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Learning to care for our environment - homemade wipes

There has been a huge shift in recent years, both globally and nationally, towards caring for our environment and to becoming more aware of the impact that we, as humans, are having on our planet.

We have all looked in horror at the recent news reports of huge global changes, for example flooding, both in other countries and more recently, affecting us at home, and at the huge bush fires burning uncontrollably in Australia, both of these catastrophes wreaking havoc to people, homes and wildlife, with many experts believing that this is the result of climate changes brought about by human activity.

We’ve also watched documentaries aghast at the effect that plastics and micro-plastics have on marine life - the problem is just so big it can often seem overwhelming. So what can we do to help? This is a question that we have been pondering over in nursery for a long time, which prompted us to look at measures that we can take to help do our bit to care for the environment – even if it’s just in a small way.

For a long time, Creative Learning has been taking ‘small steps’ in terms of caring for our environment. Within our two settings, we are always striving to be the best that we can be, and sometimes that includes embracing change. We believe some of the most dangerous words in the English language are ‘We have always done it this way’. Instead of always sticking to the familiar, we learn, we adapt, we evolve and we grow.

After a lot of consideration we decided to try and drastically reduce our use of single-use plastic and make a change to something we have ‘always done’. This coincided with discovering that wet wipes are made up of 95% plastic so, after researching more eco-friendly alternatives, we began to make our own wet wipes using bio-degradable paper rolls and organic soaps. And, as demonstrated on our Facebook post that was subsequently shared almost 700 times, other settings have chosen to do the same.

Since June, we have not bought a single pack, instead using our own homemade, biodegradable wipes. In this time frame we would have usually gone through 1000’s of packs, which equates to tens of thousands of individual wipes that haven’t gone into landfill. We now only carry a pack during outings, just in case, and since June have used less than a dozen packs for this purpose and those packs were left over from before our new scheme began. There has not been any financial gain from this switch, but we are so proud of the environmental savings that have come from making a small step.

However, we will not be making bold statements about striving to be a completely plastic free setting. Plastic has its place, just as other resources do. We have some plastic toys, which are purposeful, and believe that eradicating plastic is not the answer. Rather, we strive to move away from single use plastics and aim to make wise choices in what we purchase and use.

We, as we have always done, educate our children about protecting and caring for the world in which we live, and the importance of recycling as part of everyday life. We have several books on this subject which are always in rotation, that have been well loved by our pre-schoolers for years. ‘Michael Recycle and the Tree Top Cops’ is often requested.

Our children know that we recycle our food waste to turn into fuel, and have an idea of how. Gus, aged 3, knows that: “It goes in the special bin, the man comes and then it is made into petrol”

As a business, we do not have our waste food bins collected by the council, but rather pay extra to have them taken away to be made into bio fuel. The children are fascinated by the fact that leftover food can be turned into something else- thus perpetuating the idea that most things can be recycled, repurposed and reused.

This ideology is reflected throughout our practice, often in purposeful activities that reuse previous resources. Sometimes, though, it’s as simple as a conversation. We have always had open discussions with the children about the importance of being environmentally conscious. They know we turn the lights off when we go outside to save electricity, and aim to recycle wherever we can. Most importantly, they have a wider understanding of why, not just how. Ezra, 4 years, exclaimed during one such discussion- “If we don’t recycle, the polar bears and penguins won’t have any life where they live!”, whilst 4 year old Martha mused “We need to save the planet because we don’t want the animals in the sea to eat plastic bags”.

As always, home and nursery cross over and the children excitedly discuss what they do at home to help the environment, with Kiana, aged 3, noting that her mummy “puts the recycling away in the box and just waits for the truck”.

It is an important and empowering lesson to learn that although we are only a small part of a big wide world, we are indeed part of it, and are responsible for it, and must take care of it, even if the actions we take might not always seem big enough to make a notable difference.

Our children, who are indeed the future of this big, wide world, believe that these small steps add up to big things. We must try our best, evolve and make changes where we can, and hope that they are right.

If you would like to know how we make our wipes, please take a look:

Starting School

School Readiness. It’s a rather confusing term, with hundreds of slightly (and sometimes wildly) contrasting definitions around. It can also mean something different to every setting, every family, and every school. We’ve had lots of questions from parents about their children starting school, so wanted to discuss the concept of being ‘school ready’ a little further, and share how we prepare our children for their transition to ‘big school’.

