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.