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Curriculum Development And Planning


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I'm going to be a bit philosophical here.

What comes first - the adult initiated activity or the child's interest in something?

Where does I do not know what I do not know come into it all

 

I worry very much about activity lead learning or the pre planned topic. I also worry when practitioners sit and scratch their heads about what on earth they will do with a particular theme. I worry when I see postings asking for help with a topic - "What can I do?" Noone ever seems to start with "this is the learning I feel my children are about to develop, how can I facilitate it?" I truly believe that if you don't know what skills, knowledge or understanding your children are about to develop right now and how that chosen focus is going to do it, then why on earth are you using it?? It can feel that it's all about doing, ticking off experiences the adults think children should have.

 

Now I don't have anything against "themes" as such but I do think that they can become such a straightjacket that we lose sight of the real focus of our work - the children!! I really loathe the "2 year topic cycle" where the same old same old activities are wheeled out regardless of children's current interests. It's October so I must be making pizza......... Do we see themes as a context for learning in or just a body of knowledge that should be known?

 

How do we use our observational data to inform our curriculum planning? Do activities spring excitedly from our minds because we know exactly what it is we want to help children with next and this is the best context to do it in? Are we scratching our heads every week trying to think up what to do next - scouring magazines and books for the next great product?

 

How do we get children to engage in the range of aspects if we don't stick some of it under their noses as starting points?

 

It's a bit rambly as I'm thinking as I'm doing (only LCT scale point 3 I think)

 

Discuss!!

 

Cx

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You are absolutely right

We do have some themes still, but these are very much background stuff, not in the forefront of the day as they used to be. In them we provide equipment, such as the stethoscopes in our current theme 'about me' and then sit back and 'look, listen, note' what happens and how the children engage with the new equipment, we might suggest something like 'what happens to your heart beat if you run up and down?' but largely let the children pull it in their direction until interest wanes, then out comes the skeleton and we sit back again.....

This way the children are introduced to new themes of equipment through the year. I think we still need to stimulate in this way or there would be some children (and we have two) who would just spend their 2 1/2 hours sending cars down the garage ramp - no matter how much we try to provide different ramps or suggest races or attempt to get them interested in what they are actually doing, it's more a mindless thing, does anyone know what i mean?

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I agree with what you are saying but i also have concerns that we are missing out areas of learning, for example we have ditched the topics completely since sept and gone with childrens interest, we have 22 boys and 2 girls in the session, all the boys seem to just be interested in cars, so we have planned for their interest, we have covered the whole of the floor with paper drawn roads, added buildings made from junk modelling etc on a large scale, made cars from junk modeeling, discussed sizes, colours, makes of cars, where we go in a car, what car they have at home etc...we have done sooooo much on cars ... my concern is that children may miss out if we don't put something in connected to space or other areas as they will never experience this, i feel by adding this they may extend their learning and find they do enjoy it and it becomes an interest.... not sure if i have quite got my point across here as its quite hard to put it in words.....

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I totally agree with you Catma, particularly 'the same old, same old'! We have never planned in such a way in my nursery until scarily the intro of the EYFS which has called for stronger cooperation between Reception and Nursery (for that read 'there's one way of doing things and it ain't yours loser nursery teacher'!

Thank you for your words of wisdom which are grist to my mill!

Posy

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hear hear Catma

i have gradually been working towards this over the last few months of last year and now we are fully child led, but i have taken my staff out of their comfort zone they feel lost without knowing 'what we're doing this week'

i would like to say our children are more settled now we are following what they want to do, (and many of them are) but since we opened up the door to the outside and give them free access, it doesn't matter what we put out there, the large construction blocks and planks, the sand trays, painting, climbing equipment, they constantly ask for the bikes and scooters...if we pack it away and get the bikes out are we challenging them and moving them on or are we responding to what they actually want to do which is spend 2 1/2 hours racing up and down on bikes.

