Five things I’ve taken from working in Early Years to teaching across Key Stage 1 and 2
1. Behaviour support
3. Childhood development
5. Parental engagement
I started my teaching career in Key Stage 1 for the first two years, I then moved to Early Years and after that year I moved across Early Years to Key Stage 2. The experience I had in Early Years changed my future teaching practice and my understanding of children’s learning and development. Here are the top five things I took away from Early Years to working with children across Key stage 1 and 2.
1. Supporting children with distressed behaviour
Simply moving away from terms such as “challenging behaviour” or “behaviour management” can change your perception of these behaviours, children, and your approach to addressing these issues - being able to understand that a child may not be able to identify why they are behaving in a particular way let alone articulate themselves when questioned by a teacher. In Early Years I was conscious of asking how the child was feeling and what maybe caused X behaviour. If a child was unable to share this, I’d act as a co-regulator of their behaviour and emotions. Ensuring I explained calmly why such behaviour isn’t appropriate, acknowledging their feelings and sharing different tools or verbal skills to apply instead. I see a lack of this approach as children progress through the school years as we assume children are older so they should know right from wrong, how to behave and control their feelings. Knowledge of children’s development and the Early Years framework can help us to understand that if children don’t receive support from grown-ups (parents/carers/educators) acting as co-regulators, children will struggle to self-regulate their feelings and behaviours. Raising our voices doesn’t lead to “desired” behaviours of children and we can often see children as “attention seeking” when most likely they are “seeking connection”. It could be validation, acknowledgment, or there might be underlying issues which we need to consider and effectively “address”.
Having worked in different schools, with different guidelines, SLT expectations, colleagues and most importantly children, being creative is vital – but it is important to understand creativity will look different for one child to another and an activity might be considered more appealing or engaging to some rather than others. In the Early Years there is more freedom with the structure of the day, but I was able to take some of this creative approach into Key Stage 2 when differentiating and planning resources or the delivery of the lesson. Reflecting on what works well for some children and what doesn’t work so well for others really does help. Being versatile with resources and providing concrete resources for those who need it, rather than as a tick box exercise, rotating adult support depending on the task and grouping children who can work well together, discuss and share ideas, rather than focusing on ability. Of course, with different lessons and groups of children, you need to see what works best for you and the resources you have available (Covid permitting) but it doesn’t always have to be ‘ability groups, starter, activity, plenary’ as the generic primary school lesson structure suggests. Ultimately class teachers know what works best for their children.
3. Understanding of childhood development
As briefly mentioned in paragraph 1, working in Early Years gave me the opportunity to plan an environment, activities to support the development of children, and to learn more about the areas which are not shared beyond Early Years. Let’s look at personal, social, emotional development. I was conscious to support this effectively, whether asking children about what makes them happy, sad, scared, angry or worried etc. and share “role play” with my assistant where we would both want the same thing or were upset with each other. We would model language to use to resolve issues, say how we felt and why. Also using text to discuss feelings, emotions and behaviour and reflecting on this, as well as creating a space for children to go and reflect, resolve or have a bit of space to themselves away from everyone – I know this isn’t always practical or achievable as we move through the school years, but it is something we should consider. Another example where understanding child development has helped me when teaching older children is with handwriting. There has been debate about commenting on children’s handwriting in their workbooks, and setting aside time for handwriting practice. But if a child doesn’t grip their pen or pencil firmly, their handwriting won’t be the best it can. Taking their physical development, posture, core strength and pencil grip into consideration, these are all areas that can impact a child’s handwriting. Instead of perhaps thinking the child is being “lazy” and not putting care or effort into their work – which I have heard verbally said to children and read as feedback in their books. Of course, sometimes children might not put the effort in, but it’s also being able to differentiate and understand the mechanisms when it comes to writing.
Honestly, working in Early Years was refreshing and changed my approach in many ways (including out of the classroom). A big one for me is expectations. A child can only do what they can and do it how they know to do it. Sometimes it’s easy to think if I model this to a class, they will be able to understand. It might take more than once to show them but then they should be able to do it - I’m sure all classroom practitioners are aware of this, but how wrong! It’s refreshing to understand all children process, understand and work differently, so if they don’t understand the first time or third, maybe we need to change the language, or the resources and cater to the child. I know it’s hard to do that effectively for each child in a class of 30, when lesson timings or long-term plans and end of topic assessments don’t allow for this. This is something that needs to be addressed effectively on a much wider scale, our expectations determine our lesson structure, topic plans etc. but if we cannot support a child effectively and ultimately teach them the depth and breadth required because we’re having to skim over topics and work with 30 children at the same time, there’s not a lot we can do individually – government funding, CPD, resources, adult provision, SLT all have a part to play here. But we can reframe our expectations which will support us with planning, delivery and assessment.
5. Parental/carer engagement
We can see how our parental engagement differs from younger children to older children, from parents with English as an additional language, to children with additional needs and children with distressed behaviour or those who are performing “below expected” in their academic studies. With Covid we can see how parental/carer engagement has differed, limited or been restricted, and I’ve heard and seen the impact from school staff and parents/carers. There may be parents/carers we communicate with where it feels there is a lack of interest. Thinking about how we can support them and changes we can make to our approach can help. It’s important to think about whether other children/adults are nearby and whether the parent/carer and child appreciate others hearing the conversation. We can also think about what is the purpose of our communications, and what would we, and the families, like the outcome to be? Are we telling parents/carers something or involving them in the discussion?
Engaging in conversation first and sensitively opening the discussion of behaviour for example, asking the parent/carer what they think, how they feel, any suggestions they have. I remember doing this with a child in Year 5, in the same way I would have conversed with the parent if the child was in Early Years, about their behaviour – how can we move forward, this is what we have tried, what works well or not so well at home? On the other hand, when recognising a child’s achievement, not just sharing the work, but sharing how they persevered, asked questions, were creative and how proud we were of this achievement (also encouraging the child to recognise their effort and to feel pleased/proud). Another example, if a child is struggling in a particular area, discussing how we can move forward, what resources would support them, like we do in end of year reports, because we want to encourage this relationship and effort both in school and at home throughout the year.
In conclusion, there’s a lot we as teachers already know and do but when working with 4 and 5 year olds it does change and this practice will have a positive impact on our role as we move across the school, even out of the classroom – understanding the nurturing experiences a child has from birth to 5 years of age will support them in different ways as they grow up.