In English preschools, play is an integral part of the curriculum, founded on the belief that children learn through self-initiated free play in an exploratory environment (Hurst, 1997; cited in Curtis, 1998). It was only in the early 1920s that play was linked directly to children's development. The writings of such early educationists, as Froebel, the Macmillan sisters, Montessori, Steiner, and Susan and Nathan Isaacs, sowed the seeds for play being the basis for early childhood curricula.
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According to Froebel, play is "the work of the child" and a part of "the educational process" (ref). The Plowden Report (CACE, 1967) suggests that play is the principal means of learning in early childhood. "In play, children gradually develop concepts of causal relationships, the power to discriminate, to make judgements, to analyze and synthesize, to imagine and formulate" (The Plowden Report (CACE, 1967 (p.193).
In our society, play serves countless important purposes. It is a means by which children develop their physical, intellectual, emotional and social skills. Much has been written about the definitions, functions and characteristics of play, for example Janet Moyles (1989) writes that "Play is undoubtedly a means by which humans and animals explore a variety of experiences in different situations for diverse purposes." (Moyles 1989, p i).
There are two conflicting opinions on the value of play, Early Years practitioners and some parents consider that play is the best way for young children to get a concrete basis for later school and life success. While other parents, practitioners and politicians believe that play is a waste of time. (quote). As a practitioner it is important to understand the true value of play and to advocate children's right to play.
This essay analyses the elements of an early years setting that support and encourage learning, comparing it with an alternative early year's settings, while evaluating the importance of effective communication with babies and young children. It will also debate the importance of differentiation and inclusion in planning the early year's curriculum. In addition the essay will include compare and contrast different settings to see how they relate to known theories of child development. Furthermore plans of play-based activities will be included to show support of the curriculum in the setting.
Profile of setting.
The school where I am currently in placement is situated within a woodland area surrounded by houses in Colchester, Essex. The school is currently providing education for 4-11 year olds and has approximately one hundred and sixty children on role. The school was originally formed in 1890, but was moved to its current site in the 1970s after a fire broke out. The school is a Church of England school and encourages the children to have a Christian view, with assembles and signs around the school. The feel of the school is a friendly, supportive, family originated environment, which is child focused. The type of child who attends the school is on average a child who will always do their best no matter what their background. The schools community is mixed race but has a high percentage of mainly white British families, the school has 38% free school meals, in August '09 had the highest jobseeker allowance attendance and has a high percentage of families on housing and benefits. The area that the school is situated is a renovation area that the Local Council are trying to regenerate. Within the two wards Essex County council and Colchester Borough Council the community have 2.3% rented housing and 10.5% housing. The Local Authority average is 11.85% which has almost double over the years. The school is above Local authority avenge and above national avenge which explains the percentage of free school meals. Lots of the house holds in the community have no formal education and there is a high percentage of children that are involved in social care. There are 4 children on the child protection register, 3 children which are 'looked after' and 1 child on the child in need plan. The school has an equal amount of boys and girls in each class but there are one or two classes that have slightly more boys than girls which can inflict on learning styles and standards.
The vision of the school is:
"We are a welcoming, happy and caring church school, where creativity is encouraged and everyone has confidence in their own abilities. We promote good social skills and participation in the Christian ethos of our school. We value others whatever their background or beliefs and respect our environment. We always aim high and do our best, cherish our friendships and respect everyone's right to learn. We ensure that the key skills, vital for a successful future are taught to all of our children. We strive for a bright and wonderful future!" (Ref)
The school works with a number of organisations in the community. One is Child First, which is the collaborative name for the three Local Delivery Groups (LDG) of the schools in Colchester. The group first emerged out of the desire of Head Teachers in East Colchester, who wanted to improve the life chances for the children in their schools. With the arrival of the Extended Schools Agenda, it was a natural progression to extend the group to include all schools in Colchester.
Also lying at the heart of the community is the church, which has a congregation of around 100 people. With differing ages, a variety of backgrounds and Christian experiences, the school finds itself strongly united to the church as a reverend from the parish visits the school regularly.
Also the Ormiston Children and Families Trust works with the school to promote the wellbeing of children and young people through projects based around the Eastern Region. The Ormiston Centres work in partnership with Essex County Council, voluntary and statutory organisations, families and communities they are managing the seven Children's Centres in Colchester.
LO1 - Compare setting with an alternative - analyse the elements of a chosen early years setting that support and encourage learning, comparing it with alternative early year settings.
What does the setting do to support and encourage learning?
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) applies to children from birth to the end of the reception year. In our school all children join us at the beginning of the school year in which they are five. At present we have an intake of 28 children. Most have been to settings that exist in our community and many have attended the pre-school located on the school campus.
