• Sue

Pack-away power by Anneka Russell in Articles Teaching and Learning on March 15

Today I (Sue Thomas, Manager of Happy Kids, Altrincham Preschool Playgroup) came across this article by Anneka Russell, and it rang many bells with me, not least the memory of attending a pack away playgroup setting - I still fondly remember the one I attended at the local church hall at the age of 3 and 4 and believe these happy memories fuel my desire to recreate this experience for all of the children in my care.

Here is the article from Anneka Russell (edited)

The power of community When I think about the power of community and the impact that educators have on children, it takes me back to the many magical moments I had as a little girl seeing my teachers (who also lived locally) outside of nursery ‘in real clothes’ doing ‘real things’. Like buying meat from the butcher's. I would often hide behind my mum when we spotted a teacher, as I had an innate feeling that I wasn’t allowed to see my teachers in this odd but clearly human capacity. Such seemingly small moments are both meaningful and empowering for a small child, as these are the kinds of things that help children develop a strong connection with their educators and a sense of belonging within their community. Community, according to the Oxford definition, is ‘the group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common’. Put even more simply (and as the word itself suggests) it’s people with a ‘common unity’. Being able to unify because of the things we have in common and our ‘particular characteristics’ is so important and not something we can afford to overlook in the early years. However, with equity in mind it hopefully goes without saying that it is equally important to recognise, appreciate, and celebrate, the characteristics that make every child different. Because representation, in relation to human characteristics, also cannot be overlooked! Working everyday with groups of children that (whilst in the same community) are all unique, provides a daily opportunity for educators to reflect on what makes us the same, what makes us different and what they need to know and do to authentically engage with families. Independent, community-based nurseries (such as pack-away nurseries) have a unique opportunity to decide how their knowledge of their locality can be threaded into the daily set up of their provision. The family support that these settings provide can also be tailored to the needs of the local community, according to the ever-changing local circumstances affecting them the most. Thinking about each child’s family being their first community, helps us to understand why establishing strong parental partnerships is so important. A strong collaboration between the family and the setting speaks to the very popular African proverb that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Similarly, phrases such as ‘you are a product of your environment’ speak to the importance of not only the connections we make but the quality of these. Now, thinking about the above phrase in relation to ‘cultural capital’ should hopefully highlight for educators the importance of being conscious and intentional about how and why they embrace the cultures, diversity and richness that exists as an accessible resource around them. It should also illustrate (when done right) how powerful community cohesion can be for children and families.

The nursery down the road in the community hall With the above in mind, we must remember that the ‘little pack-away nursery’ down the road in the church/community hall, is well positioned to build on the many things that children who live locally have in common. Educators within these nurseries are loaded with local knowledge and insights about their area, and this enables them to tailor learning to ensure maximum impact on the outcomes of children within such localities. Everyone knows where their local places of worship or community spaces are (even if they don’t attend) and they are also likely to be familiar with the location of their local library, bakery and supermarkets. So, when educators arrange outings to these places, they are helping to add layers and further embed learning within spaces where children already feel confident and familiar. My own positive experiences of attending a pack-away nursery in my community has been a key driver of the passion I have for the early years. Despite having over 20 years' experience in this sector, I am still very intentional with my commitment to further explore and learn about the very special and unique learning opportunities that pack-away nurseries and childminders can provide for children and families in those first five years. I think many of us can agree that due to these educators being tucked away in a side road, they are often forgotten. Creating safe spaces through truly thoughtfully planned provision Pack-away nurseries are often the pillars and helpful hubs within communities. Educators who work in these spaces have the opportunity to look through the lens of each unique child and consider which experiences children need that may not be afforded to them at home or within their local surroundings. The knowledge educators hold about children who live locally enables them to be the bridge between home and the setting that can create meaningful, safe spaces which reflect the familiarity and comfort of home. Despite the challenges of running a pack-away nursery - which often includes the additional set up time, sharing the space with other community groups and ‘playing tetris’ with the storage cupboard! - there is no doubt that the advantage educators have to think critically about how they design their environment daily, outweighs these challenges. Whilst maintaining a level of consistency is an important part of providing children with a high-quality continuous provision, the flexibility that pack-away nurseries have to renew their set up is a powerful springboard for inspiring creativity and critical thinking in children that nurseries who have a static environment aren’t always privy to.

Anneka Russell Anneka Russell has worked in early education for the last 20 years as a childcare professional, primary teacher, early year’s inspector and local authority early years adviser. Anneka currently works as an independent early years consultant. She is particularly passionate about working with schools and nurseries to improve learning environments (both physical and emotional) through room consultation and design. Anneka is also the founder of JEKA Play which is a pack away furniture range which will provide solutions to childcare businesses and early years provisions that experience challenges using shared spaces, including pack-away childcare provision.

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