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A discussion about themes or topics


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I just wanted to start a discussion about different views on themes.

I have heard differing views from leading professionals including they are good for language development and for children to be able to 'see' what they have learnt and then the other extreme, that they actually go against the statuary guidance which states that we must take into account individual interests.

For the last few years (due to the requirements of my school), I have done very light-touch themes. I do mind-maps with the children to see what way they want to take each theme and then some activities and resources link to the theme. I do not change the whole setting or insist that every extra resource links. We also follow individual interests as they arrive.

I've been thinking about things like seasons - if we didn't talk about them, would the children notice? Would it matter if they didn't and they noticed changes in different things? Or is it an entitlement of the children that we bring their attention to these things? Would we naturally talk about these things as a parent would, covering it without making it a planned topic? Then there's those children who have never shown an interest in a certain theme until different resources are brought out!

Where do you stand? Are themes WRONG! Or are they good for some things?



Green Hippo x

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Well...what are you trying to do cause uproar on a Wednesday night imagine THEMES! :o


xDxD :lol: xD


Im going to answer the second bit first.....

yes children notice the things around them so NO I do not do an AUTUMN theme......whats the point? if they are outside and can see a tree...if they go past a conker tree.....if they have to put more clothes on then they feel and experience Autumn. We may give it a name and explain some of the more technical info but they are learning in action but in order to do this they need to be outside/in the park/going down the road etc///tricky if you are stuck in a school playground devoid of all life! They do not need to paint a leaf an autumn colour and do a print....they can see it's changing. If they look at pumpkins they are not all orange and have a black triangle nose and eyes stuck on them....you get my drift


BUT I can understand that having a plan may be helpful especially when it comes to language.....we have discovered that lots of our EAL children do not know the words for animals...in an ideal world I would go and see some but we don't have many giraffes round here so I have to use resources to hand in order to teach these....but I don't believe children bed in these ideas until they have experiences these things (how big is an elephant what does it smell like or sound like or breath like??????)


I think we also have to be cautious about children becoming obsessed with things....we have a train fanatic at the moment...it is a problem not a benefit (he has suspected asd and it gets in the way of his development...it has been actively and pointedly promoted elsewhere which has not helped.....doing a theme on transport would be the worst thing we could do in this case!


I worked to themes for years ...and we had some lovely ideas (mainly the staff I would have to add!) the learning that we get now is quite different and as individual as the children.....yes it's hard work and tricky not everyone is doing the same thing at the same time but we certainly don't have 60 orange pumpkins plastered all over our windows looking exactly the same as each other (unlike the school down the road......they have had the same display idea for the last 17 years to my knowledge!)

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With regard Autumn we do bring the outside in, as we have quite a 'plastic' outside area. So we've walked and collected and added finds to playdoh table, creation station etc and pictures and posters- find it can get samey but have had opportunity to use 'colourful' language!! : /. Interesting how many of ours do not know a conker is a conker!


And occasionally we throw in something like Africa........ for those 'giraffe' conversations...and the musics fab! :)


But generally do not have Themes anymore.

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I think there is a difference between a theme, where the learning is all about "doing the theme" - ie we are doing dinosaurs. I firmly believe children can quite happily never do a topic on people who help us and still learn who the postperson is.


However I do think there is such a thing as a "context for learning", which, especially when you are dealing with 30 children in a reception class (still the EYFS don't forget), can help make the identified needs within the children's learning meaningful. You can use interests to meet needs but do it through the typical or topical interests of a group. For example a world football competition or currrent film fad! I do also think that there is a need to introduce new things to children so that they can learn to step outside of their own experiences and widen their own world view (in an age appropriate way of course).


The capacity of an educator meeting the needs individually for 8 children is very different maybe when scaled up to 26/52+ or 30 in a school setting. There is maybe more capacity to be more individualistic in planning with smaller ratios??


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I actually used to get quite excited about themes and planning things within that theme to cover all areas...and I do kind of miss them especially when I find a bag of fantastic resources that haven't seen the light of day for years ...as no one has had the decency to show any interest what so ever ..which probably proves that themes were pointless or were they ?

