Maybe it’s because it is half term?
Maybe it’s because we have worked (and are still working) through a pandemic?
Maybe it’s because we have changes left, right and centre coming our way?
Maybe it’s because I have spent far too long on Social media- Twitter, Facebook and now Instagram?
Who knows why. But this week apart from writing reports, running, drinking gin and losing myself in a gripping novel I have been reflecting, challenging and speaking my Early Years truths.
About what? Whether stickers work. Cut and paste report writing. Why some loose parts are not loose parts but simply junk. And why Pedagogical approaches are so much more than labels and posters.
What was interesting is that with each of these posts- the response was overwhelmingly positive. There seemed to be almost a collective sigh of relief from many reading the posts and blogs- as if to say “phew- I thought it was just me”. And yet in other cases there were more personal and negative responses implying that I was attacking the sector, picking at people's practice, implying people were lazy and in one classic reply someone told me he was “disappointed” by my post. Let’s be clear- he wasn’t my father, my husband, my son, a friend or colleague. He was a stranger. Someone I do not know and who doesn't know me. So to be brutally honest- I will still somehow manage to sleep at night.
I would like to set the record straight very simply and clarify a few things…
But I would also like to add:
So I’m afraid the bad news is that I will not stop. I will continue to call out the nonsense. I will continue to speak my truth- and I urge you too.
I will continue to challenge, debate, discuss, reflect and ask the questions that need to be asked- normally beginning with a big fat “why”.
I will continue to campaign alongside a sector who have had enough- be it against:
...and the workload increasing nonsense such as progression maps in the Early Years which OFSTED tell us they really do not expect to see.
I will continue to demand answers and for the research and evidence for what is thrown at us- and ask you to do the same in whatever ways you feel able.
And I will continue to challenge pinterest pedagogy, fancy pants provision, style over substance practice where sometimes terms such as “loose parts”, “In the moment planning”, “Montessori”, “child initiated”- even “play” are misconstrued and misunderstood.
The bad news is folks, I won’t stop speaking out. Speaking my truth.
The good news is- if anyone finds me that offensive or disappointing- its easy to unfollow, mute or block. I completely understand- I’ve done the same on several occasions. Sometimes you need to.
The even better news is- if you are still here, still with me- we can keep on going, keep on asking what must be asked, keep on demanding better.
We can keep learning together, reflecting, debating- respectfully and openly- even when it's uncomfortable. And do you know what?
We can be the change.
The change our sector needs.
The change we need.
The change our children need.
Anyone with me?
Sometimes junk is just junk. It's not fit for play. It's not safe. It has no place in your setting.
There I said it.
Before I start let me be clear about me…
Oh and as a small child I spent hours sitting on a wooden workbench covered with a piece of sheepskin and a horses saddle convinced I was on a horse. I was there for hours.
Ok so to be clear I love upcycling.
But recently I have found myself in a place where I was probably finding myself back in 2015- just before I started Keeping Early Years Unique. I am finding myself a member of a whole range of social media groups where I see posts that I just cannot stay quiet about- often for safeguarding reasons- and again as in 2015 I am finding myself somewhat outnumbered by people telling me that I am adverse to risk. Let's be clear. I am not. I just know that somethings are simply not safe for young children to use and are not fit for playful purposes.
Hence I am writing this blog. I need to know am I outnumbered? Am I wrong on this? I am sure you will all let me know! Am I banging the wrong drum here?
More and more of us are realising the potential of loose parts play- there is also a growing movement of bringing old furniture into our settings, something else I am not convinced about- for example I have seen settings using big heavy dressing tables, mirrors and items such a necklaces- with babies and toddlers- maybe that’s another “unpopular” blog for another day.
But for today lets think about loose parts.
Many of us will remember from our childhoods the joy of a box. The quintessential loose part- the joy of climbing inside it, closing the flaps or cutting out windows and making a door. The power of a loose part is that it can be anything we desire and seamlessly connect together areas of learning through purposeful, authentic, creative experiences.
With my maths head on- these photo frames, curtain rings and beads- opened up so many opportunities to discuss one of my favourite questions with young children “What do you notice?” If you want to know more about using this learning extending, brain developing, endless possibility maker of a conversation starter- dip in here to the phenomenal Dreme website
I guess my concern is that with:
....we need to ask ourselves one question:
“Why” are we choosing this loose part for our setting?
If it's just that it was being given a way for free by a friend or relative or it was in a charity shop or bootsale- then maybe that’s not a good enough reason.
The first thing we must do with any loose part is consider if its safe for our children. These are not resources that were made to be played with- so we need to ensure that they are safe. We have a duty to safeguard and protect the children entrusted to us each day. This simple flow chart from the amazing Loose Play toolkit 2019 is a great place to start.
My good friend, the queen of risk, challenge and adventure, former Head Learner at the groundbreaking “Chelsea Open Air Nursery School” would say we need to not just do a risk assessment but a risk/benefit assessment where we consider the risks alongside the benefit. Do the benefits of this resource outweigh the risks? Watch her in action here.
