Category Archives: early education & play

Who touched your life when you were a child? – Michael Morpurgo’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture

I have finally managed to watch Michael Morpurgo’s Richard Dimbleby Lecture.  How refreshing to hear someone from outside of the world of Education recognising how undervalued the Early Years profession is.  The lack of financial reward and status means that many of the UK’s brightest individuals are discouraged from entering the Early Years profession.  Working with our youngest children is one of the most important occupations of all, as Morpurgo put it

‘a pound spent in the early years can save ten pounds later’

Thank goodness some of us care enough not to desert the profession.

The lecture also decried the target driven education system we have in this country.  When everything relies upon targets and league tables it is easy to forget about the individuality of each child and how their needs can be met.  Morpurgo explained how  in New Zealand children enter school on their 5th birthday, thus allowing teachers time to get to know each child individually , rather than having a class of 30 all arriving at once. Also in Finland, which comes 2nd in the OECD World Education rankings, children do not start school until they are 7 years old.   With an education system built on targets and children starting school at such a young age we are setting our children up for failure.  No wonder we  keep seeing headlines about how boys are failing to read.

Morpurgo argues that the most important part of a child’s education is building trusting relationships, focusing on the unique qualities of each child. When teachers and adults are passionate about a subject, be it reading, music, sport or science they enthuse children to enjoy those things too.  This reminded me of Sir Ken Robinson’s book ‘The Element’.  In this he talks about how each of us have something that we excel at , that we enjoy and is at the core of our very being.  Many of these things are discovered by perceptive and enthusiastic adults when we are children, others of us do not find our ‘element ‘ till much later in life, if at all.

There are a number of people who helped me to find a passion.  My mother read me books, took me to the library and showed me that books were special, instilling in me a love for reading.  The primary school teachers who first put me on the stage in school shows and sowed the seeds for a love of performing and my secondary school English teacher who recognised my talent for writing and called me her ‘shining star’ helped me to believe that I could.

It also made me think of another thought I had earlier in the day as I taught my eldest daughter to play clock patience.  I thought about all the things my grandfather taught me to do when I was young.  Not only clock patience, but how to make a paper hat and paper aeroplane, how to play pick up sticks and two little dickie birds with pieces of paper on your fingers – things that I hope I remember well enough to pass down.

Working in Early Years Education I am sure that we touch children’s lives in many ways, with the experiences we give them, through listening to them and sharing their worlds and understanding their needs.  In some ways it’s a bit sad that few of the children we teach will remember the influence we had on their lives, they wont cite us as someone who touched their life, but I’m pretty certain we did.

For a full transcript of the Dimbleby Lecture    http://www.michaelmorpurgo.com/news/read-michaels-dimbleby-lectur/

 

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I see and I forget, I hear and I remember,I do and I understand.

 

 

The Chinese proverb above illustrates the common practice of active learning in early years education, except that maybe we would say ‘ I play and I understand’.

Early years educators are often criticised for having an easy job, because all we do is play.  I would argue that play is one of the most important things we do, not only as children, but also into adulthood.  Play gives us freedom as it is one of the few things that we do that has no external goal.  Play is both therapeutic and a way of self regulating experience (Jennings).  In play we can select our own materials and are free to choose what to do with them, helping  to work out solutions to conflicts and understand one’s self.  Maybe we should all take time out from our busy lives to play.

As an adult I rarely play, we might play with our children, but generally this is following their agenda or playing a rule based game.  How many of us play for play’s sake ? Why don’t we build dens in the woods or take out a lump of clay and model with it?

I was once on a course with Jenny Moseley who asked us to sit for 5 minutes with an egg.  We had to stay in our own space and were allowed to do whatever we liked with the egg in that time.  Who would have thought that a simple egg could be so absorbing?  It became my complete focus for that 5 minutes and we were then asked to put our thoughts on paper to share with others – the words poured out of me without hesitation.826egg

I think that real understanding is achieved through more than just play.  If we look at some of the most highly respected early years establishments, in particular the pre- schools of Reggio Emilia,  there is one thing that sets them apart.  The schools founder Loris Malaguzzi describes the teachers role as learning and relearning with the children. A favourite saying is ‘catching the ball that the children throw us’. That is not simply asking the children to tell you what the teacher already knows but retaining what the children give with a sense of wonder.  We can learn a lot about the way children think by listening to them.  Often they are viewed as funny or cute comments – like when my 2 year old saw manure on the road and asked ‘Mummy has the road done a poo?’, but these little comments tell us a lot about the way children think.

In the pre-schools of Reggio Emilia  projects are based around what the children say and do.  They would go that extra step to give the children a complete experience .  A project on supermarkets for example, led them to not only visit during the day but also when the shop was closed, helping to encourage further discussion and enhance the children’s play.  In the Reggio schools understanding is not achieved through simply ‘doing’ but also by having the chance to reflect and build on those experiences. It is important that when children ask questions we ask what they think and that their interpretation is seen as important.  It is not the answers that are important but the process of discovery.

In our own work as teachers and parents we can learn so much from our children if we listen , share and take time to reflect both alone and together. In our own lives too , if we take time to step back and really absorb ourselves in something as with the egg exercise, we learn far more than rushing around doing things. Rather than always focusing on the present, the reflection time helps us to work out what to do next.  I believe therefore that the proverb should be

I see and I forget

I hear and I remember

I do and with reflection I understand.

For further information on Jenny Mosley’s work  http://www.circle-time.co.uk

For further information regarding the schools of Reggio Emilia  http://www.sightlines-initiative.com/

 

Brain Food – Junk Food may lower IQ.

