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From a seed see what grew
From a seed see what grew

Around a year ago a was approached by a lady from OASES North East. They asked us if we would be interested in starting a gardening project with them. It would result in us developing a vegetable patch over the year with the support of a development worker – Helen. I must admit I was a little bit reluctant. Gardening with 2,3 and 4 year olds – really! My expectations were less than high I’ll admit that now (and did in our initial meeting) How wrong could I be!

Helen spent the weeks before she arrived providing us support in what we needed to buy – the bare minimum as funds were very tight but she did a brilliant job of finding us some bargains. So armed with a few resources and even less knowledge off we went. The first session with the children basically consisted of digging! We dug out all of the old weeds and turned over the soil in our raised beds in the outdoor area. The kids absolutely loved it! They got stuck right in. I was a little nervous when she started handing them shovels and rakes but they were amazing. They listened carefully as she explained what they had to do and how to stay safe with the tools. They spent the whole afternoon outside digging and raking and generally getting mucky and having great fun. We found worms, talked about how the soil felt and what we were going to plant and hopefully grow.

Over the next few months Helen returned at various points and helped us with key parts of the process from planting the seeds and preparing the ground further to developing an area for the children to dig and grow more wild plants. Every time she came there was a real clamour for those who would get to go outside and help. When things needed to be done and she couldn’t come to help we enlisted out handy helper Nana Sas who is pretty green fingered to come and help. Helen provided us with regular lists of what needed doing and when and we even had to send some plants home with the staff to look after over the holidays.

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We planed a whole range of things from potatoes to spring onions, raspberries, peas, tomatoes, carrots, parsnips, beans and strawberries. Still at this point I was very doubtful we would grown anything at all successfully but the children were having a great time getting involved and that was reward enough. They were heading straight up the garden to look at the seeds and monitor their progress. Asking for the watering cans so they could water the plants. We talked about what we needed to do to help the plants and vegetables grow and how we could help to protect them. The children learned about the need for good soil, insects to live in the soil, sunlight and water. They also learned that we needed to keep getting rid of the weeds in the area to keep the plants healthy. They loved pulling out any of the weeds that they saw. One of children would bring his bowl for us to fill with weeds and then take it back down to the playhouse where he role played making soup which he would then share out with his friends and staff. Role play on a level we didn’t normally see from him but has certainly continued since. We were really starting to see actions and learning that we had never observed before. The children would spent time sitting on the planters digging and looking at the plants, checking them and talking to each other about what they could see. At this point I felt we had got so much from the project it had certainly been a worthwhile experience but there was more to come!

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As the weeks passed a small miracle happened and things began to grow!

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We had tomatoes coming out of our ears (not literally) and lots of other fruits and vegetables. The children began to race each other up the hill to the vegetable patch to be the first one there to pick the vegetables. We spoke to them about which ones they could and couldn’t eat and before long they were eating the raspberries and peas straight from the plants! Some of these children had been less than enthusiastic about many fruit and vegetables until this point.

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They helped Nana Sas to take out the rhubarb, being very careful of course as it can be poisonous. We weren’t keen on the rhubarb so Nana Sas took it home and made a crumble, she said it was delicious! We pulled out the carrots and parsnips and used them to make vegetable soup and stir fry. We had potatoes peeled and cooked for snack. We used the salad leaves to practice our cutting skills and we had a jolly good investigate of all of the things that we had grown. The questions coming from the children were great. Their faces lit up when they could pick and eat the various produce.

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One of our little girls had been massively involved from the start and was always the first one there to do digging and planting. She expressed a real interest in the whole project despite being just 2 when it started. We allowed her to follow the whole project through from digging the weeds, planting the seeds, puling up the vegetables, washing them and cutting them and making them into soup. She absolutely loved it. Her confidence and speech grew with the project.

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So I’ll be the first to admit I was very sceptical when developing a vegetable patch was suggested to me but you know what? I am absolutely delighted to have been proved wrong. We have all loved the project so much (both children and staff) That we applied for a grant from the Three Towns Partnership AAP and received funding to allow us to continue with our vegetable patch this coming year. We have bought new tools and seeds and we are hoping to enter the town show with some of our produce. The children got so much out of the whole experience and it engaged perhaps the children we least expected. It has developed their investigatory nature, they have learned how to look after plants, they’ve learned about fruit and vegetables that they have never seen before. We linked the area to literacy, maths and understanding of the world through various stories such as Jaspers Beanstalk, 10 seeds and Jack and the beanstalk. Their language has been developed with a whole new batch of vocabulary and they have worked together as a team. So much more than just growing some tomatoes.We’ve already started work on our digging area to prepare it for this years planting.

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The benefits of the project have been abundantly clear but what also came alongside this was the additional learning that went on in the outdoor area whilst we were working on our vegetable patch. The children went out to see the plants and gradually became engaged in other areas of learning out there. We had groups of boys mark making and role playing which they do less frequently inside. We had children developing their motor skills using watering cans and moving around the garden area. We had previously used a smaller more accessible outdoor space but with the introduction of the vegetable patch we have now changed and made this outdoor area our main space. We have been awarded funding to renovate our building so we can have direct access to the area and we hope to do fundraising to enable us to develop the whole outdoor area even further. The learning opportunities are so great for this amazing space, and all this from being asked if we wanted to grow some tomatoes!!

