Tag Archives: Early Years

Be Kind, Be Courteous and Remember Your Manners

Last week, I spent a morning with staff from two nurseries talking about pedagogy.  Kindness and what it means was central to the discussion on social and emotional well-being.  It’s quite the topic of the month with the Duchess of Cambridge saying it was more important to be kind soldier flowerand compassionate than to excel at sport or Maths. Blimey, I bet that made a few politicians choke!  Mrs May talks about creating an inclusive society and the British Values requirements were introduced, albeit in a clumsy method, to provoke a conversation about democracy, rule of law, tolerance and mutual respect. They might have been better understood if we had used the words of kindness, compassion and courtesy which I believe are the underpinning behaviours.

In a city as crowded as London, we need to dig deep into our ability to be kind and courteous. Call me old fashioned but in a very mixed city we need some common rules to make life easy and reduce the dirty looks and kissing of teeth.

Old person tube

So confused are people as to what are the common rules of courtesy in this modern world, that 10,000 have written to Debrett’s for guidance on social manners. Questions like :

  • Should I kiss a client on the first meeting?
  • Should I give up my seat on the tube?
  • Can I begin to eat before everyone else has been served?
  • Why must I remember to put my knife and fork together at the end of the meal?

As early years’ teachers, we need to practice kindness and courtesy so that the children imitate our behaviour. Unless we teach them they may never understand that it is polite to wait for all of our friends to be served lunch so we can all start eating together, or that putting your knives and forks together is the sign you are finished so waiters can remove your plate without any inconvenience or confusion.

'After you' said Miss Manners. 'Oh you first' insisted Mrs Etiquette.

Much inconsiderate behaviour is often not a deliberate provocation but thoughtlessness and ignorance and not understanding the subtlety of the societal rules. We all have our particular bugbears. For example, which of these really make you spit fire (in no particular order)

  • Answering the phone when purchasing an item at the check outs (is the checkout person invisible?)
  • Walking slowly on a busy thoroughfare looking at your phone (yes it may be the map but walk on the inside, don’t wander about all over the pavement!)
  • Applying make-up on the train (do I pay a train fare to be in someone’s bathroom?)
  • Smelly food and confined areas such as the train carriage
  • Dogs on the train seats
  • Barging in front of you in the queue
  • Dropping litter (especially when the bin is right next to you)
  • Just standing on a discarded free paper and not picking it up and sticking it on the carriage rack

Of course, we all have wonderful positive examples of good manners and joyful moments. I have had many incidents of people spontaneously being kind and courteous, last week a young woman must have seen my tired face and offered me her train seat, I enjoy regular chats at the checkout of my local Sainsbury’s, have had helpful customers suggest how I cook fish, add nutmeg to liven up spinach lasagne and explain whether to use crème fraiche or cream.

The Spanish guide to politeness

The Spanish guide to politeness

Last week, one of our nursery managers was getting on a crowded tube at Green Park when she spotted one of the nursery children squeeze on further down the carriage with his Dad.  Next thing she heard the TfL conductor announce “Good Morning Oscar”.  Later, his father explained that as daily commuters to nursery since he was six months old, the staff have gotten to know him and look out for him and welcome him over the the speaker system when they see him.  How lovely we thought. Our manager was so touched by that, she said it gave her a warm feeling all day.

Courtesy, compassion and kindness are interwoven and can be taught and replicated. If you are in doubt about what to do and you can’t find your nearest Debrett’s, just step into their shoes and be nice. Manners and common courtesy are 99% common sense and 1% kindness. People with good manners treat people with respect and remember that no one, no matter how busy, powerful or self- important is above that.

“May you never lay your head down
Without a hand to hold;
May you never make your bed out in the cold.
You’re just like a good close sister to me,
And you know that I love you true”

Become an Early Years Teacher and Beat the Robots

I recently read a piece about the growth of artificial intelligence and the impact it will have on existing jobs, whether the driverless car or the extension of computer controlled decision-making.

The Birth of Artificial Intelligence

I can’t understand the rush into such an inhumane world.  Why do we want more automated services, more self-service machines that go wrong and more advice services which is simply a computer talking at you?

