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Help & Advice - Ratios Or Behaviour?


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Hi There


I wonder if anyone can cast some light on my situation for me! I have been in post in my current setting for a few months now and have been really struggling in a few areas. We have a combination of 2 to 3 year olds and 3 to 4s all in one area and have been finding it difficult to engage the younger children. We have all the basic resources such as painting, sand, water, books, home corner, construction etc, but its not working out, me and my team (2 level 2s) seem to always be in a spin, just firefighting dealing with clashes and toileting, we are lucky if we get a planned activity up and running and if we do, it is often just destroyed or overlooked. Like the other post about 'moving play on' I wonder if the children just don't know how to play as I find all the maths resources stuffed in the home corner, the books strewn around and general chaos. I struggle to keep the environment as organised and tidy at the end of the day as my seniors would like and I often come home run ragged and feeling like I'm not getting something right but not being able to pinpoint it. It was mentioned at a recent meeting that I wasn't properly planning for the under 3s but am not sure how to do this, short of introducing two separate sets of planning for the different ages and doubling my already overwhelming workload! Am I overlooking something obvious like the need to have certain activities for the youngers always available, like block play or sensory play? Or is it behavioural (we have had an increase in hitting,scratching and biting etc) Is the chaos creating the behaviour or the other way round?


This brings me on to ratios, I am a bit confused about the combination of over and under 3s that someone can have. I know that it is 1 to 4 under 3s and 1 to 8 overs, but what happens if you have a combination, for example, you have 6 over 3s and 3 under 3s? Is there anywhere that this is more clearly explained? As I feel sometimes this is unclear and maybe we are just too understaffed and that is why we feel we can only just supervise and manage toileting etc, and we never seem to get to the point where we are guiding play and meeting the learning and development needs of all the children as individuals, I would like to get to the point where we are observing the children in their play, getting an idea of their stage and interests etc and then guiding them in their next steps to extend their learning and offer a high level provision. At the moment I feel a million miles away and am beginning to wonder if it is me or the setting???


Any help or advice really so welcome!




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Hi Rainbowbrite, you sound very busy. How many children do you have at each session?

With 3 staff you could have a maximum of 24 over 3's and 12 under 3's. The ratios stand even if you have 6x over 3's (1:8) and 3x under 3's (1:4)If you have a mixture I'm sure you can add over 3's to the under 3's ratio but not the other way round. (This was a discussed on a thread a year or two back) HERE


You might look at what you are expecting the of the children. Are you looking at their needs your those of your seniors. I have worked with people who dont like mess, and it can seriously cut in on your ability to allow free access.

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How many children and what hours?


we have up to 26 mixed age - and at the moment this works really well for us (fingers crossed)


All our activities are planned to be well differentiated, for example today we were looking at the colour blue and textures and our activity ranged form simple 'glueing and sticking' to some more elaborate collages.


I like the mixted age group as it always throws up surprises in ablilites etc. Are your expectations too high on some of the 'older' children? remember at this time of year even some of the oldest are still very young - if you get my drift!


Also how you plan your day might have it's effect - we try to ensure that lots of small groups of children are always engaged in meanfull play throughout the session, which I think helps too.


Do you have access to a freeflow outside area? this can have a far more calming effect than any other method.



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Thanks for the replies, we have between 15 and 22 in total maximum of which are 15 under 3s. I know what you mean about the mess, I wish I could just forget it and focus on the children but I get a real earfull if its not all in order at the end of the day, as if it reflects on my management. I just would rather deploy staff to guide play than tidy up, as it is I find myself tidying more than leading practice! Sure that's not right?:z Anyway, I plan for one focus activity with a few more on offer, could you suggest something else? Like I said the focus activity often gets ignored anyway (also by staff who are trying to cope with unwieldy children). The hours are from 7.15 to 6.45 with some mornings and afternoon combinations so we don't get any 'team time' or 'reflection time', we are lucky if we get to sit down in the same room with the children for a planning meeting once a week. Please tell me, what am I doing wrong and how can I fix it? Or is it something beyond my control in which case maybe it's just not the setting for me?


Thanks again

Confused :o



Oh we have a small outdoor area and a routine but not a sequence of activities in the routine if thats what you mean. I feel overwhelmed at just the thought of planning a series of activities for a whole week!

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I am sorry to hear you feel so deflated rainbowbrite. I wish I could offer you some words of wisdom but I can't as we have the same problem!


We are a small pre-school with 18 children per session (3 members of staff). We have now set up all of the areas for continuous provision but I can't really see the benefits at the moment. I feel the children go a bit mad with all that is on offer and the whole room looks like a bomb has hit it all of the time. I actually said to another member of staff today that maybe there is just too much on offer??!!! No matter how much you talk about putting things away after they have finished with them,it never happens unless spotted by an adult and encouraged. It's not that I am worried so much by the mess but it's the noise levels and general chaos as children flit from one thing to another.......Hmmmmm


I would love to hear of anyones advice too. I'm all up for EYFS changes and will always do anything to improve my provision I just don't feel like it's working too well at the moment.....