I think the reason I have got a bee in my bonnet so to speak is because quite often the loose parts discussions I am seeing are discussing play for very young children, the under 3’s.
Loose parts for this age group requires very careful consideration- due to the way that young children explore and make sense of their world- often through their mouths. Do we know the paint used on these items is safe? Do we know that these objects are safe for children to put into their mouths? Are there sharp corners.
Loose parts play for babies and toddlers is nothing new is it? But we must ensure that what we are offering children is safe for them to explore. Read more about heuristic play here
Anyone who wants to learn about Loose Parts and develop their provision even further- please check out this amazing free resource from Play Scotland. You won't go far wrong!
Oh and one other “unpopular” opinon before I run for cover from the deluge of buttons, beads, tin cans and other small items being launched my way…
If you ever get your hands on a wonderful cable reel.
Yes make it safe…
But please don’t feel you have to paint a ladybird on top of it.
Right. I’m off.
It's Bank Holiday Monday and I’m sure theres a lazybones Bootsale down the road….
Recently I have been thinking about the Keeping Early Years Unique movement. A post from one of our members reaffirmed what I know- Keeping Early Years Unique is a movement and a haven for anyone committed to a play based, child development rich, relationship focussed, no frills, evidence informed, tried and tested, pedagogically responsible early year’s experience for each child.
Keeping Early Years Unique began life 6 years ago with two members, two individual drops. Today the group has over 50,000 members, 50,000 drops in an early year’s ocean- and whilst the sheer amount of support gives me hope and inspiration- there is always the thought nagging in the back of my mind- how do we keep KEYU what I started KEYU to be?
Therefore, with this in mind- I wanted to take some time to really clarify what Keeping Early Years Unique is and what it most definitely is not.
1. Keeping Early Years Unique is all about children and their unique holistic development enriched by the power of their play. We view play as the most powerful, intrinsically driven vehicle for the learning that happens each and every day within our settings.
2. Keeping Early Years Unique is not a forum for asking about topics and themes- whilst the current reforms may be leading us back down this out of date road- it is not the road the Keeping Early Years Unique is on. Many of our members are on the alternative, empowering, child focussed road of teaching and learning “in the moment”. Despite the pressures and ideology coming from all angles-and the dangerous myth that In the moment is not enough- THIS is the road we are staying on. Why? Because it works! We know our children. We know our settings.
3. Keeping Early Years Unique is not about over enhanced, labour intensive, learning limiting, fancy pants, levelled provision- instead we are led and empowered by the work of the pioneers of past and present, where less is more, resources are open ended, meaningful, authentic and promote the statutory characteristics of effective learning.
4.Keeping Early Years Unique recognises, celebrates and advocates the holistic nature of children’s learning and development- we do not advocate tick lists or trying to fit learning into boxes and grids, maps or documents to define progress. We know that, to quote Birth to 5 Matters, "The complex differences for each child mean the pathways toward maturity should be seen more as dancing around a ballroom than climbing a ladder." (p18)
5. Keeping Early Years Unique is a respectful movement, committed to long term change by challenging myths and inappropriate practice through discussion and debate.
6. When you join Keeping Early Years Unique, you join an ocean of activists working in partnership with a whole range of organisations including the NEU, Upstart Scotland, More than a Score, the Early Childhood Forum and the Early Years Coalition.
7. Keeping Early Years Unique will continue to campaign loudly and respectfully against the attempts to formalise learning for our children whenever and wherever they come from- whether it’s taking on OFSTED’s Bold Beginnings, the Governments Baseline Policy, or challenging the fatally flawed, developmentally inappropriate Early Years Reforms. We will continue to campaign for our children. We will march. We will start petitions. We will write open letters. We will write to MPs. We will keep talking to our colleagues and the families we work with. We will not stop.
8. Keeping Early Years Unique is committed to being part of the solution. Working in partnership with the Early Years Coalition-, we are proud to be a part of Birth to Five Matters- an alternative non-statutory EYs guidance with the child at the core. We will also continue to campaign for a birth to 7 EYFS in England.
9. Don't forget Keeping Early Years Unique is just one part of the KEYU family! Job vacancies can be posted on the KEYU Job network page and EYs books can be sold in the KEYU second hand bookshop. KEYU inspired training and events can be found on the KITE page. In addition there are local keyu groups you can join too!
So that’s us. In a nutshell.
Are you a drop in our ocean?
If you are not a member yet and KEYU sounds like your kinda place- come and join us today and bring a friend!
So like many of you I have had another full on day of teaching...but this is a blog that I HAD to write. I am not writing it expecting masses of people to read it- but for the theraputic nature of getting my thoughts onto paper (albeit a virtual sheet) and in the hope that:
a) I may find I am not alone in my thoughts
b) maybe someone will read it, and feel reassured and empowered to "keep buggering on" (to quote a good friend and fellow EYs rebel!)
