Jessica Gosling, founder of Step to Pre-school, has years of experience teaching in both the early years and primary schools, in the UK and internationally. In this blog, she talks about her differing experiences of working with both the early years and primary cirriculums, and how an understanding of child development and the EYFS can help professionals working with young children to ease their transition between the two.
Can the differences between the pedagogy of EYFS and Year 1 be reconciled?
I have now travelled along my career path beginning in KS1 before moving to the early years, then back to KS1 again. After having time ‘out’ to raise my daughter - and partially due to enjoying her early years so much - I wanted my career to re-commence in early years.
However thinking back to when I worked in the early years, I recalled a close colleague’s concern:
"I just don’t know what to do here… am I doing it right?"
And she left to return to Primary. Then, the comment didn’t bother me. I was enjoying myself and was happy for the first time in my career. However, her statement would enter my thoughts again later in life. What I did not realise back then, was that this is a concern of many teachers entering EYFS without specialized training: "Am I doing it right?"
I struggled through my first teaching role in Year 1. Working with children fresh out of Reception, I drowned in the stress of how to squeeze them into the academic ‘boxes’ they were required to be molded into. Trying to get them ‘trained’ to sit still in circle times. Play was slotted in the day briefly as earnt ‘golden time’ only, which I endeavoured to include three times per week. The school was highly pressured in terms of high grades and for that I felt lessons had to be structured and outcomes based. Play was a mystery, what would be the guarantee that they’d learn anything from play, that it would help them to reach the expectations? For me play in the classroom was to release the pressure of the ‘proper’ lessons of the morning. I ‘let them play’ whilst I struggled to wade through mountains of paperwork, emails and marking.
However, I became more frustrated, as did the children. This new school day structure of enforced teacher-led lessons… battling to get through a huge curriculum and achieve almost unobtainable goals - was like walking down a mountain in skis. I felt exasperated with the children and they too manifested stress through fidgeting, distracting and being distracted, and struggling to remain focused.
"...the teacher could hold the role of facilitator offering guidance, successfully extending the child through meaningful interactions..."
So when contemplating returning to Early Years once again, that original question re-emerged.
How do I do it right?
I set about learning as much as I possibly could about EYFS in practice, especially in terms of curriculum, enabling environments and interactions. EYFS pedagogy is so different to Primary. It’s obvious to me now that my Year 1 class should have experienced a great deal of play-based learning before I ‘imposed’ the full curriculum on them. I now know that my classes in the early years were far too teacher-led. A different pedagogy and curriculum, daily structure, environment and teacher’s role. How is it that Primary teachers can teach in early years when the ethos is entirely different?
The curriculum is far more child-led and centred. This intrigued me, as a Primary trained teacher I could not see how child-led play could constitute learning. What was the teacher to do? Through my reading I discovered the teacher could hold the role of facilitator offering guidance, successfully extending the child through meaningful interactions and/or resourcing. These ‘new to me’ methodologies, such as Reggio Emilia, grabbed and held my interest. When working with children in Primary of course there were interactions, but these were swayed by an objective or outcome. But what if there was a different, ‘better’ way? What if children learnt better through their own interests in which a practitioner did not plan but instead, responded to. This is what effective EYFS interactions seemed to provide. So I set out trying to find out how best to do this in my own business, Step to Pre-school HCMC.
I have now finished my early years practise and I am taking time to write up my dissertation. I have accepted a new role in August as a Year 1 teacher, with a very supportive school which is sympathetic to the transition from early years. When I received the news, it felt comfortable and unsettling at the same time. Returning to the known… always a good feeling after a career break from a school. But at the same time, this was a year group I had struggled with in the past. So I reflected on what I have come to learn and understand since my last experience of teaching with children of this age, and I feel I can now more adequately support children in Year 1. Some of the objectives I've created for myself, based on my new knowledge and experience of the EYFS, may also be helpful for other teachers looking to support children at this important time. In no particular order:
- I will ensure I follow the child’s lead and provide play activities which support their learning. Previously when play was offered in Year 1 I hadn’t thought about the learning outcomes and how if I observed the children, I could further enhance their learning. I will put in place dedicated child-initiated play times.
- Short and/or reduced circle times. With young children I quickly understood that they learnt best when they were highly motivated and in less formal environment. I will endeavour to practise key ideas as we explore them outside of a circle.
- Provide opportunities to give the children a ‘voice’. To respond to a child's motivations, a teacher must know what they are. I feel much more aware of this as a necessary step in their learning. I would like to ensure that I hear every child’s ‘voice’ as often as possible. The ‘voice’ can also come from watching them with close observations, so I can see and understand their motivations. Working with young, non-verbal children has fine-tuned my skill in this area.
- Ensure that the Early Learning Goals are addressed and mastered before we move on to a Primary curriculum. I will ensure children who have not reached these goals have planned experiences where they can work on them.
- More freedom – I will gradually work on structure, moving gently towards the Primary Curriculum so each child can develop into more formal learning at their own unique pace.
- Establish links with parents so I can understand my classes' social, historical and cultural backgrounds. Working together with parents' has been one of the key outcomes of my small-scale research study for my dissertation.
I hope through this, as well as of course support from my colleagues and a curriculum which relates to young children, I can excel with the cross-over from Early Years to KS1.
Jessica Gosling is the founder of Step to Pre-school and has years of experience teaching in both the early years and primary schools, in the UK and internationally.
Want to know more about this topic? Check out the Alliance's SMARTpd pack Moving On Up! - Managing Transitions in the Early Years