Forest School

What is Forest School?

Forest School, is an outdoor education delivery model in which individuals spend time in natural spaces to learn different skills. It has been defined in Liz O’Brien and Richard Murray’s research as “an inspirational process that offers children, young people and adults regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence through hands-on learning in a woodland environment”.

Following success in the US, Sweden and Denmark, it has become extremely popular in the UK since the 90s. Many schools and other settings have established long term programmes with accredited training courses. Others have been solely setup as dedicated forest schools. The philosophy of Forest School embraces children’s natural curiosity, inspired imagination and promoted learning.

Formed in 2012 as “the professional body and UK wide voice for Forest School”, the Forest School Association (FSA) promote best practice, cohesion and “quality Forest School for all”. As a result, hey have helped over 10,000 educationalists undertake training to provide Forest School within their establishments. This includes nurseries, preschools and primary schools. This community is key as the demand for provision is rising and the quality of outdoor learning is growing.

Impact in the Early Years

Forest School promotes all aspects of children’s early years development. Forest School may have added benefits that learning indoors doesn’t provide. It endorses children’s physical well being by getting them more active and enjoying the fresh air. Similarly it gives children a greater wealth of experiences the outdoors can offer, thus instilling a healthier lifestyle.

Dr Janine Coates of the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences and Dr Helena Pimlott-Wilson of the Department of Geography at Loughborough conducted preliminary research in 2017 within primary schools, including one early years foundation class (4-5 years). Their findings show that there is a clear impact of Forest School. Encouraging children to work with others in more challenging outdoor activities improves their social relationships. Secondly, this way of learning within early years appears to provide children with hands-on skills and an appreciation for the outdoors. Certainly a stark contrast to the ever-growing digital age where children are thought to spend less time in their outdoor environment.

Getting children outdoors is a great way of taking children and learning out of the classroom. In addition, it adds something a little different to the day-to-day schedule. Likewise, it gives children greater understanding and experience whilst helping all areas of their development in a different, stimulating way.

How can LearningBook help?

LearningBook allows customers to create and complete observations of children’s activities even if the safeguarding-aware tablets are offline and not connected to WiFi. For instance, it means settings who have poor internet connection and attend take part in outdoor sessions will still be able to record children’s development. Find out more features that can support your outdoor learning, here.

Getting to Grips with the GDPR

GDPR in Early Years

You may not think that the GDPR will impact early years setting but it does. It’s important to get to grips with what it all means and what steps your establishment should take to be compliant.

What is GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a directive by which the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union and the European Commission sets guidelines for the collection and processing of personal information of individuals within the European Union (EU). The GDPR will replace the current Data Protection Act.

The GDPR aims primarily to give control back to individuals over their personal data and covers all companies that deal with the data of EU citizens. The EU definition of “personal data” is “any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person”. Above all, the GDPR is intended to create a uniformity of rules to enforce across the continent.

On 25th May 2018 the GDPR will be enforced across Europe.

Think that the GDPR will not be enforced after Brexit? Wrong. To clarify, it has been confirmed GDPR will form part of UK law following the country’s withdrawal from the EU. Therefore, companies including nurseries and other childcare establishments are advised to begin making appropriate steps to make their setting GDPR compliant.

How will it impact the Early Years Sector, including your setting?

For your nursery, preschool, school etc. personal data will likely be information on children, parents and your staff. For instance, names, dates of birth, addresses, allergies, medical information, photos, bank details, national insurance numbers and qualifications. All of which are personally identifiable and therefore concerned under the GDPR in early years settings.

Under the GDPR there are certain key areas to consider:

Awareness

Key people within your school or nursery aware of the changes in law to the GDPR. These people may include managers, owner, directors, or governing body. Importantly, they should also understand the impact this will have.

Information

You should hold a record of what personal data you hold, where it came from and who you share it with. Something to bear in mind is who in your setting has access to what. By limiting how many individuals can access information and what information will, consequently, reduce risk.

