She is an exotic, enthusiastic Early Years teacher and she has a lot to teach us. So what does Madame Gazelle do to show us that Ofsted would find her Outstanding (or at least Good with Outstanding Elements)?
1. She Is Great at Expressive Arts and Design
Who could forget her wonderful lesson where she played music for the children and asked what the music made them think of? Something that we all do for a great lesson then realise it can only loosely be linked to Development Matters. Proof that Devleopment Matters isn't everything, although it is great evidence for Characteristics of Learning and for Cultural Capital. She is also a superstar at making sure those kids know nursery rhymes and can make up new songs of their own, hitting Expressive Arts and Design (30 - 50 month) hard. Bravo Madame Gazelle!
2. People Who Help Us? She Has That Covered
Madame Gazelle isn't afraid to embrace other professions and she showed us her amazing teaching skills by incorporating a visit from the police (People and the Communities 30 - 50 months) with some Bikeability sessions (spot of Physical Development there). Double whammy Madame Gazelle. Good woman!
3. Expressing Ourselves Through Movement
Madame Gazelle not only encourages dance in music lessons but even has her own ballet class!
4. She Is All In With Geography
Not quite at National Curriculum yet but she is laying those foundations and also promoting British Values of tolerance and understanding as she hosts the class International Day. I bet she voted 'Remain'!
5. Teaching Standards - Done!
She really does hit that Teaching Standard of "Fulfill Wider Professional Responsibilities" as she organises every school fete, sports day and school production. This woman deserves a pay rise!
6. Exploring History with Time Capsules
Ah yes. The iconic episode where we learn that Madame Gazelle also taught all of the mummies and daddies and so is obviously now so old that she is just slogging away for a last few years in order to top up her Teacher's Pension as much as possible. Even now, so close to retirement that she could touch it, she displays superb positive vibes and doesn't even make that little idiot Rebecca Rabbit feel stupid for wanting to put a carrot in the time capsule. Yes a real carrot. Have you ever left a bag of carrots for too long and had to throw them away? That time capsule is going to be slimy and manky by the time they open it. Literally every other child's contribution will be mush. Selfish Rebecca. Just selfish.
So Madame Gazelle really is amazing. Let's just hope that Ofsted don't find out about that one time she took the entire class to London with only one other adult, shoved them on the top deck of an open top bus without seat belts then conned the Queen into driving a bus for them, most likely without adequate business insurance or risk assessments. Also let's hope she never joins Facebook, because if she does she will get some serious micro-plastic abuse for the excessive use of glitter in the episode where every child had to make a cardboard castle for homework and it looked like a glitter factory explosion by the end of the episode.
Madame Gazelle - We salute you!
Children are born with an in-built sense of curiosity. Who is that? Where am I? What is that noise? For most children it will be over a year before they first begin to talk and longer than that before they begin to question, yet, in that time, they have heard hundreds of thousands of words and experienced every sight, smell and sound that the world can throw at them, in addition to physical and emotional feelings. Their little brains have already filled with inquisitiveness and begun to try to make sense of the world.
In most children’s lives they will begin their second year understanding most of what is said to them and with a vocabulary of about 50 words themselves. Over the following year they will begin to understand and ask questions, use sentences and be able to follow one step then two step instructions. Many of these children will also be engaging in imaginative play, understanding different emotions and able to make choices.
By the age of four, if not before, they will be learning to empathise or put themselves in other people’s shoes, though some support may be needed for this step. I am not saying that all children will take this path of development. All children are different. Some children develop and progress differently and some face additional challenges. What I am saying is that this is that magical, sparkly, dazzling, wonderful window of opportunity when children are like patches of well-tended soil, ready to receive their first philosophical seeds. They are still living a beautiful life where all things are possible but this stage can puff away like dandelion floss in an instant as soon as they begin to get older and their thoughts become more rigid. At the age of four, if they are lucky, young children will not have had opinions and ideals of adults forced upon them too harshly and will still have all of the imagination and interesting ways of seeing the world.
To get even a tiny glimpse of that precious time, that most of us sadly forget, try going outside and cloud spotting sometime. Choose a sunny day, lie in the grass and daisies, let them tickle your skin. Listen to the sounds around you and feel the breeze or heat on your skin. For added sensory input take your shoes and socks off and wiggle your toes in the grass and dirt. Childish huh? Right, now look up at the blue sky and gaze at the clouds as they move. Breathe deeply and let your imagination wander. If you are meteorologist then wipe all scientific cloud knowledge from your brain. Don’t be a spoilsport. Now look, feel, listen and let your mind wander. Focus on your senses as questions and curiosity about the world you are experiencing drift (or flood) into your brain. Well done. For a moment you got a brief glimpse into the wonder of childhood. The wonder that our under-fives experience every minute of every day.
My personal mission is to now rediscover and embrace that part of myself and, in doing so, access the full potential and joy that can be found hiding in plain sight in the Early Years. I hope you can join me.
The Foundation Stage isn’t called the ‘Foundation Stage’ for nothing. It is the foundation of later learning in all areas. But in an increasingly government driven curriculum children are being forced into formal schooling priorities sooner and sooner.
Of course mathematics and literacy are essential skills and we teach these in fun and multi-sensory ways but how many of us still feel the pressure to make mathematics and literacy our primary focus and all thanks to the DfE and Ofsted. Some skills, like maths and literacy, will come naturally over a child’s time in education and, at the very least, the vast majority will end up with a level of maths and literacy skills that comfortably gets them through their days.
Some skills, however, are in built as children but almost disappear by adulthood. Think about all of the adults you encounter in your daily life; family, friends, people on Facebook, people who are on the television. How many of these people still ask questions and ponder the wonders of the world that we all share? How many of them take a moment to soak in nature and wonder about its intricacies? How many dare to dream and wonder? Now think about how many have already built their ideas and habits and view of the world and that is that. They will be swayed by a compelling argument but otherwise are pretty fond of their own view of the world and comfortable in their knowledge of it. Comfortable enough not to need to wonder and explore.
There is nothing wrong with this. Being grateful, satisfied, mindful and settled is what we all strive for and it is what I hope for my own children but then… is it really? Are the great explorer, scientists, inventors, artists and innovators of the world the people who were happy to settle? Or are they the ones who never stopped wondering and imagining? Is our job as educators and parents to teach the children in our care that there is a certain fixed, straight train of thought that they should follow and a predestined future that there is no need to bother questioning? Or is our role to help them to, not only be mindful and find happiness where they can, but also to never stop wondering, never stop imagining and never stop questioning? There is a reason why Communication and Language is one of the prime areas. Let's never let the changes in the curriculum make us forget that.
We all have hard times in our lives but those of us who work with young children are lucky.
When you are work with tiny humans you do not have the luxury of wallowing in whatever is happening in your real life. You have to spend every day having to fake happy and interested and having to act like a cross between Mr Tumble and Brian Cox just to make sure that you all make it through the day inspired to learn.
Very soon fake happy and interested becomes real happy and interested because, let’s be honest here, it is just too damn tiring to fake that much energy all the time. It is much easier to feel it for real.