At the school we recognise that every child is a competent learner who can be resilient, capable, confident and self assured. We recognise that children develop in individual ways, at varying rates. Children's attitudes and dispositions to learning are influenced by feedback from others; we use praise and encouragement, as well as celebration/ sharing assemblies and rewards, to encourage children to develop a positive attitude to learning.
In the Foundation Stage we set realistic and challenging expectations that meet the needs of our children. We achieve this by planning to meet the needs of boys and girls, children with special educational needs, children who are more able, children with disabilities, children from all social and cultural backgrounds, children of different ethnic groups and those from diverse linguistic backgrounds.
We meet the needs of all our children through:
Planning opportunities that build upon and extend children's knowledge, experience and interests, and develop their self-esteem and confidence;
Using a wide range of teaching strategies based on children's learning needs;
Providing a wide range of opportunities to motivate and support children and to help them to learn effectively;
Providing a safe and supportive learning environment in which the contribution of all children is valued;
Using resources which reflect diversity and are free from discrimination and stereotyping;
Planning challenging activities for children whose ability and understanding are in advance of their language and communication skills;
Monitoring children's progress and taking action to provide support as necessary.
At the school we recognize that the environment plays a key role in supporting and extending the children's development. This begins by observing the children and assessing their interests, development and learning, before planning challenging but achievable activities and experiences to extend the children's learning.
We make regular assessments of children's learning and we use this information to ensure that future planning reflects identified needs. Assessment in the EYFS takes several different forms. These provide information which is then combined to inform detailed pictures of whole individuals.
The classrooms are organized to allow children to explore and learn securely and safely. There are areas where the children can be active, be quiet and rest. The school has excellent outdoor area provision. This has a positive effect on the children's development. Being outdoors offers opportunities for doing things in different ways and on different scales than when indoors. It offers the children to explore use their senses and be physically active and exuberant. We plan activities and resources for the children to access outdoors that help the children to develop in all 6 areas of learning.
At the school we recognize that children learn and develop in different ways and at different rates. We believe that all our children matter and we give them every opportunity to achieve their best. We do this by taking account of our children's range of life experiences when planning for their learning.
Active learning occurs when children are motivated and interested. Children need to have some independence and control over their learning. As children develop their confidence they learn to make decisions. It provides children with a sense of satisfactions as they take ownership of their learning.
Children should be given opportunity to be creative through all areas of learning, not just through the arts. Adults can support children's thinking and help them to make connections by showing genuine interest, offering encouragement, clarifying ideas and asking open questions. Children can access resources freely and are allowed to move them around the classroom to extend their learning.
The Montessori's' principle insight was that children are not merely 'small adults' they have distinct and different thought processes and desires. What we may call play is a young child's work. The role of the educator is to provide the child with the opportunity to fulfil their desire to learn, both academically and socially. To use the latest educational catch phrases, Montessori education is "multi-modality, differentiated instruction." (Ref).
The Montessori method is split into five 'areas'. 'Practical Life', 'Sensorial', 'Mathematics', 'Language', and 'Cultural'. The Practical Life area improves the child's coordination and motor control, developing the pincer grip which is a requirement of writing. The Sensorial area refines the child's senses of the world around them, again preparing for language, and also for maths, serializing length and other physical characteristics. The Mathematics area provides numerical concepts in concrete form, using beads, cards, and spindles. The Language area teaches letters, then their phonetic sounds, and then builds words. The Cultural area extends the child's understanding beyond the classroom, teaching science, geography, botany, zoology and history.
The teachers at a Montessori school observe their children in great detail asking the questions, what does this child understand? What is the next concept this child needs to learn?
Obviously, a Montessori classroom will not look like a normal classroom. Rarely, if ever, will you find the whole class sitting with their books out looking at the teacher show them how to fill in a worksheet. Instead you will see children, some in groups, some by themselves, working on different concepts, and the teacher sitting with a small group of children, usually on the floor around a mat.
Some people talk about the lack of "structure" in a Montessori Classroom. They hear the word "freedom" and think "chaos" or "free for all". They seem to think that if all children are not doing the exact same thing at the exact same time that they can't possibly be working or that they will be working only on the things that they want and their education will be lopsided. Children will be given a work plan or a contract and will need to complete an array of educational activities just like in a more traditional classroom. The main difference being that the activities will be at each child's "maximum plane of development", will be presented and practiced in a way that the child understands, and the child will have the freedom to choose which he/she does first.
LO2 - Communication - Evaluate the importance of effective communication with babies and young children.
Communication is a complex and important skill that is fundamental to human relationships, because humans appear primed to communicate from birth and we often underestimate the skills that must be developed if babies and children are to become sociable and effective communicators. The play experiences children need in order to become skilful communicators are those that encourage them to want to communicate with others and include not only verbal but also non-verbal responses such as movement of their whole body.