Consent and Privacy Information

Firstly, you should review how you seek, record and manage consent. Secondly, find out whether you need to make any changes to your current procedures. Review and renew existing consent forms now if they don’t meet the GDPR standard. For children, who are not able to give consent of their own data until they are 16, you should think about your current system for obtaining consent from parents or guardians. Furthermore, this consent should also cover privacy policies or notices to give individuals your identity. It also means they know how you plan to use their information.

Individual Rights

This includes the right to be informed, to access, to rectification, to erasure, to restrict processing, to object, and to not be subject automated decision-making and profiling.

A nursery or school should check the policies and procedures in place to ensure they cover the rights individuals have under the GDPR. This can include how you would delete individuals’ personal data or provide them with their data if requested. LearningBook allows you to download and export data in formats suchs as PDF, CSV etc, so this is something to consider when it comes to GDPR in your early years setting.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

If you don’t comply with GDPR then the Information Commission’s Office (ICO) has the right to fine your company an amount up to £20million or a 4% global turnover. The level of the fine depends on which is greater. The ICO will likely only audit you if there has been a breach.

Find out more:

Impressing prospective nursery parents

As you know the first aim for a nursery is to encourage parents to entrust you with their children. It’s important to consider the impression you give parents online, in the community, during a visit and beyond. For most parents looking for childcare, this is the first time they will have to leave their child. They may be feeling guilty and nervous, and maybe experiencing separation anxiety.

As a childcare provider it is important to not only give a good impression in regards to looking after their child but also that you have the capbailities and the willingness to offer support to families as a whole. This will further assure parents they are making the right decision.

No doubt parents will consider more than one nursery visit so it’s important that you make a strong first impression.

Here’s out top 5 tips on how to impress your prospective nursery parents:

1. Online Presence

In today’s society a first impression is normally made online; this can be through your website, social media, or recommendation sites. Parents are likely to search for nurseries in their local area through a search engine or other childcare directories and forums. Therefore, it’s important to get this bit right. You can get inspiration from other nurseries in your area or even nurseries who have won awards for their online presence (Try looking at NMT Awards or Nursery World Awards). This may be how they’ve built their website, what they post on Facebook or Twitter or even what imagery they share online. When creating content in these places makes sure the values you have in your early years setting are reflected widely.

It’s also important to make the route they take through your website as simple as possible. Make sure they are directed to online forms, email addresses and telephone numbers encouraging them to call, book a visit or simply to find out more information about your childcare setting. When parents do call or email in, make sure they are responded to in a timely and polite manner, and their questions are answered.

2. Timing is everything

As you know certain times in the nursery are better at showing of the different activities and resources that are available to children to help them grow and develop.

Try to encourage parents to visit during times where planned activities or free flow play is occurring. Avoid nap times or drop-off and pick-up times where either nothing is happening or it’s a little chaotic. At these time, staff have other priorities and can’t engage with the visitors.

3. Staff should be engaged with the prospective parents and children 

Well before the visit it’s important to hire staff that share the nurseries values and are passionate about childcare. Parents will feel more relaxed and will feel more positive about leaving their child at your nursery when they can trust those who are taking care of their children.

Encourage your staff to have smart and correct uniform, smile, say hello and ask questions. Staff should speak with the parents about their child’s health and wellbeing, as well as their likes and dislikes. They can ask things about the child and family’s routine and how they can help your child settle into their new environment. This may take some practice but the more staff do this the more comfortable they will become with talking to visitors.

It’s important to remember that staff should also show engagement with the child or children not just with the parents.

4. Show off your strengths

Show off the things you’re proud of! Have you been graded Good or Outstanding by Ofsted? If so, mention this any chance you get. Parents will also want to know what makes you different, so make sure you play to your strengths during your visit. These strengths may be your staff, the outdoor area, the resources, the additional activities such as Spanish, French, yoga and so on.

