Using a play-based approach was one of the first steps in my journey, but certainly not the be all and end all. I think if we are to really 'get it right' in those first couple of years at school we need to have a deep understanding of the process of brain development so we can cater for children on an individual level. Simply because all children are different, they all enter at different stages of development and require programmes that cater for this. They also have different interests, passions and urges that we need to understand a whole lot better, simply by taking more time to get to know them.
In our new entrant room we have been working on a sequence of foundation skills that will assist our children's learning, ensuring they have a strong foundation and also ensuring that we are not foisting learning upon them that they are not ready for. These are home support goals that parents can assist us with and the sequence has been one we have been playing around with.
Document so far
We have tried and will continue to try to align the individual goals we have for children with the sequence of brain development outlined in these diagrams. You will have seen these if you have listened to Nathan Wallis speak. I love his work!
This diagram is one I have modified and played around with also, it is one I share with parents and it is a document we can use to help children appropriately according to their individual development and is based on the sequence of the diagram above.
My journey so far has seen me transform my own beliefs about learning in a new entrant room, rather than believing I have to start feeding in cognitive knowledge straight away 'teaching' them to read, write and 'do maths.' I now see how these are aspects some children are simply not ready for, and can come to in their own time when they are ready.
This does not mean I don't provide a learning rich environment, I just provide it in a very different way that is much more fluid, individualised and flexible. It is also an environment that allows children to follow their urges.
I also find I am in a state of constant reflection about learning and the process of learning, which I love!
Building parent understanding is also a big goal. It can be difficult for a parent to have a child start school, expecting one experience and then getting a goal home that says "I am learning to hop, crawl, skip etc"
Part of my new entrant information evening is now dedicated to talking about brain development and what we need to be doing for children in the first couple of years at school. I also take this opportunity to share the values of play-based learning.
Further Implications For My Current Programme
I have arrived at a place where I am happy with writing in my classroom. Developed mostly through play and based on urges, along with a strong focus on oral language and specific phonics teaching in bite sized amounts, I feel that children are allowed to develop in their own time and have noticed huge gains in this area.
I am also happy with maths. Number Agents is an absolutely gorgeous way to expose children to mathematical ideas, vocab and content in an imagined world that children naturally slip into. There is no burden on them to develop understandings that they are not ready for and it is all about materials and experience.
It is reading that is still my challenge. We read individually with children and this is fantastic. However taking into account research on brain development even trying to read formally with some seems to go against what I believe in terms of readiness. At the moment we allow them a month or two to settle, but then do start reading with them, even if it is just alphabet books. After trying this for almost three terms I see I have added little value to those that are not ready, and my time is probably better spent facilitating other learning with these children, learning that they do need, perhaps related to movement skills.
What I think I will do, perhaps from next term is to wait until children have worked through the first seven learning goals we have identified before leaping into individual reading. This should see children much better placed for this cognitive learning. These goals (which we monitor closely through one to one time) should be useful indicators for us in terms of children being ready for this type of learning.
My greatest wish at the moment is for National Standards to go, for new entrants year 1 and 2 to be able to use ECE curriculum along with our own gorgeous curriculum, to be given the chance to slow down and ensure children are given time to develop readiness so that from the age of 7 or 8 they are more ready and able to take on further cognitive learning.
I believe in doing this we can greatly improve our children's wellbeing and sense of self, along with giving them a healthy learning esteem which will serve them well in the future.
There is nothing average about a child, what is average is how our current system treats them...together I think we can do much better!