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For me a bit of both works. I have 26 children. 16 are reception and 10 are year 1. The nature of the national curriculum means there are things I have to do with the year ones - learning about seasonal changes being one of them this year so yes, I have done a lot about autumn. The Y1s have written a poem (of sorts!) about autumn using describing words inspired by a walk collecting as many different coloured leaves as they can. When we get back they will write a report about autumn (cos if you're going to write a report in English you need to know something you can write about). We have printed autumn pictures - not leaf prints - we looked at different pictures and real autumn trees, discussed shape, texture and colour and then they had to choose classroom objects they thought would be appropriate to to print their picture - the learning here being about printing rather than autumn.


As Catma says with a big group it is difficult to provide for the interests of all so there tend to be a few different ones out. They were obsessed with the train set just before half-term so will probably do some writing related to this after the break. They were thoroughly enjoying playing with the beads so I put sticky labels with number on threads for them to work on counting. They were loving numicon so that went out with some teddy bear number cards and the compare bears for more number work.


However, I have in the past introduced them to something completely new because I've had to due to the Y1 curriculum (usually related to historical figures - we have at different times 'done' Darwin, William the Conqueror and Grace Darling) and I have been surprised at the interest shown and how we could extend and develop it and hearing that they talked about it at home.

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When I say 'themes' I definitely do not go down the old fashioned route of everybody creating the same thing, colouring the same picture etc. We do activities that are linked to a theme - so, for example, we would choose a linked book (that the children have shown an interest in) to look at characters, recalling main events or we would create a collage with different animal prints. By using a Mindmap, we tap into where the children's interests lie. So we have very broad theme headings - so for animals - some years the children have been mostly interested in pets, some years dinosaurs and wild animals, some years all different types, sometimes they want to know what they eat, other years where they live etc.

I agree, Catma, that following the interests of a few children is a different matter to meeting the interests of 30. The Statutory document states that 'Practitioners must consider the... interests of each child in their care' and later 'Practitioners must respond to each child's emerging...interests.' It does not say that practitioners must not introduce new ideas and interests to the children. If our environment is rich and we are ceasing the 'teachable moments' and responding to children's interests then we are meeting this Statutory Guidance, then anything that is introduced is a bonus and may spark a new interest and therefore new learning in a child?

I agree with you Finleysmaid, that children will notice Autumn but in a real context. This has what has got me thinking recently! If we are only following the interests of the children and our outdoor environment is a school playground, surely it is the 'right' thing to do, to take the children on a walk to experience 'Autumn.' Some children will be more fascinated than others, and we can bring things home for the children who want to continue to explore Autumn items - which is where we might suggest rubbings, or printings but to those who are showing a genuine interest!

Talking about 'People who help us' - my friend was telling me how her 2 year old son must have been doing this topic and they have been showing them how different people work. He had been shown how to open his mouth and say 'arrrr' for the dentist and have his ears checked by the doctor. My friend was pleased with this as she said 'he now doesn't fight us but lets us look in his mouth or ears!'


Thanks for all your replies. Keep discussing...it's interesting!

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Just to add the above about the statements from the Stat. Guidance - is this basically telling practitioners that you shouldn't say 'oh no, you can't play with the dinosaurs into Spring 1 when we do animals' and then when Spring 1 comes, putting away all the vehicles and only having animals out despite some children still showing interest in the vehicles?

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oh don't you just love good discussion!


of course when i'm planning catma i'm not just looking at the needs of 8 children but 60..... ;) I agree that the guidance is somewhat misleading ...I often find that when i'm talking about interests it is in a wider context so frozen for instance....what is it that the children are engaged in? what do they like about it? I would probably say it is not about the ice and cold but much rather about the dressing up and music...so can we use this interest?

(as an aside I find the disneyfication of childhood somewhat irritating /costly and teaches children to follow the crowd rather than think for themselves....but that's another discussion!)

Children will engage in things they are interested in and therefore will learn quicker...simples! but trying to do that in a meaningful way is what we are all after...if the theme is meaningful to them then they will engage and learn...surely that's the premise isn't it. So theme or no theme it's the engagement that's the key?

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