Glass of wine needed I think!!!!! :o



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Hi Rainbowbrite, if you have 15 under 3's you should have a minimum of 4 staff for them and then, presuming the rest of the 22 are over 3 that would be one more member of staff. You need to talk to your seniors. You are working out of your ratios.


Dont try to do a focused activity if you havent got the time, you will always feel like you've failed if you are constantly running round after the little ones. Forget your planning, sit and play, you'll build a better relationship with the children and then they just might be more able to tidy up.


You definitly need more staff though.

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We also have very mixed ages and abilities with a maximum of 16 at any one session. We have always been very keen on tidying up as you go along, and the older children have 'got this' and quite often 'police' the younger ones. Sometimes i'll just say 'oh dear, it's a bit of a mess over there in the kitchen corner, could someone make a start picking things up a bit for me?' and I reward the first to help with a sticker. Next time I say it, I get more children rushing to help. There's always the 'Oh I bet no-one can pick those blocks up faster than I can pick these cars up' challenge which works too!


No, it isn't easy, no-one promised it would be (hehe - in fact quite the opposite!) I really don't think that children understand the concept of tidying up after themselves like they used to!

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I think the hours you work says it all - put yourself in the mind of a 3-4 year old, and imagine being in the same place all day!



I used to work in full day-care and now in sessional....... all I can say is the difference is amazing. I am the most easy going homebode around and can stay cooped up happily in my own home for days on end, but in a setting even I get fed up with the same four walls within hours.


Apart from the fact your ratios are not correct, and an extra member of staff would make all the difference(and from your example you should have an extra 2), I would stongly consider how you use the outdoor area- as this can have a hugh impact too. Having worked in full daycare with total freeflow I can only highly recommend it.



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Please stop being so hard on yourself-you can do this, you are just feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment. You seem to have a large number of under 3's who can be very in need of your support hence the higher ratio I guess!


* with 15 under 3 you would need 4 members of staff, and 7 over 3's another member of staff minimum, though I am not sure if that is what you actually have every day.


* I would suggest that you don't try to do a whole weeks planning all at once, maybe have a skeleton idea but follow children's interests and plan for a day or two ahead, perhaps children might be more engaged and give you all time to think.


* your comment about 'I'm not planning enough for the under 3's' - in our setting keyworkers tune into their children (and share insights about others) and put forward ideas for planning for individual children.


* good advice about using the outdoor area, can children move between the two if you have sufficient staff?


* I know exactly what you mean about simply fighting fires - been there. One thing I learnt from having read Julie Fisher's book 'Starting from the child' - she describes a triangle of activities Child Iniated, adult initiated and adult led. She suggests that you only have 1 activity on offer at a time that requires full adult support (adult led), the adult initated activity could be something the adult has observed that the child is interested in but once set up, the adult involvement is not essential for children to access it, ie they can use it independantly, and of course child initated is something the child has chosen for themselves and can also use independantly.


Hope that is of some help and I'm sure others will be along shortly to offer further support. Chin up!


BTW - thanks Rea for clarifying the ratio issue, I had read recent posts about the under 4's ratio having to be maintained - but after your comment the penny finally dropped! Hurrah!

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I am not sure if we are right in doing this but we have total free choice and a blank planning sheet at the begininng of the week. we then fill it in as we go along. eg the children want the dinosaurs in the sand. we do write adult led activities on it in advance usually craft activities or if we want to observe a certain skill eg pouring in the water tray.


like i said i do not know if this is right or wrong everyone seems so confused at the mo but it works for us



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Hi Rainbowbrite,


Sounds like you need more help, I do hope you will be able to talk to your manager to get more help in! I am supervisor of a pre-school with children aged 2-4.8. We started taking 2 year olds about 2 years ago now and at first it was just as you are describing, feel like you are constantly tidying up and the older ones werent getting any quality time with staff. We soon changed this by splitting the room with low dividers (we are in a village hall, sessional care) and having a definate split between the age groups. We now have the 2-3 year group, they stay in this group till the term after they are three. We have 2 staff with this age group and 8 children. The over 3's are also split into 2 groups so that the very older ones can be given more challenging activities (something that Ofsted picked up on that we werent doing before we changed). This also enables older ones to use equipment that would not be safe for a 2 year old to access. This has worked so well for us, but I did wonder as I have read on this forum if all the chidlren should be together as lots of people have talked of having mixed age groups of children. We do try to join together for music and dance but it doesnt happen all the time.

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