It’s about “Best Practice”… for Educators, Families and Children.

Recently I have read numerous blogs and posts about child lead curriculum; open ended learning experiences vs the continuing use of structured, product oriented activities.  Educators are saying they are getting “bullied” about using certain types of activities.

 

Let’s all stop and take a breath. First of all, I believe that educators should come together and support improvement of practice and each other.  Accusations and finger pointing never assists understanding or improvement.  We wouldn’t use such tactics with children, why would this happen with colleagues?

 I also have a very strong belief in open-ended learning through play.  Children learn through play naturally. Open ended experiences and rich learning environments supported through meaningful interactions with educators to extend learning is key for children’s development.

It started as cotton bud painting

It started as cotton bud painting but we needed bigger brushes!

 I, at times, feel that educators have tripped over the “intentional teaching” statement within the Early Years Learning Framework.  Intentional Teaching does not only mean Instructional Teaching.  Instruction is just one part of a very large picture.  At a fantastic professional development that I went to (held by the QCAA – Queensland Curriculum Assessment Authority) a few years ago; I received one of the best lists outlining Intentional Teaching practices and we discussed definitions and matching strategies.  I have listed the practices we discussed here:

 “Challenging; Collaborating; Encouraging; Explaining; Identifying; Imagining; Instructing; Listening; Making Connections; Modelling; Negotiating; Providing for Choice; Questioning; Researching; Revisiting/Revising; Scaffolding/Supporting”  QCAA 2012

 …And this is not an exhaustive list!  These can all be planned or spontaneous. Educators do not have to prepare everything.  There is not a curriculum to follow.  The early years are NOT preparatory or primary school.

 So, instead of spending time planning the activities (down to which colours the children can have and how small will I cut the pieces to glue on the shape!), spend time planning the environments for them to explore and do that planning with the children and families.  This also helps parents and families understand the importance of play.

Examples of creations with access to the same open-ended collage/threading materials by a 3 year old and a 5 year old.

Eve threading Olivias threading

 Swap thinking “What can we DO today? (this week; this month); think “How do the children like to explore, investigate, create?  I believe this is why the focus in the Early Years is on observation, documentation, and reflection.  Knowing your children and your environment is key. Planning is less about “What we can do and complete” and more about “How can I support and interact with the children to further their development”  “How can the environment support rich learning experiences?” 

 Ask them which painting methods they would like out; or for older children, plan and set up an art studio for free access to a variety of equipment.  If children are currently supplied with set equipment, this change will need to happen over time and be introduced slowly.  Children can find the processes of planning, problem solving and decision making hard if they have never had to do it before. Start simple and build:

        Painting self servePainting learning centre

Often it is how you, the families and children plan, change and set up the environment that guides the learning.  The planning, decision making and documenting processes are part of the learning experience…it’s not ALL your job!

 I believe that best practice for children and families is the goal of any early childhood learning environment and educator. When I see educators doing sight word matching with 3 year olds; pre-packaged art and craft or “let’s cut the wiggly line” activities saying “It won’t hurt them”; I think, no it won’t hurt them, but is it best for them?  Have they had a say?  Is it best practice?

 I think we all know the answer.  Remember, just like the children in our care; we all develop and improve over time with the right support in a professional, stimulating environment.

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