Tiny children do not have the same level of empathy or emotional intelligence as they will do a few years down the line so there is no little part in them picking up on the little shards of sadness in you and telling them to back off. Tiny humans are full on! They are weird, they are crazy and they are wonderful and they are desperate to take you along for the ride whether you like it or not.
The unique thing about the under-fives, as opposed to older children, is that they truly do believe in the things they conjure up in their imaginations. They have questions too. So, so many questions and they ask them ad infinitum. They are still in that period of their childhood when no question is silly and they are still at the stage in formal education when no hands up are needed, well not during play anyway.
They play, they explore, they imagine and they talk. It is for that reason that I truly love every minute I spend working with young children and see that this is the truly golden glittering time of childhood where the child and teen they are to be begins to be formed.
This year my son has started high school. The first week of school has been tough. He has flitted between joy and terror all week. It has been a unique experience for me, as a teacher, to see how starting a new school or class can affect a child when they go home. So here is my letter to the teachers that have made my son's first week both good and bad. It also serves as a reminder to myself about my own teaching practice.
Dear Shouty Teacher
Do you realise you caused my son difficulty going to sleep this week?
I realise you may be jaded with your job. I realise that teaching teenagers, some of them very difficult teens with behavioural issues, can sometimes make you feel more like a probation officer than an educator. I realise that you already know 80% of your students and what teaching style they respond best to. I realise that you feel the need to set your stall out early to set behavioural expectations for the rest of the year but I wonder how much you realise about the eleven year old children who have joined you for the first time this week.
Do you realise that until six weeks ago the children who have now joined you had spent their entire education in a small, protected, reassuring environment where everyone knew their name? Do you realise that until six weeks ago these children were used to having the same teacher in the same classroom for every lesson? Do you realise that over the last six weeks the children now joining you have been excited and terrified in equal measure and it has been down to you this week to confirm for them which emotion was the most accurate reflection of what was to come? Do you realise that they are facing so many challenges for the first time this week from finding their way around school to getting on a bus on their own for the first time? Do you realise that, though they may now be squeezed into ties and blazers and look like mini grown ups, the majority of the eleven year olds joining you still love to watch Pixar movies, may have a beloved soft toy at home and get tucked up by their parents at night? Do you realise they have only been alive for around 150 months? They aren't adults, they aren't teens, they are still children.
Dear Shouty Teacher, please know that when you shouted at that child for a minor infringement this week when they are only just learning the rules of high school you terrified them. You embarrassed them at a time when they are trying so hard to make new friends and you made them feel very small and scared indeed, even if they didn't show it. Dear Shouty Teacher, please know that when my son sat in class, having never been in real trouble in his life before, and saw the way you treated that child you set in stone his opinion of you for the rest of his time in high school and when he came home he worried late into the night about getting in trouble for something minor and unavoidable then did not want to come to school the next day. Did you know that the child you shouted at and gave a behaviour point to because they were late to class was only late because the shouty teacher before you shouted at him for not having a pencil and made him stay for five minutes after class? That meant he had to find your class on his own and he got lost. In his first week at big school. He is already sad and scared. It is your job to make him feel safe not worse.
Dear Shouty Teacher please remember that you are far scarier than you think to little boys and girls starting in your class for the first time. They are not difficult teenagers who are troublesome in class yet but you are the one who may make them into those children. You are the one who controls whether the children in your class are despondent or enthused learners. You are the one who dictates how easy and fun or difficult and soul destroying your teaching career can be.
Sad Mum :(
P.S. If you are shouty and strict ALL of the time how will they know when you are really seriously angry?!?
And now to those teachers who made my son's first week a good one .....
Dear Smiley Teacher
You may have heard that some teachers have made my child not want to come to school this week. Let me start by saying that you are not one of them. Luckily he found he had far more smiley teachers than shouty ones. Hurray for that!
You welcomed my child to your classroom with a big smile. Your lesson was well planned, interesting and fun. You were enthusiastic about teaching and about the subject matter. My child came home excited and proud and remembered what you had taught him. Not only that but he spent two hours doing independent work to carry on his learning (in case you were wondering he used You Tube to teach himself how to play Smoke on the Water on the guitar after you taught him the first line of it in class).
You were one of the several teachers who made my son happy to be in high school. Believe me, he needed the boost after a few shouty teachers made him scared and sad. Your classroom was a safe haven, a sea of calm, an island of inspiration. Thank you for being a teacher who loves to teach, a teacher who is happy to be there, one of the reasons we chose your school in the first place - for its happy teachers. Thank you for not making me regret choosing to send my first born child to your school.
You don't know that my son has had a couple of difficult years with changes in his home life or that he is the type of child that worries about getting in trouble. You don't know that the child sat next to him might have spent his whole time at primary school getting in trouble. You don't know that the girl on the back row has always been the one who has struggled to learn. You have welcomed all of the children into your class with equal amounts of positive vibes. You have given them all the unique chance of casting off their primary school personality and reinventing themselves as new children who are ready to achieve and we all deserve the chance to reinvent ourselves each school year, especially children.
You our are the teacher I am thankful for, the teacher who keeps the hope alive that my child will enjoy high school. The teacher I aspire to be myself.
Dear Me as an Early Years Teacher
You have spent years welcoming children to your class. Let this high school starter experience serve as a reminder about the impact you, your mood and your approach to teaching have on the children in your care and how the results last far longer than the time when they leave your classroom at half past three each day. Please try to remember these things every day that you teach (even when you are overworked and tired and suffering from the lack of sleep that having three children guarantees).
1. You may be telling one child off but remember that 29 other children are listening and some of those children may take the telling off to heart just as much as the child who has done something wrong (as a side note is the thing you are telling them off for really that bad? Would it not be a better approach to remember your early years ethos and take the better approach of sitting down for a chat with them instead?)
2. Tone of voice can have more of an impact than the words you use. Don't be a shouty teacher. Shouty gets you nowhere.
3. You are the one who has the most impact on whether a child wants to come to school or not. Make them WANT to come to school. Use your power for good!
4. You may instantly forget how you have spoken or acted during any given day but the children don't and it is something which plays on their mind even when they get home. Help them to have happy memories not sad ones.
5. Remember that you are looking after the most precious thing in someone's life. Someone out there would kill or die for that child. Feel lucky to be an important part of their life and treat that privilege with the gravity and joy it deserves.
6. Remember that all children come to you with different experiences and emotions from home. They may not have had a good night.
7. Remember to appreciate and treat every child as an individual and give them the opportunity to reinvent themself every day
8. Find something to love in every child and remember how young they are. You have jeans in your wardrobe that are older than the children in your class!
9. Be the teacher you wish your child had not the one you hope they don't get. If you don't have children just imagine pulling your heart out of your body and entrusting it to a virtual stranger for seven hours a day with nothing but faith, hope and a prayer that it will be returned safe and well to you. Sending your child to school feels pretty much like that. But worse.