LO3 - Differentiation
Differentiation is the recognition of and commitment to plan for student differences. A differentiated classroom provides different avenues to acquire content, to process or make sense of information and ideas, and to develop products.
Differentiation can be referred to as an educational philosophy that requires teachers to modify their learning, teaching and assessment whilst adjusting the curriculum to the needs of children with SEN rather than expecting pupils to fit the existing curriculum (Cole 2008 cited in Rogers, 2007).
The history of differentiation in education can be linked to two influential psychologists. Vygotsky proposed that learning can be mediated through the intervention of others. This recognises that by having knowledge of what a child already knows should inform the next stage of learning and what interventions are necessary to enable successful learning. Gardner (1993) proposed a 'theory of multiple intelligences' in which people have different intelligences and learn in many different ways. Gardner conceived that schools should therefore offer 'individual-centred education' (Florian et al, 2006 cited in Humphreys and Lewis 2008b) in which learning is tailored to the child's individual needs.
Lo4 - 2 different early year curricula.
The idea behind Forest Schools is that it is a long term sustainable approach to outdoor play and learning. It's about providing children with holistic development; it looks at every area in terms of their physical development, intellectual development and cognitive skills, also looking at their linguistic and language, both verbal and non-verbal. Forest Schools also looks at their emotional, social development and spiritual development.
What's interesting about the culture in some Scandinavian countries is being in and out doors are a part of how the family and culture works. But in Britain children are getting more and more isolated from the natural world. Forest Schools is very much about giving children the opportunity to learn in and from nature.
Forest Schools is also about free play, it's about self directed learning but it's also about allowing the children to develop freedom and choice in order to be able to become competent and effective adults.
In Every Chid Matters it states that 'every child should make an equal contribution'. (Ref). The only way that children can do this is if they have sound self-esteem and sound emotional well-being and sound social skills and function in as many social situations as they choose. Forest Schools is about allowing children given their developmental dependant age the ability to be able to achieve social comfort.
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Forest Schools is an inspirational process that allows children to access the outdoor space in order to grow and develop into successful, happy rounded individuals. There is a misconception that Forest Schools is for Early Years; some of the most successful projects have been with older young people, adults with mental health problems and children in secondary education. (Ref). The ..........about allowing children and young people to grow with a sense of value of who they are and giving a positive contribution. It's all about using nature as the teacher as opposed to being adult lead.
LO5 - Activity Plans and Evaluation.
Plan - (see appendix .......), Rationale behind choice of activity and Learning Objective.
This activity was chosen as the reception class were looking at the Handa Surprise book and focusing on healthy foods. The day the activity was carried out a new student was present with his mother which added extra pressure for all the professionals. The learning environment offered opportunities for the children to experience tasting different fruits as the kitchen area was adjacent to the table in which the activity was carried out. It setting also had a large copy of the story so all the children were able to see the story (for Communication, Language and Literacy) and had the provisions to create the masks (Creative Development).
I thought the topic would lend itself to the next day's topic of healthy lunchboxes, which the whole school were focusing on. I chose to focus on any existing knowledge the children may have of different fruits and try and extend their understanding of way fruits are good for us. This leads into Early Learning Goal (...) of '................................'(QCA, 2000).
My main learning objective, therefore, was to introduce the children to new fruits and tastes, using language and listening to each other to find out what each child thought, in an accessible and enjoyable environment, so to encourage respect for each other's views and turn taking.
The week before carrying out the activity, i prepared the resources needed in school and discussed the other activities that my fellow practitioners would carry out. This involved printing, cutting and laminating the necessary pictures and masks. Also finding all the different fruits that were in the story. One fruit in particular i was unable to find but i improvised with a fruit drink that was made from the fruit so at least the children were able to taste the favour.
I carried out this activity with a mixed ability group of 9 children. I began by asking the children to wash their hands as they were going to be eating fruit. When all the children were back in their seats, i gave each of them a bowl and a cup. I asked the children if they could remember the fruits in the story of Hands Surprise which was read earlier. The children seemed to have a positive attitude about being able to remember. With a small copy of the book i asked the children which was the first fruit that the monkey took out of Handa's basket. When answered in cut the banana in pieces and gave each child a piece and asked questions such as 'what does the banana taste like?' 'How does it feel?' 'Do you like the banana?' The children gave mostly good descriptions of the fruit and used appropriate vocabulary such as 'creamy', 'slippery' and 'lovely'. I carried out the same routine of cutting the fruit into sections and passing a section to each child and asking them to describe what it tasted like and how it felt and whether they enjoyed it. With the Guava fruit which was the fruit i could not purchase i informed the children of the situation and showed them the picture of the fruit on the carton of juice. I gave each child a taste and asked their option, the overall option was that the fruit tasted 'delicious' but one child said that they 'didn't like it'. The most interesting discussion came when i asked the children what they thought the passion fruit would look like inside, one child said that 'it might look like an orange', the same child that said the banana was creamy (extension). Overall most of the children enjoyed the fruit tasting apart from one (standard) child who kept giving negative reactions to the fruit saying that he 'doesn't eat fruit at home'. I was happy that a least he tried some which i gave great encouragement to.
