Child-led play is one of the most important ways we can help support children in their learning.
That’s why we decided to make it the topic of our second Famly Sessions event, held at the Childcare Expo 2019 in Manchester.
The main speakers were:
- Dr Sue Allingham on recalibrating our idea of next steps, and giving them back to the children.
- Richard Knight from the Early Years Alliance talking about the importance of play in the early years.
In both cases the central theme was clear. It was about trusting the child and finding the confidence to step back and interact, rather than interfere, with the child’s play. Above all, it was about taking the time to focus on what really matters – the children.
That’s where Famly comes in. As the most easy-to-use nursery software out there, we focus on making your strenuous tasks quick and easy, getting you back in the rooms helping your staff, and the staff back in the room to support the children. If you want to find out more, you can book your free online demo here.
One Small Step for A Child with Dr Sue Allingham
After first writing for the Famly blog on the topic a few months ago, we asked Sue to use her decades of experience in early years to deliver a talk all about next steps, where practitioners often go wrong, and what we can do to get back to the true purpose of next steps. The video is below, but first, our five key takeaways from her talk:
Next steps should be child-led
Throughout the talk, it was clear that Sue is a big advocate of moving away from activity-led, tickbox exercises where the children have no agency and the adults make all the decisions.
At [7:56] in the video above, she took us through two great stories of a time a child took control of his own next steps, both of which led to powerful learning opportunities. They came about because the practitioners involved focused on providing opportunities for Conor that suited his interests and let him take control of what happened next.
At [23:10], you’ll find a great discussion on the open-ended resources Sue had left around the room. The point? You can’t predict how a child will use what you give them. More importantly, if you get it wrong it can interfere with the child’s learning.
Take a jar lid. You might want to extend a child’s learning by talking about colours and shapes, but what use is that when all they care about is the great noise that it makes! When you allow the child to make their own next steps, you allow them to take charge of their own learning journey, giving you more engaged learners.
Next steps are more than a checklist
One of Sue’s biggest concerns with next steps is that they are such a big part of our daily language that they’ve become a one-size fits all idea [5:13]. But one size does not fit all, and not everything needs to have a next step attached.
This is why it’s important to realise that next steps do not only go up. As Sue points out “There are no linear progressions in the child’s head.” [16:13]. As practitioners, you can be crushed by the idea that all that matters is progress in a clear upwards trajectory. What we really need is to provide many different trajectories for every child.
That’s why Sue doesn’t think next steps should ever be a continuation of a Development Matters statement [16:33] and why we need to see an end to ‘next step boards’ [20:10]. The first is a wonderful document in Sue’s eyes, but it is too restrictive to be used for next steps. The latter only serves to put children in a box and put far too limited a focus on their development.
Deep knowledge of the child
So if checklisted, prescriptive approaches are not the best way to understand next steps, what is? Well, this is where Sue explained the importance of truly understanding the child.
She told the story of Jack [24:41], whose exploratory play, building a robot covered in buttons that had all sorts of different functions, was stopped in its tracks when an adult interrupted with ‘What colour is that button, Jack?’. By trying to extend the play away from it’s original purpose, the adult had left Jack confused and made him step out of his imaginary world.
However, with careful observation and a deep knowledge of each child, it’s possible for adults to interact and help children to find their own next steps, rather than interfere and stop progress.
We finished with a brilliant analogy from Julie Fisher [26:47], explaining how a child’s learning is a puzzle, and it’s our responsibility to be aware of the puzzle pieces a child already has in place and whether or not they fit together correctly, rather than trying to jam another puzzle piece in where it doesn’t quite go.
The Importance of Play with Richard Knight
Before Sue’s talk, we had the wonderful Richard Knight from happy Famly customers The Early Years Alliance talk us through the importance of play. He asked us all to step back, consider what play really means, and whether that’s truly what we’re encouraging in our settings. The main takeaways from his talk where:
What is play and who does it belong to?
As Richard rightly begins, we are all so busy. The thousand and one things on your to-do list can take up endless energy, but it’s important that we never forget the importance of play. As he says at [18:20], Play is the child’s work.
Richard introduced us to Bruegel’s Children’s Games [17:08], a painting depicting children at play from centuries ago. In many ways, not much has changed, and it serves as a reminder to the timelessness of play. The image also led to a fascinating discussion on rough play and violence, and how much rough and tumble is too much in the playground [20:20].
Richard also discussed the children’s rights to play [21:44] enshrined in The United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child. He also reminded us that sometimes we need to ask the real experts on play [24:49]. The play belongs to the children and so we should do what we can to involve them in planning, and gather reviews and testimonials on what they think of your provision – not just the parents.
How to reflect on play in your setting
One of the best exercises Richard ran through was brilliant in its simplicity. He started [2:40] by asking us about our childhood memories of play. How did it feel? Who was it with? What were we doing? Asking these same questions in your own setting can give your staff the chance to reflect on what play really means to them, and whether you’re nurturing an environment that encourages that type of play.
“Defining play as an adult may be difficult because we rely on what we can observe and see and hear,” said Richard [26:30], “but thinking back about our own play experiences might inform the experiences that we can try and offer children now.”
We also reflected on the dangers of manufactured play, and how to spot children just going through the motions, rather than properly engaging with their play. He recommends all practitioners take the time to reflect on why they approach play the way they do and consider if it’s the best approach.
What is the right level of adult involvement
Just like Sue, Richard was concerned with adults that step in too early. It’s easy to step in too soon because we all care about the welfare of children, he explained [21:26], but sometimes this comes at the expense of child freedom. As Sue explained in her talk it’s about risk-benefit assessment, not just risk assessment.
By understanding the power of play, it’s much easier to understand the benefit part of that assessment. Otherwise, it only looks like risk.
This goes for adult-child interactions and child-child interactions too. As an adult, we need to be there for the child to reach out if they need, rather than dragging them through an activity because of our own fear. In child-child interactions, we need to be wary of interrupting too early, to make sure children have the time to learn key cooperative and negotiation skills with their peers too.
And what about Famly?
We were over the moon that both Richard and Sue mentioned some first-hand experience of Famly in their presentations.
At Early Years Alliance, Richard has seen first-hand the impact of a system that has saved their thousands of nursery staff time to spend back with the children. Having asked the staff what they thought of it ahead of his presentation, he heard back that Famly had helped to strengthen home links, had been much simpler than previous systems they’d used, and had cut lengthy processes, getting them back where they should be.
Sue had recently had her first experience with Famly in a setting she visited in West Somerset. For her part, it was great to see a private record of next steps, rather than something out in public on the wall. Equally, the freedom practitioners had to enter their own next steps meant they weren’t held back by a system that only recommended linear next steps.
If you want to see whether Famly is right for you, just sign up below for your very own personal demo with Famly.