For most practitioners working in Early Years there will have been a time when the word 'Montessori' popped into your consciousness. Maybe in your training or maybe hearing a colleague mention the word. Then follows a quick Google search and mini panic (or was that just me?). Is this something I should be doing? Is it new and revolutionary? Is it 1970s hippy claptrap? Am I already a Montessori teacher without knowing it? What's the big deal all about? Well for anyone who has pondered any of these questions here is a basic overview of Montessori teaching.
As the name may suggest to you, Maria Montessori was the creator of what we now call the Montessori approach. In answer to some of the above questions she was neither a 1970s free-loving hippy nor a 21st century blogging pioneer. She was in fact a medically trained Italian doctor who died at age 82 in 1952 (so for those of you who can't be bothered with a spot of maths whilst sat in your jammies drinking your morning coffee - she was born way back in the 1800s!) She specialised in scientific pedagogy and in particular studying and supporting "phrenasthenic" children (children who nowadays we would refer to as children with Special Educational Needs). Most of her research was based in the classroom and so her opinions on a holistic approach to learning for all children soon became a teaching method in its own right. Over the following years Maria travelled the world establishing schools and lecturing in her approach. So how did an approach first named the Montessori Approach in 1912 survive and thrive to still be popular and (on occasion) seen as daring and revolutionary over 100 years later? Well it was given a hand by Maria's many published works and the 4000 schools she established in her lifetime. There are now Montessori schools throughout the world focussing on ages 3-6 years (though some schools have older children too). The main drive for the schools is that an emphasis is placed on process not result, learning is child centred not teacher controlled and children are taught to do things for internal reward not external reward.
The Montessori Approach
It can be daunting to class this as a philosophy, as many websites do. Once we hear the word 'philosophy' panic sets in. It all sounds very scientific, technical and academic doesn't it? Far too complex for our simple little minds to fathom without some form of PhD to back us up. Well worry not. The Montessori 'Approach' is actually quite a simple and instinctive approach once you learn a bit more about it. To take away the fear here are the main points of the approach.
So as you can see the Montessori approach was revolutionary for her time, when many educators and adults saw children as just miniature adults who needed to be taught. However many of her fundamental philosophies obviously underpin a lot of what we now believe and act upon as Early Years Practitioners (and is there a large smack of the Montessori approach in what we now class in the UK as 'Characteristics of Effective Learning'?) So how is the Montessori classroom set up and how do the teachers work?
The Montessori Classroom
These are some of the main elements you would observe in a Montessori classroom. Some you would expect but some of the more structured elements came as a surprise to me. What about you?
Are You Already Teaching in a Montessori Style?
Well this is a question for you alone to answer but, though it is unlikely that a non-Montessori practitioner completely follows this approach (in particular the non-use of fantasy role play, the lack of punishment and reward and the quite strict and grown up expectations of child behaviour) in a general sense all of us are teaching in a Montessori style to some extent. This is largely due to the similarities between the EYFS Development Matters guidance and the Montessori approach, particularly in relation to valuing the unique child and a focus on Characteristics of Learning and outdoor learning.
Here are some of the ways you are probably already embracing a Montessori approach without realising it:
Becoming an Accredited Montessori Practitioner
So as we have discovered most of us will instinctively already take a Montessori approach to child care however this does not make us Montessori Practitioners. If you do want to go down those lines to either work in a Montessori setting or set up your own Montessori setting then the most common way to go about doing so is to take a specialised Montessori course. The most common route is to do a Montessori Diploma at Level 3 and 4 which also includes a placement at a Montessori setting.
More Colour and Less Hessian in the Classroom (in which I dare to disagree with a popular Early Years trend)
If you keep your eyes on Early Years boards on Facebook or the Alistair Bryce-Clegg blog you will be no stranger to the approach of having your classroom decorated largely in neutral colours. There are many, many (many) fans of this approach. Display boards decorated in hessian or brown parcel paper, twigs, branches and leaves festooning the room, all furniture, baskets and storage in natural colours and fabrics. Bringing the outside in, if you will.
Today I am taking the brave step of talking about why I don't buy into this common approach. Brave huh? I'm not going to pretend I am a colour obsessive or hater of nature. In fact there was a time, when I was less confident in my knowledge and opinions, that I assumed that if so many Early Years educators and bloggers were buying into this new colour scheme (or lack of) then they must be right and I must still be foolishly living in the plastic fantastic 80s if I kept parading colour through my classroom like an acid tripping rainbow unicorn wonderland. None of us want to be accused of that most dreaded sin of not embracing nature in the early years do we?
So within a week all of my display boards were backed in hessian or brown paper, bright, plastic sand and water toys replaced with found objects and plastic storage replaced with wickerwork or wood. It was pretty, in a Ikea restaurant sort of a way, but did it make a difference to the children? No. The practitioners and parents? Yes.
The children continued to play as they always had. They asked where some of their favourite toys were then played with what was available instead. Very few of them displayed new imagination or problem solving skills that they hadn't displayed with the primary colour plastic fantastic items. In fact some (mainly boys) who had previously had quite complex narratives in their play displayed less imagination, reverting instead to more basic play skills such as transporting.
As far as practitioners were concerned we felt somehow less energised and inspired. Sure we love outdoor play and nature but we make a big deal about outdoors providing unique experiences for children which indoors does not. Do we not owe it to the crappy, well loved plastic Lego and garish fish and letter shaped sand and water toys to also value indoor play for its own unique properties? Parents came in to drop children off and cast dubious glances around the room. You could see their minds whirring. Did they appreciate the calming effect of the natural environment and see how backing a display board in hessian made the child's work the star of the show? Not on your Nellie! They looked around and wondered if a) we were in the middle of decorating and b) were we about to start burning patchouli incense sticks and become proponents of them breastfeeding until their child was ten.
Now don't get me wrong. I love my wicker baskets instead of hideous bright plastic ones, my den making outdoors themed building area with sticks, logs and hessian is the best I have ever had and I do sometimes remove all of our manufactured toys and equipment and replace them with found or natural equipment just to see how it changes play but all things in moderation people! In trying to be progressive and get back to nature and, essentially, create an indoor forest school classroom I was really buying in to making my classroom a cookie cutter copy of the thousands of other classrooms out there in which well meaning Bryce-Clegg fans took his advice a little bit too literally and a little bit too far. I had become a franchised colourless dictator, no more individual or unique than a branch of Macdonalds.
My first mistake? Not having the courage of my convictions or the confidence to know that my opinions on education and environment were just as valid and well thought out as those who loved and blogged about the latest trend. My second mistake? Valuing the opinions and tastes of adults over those of children. My third mistake? Forgetting that, though Alistair Bryce-Clegg is a huge (HUGE) advocate of natural classrooms and resources, his blog also celebrates other types of resources, activities and learning. The mistake many of us made? Forgetting that in nature there are far more colours than just brown, green and grey.
So, in brave rebellion of those who buy too completely into making the indoor classroom mirror the outdoors here are my reasons why colour crept (then bounded unashamedly and with whoops of eccentric celebratory joy) back into my classroom.
