Child-led learning in the early years allows children to thrive while making accelerated progress. Young children learn and develop best when they are in a stimulating environment which is carefully organised and equipped to meet their needs, interests and stages of development, and where each child’s progress is carefully observed, managed and enhanced by adults who engage and interact with them to support them in making outstanding progress
I was drawn to this book following a forum thread on FSF, I didn’t know anything about ‘in the moment planning’ other than to understand what the actual words meant. I set out to find this book that was the start of the conversation. It was written in 2015 and details and explains Ephgrave’s methods.
My first response to the book was that it is very readable. It is full of photographs of real children, in a real setting, engaging in real play. The essence of Ephgrave’s method is as follows:
“Let the children choose what to do, join them and support them in their pursuits and then write up what has happened”
In the setting, there is no forward activity planning, no focus activities and no adults telling children what to do. This dedication to letting the children lead, with adults being reactive and ready to follow ideas and seize learning opportunities as they arise, resonates with Natalie Day’s article about children experiencing science through play.
Ephgrave’s setting has received ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted judgements at 4 consecutive inspections and this reinforces her belief that her pedagogy works. Ephgrave describes her methods as a ‘win win’ situation because children make very rapid progress and so are excited and motivated to learn. Staff are more enthusiastic than they were previously and have a real love of their job which has revitalised them in their early years career. She describes this “Lighting up children’s brains” as motivating the children which reflects in the motivation seen in the staff.
The book itself is organised into chapters with the names of the months as headings – there is no chapter for August as many settings are closed or many children are not attending as regularly. Each chapter is divided into three parts: Part 1 tackles the general, organisational and practical aspects of the arrangements that Ephgrave is proposing. Part 2 gives a clear and concise description of the physical environment that should be constructed to enable children to make the most of the learning opportunities offered. The final part of each chapter provides a diary of events from Ephgrave’s setting from the month in question and is based on the ‘real’ experiences of both staff and children. Regarding Ofsted, Ephgrave points out that “we need to demonstrate that children can achieve outstanding progress by playing, following their hearts, pursuing their interests and taking risks”. The diary shows ways of clearly evidencing the teaching and learning that has occurred during the month. Within each chapter Ephgrave anticipates the difficulties that staff might encounter and provides useful suggestions and ideas about how to manage these either so that they don’t happen or how to manage situations if they do. She goes into detail, for example, about how to support children who struggle with separation from their parents or how to help parents who find it hard to leave the setting once their child is settled.
Ephgrave describes how she uses parents, while children are settling, as role models. She describes, for example, how she makes it clear to them that they must reinforce the behavioural expectations of the setting while they are helping their child get used to the environment and the ‘rules’ for play.
The annotated learning journey sheets that are included in each chapter provide clear evidence of how children’s learning is supported, challenged and developed over time. Children are identified as for ‘focus’ at least once each term – Ephgrave suggests having 10% of children as 'focus' each week (in her case this is 6 children per week). Staff highlight the active teaching words on each child’s learning journey sheet; thus words such as ‘modelling’, ‘encouraging’, ‘pointing-out’ and ‘praising’ indicate when staff have directed affected a child’s learning. Next steps are not written down because they happen immediately and intuitively. Staff are trained to recognise when children can be further challenged or need to revisit a skill. Consequently, children make very rapid progress due to the instant nature of the teaching they receive. Children lead their own learning throughout the setting with the consistent support of the adults around them. Adults review and reflect on what children have learnt constantly and make decisions about how to present the learning environment going forward to try and encourage children to access learning experiences that they might not otherwise have considered.
I was enthused having read the book and I could see why they children attending Ephgrave’s setting do so well. It is not a book you could just ‘dip into’ – you would need to see the process unfold over time - a year, as the title says. If you were going to adopt this pedagogy it would need to be a ‘whole team’ philosophy – you would need to identify a clear starting point – September is obvious for schools, but I wonder what Ephgrave’s views would be on how you might introduce the system if a full day care setting where children arrive to settle throughout the year.
I learnt a lot reading this book – I understand ‘in the moment planning’ which I didn’t before and I can see how, as a system, it would work well in an early years environment. If you are looking to review or refresh your practice I recommend that you consider Ephgrave’s Ideas, after all 4 ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted’s can’t be wrong.
Edited by Rebecca