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 discusses the challenges and opportunities unique to working in a 'temporary' or pack-away setting.
Set-up for success
I currently work in my own pre-school setting based in Vietnam, with mostly English as an additional language (E.A.L), very young learners and parents/carers. I hire a room based within a day-care centre, so I am fortunate to have a very clean space, with ample storage for toys and learning materials.
I set up my room as I think most appropriate for the planned activities and learning intentions, which changes each session. For example, water play may be in tubs on the floor whilst art activities on chairs at tables. In each session I offer three adult-led structured activities alongside free-choice toys and equipment. I know this seems a lot, but this facilitates opportunity for parents to engage with their child in an activity as well as being present in an activity I lead. The activities are put out after our first circle time. This is fundamental to my session: when the children enter the room, self-register and sit for circle time, I try to minimise distractions. I work with the youngest of children (one to two years of age) and whilst I understand that self-control and regulation are key skills they will develop in time, for their first experience in a pre-school setting I feel that the environment should not be too distracting in circle time. I have worked in numerous Early Years settings and where the environment is carefully planned to support the learning that is taking place, young children can enjoy the benefits of a smaller, intimate setting with a responsive practitioner, rather than feeling overwhelmed with too much choice.
Engaging EYFS activities
I find the structured activities generally maintain children’s interest for around twenty minutes, at which point they often access their own child-led activity through the toys and resources available. However, for children who do not wish to partake in the pre-planned activities these resources are available concurrent to the planned activity. I have found a valuable source of ideas for structured activities through Pinterest, but also the multitude of Facebook pages which provide activities and ideas, from pre-schools to schools to home-schooling. This has been quite an education for me, as I have looked at Reggio Emilia settings, Montessori, American and Australian settings, all from the comfort of my home! The access to other’s classrooms and ideas is an amazing resource and really facilitates growth in creating varied and exciting activities.
Whilst the children engage with adult or child-led activities I observe their interests to create my own ‘In the Moment’ planning, which often filters forward to questions or conversation I can use to prompt the child (or provide resources) or further to the next session. For example, I noted that after rice sensory play the children eagerly ‘cleaned up’ the rice sweeping and moving it across the room. Therefore, in a following session I researched how best to facilitate this, so I discovered a Montessori Facebook site which showed a sweeping task with small brushes and a marked square. This relates to self-care, important in Montessori curriculum, but also links to the EYFS, Physical Development: Moving and Handling. Similarly, as I provided a limited amount of equipment (one brush and two dustpans), the children Manage relationships by learning to turn-take and work co-operatively. All of this with the guidance of their parents or gentle encouragement by myself.
My sessions focus on fulfilling the needs of the youngest; the pre-writers, specialising in fine motor skills and sensory experiences. For example, we enjoyed painting spaghetti this week, which supports EYFS goals of Physical Development: Moving and Handling (fine motor skills) and exploring and using media and materials. These acts of gripping, squeezing and handling small objects are vital before they can adequately hold a pencil. Soon we will introduce pipettes, to refine the squeezing action with the pincers. It was interesting for me as I purchased the pipettes and gave them to my daughter to try (who is three years old), I realised that she had not refined that squeezing action. When I discussed this with my husband his answer was, "...well, why should she?" Why indeed. This was an example of why these varied experiences are so vital for the Early Years, prior to formalising learning.
Listening to parents (and children!) is key
By trial and error and parent (and child!) feedback I learn how to improve each session. For example, initially I had two circle times and it became apparent by the second circle time I had issues. The children were tired and frustrated that all the toys were put away! Therefore they didn’t want to join in or listen to a story. By watching their reactions closely I feel children provide the best feedback. As a teacher it is my job to constantly listen and adapt to their needs. So the final circle time of the day was adapted to include a snack. The children loved this and listened attentively to the stories. When snack finished (which we ate in the circle) they were refreshed and loved action songs.
"With parents as my partners I feel working together in this way really supports the children"
As I have stated in my previous blog, parents are central to the session. And I have found that adults can enhance activities if they are informed. In my initial sessions I attempted to explain these activities, which resulted in valuable time with the children being lost. Therefore, I created a Facebook group where my adult-led activities are shared, including photos (nothing is as clear as a picture, it transcends language!), in addition to revealing the learning goals. Further, songs are added to practice at home. This is exactly how I would inform a Teaching Assistant. With parents as my partners I feel working together in this way really supports the children as they see the parent/nanny is motivated, interested and informed.
Looking for more fun, creative ideas and activities to encourage children's development in line with the EYFS? Check out the Alliance publication, Small Messy Play Hands, here.