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Child-Initiated Learning

In Bookshelf Early Years Practice


The book begins with an interesting background section looking at the definition of child-initiated play and explaining how the term is not described effectively in the EYFS documents (2007). Jennie Lindon explains that the original interpretation of the phrase comes to early years from the primary school curriculum, meaning "the view that activities could be judged as child-initiated when an adult had pre-determined most of the details of the experience before young children ever got their hands and eyes on any resources. ....these timetabled sections of the day might also be called independent learning times. More accurately they are times when children are able to remain focussed on a selected array of resources without the presence of a guiding adult" (p2). This, coupled with a misguided, outcomes-led approach to planning, with specified learning intentions, infiltrated early years and has been very hard to dispose of.

Fortunately the second edition of the EYFS (2008) added a better definition of child-initiated play, making it clear that the activities are self-chosen by the child who continues to lead the play. Many examples throughout the book serve to give concrete scenarios where high quality child-intiiated play is supported by knowledgeable and sensitive practitioners. Further expansion on the definition of adult-led provision and the balance between child-initiated and adult-led follows, with some very interesting points around the issues of group time.

Individualised learning is discussed, where Ms Lindon states, "Individualised or personalised learning is definitely not about detailed, written plans of everything that will be made available for each child and in what way". She advocates that "Young children need a personal experience, not days in which they are treated as one of many little bodies in a group. They learn through meaningful experiences, not a list of pre-planned activities that supposedly support a single aspect of development or required learning outcome". (p10)

Chapter 2 covers the role of early years practitioners,  looking at being a partner in play without taking over, and how to develop children's communication skills through careful interactions including sustained shared thinking.

The final chapter considers how to set up and maintain a child-focussed approach, discussing the role of planning: "The more adults prepare activities in advance, the less children have a shared ownership and feeling of engagement.....the most effective adult-led or initiated experiences have plenty of scope for children to determine how the details evolve over time" (p23) Observing children within this child-focussed provision becomes much more dynamic and a more immediate process to determine a child's next steps or future learning experiences: "The practical concept of "next steps" or "what next?" planning rests on your awareness of what engages children now, Your short-term plans have to connect with what you have noticed today or over this week. Your continuous assessment is best seen as a continued alertness to what children are doing, with whom and with what" (p27)

An excellent book, with lots of examples of quality practice and opportunities to reflect on your own provision. Best of all, Jennie Lindon reminds us that we should be concentrating on our relationships and interactions with children, not creating mountains of ineffective paperwork. Highly recommended.

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