Sharing experiences works both ways!

Sharing experiences works both ways!

During the summer Lisong happened to be in the UK – you will have read elsewhere in this newsletter about the award of an honorary doctorate to her husband Adama and of course Lisong accompanied him to the UK for the graduation ceremony.  This was too good an opportunity to miss!  Joanne immediately invited Lisong to pay a visit to he own nursery school and, with some trepidation, Lisong accepted.  Her fears were nothing to do with the visit to the nursery – she very much wanted to go.  But the journey from London to Lancashire would be the longest journey she had undertaken on her own in Britain, and the pace of life in the UK is very different to that in the Gambia!  This was to be a bit of an adventure for her!

Adama accompanied her across London to Euston – the crowds of people and the many trains at Victoria and Euston stations did nothing to calm Lisong’s nerves – and saw her safely onto the train to Preston where Joanne met her and drove her to the nursery school she started and manages, exactly as Lisong has done in the Gambia.  Lisong told me that she knew immediately that she and Joanne have a lot in common. Even their family circumstances had some similarities – Lisong loved the fact that Joanne’s mother lives very close to her as her own mother had done in the Gambia – it is her mother’s house in the family compound which now houses Lisong’s nursery school.  Lisong felt well looked after and at home straight away.  As well as visiting the nursery Joanne took her to a holiday club for older children, to her home and to an Italian restaurant for lunch – all part of the adventure!

spaghetti bolognese for lunch

Lisong is an expert in nursery school education – she is highly respected in the Gambia for her knowledge of early childhood education and is instrumental in curriculum development and teacher training in her own country.  But the Gambia is a poor country, less developed in terms of educational provision, especially for young children, and commercial educational resources are hard to find.  Lisong’s philosophy of teaching is very child-focused and centres around learning through play; she encourages teachers in the Gambia to make educational resources out of anything they can find locally and not to feel they can’t teach because they have no commercial teaching aids.  She thought a nursery school in the UK would probably be very different.  So for her the highlight of the visit to Joanne’s nursery was to find they share exactly the same philosophy.  Many of the resources at the nursery were made from recycled materials and Lisong loved their innovative ideas.  She particularly enjoyed pretending to ride in the cars made from drinks crates and accepted a ‘lift’ back to London from a number of children who vied to be her chauffeur. 

having a ride in the crate car

She loved the use of natural materials to make learning aids, such as a basket of sticks which the children played with in various ways, picking them up with kitchen tongs exactly as her children do in the Gambia to practise fine motor skills, counting them and arranging them into shapes such as triangles.  Numbers and letters were painted onto offcuts of wood, and this is an idea Lisong has already taken back to her own school.  She liked the fact that resources were not newly bought from the shops – old pots and pans made a play kitchen and single wellies were used as planting containers. 

Lisong uses wooden letter blocks to write her name

Her favourite area was the Gruffalo house, a quiet area for reading with shelves of books and seats made from tree trunks, including a very impressive carved Gruffalo at one end of the bench.  Lisong has aleady identified the tree stump at Mary’s Little Lambs which will be her own Gruffalo – she just needs to find the right craftsman to carve it for her! 

the Gruffalo house

Lisong was very impressed with how the classes were organised – the whole day was taken up with play, but it was guided play with so many opportunities for developing the children’s learning through conversation and interaction with them. She liked the organisation of the nursery space, both indoors and outdoors, into different learning zones, with areas for water play, reading, dressing up etc.  Although this is a way of teaching she has always advocated she said how good it was to have her ideas validated by seeing them working so well in a country so different from her own.  Yes, Joanne’s nursery had some resources and facilities she does not have at Mary’s Little Lambs, but overall she saw so many more similarities than differences and is so happy to know that the opportunities she is providing for children at her own school in the Gambia are really very similar to those being offered to children at Joanne’s nursery in the UK.

Lisong felt so welcomed on this visit, by Joanne herself, by the teachers and by the children. She cannot wait to welcome Joanne to her nursery when she goes to volunteer there in just a few weeks’ time.  And maybe we can include an account of that visit in the next edition of our newsletter.

waving good bye

learn more about the Early Childhood Development Volunteer Programme here

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