5. There’s always room for improvement

Even after the visit is over it is important to ensure that you have a process in place to gather feedback from parents and families who have visited your setting. Both those who have taken a place and those who haven’t.

Sometimes this can be a phone call from the manager or administrative staff, or even an email with a survey to help you gather information.

Its one thing collecting feedback but it’s another using it to make improvements and learn from mistakes or suggested improvements. Ensure that the feedback and/or survey results are collated and feedback to the necessary people.

3 questions you must ask your Digital Learning Journey provider

Why Digital Learning Journeys?

Some practitioners are spending as long as seven hours each week assembling paper learning journeys for the EYFS. Many practitioners are expected to complete these unpaid, after work hours. It’s not surprising when you consider the complicated processes that go into these learning journeys. Some practitioners write sticky notes and keep them in pockets before filing them in the correct scrapbook. Many nurseries tie a notebook to the play area, so practitioners can jot down observations, which then have to be copied out. Of course, these paper Learning Journeys are prone to damage and getting lost; yet they aren’t much use to parents sitting in a tray at school. That’s why Digital Learning Journeys were invented!

Digital Learning Journey observations are much easier. Using tablet computers, practitioners can:

  • Make photo, video, text or voice recording observations;
  • Save the details to a child, or even to a child’s specific learning outcome;
  • Receive parents’ comments and recordings of activities outside the home, for a more complete picture of each child’s progress.

Digital Learning Journey systems finally allow for the truly spontaneous observations practitioners have been long been expected to provide; instead of the reality of rushing to complete scrapbooks in time for Parent’s Evening.

Some practitioners using the old scrapbook learning journeys say they struggle to observe something for each child every term. Digital Learning Journeys make observations so quick and easy you can make observations whenever you choose.

Three questions you must ask before you choose Digital Learning Journey provider

The advantages of Digital Learning Journeys are clear. However, with new Digital Learning Journey systems added to the market every day, it can be difficult to know which to choose.

You must ask:

1. Is it secure?

Some early years settings restrict mobile devices and cameras due to fears around sharing images. It would be very easy to share an image of a child on a social network via a mobile phone. For this reason, concerned headteachers and managers should avoid Digital Learning Journey systems which are simply downloaded to open devices.

LearningBook’s locked down ‘SmartTablets’ are closed. The ‘SmartTablets’ cannot download other apps and software, such as Facebook, YouTube or email platforms. Data is protected from data loss and cybercrime because it is backed up and stored securely. Only accessible to staff and parents via secure logins. Practitioners enjoy all the benefits technology brings, with none of the fears.

2. Will parents use this?

The chief advantage of Digital Learning Journeys is their power to engage parents. When parents partner with practitioners, the effect on educational outcomes is immeasurable. Practitioners will already know how much easier it is to build relationships with parents who understand what goes on in their setting.

LearningBook has received much praise for its parent portal; which parents say is easy to use. LearningBook case studies show just how much parents enjoy finding out what their child is learning about.

3. How much is it?

LearningBook is the professional and secure choice. Although it is one of the most established systems on the market, it is priced competitively.

Safeguarding-aware tablets vs open devices

As you’re probably aware there are guidelines and policies in place to ensure that mobile devices are not used in early years settings. The reason for this is to prevent the intentional or unintentional distribution of children’s data.

It is a safeguarding best-practice for early years settings to restrict mobile devices and cameras due to fears around sharing images; it would be very easy to share an image of a child on a social network, such as Facebook, Twitter, email or other forms of online communications, via a mobile phone or tablet. To avoid this many managers implement policies to restrict the use of open devices in their settings, sometimes mobile phones have to be locked away during the day etc.

You may have heard fairly recently that a nursery that was previously rated as outstanding has been downgraded to inadequate after staff photographed children on their mobiles and sent the pictures to parents. Whilst there was a photo policy in place, signed by parents, meaning they only receive pictures of their own children, the use of open devices in the setting poses a risk to children’s information, data and images.

