I am passionate about all things early years and after 20 years of working in nurseries and in local authority roles, I am back where I love to be – on the floor in the book corner or mixing mud potions outside. Well, I was until a few months ago when the world seemed to stop and everything was paused for a few months.
I’m known for being an avid user of social media to resource ideas and my phone is full of screenshots from various Facebook groups that could be used or adapted to suit the ethos of my setting. However, I’m more visible on Twitter, regularly engaging in weekly ‘hashtag chats’ and connection threads. Since lockdown, I have been encouraged to start to blog about my experiences and my main interest of child-led learning. Through Twitter, I’ve found lots of online webinars and the now infamous Zoom meetings. I’ve watched Greg Bottrill peruse about the ‘new normal’ when childcare providers and schools were given okay to open up in bubbles from the start of June, I’ve taken part in the BrewEdEY webinars, hiding myself in the office away from family and enjoying my own early learning bubble for a day. The Famly webinars have discussed how we can work together as a sector and plan for a safe return for our children and Early Years Matters has hosted a continuous online conference with an abundance of presentations and whilst I’ve got a captive audience, I must highlight Aaron Bradbury and Debbie Garvey’s ‘Theorists’ . However much or little you remember from your initial training, whether that was NNEB, Level 3, Primary Teaching or EYTS like me, this is an invaluable resource to freshen your memory and realise how much these theories are so pertinent to our everyday practice with our young children today. The important message from this was that you don’t have to agree or sign up to a particular method, you can choose what strikes a chord with you and your practice, whether that is following the lines of Reggio Emilia or Montessori or picking out a quote from Bronfenbrenner to have as your own personal mantra.
Talking of mantras, I watched the latest Kinderly webinar last night, presented by Dr Sue Allingham entitled ‘Child-led learning: can we cover everything we want to teach?’ After the presentation finished, I tweeted Sue and included a paraphrase of something that she had said, and she replied with “there’s a mantra right there!”
What did I quote? “Light their spark and lift their learning?”
How did I come to pick that out as my takeaway from the evening? Here’s my reflection on the presentation as I think it was so powerful and if you aren’t already doing child-led or in the moment planning, I really hope that you will at least have a look at all the information that is out there about it. You could even go and read my blogs about how I managed this via online learning with the children in my setting or go back to the start with my lightbulb moment. Grab a cuppa and have a read, it won’t take long, but may change your practice!
Anyway, back to last night… Sue started the presentation with one of her favourite quotes from C.S. Lewis: “Children are not a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” How do we make this happen in our day to day practice -whether we are in a private nursery, childminder or working in an EYFS unit at a school? How can we ensure that our teaching methods put the children at the centre of everything that we do? Do we have to plan topics to ensure that every area of learning is covered or can we trust the skill, experience and expertise of the teachers (and I’m using this to cover everyone who has contact with the children) that they will be able to spot the teachable moments and support the children to develop new skills whilst keeping them engaged in activities that they have chosen to participate in, rather than being pulled away to do ‘work’.
Two big questions that Sue pondered last night were “what defines your role as a teacher?” and “What do you see as the role of the child” then contrasted that with “what does current policy see as your role and the role of the child?” Considering the publication of the revised EYFS document only a few hours earlier, I was quite saddened by my initial response. I see myself as a facilitator, a scaffolder, an interactor and a carer. I fear that policy sees me as a conveyor of knowledge, a teacher in the usual sense of the word. And the child? I see each child as unique – they may be an engineer, innovator, creator, actor, singer, critical thinker, quiet listener or a curious child. How does policy see them? As a learner; a receiver of information. That was just my initial musings – how would you reflect on those questions? How do you see your role as a teacher and how can you support the children in your care?
The phrase ‘cultural capital’ came up too. Now, I know that this may raise some eyebrows and wrinkle some noses but hear me out. Children arrive with us with a wide range of experiences and we use these as a starting point when they start their journeys with us. I would imagine most childcare providers have ‘All About Me’ sheets or activities that are sent in with a few pictures or background information on the family so that they understand some likes and interests. Sue called this the “store of cultural capital” and I thought that was a lovely phrase to use, regardless if we like the terminology of cultural capital itself.
So, to plan or not to plan, that seems to be the question. Do we spend time meticulously planning a topic of work that we know will incorporate all the areas of learning so children will be exposed to a wide range of activities and resources and be informed by knowledge? But who’s knowledge is it? The teacher has decided what to teach the children and how do we know that it is going to be of interest. It may be so out of their sphere of knowledge or experience that they cannot connect with it. Will it spark an interest? Ask yourself, does it light their spark?
If you look back at my previous blogs, you will see how the children were the catalyst for the learning; yes, you could easily plan for Bear Hunt, but you probably wouldn’t plan for a bear to go on a slide (go, have a read!)
How do you engage the reluctant writer? Do you take them away from the construction area and do some teacher-led activity with them or do you go and play alongside them and encourage them to draw a plan for a Duplo building or a map for the cars to follow? How about the child that only plays with the dinosaurs? Do you take them away to do number work or do you line up the dinosaurs so they can count, compare, sort, add one more…? It really is that simple!
What do the children know already? Their own “store of cultural capital” Use it! Tap into it. What do you hear the children saying? What do you notice the children doing? How can you utilise this? Stand back and watch, wait to be invited into the play and interact with the children. Do not steal their play and guide it to your outcome, but equally don’t be afraid to sprinkle new vocabulary in there or ponder “I wonder what….?” And then sit back and wait. The magic will happen.
You just have to light their spark and lift their learning…