 

I like starting with the child, i like looking at what they are doing now and thinking of ways to move them forward, i like the freedom to change what we are doing because a comment from a child leads us down another path it is so much easier than trying to think of activities that fit a theme and then try and fit them to learning intentions and if that happens to fit with what someone needs then thats a bonus

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I agree with what you are saying but i also have concerns that we are missing out areas of learning, for example we have ditched the topics completely since sept and gone with childrens interest, we have 22 boys and 2 girls in the session, all the boys seem to just be interested in cars, so we have planned for their interest, we have covered the whole of the floor with paper drawn roads, added buildings made from junk modelling etc on a large scale, made cars from junk modeeling, discussed sizes, colours, makes of cars, where we go in a car, what car they have at home etc...we have done sooooo much on cars ... my concern is that children may miss out if we don't put something in connected to space or other areas as they will never experience this, i feel by adding this they may extend their learning and find they do enjoy it and it becomes an interest.... not sure if i have quite got my point across here as its quite hard to put it in words.....

 

 

This is where I get confused too but their seems to be some trains of thought that say yes you should go with this for as long as they need this but on the other hand are they getting any knew experiences. Probably with this I would have introduced stories about cars and travel, maybe a travel agents, looked at other transport, maybe stories like the train ride ect. I find also that if I set up something that loosely has come from their interests that they are just as excited if not more so.

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This is a really interesting thread: thanks catma!

 

We have made the transition from topics and themes to child-led planning, however we focus on two children each week rather than try to follow the interests of all the children at once. However, we have found that children build on each other's interests and so we find that there often is a thread (or even a theme) flowing through the weeks as we go along.

 

It did take some of the more established staff way out of their comfort zone (who, now I think of it are no longer with us :o ) but the new staff coming into the team were none the wiser and seem to feel more at ease planning this way. Certainly our children feel they have more of an input into what we provide, and are very confident in asking for what they want if it isn't immediately available. Parents are also contributing to the planning system by providing information about what their child is interested in at the moment, family news etc and some have reported that their child is more willing to talk about what is going on at nursery than before.

 

However this way of planning does take skill and creative thinking though: and we do need to keep a weather eye on providing a broad and balanced curriculum. I like the idea of introducing new ideas by means of equipment or artefacts - often when the adults are really enthusiastic about something children's natural curiosity can be inspired and then they run with the idea and make it their own. And by some judicial 'planting' of resources within our continuous provision we can enable children to 'discover' things for themselves!

 

Thanks for this catma: you've given me some extra ammunition for my EYPS written task! xD

 

Maz

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I think that the two-year topic cycle has had its day and love the idea of building on the children’s play interests.

 

“ I truly believe that if you don't know what skills, knowledge or understanding your children are about to develop right now and how that chosen focus is going to do it, then why on earth are you using it??” Catma

 

I think the example that Ger gives of how to build on children’s interest in cars is a good one. It’s that scaffolding cycle (Bruner et al) beginning with the child rather than the adult, which is just what should happen. The child demonstrates an interest, theme, or a schema, which can then be built on and developed. The practitioner extends the child’s learning by stimulating it adding enhancements, which may be artefacts, adult interaction, stories, songs, role-play, drama or whatever, to ‘feed’ the children. The child then responds to this, or not, and the practitioner then builds on that response. It seems to me that staff need to plan these ‘mini-topics’ around the children, so they still need to do a mini-web of ideas, equipment, books etc. that they can add to support the children, and look at possible lines of development. This would be after observing the interest, whereas before it used to be planned well in advance regardless.

I think the key is moving them on when they are ready, so racing around on bikes for weeks on end, which I think we all find they want to do, means the adult intervenes by not putting the bikes out for a while. What do they do then? Taking the bikes away would also be building on the child’s observed learning needs, as it is responding to the need to involve those children in another form of self chosen play, to develop other skills.

I do feel that there are ‘predictable interests’ which should be planned into the learning. By this I mean seasonal and religious festivals, topical events like this years Olympics, or baking activities, visits, people coming in to do art, music and drama activities. We would be doing children a disservice if we didn’t sometimes introduce new ideas and experiences. There are so many children who never experience baking, growing things, or go anywhere exciting on trips, and these children need to be given these opportunities in nursery.

I think that there is a long was to go before practitioners, especially in schools, are convinced of the effectiveness of working in this way, or are allowed to do so. I notice some strong reactions on another Forum against this way of planning. In Reception there are constraints from the literacy and numeracy requirements passed down from above, and it really does take strong-minded and imaginative practitioners to tie it altogether.

 

As an aside - having listened to, and observed some practitioners, I am concerned that because of so much focus on boys learning, writing etc. girls may actually be missing out now, as so many mini themes seem to be traditionally a boys domain.

 

HappyMaz sums it all up for me:

 

“However this way of planning does take skill and creative thinking though: and we do need to keep a weather eye on providing a broad and balanced curriculum.”