This week I wanted to check a simple fact with Ofsted, so I rang the helpline, which took me to a selection of options and when I finally got to the section I needed, it referred me to the website!

Courtesy of Justin Boyd @ http://invisiblebread.com

Courtesy of Justin Boyd @ http://invisiblebread.com

Irritated, I found myself on the Gov UK website , a site which is like a busy aisle in TKMaxx, everything is squashed on a clothes rail and it takes determination and persistence to filter out anything of interest. Is this the life we want?

How can we therefore guarantee a career which won’t be overtaken by robots?   Become an Early Years Teacher. Children will always need adults to help them learn and develop. There is no greater honour than contributing to the development of the next generation.

Next week the Nursery World Show will celebrate all things Early Years. It’s an opportunity to celebrate what we do and how we do it.  A good show provides networking, CPD opportunities, and recruitment. I always attend to do all of the above and this year we have a big LEYF presence. We have created a nursery space with the help of Community Playthings where visitors can sit and chat and enjoy pedagogical conversations with each other.  We have also persuaded David Neil our chef from Brixton nursery to do a cooking demonstration and Gary Simpson one half of our Learning and Development team to present on the Live Stage. It’s one of the top CPD opportunities as the best way to learn is to teach others!

The opportunity to talk, connect and celebrate the humanity of our roles is critical. In this mad rush to reduce human connection, we as a sector need to do the opposite.  If you get a chance to attend a show or be part of an exhibition, take a LEYF out of our book! Make it a time for a bigger conversation, new learning and a public celebration that robots and drones have no place in our world.

Devo, Beautiful World

Take the Christmas Quiz and See if You Can Remember Anything From 2016!

Many of you have broken up this weekend (or broken down!) and the rest of us continue to work flat out until Christmas Eve (another reason to support nurseries designed to ensure parents can work!). So put on a red hat, sing along to the tune of Mariah Carey’ s greatest Christmas hit while pretending to be the Eggheads and do this quiz at your last staff meeting of the year!

June1 June2 June3

 

 

 

Questions Answers
1 Which Member of Parliament said in her maiden speech ‘I’m the only member of the house who at the age of 16 and pregnant was told ‘I wouldn’t amount to anything’’. a. Angela Rayner
b. Tracy Brabin
c. Heidi Allen
2 What percentage of school children in year six are now clinically obese? a. 19.8%
b. 24.7%
c. 29.8%
3 What % of nurseries are rated ‘Good’ by Ofsted? a. 86%
b. 91%
c. 95%
4 Who was the charming Breakfast TV presenter who interviewed Gill Jones from Ofsted this year? a. Charlie Stayt
b. Ben Shepard
c. Piers Morgan
5 How many local authorities are piloting 30 hours of free childcare before the national roll-out in September 2017? a. 8
b. 10
c. 25
6 Which charity went into administration in August? a. Kids Company
b. 4Children
c. Care Leavers Foundation
 7 What policy is causing the sector to have a recruitment crisis? a. GCSE A to C Maths and English
b. Certificate in Child Development
c. Functional Skills
 8 If Santa was traveling at 650 miles a second, how many homes would he need to visit to deliver all the world’s gifts? (Hope you have your GCSE Maths!) a. 756 per second
b. 822 per second
c. 1915 per second
 9 Who refused to back the appointment of Amanda Spielman as the New Ofsted Chief Inspector? (They did the same to Anne Longfield when appointed Children’s Commissioner) a.  Sir Michael Wiltshire
b. Education Select Committee
c.  Justine Greening
 10 In August the DfE promised that from 2018, local authorities will need to pass what minimum proportion of Government childcare funding to the early years providers as part of plans for a national funding formula? a. 72%
b. 89.5%
c. 95%

Bonus Question: Name these old favourites (take that whatever way you like!)

June 2June 1June 3June 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Christmas! Prepare yourself for more chaos and confusion in 2017!

June5

Answers : 1 (a) 2 (a) 3 (b) 4 (c) 5 (a) 6 (b) 7 (a) 8 (b) 9 (b) 10 (b)

Can We Top Trump’s Childcare Policies?

trump

Last week the US electorate put two fingers up to the neoliberal establishment and voted in Donald Trump to be the next president of the USA. While I, along with many others, watched in silent fascination as this was played out, I was also preparing to meet two politicians who may have a greater say in our world.