Furthermore, many settings begin using open devices, such as iPads and mobile phones in the rooms to record observations as part of children’s learning journeys to track their progression. These devices are likely to still have access to applications that allow sharing of images and videos making it easy for staff to do so, and therfore counteracting the nurseries priorties for children’s safety. It also allows the productivity of the staff to drop. With a range of applications available on open devices, staff may become distracted during quiet times or nap times where they access these application. This may be detrimental to the setting and could pose a risk to the children’s education and well-being, as well as staff motivations and role.

What options are available for my setting?

When it comes to online and digital learning journeys, motivating staff and engaging parents make sure you choose a provider that takes safeguarding seriously and is one of the company’s top priorities. LearningBook uses locked-down SmartTablets only, which cannot be used to access Internet browsers, social media, emails or other applications and ensures that no images can be taken outside of the learning journey or uploaded to anywhere outside of your control. All observations can only be uploaded to a secureAdministration Portal for staff and a password protected Parent Portal for parents to view and comment on.

Practitioners and managers enjoy all the benefits technology brings with none of the fears!

30 hours free childcare

In order to enable parents, where they wish, to return to work or to work additional hours the government is rolling out funding to support 30 hours free childcare.

In addition to the universal offer of 15 hours free early education entitlement most working parents of three and four year old children may be eligible for an additional 15 hours per week – totalling 30 hours free childcare.

Both entitlements can be delivered over 38 weeks (i.e. school term time) or the equivalent number of hours can be stretched across more weeks of the year.

Any childcare provider who is registered with Ofsted on the Early Years Register, including nurseries, pre-schools, playgroups, and some children’s centres may provide the places. It also means that Ofsted registered breakfast clubs; out of school; holiday clubs and childminders may be partners in providing free childcare places for working parents.

Am I eligible for 30 hours free childcare?

Not all parents are eligible for the extra 15 hours. However, everyone will still receive the 15 hours free childcare that is currently available.

To be eligible for 30 hours free childcare:

  • You  must live in England;
  • Your child is  3 or 4 years old;
  • Both parents must be working – or the sole parent is working in a single parent family;
  • Each parent earns, on average, a weekly minimum equivalent to 16 hours at National Minimum Wage or National Living Wage. The minimum amount will always reflect the lowest hourly rate that a person of your age can legally be paid. This information can be found online;
  • Each parent must have an annual income of less than £100,000.

Furthermore, parents can check their eligibility via the Childcare Choices website using its useful childcare calculator.

When does it start?

The scheme began nationwide in September 2017.

How do I apply?

You can now apply for 30-hour free childcare online via the Childcare Service.

When you apply, you’ll be asked to enter your name, address and National Insurance number, whether you expect to meet the income requirements over the next three months and whether you are in receipt of any benefits. Your partner will also need to fill in this information if necessary. This will enable HMRC to let you know whether your child is eligible for the 30 hours free childcare.

If you’re eligible, you’ll receive a code to take to your childcare provider and arrange your childcare place ahead of September 2017. You will also need your National Insurance Number and child’s date of birth. Your childcare provider or council will check the code is real and allocate your child a free childcare place.

Furthermore, if successful you will have to reconfirm their details quarterly – to ensure all information held is up to date.

Please be aware not all settings will offer the flexible 30 hours free childcare, it’s important to check with your local childcare providers. Also, some settings may charge for ‘extras’.

Useful Websites

Department of Education: Guidance

Childcare Choices

Pre-school Learning Alliance: 30 hours free childcare

Top 3 safeguarding challenges around technology in early years settings

Safeguarding Early Years – Technology

Never before has a generation grown up with such instant access to technology. Only time will tell if this will bring negative side effects. A Guardian article revealed that some leading Silicon Valley entrepreneurs restrict their children’s access to technology. In fact, some 25% of Early Years Practitioners don’t believe technology has a place in their pre-school educational environment.

