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Taking The Plunge With Motivational Planning!


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For a couple of months now I've been working on reorganising the learning environment in the room for 2-5 year olds at our nursery. When I started this job, there was no clear direction or planning in the room, no teamwork amongst the staff and the room was very unorganised and "haphazard" for want of a better word.

 

To cut a VERY long story short, we are now at the point where, next Saturday, we are going in to completely reorganise the room and create a much more effective and stimulating environment for the children, creating distinct bays/workshop areas that roughly coincide with the areas of learning in the EYFS. This is a HUGE step forward and I know that I need to give the staff huge support in taking this all in - but they are happy with the rationale behind it all and are positive about the changes.

 

At 4am this morning (I know, I know!), I was thinking about the next step forward. Although we've made huge strides forward, the staff are still very hung up on having a "daily activity" that is planned and led by one member of staff and the attitude is that if they are not the one leading that acivity then their role supporting other children's play and learning isn't really important - they tend to see their role as supervising rather than getting involved and an awful lot of sweeping the sand, tidying and mundane routine jobs tend to get done at the expense of interacting with the children. Topic planning is ingrained in their practice - all of them learnt that approach in their initial training and see that as the only way.

 

I'm very keen to scrap topics! I just wonder if this is the ideal time to take the plunge, when I've already encouraged them to take so many other changes on board? What I would like to do is say that from next Monday, there is no topic, no focus activity and I would like the staff to start spending time in each of the bays, just being with and observing the children, discovering the types of learning that can be supported and developed and basically realising that we can provide a more effective and relevant environment for children's learning without the constraints of a topic. I've been developing continuous provision sheets for all areas, linked to the EYFS, and can share those to illustrate that we are still providing plenty of learning opportunities without having the dreaded daily activity. I'm confident about everything in my own mind but I'm taking away their biggest comfort blanket and don't want to damage the relationship that we've developed so far by expecting too much.

 

But this IS an ideal time to make that change isn't it???? It all fits in with developing the learning environment and if I don't develop it now, I'll only be asking them to make more changes six months down the road -wouldn't it be easier to do it now??? They do know that now is the best time to try out new approaches and that we have lots of time for the trial and error approach at the moment - Ofsted came in June and won't be coming again for a long time and they also know that the introduction of the EYFS will mean tweaking practice -so I could play on that.

 

What do you think?? Has anyone been in the same position? And how did the staff take it?

Edited by Wolfie
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well I have taken the other approach and have continued to drip feed change over the last 2 years at least. The training for the new eyfs starts in nov here so i will use that as a starting point for looking at how we can adapt to fit in in with the new ideas.

The staff have been with us for many years long before I appeared on the scene and ive been there nearly 8years I know too much would freak them out and i would of lost staff but you know your staff and probably better to take the decision from that.Have they been on any training yet? Good luck with whatever you decide.

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Hi Wolfie

Can't really offer any practical advice but I just wanted to say well done for being brave enough to take the plunge and do away with topics. I'm doing the planning unit at the moment for my DPP and I've had several heated arguments with my tutor who insists that planning needs a theme or topic. I am now submitting a med term plan in the way she wants it done and another one using continuous provision and BT3 and Stepping stones.

I think that topics are used by so many groups because it is as you say a comfort blanket and staff are afraid that they wont know what to do if they dont have a plan. On my course, some of the topics fellow students have had to follow in their groups have been quite narrow and some of them rather odd. In my setting, we had a holiday/seaside topic before summer hols which is a great idea apart from the fact that I work in a very deprived area and over half of the children had never been to the seaside. Hard for them to relate experiences they have never had.

At 43, I have only recently joined the childcare world so I am not very experienced as a professional but I do have enough personal experience to know that children learn more when they are interested and also that the best laid plans go off in all sorts of different directions when you add children. That's why I think that a more flexible approach is the best way. Topics can be used sparingly but I think it's more for the staff than the kids.

Best of luck with the changes, I'm sure it will all be worth it once your staff see the benefits and develop their own confidence.

 

Sally

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Having just taken over at my setting I have made lots of change in the first month and there is still alot to do, I too wake up at four and have great ideas but I am having to hold off and gradually bring new things in.

The staff I have are mostly in training I only have one other level three although the remainder of staff have been at the setting for a while and so are 'set in their ways' all of them have excellent qualities but I am finding that I need to slow down with change, it is all too much information.

 

Inside I am panicing slightly as we have Ofsted looming however I am trying to bring things up to standard and also add my personal touches to it, and then I guess I build on the idealistic environment I would like to offer - need to convince the staff of best practice. (Desperate not to start quoting research from my FD course - don't want to sound like I live and breath pre-school) :oxD

 

It is a difficult time Wolfie, as like me and like others on this site we are so obviously passionate about what we do, but we have to remember not all early years practitioners are like that - I am setting weekly changes/challenges for myself to implement to staff and gauging their response.

 

Sounds like you have major stuff going on - take it steady, - easier said than done when you are so enthusiastic isn't it!

