I have been prompted to write this after reflecting on the amazing training and development opportunity all the teams from our family of six nurseries had on Saturday with the wonderful Alice Sharp. Alice kept us enthralled, engaged and inspired for the whole day and at times you could hear a pin drop in the room such was the level of fascination and engagement.
I was trained as an NNEB (the old Nursery Nurse Exam Board…real old school!) 38 years ago, so as you can imagine I have seen much change in the approach to childcare and early years learning and development, some definitely for the better, some debatable and many coming full circle.
The way I was taught was to help teach children respect for adults but of course that respect was reciprocated by adults who listened carefully to what children were saying and telling them. Children’s opinions truly mattered. We didn’t call it “Child’s Voice” as it is today, but that is exactly what it was and we happily engaged in two-way dialogue with them.
Of course, we considered environment in our planning but I am not sure we realised the full impact that the indoor, outdoor and emotional environments we created could and did determine how children played and subsequently learned through play.
I consider myself to be fortunate as I spent my placement at a local authority nursery school. The nursery was in the centre of a town and many of the children came from disadvantaged backgrounds in terms of family income. Rarely in those days did the mother work, so mums had time, but lack of knowledge prevented children having experiences that were conducive to their education.
“Home links” was not a buzz phrase, but families would be asked to contribute to alphabet, colour and number displays etc. As students our days often began with bathing children who had lice and dirty clothing. This would be a regular routine for some children, so welfare was high on our agenda.
At college, I had a tutor who was dedicated to training nursery nurses to the highest standard. She expected us to arrive on time and meet all deadlines. We didn’t have the luxury of handing work in late or having extensions to our studies. Emphasis was placed on students having a thorough and in-depth knowledge of child development which I say still stands today with the right training provider and placement experience. I was taught that children learn through play and through all their early childhood experiences, and there was a balance of adult led and child-initiated activities so really very similar to today’s good training experiences for students.
The setting I was trained in was an old wooden structure with a veranda running all the way around the outside. Our babies slept outside and the majority of the day was spent outdoors playing in sand and water, enjoying being happy and content. Some children now are subject to hectic lifestyles and it would be advantageous if we consider this and particularly how much time they have outdoors, when planning for the individual children.
The halcyon days didn’t last forever though and it seemed with changing times and political changes of wind, soon children were expected to sit and complete generic worksheets that had little or no real meaning to their life experiences at all. Over the years, much to my relief, practice has come full circle and once again children are at the centre of planning for learning and making their own choices.
So, during our training on Saturday Alice Sharp had me rejoicing with her knowledge and belief. She reiterated everything I know and believe to be right for early years and beyond and everything our nurseries aspire to be.
The most important resource to give to a child is ourselves. Yes, environment plays an important part, but without the support, professional love and sound knowledge of dedicated practitioners, everything else is irrelevant.
To put it in a nutshell, listen to children. Engage in word rich responses and encourage outdoor play. What children learn indoors can be extended outdoors on a much grander scale. Without emphasis on physical development, children will not be prepared to continue their learning journey in reception and beyond. Always ensure the opportunities we give to children are fun and reflect on what they have learnt.
In the staff room at nursery is a quote saying “You’re never fully dressed without a smile”. I love this and I believe it is a simple but powerful message that helps us remember the impact we can have on young children.
Big thanks to Julie, Emma and Ian for investing so much in our teams, giving us all such a fabulous learning experience.