Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Standing up for play!

This poster is by Jo Haynes from Nature's Footprints
I came to teaching later than most - 8 years in fact - and I did a year of training through the Post Graduate Certificate in Education(PGCE) in Primary. However, I knew I wanted to be a nursery teacher so was prepared to go back and do further studies when I graduated as a teacher so that I could compete with those who had trained specifically in early years. I went on to do my Diploma in Advanced Studies (DASE) in Early Years over 3 years as a part time student in the evenings. This further study provided me with more in depth knowledge than had been possible during the 1 year PGCE, the fact it was completed alongside my day to day teaching in nursery also made it much more relevant than any other post teaching studies. It helped to make me more confident in my approach as I learned about the various theorists and advocates for early years. It meant that I was able to stand up for a play based curriculum with a bank of experts to call upon to back me up. Every nursery teacher approaches their job differently and the preschool curriculum in N.I allows us a lot of freedom to interpret it as we wish but I have found that by having a further layer of knowledge I can stand up much easier when the downward pressures of the school curriculum try to creep into nursery. I can say with confidence that I firmly believe there is no need for nursery children to have an allocated P.E time in the main school hall - they get all the physical development opportunities they require during high quality outdoor play.

I constantly refer to Tina Bruce's Principles of Play and keep them to the forefront when planning at all times. It helps that our educations boards all came together a few years ago to make fabulous resources as guidance for play based learning - indoors and outdoors and embedded Tina Bruce's Principles into the guides. Here is a link to the guides :
Unfortunately there is very little continued professional development (CPD) for teachers now and little encouragement to do any further studies after initial qualification. Therefore they are lots of teachers in early years settings who do not have this same depth of knowledge or confidence in their practice - they know why they want their young  pupils to learn thorough play but they don't quite know how to articulate this to others. More children attend nursery units - attached to primary schools - than stand alone nursery schools now in N.I. Yet many of the teachers work alone, with no other direct colleague and have to fight to be heard by management and some have to really stand firm against pressures to make the nursery class more like a foundation stage class with lots of very adult led structured times in the day e.g. circle time, primary movement, P.E etc. A high quality nursery day is supposed to offer long periods of uninterrupted outdoor and indoor play as well as a 30 minute story time but often teachers are under pressure to constantly stop play to shoe horn more structured learning times into the day. Therefore we need to form our own clusters to provide professional support to each other and those of us with more experience need to ensure we reach out to newly qualified colleagues or those new to their jobs in nursery units and playgroups. It is all about ensuring we stand up for our pupils to have the opportunity to learn in a play based environment and I would argue to actually help our colleagues in primary to see the value of a play based curriculum and how it is the best way for young children to learn. 
EPPNI research ( in 2010 found "Children who attended high quality pre-schools were 2.4 times more likely in English, and 3.4 times more likely in mathematics, to attain level 5 than children without pre-school experience." and this backs up the argument for highly qualified staff who can articulate with confidence why they are providing such a play rich environment in preschool. I once heard an inspector say that as long as you could justify what you were doing in your practice, they would have no issue with it. I have always kept that to the forefront when planning anything in my setting. I do worry about practitioners who see an idea on social media & then try to replicate it without understanding where the original practitioner has come from or their environment, my main concern is sustainability - if you don't understand why you are doing something, you won't know what to do when it either goes wrong or someone challenges you. 
Like the young pupils in our care we do need to keep on learning and questioning and we need to be as open-minded as possible to new ideas and challenges but always keep in mind those many, many experts who have come before us and who have become advocates for young children and their right to a play based learning environment.
For me the key is continuing to network with like-minded individuals around the world so we can share ideas and stand up for play and this also helps me to build my knowledge and gain more kudos of my approach. Here's to a 2016 filled with loads of high quality play based learning environments for all.

1 comment:

  1. It is very informative and useful posts for the parents of young children. Teaching and training young children is the most important and difficult thing to do. Your guidelines will be very helpful.


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