What made you choose a career in Early Years teaching?
Teaching was not something that I initially planned to do and it all happened by chance. A casual babysitting job turned into me becoming a Nanny for a family friend. I continued to work as a Nanny until I had my first child Archie. When Archie started school, I volunteered to work as a parent helper reading with the children, little did I know that this was to be the start of my teaching career. I studied part-time whilst working as a teaching assistant and six years later after gaining a degree in Children and Early Childhood and my QTS I got my first teaching role in a small rural school teaching a mixed class of years 3 - 6. Four years later a friend mentioned that there was a position at Aysgarth. The rest they say is History.
Can you share an example of a successful teaching strategy or activity that you have used with Early Years children?
Children in the Early Years have the hardest job of all. There are so many components to learning to read and write not to mention making sense of your emotions, establishing friendships and being able to zip up your coat! With this in mind, learning has to be fun, engaging and purposeful. Having a vivid imagination and the willingness to get into the wonderful world of childhood is just the best of it. For the more structured aspects of learning, my job is to facilitate their learning. When it comes to phonics, which is a complex process, we are constantly revisiting or rehearsing new sounds. I have a saying to which helps to keep momentum and challenge. ‘I’m going to catch you out today’. This immediately boosts their confidence as they are so eager to rise to the challenge. They become so busy concentrating on ‘catching me out’ that they apply their full attention to the challenge without feeling undue pressure. To add to the excitement of it all, the children can choose a forfeit for me if I am defeated. Who knew that seeing your teacher do star jumps could be so amusing?
How do you assess and monitor the progress and development of your pupils?
It is imperative that we have positive and meaningful relationships with each pupil as these secure relationships are what we build upon. By knowing each child personally we can support and enhance their learning individually. Once the children feel safe in their learning environment they naturally start to explore their surroundings, communicate and express their emotions, develop strategies to problem solve and make sense of the world around them. Through daily observations and strong relationships, we are able to understand the unique characteristics of each child so that we can reflect upon our provision to enhance and challenge their learning. In the Early Years, play is an integral part of the learning journey so it is our role to immerse ourselves in the child's world rather than being driven by our adult perceptions. Taking time to observe children in their play, valuing their conversations and challenging their thinking are key aspects of monitoring the progress and development of our pupils. Supporting them to take risks, make links in their learning and be able to reflect upon their experiences are strategies that they are constantly building upon. It is not only the children who question their thinking and reflect upon their learning. As practitioners, we do exactly the same and as role models, it is important for the children to see that we are all the same, we all learn together, and we all make mistakes but more importantly, how do we learn from this to progress? We all celebrate our achievements together, share our frustrations and support one another along the way as teaching and learning never end.
What's the funniest thing a student has ever said or done in your classroom?
I think I could get into trouble or embarrass a few people if I repeated some of the things that have been said or misinterpreted over the years. There is something special about the innocence of children and how they pick up on sayings or characteristics of those around them. Not to mention their own unique qualities. What happens in Early Years, stays in Early Years!
What's your go-to silly dance move to make your students laugh?
To be honest I think the children are so used to me doing silly things all the time that it is becoming the norm but you can’t beat a bottom wiggle! Laughter is good for you and I feel a necessity in life.
If you could have any superpower to manage a classroom full of energetic children, what would it be?
To be able to transport ourselves. The ability to be able to close your eyes, click your fingers (Clearly still an avid fan of Mary Poppins) and open them to find that you are standing in the middle of the jungle discovering new species or trying to cross a bridge in ‘Jelly Land’ would be heaven. Saying that I don’t think we would ever be in the classroom!
Have you noticed any positive impacts on children's learning and behaviour when they engage with nature-based learning experiences?
You have to see it to believe it. The constraints of the classroom for some children can harm their self-esteem and ability to achieve their full potential. There has to be a balance but the outdoor learning experiences can give meaning and purpose without undue pressure practically and experimentally. Such experiences can easily be taken back to the classroom and reflected upon in a more formal way or vice versa to enable the children to experience the breadth of their learning. The number of children that come into their own when in the outdoors is incredible and I can not express the feeling of pride I get when I observe certain individuals flourish - ‘they can do it’ or ‘wow, look what you have done’. We all learn in different ways and I strive to allow each pupil to discover and experience as many different approaches to their learning as possible. The most significant impact is allowing the children to have fun, time, freedom and space to explore, discover, experiment and learn.
I think this quote sums it up perfectly:
“ The best classroom and the richest cupboard is roofed only by the sky” Margaret McMillan
Have you had any memorable experiences or success stories related to your Forest School initiatives?
Some of my fondest teaching memories are from my time with my pupils in the outdoors.
- A reluctant reader asks if they can take their reading book outside into the woods to read in their ‘magic spot’.
- Sitting in silence to write poetry inspired by the sounds and natural surroundings
- Reenacting what life in the trenches may have been like when walking and trying to crawl through deep and boggy mud.
- The joy and amazement on children's faces when lifting logs to discover a mass of minibeasts.
- Hearing the imaginations of the children come alive whilst running through the valley in hot pursuit of mischievous ‘Mugglewumps’.
- Being told by a parent of their child’s excitement in knowing how to identify and name trees
But nothing can capture the sight and sound of children playing and exploring the school grounds absorbed in their own explorations.
How do you hope to inspire a love and appreciation for learning in the children you teach?
For me, it is about immersing myself in childhood and trying to see the world through the eyes of the child. I hope to inspire children by letting them see that we are always learning
and what better way to do it than together? We are all unique so by recognising this, we can immerse ourselves in so many different learning experiences. Children bring the magic and
excitement into learning, my role is to seize these opportunities and guide and sprinkle in the skills to enhance their learning. I strive for each individual to be confident in their own abilities, and to be able to tackle each new experience with intrigue and creativity. I see the learning journey as an ‘adventure’ so let us make it an excellent one full of joyful experiences.