On Thursday evening we held the annual Margaret Horn Debate. The subject was a debate about the challenge of childcare in London. We hosted the newly appointed Deputy Mayor for Education and Childcare for London, Joanne McCartney.  I was chuffed to have her there as this is the first time that we have a dedicated Mayor for education and childcare, so a pat on the back to Sadiq Khan who has included this in his manifesto. Joanne was joined by colleagues to look at the wider issues including family friendly work spaces, the role of fathers and the huge issue of child poverty in London. child poverty blogChild poverty merits a blog of its own, but clearly childcare has a role to play in reducing it. I am keen that we understand that childcare is part of London’s infrastructure, so the discussion needs to address the cost of affordable housing and transport for staff as well as childcare featuring as part of the city’s economic partnerships.

Joanne has begun a process of listening including organising a roundtable. This is a good start along with accepting the challenge to make London a beacon of excellence. I modestly pointed out that she has a good start as LEYF is the largest provider in London and has the highest number of Outstanding and Good Ofsted results despite the areas within which we work! However, the audience made it clear that patience was limited and the infrastructure of childcare itself such as funding, recruitment and quality improvement needed immediate attention.

Later that week , I met Tulip Siddiq MP who is the newly appointed Shadow Minister for Early Years Education.  Clearly Tulip is smart and interested in her brief, particularly as she is a new Mum. She is also launching a Taskforce to look at childcare especially as a lever out of poverty.  As a London MP she is also aware of the specifics of London, although of course she has the country wide brief.

Tulip-min

As with Joanne, I pointed out the impact of poor policy such as the recruitment crisis on early years education. This highlights inadequate funding but also the inability of politicians to relate the complexity of childcare as infrastructure to the public. The public need to understand the purpose of childcare, the state subsidy, the financial contribution and the power and trump populism toy storyimportance of childcare in evening out the widening disadvantage in Britain today. The Early Years sector has a fundamental role to play in social integration, bridging divides and including the marginalised at a time when the marginalised are increasingly turning to populist solutions (Brexit and Trump).

What does this look like in practice? Social integration is about more than mere words; our children spend time with the elderly, we give youth at risk work experience in our nurseries to give purpose and confidence, our settings get to know their local communities by being present outside of our nursery doors. This creates connections between divided peoples, in turn creates cultural capital and acts as a preventative measure against isolation and the myriad anti-social dangers that come with isolation.

This took me straight to Donald Trump.  Here is a man who had connected with the public, so watch this and see how he seduces the audience with promises of tax-reduced childcare including for those stay-at-home mums.

If Trump can teach us one thing, it could be how to influence the public to think the way you think and become your fans.  Even when he makes the baby cry, he makes his parents smile. So is there is a lesson here for our politicians?

Get the childcare message right and they might just win the day! !

Margaret Horn 2016 : The London Childcare Challenge

Margaret Horn

Margaret Horn

Every year during the November Global Enterprise Fortnight we host the Margaret Horn Debate to celebrate Social Enterprise Day. Margaret Horn was the first director of the charity that in 2008 become the social enterprise London Early Years Foundation (LEYF). I know very little about her, (despite our research) but I do know that she was a pupil of Octavia Hill, a woman I have always admired for her energy, ambition and social enterprise.

IMG_4574

Last year we debated the importance of businesses being family friendly and it was a very popular theme and so therefore it seemed logical to continue the debate especially as we have a new London Mayor, Sadiq Khan (for those of you who have been sharing Sleeping Beauty’s glass box) who seems much more in touch with what needs to happen to support Londoners live well and work successfully. Certainly, during a visit to a LEYF nursery, our Mayor demonstrated a greater grasp that childcare is a crucial part of our city’s infrastructure, helping parents to work, improving children’s educational outcomes and helping narrow the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers.