To begin, it’s no secret that children in the UK actually start school very young in comparison to other parts of the world. A total of 133 countries don’t begin formal learning until the age of 6, whilst 44 countries choose to wait until the age of 7. In an ideal world, we would prefer to do the same, for all young children to learn and develop solely through play.

However, we do not live in an ideal world, and so must adapt to the one in which we do live. The train is moving, and we must jump on board. It is our aim, and our duty, as practitioners, parents and teachers to make it easier for little ones to step off the platform. One of those things we can do is make that platform, those vital early years, solid and purposeful. Laying those bricks of early foundations is as important as anything that comes next.

Starting school is a huge change, even for the most confident of children. It’s a step out of their comfort zone. Everything is new- the layout of the classroom, the diverse ages of children, a new peer group, having to wear a uniform. It’s hard to predict how any child will settle in. This is not to paint the process in a negative light- but an adjustment period is sometimes needed. Don’t be surprised if your child who races into nursery without a backwards glance, suddenly clings to your side tearfully when it’s time to join their new classmates. They are still so little, and it’s a huge change for them.

At Creative Learning we work extremely hard to make this transition as smooth as possible. This starts with a deep understanding of each individual child, using a targeted key person approach.

We also develop meaningful relationships with families, as it’s not just the child who needs to be ‘school ready’. Often, when the time comes to leave nursery, many of our children have been with us since they were tiny babies and as you can imagine, we have built up a relationship over that time with the whole family. As a result we are able to work closely with parents and carers to promote a positive environment from home to school, which is extremely beneficial for the children in our care.

In order to ease the process, teachers are welcomed into preschool to meet the children in a secure, comfortable environment. Practitioners attend transition evenings, write detailed reports on each child, complete tracking, and pass on any information that will help the new teachers get to know their new children. Children must be ready for school, but the school must also be ready for them.

When it comes to preparing the children for the transition ahead, we keep things casual and open. We talk a lot about school, without allowing the subject to becoming overwhelming. We read selected books as part of our usual story time, and encourage a natural curiosity. The idea settles in almost like osmosis. Somehow, knowing that your friends are also leaving nursery – even if they aren’t going to the same school, just knowing that you’re all going through the same thing together, at the same time, helps. Sometimes it’s easier to be brave when you’re part of a group.

When we think about our children being ‘school ready’, it’s absolutely not about promoting compliant behaviour or a formal approach to learning. Nor is it about counting to 100 or writing your name. In thinking about being ready for school, it’s important not to get bogged down in the minutiae. Children are not required to conform to an academic tick-list in order to be considered school ready. Much more important is essential skills such as being able to play cooperatively, take turns, follow instructions, show empathy, take care of their own belongings, and communicate with others. Children should be able to be a functional member of a small group, whilst also being secure in working independently.

It is important to note too that we are not preparing children to learn. This is not necessary, as children are natural learners. What children need is the freedom to be in a richly resourced and well-supported environment, with lots of opportunities for play and communication with both peers and adults, so they can develop their natural skills and capacities. We are proud to provide such an environment, and are careful to strike a balance of children making purposeful choices, and also following adult direction.

We focus on essential pre-writing and reading skills, planning fine motor and language activities for this purpose. We work on cognitive skills such as recognising shapes, colours and counting, which will eventually provide a base for academic mathematical learning. We support children in their physical development- encouraging them in climbing, balancing, throwing and catching balls. We advocate empathy, confidence and looking after their own self-care such as dressing and toileting.

Most importantly- we play, we love, we nurture, we bolster, we instil, we educate, we support. We do all these things so that our children leave us ‘school ready’ in ways that are nothing to do with a checklist of academic achievements. When that train pulls away from the platform, they will be ready for the journey that lies ahead, for all the places they will go.

And, always, they will be able to hear us cheering them on.

What does Forest School involve?

Forest School, and its specialist learning approach, is becoming increasingly popular in the UK, but what does it actually involve?

And why do we at Creative Learning believe is it so important for our children?

Forest School has been around for decades, especially in Scandinavian countries. One the reasons for its growing popularity in recent years is, simply, as a reaction to modern day life.

When raising children nowadays, it is hard not to feel a pang of nostalgia for the childhoods of previous generations. Whole days would be spent outdoors, exploring, creating, and basking in a heady sense of freedom and independence. It is a different world we live in now, which must be acknowledged, but we believe it is important to foster those feelings of freedom and independence where possible.