 

Good Luck, keep us informed and don't forget we want your ideas too!!

Edited by Guest
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Hi Wolfie! Glad to know its not just me that gets clear thinking time at 4am! 18 months ago, due to financial pressures, we had to amalgamate 2 sessions and bring the 2 year olds into our morning sessions with the 3-5 year olds. Clearly the the themed planning approach wasn't going to work! So, we dipped our toes in the motivational planning pond on a trial basis. My staff were happy to go along with this as they felt their views counted, that it wasn't me just dictating from above. 18 months on we have no regrets. We love it! As a staff we feel released or free - free to support the child-initiated activities and would freely admit that we know our children 10 times better! It is definitely a journey that we are still on, still tweaking the paperwork, the observations and recording. We still have our familiar keyworker groups where the adult-led activities take place but I would definitely recomment you have a go and now is as good a time as any! Knowing that it was a trial period helped the parents adjust and feel involved too.

Personally I have a lot less planning to do and feel much less frustrated than when we didn't achieve everything I had spent hours planning using themes. We do still have a broad, overarching theme to give the sessions a bit of structure but hey, if it doesn't happen so what?

I'll attach our outlines for this 1/2 term for you to see. The Autumn Theme is the broad theme, the rest are drawn from our observations of the children's current interests. These can change from week to week and the 2nd sheet just keeps the parents up to speed with this. Our circus theme dwindled after a week but they love the Doctors theme that replaced it and we are continuing this for the coming week as they are still interested. We will add a real wheelchair and some other resources to extend their play and discovery and see where that takes us! Its exciting!

Autumn_2007_child_initiated_ideas.doc

Autumn_Term_1_Mindmap.doc

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as you are changing layout and areas it would work by changing way the staff work at the same time...

as they are used to having a set plan to follow in an activity it may help by allocating them an area and asking them to interact in that area instead of doing a planned activity.

 

we also have a vague topic as we feel they do have a place in introducing the children to new ideas and things they may not necessarily come across...these often start with one thing and get changed as the weeks go on to follow the children's lead and will end up in a different place to the one which was planned. Often we will start with one and end up with another.

 

As it progresses the staff will be able to set up and do planned activities to extend and consolidate what the children are doing. We still have focus activities but they are planned around child interest and needs..our current focus on speech development with so many with poor speech so we have a focus activity on this.

 

This allows for a balance on child initiated and planned activities over a week.

 

Inge

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I think you could really sell this to them. As you have just set up the areas in zones you could ask each of the keyworkers to take an area and to make detailed observations on the areas that the chiild tend to gravitate towards. You could say that you want to know if the area is working, is it set up right, can they access materials, are they interested in them, what is their level of engagement etc. It might be that the construction area is very well used - what observations can they make from there and what have the children learnt and how could they extend it. Whilst we have keyworkers each person is responsible for recording observations on all the children who are playing near them - for instance if I am at the mark making table and see a significant milestone being covered or language being used I will observe and record it regardless of whether it is my child. You could then say that the zones are not set in stone and if children are really enjoying using the role play areas more then it might be worth developing that and extending their learning by bringing in some more mathematica or KUW things. Say you need their input to monitor the change and the only way they can do this is to observe what is happening. It might be that they want to track a couple of their children to see where they spend most time. You can also say that it would be an ideal time to make some good starting observations on the children to find out what they are interested in. Sell it to them on the fact that you need their help to make sure its working ok and they can they feel they have an input to any changes they might like to make. It might be initially that some areas do not work as well as thought they would - how can it be changed. Ask them to talk to the children to ask what they like - if you use levels of engagement scoring then I am sure you will get a good picture of what is happening as will the staff. Maybe you might want to ask them to do 5 minute obs or obs just on a particular table/activity/resource and see how long the children stay there, what they are doing - remembering the golden rule that they don;t always have to speak to the children when they are engaging well with an activity as this interrupts their language for thinking skills. I think you could sell this to them and I am sure they will begin to understand just where you are coming from once they see the learning that is taking place and how much better they will know their children. It will also get them to think about what is happening and how they can improve areas - even if it means you having to sit back and watch things change that they have implemented - sometimes for the worse sometimes for the better but you should all be able to reflect on the change whether good or bad.

Good luck with it all -

N

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Having worked with people who hate change, who absolutley dont see any need for it and who will repeat 'we do it this way' I really feel for you Wolfie, but as you are in a position to change things I'd go for it.

When I was playleader I gave free rein to peoples ideas, even the ones I knew wouldnt work, so they could see things for themselves, but, they had to be as obliging to me and allow changes which they might not be comfortable with.

If a valid objection is offered, so be it, but it has to backed up with relevent research and thats where objections usually stop. :o

Too many people think they are there to be supervising rather than interacting so I really hope it works for you.