IMG_4575

London has a lot of childcare challenges particularly if it is to provide the range of places. available to meet the number needed to put the number of children across our very diverse city.  We need to have sufficient staff to run the nurseries and provide the best service to all our children.  This is tricky as nurseries receive insufficient Government funding which is sorely felt in an expensive city where childcare costs are on average 23 per cent higher than the rest of England.  At LEYF we subsidise nearly 48% of places but that can’t be sustained given the increasing living costs and the difficulty of recruiting staff who can no longer afford to live in the city where housing costs are around 50% higher than the rest of the UK and transport costs overwhelming. I won’t comment on Southern, my local rail operator, just feel my pain.

When it comes to child poverty, 700,000 children living in London are below the poverty line, that is 37% of all children compared to 26% across the UK. Children in London are much more likely to live in poverty with 14 out of the top 20 local authorities with the highest rates of child poverty across the UK. Half of 0 to 19-year-olds in London (1.1. million) live in a family that receives tax credits. 640,000 children benefit from in-work tax credits. Poor children in London are less likely to be able to afford everyday items than those elsewhere in the country.

We need sufficient providers running sustainable services to offer the 15 funded hours childcare to local families, the Two Year Old offer as well as children with learning needs and disabilities.  That’s problematic as property costs in the city are exorbitant and there is no London funding for capital expenditure.  In a Huffington Post blog, I wrote in March this year, I raised the difficulties childcare providers face in London trying to keep childcare fees affordable when the Government subsidy still only meets half the cost of a place? I also commented on one of the many unintended consequences of poorly drafted Government policies which is resulting in the emergence of two-tier services with separate provision for those children on the ‘free offer.’

Finally, there also needs to be a bigger conversation with parents and the public about a wide range of issues such as what education for small children looks like in different settings, what that means for their children, limiting early and unnecessary transition to school and understanding why community nurseries are a good thing for children in London because they help create social capital by building local networks, reducing loneliness and nurturing community spirit.

This is a flavour of this year’s debate.

So, don’t lose hope. Join us for a lively discussion and debate with London’s first Deputy Mayor for Education and Childcare, Joanne McCartney alongside a panel of colleagues,  about how we can address the London Childcare Challenge together.

Sign up below for the Margaret Horn Debate on 10th November, 17.30 at the BT Centre, 81 Newgate Street (closest tube, St Pauls).

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/margaret-horn-debate-tickets-28686249344

 

 

Encouraging Women to the top

Are you a feminist from the 1970s ?

Did you look forward to reading the monthly Spare Rib?

Was your diary the Spare Rib diary?

Spare rib

Have posters by Claire Bretecher on your wall?

Claire Bretecher

Buy your books from Virago Press ?

Were you a member of the local Wimmin’s Group?

Ha, you laugh, what was all that about? What did we want: a job, a career, a voice, free childcare, equal pay?

Well, this week I attended a number of events about the same issues but with a 21st century twist. I was a guest at the @ForwardLadies awards lunch and was delighted to see my friend and fellow social entrepreneur Jenny Holloway from Fashion Enter win the Social Enterprise category.

The wonderful  Michelle Wright from Cause 4,  who invests in women becoming social entrepreneurs, received the Highly Commended place. The speech was given by Linda Plant who told her story from starting a hosiery stall aged 15  with her mother in Sheffield Market to her role on The Apprentice.

Earlier I met Servane Mouzan from Ogunte. Servane is a great supporter of women in social enterprise from across the world. She has built a Make a Wave, a series of incubator programmes to build a network of women social entrepreneurs across the world and is now building a means of helping women better understand the learning steps that leads to leadership transformation.

This is all timely for me as I prepare a presentation on Encouraging Women to the Top for the Australia’s Women in Business, Special Interests Group.

But why do we need to continue to push for women to get fully involved in business in 2016? Because gender balanced businesses are better all round. This is why I encourage men into childcare.

But it’s also about how women build a succession plan for more women. Paul Hastings’ Breaking the Glass Ceiling Report Cards continually proves the benefit of having women on Boards in terms of good business decisions and sustainability. A recent report in the Harvard Business Press by Sahil Raina (July 2016) found that the success of business growth and exit was much improved where women invested in other women. This is something we need to see much more.  On a big scale there are organisations like Women Moving Millions.  However, I count my membership on the CAN investment Board  as small progress given that we are in the unusual position of women constituting half of the Investment Board.