At Creative Learning we are proud to have four fully accredited, Level 3 Forest School leaders, across both settings. To become officially qualified is intensive and costly, with a significant time commitment, but we believe the value of that qualification in enriching children’s learning is immeasurable.

Forest School is not simply a badge to collect or a box to tick. Nor is it merely ‘getting outside’. It is a process, which for us starts early. Our Toddlers begin the journey in our purposeful woodland areas at the back of both nurseries. They learn to explore their environment, climb trees, tackle obstacles, and observe nature. They also learn to listen to instruction, line up, take turns, and start to think about keeping themselves safe.

Next, in the preschool room, the children will begin to go off site. Again, the process is gradual. There are varying degrees of involvement. Children will first visit the nearest set of woods. To get there, they walk carefully with a partner in a line that is headed, followed and punctuated with an adult. The ratio is reduced and risks are constantly assessed.

Eventually, they will visit woods further away, and stay out for longer, sometimes taking a packed lunch. For some children, it will be the furthest they have ever walked. Their cheeks are pink and their little legs might be tired, but their spirits are soaring. The exhilaration when they reach the opening of the woods and are able to ‘roam free’ is electrifying. The play and learning observed is both subtle and magnificent.

Teamwork is a pivotal part of Forest School, and it is something that is facilitated and encouraged every session. From the moment they line up and join hands with a partner, it’s a team effort. Children stand over piles of sticks and logs and talk about how best to build a den, they pass resources back and forth, each of them having a role to play.

Forest school is becoming more widespread, but there are some parts of our sessions that are distinctly ours. One of these is our beloved ‘Pride Rock’, christened by a former Pye Nester years ago. It has become a staple of our Forest School, and the children race to climb it. It is a source of great delight, and sparks plenty of imagination and play.

At our Elland setting, children love travelling by bus to the woods. This is a big part of their Forest School sessions, and we always get compliments on how wonderfully behaved they are during the journey. Upon arrival, they look excitedly for the local groundskeeper, who they have affectionately named ‘Mr McGregor’ after the gardener in the Peter Rabbit books.

There is something very universal about our sessions- we are part of something bigger, a widespread ethos. At the same time though, they are very personal and special to us. Nature has a way of making you feel big and small all at once- explorers discovering everything for the first time.

The woods are a perfect learning environment as the abundance of natural resources make it easy for learner-led discovery. The opportunities are endless.

We take full advantage of this, and we come prepared. Children shriek with glee as they take turns on a zip line, shout instructions to each other as they build dens from materials they have foraged, balance carefully on a low slack line as their friends call out encouragement, crouch down to inspect nests and observe wildlife.

However, it’s not all ‘Bear Grylls’ and building fires (although that does happen sometimes!). Forest School doesn’t necessarily need an array of specialist equipment, and the most important learning doesn’t always take place in the most ‘exciting’ of ways. We see examples of this every single session:

One of our little learners, just turned four, walks carefully, part of the line. She is heading to Forest School, and excitement is high. She clutches her partners hand and knows they mustn’t let go (and she tells him so- several times!). She is learning about road safety and her own autonomy, to take careful note of herself, others, and her environment.

She spots numbers on the doorways she passes, and calls them out to the teachers. She gets them wrong sometimes, but that doesn’t matter. She arrives at the woods and the world changes instantly.

The woods are vast, and seem to go on forever. She stands in a circle with her friends, and sings our ritual song- ‘Hello To the Woods’. She shouts every word, there is no need for quiet voices here. She is beaming with pride as she joins in. She is part of something. We let go of hands, and she is free to explore. She sees a log she wants to move and asks another child to help her. They manage to move it together, although it’s quite difficult. A teacher calls her name- “1, 2, 3, where are you?” and she shouts back, with gusto “1, 2, 3, I AM HERE!”

And there she is indeed, alongside the others, learning and exploring in subtle but brilliant ways. Growing in confidence, testing limits, developing social and technical skills, learning about themselves and the world around them.

We are delighted and proud to be able to offer these opportunities to the children in our care, led by qualified staff who have a deep understanding of the ethos behind and the practice of Forest School. We believe the children’s learning to be incredibly enhanced as a result.

The benefits of Forest School are huge, and cannot be underestimated.

Nature, in itself, is a wonderful teacher. Our children experience the seasons in real time. They feel the crunch of snow under foot. They will see new buds bloom as far as the eye can see. They watch the sunshine stream through trees. They take note of the leaves as they change colour and fall to the ground.

A vast, boundless classroom that is constantly changing, what could be more exciting than that?