Landscapes (or how to make yourself as small as a duck)

Landscapes (or how to make yourself as small as a duck) is the title of a recent project undertaken by staff and children at Little Barn Owls Nursery and Forest School, Horsham, which was presented during a professional day at the nursery.

I had worked as a consultant with Hayley Peacock and her team approximately 2 years ago when they moved into new premises and started their journey with the philosophy found in the infant toddler centres of Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy.

I was amazed and in awe of the transformations the team had made over the last 2 years, not only in creating a beautiful and creative environment which clearly acted as a third teacher but with how they were truly listening to the children in their care which was evident by the materials and projects displayed within the space.

Walking around the setting the indoor and outdoor space clearly worked as one learning environment, providing beauty and creativity through a wide range of open ended resources such as spirals, wooden off-cuts, tubing and interesting household artifacts displayed attractively. Everywhere you looked and at all levels there was something of interest for all the senses. The digital atelier with digital microscopes, projectors, laptops and cameras provided a space where anything was possible and we saw how children interacted with these technological materials making the 3-dimensional world merge into the 2-dimensional world.

As I listened to the staff discussing their environments, explaining why materials where provided in this way I remembered a comment voiced when I started working with the team, How do we listen to the younger children? Today, it was clear that staff were truly listening to the children, noting how they interacted with materials, exploring their reactions and responses and facial expressions resulting in investigations into texture, paper and movement.

Hayley Peacock, owner and director of Little Barn Owls Nursery and Farm School, presented a recent project, Landscapes (or how to make yourself as small as a duck) which documented how staff listened to, analysed and questioned the theories, strategies and knowledge-building process of a group of preschool children over an 8/9 month period.

Hayley talked about observing the children over a lengthy period of time as their interests became fascinations and after a few months a line of enquiry emerged. I was intrigued by the patience shown by the staff at this point, not to jump in labelling an interest as a starting point to a project, but watching and analysing observations and only creating a project once a defining moment occurred after some 3 months. What was that defining moment? The children themselves announced that they were part of a team creating a project when they all wore white t-shirts as they worked in the digital atelier. Their investigations explored perspective and concepts such as the effects of changing perceptions but this was only made possible by the constant reflection of verbal transcripts, written accounts of actions and gestures, children’s drawings, videos and photographs and analysing the deeper meaning of these actions.

Reflection of the educator’s role was vital too as they judged when to step aside to observe and when to step in and prompt or provoke the children’s thinking or line of enquiring. Judging that moment came through careful annalsing of their observations and transcripts which was evident when the children drew a camera and tripod. It was due to the children’s observation that the camera wasn’t popping from the page that led to the atelierista to intervene perspective further. At every point of their investigations the atelierista was careful not to dominate or direct their investigations but provided opportunities and guidance to explore the tripod through first hand investigations and later to turn these discoveries into the a 2-dimensional form.

This project truly illustrated the value of understanding pedagogical observations rather than observing to mark off statements of development.

Hayley Peacock and her team offer open days for early years educators, management and advisors who are interested in discovering more about their approach and how they interpret the philosophy practised in Reggio Emilia with the E.Y.F.S.

Go on, give her team a ring. It will be an inspirational day!

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