There has been a lot of discussion and data about the widening attainment gap for children which is only deepened by the current pandemic. Data aside, most children arriving in a classroom, or possibly in an early years setting in September 2020 will have missed almost half a year of the kind of learning experiences they would have had. That’s half a year of pre-school children building up to Reception, half a year of Reception children blossoming into Year 1 and on and on it goes up through the year groups.
What seems like months to us is a large part of a small person’s life. Even though the year label on the door will have moved onto the next level, the children will be at varying points along the developmental journey to their new year group.
Educators will be thinking about how they can build bridges across the experience gap for their children. Julie Fisher uses the phrase ‘building on’ rather than ‘catching up’ or ‘being ready’. It takes time to get to know children, and to notice where they are in their journey. Children’s wellbeing will be at the heart of ‘building on’.
Your learning environment will play an enormous part in how you ‘build on’ for the children arriving in September. As much as possible it will need to reflect what they left halfway through their previous living and learning year. This will differ depending on the age and stage of children you will be welcoming, but it will be a truth for all educators in all year groups. Think about the spaces they occupied previously, talk to the staff who worked with them then, and use what you already know about them. Reflect on the outdoor spaces children can learn in. Alistair Bryce Clegg reminds us that the environment you provide needs to work for your children, and for you. There is a lot of pandemic-related guidance to wade through as well as embracing a stage of learning for children you may be less familiar with. Year 1 staff who will be welcoming Reception children will be bridging the gap between the EYFS and the National Curriculum, for example. Find a starting point with your learning environment that you and the children can build on from together.
You will also need to think about the flow of the day. Can you be more spacious with your timetable, removing interruptions and allowing longer stretches of time to be with children in their new learning environments?
And of course, the curriculum you provide must be relevant to your children. What do they need right now? What are their interests? What are they telling you in those first few days and weeks back? Noticing and listening will enable you to offer meaningful learning experiences. In return you will see children who are engaged, confident, thriving.
All this takes time, determination and teamwork. There will be lots of pressures to ‘catch up’, as though we are running an enormous race. We mustn’t lose sight of what children need, and if we miss out this all-important phase of return with this very special cohort of children, we run the risk of them missing out on being life-long learners.
You can listen to the education team chatting with Alistair Bryce Clegg about learning environments and continuous provision and also with Julie Fisher talking about Transition to Year 1 in 2020 on our podcasts.
Edited by Jules