1. It made me happy! Yep. That simple. Having a variety of colour in our classroom brought joy to me and to the people who came into our classroom, be they adult or child. Colour cheers my mood and inspires me. It does the same for the children. Ok so they aren't encouraged to become calm, contemplative, meditative learners and my classroom isn't a haven of peace but do you know what? They are 3 and 4 years old! Let children be children. I would much rather have a slightly nutty, slightly louder, exciting and energised room to explore and create in.
2. Rather than making a child's work the focus and making children want their work to be on display boards my brief foray into neutral palettes made children not even bother to look at the walls. They are now far more excited about getting their work on the board with the superhero border or princess stripes because princesses and superheroes matter to them. Sack cloth doesn't.
3. Nature has colour. Nature celebrates colour. All colour comes from nature so why run away from that with too much neutrality? When we like a beautiful photo of nature on the internet how often is it in black and white? Sometimes maybe but more often than not what draws us to these photos is the wonder at the amazing colour palettes that Mother Nature creates and blends. I may one day return to a more natural palette in my classroom but I have learnt my hessian lesson - next time I will include all of the colours from nature, not just the neutral and green colours of the forest.
4. Colour is proven by science and studies to influence moods and enhance learning so why not tap into that. Studies have shown that cooler colours increase calm and focus and are particularly useful to focus learners on more academic subjects like science and maths, while warmer colours such as reds and oranges help to encourage creativity.
(Further reading: http://www.colorobjects.com/en/color-columns/the-colour-real/item/357-psychology-of-colour-in-the-educational-environment.html)
5. Last one and not so much a rebellion against natural colours but more about natural objects. I like plastic! There - I admitted it. I love the feeling of a nice warm stone or a rough piece of bark (in fact pebbles and stones are one of my major obsessions). Looking at the swirls and whirls of a shell truly entrances me. The delicate composition of a velvety petal or gauzy spider web fills me with wonder. But metal, fabrics and plastics offer just as much sensory interest, especially for a child. I love seeing children build with lumps of rock and wood but it is something I enjoy observing them do outdoors, in the natural environment, with the wild abandon of forgetting that they are getting mucky hands and not bothering quite so much that they have just dropped a rock on their toe as they would indoors. Indoors they have the great experience of being able to create that perfectly formed sandcastle with turrets made by pressing wet sand into a bright yellow plastic mould. I like to see them practise their dexterity and muscle strength in their fingers and hands as they construct including spaces, dimensions and borders and exploring repeating colour patterns as they build a very primary coloured, very plastic Lego castle for an equally plastic Peppa Pig or Buzz Lightyear toy.
So there it is dear reader. Please don't judge me as a sub-intellect poor excuse of an Early Years Practitioner but the dreadful and shameful truth is that I love nature and outdoor learning but an equal part of my heart does and always will belong to the 1980s child within me who gleefully celebrates garish colour and fantastic plastic.
So what about you?
New to the EYFS? A Brief Guide to Preparing For Your First Half Term in Pre-School or Reception Class
Whether you are entering your first year as an NQT or moving to the EYFS from a day nursery or older Key Stage, preparing for that first half term can be quite un-nerving. Here is a brief guide to get you started.
What Are The Challenges?
Whether you are in a pre-school class or reception class many of the challenges remain the same. A lot of these challenges will come down to the fact that you will be welcoming in an eclectic mix of children. Unlike working in Key Stage 1 or 2 you will not be receiving a full ready formed and ready trained class and this brings some unique challenges.
You do not have the benefit of a full handover and assessments from their previous class teacher. You do not have a group of children who have already been through the Tuckman's Norming and Storming model (i.e. the team building theory that a group will go through a sequential process of forming-storming-norming-performing. I will deal with this in another post - promise). You do not know all of the family backgrounds of the children joining you. You may meet children who have undiagnosed Special Educational Needs and you will not have the luxury of Key Stage classes that they come with IEPs and lessons learnt already in place. There may be some children who you do not even meet until the first day.
Some children may be coming from a private day nursery, some from a pre-school, some from a childminder and some may never have been away from mum for any period of time. Some children will not have adequate toilet skills, some will struggle with fine (or even gross) motor skills, some will have separation anxiety and some will need to be taught play skills and increased listening and attention skills before they can even begin to learn. Undoubtedly several will have behavioural issues. That is a lot of different 'some's to juggle. I won't sugar coat this - your first half term will be tiring. Entering it with a plan is essential to your survival dear teacher!
What Are The Rewards?
Before you go handing in your resignation and changing career DO NOT PANIC! The first half term is the hardest but will also lead to the most rewarding year which you will reach the end of feeling triumphant. You are in the privileged position of being entrusted with the most precious thing in people's lives. You have this opportunity to create a magical year for them, build their foundation for making their way successfully and positively through education and helping them turn from babies to school ready children. If you happen to work in an area with many socio-economically deprived families you are also in the tricky but rewarding position that you may be able to provide the first positive experience that some families have had of dealing with a person in authority. This is what your studied and trained for. You are standing at the bottom of Everest and by July next year you will be at the top, surveying the beauty of what you have achieved.
So Here Is a Plan...
Whether you work in pre-school or reception class getting these things prepared or covered in your first half term will help you to face the challenges that come up in a calm and organised way.
1. Know Your Class
Okay I know - I have just made the huge point above that you do not know your class, but there are some steps you can take to get a little bit ahead of the game with this one. If you already work in the setting you may have had the chance to go on home visits, have an induction day or speak to previous day care providers for each child. If not don't panic. Use your first week for this. One thing that is within your power even before term starts is to learn names. Write a list of the children you will have in class. Look at their dates of birth, do you have a lot of summer-borns? Are their a lot of older children? This won't necessarily be an accurate indicator of the ability level your class may have but it might give you an idea. If you have a heavy load of summer born children plan to be working at a lower starting level than if you were getting a lot of older children. Take a look at the pupil data forms or application forms for children. Their primary carer notes should give you an idea of their closest family members, health issues, religion, parent's occupations and (if you are lucky) previous day care setting. All useful information for planning activities that will engage them in the first weeks.
2. Do a Medium Term Plan (and have an idea of a long term plan)
If you have read other posts from me you will know that I HATE doing medium term plans however even I acknowledge how essential they are in order to create a structured and well thought out approach to the year. Check whether your school have a specific medium term plan template that they want you to use. If not have a browse of the internet or create your own. Here is the one I use http://preview.tinyurl.com/hsgdt75 Make sure that you include all seven areas of learning from Development Matters (Personal, Social and Emotional Development; Communication and Language, etc) and the three Characteristics of Learning. Plan for children entering 30 - 50 months with an idea (either in the plan or in your own mind) of how you will differentiate for children who are of a higher or lower ability. As far as long term plans are concerned your setting may not require one. If not then just make a basic note for yourself about what you would like to achieve by the end of the year. What percentage of children would you like to be working at a particular level in phonics, maths, 40-60+ months, working at Early Learning Goal, etc.
