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Hello everyone

I wondered if anyone has visited Pen Green Family Centre? I am thinking about booking a visit later in the spring for all my staff. This would mean closing the nursery for the day. It is quite a financial commitment as we will lose a day's fees, plus the visits are £100 per person plus VAT. I really would like everyone to go, but am wondering if it is worth the money? If you have been, did you find it worthwhile, helpful, inspiring? Did you come away with new ideas? Would you recommend it?

Thanks in advance

Beehive

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Well I have just come back from an all day conference on Excellence in Early Years and was run by Pen Green staff. I would love the opportunity to go for a visit after seeing and hearing about them today. :o Only you can say whether it justifies all staff going though, have you checked their website out. Their resources look wonderful. xD

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Ok, Ill be completely honest, I have mixed feelings about Penn Green for such a visit.

 

On the one hand, there is a fantastic warmth, ethos and children are absolutely at the centre of everything they do. Nothing was too much trouble for us visiting and staff were very open to our questions. It had been built up from nothing and can really show what you can achieve with enough determination and passion. It can also be good for spending time together as staff out of setting, but of course there are other ways to do that.

 

On the other hand, they are extremely well staffed, have the most amazing premises and space indoor and out, the 'beach', areas for woodwork and music etc etc. I felt this was difficult to replicate in most settings with which I have contact and it can be overwhelming seeing things that you might find difficult to achieve without a lot of imagination. In real terms, the people we took had a 'nice day out' and didn't really come back with loads of ideas they felt they could incorporate in their setting.

 

So I think it depends much on what you hope to achieve and where your staff development is at at the moment. If you are good at thinking creatively and taking ideas and making therm your own, you would probably get a lot out of it. If you're not yet that way inclined, then maybe not so much.

 

have you considered asking your early years team to recommend anywhere locally that is fantastic and would be cheaper for you?

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Totally agree with Mundia with regard to their premises and yes they had replicated how to set up engaging exciting resources for child initiated play at the conference.

So maybe a visit isn't essential, but if by going it makes you more inspired for achievable changes to your own provision then i say go.

On the other hand if you are more likely to come back feeling rather depleted and envious then maybe this might not be the way forward for you all :o

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I visited last year and loved it! Although the Pen Green is on a much larger scale than my setting there were a lot of aspects of the provision that could be adapted. However I wouldn't have taken my whole staff team on a visit day, as the day is more focused on getting new ideas for your learning environment and not necessarily for professional development of staff :o

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I've visited Pen Green several times over the last few years: both for practitioner CPD days but also for organised conferences.

 

My visits usually go a bit like this. I start off feeling very depressed at the injustice of how early education is organised and funded: why can't my children benefit from a fraction of the money spent at Pen Green, and the wonderful environment and resources they are offered? Then, when I've got over that I settle down and begin to see how the Pen Green approach can be scaled down and tailored to our own needs and our situation.

 

Whilst I can't provide a beach area for my children, I can put the sand in a builder's tray so that children can feel the sand between their toes. I can't provide a tall tower for children to look down on their setting from a great height, but I do have a balcony which can be used to give them a different viewpoint and look down on their friends playing below them. I can't provide them with a beautiful water channelling system, but I can achieve something similar with a few bits of drain pipe, buckets and hosepipe.

 

I can take inspiration from the way they set up areas of interest in corridors or other spaces usually not available to children to really engage and interest them. I can steal some of their ideas about how they run their snacktime to enable my children to develop independence and self-help skills. I can replicate some of the ways they work with parents to get them involved in their children's learning - including encouraging them to spend much more time in the setting when their children are settling with us initially, and helping them to understand and value what their children are learning.

 

I could go on all day, but what Pen Green is great at doing is showing you that what really counts is a commitment to giving children the best environment you can with the funding and skills you have, but also in how to exploit all the 'informal' expertise and knowledge you have on your team, and amongst your parents. There is a great deal of passion at Pen Green for ensuring children are genuinely at the heart of everything they do, and this is contagious.

 

I would disagree with what EmmaRose says in one aspect: it can be very useful as a whole staff CPD event because as you walk around the centre you can generate a wish list of aspects of your own practice that you would like to develop, incorporating what you are seeing. Seeing a three year old competently using a saw without much adult supervision in evidence can be very powerful for practitioners who are a little bit risk averse! It can be difficult for practitioners who visit Pen Green and then come back full of enthusiasm only to find they are met with a 'we can't do that here' attitude from the rest of the staff. If the team has been there together (and if the leader can skilfully facilitate and guide the discussion so that initial objections or concerns are effectively discussed) then it is much easier to get the whole team on board because they can visualise the benefits of any change that might be identified as a result of the visit.

 

Beehive only you can judge whether it is worth taking your whole team, given the cost involved. I did it slightly differently. I went first on my own, took lots of photographs of the environment and took them back to show my deputy who got very excited at what we might do differently in our setting. Then I closed the nursery for the day and took everyone for the day, and was able to use my knowledge of the previous visit to steer them and encourage them to think about how we could adapt the ideas we had seen.

 

Months and years later we were able to draw on our experience when considering how to make changes when things weren't quite working, and the photographs I took are still a source of inspiration. Nothing stays the same, and every time I visit I spot something new or something old that has been developed and adapted to meet the needs of the current cohort.

 

As mundia says though, there might be really inspirational groups in your Local Authority, so it is always working asking around. Who are the outstanding settings in your LA? Where are the outstanding childminders? You can gain a lot of new ideas by talking to colleagues and visiting their settings to see what marks them out as more than just run of the mill and in my experience, a really good childminder has a lot to offer in this regard.

 

Finally, I also agree with what mundia says about the success of the visit depending on where your staff are at right now. If you feel your staff team is open to new ideas and willing to let go of their current ways of working (where appropriate or desirable) then there is much to gain. However if you feel that you have practitioners who need help to step outside of their current ways of thinking, then maybe you need a more gentle approach. A visit to Pen Green can be overwhelming unless you're prepared to be challenged and to reflect openly and honestly on what you currently do, and why.

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Thank you all for your replies...it has given me lots of food for thought. Finleysmaid put the kettle on we're on our way!!

Thank you Maz too for all your replies.

I'll keep you all posted with what we decide to do.

Beehive

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