If you are a woman who also happens to be an entrepreneur or an aspiring entrepreneur, you could do worse than consider Linda Plant’s advice:

  • Have a vision
  • Walk before you can run
  • Recognise and take opportunities, they won’t come to you
  • Be sensible
  • Trust your instincts
  • Stay ahead of the game
  • See the future – be connected
  • Build a team
  • Stay passionate and driven
  • Remember that success doesn’t come with a banner

So, the state of play for women in business is that it has moved on since the 1970s but that was 40 years ago! I remember my children saying to me, “ Mummy,  we are doing history in school, we are studying the 60s”. My, did I feel old but perked up with the retort, “ ah modern history!”  Let’s avoid having a similar conversation with our granddaughters.

May the Force Be With You : The Rallying Cry in Dublin  at the 26th EECERA Conference

The EECERA Conference is an annual event and I always try and attend accompanied by LEYF staff where possible. It’s much better fun when we go as a group!  I remember our first EECERA conference in Malta.  We were so excited, gathered in Gatwick all ready to learn and have fun. I had been encouraged to attend  by Margy Whalley from Pen Green who regularly attends with a group of practitioners.  She convinced me of the importance of practitioners hearing about philosophy and research first hand so they could consider, challenge, copy, contest and generally help bridge the pure academic approach with practice.

When you are you philosophising you have to descend into primeval chaos

(Wittgenstein)

Chris Pascal along with Tony Bertram and Ferre Leavers set up EECERA 26 years ago. Chris is a great friend to LEYF and we have always tried to benefit from her work at CREC. Her observation that not involving practitioners in research is wasteful and is a mantra that has influenced the LEYF approach to action research which is a key driver for our quality stance. It is woven into the first element of the LEYF Pedagogy  (Leadership for Excellence).Therefore, anyone attending from LEYF has to present a paper about some aspect of our action research.

Unfortunately, for a number of reasons I attended the conference on my own. The conference was in Dublin organised by Early Childhood Ireland with which we have a very warm relationship. It was the largest conference ever but despite this I met many old friends from as far afield as Australia including our special friends from the social enterprise Goodstart and Stepping Stones in Tasmania.

The conference was called Happiness, Relationships, Emotions and Deep Level Learning but what is very noticeable is that the tone is set by the host country.  This was very evident from the opening addresses with references to the Irish poet Seamus Heeney and quoting the third verse of his poem Chorus from the Cure at Troy (1990)

History says, don’t hope

On this side of the grave.

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.

Seamus Heeney 1937 – 2013

As well as asking Van Morrison’s question Why couldn’t it be like this all of the time? A celebration to the 920 Early Years people sitting in harmony in Dublin City University.

Aline-Wendy Dunlop gave a very engaging and warm tribute to Jerome Bruner (1915 – 2016) who died earlier this year. His work has been very influential in the second element of the LEYF pedagogy (The Spiral Curriculum). His book The Culture of Education which he wrote in West Cork is my favourite book as it connects the importance of culture and narrative.  He describes conversation as a great means of learning. This is something we are exploring in LEYF through the notion of the pedagogical conversation.  This was the basis of one of my presentations at the conference and is the LEYF hypothesis from which we are developing our Home Learning research. His other comments are about the community which we translate into our LEYF Multi-Generational Approach.  This was the second paper I delivered with colleagues from the US who are also advocating and showing the benefits of helping children reach out into the community in a way that enables the community to reach back in.

The opening speeches asked the question: why do governments think that early years can solve all of the challenges of society whether it is poverty or obesity, wellbeing to mental health?   Dr Anne Looney reminded us that since the 1970s governments have framed education as the problem which needs to be fixed as opposed to fixing social inequality.

Professor Hirokazu Yoshikawa, Professor of Globalisation and Education at New York University extended this question within the context of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the move away from the child’s right to survive and towards the child’s right to thrive.  He particularly focused on targets 4.2 which require all girls and boys to have access to quality, organised Early Years pre-primary education designed to support their development and wellbeing. He asked what government expectations were for all these children given that quality is informed by high expectations. Interesting question in the light of the cost cutting approach we are trying to manage in the UK.