So let me begin at the beginning. Right now the world of Early Years is a very busy place to be. We are working through a pandemic. Many of us never closed our doors. Many of us are struggling to keep afloat financially due to the severe lack of funding and the challenges keep coming.
We have a new EYFS around the corner. Those of you who know me, will know the concerns I have shared publicly around this through the Right from the start campaign, a grassroots movement urging the government to revoke its high pressure reforms with their focus on recall of facts, what is learned from books and the misinterpretation of self regulation as self control and doing as you are told.
There has been no CPD bar a few vlogs, blogs and articles. The exemplification materials are naturally delayed and yet the changes rumble on- when in fact surely it would have made more sense to delay for one more year to give us all time to really reflect and consider where we are headed!
Any how- that doesnt seem to look very likely- despite the DFE's strong messages around wanting to reduce our workload- so early years educators are doing what they always do best. Trying to make sense of things, trying to find a way to make things work using the very scant information given. This has led some to the idea of a progress curriculum- with educators trying to create documents showing how their children will progress under the illusion this is what OFSTED wants or requires. Let's be clear. They don't. How can I be so certain? Because I asked them.
Many discussions around progress documents, basically documents setting out the progress children will make over time in small steps, so far tend to have been led by the Early Adopters. I can undertand why. They are trying to adopt a new framework with a view to getting to grips with it before roll out- but they have had to work through a pandemic. Last night progress documents were discussed within the Keeping Early Years Unique group- and as a group commited to play and child development- it really got me thinking...
Right now there are SLTs out there asking EYs colleagues to draw up progression documents, and EYs colleagues out there feeling they need to. I would say to quote my good friend Dr Sue Allingham. Ask yourself the question that must be asked: "Why?" Whose benefit is this for? Why are you doing it? Does anyone really think documenting when children can access certain resources or which wheeled toys they can use when and in which order will impact on children's learning? After 20+ years of working with young children- please take it from me- a document, a list of skills doesn't help children learn. You do,
Ironically, but when documents attempt to stipulate what children can access and when- in this attempt to enable progress- what if we actually disable learning, what if we put a ceiling on learning, or put a lid on it. How could such a document claim to be about progress? We are all commited to ensuring our children grow, develop and thrive in our care- surely we don't need a piece of paper to do this?
YES to reflecting on child development.
YES to looking at learning trajectories and the many pathways children take on their learning journey.
But reducing this by writing it into a document? No. And even if you tried? Well it would be more than a few pages of A4.
Any of us who have studied child development will know that it isn’t neat and tidy- it doesn't fit into neat boxes or grids. Neither does learning. Neither does responsive teaching. Instead like the pioneers of past and present we need to focus on being that tuned in adult- who listens, observes, respects and interacts in the ways that we know will make a difference for the child in that very moment.
Yes- we are surrounded by so much change right now- but don’t get sucked into this crazy vortex! Hold on to what you know about teaching and learning and about what REALLY makes the difference.
I have been on this roundabout before. A few short years ago I went on a training course, a very entertaining training course and I returned with pages of notes and anecdotes that actually told me very little! I took the advice given and returned to my setting ready to level digging implements. I made signs to hang above the sand tray showing what all children could do, what most could do and what some could do. Reality hit me before I went much further. The signs were never hung, the implements never put into levelled trays and I realised I had been sucked into a vortex- a parallel universe in my bid to get our provision right- after all OFSTED were due and surely it was what they wanted to see wasn't it?? I finally woke up and remembered that my wonderful children were driven by fascinations and an intrinsic desire to learn. Not whether they should be using a tea spoon or a shovel to fill a bucket or egg cup.
On this ever spinning carousel I have also tried over the years to plot out DM across the terms. I have children almost a year apart in age. So guess what- it doesn’t work! I wrote it out, cut it out and pasted it, printed out the grids but again guess what? The children do what they do- they are motivated engaged learners driven by that intrinsic desire to learn- they couldn't care less what they need to learn in the autumn term according to my grid. In short- who did this impact on the most? Well it wasn't the children's progress but it was my workload.
So what is the alternative? What should we be doing? How can make sure our children make progress and reach their full potential? Well- I think this quote from the new Birth to Five Matters document pretty much hits the nail on the head.
Let's dance with our children around the ballroom.
Let them take us by the hand- and let's follow their lead.
There will be times when we need to take the lead and that’s important. We are all teachers and we teach. Just remember that for children to respond to your lead and to want to join you in the dance- they need to know you are partner who respects and values them.
It’s a simplisitic and reductionist view of children, their learning and development to assume that that we can put up a ladder for them all to climb. We can't. There are even discussions about how they need to climb the ladder at the same time? Worse still this model disregards the amazing dance that is learning and teaching in the early years. A dance that we are all experts in whilst those deciding policy would definitely find themselves at the bottom of the leaderboard.
So back to progression documents?
It’s a no from me. I like dancing too much.
How about you?