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I agree with what you are saying but i also have concerns that we are missing out areas of learning, for example we have ditched the topics completely since sept and gone with childrens interest, we have 22 boys and 2 girls in the session, all the boys seem to just be interested in cars, so we have planned for their interest, we have covered the whole of the floor with paper drawn roads, added buildings made from junk modelling etc on a large scale, made cars from junk modeeling, discussed sizes, colours, makes of cars, where we go in a car, what car they have at home etc...we have done sooooo much on cars ... my concern is that children may miss out if we don't put something in connected to space or other areas as they will never experience this, i feel by adding this they may extend their learning and find they do enjoy it and it becomes an interest.... not sure if i have quite got my point across here as its quite hard to put it in words.....

 

 

But working that through, if they develop their skills of joining materials through making models of cars or their mark making skills through drawing routes for cars does it ultimately matter whether its through the context of cars or space or anything we might think they should have?We still want them to develop the skills they are using anyway.

 

Are we trying to compensate for something that we, from our own personal cultural perspective, think a child should be interested in or experience? Would it really put a child at a disadvantage to not know about the seaside if they live in the middle of a big urban sprawl anyway?

 

Is it the underlying skills and processes that are more important than the contexts we do it in? (I'm not disagreeing, just thinking!!)

Cx

Edited by catma
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Is it the underlying skills and processes that are more important than the contexts we do it in? (I'm not disagreeing, just thinking!!)

Of course the skills we are trying to teach are the most important thing - but choosing the right context in which to teach can greatly affect how successful the teaching and learning process is.

 

If you think about this in the thorny issue of encouraging boys to engage in mark making and writing for example, I would say that the context is what is important for hooking children into engaging with the learning. Whether it be cars, spiderman or power rangers, it is immaterial really if the boys are encouraged to actually pick up a pen or pencil and begin to experiment with writing. They are so excited to be engaging with things they recognise and value (especially if these are things that we as practitioners don't often appear to value!) that at first they don't realise they are learning. Once they have gained the skills they need, they begin to realise the power they have to turn their ideas into something tangible. As they grow and develop they will become interested in new contexts in which to use these skills - and will have long forgotten that some clever early years practitioner saw something a child was interested in and used it to entice him into an area that he might not have naturally wanted to spend his time!

 

This is getting a bit deep for a Saturday afternoon - my brain hurts!

 

Maz

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Of course the skills we are trying to teach are the most important thing - but choosing the right context in which to teach can greatly affect how successful the teaching and learning process is.

 

I agree, Maz. Some of my class were using number cards as invitations (the number told everyone what time to come!), which then progressed to making their own invitations (cutting, sticking and drawing of pictures), so this week they have each made an invitation for someone else in the class (as an adult directed/led activity), having had a couple of short whole class sessions looking at/writing an invitation. A couple did all their writing, some did the 'on' and 'at', and some did somewhere inbetween, but they were all really keen to have a go, which I think was because it came from something they started.

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When we observe children in child initiated play, do we just see the 'doing'? Or do we look closer at the 'thinking' that is occuring.

 

The example of bikes and scooters needing to be put away 'because all they do is ride up and down for 2 1/2 hours'. I used to feel this way, then I decided to arrange the hall to enable bikes / scooters out all the time alongside all the other experiences a preschool offers. What came about was actually that the children chose mainly on average to 'use' the bikes/scooters on arrival to the session. This being totally contradictory to the previous 'adult' planned idea of providing bikes/scooters after lunch or another sedatory activity.

 

On closer observation the children didn't just use the bike/scooters to practice physical skills of balance, motion etc, they used them in the context of a contiuum of their 'travel' to preschool, their play 'thoughts' were about concepts of jorneys, they then added resources to use the bikes/scooters to support their role play of shopping ( another concept linked with journeys).

Once they had exhausted their play the bikes would be 'parked' and they would go off to do somthing else, SAFE in the knowledge that as and when they were inclined the bike/scooters would still be available. They became like any other 'available' resource in the setting, and their use to the children expanded because of this freedom of availablity.

 

I agree that the adults role has become more of a 'scaffolding' role than it has previously been pre-EYFS, although this was taught to all during childcare & education training, it seemed to me to get lost in the practical world of preschool, which I think did, in some part become crowd control, supervisory, adult led, fitting to constrictive routines and timetables.