Babies and bottles
Babies and bottles

I haven’t added anything on here for ages but we have just been so busy so apologies from me. And because we’ve been so busy I wasn’t quite sure where to start but we are currently putting together a display for our home corner and all of the images are downloaded ready to print so it seemed a logical place to start. The images we use will be there to support children’s play in the Home Corner by modelling things that they can do while they play there.

Children from a very young age enjoy the home corner, its natural they can mimic the things the see at home. They enjoy pretending to make cups of tea, setting the table, washing the dishes. Its natural for children to copy things they are familiar with but after a time they need some new ideas.

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Our home corner was becoming a little unloved with children choosing other areas instead or just making a mess when they did go in. We needed a change of focus so we added babies to gauge the reaction by the children. Our older children went straight into the home corner and interacted with the new additions. They wrapped them up, put clothes on them and pretended to feed and bath them. It was a real hit with the older children, so much so that the younger children couldn’t get a look in! So the home corner was being used once more and the children were showing a real interest in the babies, so much so that we wanted to develop this topic a little bit further. There were also a few of our Mum’s expecting or just had babies so it was a lovely topic for those children with new siblings.

We wanted to add some new equipment so we put a plea out to our parents for unwanted baby equipment. We were inundated with items which was lovely. So we added a variety of items including bottles, spoons, bowls, bibs, blankets and nappies and even a moses basket (which was kindly donated by one of our parents)

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Watching the children engage with the new equipment was great. For a time we just watched from a distance giving them space to investigate and develop their own ideas. The younger children watched and copied the older children and the children began to interact with each other and the level of communication increased significantly.

From these observations the thing that we noticed most was that the children loved giving the babies a bottle. After a few ideas being discussed about how to move this forward a bit more and how we could link it to our targets for the children we decided to let the children make up some bottles for the babies. They used flour and water to make up what looked like formula to feed the babies and it was definitely a hit.

It was a great mathematical development activity with the children using mathematical language such as more and less, full and empty. They estimated how many of spoonfuls of flour they needed to add to fill the bottle to a given point. They counted the spoonfuls of flour used to make up the bottle adding one more or two more. It was a challenge for our older children using larger numbers and estimating and for our younger children they loved the filling and emptying of the containers. It was a fantastic activity that went on for over a week.

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Along side this we talked about how else to care for babies and how our parents care for us as we get older. We talked about how babies are different to us and things we can do now that babies can’t. Children with younger siblings shared their experiences of helping to feed, change and dress their brothers an sisters. It opened a wide range of discussion topics and engaged even the most reluctant of children, which is exactly what we wanted.

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The children had a fantastic time and it was enjoyed by girls and boys alike. When challenged by one Dad about why his son was playing with dolls we were able to dispel some ideologies that boys shouldn’t play with dolls with the amount of learning that he had gained from it. We also explained how it was giving him the first insights into caring for others and how to be a caring person as he grows up. When I had my children my husband bathed them, fed them, changed their nappies and pushed them in the pram or pushchair, like I said earlier children copy actions that they see and this is a totally normal, everyday thing. Dolls are certainly not just for boys just like cars and trains are not just for boys. Toys should not be gender specific and they certainly aren’t in our nursery.

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So what started as a way of engaging the children more effectively in the home corner branched into a whole range of teaching and learning opportunities. Did the children know they were learning? What do you think? They were just having a lovely time which is exactly what teaching in Early Years is all about. To many it looks like we ‘just play’. Play is exactly what we do and just look at how much the children get out of it. We are beginning to teach them many of the skills they need to succeed in life and that is why Early Years is so important and that is exactly why I love my job!

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OFSTED
OFSTED

We are delighted with our recent OFSTED report. Our inspection look place on the second day of term so it was a challenge but the outcome I feel is a very true reflection of our pre school. I am very excited to share it with you.

Our inspector said to me as she left that Little Stars was a lovely place to be and that is very important to me, possibly more so  than anything else she wrote.

The staff worked really hard to show Little Stars at its best and I am immensely proud and thankful to them for their hard work. We have a few areas which we need to work on in order to get an Outstanding grading but for now we are very happy and very proud of our ‘Good’ grading.

Thank you to all of the parents who took the time to speak to the inspector during her visit.

Here are some of the things she said about us:

“She (the manager) leads a well qualified staff team who shares her vision to provide the highest possible quality of care and education”

“Teaching is very good. Staff work closely together as a team to make sure that the needs of every child are met. They plan activities which engage and enthuse children. This helps them to develop a love for learning and they progress well”

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“They (children) form strong bonds with staff, who engage them in high-quality play”

“Partnerships with other professionals, agencies, services and schools are outstanding”

There is much more detail about or provision in the report and we would love for you to take the time to read it and share with us your views on it.

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Our OFSTED report is available here 

Just Being Us

The last few weeks have been extremely hectic and at times stressful and fraught in our house. As much as we love the activities our children are involved in it can all just sometimes be a bit too much. After a particularly busy schedule I was feeling a little toward the frazzled end of the spectrum. (more…)

When block play becomes much more than ‘just playing’

When we say block play I guess you think of building towers and other structures with duplo or lego. Thats exactly right but block play can take many different forms too. We use construction materials of all sorts of shapes and sizes. We have magnetico which are magnetic blocks which enable the children to create larger and taller structures without them falling apart at the slightest movement. (more…)

Party Time!

Sorry for the delay in getting this out but things were a little hectic in our house over the Christmas break! Friday 18th December was Christmas party day at Little Stars. The children had a fantastic morning with magic tricks, balloons, food, games and presents. It was lots of fun! (more…)