods of time, with appropriate clothing; it was enlightening; I want to move out of town to woods and beaches!
Finally, I couldn’t decide if the adult furniture was a good thing or not. In one way it was about living in the real world, but on the other, children couldn’t see what was on the tables, especially the babies, so I prefer our child-sized furniture. In a baby room, there were some really good chairs for the adults – I need to find these!
Other things that I will remember:
- Adults & children were dressed in thick warm overalls, hats and wellies
- No need to record a small burn – parents expected bumps and bruises
- Rice Pudding with Cinnamon Sprinkles
- Hot vegetable soup
- Cod Liver Oil dispensation
- The wind, mist, moss and wilderness
- The wooden toy makers – Iceland’s lack of wood
Humpback whale jaw bone (whale bones frequently found on the beaches)
The luxurious feel of the Blue Lagoon – will go back just for this!
Alan and Shelley from Elska.
Huge waterfalls and geysers.
The games night and the money I spent!
Trolls (elves and fairyland).
This time a to-do list (the top ten):-
- Restitution (principles of the first nursery) – check it out
- Use ‘caterpillar notes’ to engage parents in a project
- Use music & storytelling from one nursery’s website
- Use foreign language books to encourage staff to TELL stories
- Use ‘animals’ to showcase ‘behaviour traits
- Use cardboard boxes of the same size for nursery partitions
- Lunch places – are these still happening?
- Weave a wall hanging for our 30th birthday celebrations (each child bringing a ribbon/scarf/material strip?
- Build a ‘going outdoors kit’. Devise ‘hunt sheets’. Add coloured water to waterplay
- Find out about the work of Alfie Khon and Margaret Mead