Learning with Bri
My granddaughter, Bri, called me into the garden, a few days ago, to show me her latest creation. After finding her brother’s bouncy egg, she created a birds nest with natural materials, on top of the rabbit run. She often uses natural materials to create homes for mini beasts or as props when playing with small world resources.
Bri has a real fascination for using different materials in ingenious ways, loves to paint, dance and makes up her own songs, rhymes and stories. At her recent parents evening, I wasn’t surprised to be told she was exceeding in Expressive Arts and Design (Exploring and Using Media and Materials and Being Imaginative).
Bri is at the expected level, for the other ELGs, but could easily have achieved exceeding in other areas had I pushed her to do more, as she was reading and writing cvc words at the end of nursery. I could have worked with her every night practising handwriting, reading, writing and maths but I chose not to. We didn’t always complete her homework either, as she wasn’t interested and there is little value in copying sentences from a worksheet, just to add punctuation.
Instead we played lots of games – at the dinner table, on the way to and from school and we continued to read to her every day. We went at her pace, taking her lead until she was ready to be more involved in the reading process and started applying her phonic knowledge and growing number of sight words, independently. We encouraged her to write birthday cards and shopping lists so there was a purpose for writing rather than writing for the sake of it.
Bri loves numbers so this was practised through day to day activities such as shopping or laying the table for dinner, when she counted the number of table mats, plates and glasses needed. Counting in 2’s was also introduced when counting out knives and forks.
Bri loves word problems, such as Chantae has 5 sweets and Bri ate 2 – how many are left? She solves them independently using her fingers and can also add two and 3 sets of numbers in the same way. When we went to the common we played games with sticks – counting them and ordering them by size to see who had the longest or the shortest. All of the above was led by Bri, if she wasn’t interested she would let us know.
Bri is very good at playing by herself but will sometimes say she is bored. When this happens she is encouraged to find a solution to this herself, rather than us doing the occupying for her.
Bri complained of being bored yesterday and asked for some screen time. She was refused, as she had already watched tv earlier in the day. She had a moan for a while then went out into the garden and started to write a message on the ground with chalks. She went on to create patterns on the shed door and explored what happens when water is added to the chalk.
Children today are rarely allowed to be bored. Screen time, be it tv, computer, tablets or phones – is being introduced earlier and earlier with detrimental effect. They are the greatest baby sitter for busy parents or panacea for children when they say they are ‘bored’. But being bored is a good thing as it encourages children to develop resilience, be inventive and creative.
Being bored activates a network in the brain which enables different neural connections to be made. Daydreaming enables the move to thinking beyond the conscious and into the subconscious. Connections are made and problems are solved.
‘Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves. It is only when we are surrounded by nothing that something comes alive on the inside.’ Dr Vanessa Lapointe THE BLOG
Of course, we could have worked more on the academic side with Bri but our priority was on her enjoyment and engagement in learning, as that is when real learning takes place. I was more concerned that she demonstrated competence across the Characteristics of Effective Learning as the development of these qualities will stand her in good stead for future academic success.
Children need rich opportunities to initiate ideas and activities so that they can develop the learning characteristics which are assessed by the EYFS profile. These characteristics also support lifelong learning. (EYFSP Handbook 2018 p13 2.2)
In an earlier post I talked about a primary school I once visited, who even in early years, based much of their learning on the 3 R’s. At the end of reception these children could use their phonic knowledge to to read and write effectively but how creative was the content of their writing? When were they given the chance to play, to create a narrative, discover how to use a range of materials or problem solve? If children aren’t provided with opportunity to play, to find the solution to their own problems and rehearse their ideas, thoughts and feelings in their own way, how effective are they going to be when writing about them?
I have seen the negative effects of imposing formal learning too early on young children. One child I taught was very able and could read and write with ease however, all he wanted to do was run around outside. He was becoming difficult to engage and his behaviour was beginning to deteriorate. I spoke to his parents and found that they were working with him, after school, each evening for up to 2 hours on reading, writing and maths! Despite him being on track for exceeding, he was at risk of underachieving as the demands foisted on him were more than he could cope with and he was switching off from learning.
I asked his parents to drastically reduce the time spent working with him and play games with him instead. As he and his peer group were into chasing one another round the playground I set up a Police station with them so they had a purpose….to chase and arrest criminals. This worked a treat! We had a visit from a police constable after which, I modelled how to write an arrest report and demonstrated how to take finger prints. Suddenly everyone was being arrested and many boys were writing arrest reports independently, including the little boy who was so reluctant previously.
I was frequently asked by parents how to best support children at home and told them pretty much what I have written here. Children are not developmentally ready for formal learning and, if pushed too hard, can be put off learning for life. Keep it fun, practical and get them outside. Play simple games to and from school such as hunting for letters and numbers, on car registration plates and on road signs, or I Spy. Children will have fun, be engaged and ask for more.
I have no fear that Bri will do well in the future, as she has all the attributes needed to be an independent learner. I just hope, as she prepares to enter Year One, that she is provided with opportunities that will allow her to continue to learn in a way in which interests her.