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How slowing down builds better curriculum

By: LILIAN JOYCE

Monday 19 September 2016

As an early years educator do you feel you have to be constantly doing something all of the time? Yet we know that just watching and listening to children at play is an important part of the role of an educator. Many educators can immediately tell you what activities interest particular children, “He loves playing at the water tray” or “she spends hours in the home corner”, so they do know the interests of the children in their care, but is that knowledge alone enough…..


Síolta highlights that “Planning for the curriculum or programme implementation is based on the child’s individual profile, which is established through systematic observation and assessment for learning”. What does this look like in practice? In a recent discussion in an early years setting educators studied a photograph of a 4-year-old girl playing with trains and tracks. They began by identifying some of the skills and competencies she displays in the photograph. The discussion then shifted to how they might support and extend her learning. “She doesn’t have much English. She really loves playing with these. She would stay with them on her own for well over half an hour” said one educator.

To find out the best way to support this girl’s interest and deepen her learning we really need to identify what exactly she is doing when she plays with these materials and what it is about the trains and tracks that really interests her. What is she curious about? Is it the process of joining the tracks together, incorporating turns or loops, sidings and bridges? It may be that she really enjoys moving the trains along the tracks or perhaps it was the features of the different trains, engines and carriages that attracts her. Does she need time and space to play alone sometimes or does she need support to connect with other children?

Sharing the photograph with her by describing what she was doing and listening to what she has to say about her own play would certainly support her language development. This could also give us an insight into her thinking and perhaps uncover the things she is curious about in relation to trains and tracks. Previous knowledge about this child and her play patterns will help. Watching and listening attentively next time she engages in this play could identify further possibilities or lines of enquiry that would support her interest and deepen her learning.

We can also consider what we know about child development. Perhaps her interest in connecting the tracks or trains might point to a “Connecting” schema. Schemas are repeated patterns that seem to underpin children’s current learning and are usually seen across a number of activities. For example, children who have a connecting schema may also particularly enjoy doing jigsaws, using art straws, building with Stickle brick or Duplo or tying thing together. Or she may have a trajectory schema (moving the trains alone in a line). To remind yourself about schema see: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.441757!/file/Schemas.pdf 

As educators we can sometimes latch onto an idea and run with it without realising that we may be way off track (pardon the pun!) as to the child’s real interest. So slowing down and taking time to watch and learn more about children interests helps us to make informed decisions that can more effectively support children’s learning and development in a meaning way.

We are certain you have some wonderful stories about supporting and extending children’s learning and development. We would love you to share them with us and your peers by adding a comment below.

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