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Focused Activities - Reaching All Children?


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Hi All

 

I work in a nursery attached to a primary school. We have 52 children morning and afternoon.

 

When I worked in a nursery school (my last job) our children were expected to work with their key person for 15 minutes each day, engaging in a focused activity either outdoor or indoor.

 

Now (new job) the children have the choice to engage or not in the focused activity planned by the teachers. Of course some children never choose to become involved in adult directed activities and are happy to play in the continuous provision. They see working with an adult as "work" and not play.

 

So, I would like to start a discussion about how we justify the time spent writing focused activities?

If we don't write plans, how do we ensure that we are covering all the strands within each area of learning?

 

Thoughts please.

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I would imagine that the area for you to focus on is in making the focussed activitities more engaging. At this age they need a bit more than the continous provision can offer alone. But that might be achieved by and adult joining in their play with the readily available resources.

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we didn't do detailed focus plans.. it often went in a different direction to our intention.. by using the children's interests they often changed it mid flow..we usually found most children would access a focus activity we may have set up if it was done to their interests or something they would find exciting or engaging .. some days it would be everyone, others none in which case we would rethink assess, evaluate and change it..

 

we found our continuous provision plans covered all the areas - any more was offered or achieved by scaffolding and joining in with the area and what was available...

 

we never had a keyworker time or small group where all must join in... always a choice of if they want to join in they did... when looking at their learning journeys we could find any areas not covered and usually incorporate it in daily routine to involve them.

 

we did have the story /song circle time every day where if we needed to we could also incorporate an area of learning we felt was needed.. then all did join in..

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Hi

We are very much the same as Inge. Only time we sit down is register, story and song time with a letters and sounds activity. Then its up to the children what they do.

We do have 2 focus activites going on each week which are highlighted for thsoe that need it as a next step. We try and encourage those children especially to access the activity but if they arent interested then its up to the keyperson to try and use something that may interest them. The activity is open to all children and we do a quick ob when they do it.

 

The sitting down for 15 mins in keyworker groups is a big no-no from what our Early Years support say. Our supervisor was concerned that the this is something we should be doing but the EY support teacher said it should be down to the child to decide.

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Hi

We are very much the same as Inge. Only time we sit down is register, story and song time with a letters and sounds activity. Then its up to the children what they do.

We do have 2 focus activites going on each week which are highlighted for thsoe that need it as a next step. We try and encourage those children especially to access the activity but if they arent interested then its up to the keyperson to try and use something that may interest them. The activity is open to all children and we do a quick ob when they do it.

 

The sitting down for 15 mins in keyworker groups is a big no-no from what our Early Years support say. Our supervisor was concerned that the this is something we should be doing but the EY support teacher said it should be down to the child to decide.

 

Hi Marley

 

I am surprised that you all sit for registration? Many settings see this as too formal with young children. What is your reasoning behind this routine???

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We sat for register too.. for us it was a good regular way for children to come in and start a session.. they knew the routine, it never changed and all staff were there to sit with them .. numbers, days, counting and all sorts were done at this time... lasted about 5 mins sometimes 10 and children actually enjoyed it... so much so they used it in role play lots of times. we had a set of play items for them to use and it was always out..

 

we knew lots thought it inappropriate or not suitable for the age but for us it worked.. so we kept it.. had it not we would have changed it..

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Hi Moorgate, your question is one of those perennial questions that will always bring strong views on both sides. Good for you to reflect on you own position.

 

Often schools have a greater expectation for planned activities to be taking place, certainly I was always expected to have them happening every day in one form or another.

I think the key thing here is to go back to what the EYFS says..it talks of having a 'balance' between child initiated and adult led activities, so for me, not having any planned or adult led activities does not fit this 'balance'. It worries me slightly that sometimes people feel that having planned activities or small group times is somehow 'bad' or 'wrong' or 'not in the ethos of the EYFS'. (I meet this view often when I am out and about).

 

I always had key person time, as far back as 20 years ago, we didn't call it that then, but the principal was the same, it was an opportunity to spend time talking with your key children for a short period of time each day on a particular activity or theme. Im afraid, I would argue long and hard with anyone saying this is bad practice, or that it shouldn't happen, and I would be asking why not? I think its a good opportunity to have conversations with a group of children. Just a personal view, which Im sure there will be many members here who dont agree.