 

I think the childs experience in preschool has somewhat reflected the adults experience in life, over the last decade government policy, rules and laws has become more and more 'dictatorial' towards the general public, thinking for us and not enabling us to be 'responsible for ourselves' the amount of things we cannot do as a society has, I think, increased to our detriment.

We as a society have bcome more relient on the state and become a 'bound' by too much legislation that has been devised for the whole and not the individual. I think, in some cases, to the point, that we feel disempowered to even think for ourselves and so we have become so unconfident we question everything, really not knowing now what is expected of us. This is across the board in all aspects of life, not just in our professional work.

 

Getting back to children and the workplace, I think as soon as government and Inspectors embrace and give us back the freedom of using our professional judgement, then we will all remember our initial training, the way children really develop (as they always have done) and we will feel comfortable enough to 'play' alongside and scaffold, we will stop directing and 'theming', we will observe the thinking (not just the doing) behind each indivdual childs play and we will look at with awe and wonder again at our childrens innate abilities to learn, self directed.

 

I like this quote:

 

"A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary."

Thomas Carruthers

 

 

The second quote reminds me of my last few months at preschool before it closed, the children were observed to be able to set their own agendas for the whole session there were leaders and followers within the group, a young girl with particular leader qualities would bring the other children together for an impromptu story, or group activity of 5 little men in a flying saucer game. Then the 'leader' was led by another childs idea as they went off to explore/play, all the children would play 'purposefully' throughout the session, with no adult leadership/intervention.

I said to one of my staff when this practice occured on more than one occasion, as we sat back and watched, "Well, doesn't look like I'll really be missed, they can all run the sessions themselves" xD And the observations showed 'learning', how the children problem solved, interacted, time managed themselves, met their own needs, evidenced known concepts in different contexts and showed some euika moments of new understanding. Behaviour was consistently good, they solved their own misunderstandings / tiffs, and formed extremely close relationships with each other, which I think wll last way into their primary if not secondary and future years.

This is for me a 'proud' memory of the 7 yrs I had at my preschool.

 

to sum up

 

"What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child."

George Bernard Shaw

 

I think adults have to 'work' at learning, children's every breath is 'learning', they are never 'just doing' and they are the experts in what they want to learn when. :o

 

Peggy

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Are we trying to compensate for something that we, from our own personal cultural perspective, think a child should be interested in or experience? Would it really put a child at a disadvantage to not know about the seaside if they live in the middle of a big urban sprawl anyway?

 

Is it the underlying skills and processes that are more important than the contexts we do it in? (I'm not disagreeing, just thinking!!)

Cx

 

I think that as adults we should open up experiences to young children, and yes they may be from our own cultural perspective. Children are growing up in society, whether that of their own family and community or part of the wider world. Learning about the 'culture' of that society is part of belonging. Perhaps it does not put a child at an immediate disadvantage not to know about the seaside, for example, but the child's knowledge about the world is richer if they do, and part of the beginning of understanding of the nature of the world in which they live.

 

Skills and processes are very important, but those skills need to be given a context to be purposeful and interesting for the child. Following children's interests is a way of children learning the skills they need through their own chosen contexts.

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This is a really interesting thread. I have recently taken over the role of FS Leader, we have 2 Reception classes and 1 mixed Y1/R. I very much want to go down the route of child led planning as in my previous job I have seen the learning and excitement that takes place. However, in my new setting the other well established Reception teacher is very much wanting us to be doing the same things and is wanting a weekly meeting so we can 'agree what we are doing this week!' Our classes are different, the interests of the children are different how can we possible do that!! I am busy building up relationships with the staff and want slowly to change their current thinking but it is going to be tough. They have been amazed that I have changed my home corner three times this half term already as they are so use to setting it up themselves and leaving it for a half term. In my class the children have created it, moved the furniture around and made posters etc to go inside it.

 

I have a journey in front of me to change the way the staffs thinking but certainly know the direction I want to go in.

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When we observe children in child initiated play, do we just see the 'doing'? Or do we look closer at the 'thinking' that is occuring. Peggy

 

I heard this described recently as "listening to the sound of children thinking" which I love!