Dr Looney furthered challenged whether quality was at risk from Governments push in favour of

  • Increased standardisation
  • A narrowing curriculum
  • Low risk approach to learning
  • Test based accountability for teachers and schools
  • Corporate management models for schools and settings
  • Over emphasis on big data and insufficient small data that comes from the child and the teacher feedback

Is the Government over control of education going to drive adventurous teaching that enthuses children, she asked, or is it just about competence?  I was pleased that Professor Yoshiikawa reminded us that quality is more achievable within small group sizes with high adult child ratios  but the key quality driver was a culture of coaching and learning including open sourced sharing and networking which made me very happy to be a founding member of International Early Years.  Dr Looney asked us to be catalysts and counterpoints to the narrowing debate to avoid becoming casualties.  She reminded us that we must be a coherent, motivated, engaged and strategic group to become a force to be reckoned with.  She urged us to join Luke Skywalker in Skellig Rock in West Cork and left us with the Star Wars blessing,

May the force be with you

 

 

Parents, your childcare could be in jeopardy

Dear Parents

Do you know that your childcare could be in jeopardy?  Why?  Because a decision made in 2014 by the then Minister for Childcare is having a detrimental effect on recruitment? She required all childcare students and apprentices to have a GCSE Level A to C in English and Maths in order to complete their Level 3 Diploma in Childcare but as we warned then there were insufficient numbers of students available to complete a childcare qualification with both those grades.

The sector can’t fix in a short time what 11 years of schooling have failed to achieve.’ We have suggested a practical solution which was allowing us to use the Functional Skills as an alternative entry requirement.  These qualifications are Government approved and the acceptable entry requirement for all other apprenticeships.

Sadly, this was refused and the consequence is a catastrophic decline in available qualified staff.  There has been a 72% drop in students enrolling in Level 3 courses and a 96% drop in apprentices.   The sector has now reached crisis point. The pipeline for new staff is dry and those who replace staff leaving through natural attrition are few. We certainly cannot meet our growth targets for the 15 hours or the 2 year old offer (80,000 places short) let alone plans to increase to 30 hours.

There is no benefit to having this barrier to entry. In fact it will lead to a reduction in quality as nurseries are forced to take more unqualified staff as they can be employed without the A to C GCSEs.  However, to maintain quality we must have a balance of qualified staff.  Right now, our committed staff are tired, worried and at breaking point.  Depending on agency staff is unsafe, expensive and not conducive to quality for children.  We need to be able train and recruit staff who want to work with children and who can be supported, developed and retained to provide the quality service that every child deserves.

The irony is that the solution is simple.  Change the wording of the regulations to include the option for Functional Skills as the entry requirements and do it before the 1st September so new students can be enrolled on their courses. But who can intervene on our behalf? We have neither a strategy nor a Minister for Childcare.

We need parents to help us get this fixed.

Parents realise the impact having no childcare could have on their daily lives. Today nurseries are part of the infrastructure of a modern society; they are not a “nice to have”. Please can we see the necessary change from the Government in order to support those childcare organisations which enable ordinary working families to work.

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Dear Justine Greening MP

Congratulations on your appointment as Secretary of State for Education. It is quite a Brief so l hope that those of us who have been grappling with it for a while help you.

I was very heartened to hear you say on the Andrew Marr show that you wanted education to be part of your ambition to improve social mobility.   The door to social mobility is opened even before birth and there is a wealth of research, experience and knowledge which shows how the Early Years holds the key to narrowing the achievement gap. As CEO of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), the largest childcare social enterprise in the UK, our whole community nursery model is designed to increase social mobility, using a combination of subsidised fees, local employment and apprentices. We want all children to have the best possible start in their lives, we want parents to be involved, we want our employees to be the best they can and lastly, we want the education and raising of children to be a community affair. The fact that many children don’t have the best possible start in their lives is something we need to strive to change together. 24954704121_d7741abf3d_z

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Cleaning my teeth with Laura Henry & other surprises from a Trip to Froebel’s Birthplace

Recently, I wrote about the importance of visiting other nurseries so I was delighted when I was given a “golden ticket” by Community Playthings to visit Keilhau where Froebel set up his first school. My introduction to Froebel came in 1998 when I studied for an MA at Froebel College now better known as the University of Roehampton. I was touched by his approach to teaching small children using the power of play.getfsslideimage c

Play is the highest level of child development….it gives…joy, freedom, contentment, inner and outer rest, peace with the world… The plays of childhood are the germinal leaves of all later life.

