Pre-schoolers set the CfE pace
It takes a confident individual and a successful learner, in anyone's book, to write a half-decent haiku. What about the following evocation of spring, for example?
"The wind blows the trees.
The wind blows kites in the sky.
Flowers start to grow."
Not bad for an S2 English class? Pretty good for a P6 pupil? In fact, this is the work of a pre-school pupil at the Waterfront Nursery, which is part of Edinburgh's Telford College and one of the first nurseries in Scotland to embrace Curriculum for Excellence in its entirety.
Two years ago, the Waterfront embarked on the recommended gradual changeover to Curriculum for Excellence, but within two months it was decided to ditch the old 3-5 curriculum entirely and go the whole hog, a decision which - like the writing of a good haiku - demanded both clarity of vision and focus on detail.
"It was a liberating decision and once we'd made it, we were in. There was no halfway house any more and that gave me the freedom to go ahead and plan the whole Curriculum for Excellence," says pre-school teacher Jennifer Caird.
Mrs Caird is the only pre-school teacher at the nursery, working alongside five nursery practitioners who made the joint decision with her.
"It was daunting, yes, a huge change and an incredible amount of work, but it was quickly apparent that Curriculum for Excellence made more sense educationally. So why wait?" she says.
"Curriculum for Excellence is very thorough and very specific, but that too is liberating, because it helps you to plan and to come up with new ideas constantly."
But it wasn't just the staff who found the new curriculum liberating. "The children have more control over their learning and they're very aware of this here, because we plan with the children," she explains.
"In planning an activity we think of the learning intention and we share that with them so they know what, at differentiated ability levels, is expected, and afterwards we ask them what they have learned."
The biggest challenge for Mrs Caird and her staff was not in the planning, though, but in involving the children as much as they needed to be.
"You had to learn to lead from behind at first, in order to then get the children to lead their own learning," she says.
She gives the example of the topic "Summer", where the children were asked what they wanted to learn about summer, what resources they wanted to use and what activities they wanted to do.
The topic was then planned accordingly to meet and cross-reference the four criteria of becoming successful learners, effective contributors, confident individuals and responsible citizens.
"It is a hard thing to do at nursery level - to get children to take control of their learning - but the more you work together with the children and the more they understand their role, the easier it becomes.
"The key thing here is to remember that you are actually working in partnership with the children and to let them know that you are always here to meet their needs," she says.
The Waterfront Nursery has particular challenges of its own, as it serves both the local community and student-parents at the college. So while some children attend the nursery five days a week, others may only come in for two or three days when their parents are at college.
"This poses challenges in making sure every child receives all the curricular experiences and outcomes, and it does make collating their personal learning plans (PLPs) difficult," says Mrs Caird.
"But we have to do this because the whole point of CfE is not just to make children aware of their learning, but also to personalise each child's curriculum."
This is where each child's PLP folder comes into play, so that staff know what each child has to cover to have the same educational experience over the year.
"It's a workload, yes, but I wouldn't go back to the old curriculum for anything," says Mrs Caird. "Curriculum for Excellence embeds praise and confidence in the children and you can see them flourish. And at the end of the year when you look at their folders and see how much they've progressed, it's very rewarding.
"You also know that the transition into school will be so much easier and make so much sense, because it's simply another stage in a shared curriculum."
Summer CfE topics
Patterns on a beach towel. Recording weather.
Looking at maps to find countries pupils are from. Making models of transport.
Making a sundial. Use Clipart to make a summer collage.
Talk about holidays. Look at travel brochures. Summer books.
Keeping safe in the sun. Making a healthy picnic.
Flowers and seeds. Shadows - bright and shade.
Beach display. Travel agents in the house corner. Making passports.
St Swithin's Day - a poem and story.