Bags packed again (I wonder if anybody actually unpacks their bags?) and onto the bus for our short drive to Wingate Children's Centre. (Some ladies did try and persuade the lovely Glen to depart a bit later so that they could go shopping but he firmly refused!)
At Wingate Children’s centre we were warmly received by Paddy Beels, Headteacher of the centre who has an OBE from the Queen for the work she has done for children. Claire and I have known Paddy for many years (and she still drives the same green beetle with pink flowers!!). Paddy and her depute, Beckie, have worked together for many years and are an inspirational team.We gathered at the training base for introductions, information and of course coffee.
We were privileged to join the centre staff and children for a couple of hours both indoors and outdoors. Intentional teaching opportunities had been set up which children we free to engage in if and when they chose to.
Exploration of clay - and this was full body exploration engaged a number of children for the 2 hours we were there! Cooking in a well equipped children's kitchen space, from measuring and mixing to cleaning.
Water play indoors and outdoors was popular - as it is the world over!
The woodland is a small corner of the garden with some trees, shrubs and a fire pit. Children around a real fire with Glynis Riseley were having conversations about fire, keeping themselves and the environment safe, singing songs ....this was a big draw to many of the adults in our team!
The garden space is small in size but huge in potential with many natural elements including a structure modeled on the angel of the north after a special interest project coming from the children. We saw children having the time and space to quietly reflect, to climb and run around with purpose, to help and support each other in problem solving.
The indoor space is well thought through with many opportunities for children to choose from, times for children to work in small groups or larger groups.
The children were fully engaged in what they were doing, adults were unobtrusive and we were impressed that the children had only been coming to the nursery for a week - they were all remarkably settled and happy in their play. The adults spoke to the children with quiet respect and structured or extended learning opportunities.
Delegates were seen talking in small groups, sitting on their own reflecting and observing, the atmosphere was special considering there were an additional 31 adults in a small centre with 37 children who had only been in the centre for a couple of weeks.
When we returned to the training base Paddy asked us to share with her our initial thoughts and feelings. There was so much emotion in the room and some of the comments that were shared:
The intentionality of the space
Team appear to be together, really work together
Documentation of experiences
Ordinary is the extra ordinary and the adult recognises and values this
History is still relevant, stories of children no longer in the centre are still visible
Wanted to start crying - Rosie's story - beautiful to have it recorded
Lulled by the space
Tangible expression of valuing children
My heart has been singing all morning
We have the same values for children, we are on the same page even on opposite sides of the world
Although children had only been there a short time, we were seen as the visitors to their space
Children were not threatened by us
Staff establish relationships with the children before anything else
The relationships between staff is special, gestures often used instead of verbals
Staff paddling madly to create the restful atmosphere, it is hard work.
Structure is there but there is support for each other.
Tidy up is referred to as "let's put the things back where they belong"
There is a real balance between order and freedom
There are boundaries but freedom within those boundaries.
We set in place expectations for the way we treat each other, the environment and the resources.
Big group time is used to address things important to the children - citizenship, thinking at a deeper level including death, news items.
There are no sounds or whistles for transitions, the rhythm becomes embedded.
After a delicious lunch Paddy and Beckie told us a bit more about the history of Wingate and shared their values and beliefs with us. There is a great respect for children and childhood, parents and families are respected and valued and a relationship with the whole community and wider environment is considered very important. Fridays are called Family Friday as families work together - children may take part in forest school, be out in the community or be cooking a meal at the school for the children that are out. Paddy also shared that “we are a family”, “emotions need care”, “detail is important” and many other statements that show the mutual respect and caring all the stakeholders have for each other and the centre.
Time flew and before we knew it, it was time to get back to the bus. Claire (Mindstretchers) and Ahdielah (AISWA) thanked Paddy and Beckie for their hospitality and handed over a collection of books for the adults and children, Gail (Darwin) and myself (Inspired EC) also had small gifts and a big thank you for such an inspiring visit. We hope to see both Paddy and Beckie in Australia soon.
I know that there was a lot of reflection and conversation about what we had seen and experienced at Wingate Children's Centre on the bus journey to Scotland where Sabine was waiting to greet us with a glass of wine!