 

I'm musing on what children "knowing about" something and what we might mean by that. Is it just that - e.g. I know the Grand Canyon exists - I've never been there but I know about it in an academic way, however I don't know what it feels like to be there or smells like or tastes like.........., or is it knowing about something from the way I have experienced it time and time again so I intrinsically understand it, know it, use it without even knowing how I know. Is this where themes fail fundamentally because we don't really get to be in the heart of the thing, that idea of wallowing in something that Tina Bruce talks about.

 

Hmmmmmmmm. Off to think some more.

Cx

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Is this where themes fail fundamentally because we don't really get to be in the heart of the thing, that idea of wallowing in something that Tina Bruce talks about.

I agree catma: if we follow children's lead we are more likely to be able to give them time and space to wallow in the experience and in so doing, enable them to develop their understanding and hone their skills. Also we're more likely to spot schematic play than if children are rushing from one experience to another.

 

However I wouldn't say that themes fail, exactly: lots of settings plan around themes and I'm sure they'd say they are able to plan for children's learning successfully. Does it ultimately come down to our personal philosophy and our own stage of development as practitioners? Or does that sound a bit elitist or patronising?

 

Maz

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Oh I'm not against themes! I am just reflecting on how we might use them for the best outcomes rather than the predetermined chunk of knowledge thay may become if we let them. I think it's that all important balance - not allowing the theme to dominate so that it excludes all other input from children and adults around the setting and having confidence to chuck it out the window when the children start something far more interesting and relevant to them!

 

Cx

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I think it's that all important balance - not allowing the theme to dominate so that it excludes all other input from children and adults around the setting and having confidence to chuck it out the window when the children start something far more interesting and relevant to them!

Ah the balance! That's the tricky bit isn't it - and as you say it takes confidence to chuck the plans away when the children find something eminently more stimulating! If only we could buy balance and confidence in an educaitonal supplies catalogue think what a different world we'd live in! :o

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hear hear Catma

i have gradually been working towards this over the last few months of last year and now we are fully child led, but i have taken my staff out of their comfort zone they feel lost without knowing 'what we're doing this week'

i would like to say our children are more settled now we are following what they want to do, (and many of them are) but since we opened up the door to the outside and give them free access, it doesn't matter what we put out there, the large construction blocks and planks, the sand trays, painting, climbing equipment, they constantly ask for the bikes and scooters...if we pack it away and get the bikes out are we challenging them and moving them on or are we responding to what they actually want to do which is spend 2 1/2 hours racing up and down on bikes.

 

I like starting with the child, i like looking at what they are doing now and thinking of ways to move them forward, i like the freedom to change what we are doing because a comment from a child leads us down another path it is so much easier than trying to think of activities that fit a theme and then try and fit them to learning intentions and if that happens to fit with what someone needs then thats a bonus

 

Freda, do you work in the same setting as me? Bikes and scooters are children's favourites. I was beginning to think that I was not providing enough choice but you have made me feel better because my children are exactly the same and enjoy nothing better than 2 1/2 hours on a bike!

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I use themes but in the broadest sense. Role play areas take a bit of planning to make sure that you have the right equipment to make it work successfully such as stethoscope, medical tools for doctors surgery etc. But this half term my children have turned my role play planning on its head. They have made a shop, post office and space rocket which has taken us through to this stage of the half term. The role play started off as a home corner and the children have changed it as the weeks have gone on. It has been really interesting watching the role play area change shape according to the children's ideas and needs. I have already asked the children what they would like next half term and can't wait to see what happens!

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Freda, do you work in the same setting as me? Bikes and scooters are children's favourites. I was beginning to think that I was not providing enough choice but you have made me feel better because my children are exactly the same and enjoy nothing better than 2 1/2 hours on a bike!

 

 

I had to pop into the chemist last week for some ralgex for my back I had spent most of Monday afternoon racing one of the children on the scooters (his favourite bit was seeing how far away he could get between steady and go!) and by Tuesday I could hardly move, hubby has suggested i try to buy a scooter for a 40 year old that way i won't have to bend so far i am considering asking my mum if i can borrow her mobility scooter for the day.........

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I had to pop into the chemist last week for some ralgex for my back I had spent most of Monday afternoon racing one of the children on the scooters (his favourite bit was seeing how far away he could get between steady and go!) and by Tuesday I could hardly move, hubby has suggested i try to buy a scooter for a 40 year old that way i won't have to bend so far i am considering asking my mum if i can borrow her mobility scooter for the day.........

 

Freda, maybe we should go into business selling scooters for 'grown-ups'. mrsW

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