3. Plan for Your First Week
Do a weekly plan for your first week. Tell all staff what activities they are on each day. Make this a week to just play and be led entirely by the children. Don't worry about baseline assessments at this point. Getting to know the children and helping them to feel comfortable will ensure more accurate baseline assessments when you start them in week 2. It may feel like you aren't 'teaching' but it is an investment of time well spent (and actually you shouldn't be focussed on teaching in week 1. This is your time for learning.) For your weekly planning for this week focus all of your attention on providing engaging continuous provision both in and out. If you have enough staff in your team then take turns writing short observations of the children at play. If not then just concentrate on playing and chatting as you learn children's names and all about their play skills and interests.
4. Plan for Week 2
So now you know a little bit about your class. Hopefully your parents are getting to know the routine for dropping off and collecting children making it easier for you to deal with any morning separation anxiety issues. Your children are getting more used to the class and teachers. There are still ups and downs but now is the time to introduce a bit more structure. If you haven't already done so then this is the week to instil a set morning routine for drop offs. Do you have a member of staff on the door and one conducting a song time on the carpet where all children sit as soon as they arrive? Do you tell children to choose a book and sit down with in until register time? Do children go off and play as soon as they arrive while you concentrate on welcoming people in and making sure none of your little angels do a runner out of the door? Your decision will be led by what you learnt about your class in week 1 and will probably change and become more structured as the year progresses.
Now is a great week to begin to introduce circle games to learn each other's names and help children begin to gain more confidence. It is also a good week to introduce some more focussed activities such as painting self portraits http://tinyurl.com/z926bzj Now is the best time to begin your baseline assessments. They will take longer than you think!
5. Baseline Assessments
Baseline assessments provide two essential benefits. The first is that you are able to assess what level your cohort are working at and so plan accurately for the term. The second is that they show a starting point which allows you to track progress of the children throughout the year. Your school may subscribe to a specific model or system for baseline assessments. If not then you can create your own or find one of the many free or paid for resources available on the internet. Here is one I have used in the past (though I admit to being a bit of a baseline slut and changing it up every year) http://preview.tinyurl.com/htq5ufp
Plan your baseline assessments to assess at a 30 - 50 month level of development but make sure you have a basic knowledge of what is in 22-36 months level of development within Development Matters. Make a mental note of children who may be working within 40-60+ months and perhaps come back to these children once all of your baselines are done to see if you should be assessing them at a higher level.
Try to loosely group your class into three ability levels. Do not necessarily do work in ability groups (in fact there are many arguments for not doing this at such a young age) but use this loose list as a guide for yourself when planning activities and provision to ensure that you have allowed for all levels of development within your class.
Do a basic Phase 2 phonics assessment where appropriate. Do any of the children recognise any letters? Can they hear initial sounds? Can they orally blend or segment? Do a basic mathematics assessment. Ensure you look at counting skills, 2D shapes and counting accurately at the VERY least.
Be wary but open minded of assessments coming from previous day care providers of 40 - 60+ months. Some may have been over generous. Some may be entirely accurate but based on a year of more of evidence from their previous setting so don't feel like you are assessing incorrectly if you assess lower than the previous setting did. You will probably find that by the start of spring you have enough evidence that your assessment of them is akin to the one they came in with in from their previous setting. Speak to the head of Early Years to ask them how they would like you to assess these children. Of course the issue will be that you won't know which of the 40 - 60+ assessed children fall into this category and which have been assessed too high by their previous setting so a judgement call or common approach may be needed here. Word to the wise - don't automatically assume that previous judgements are correct but also do not criticise previous day care settings too publically as it may well be that their assessments are completely accurate and you just do not yet have the evidence to agree with the assessment or have a child working below their usual level due to being nervous or more quiet than usual in a new setting.
Introduce class rules. Try to have a maximum of five rules and get the children to choose these rules and agree to them (though of course they will be heavily influenced by you and a list you have secretly come up with). Display these rules in the classroom. Refer to them often. Use this point to introduce a behaviour and reward system too - ensuring it is consistent with the rest of the school's approach.
Now you are ready to go! Begin to plan according to what you put on your medium term plan for the first half term. Enjoy your new class, write a letter to the parents about what you have played with and learnt in the past few weeks, have fun! It is time to build some little learners.
So the end of the academic year has whizzed by again. Teachers have done their end of year assessments, end of year reports, weeks of preparing end of year crafty gifts for the children in their class and the whirlwind of end of year assemblies, presentations, toy days, class parties, school trips and sports days.
Finally with a flurry of tears and goodbyes they reach half three on the last day of term. They look at their now bare walls (or still with work up? Even better maybe with some prep done for next year?) and breathe a sigh of exhaustion. "I will sort it out over the summer" they think and flee the building as soon as possible. Some to plan their celebratory end of term night out, some to collapse in front of the TV safe in the knowledge that no planning or preparation needs to be done for a lesson on Monday. Many will wake up in the morning with either a hangover or a summer cold (having battled their way to the end of term resisting a sick day because there is too much to do and now having a body that thinks 'ok you can be sick now. No school for a few weeks')
Yet whatever the teacher does on that first night of the summer hols, almost all will do it with something irking them. A little well meaning, or not so well meaning, comment that has been voiced by a parent, family member or non-teaching friend.
If from a parent the comment will usually come in the well meaning form of "I bet you are ready for a break. My work is just beginning". For some teachers this will not be a comment to cause any second thoughts. For those with children of their own who they now need to entertain for five weeks it will probably prompt them to wonder whether the parent who has made the comment truly thinks that their summer will be harder than yours and that your children will magically disappear leaving you to put your feet up and drink tequila cocktails on a sunny child free beach holiday for the next five weeks. But remember that the comment WAS well meaning - the parent's way of acknowledging that you HAVE worked hard all year and must be ready for a break (and to be fair this is the time when I usually do thank God for how lucky I am that I now get five weeks with my children and do not have to worry about paying for childcare for the holidays).
The far more annoying comment is more likely to come from a member of your family or a non-teaching friend and will come in the form of "You don't know you are born getting all of those holidays!" or "I only get 25 days holiday a year. You spend most of the year on holiday!". These comments are in no way well meaning and will often prompt you to annoyance, if not pure rage. "But I don't actually get paid for 13 weeks a year" you want to scream, "I spend my whole holiday working!" you feel like shouting, "The weeks when I am in school are like running a marathon... with 30 kids, and 30 sets of parents (some of who I am sure hate me) and 30 different problems that I am trying to help with, AND NO TOILET BREAK!!!" you want to gasp before collapsing in exhaustion.
So what do teachers actually do during those long summer holidays? Here is a little insider view of the Secret World of Teachers on Holiday (Channel 4 take note for your next 'Secret World...' documentary).
Week 1: This is the holiday week. The bag of work brought home gets dumped in the hallway or a cupboard. The teacher presents (every one of them loved dearly - especially the home made ones) get put away, cards go up on the windowsill. Gin or beer is consumed, housework that has been ignored all term gets done, school shoes get put away and summer shoes come out. For the teachers that planned ahead planes are boarded and photos of beaches and cocktails are Instagrammed or Facebooked.