 

Good luck xD

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Hi Wolfie,

 

Lots of good stuff already, but just a note of caution, here. You seem so far to have concentrated on the staff, fair comment!, but consider your children, too. We are a long way down the line with this approach - when we started we had a very confident, able group of children who quickly adapted to the freedom this afforded them. We now have a very much younger, less confident group so we have resumed a 'loose' framework within which we can follow ideas which develop through the childrern's play. We also very much participate in children's role play etc, modelling techniques and ideas which otherwise might not be explored.

 

Good luck and well done!

 

Sue

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Thank you for all your replies and words of encouragement so far! I know we've got a long, long way to go with this but I just need confidence that I'm doing the right thing at this stage......and as the day has worn on and I've read your comments, my confidence is growing!

 

One other thing in my favour is that the "admin" aspect of doing topic planning in the room is causing tensions and friction amongst the staff as it always seems to be left to the same member of staff to do everything! I did promise her sometime ago that I would help her with that to some extent but I've been so tied up with working towards the room reorganisation and organisation and storgae of exisiting resources that haven't been able to so far. I ought to point out that my position is only 0.5 and I have other work commitments outside the nursery during that 0.5!! So taking written topic planning out of the equation altogether would remove that element of friction at least!

 

I think that what I'm really aiming to achieve is a team of staff that can recognise and effectively support the learning that goes on all the time, every day, as children choose their own resources and initiate their own ideas and play - and get away from the thinking that unless there is an adult directed focus activity....related to the topic....then no "teaching" has taken place? Does that make sense?? I know it does to me but I need to be able to explain my rationale clearly to everyone else! This way of thinking and working slots in so nicely next to the reorganisation that I just think I'm missing a prime opportunity if I don't do anything. Due to the fact that I'm only 0.5 and have other commitments during that time, I can't be there, hands on in the nursery and supporting the staff all the time - that of course would be the obvious answer I know!

 

Oooh, so much to think about!

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I ditched topics a while ago too and must say that we have all felt much more relaxed as a result. We still plan for 'new' experiences as we feel will appeal and benefit our particular group of children but otherwise we just go with the flow. It makes for a much more calm atmosphere in general and I feel that the sessions flow seamlessly together without any need for forcing something to fit.

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I am planning to go with child centered planning, but setting i have taken over is embedded with topic planning. I am currently planning on ditching this and am planning to assign each person an area to take part in and make observations. Am i right in thinking that through these observations and discussion with the children they will be able to then think more about the child and be able to come up with ideas that we will then be able to integrate. I have never fully used this way of planning by itself and am worrying about going down the wrong route, although we all learn from our mistakes.

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BPP, have a look in the Member's Articles and there's an article there by Sue R all about Motivational Planning - that should answer some of you intial queries I think! I know that several people on thsi forum have been inspired to make changes to their planning as a result of reading her account...me included! :o

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I am very impressed with your article Sue. Just what we need at our setting.

Am taking a copy of the full article to work with me tomorrow to show my manager and other staff.

Its what we have been trying to do for ages but couldn't agree on exactly what was needed to be done and how we could do it.

Very many thanks.

:o

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  • 2 weeks later...

Okay, the meeting at which I'm going to suggest the new approach, minus topics, is tonight and I'm feeling a bit apprehensive! We "did" the room last Saturday and now have distinct areas - still a long, long way to go with that, as I shall stress tonight - we've got the "skeleton" now but need to work on each area to make it more stimulating and attractive, make resources more accessible, etc.

 

Tonight I'm going to ask the staff to spend the next few weeks "just" exploring the potential of each area, working with and observing the children, noting their interests and development and also noting what does and doesn't work within each area and any extra resources that they would like to put on a "wish list" - so that at the next staff meeting they all have some feedback to discuss. And no topic planning whilst this is going on!

 

I very much like Sue R's idea of focusing on particular skills within the areas of learning for the medium term plans and then thinking of lots of ways to promote those that AREN'T based round a topic but ARE linked in to the children's interests. Lots to think about there for me before the NEXT staff meeting!

 

I'll keep you posted....... :o

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Good luck Wolfie. xD

Hopefully, once they see that all the areas of learning can still be incorporated, and be more fun, they'll wonder why they ever used topics. They can still keep the resources they would have used for their planning, but with much more relevance.

I wish I worked somewhere with the same approach, but beggers cant be choosers. :o

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Just got in from the meeting...I think it went OK! The staff were quite happy to ditch the topic planning and try a new way of working so that was much easier than I expected. I've told them to just enjoy exploring the different areas with the children, observing them and their interests and helping them to develop their ideas and play - and that at the next meeting I would like them to come full of feedback about what is/isn't working, what they do/don't like and a wish list of resources that they feel we could provide to develop the children's interests and play further. One extra bit of "ammunition" that I had - and wwhich they all could see the logic of - was that I'd been chatting to an early years SENCO advisor yesterday who said that they get far fewer referrals for behavioural problems from settings that planned from children's interests than from those where all activities were topic led and that the referrals from "topic" settings were often inappropriate - the children were just bored! Makes sense!

 

So I'm a positive person tonight!! :o

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