While the fruit was being eaten i passed around picture cards of the fruit and asked each child in turn to pronounce the name of the fruit after me, most children had no problems with the pronunciations but one child struggled with 'avocado'.
I encouraged each child to have a little taste of each fruit and if they didn't like it then they didn't have to eat it and 'well done for trying' was always encouraged. The extension child suggested that 'trying different fruits was good for us', 'as fruit was good for us'. Which then lead a child that was refusing to try a certain fruit, tried it? At one point the dismissive child asked if we were finished and could go and play.
Once all the children had tried all the fruit and we had discussed them and i asked the final question which was everyone favourite and their least favourite, the overall result being orange best, avocado worst. I explained that the children could go put their bowls in the sinks and wash their hands and then go and play.
I believe this activity resulted in all the children achieving the main learning objective of introducing the children to new fruits and tastes, using language and listening to each other to find out what each child thought and to encourage respect for each other's views and turn taking. The idea that the children's peer could influence the decision of another child ...................................
An effective learning environment does not leave children entirely to their own devices, but builds on what they can already do and challenges them to try new things. The role of the practitioner is vital in this process and sits within the social constructivist approach to learning. This theory was popularised by Vygotsky (1978, in Smith, 1999), who identified the 'zone of proximal development', (ZPD) as being a reason why children's learning can be helped by others. Smith (1999) explained:
'The ZPD is the distance between the child's developmental level and his or her potential level of development under the guidance of adults or more competent peers' (Smith, 1999: 429).
As this was a 'hands on' activity, the children were taking an active part in their own learning progress. It was Piaget (1966, in Smith, 1999) who first postulated that the child is a 'lone scientist', processing information and constructing meaning through encounters with their world. Most of the children focused their attention to the fruits they enjoyed using positive language and engaging in the ability to use words to describe what something tasted like or felt. One child tried to extend the activity to see who the fruit sounded when bounced on the table saying ' the orange sounded like a ball', this then encouraged the children to continue testing the sounds of fruit by knocking on them. The (extension) child asked 'if there was nothing in the fruit would it sound the same'?
The relative success of this activity highlighted that children of this age learn best through concrete experiences. When working with children of this age group it is preferable to adopt teaching strategies which allow for plenty of practical activities and exploration.
The fact that one child lost interest in the activity, implies that I might need to develop this activity in some way to keep the attention of the less able or enthusiastic children. This was particularly notice when asking some children to use descriptive words to describe the fruit, as some children just repeated the word that their peer before them used. The language of one child was not as developed as the other children in the group, and this excluded them from full participation.
On reflection, a different teaching strategy could have been employed to involve them more fully into the activity. It could be that they were more of a kinaesthetic learner than the others, as he keep looking at the children playing, so maybe using an activity that involved movement may have kept his attention.
Also the activity was extended longer than anticipated as i had the cut each individual fruit into segments. If this activity was done again in the future maybe cutting the fruit into segments before the activity took place would be a more successful approach.
As a result of this evaluation, i would have changed my plan to include more opportunities for the children to be involved in the activity in a more physical way, perhaps by using safety acceptable knives the children could help me cut the fruit. This may help some of the children with their fine motor skills as well. Also another way of engaging less able children might include asking them to participate in the preparation of the resources, maybe by asking them to bring their favourite fruit from the story in so they feel they have a more 'personal' involvement. Finally, the only thing I would change would be to ask the children to put on aprons, as it got very messy, including me, as i too got very messy.
In conclusion recently there has begun to be a realization in the UK that play is important. There has been a surge of initiatives funded by government , such as Arts Council projects on creativity in schools and communities, the publication of Excellence and Enjoyment by the National Primary Strategy (DfES, 2003). This is putting a major emphasis on the importance of embedding the Foundation Stage and the Birth to Three Matters Framework in the work of local authorities across the maintained, voluntary and private sectors.
Increasingly, research findings indicate the importance of the first years of education. Children's ability to use spoken and written language fluently and with confidence and for a range of purposes enables them to access at an early age what education has to offer. The adults working in early year's settings and classrooms have both the opportunity and responsibility to affect the future learning of their pupils in a far reaching and powerful way.
Play is, it seems, about the universe and everything. It often has to function in a hostile environment, but when it is encouraged, supported and extended, it makes a major contribution to, and sophisticated impact on the development of individuals and humanity as a whole.
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