 

Regarding your planned focus activities, we used to do these as well. We encouraged the children to take part but never forced them to, they usually did though, and we felt this was also part of this 'balance'. Sometimes this focus would go on all week (cookery for example), sometimes it would change daily (eg parachute games where you might do it with a larger group). We had written plans for these, and I would imagine most nursery classes in schools have some sort of written planning for some activities.

 

Good luck with your reflections

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I like Inge's way of providing focussed activities. I think it's down to interpretation, I believe adult planned and focussed activities are all good and well as long as they have been created from observations on individual children's interests. This may mean that some children may not be interested in certain focussed activities, especially if they are asked to stop what they are currently interested in to participate. However, hopefully, these same children will participate eagerly if the activities 'grab' their interest/'push their buttons'. If the same children are always 'missing out' on adult focussed activities, I would perhaps reflect on what I had been providing, and try to ensure that I 'took the activity to the child' and adapt the activities to suit their preferred learning style and environment.

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we used to sit for register and would do day of week etc but were told by our ofsted that it was a big no no - so stopped it - a shame as the children could all name the days of the week but now ......

 

 

I wonder then how do you show "it works for us"? We all know how valuable evidence is. How would you illustrate/document the effective learning opportunities of, for example, sitting together for register???

 

Comments please???

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I'll put a spanner in the works here and say that as a reception teacher whose children mostly come from a local playgroup (recently rated outstanding) where the children self register, have cafe style snack and free flow for the whole day and except for lunchtime have no times where the children come together. There is no song, story or small group times and I really do worry about what the children are missing out on. Yes they come to me confident able to initiate their own play and independent which is fantastic but their first term at school is a shock because they have never been expected to sit on the carpet for register, sit quietly for a length of time and listen to each other or even listen to a story. They have also never been expected to work with an adult which some children are resistant to to begin with. What concerns me most I suppose is that speaking and listening skills have taken a back seat. It seems each year that more and more children are entering our reception with ever increasing speech problems and I think it's a travesty that they are denied storytime, singing and small group speaking and listening sessions. Yes at the playgroup they have books and sing songs but only at the response of children who have shown an interest so if a child or group of children have shown an interest in caterpillars for example the key worker will read them the hungry caterpillar and will teach a song about it as per their planning but depending on the child's interests or the keyworker involved, some may never have had this kind of interaction.

I can't help but compare this playgroup with the one all 3 of my children have attended which is but a mile away (also rated outstanding!) which does a more formal register time, cafe style snack and freeflow throughout the session but coming together at the end of the session to share activities done by children that day, stories and songs. My daughter who is just 4 has learned a wealth of songs and can tell 3 stories by heart (they are doing storymaking) and I feel confident that when she goes to school this September that she will settle well because some of the routines will already be familiar to her.

With regard to register time and it's benefits no I don't suppose there's much learning to be had from it but all schools have to do it and after all it only lasts 5 minutes tops. The children in my class and my daughter role play taking the register. In the case of the children in my class, in CI time there's a group of children who make registers by writing down lists of names and then play schools and in fact in response to this interest I have a corner of my classroom as a role play school so some good language, writing and role play skills have come from that 5 minutes at the start of the day.

Deb

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I'll put a spanner in the works here and say that as a reception teacher whose children mostly come from a local playgroup (recently rated outstanding) where the children self register, have cafe style snack and free flow for the whole day and except for lunchtime have no times where the children come together. There is no song, story or small group times and I really do worry about what the children are missing out on. Yes they come to me confident able to initiate their own play and independent which is fantastic but their first term at school is a shock because they have never been expected to sit on the carpet for register, sit quietly for a length of time and listen to each other or even listen to a story. They have also never been expected to work with an adult which some children are resistant to to begin with. What concerns me most I suppose is that speaking and listening skills have taken a back seat. It seems each year that more and more children are entering our reception with ever increasing speech problems and I think it's a travesty that they are denied storytime, singing and small group speaking and listening sessions. Yes at the playgroup they have books and sing songs but only at the response of children who have shown an interest so if a child or group of children have shown an interest in caterpillars for example the key worker will read them the hungry caterpillar and will teach a song about it as per their planning but depending on the child's interests or the keyworker involved, some may never have had this kind of interaction.

