Making the most of the white stuff!

Making the most of the white stuff!

person holding ice shard
Photo by Nelly Aran on

A belated happy new year to you all.  I took some extended time off before and after Christmas, which seems such a long time ago now, so it’s been a while since my last post.

Time to get back in the swing of things, starting with my favourite type of weather – SNOW!   I think this is my favourite because it brings so many learning opportunities with it and generates a sense of excitement within children that is rarely found with any other type of weather.  This is probably because, in the south of England at least, we get so little of it and what we do get, has gone in a few days.

To sticker or not to sticker…. that is the question?

To sticker or not to sticker…. that is the question?


I have long been against the use of stickers in the classroom and have had many debates with colleagues over this. For many years, schools have relied on extrinsic rewards, such as stickers or, certificates to elicit particular behaviours such as ‘good listening’.

We are bombarded with extrinsic motivation all the time from reward points for shopping at a particular store to bonuses for achieving set targets at work. External rewards can be good motivators but create a you do something for me – I’ll do something for you, culture.

I used reward systems early in my career but found that, after a while, many children expected a reward for doing the most basic of tasks. I found rewards worked, in some circumstances, in the short term but long term did little to improve either behaviour or attitudes to learning.  In addition, I felt it was a waste of time creating certificates, many of which never made their way out of the child’s school bag.

I heard of a teacher recently who started a new behaviour initiative with his class. When a child reaches 10 points they can choose a prize from the box and each time they achieve a multiple of 10 points, thereafter.

I have taught in schools who use Class Dojo, which is a similar, electronic, system but with rewards in the form of certificates, not prizes.  With so many categories, all pupils could find some success nevertheless, total scores are still displayed by each child’s name and on show for all to see, when on the interactive white board.

I have some issues with these types of scoring systems, particularly with giving of presents as rewards.  What about the children who will find it incredibly challenging to get to 10 points due to special educational needs (identified or not), or children who may not be receiving the right support or who may be in a class that is not geared to their way of learning? They are likely to be way behind their peers in the scoring system which, if on show, is there for all to see and judge.  What will this do to their self-esteem and how upsetting for their parents when they see their children at the bottom of the score board.

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Wayne Dyer

We need to think carefully about the message we are sending when giving out rewards. For example, how is it perceived by children who get them frequently and, more importantly, by those who rarely get them.  Could the reward system be contributing to some of the negative behaviours in class as children are individuals, and all unique, and often whole class reward systems don’t meet the needs of them all.

Children live up to the expectations of adults, negative as well as positive. Attitudes we exude and the way in which we interact with, and reward children, can set them up to either behave and work hard or possibly, misbehave and disengage from learning.   I have heard teachers speak about ‘good’ children in the class who always do as they are told and work hard and then, complain about the ‘naughty’ children who get all the attention, even though they disrupt the class.  If all behaviour is a form of communication what are these children telling us and how are they perceiving our interactions with them?

All practitioners in the early years sector are great advocates for intrinsic motivation as they have chosen this career path not because it has a great salary, many opportunities for promotion or any other benefits but because it is a vocation and internally satisfying. They do it because they find fulfilment in their work and monetary rewards are secondary.