I loved his ideas of a community of work, play and learning which shaped my work at LEYF.

Thinking and doing, recognising and responding, knowledge and ability should be united at the inmost level.’

Finally, how could you not like a pioneer who in 1849 started the first college to train women to become Kindergarten teachers and said,

‘The destiny of nations lies far more in the hands of women, the mothers, than in the possessors of power, or those of innovators who for the most part do not understand themselves. We must cultivate women, who are the educators of the human race, else the new generation cannot accomplish its task.’

The general rule is “what happens on the trip stays on the trip” but somethings have to be shared (so I won’t mention Froebel groupies, Irish Dancing, Drunken Sailors, German cakes, Scottish hilarity or midnight singsongs.) However, we agreed to reacquaint the sector with one of the first pioneers and so you will have already read the thoughts of Julian Grenier , Penny Webb , Laura Henry and Nursery World.getfsslideimage xx

From our arrival at Heathrow, to the five hour coach journey from Frankfurt into the heart of Thuringia and for the entire three days, I basked in an extended pedagogical conversation.   Everywhere we went, whether on the coach, hiking across the hills, in the museums, sitting for breakfast, having a glass of wine in a hut or in chilling in pyjamas, words like pedagogy, engagement, mudology, research, play, blocks, outdoors, wallow, reflection, blocks peppered the discussions.

The experience was particularly uplifting at a time when early year’s policy is so depressing. It’s important to realise that you are not alone which deals with feelings of isolation and paranoia or thinking you have a guest role in an episode of Stepford Wives.

I won’t spoil your revisiting of Froebel by telling you what happens at the end but a good summary would be in a book written by a LEYF colleague called Theories. But as you are all busy people here are are my top 10 Froebel nuggets:

  1. Froebel himself had a very hard time and was seen as a threat to society because of his radical thinking about how best to educate children.
  2. Froebel was a social entrepreneur setting up his school with just 5 children and building up a movement.
  3. It’s true that you cannot be a prophet in your own land. Despite his coining the term Kindergarten (we visited the site where he did this and we could see what he meant when he described the area as a very beautiful valley for education). Nurseries in Germany are not called kindergartens.getfsslideimage
  4. Froebel didn’t have a defined philosophy and pedagogy which he the scientifically applied to his school. Instead, he used his life experience and the continual learning and responses from the children and adults to mould and remould his approach.
  5. Froebel realised that architecture was key to pedagogy and the shape and design of the building was crucial. He insisted on panelling to make classrooms homely, windows low enough for children to be able to see outside, and nooks and crannies and steps and corners to make the building interesting and quirky and non-institutionalised.
  6. Froebel said that every adult had to have love for each child and a passion to help them succeed.
  7. Froebel reminded us that to teach children you need the right resources. The systematic tools of the kindergarten were intentionally simple, intended for maximum variability, infinite potential. Self-activity, self-direction and play were the engines of the kindergarten.
    vv
  8. Froebel designed his gifts as tools to teach small children to observe, reason, express and create blank slates for infinite imagination, story-telling, preliminary mathematics, and systematic design. The gifts provided a comprehensive system and extended to sticks for picture making, drawing on grids, paper weaving, origami, sticks and peas for picture making structures (think toothpicks and mini marshmallows), simple blocks and clay. tools –With music, dancing, nature walks, and gardening, the first kindergarten children learned lessons in eco-consciousness, how nature designs, and a sense of their individual perfection in unity with all creation.
  9.  Froebel reminds us of the importance of parents

    It is not only conducive but necessary to the development and strengthening of the child’s power and skill that parents should, without being too pedantic or too exacting, connect the child’s actions with suitable language and behaviour.’

  10. We have to see Early Years Care and Education within the social and historical context of the day. We are at the heart of the political and economic maelstrom. We can only change things if we articulate what has happened that shapes what is happening.