I can't help but compare this playgroup with the one all 3 of my children have attended which is but a mile away (also rated outstanding!) which does a more formal register time, cafe style snack and freeflow throughout the session but coming together at the end of the session to share activities done by children that day, stories and songs. My daughter who is just 4 has learned a wealth of songs and can tell 3 stories by heart (they are doing storymaking) and I feel confident that when she goes to school this September that she will settle well because some of the routines will already be familiar to her.

With regard to register time and it's benefits no I don't suppose there's much learning to be had from it but all schools have to do it and after all it only lasts 5 minutes tops. The children in my class and my daughter role play taking the register. In the case of the children in my class, in CI time there's a group of children who make registers by writing down lists of names and then play schools and in fact in response to this interest I have a corner of my classroom as a role play school so some good language, writing and role play skills have come from that 5 minutes at the start of the day.

Deb

 

 

Thanks for your detailed reply Deb.

 

So in answer to my question regarding evidence and impact on learning, you can show that as children imitate through role play, they are indeed "practicing" skills demonstrated at small group time. Is that a fair assessment?????

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we did a planning sheet for these daily routines to show what they were learning.. so we had one for register time... soert of coninuous provision sheet showing all the learning that could be achieved in those 5 mins.. when you start looking at it we found there was a lot of learning so kept it in.. and Ofsted were happy with it.. not a comment as to not being suitable...

 

we did same for story and song times.. and must agree that these group times were important on many levels... so would never have abandoned or not done them...

 

working from interests and letting children have free choice is good but children also learn by experiencing things so by implication if they don't experience something how will they ever learn about it... once experienced then they can take it forward to replicate what they have been doing.. and in turn this can be extended for further learning.

 

just giving them items for say travel will not help the children if they have no idea of what happens on a plane, or even a train and bus for some to them... it has no meaning until they experience the travel then they can replicate it in play..

 

so while we did not do the small group time so much was learnt in the large group times twice a day..

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Hi

The register, song time and story time are our way of doing the adult directed bit whereas the rest is totally child directed. To be fair it is still highly balanced in the childs favour!

 

I do agree with both Inge and Debs points of view. We are preparing the older ones for school. We do however split our register, story and song time ie 2-3yrs and then 3yrs plus with age appropriate times (ie 5 mins for little ones!), story etc. We also have to have these sitting down times to get the rooms ready for lunch. Register for the older ones includes saying the days, using thinking skills eg what is your favourite colour, counting of the children present and is then followed by a quick activity - 10 mins at the most. Younger ones just have register and then get up to play. Our rooms are split for 30 mins which we have found gives the younger ones time to settle especially if just starting. Then we open up the rooms, outside, snack table etc.

We also have children role play the register as well as sitting on the chair with a book telling a story to friends sat on the carpet.

Edited by marley
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Hi Busybeedeb

 

You have not put a spanner in the works at all.

 

Firstly i would say that I agree with Inge that focus plans should be made around the children's interests particularly those who rarely engage - find something that a child is interested in and they will gravitate to an adult if the activity is presented in an interestingway.

 

 

When children go to pre-school or a childminder the focus should be on learning through play - having to sit down may start in Reception - but why?

 

Developmentally, personally and socially these are still very young children. Why is it necessary that they must sit down for register - they perhaps cant understand this as they have been respected enough to be able to self-register and trusted to undertake that - now an adult wants that control and undermines their ability? As for sitting down for long periods of time - I think Reception and schools should look at the amount of time these babes are expected to sit down - register, storytime, work template times, lunch times, another afternoon story time!! Quite a lot is expected. These children have curious and developing minds. Certainly children attending Reception need to undertake much physical movement from outer to inner in order to be able to gain pencil control that some teachers in pre-school desire.

 

Communication can be undertaken in many forms - puppet shows, persona dolls, role play - speach and language can be encouraged and monitored through observation. Does it really matter that at this stage they cant sit down through a whole pile of adult initated activities?

 

Have a look at Sweeden/Germany/Italy who would not dream of putting children through our current system - until they reach at least 7 years old and have learnt through play. Communication, Reading and writing has not been taught - but for some reason these children in these countries far surpass ours when they start undertaking the sit down requirements we so desire here.

 

Look at research and find better ways of encouraging communication, reading, writing - rather than the fixed ways.