For those with children late nights are encouraged in the hope that the kids will have some lie ins to give you some time without children. Inevitably the children will continue to wake up at 7am and immediately demand food, shortly followed by "What are we doing today?" You will suggest some fun craft activity that other people actually pay to go to summer clubs to do. Your children will look at you scathingly, reminding you that they have seen you recycle these activities for years and quite frankly don't give a toss about making ooblek, playdough or an 'exciting' experiment with baking soda and vinegar or a raw egg.
You reach the end of Week 1. Teachers without children are now relaxed. Teachers with children less so, however all teachers are now about to enter the same process over the following weeks.
Week 2: Ok you have had your week of relaxation. Now you begin to realise there are only 4-5 weeks left. Seems a lot but not really. You frantically contact old friends and family who you have ignored for the full academic year to try to get some catch up time. If you have kids they have now settled into holiday mode so are slightly less annoying and demanding (though like Gremlins they will still demand to be fed twelve times a day and amused at least three times). "I really should get some work done" you think. But as it is only week 2 of the holidays you decide to have one more week to recharge. No kids? You do a bit of spring cleaning (missed when it was actually spring because you had a final term to plan - your last chance to make sure you had covered the whole curriculum) and decide what should move from your wardrobe to the charity shop.
Have kids? Then you plan some picnics, park trips, swimming or a theme park - swimming in the guilty pool of balancing parenthood with being a teacher i.e. spending 90% of your year planning excitement and wonder for children who aren't yours only to be too exhausted to do the same for your own children when you get home. If you do decide to get your head down and work then this will probably consist of emptying and sorting out the bag of work that you brought home, writing a list of what you need to do before school starts again and creating a new file on your laptop named "2016-2017".
Week 3: Right your holidays are over. If you have scheduled a housework this week then no doubt you will end up putting 50% of the rubbish that should be thrown away onto a bag for life to take to school. After all that plastic tray from the box of chocolates you finished last week would look great in the playdough area and that odd sock? Surely you could cut a couple of holes in that and use it as your fiftieth idea this year for teaching an effective pencil grip right? Any shopping trips around this time will probably also end up with bags of crafty crap from the pound shop that will sit in the boot of your car until September (then be forgotten until October by which point the new entrant craft you had planned to use them for will be over and done with).
Time to fire up your laptop. Why weren't you a better person who pushed yourself to do that dreaded medium term plan when you were still at school? Why, why, why?!?!?! Maybe you could just do your weekly planning for the first week instead. You know what you need to do in those first two weeks. Do you really need to do the medium term plan right now? Maybe next week. You do your first week of planning, create a new class list for your new class, try to remember which child is which, have a brief panic about whether you will be able to remember which child belongs to which parent at home time for those uncomfortable first few weeks. You look at the medium term plan template but decide instead to write a five page document on how you will make sure that you cover every area of the curriculum neatly over the year. You pat yourself on the back that you have started your summer of work and frantically try to plan something for the following day that is non-school related so that you can feel like you had some holiday this week.
Week 4: Time to do that medium term plan. You open it and type a few ideas in. You go on Pinterest to get some inspiration. Two hours later you have about a hundred great ideas pinned for exploring autumn, Christmas activities and homemade Christmas gifts but absolutely nothing for the first half term. You break for lunch, annoyed that your morning has been wasted. Idiot!
Oh God! You remember what a mess you left the classroom in. You still have three display boards to do and you were going to sort out that cupboard that is like a poorly produced natural disaster movie every time you open it and risk the lava flow or avalanche of notes from past staff meetings, staples that don't fit onto any stapler you own and plastic wallets cascading around your head every time you sneak your hand in for a whiteboard pen. You were going to wash and sterilise all of the building area toys. You need to go through everything in the book corner and pull out the torn books. You haven't even taken down the display of photos of last year's children yet! Will the new parents think you don't care about their children??!?!?!? You plan a day in school. You work hard for 8 hours lugging and washing and scrubbing and wall stapling. If you have children they eat the days worth of food you have packed them in half an hour and check with you every hour "can we go home yet?"
You leave at 4pm. The classroom seems as messy as it was 8 hours ago. If not worse. You start to panic about your empty medium term plan.
Week 5: You have a week left. Maybe a tiny bit longer. Maybe a bit less. There are those two INSET days you forgot about. You start to dream about going back to scratch. If you work in Early Years you go to sleep each night remembering how many tantrums, tears and toilet accidents you get in the first half term. You are already thinking about this year's nativity. But of course you have settling in, Harvest festival, parent's evening and bonfire night to get through first. Why didn't you appreciate the class you have just lost more in that last term? The term when they were finally getting phonics and knew the rules and rarely had a wee on the floor?!?! Fool!
You start to set your alarm for seven to get back into the morning routine. You realise you haven't done any of your own children's homework with them. Or bought them any uniform. Oh damn! Did they bring their PE kit home at the end of term? Where is it? Do their pumps still fit? You spend a day dragging yourself painfully through doing the dreaded medium term plan (that would have only taken an hour if you had just forced yourself to do it when you were still in work mode 5 weeks ago). You begin to hate any form of curriculum or assessment and randomly research schooling in Scandanavian countries whilst seething at the idiocy of the English approach to education. You ruminate to anyone who will listen about how we force our children out of childhood and into standardised testing too soon.
Week 6: Back to school!
You love this job! The children were all far better than you expected. Apart from that one... oh yes and that one too... and did that parent look at you funny? Do they hate you already? Within seconds you are back in work mode, fuelled by coffee and a love of the EYFS. Maybe this won't be so tough after all. I mean if all else fails you do have a medium term plan right?
It's that time where most practitioners get a little teary. The little angels (or monsters) that we have had in our care for a year (in pre-school) or maybe from birth in other settings are ready to spread their wings and fly. We have helped them, loved them, taught them and nurtured them and now they are facing their first big challenge without us. If you want to support the parents of these children then read the earlier post on transitions for parents to help. This post should hopefully help you to help the children in your care as you get them ready to leave you and become grown up schoolies.
1. Do Your Research
Whether you visit the school yourself, talk to parents or look at the website, try to learn about the school each child is going to. This will arm you to chat to the child as if you have personal knowledge of the school. For example tell them how much you love the school's outdoors area, that you like the colour of jumper that they will be wearing or that you have heard that Mrs/Mrs.... is a really nice teacher. Hearing these comments from an adult they know and trust will help create a sense of trust and comfort for the child as they face this step. Find out when the child will have transition days and chat about all of the lovely things they did when they get back.
2. Make a Fuss
The temptation may be to avoid the subject of starting school altogether. You don't want to upset or unsettle the child in your care. Avoid this temptation. You are the adult and it is your duty to put on your big girl/big boy pants and crack on with it. Tackle this head on. Make a big fuss of the child or children in front of the other children in your care. Make a crown, have a party, do anything! Encourage the mindset that this is an exciting time to celebrate and for this time the child is very special. Avoid the mindset that it is something to be feared like a trip to the dentist.
3. Social Stories
Read as many stories and watch as many cartoons and TV shows as you can about first days at school. The children in your care may not be able to visit their new school every day to prepare but you can provide opportunities for the routines and events of starting a new school to begin to feel more familiar and predictable (and so less scary and out of their control). These stories also provide a great opportunity for children to voice their concerns or excitements. Embrace these opportunities.
