Over in England at the moment there is a lot of talk about the early years & what is appropriate for two years - there seems to be a school of thought that they need to be in a school setting & learning to read & write as soon as possible. There is much talk about school readiness & how the young children coming into schools are not 'ready to learn'.
From across the Irish Sea, it is easy to feel sorry for my colleagues in England as they are facing turbulent & often downright hostile times. However those who I interact with on a regular basis on Twitter are remaining upbeat & determined to offer the best learning opportunities for their young charges, so I am hopeful that common sense will prevail.
I have now been a nursery teacher for 14 years, so I am confident enough to stand up for what I believe in & am not afraid to explain to prospective parents that I am a firm believer in learning through play. I make it very clear that the children in my class will not be learning their numbers or letters in any formal teaching sense & we will not be using topics to teach colours or shapes ad nauseam. I see the role of the preschool teacher as making sure the young children who are starting out on their long school journey have as much fun as possible in the year they spend in nursery, doing lots of things for the first time in their lives that will make them even more curious & excited to learn more.
I make no apologies that I do want the children to have fun, that's what preschool should be about - a child who has fun is a child who wants to learn more & will be excited about going to school. Fun & learning are not incompatible.
I have attended 4 Teachmeets in the past 2 years - these are amazing evenings organised by fellow teachers where we share ideas & good, innovative practice with each other - and the biggest factor that all those sharing have in common is a fun element. Whether it's a preschool, primary or secondary teacher, they have all been enthusiastic about their subject & prepared to ensure that their lessons are memorable. If you think back to your own school days, I bet your favourite teachers were the ones who made lessons exciting, a little bit different & certainly not boring. I know I chose my A level subjects based as much upon the teachers as the subject. That is a big responsibility for a teacher - you could be the reason a child either embraces or rejects a subject!
|Confident self-portraits from young artists. Often just a few years later, they will say 'I can't draw'.|
It is important to not always think it is personal & about you when the phrase 'you' is used, most times it is you plural not just about you!
A good friend of mine & I had a discussion about self-esteem & her lack of it, I put forward my theory that having no sisters had spared me that constant honesty & the chipping away of self-esteem that can happen within families!
Honestly if a parent doesn't believe that their child is the best thing since sliced bread, who is is going to ever going to have that much belief in them?
I love it when I tell a parent how their child is a fab little person & they say 'I know'. I know then that is why their child is such a happy, bouncy little person, ready to take on the world & all that it throws at them in their stride.
I want the children in my class to leave after a year with a 'can do' attitude & a belief that even when things go wrong it's not always because of something they did. I want for them to brush themselves off when things go wrong, hold their heads up & move on, putting it all down to experience & learning from it.
I also firmly believe that all the outdoor experiences offered at my school can but only help to build up this resilience & self-esteem. It is good to experience failure & learn that it is possible to keep trying & learn from mistakes. Failure is not a bad thing, it is a fact of life & it can only make us a stronger person in the long run. However the constant obsession with testing children & making them feel like failures from an early age is not how to build self-esteem & resilience. We all need to start celebrating what the youngest children in the education system can do instead of concentrating on what they can't do. Why don't we celebrate that a 4 year old has parted easily from their parent & come into the classroom & mixed with their peers instead of immediately seeing how many words they can identify or if they recognise numbers or shapes?
I firmly believe that we need to take a long hard look at our current system & try to make it a much better 'fit' and experience for the young children entering into a long & often unfriendly system.