 

Also remember that children still come under the EYFS in Reception - learn through play!!

 

Sorry really passionate about this and hope this does not offend anyone.

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...find something that a child is interested in and they will gravitate to an adult if the activity is presented in an interestingway. ..

 

... having to sit down may start in Reception - but why?

 

Developmentally, personally and socially these are still very young children. Why is it necessary that they must sit down for register ... I think Reception and schools should look at the amount of time these babes are expected to sit down ...Quite a lot is expected...

...Communication can be undertaken in many forms - puppet shows, persona dolls, role play - speach and language can be encouraged and monitored through observation. Does it really matter that at this stage they cant sit down through a whole pile of adult initated activities?

 

Have a look at Sweeden/Germany/Italy who would not dream of putting children through our current system - until they reach at least 7 years old and have learnt through play. Communication, Reading and writing has not been taught - but for some reason these children in these countries far surpass ours when they start undertaking the sit down requirements we so desire here.

 

Look at research and find better ways of encouraging communication, reading, writing - rather than the fixed ways.

 

Also remember that children still come under the EYFS in Reception - learn through play!!

 

Have to say I agree with this...and I have had a lot of challenges from staff and committee meembers who want me to introduce more formal stuff like sitting down for focused activities ("so they learn their numbers and letters..."), snack all together (so they "learn manners"!) and simply because "parents want to see more structure".

'Structure' has become shorthand for 'learning' I think...according to this children can only ever learn if they are sat at a desk, working directly with an adult, or following a written 'activity plan'...but actually these are often the things that put children off learning..we need to provide a whole range of 'irresistable' opportunites and 'provocations' that will capture the imagination and interest of each child.

 

Although my setting does have a group time at the end of the session (mainly because the resources have to be packed away to make room for lunch!) I do not in any way consider this is the key learning opportunity in the day and I'm not bothered if we end up not having time for it...

I do 'focused activites' in the sence that I am focused on working with indiviudals or groups of children at whatever they have chosen to do - the 'focused' part means actually being present, listening, discussing, encouraging etc and not trying to change the direction of the play to meet a certain goal....I am less focused on what I want to get out of it or what targets I might be able to tick off...I only think about that afterwards when Im reviewing what I have observed. This is when, if you must do so, you can check for coverage...and usually it covers a lot more than id you'd planned to do it.

I am a great fan of the 'retrospective' approach - allowing activites to emerge spontaneously and then recording them afterwards.

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Hi Trekker

 

I am really impressed with your contribution.

 

[i]We need to provide a whole range of 'irresistable' opportunites and 'provocations' that will capture the imagination and interest of each child.[/i] Your words are soooooo true!!!

 

I gather you work in a private setting and do not have the pressure from teachers in Reception. Although I take your point about the committee.

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Totally agree Beauvink and you ahve not upset at all! but the thing is like it or lump it we are in the uk and our system is different. What is interesting though is that in European countries their kindergarten system is fantastic and they don't go to formal school until 6 or 7 but when they get there it is often incredibly formal and rigid by our standards often with little room for creativity. Great strides have been made in the last few years with EYFS however many of us reception teachers like me are caught between a rock and a hard place. When my children go to Year 1 next year, they will have 1/3 of the space that they have in my classroom. They will also only have a TA in the morning. They will do a full hour of literacy and numeracy + guided reading and 20 mins phonics slot every morning and some of them will be 5 by just a few weeks. The teacher has been teaching for donkeys years and is very formal. In the space of 10 months I as a reception teacher have to somehow bridge the gap between the complete freeflow that is their playgroup to what they will find when they get to year 1. I think what also needs to be understood is how the ratios drastically change when they do come to school from 1:8 to unbelievably 1:30! (that's the legal requirement anyway) I do have a TA bringing my ratio to 1:15 but even still that does necessitate some whole class teaching. I do operate freeflow for about half the time the children are at school, we also have Forest school half a day a week and I do only have them on the carpet for short periods but I would be doing them a disservice if I didn't start to prepare them a little for what they will face in September.

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AS I said before, Moorgate, this debate brings out the strongest passions in many of us. I'm wondering though now that you have read a variety of views, what you think about what you've read, and which way you want to go in your school?