Increased use of ICT brings concerns around issues. Here we offer some tips on safeguarding early years children when it comes to technology, such as:

1. Lack of practitioner knowledge

Not all practitioners are confident in using ICT, and many lack access to (and information about) which technology is best suited to the EYFS curriculum.

Only 55% of practitioners feel confident sharing a story on a touch screen. According to this report, not all staff are asking questions about the ICT children use outside school; meaning they are missing a big opportunity to learn more about children’s learning preferences and to engage with parents.

With increased training and support these issues can be overcome . IT champions in each setting can help. For small scale childminders in particular, a system for borrowing hardware and software has been recommended.

2. Security

Early years settings struggle to provide the same technology access children enjoy at home due to security issues. When safeguarding early years settings, policy makers don’t have to ban mobile devices. However, many nursery managers choose this policy as sites such as Facebook and Twitter make it so easy to share images of children.

Unlike ‘use your own tablet’ Digital Learning Journey solutions, LearningBook cannot be used for unauthorised distribution. All information is protected from data loss or cybercrime due to strict policies and secure logins.

Of course, it’s also important that children’s access to the internet is supervised. According to this report, many parents understand the importance of locking phones and using technology in a social, shared living space.

3. Health issues

Issues around sedentary, unsociable lifestyles caused by over-reliance on technology are perhaps the main cause for concern among practitioners. Analysis of 1,600 five-year-olds in Western Australia carried out in 2006 discovered a 28% reduction in children’s vigorous activity at weekends. Practitioners must ensure that technology is added to other activities, rather than replacing them, and that it encourages socialising.

What all this means for Digital Learning Journeys…

Of course, at LearningBook, we see the increased opportunity to create Digital Learning Journeys as a key advantage of classroom technology. Videos and pictures have been proven to be much more engaging for parents, much easier for practitioners to create and much easier for nursery managers and headteachers to store (information about each child and their achievements against learning goals is saved digitally, rather than lost or damaged in paper books).

LearningBook overcomes Learning Journey challenges competitors may not have considered:

  • Parents can only access information about their child via secure login;
  • All information is secured against data loss and cybercrime;
  • Other apps cannot be downloaded on LearningBook tablets;
  • Information cannot be shared on social networks, like Facebook.

If you’re looking into Digital Learning Journeys, make sure to ask about these security issues before choosing a system.

Conclusion
In conclusion, many practitioners need greater support in terms of training and managing the risks technology presents. However, the advantages of technology in early years settings cannot be underestimated; when it comes to teaching, engaging parents and improving observations and learning journeys.

Children must be able to enjoy the technology they use in their everyday lives in early years settings, ensuring that all learning styles are catered to. Digital Learning Journey systems, such as LearningBook, are an important step toward that goal.

Early Years Planning

Discover how Digital Learning Journeys can help your Early Years planning

The way it works now:

Practitioners are expected to make spontaneous changes to long-term, medium and short term plans tailored to individual children. Some best practice advice recommends adapting schedules “based on your observations from the previous day”.

Staff are so hands-on. Practitioners may not be getting the bigger picture of progress across groups or the whole setting. Although each practitioner has an excellent picture of their key children, this information to colleagues may be ad hoc. It can also be easy to forget to measure attainment separately for children of different ages in mixed settings.

How Digital Learning Journeys can help:

Troubleshooting is much easier with access to data. For instance, medium term planning can be adjusted if the Digital Learning Journey data reveals that children across the setting aren’t making the same progress in literacy compared to other goals. If children whose second language is English aren’t progressing as quickly as their peers, they could receive more attention from teaching assistants in the following weeks.

Planning can become even more spontaneous with help from parents. Digital Learning Journeys share information so much more quickly than termly parents’ evening. Parents may even be able to incorporate learning from that day into evening activities. For example, asking their child to halve the pizza at dinner time if they have been learning about fractions. Practitioners can do the same; a message logged by a parent after school may inspire activities the next day.

