Planting The Seeds For A Year Of Nurture - A Teachers View - by Mr McMahon



This blog is long awaited!  For a while now I have followed this amazing teacher on Twitter as he shared the journey of the children in his care via his class twitter account.  You may have seen us sharing his "chosen Friend" strategy every Friday! 


Nicholas McMahon or @MrMcMahonTPS on Twitter, is a teacher at Thornlie Primary School @ThornliePrimary on Twitter and I have loved seeing the beautiful and nurturing approaches he and his whole school has to teaching and how the children flourish within that environment.


I'm so pleased Mr McMahon has written this blog for us - so regardless of if you are a parent or a teacher you will be inspired by this teacher's approach to building nurture and resilience in the children he teaches.


For a while now I have thought about writing a blog about the goings on of my classroom but have always put it off. I was happy to hear from Sharon who messaged me about the things she had seen on my class twitter account @MrMcMahonTPS. Sharon wondered if I would write a blog post for her followers who do not have Twitter… and here we are!   My very first blog post.



This year is my 6th year as a teacher and every year I have had the same bittersweet feeling about setting up a class. 

  • The monotonous laminating,

  • The time consuming cutting out,

  • The exhausting Olympic sport of putting up frieze paper on your own…


the excitement of watching an empty room turn into a place of creativity, warmth and welcome.


Every year I always try to find ways to give my classroom a wow factor that the children might never have seen before. I have never been one for filling my walls with outbreaks of laminate before the kids come in but I do like to have various things that catches their eye or hooks their interest. A particular favourite for me is going to DIY shops and taking a generous amount of wallpaper samples to make my walls "POP".

From graffiti walls to hidden libraries, these Wow Walls always impress the children and get their imaginations flowing.







An example of using wallpaper samples to create an exciting "Wow Walls" in Mr McMahon's classroom.






Another year, I introduced a magical fairy garden that my mum’s friend had made for me. It was a mixture of moss, soil, real plants and ornaments and definitely provided a talking point for the children as they arrived to class. You’d think from the description that it was for an infant class, but it was for Primary 7 (ages 11 and 12) and they loved it.

It was something for them to take care of, to maintain and love, as it grew and developed over the terms.



After three years in Primary 7 I have ventured back down to the infants with a wonderful little P3/2 class. From the first day I wanted to embed a true sense of responsibility and organisation that I had grown accustomed to with the senior pupils… the neat freak inside shivered at the thought of not having neat and tidy baskets and well-maintained trays of resources.


Rummaging through a mixed bag of ex-Halloween bits and bobs; I found an army jacket that I knew would bring out my inner ‘Kindergarten Cop’.


After meticulous unpacking of brand new resources into my stationary caddies, I decided to take photographs of the baskets in their prime. These were then printed and put into ‘Tidy Tins’ to be used by groups as a guide in order to gain ‘Tidy Tokens’.


The Basket Boss would be selected as and when needed and would be allowed to wear the army jacket and inspect the baskets with a clipboard and an enlarged photograph of the baskets. I can happily say that almost seven weeks back at school and the baskets still meet my senior standards… they may have even exceeded the Primary 7 standards.


However, it is not as regimented and strict as it seems… the children have fallen in love with this "Basket Boss" role and are proud to collect their tokens.  This was not the only standard that I wanted to embed from Day One; a loving, caring and nurturing feeling was the other.


At this point, I must say that the school in which I have worked since my probation year as a NQT is a perfect example of a school that has nurture at its core. Over the past couple of years, we have worked on honing our understanding of nurture to best serve our pupils, staff and communities.


So starting the year with a theme of nurture would be something that my P3/2 children would be very used to and familiar with.  My idea involved plants, inspired by my own success of personally managing to keep two plants alive in my own home for a year and half. The sense of achievement I had found by managing to sustain ‘Gracie Lou Free Bush’ and ‘Pamela’ was something I wanted to replicate within my own class.


The day before school started back, I went to B & Q and found four cute little Money Trees with little silver plant pots that just so happened to match my ‘Tidy Tin’. I bought a matching silver spray bottle from Poundland (that I actually think are made for Hairstylists) to act as the magical water mister that would help the plants grow.