But how can we ensure that we are supporting children to develop intrinsic motivation in the classroom or in an early years setting?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Enable children to be independent and have a say in what they are learning and how. So much of children’s lives is planned for them but if you want them to be autonomous then give them a voice, so they become co-constructors of the learning rather than passive recipients. Planning in the moment, a pedagogy that is gathering momentum, enables this beautifully as it is led by the child and so children are more likely to be intrinsically motivated if their needs and interests are being met and followed. I always followed children’s interests, in addition to the planning required by the school, as learning objectives can be delivered in so many ways, it doesn’t all have to be through the current topic or theme.
  2. Praise attitudes to learning as opposed to personal praise. ‘I can see you really had to work hard to solve that problem. Well done for persevering.”  Building Learning Powers is a great way to do this and support children in learning how to learn.  Making explicit learning capacities such as ‘noticing’ (observing), ‘managing distractions’ (not losing focus due to distractions from others) or ‘collaboration’ (working together as a team) enables children to understand that the focus is on the effort made and that learning is in the process and not defined by the end product.
  3. Time and space to allow for deep level learning. Children need time if they are to become deeply involved and work to their full capabilities.  Children who have ample opportunity to do this regularly have no need of stickers, as they are following their own interests and inner drives.  Even better if they are allowed the opportunity to return to their creations later in the day. There is nothing more exasperating for children to see constructions they have meticulously created, tidied away at the end of the session.  If you can, provide an area for children to leave their models to come back to later. For larger constructions, try using builder’s tape and asking children to write a Do Not Touch sign, particularly important if you are to leave things overnight.  Look at daily timetables to establish when children have periods of uninterrupted play. My inputs were at the beginning, and end, of the morning and afternoon sessions. The rest of the time children were able to free flow, inside and out, and could follow their interests for much of the time, if not working with an adult, so there was lots of time for them to become deeply involved.
  4. Allow children to have an input into the rules and routines of the setting. If children understand the why behind the rules, they will have a better understanding and are more likely to follow them. Children are often given far less credit than they deserve. Take risk management for example, more often than not when asked, children will be able to say what is worrying the adult, about a particular type of activity, and are able to say how they can mitigate this.  They are quite adept at setting their own rules and boundaries it just needs discussion. Encourage children to see the classroom as a community and discuss ways in which they can work together for the benefit of all.
  5. Create an enabling environment. Loris Malaguzzi spoke of the learning environment as the third teacher as, when set up properly, it provides for everything the children need to be independent and allows for creativity to flourish.  Look at the learning environment. Is it set up to allow for independence? Can children find what they need? Do they have space to create on a large and small scale? Is the outdoor learning environment accessible throughout the day? Do they have access to a range of open-ended, loose materials to create with?  Are children encouraged to work with others as well as working by themselves?  Are there plentiful opportunities for problem solving to aid the development of critical thinking? How do the adults interact with, support and extend the children?  If you are not sure, why not audit the learning environment and find out.
  6. Teach children how to manage conflict from the very beginning. It is common to see class rules displayed in settings such as ‘we share with our friends’. What if a child doesn’t want to share? What if they haven’t finished playing with a particular resource?  Giving a 5 minute timer, which I did earlier in my career to support turn taking, does little to allow for deep level learning to take place. It is better to speak to both children, when there is a disagreement, and allow them to hear the other’s point of view then listen to the adult modelling the language appropriate for the situation, which they can then repeat. Before long, children will be doing this themselves without the need for adult intervention. I have seen how quickly the impact of giving children the vocabulary to manage conflict, had on their behaviour towards one another.

Don’t throw out the stickers straight away. All change starts with discussion and reflection on current practice, to develop a shared vision going forwards.


Christmas comes but once a year…. at the end of a very long and tiring term!


box celebrate celebration christmasPhoto by Pixabay on

I have noticed many posts, on Facebook recently, asking for recommendations for a Christmas play and the merits of different productions.   I have taught early years for over 20 years and never realised how many different productions there are available.  One thing that doesn’t surprise however is  how much preparation and time these performances take at the end of a long and very busy term.

The first term of the school year is such a long one what with settling in, baseline, the first parents evening, shorter days, Christmas cards and the Christmas performance to produce. And that’s just the teachers!  How exhausting is this for the children?

I experienced this in the run up to my first Christmas performance, as a newly qualified reception teacher.  It was a ‘bought’ performance and I was in charge of the choir, which was quite large as there were too few parts for our 90 reception children.  It took weeks and weeks to learn the songs, and dances, and for children to know when and where they had to enter, and exit, the stage.  Some of the children couldn’t see why they had to stop what they were doing, to keep singing the same songs and I have to say it was the most depressing thing I had ever been involved in!   I was frustrated by having to stop children, who were highly involved in their play, to troop down to the hall to sing the same songs again and again.  By the time of the performance, the children and I were completely fed up with the whole thing.

At this point in the year the vast majority of children are still only 4 years old. They will be used, hopefully, to having time to lead their own learning and follow their interests  and may find it confusing to have their days then broken up for rehearsals and singing practice, particularly if this is done en masse.

In addition, there are always some children that need to be re-settled, after the October half term break and there are usually a good number, in each cohort, who are not developmentally ready to sit for extended periods of rehearsal time as they need opportunities to be outside, to use their whole body to explore, experiment and learn through doing!

If I thought the first year was bad enough, the following year we were told that Reception and Year One had to do an Easter production together – with 180 children!  That put paid to the whole first half of the spring term.  Thank goodness that was never repeated!

I dont know anyone who has attended a Christmas play however who hasn’t thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly when, given the age of the children, it all goes invariably wrong as this just adds to the fun!   I must admit I completely get the ‘aaahhh’ factor, having attended the performances of my children, and grandchildren, over the years, in addition to the many I have produced.

But what are the children gaining from their involvement in the production and is it worth it in terms of time and effort?  Is there enough of a benefit for the loss of independent learning time over the half term?


There are widespread concerns about how the arts are being sidelined, due to a narrowing of the curriculum, with teachers under pressure to prioritise maths and literacy in order to improve outcomes.  Yet there are many benefits to participation in the performing arts, even for young children, such as developing confidence and the excitement of performing in front of an audience, learning the lyrics and melodies to the songs, developing listening skills when following stage directions, collaboration, with everyone is working towards a shared goal, and a sense of pride and achievement in the end result.