Of course, it’s possible to over-plan; the EYFS requires providers to ensure a balance of child-initiated and adult-led play based activities. However, the more up-to-date information you have, the easier it is to provide releavnt activities for each child.

Ideas for early years planning:

  • Many councils advise finding out about the festivals children from different backgrounds celebrate. Have parents mentioned any festivals via the Digital Learning Journey parent portal?
  • This useful pack advises that birthdays could inspire cooking activities in school.
  • Is there a popular book children are reading at home which you’ve missed?
  • Have you appropriately chosen mixed ability groups for each learning area?
  • If parents report an interesting family hobby, could this inspire an activity? It’s best practice to ensure activities ‘build on children’s prior learning’.
  • Could parents who are engaged on the parent portal be invited to participate in a trip?

Next steps

Paper learning journeys contain invaluable information, yet are often left to languish on shelves. Unlike paper learning journeys, Digital Learning Journeys bring this information alive. As a result it is an invaluable resource for planning and evaluation.

Why your school or nursery needs learning journeys

Learning journeys can be hugely beneficial for early years practitioners when it comes to tracking progress, benchmarking and planning. That’s why it’s important to invest time and effort into school and nursery learning journeys.

What us a school or nursery learning journey?

A learning journey is a collection of pieces of information that, when connected together, creates a picture of a particular child. It’s a valuable tool for:

  • Assessing a child’s development.
  • Providing a record of a child’s time with you.
  • Helping you plan activities.

You should be able to see at a glance the child’s stage of development and what they need to cover next. Learning journeys enable you to keep track of a child’s development, link it to areas of the EYFS and use your knowledge, as well as information from parents and other relevant professionals to plan activities.

Learning journeys tell a story

Make the learning journey the story of a child’s time and development with you.

  • Start at the beginning with the “all about me” information you gathered during the child’s settling-in period.
  • Ask about the child’s likes, dislikes, routines, comforters, what they like to play with, and any special people or pets in their lives.
  • Give the child the same activity at the beginning and at the end of their time with you to see their progress, for example, draw a self-portrait.

Discover what works for you

Some early years professionals enjoy creating beautiful scrapbooks and journals that can then be kept by parents, but if this isn’t for you and you find it time consuming, find ways to speed up the process. Look at the online tools and apps that are available. Find one that you can take photos with, tag children, and make comments on a mobile device then sync with your computer.

Learning journeys create an up-to-the minute picture of a child’s development, making planning, reporting and benchmarking easy.

How can LearningBook help?

LearningBook transforms how staff capture and analyse progress, and enhances how parents interact and engage with their child’s early years education. Our digitial learning journeys save you time and money, and above all ensure your children and their data is safeguarded and secure.

Find out more or book a free demonstration and trial.

Learning through play

Learning through play is a great way to encourage independence and exploration as part of early years learning. Discover our 3 favourite activities.

Though sometimes parents may not see the method to the madness, play is a vital part of early years development. Children are fully involved in play and use their bodies, minds and emotions; they learn to be in control and confident about themselves while interacting with others. Here are a few ideas for stimulating activities which get children exploring and encourage independence.

1. Dressing up

Children love to dress up and to pretend to be other people, animals and superheroes in different settings.

Tip: Section off a role play area with curtains to make it more theatrical, and provide for all the senses with special lighting and sound effects.

2. Building a den

Outdoor environments allow for plenty of different types of play with wide spaces for movement, den building, climbing, running, and messy play.

Tip: Provide a box of den building materials such as old sheets and blankets, bamboo canes and ropes, bendy sticks and pipes.

3. Building blocks

Blocks are an open-ended resource and can take many different forms from empty food packets and boxes, to big wooden crates, and traditional wooden building blocks.

Tip: Add small world, people, animals and vehicles to a collection of different types of blocks to help children create situations and stories.