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Have to say I agree with this...and I have had a lot of challenges from staff and committee meembers who want me to introduce more formal stuff like sitting down for focused activities ("so they learn their numbers and letters..."), snack all together (so they "learn manners"!) and simply because "parents want to see more structure".

'Structure' has become shorthand for 'learning' I think...according to this children can only ever learn if they are sat at a desk, working directly with an adult, or following a written 'activity plan'...but actually these are often the things that put children off learning..we need to provide a whole range of 'irresistable' opportunites and 'provocations' that will capture the imagination and interest of each child.

 

Although my setting does have a group time at the end of the session (mainly because the resources have to be packed away to make room for lunch!) I do not in any way consider this is the key learning opportunity in the day and I'm not bothered if we end up not having time for it...

I do 'focused activites' in the sence that I am focused on working with indiviudals or groups of children at whatever they have chosen to do - the 'focused' part means actually being present, listening, discussing, encouraging etc and not trying to change the direction of the play to meet a certain goal....I am less focused on what I want to get out of it or what targets I might be able to tick off...I only think about that afterwards when Im reviewing what I have observed. This is when, if you must do so, you can check for coverage...and usually it covers a lot more than id you'd planned to do it.

I am a great fan of the 'retrospective' approach - allowing activites to emerge spontaneously and then recording them afterwards.

 

I couldn't have said all of this better myself! This is exactly the kind of approach I'm working towards in my nursery class, but I'm experiencing some pressure from the TAs I work with who seem to believe that learning can only take place during a structured, pre-planned activity. I'm going to go for it with a more retrospective approach next week anyway, and hopefully the other staff members will see the benefit.

 

I hate to hijack someone else's thread, but I hope you don't mind me sharing my proposed timetable... Even though I'm nearing the end of my first year teaching nursery, I still feel slightly in the dark about whether I'm doing things right! Any feedback would be greatly appreciated :)

Nursery_timetable.doc

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I couldn't have said all of this better myself! This is exactly the kind of approach I'm working towards in my nursery class, but I'm experiencing some pressure from the TAs I work with who seem to believe that learning can only take place during a structured, pre-planned activity. I'm going to go for it with a more retrospective approach next week anyway, and hopefully the other staff members will see the benefit.

 

I hate to hijack someone else's thread, but I hope you don't mind me sharing my proposed timetable... Even though I'm nearing the end of my first year teaching nursery, I still feel slightly in the dark about whether I'm doing things right! Any feedback would be greatly appreciated :)

 

 

Hi Browneyedgirl- I really hope your retrospective planning goes well this week. I absolutely love it and would hate to have to go back to the old way!

In many ways it is much more difficult and demanding than simply planning an activity a day six weeks in advance with fixed learning objectives that are the same for every child in the group.... :o

It requires adults to basically consider themsleves as a core resource (alongside the environment), be very responsive, think on their feet and be fully in tune with each individual childs needs and interests.

They also need to feel comfortable with letting children lead the way most of the time and trust that learning happens.

Getting other people on board can be a challenge but having persevered for over a year I am still convinced that the children are more engaged, happy and progressing so it ticks all my boxes.

 

I really liked your timetable - nice big chucks of child led play and your adult led periods are kept short and sweet. Looks great to me. xD

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Hi Browneyedgirl- I really hope your retrospective planning goes well this week. I absolutely love it and would hate to have to go back to the old way!

In many ways it is much more difficult and demanding than simply planning an activity a day six weeks in advance with fixed learning objectives that are the same for every child in the group.... xD

It requires adults to basically consider themsleves as a core resource (alongside the environment), be very responsive, think on their feet and be fully in tune with each individual childs needs and interests.

They also need to feel comfortable with letting children lead the way most of the time and trust that learning happens.

Getting other people on board can be a challenge but having persevered for over a year I am still convinced that the children are more engaged, happy and progressing so it ticks all my boxes.

 

I really liked your timetable - nice big chucks of child led play and your adult led periods are kept short and sweet. Looks great to me. :(

 

Thank you :o It's really reassuring to get some positive feedback. This is the way I've been wanting to teach for such a long time, but pressure from colleagues to be more 'formal' and structured has made me doubt whether it's the right approach.

 

The only thing I'm worried about is, as you say, making sure that all staff are aware of each child's needs and interests. We have 63 children altogether; 38 AM and 25 PM... Any thoughts on whether the approach will be practical in this respect?

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