As parents we are keen to get our children the latest educational toy, send them to the best nurseries and pre-schools and give them the best preparation for school that they can.    A research study conducted by the University of Bristol released today suggests that diet at the age of 3 may have an effect on how intelligent our children are at the age of 8.

The study bases its findings on participants in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) which tracks 14,000 children born between 1991 and 1992.  It suggests that a diet of predominantly processed,  high fat and sugary foods up to the age of 3 may lower IQ at the age of 8.5. In contrast A diet rich in vitamins and nutrients may do the opposite.  Parents were asked to complete diaries outlining the food and drinks their children consumed at age 3, 4, 7 and 8.5.  IQ was measured at the age of 8.5.  After taking other influential factors into account it was found that children with a predominantly processed diet at the age of 3 were associated with a lower IQ at the age of 8.5, irrespective of whether their diet had improved by that age. Similarly children with a healthy diet at age 3 were associated with higher IQ’s at the age of 8.5.  Diet at the ages of 4 and 7 had no impact on IQ.  Though the findings are modest, the results are in line with previous research which shows that quality of  diet at the age of 3 is related to school performance and behaviour. A possible explanation is that the brain grows at its fastest in the first 3 years of life, therefore good nutrition may lead to optimal brain growth.

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So much marketing is aimed at parents and children, making parents feel guilty that they are not buying the child the latest ‘educational’ toy or taking them to classes to improve their language and social skills.  So why not use this as an opportunity to market nutritious food for the youngest children as brain food. Three years isn’t that long a time to limit processed foods and it sets children up with good habits for life.  So maybe next time my 2 year old is nagging for a biscuit or sweet I’ll suggest a healthy alternative –  ‘ Have some special magic food , it will make you clever’.

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/alspac

‘Can I sing on the microphone?’ Recording children’s voices.

Since investing in a Samson C01U Studio Condenser USB microphone, this has been a regular request from my 2 year old.  It was originally intended as a means of recording music and voice for rehearsal purposes, for listing on audioboo or creating cd resources.  However, once my 2 year old had tried it out , she was addicted.  She sings into the microphone and then sits down to listen to it back.  This got me thinking about how it would be an extremelly useful resource for schools and nurseries for both music and literacy.  Older children could be encouraged to record and edit their performances (we use audacity for this) and would be especially useful in the teaching of dynamics.

I recently attended  a talk about Vivian Paley’s ideas for creating story circles.  In these young children tell their stories to a teacher  and then the group come together to act them out with the author taking the main part in the story.  There was some discussion as to how time consuming it was to record the stories in written form .  If the stories were recorded into a computer and converted to mp3 format this would enable the stories to be recorded quickly and easily and if my 2 year old is typical , I would also imagine that most children would be eager to have a turn.  It would also help to build reluctant writers storytelling skills without the anxiety of having to write it down.  Since children’s ability to tell a story verbally is a pre-requisite to story writing then this would be a wonderful tool for children in their first years of school.
http://audioboo.fm/rightfromthestart

Dear Mother Goose

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My 2-year-old has discovered a new favourite book – ‘Dear Mother Goose’ by Michael Rosen and Nick Sharratt.

This has a new and interesting way of introducing traditional nursery rhymes.  A variety of nursery rhyme characters write to mother goose to see if she can help with problems that happen to them every day.  Little Miss Muffet for example asks how she can stop a spider appearing when she eats her curds and whey.  Each letter has a flap with the appropriate nursery rhyme on the reverse and a picture flap page opposite  illustrated with the problem and solution.

Within a few weeks my 2-year-old has learned all the nursery rhymes and has even taken to singing and recording them into a microphone (but that’s another story).

The book is a decent size so would be good for group reading in a nursery or pre-school.

Includes Amazon affiliate link

Sir Ken Robinson animation

 

I first came across Sir Ken Robinson when a colleague used his TED talk to illustrate the importance of creativity and critical thinking in the Early Years Foundation Stage.  This animation brilliantly outlines his arguments for a new type of schooling that moves away from academic achievement and looks towards those skills that will be most useful in the 21st century.

www.sirkenrobinson.com

Educational Toys and Books

I have fond memories of my young childhood, in particular of spending time playing and reading with my mum.    One of our favourite shared activities was spending hours with a set of ‘three four five basic learning books’.  These were song and rhyme books with accompanying records (we called them paper records because they were thin and floppy).  We used to play the records, read the books and sing along, play the games or learn the actions together.

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The books were designed to encourage learning through play at home and each book has a forward that outlines how to use the songs and rhymes and the benefits that doing so will bring.  The forwards discuss the importance of rhyme and song are in preparing children to learn to read .The text is uncluttered ,each book containing around 10 songs, 1 on each page and the illustrations are simple but eye-catching. The impression  created by the author Iris Grender, a mother and nursery teacher, is that the main focus of the books is to promote the foundations of literacy through play and not to make bold claims about promoting intelligence.

This is a far cry from so called educational toys today, most of which are electronic , expensive and limited in what they do.  The key difference however is that toys, books and cd’s today do not encourage interaction between parent and child but are perceived as a magic formula to make a child intelligent.  In my experience children quickly tire of such things once they have mastered what they can do and move on to the next thing.

My children (aged 6 and 2) now have the above set of books and love them.  I can still remember the tunes to the songs even without the records (as we no longer have anything to play them on).  As always it is the inexpensive simple things that stand the test of time.