4. Liase With The School
Each child's new teacher should get in touch with you at some point to find out a bit more about the child and family that are transitioning to them. If they have not contacted you by mid-July then contact them. Try to arrange a time to meet face-to-face but if this is not possible have a chat on the phone. In either case also send or handover a transition document with a brief overview of what the child is like when in your care, their personality, likes and dislikes, fears and comforts. Give a brief overview of any family issues the school need to be aware of and give a judgement of where the child sits developmentally, using the Early Years Foundation Stage Development Matters as a reference point (if in the UK).
5. Keep Parents Informed
Keep the parents or carers informed of the things you have done each day so that they can be reassured of your contact with the school and also so that they can carry on at home with any learning or conversations that you have had with their child.
6. Expect Changes in Behaviour
Children due to start school will often show changes in behaviour. They may have interrupted sleep, suddenly begin to cry when left by mum or dad after leaving them happily for many years or begin to push the boundaries. This is all to be expected. Whether it has been explained to them well, badly or not at all children will sense that a big change is coming and it is one that the adults around them are finding difficult or emotional too, even if the emotions being displayed by the adults around them are happy or excited ones. Continue to have the same rules, boundaries and expectations as you always have had with the children but be ready to give extra reassurance and be extra patient during these tricky times.
7. Be Proud
Well done you! The child may be leaving you but look how far they have come. That is the product of your hard work, love and care over the past year or more. Your job is done. Take a deep breath of self-satisfaction, be proud and congratulate yourself on how far you have come together.
Transitions into nursery, child minder settings or school will usually be more distressing for parents than for their child however having a child who settles in quickly will help the parents to adjust too.
We have all seen it. Some children will waltz into their new setting happily without a second glance, some will cry at the initial separation from mum or dad but be fine within minutes and some will suffer from a more prolonged separation anxiety (something we will look at in another post). No matter which category a child falls into there are several things we can do to make their time with us happy and settled.
1. Show the Love
If you work in a school setting you may be used to staff being nervous about too much physical contact for fear of potential safeguarding misunderstandings but the transitioning period is a time where you may need to use your judgement and set fears aside. Children aged 4 and under do not usually have the mental reasoning skills to be brought out of an upset state by common sense and discussion. They are babies people! They have been on this earth for less time than your favourite pair of jammies or shoes. They are not little adults - they are children and when they are left in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people and no cast iron guarantee that mum or dad will return at the end of the day they need more than a good old chat. They need cuddles. So don't be afraid to get a child on your knee for a good old cuddle and nursery rhyme or story. Of course safeguarding will always be an issue but this can be allowed for in a day care setting or school by making sure that the cuddle time is in the main room with other adults present.
2. Have Different Mood Spaces
It's time to bring out all of your arsenal. While some new starters may want cuddles, some may want to be allowed their own space whilst other come in seeking excitement or distraction. Set your room up so that you have areas for exploring, areas with familiar toys and experiences and areas for quiet time. You don't need a large space or multiple rooms to do this. Just make sure that you have play experiences set out that are familiar and reassuring (such as mark making, play dough or painting), activities that offer some challenges or new experiences (duplo, messy play, jigsaw puzzles), opportunities for small world play, opportunities for more active play (toys that move, water or sand) and a quiet reassuring space (indoor tent or an area with books, teddies and cushions). In this way you can make sure that you have covered every type of learner and offered many different tools which children could use to self soothe.
3. Getting to Know You
Play some getting to know you activities. If you have done your pre-transition prep you will already know all about each new child (or at least the basics of likes, dislikes and family) but the child will not know this. Plan in lots of games and activities around getting to know each other. Games where you learn the names of each of the people in the setting and other children work well, as do craft activities where you help the child to paint a self portrait or learn about families. (Check out the Settling In page for some ideas).
4. Toy Support
Whatever your setting's policy on bringing in toys and comfort items it would be good practice to allow any children who are struggling to settle to have a comfort item from home with them. Some children may need to have the item all day and be slowly weaned off it as they settle, some may need it only to deal with the initial separation from their parent or carer and will happily give their item up with support after ten minutes or so. If you particularly object to children having their own toys into your setting then consider having a bag of 'daytime toys' - a collection of toys which can be used as a special friend in nursery/ school. Introduce these as special friends and let the child choose one that they can keep with them all day whilst in the setting then put on a shelf or bag in its bag at home time until they return the next day.
Side note: To pacify or not? Whether we agree with it or not many children will still use a dummy (pacifier) up to or beyond the age of 3. In the interests of Communication and Language if nothing else, consider discouraging the use of dummies within your setting after the age of 2 so as to encourage children to talk more often and more clearly and as a result build relationships with staff and children that will help them to settle more quickly into your setting.
Well it is that time of year again. The time when we lose some children from our care and gain others. Working in a school nursery I have children transitioning to our reception class, children moving to other schools and new children due to start from other day care providers or leaving mum and dad for the first time.
Think about starting a new job. Learning what the place is like, the office politics, concerns about your new boss or whether you will make any friends, even simple questions that cause even the most grown up of us nerves; Do I need to ask permission before I go to the toilets? Where do I get lunch? What should I wear? Exciting but scary times huh? It is no wonder that transitioning into a new setting causes parents and children to feel uncertain and scared in an even more extreme way.
But lucky us. We have the power to ease these transitions and to help families and children as they move. Here we will first look at how we can help parents with the transition as this is a far more cut and dried process than the less easy topic of supporting the child, which we will deal with in our next blog posting.
A child starting in education or day care for the first time can be terrifying for parents. Many years later I still remember the gut wrenching fear and uncertainty I felt when my children started nursery at 7 months old then school at 4. After all these are tiny, little defenceless humans who we have had sole care of since they were born. No-one else could possibly know them as well or understand them as deeply as we, their parents, do. So the thought of them staring in a setting for the first time or moving to a brand new setting is terrifying. These parents are trusting the most precious thing in their life to you so the best way you can reassure them is to show them how seriously you take this responsibility. Here are some ways in which you could support them.
1. Initial Contact and Home Visits.
Your initial contact with parents will probably be initiated by them and often followed up by yourself in writing however you will both benefit greatly from speaking to each other in person as soon as possible. A warm, friendly, welcoming voice on the end of the phone can help set a parent's mind at ease and begin what will potentially be a years long relationship on a lovely level. A follow up home visit will also give them and their child the opportunity to meet you and ask questions in a setting in which the family feel comfortable. It also gives you thr unique opportunity of seeing how the child plays and acts in their own home.
Many of the concerns a parent feels when their child starts in school or day care can be eased by reassuring them that you have procedures, policies and routines in place. If you have one signpost them to your website, give them or direct them to copies of your policies and procedures, let them know practicalities like where the front door is, what your hours are, how and when their child will sit down to eat and the staff they will come into contact with, your health and safety measures, sickness policies and media policies. Be ready to answer questions or feel comfortable saying confidently 'I will look into that and get back to you later today/tomorrow' if you don't know the answer.
