The group was to consist of six pre-school teachers, a representative from Techmania Science Centre and one from Dimenze Education Centre. Their aim was to explore ways of promoting the professional development of teachers, with a focus on promoting science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in early years settings. Whilst STEM subjects are not overtly referred to in the EYFS these concepts are regularly experienced through the activities that early years practitioners provide such as cooking, sensory play, exploratory play, art and outdoor play.
After some discussion, a three day study tour was arranged. As there are considerable differences between the early years and educational systems in the Czech Republic and the UK, a diverse group of settings were therefore chosen to reflect the variety of provision available in the UK from a childminder in a Yurt, to inner city private day care and semi-rural private day care. Children in the Czech Republic start formal schooling at age 6 . In order for our visitors to see UK provision for 5 olds, we organised a trip to visit the nursery and reception classes, with a love of science. First up we hosted the group at the Eureka! Nursery where our nursery staff explored various aspects of their jobs with the visitors, giving them a valuable insight into a mainstream private early years provision. The group were able to observe children exploring the properties of vinegar, oil and bicarbonate of soda – with some explosive results!
To contrast these settings, we explored more unusual early years provision in the Calder Valley where childminders operating all year round from a Yurt, and a Steiner School were both visited. Needless to say our visitors were very interested in the diversity of settings which they visited and were impressed that such a variety of options are available to children in the UK.
Our visitors were also very interested in provision for very young children. The Czech Republic offers four years maternity leave with the majority of women taking at least three years away from the workplace to look after their children, only returning once their children can access state funded pre-schools. While there are some private settings which take children from 2 years old, including the one run by our visitors, there is no provision for children under the age of 2.
Our final trip was to Rolls Crescent School in Manchester. The children here had prepared a whole afternoon of STEM activities for our visitors, and really enjoyed showing us their work and their activities. The older children were creating oil and paint prints and making circuits, whilst the younger ones experimented with cornflour and made porridge (after reading Goldilocks and the Three bears.)
While it was a busy three days for our guests, they told us they took home lots of ideas for their own nursery setting in the Czech Republic, and were enthused by the quality of STEM activities they’d seen for pre-school children, delivered in such a variety of settings.