And with that my little classroom was ready, all I needed was children. The next day when the children arrived, they were all really interested in the plants. Many of the kids thought that they were fake plants and I had to bring one out of its pot to show them and let them feel the soil underneath. That afternoon we started to discuss how we could take care of the plants and watch them grow over the school year. The responses were fantastic. Within hours, the children had grown attached and protective over their group plants and it was very clear to them that we must not ‘hurt them’ and ‘give them space to grow’.

Ideas flowed with regards to our volume and noise within the class, with suggestions that we should;

  • whisper around the plants,

  • read to them

  • and even sing to them.

Eventually, one child’s answered with “love them”.


This provided an excellent talking point as to how we can love and take care of the plants with the children using examples of their acts of kindness in the past to humans or animals.


This was a perfect dialogue to have in the early days of setting up a class as it set the tone of togetherness and nurture from the offset.





This continued to grow as the days moved on and I introduced the class to other features of our classroom, such as The Compliment Chain.

This has been a feature of many of my classrooms in the past and its idea is a simple one: genuine compliments gain a paperclip on the chain and when the chain and the floor meet, I will provide a whole class treat.

It is a fantastic tool for embedding a culture of friendship and kindness that is wonderful to watch. 

Each morning after I have completed the morning routines of lunches, milk money, money on dinner cards, etc, the children are asked to go for a wander round the room and compliment each other and when I call them back to the floor, I would like for them to raise their hand and tell me some of the compliments they have received.


I can never have time to hear them all, but I do end up picking a few children to add clips on. However, this is not the only time that clips are added as children will come to me after break times or during lessons to let me know that someone has given them a compliment. At first the compliments in P3/2 started very superficially; “I like your bow”, “Your hair looks nice”, “I like your pencil case” but as the weeks have moved on, so have the compliments.

Now children are praising each other in their work and on their behaviour;

  • I really like your handwriting”,

  • “That work is really neat”

  • “You are sitting nicely”.

Not only has this tool been great for raising self-esteem and friendship but it is also setting early foundations for constructive peer assessment and feedback.


The final thing I will share with regards to the set up of my class this year, has been a completely new idea that I have never tried before but that builds on the work of the compliment chain and the nurturing of the plants and I call it ‘Ending the Week by Sharing the Love’.


Like anything in teaching, it has been something that I seen a version of on Pintrest and added my own spin onto and I have seen similar things done in different Health and Wellbeing programs. The idea is that I am watching throughout the week to see someone who is being a truly nurturing and thoughtful friend who will then be selected on Friday as our chosen friend. They stand in the centre of the board and I draw around them, underneath the title ‘Reasons Why We Love’.


That child then gets to sit on the special seat with our class teddy Spider Monkey (I’ll keep that story for blog two, if I ever do it) and gets to enjoy hearing all of the reasons why their classmates love them as I take them and decoratively write them around the outline.


At the end of the feedback, I ask that child to come back to the board and stand in their outline as we all cheer, “We love you, we love you, we love you” and then I take a photograph. I print that photograph off and give it to the child to keep as a memory and print another copy and add it to our memories wall.  As with the compliment chain, it has been wonderful to watch how this process has grown from strength to strength and the compliments and reason why develop through more detailed language and critical thought.


There are always still reasons such as “I love your shoes”, “He has cool glasses”, “Her face is beautiful” but there are also breath taking comments such as; “She takes care of me” “He forgives people” and “She has a lovely heart”.







Our favourite strategy here at Natural Flair -

Mr McMahon's #Reasons Why We Love - catch it on both his and our social media feeds every week







These are still very early days within Primary 3/2, but I am extremely excited to see where this journey goes and how these wonderful children grow alongside their little plants.



How inspiring to read how Mr McMahon creates amazing strategies to create a nurturing environment for these children to flourish.  Here at Natural Flair we are waiting eagerly for the next blog post with "Spider Monkey" 


You can follow Mr McMahon's class stories via twitter @MrMcMahonTPS and the fantastic work across the whole school at Thornlie Primary by following their twitter account  @ThornliePrimary 


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