3. Setting Visits
The next step would be to invite the parents and child into your setting for a brief visit. Be sure to emphasise 'brief' and talk about what you will do during the visit. Otherwise you could end up with a family visiting for over half an hour and, although we do like to welcome families into our settings, half an hour spent with them is half an hour in which we aren't able to fully focus on the other children already in our care. If you just have one new starter to meet then this is best done during the normal working day so that the family can see the other children at play and the way the staff interact with them. Ensure all staff are aware of the visit and the child's name so that they can involve the child if appropriate during the visit. If you have several children due to start it may work better to have a parent's meeting one evening when the setting is set up as if for the start of a session or to have an induction morning where parents attend with their child for a couple of hours to play without the other children there.
4. Regular Updates
You should try to have regular updates for parents in the first couple of months while their child settles in. This could be photos, examples of their child's work, an opportunity for a parents evening or daily updates on how many times a child has been changed, fed and activities done (depending on the child's age). Also make sure that parents know they can phone you or talk to you any time during your working day if they have questions or concerns. You may also decide to use social media, online portfolios and text and email to keep your parents updated (but make sure you have one eye on safeguarding and a clear social media policy that parents are aware of and have access to before you do this).
We are entering into unexplored waters and no-one yet knows how Britain will be affected by the recent referendum and the resulting decision to leave the EU.
After a break of several years from writing, my love of the EYFS is urging me to get back in there. Although I will mainly be writing about fun activities and the joy of the EYFS I felt I couldn't start such a blog without first tackling the issue that most of Britain is puzzling over at the moment. So as a one off detour from the happy, easy going place this blog will be here is a little attempt to make sense of our new political climate and how this will affect us as EYFS practitioners.
For those of us working in education alarm bells may have started to quietly chime as Michael Gove throws his hat into the leadership ring. Let us remember that this is the man who supported changes in our curriculums and testing requirements, pursued with vigour the academy and free schools programme and thought nothing of selling off playing fields and relaxing government regulations on how much outdoor space should be required in UK schools. Do we think this will be someone who values the benefits of Forest Schools and outdoor learning? If Gove gets the now not-so-coveted position of PM will we see even more teachers leave the profession? Let's hope that some more education friendly MPs throw their hats into the ring (and keep them there... shame on you Blustering Boris).
Apologies in advance if you have come here for answers or predictions as I have none. It is also not a place for lambasting either Leave or Remain voters. What's done is done. All I can offer is some food for thought for educators as you listen to the promises made by potential Prime Ministers in the coming weeks.
So what are the leading papers and bloggers predicting as the possible effects on the education system in the UK as we move into these new times? It is all guess work at the moment and the direct consequences for education will rest in the hands of the new PM but here are some possible ways in which leaving the EU could indirectly affect Early Years education.
It is unclear, as yet, whether Brexit will result in an economic boom or an economic crisis but many financial sceptics feel that the money saved by no longer paying EU membership fees will not equate to the money promised by the Brexit campaigners to go back into our own economy so where will this extra money come from? We can only hope that it is not taken from Child Tax Credits, Childcare Vouchers or entitlements to free childcare as this will then impact on numbers of parents being able to return to work. In addition, without the money and business that EU links provided and were due to provide in the UK, will this mean a rise in unemployment leading to more children staying at home as opposed to attending child-minding or day care services? How would this then affect child care settings? In theory it could mean fewer children needing nursery places and an increase in stay-at-home parents.
Would this be a bad thing? Potentially not. We all know that children who have been in some sort of day care setting before starting reception class seem to settle more easily, make friends more quickly and respond better to the rules, routines and hustle and bustle of a busy school. That said, however, most Early Years educators would agree with the holistic benefits provided by many European education systems in which the start of formal education begins much later than it does in England, with children not starting school until the age of 6. That said, with the exit of Britain from the EU, would the government be open to adopting a more European approach to education which many of us want or will there be a Gove style increase in testing and assessments from an even earlier age? As a side note to this, if children are staying at home for longer due to working parents not being able to return to work, will the recent closing down of so many Children's Centres mean that families are not accessing group play and experiences for their pre-school child or will it perhaps have the opposite effect of educated and holistic play proponent parents setting up their own small businesses to offer the experiences no longer more readily available via government funding? Uncertain times indeed!
As many EU funded businesses come under threat and employees lose the employee rights previously protected under EU regulations, there is the chance that jobs will be lost and children will need to (or be able to) stay at home instead of starting in nursery. This could most severely impact child care providers that rely heavily on their baby and toddler places for business income. What changes are made to the free place funding for 2s and 3s are yet to be seen. On the other hand there may also be middle income working parents who are not entitled to Child Tax Credits who are affected by reduced options for maternity leave and flexible working conditions who now need to opt for sending their child to day care and returning to work instead of being able to take a career break.
Without the worker's rights protection of the EU and with many small businesses sometimes suffering from the staffing hit created by maternity leave will some employers now be supported by the government, no longer answerable to the EU, in reducing maternity, paternity and family friendly leave and working hours? If so will this potentially lead to more childcare places from middle income earning families being filled or more parents being unable to afford to return to work and so not needing child care? Added to that the lower numbers of children coming to the UK via immigration and a potential hesitation of people in their 20s and 30s deciding to try for babies as they wait to see what the outcomes for Brexit will be for their own finances, employment and living situations could we see a drop in numbers in over the next few years?
It is no secret that one of the biggest fears facing voters this year was the increase in immigration (and implicit links to terrorism that were made in many Brexit talks). It is also no secret that over the past few years day care providers have seen a huge rise in children who speak English as an Additional Language.
This in itself presents many daily problems as practitioners who are not bilingual try to help and support groups of children sometimes coming from a range of backgrounds with a range of languages spoken however it has also offered many unique benefits and opportunities when tackling the tricky curriculum area of Understanding the World - People and the Communities.
Another change which immigration concerns have led to has been the introduction of a new British Values focus in all education establishments. Within Early Years this has been done mainly by the government document which reframes a lot of what we were already doing with an increased focus on open communication and tolerance. Something which I am sure many will agree has been easier to teach in settings which are not all White British Christian (after all how much comprehension of other faiths, lifestyles and religions can a child of 3 have if the only people they have ever seen look, act and talk almost exactly like them?)
Thankfully in Early Years education the outcomes of Brexit will have no discernible affect in this area for a few years however it will be interesting to see how teachers dealing with older children in Key Stage 2 and high school are guided to handle the questions that are bound to arise as children try to balance their understanding of how religious and racial tolerance can sit alongside explicitly segregating ourselves as a nation.
Over the next few weeks and months many other changes and questions are bound to arise and we would do well to keep an eye on how this will affect our little learners in the future. The best we can do as Early Years practitioners is to treasure each child and each family that we deal with as unique individuals and not let either our own or our colleague's votes or beliefs affect the way we deal with each other. Let's work together to stay educated, keep up to date with the changes to come and how they affect families and always, always, always embrace the joy that working with children in their most precious stage of life brings to us.
Carry on loving the mess of the EYFS!