It is a fallacy that focusing only on reading, writing and maths will produce better results. Schools that have embedded the arts within the curriculum, such as Feversham Primary Academy, in Bradford, have seen the positive impact that this has had on attainment in other subjects too.  If we are to have a broad and balanced curriculum then it is vitally important that we make sure that children have access to the arts as, after all, this is where some of them will shine!

But, with limited curriculum time it is important that this is used wisely.  My granddaughter, who is in Year One, came home last week with the Autumn 2 curriculum map. Every music lesson, up to Christmas, has been blocked out for the children to learn the Nativity songs which to my mind raises a few issues. One, the amount of time allocated to learning these songs, as I’m quite sure that by the time of the performance she will be as fed up singing them as we are listening, and two,  I wonder what elements of the music curriculum will she be missing out on during this time?


After my first two awful experiences of full scale productions,  I was determined to do a performance that was simple to produce, involved many of the children as possible and kept true to the Nativity story, as I think that the true meaning of Christmas is often lost in commercialism and think it benefits the children to know the origins of this special time of year, as most children think its all about Father Christmas!

In addition, not so long ago, the traditional nativity play was dying out, as many schools, replaced this with a ‘winter festival’ so not to offend those who observe other religions.

Over 75% of the children at my school had English as an additional language.  We celebrated most religious festivals, as these were pertinent to our children.  This allowed for the sharing of experiences and beliefs, enabling the children to talk about their similarities and differences.  Over all these years, I have only ever had one parent ask for her child to be excluded on religious grounds.


I felt I needed a balance, between producing a great performance without too much disruption to children’s independent learning, so I adapted a Christmas play that nursery had performed at my previous school.  It was so simple, took little time away from play,  fulfilled the expectations of the school, produced the ‘aaaah’ factor for families and friends and, more importantly, enabled all children to participate, develop a love of performing and have FUN!

I produced this nativity for many years, on a stage and off, with cohorts ranging from 50 to 90 and kept it fresh by changing some songs each year whilst keeping the format the same.   I varied the number of characters to accommodate the number of children in the cohort.  The story is told by a narrator, who has many lines, but this makes it very adaptable as these can either be read by an adult or by lots of different children.

I found organisation was key to ensure that we weren’t stopping and starting throughout the day and only needed a few whole class rehearsals towards the end.   Costumes were sourced and labelled at the beginning of the process so they were ready to use the following year.

We sang the songs at the end of each day, accompanied by song clips from You Tube, for some but often played the songs throughout the day too, as there were many that enjoyed singing and dancing along to them.

The number of characters with speaking parts were few but there were a core group of children who had to move around on stage and so needed a bit more rehearsal time.  These were taken to the hall at the end of the morning, as the others tidied up and had a story, so it didn’t interrupt our day.  Narrators were given the lines to take home to practice with parents.

All in all it took only 2 weeks, from start to finish, to produce this play, and it only  interrupted our routine in the last few days before the performance, so that by the time we got to the dress rehearsal, which we performed for KS1 and 2, the children were really excited and raring to go.

In order to make links to the story (and performance) back in the classroom,  I cut out and laminated some pictures of the characters then attached them to cotton reels, along with other resources so children could create their own story map.  That way they could all have a speaking part as they took the roles of the different characters and could often be heard saying their lines to one another.

Once the performances were complete we left out the costumes so that children could continue to re-enact the story should they wish.  This was really popular and provided us with some great observations of child initiated performances.


It seems, from looking at social media, that practitioners often look for something new to perform rather than rely on that which is tried and tested however I found that, despite the story and structure remaining the same each year,  each new cohort brought with them new personalities with different strengths and abilities so every year we produced something unique.

Should you be of the same mind and want the benefits of a performance without the weeks and weeks of preparation then you can find my Nativity play here.    I have provided stage directions, character lists, song lyrics and you tube clips to ensure that you have to do as little as possible.  I just hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

I believe that all practitioners do their best for the children in their care, whether this be a full blown or very simple production but I do think that we need to take time to reflect on what we are doing, why and who is it for.    Is it for the children’s benefit, at the behest of leadership or to please parents.  Maybe it’s all three.  Either way evaluation and reflection is key to our role as educators and worthwhile thinking about in the run up to Christmas.


Process V Product – which is best?

Process V Product – which is best?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on

I have recently read a wonderful article by Dr Gai Lindsey on the need for educators to value the work of children and not reduce creativity to a factory line existence churning out multiple copies of the same thing.   There are so many examples on Pinterest, of cards and pictures made from children’s handprints which, whilst they are cute, involve little learning, are adult directed, remove children from their play and are created by means of a production line.