Ann Bogle tells how she teaches
Ann Bogle packs a quart into a pint pot twice a day. The three and four-year- olds in her morning and afternoon nursery classes may receive a condensed version of the curriculum, but all the essential ingredients are there.
The dual day, with 25 pupils in each session, means double the work in many respects, but Mrs Bogle somehow finds double the energy. "Even when I think I'm exhausted after the first class, seeing the new faces in the afternoon gives me a boost," she says. "I like the fast pace."
The school also has a full-day class of 25 children but Mrs Bogle thinks the half-day children lose little in curriculum terms.
"They are missing social experiences by not having lunch here, but I try to make up for that by having a fairly formal break time once a week when we tell each other our news. They learn to share and listen to each other."
A former secondary English and geography teacher - she has a BEd from Stranmillis College, Belfast - Mrs Bogle moved into the primary sector when her four sons were young. Lisnagelvin is her first nursery post. In her sixth year she still finds the job exciting and challenging - so much so that she often goes to sleep thinking of new ideas. "I see education as a building process and nursery education is the rock-solid foundation. You're in at the start helping those children build their self-esteem. Think where we'd all be now if we'd had that when we were young."
Her cornerstones are organisation and observation. The dual day means setting-up time is both under extra pressure - "there's little time in the day with no children in the classroom" - and doubly important. Even the toothpaste is squeezed out in advance, on 25 colour-coded toothbrushes (twice). Up to eight topic-related activities are laid out in advance so the children can move freely between them.
"I'm constantly observing and supervising. One child might play effectively at an activity for 40 minutes; another will be ready to move after five. It helps that Mrs Logue (classroom assistant Joan Logue) has a photographic memory!
"My guiding principles are freedom of choice with guidance, and routine with flexibility. I only have two rules no running indoors and no shouting."
The "cluster" group for nursery teachers in her LEA (the Western Education and Library Board) is a source of mentors and ideas. "I spent a day with another dual day teacher and she spent a day with me, which was very helpful. You learn so much from other teachers. When I first went back to teaching after having my family I was subbing (supply teaching) in primaries, picking up everyone's good ideas.
"In this job, I've learned to use all the expertise that's available. Mrs Logue does the displays because that's her forte and she loves it. I get on really with the parents, grandparents and child-minders and make sure that we use their experience. We've had a nurse, doctor and fireman in, all parents. Someone else is bringing in a baby lamb. Everyone likes to feel included. "
The increase in national curriculum-related bureaucracy is a recent source of stress. "I don't like walking round with assessment sheets - I think it takes my attention away from the children, so I do a lot of the paperwork at home.
"We have always done a lot of planning, but it used to be verbal and now everything has to be written down, which is time-consuming."
Her current priority is raising the profile of books, which she sees as struggling against the lure of TV and video. "Children are watching far too much. Even when the material's suitable it's not positive learning unless parents watch with them and there is some interaction.
"I put a lot of emphasis on our library and on reading being pleasurable. Each child gets a book out every Monday. We have a book club and we run evenings for parents on books for children.
"We have a story just before home time every day. It is a quiet time, just with me, and I enjoy it as much as they do. Once, when I played a tape instead, some of the children complained that they hadn't had their story that day. Young children like routine.
"Having said that, if it's a beautiful day I'll take them out for a walk. My great-aunt was head of a girls' school and a great nature lover. She used to take me on walks and teach me the names of the wild flowers and the sounds of birds. I love teaching about the environment."
Mrs Bogle's husband and brother are also teachers and her eldest son is about to embark on a maths degree which may lead to teaching. "When my boys were young, they thought everyone went to school when they were grown up."
Lisnagelvin is over-subscribed, with 103 applications for next year's 75 places, including up to six special needs places.
"It's heartbreaking to turn children away. If it's agreed that nursery education's important then it should be for everyone. It shouldn't matter where you live or how many children there are in your family."
She is worried that the promised expansion of the early-years sector will mean quality suffering at the expense of quantity. "Good quality nursery places like this are expensive - but so they should be. We're laying the foundation here."