Thursday, 24 April 2014

What really matters?


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'.
I am a firm believer in self-esteem having a major impact on anyone's learning journey, if you have the belief that you can do something or that if things go wrong, it's not always your fault then you will have a much more positive journey throughout not just school but life.
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.

24 comments:

  1. They need to build confidence and resilience when they are little. If we can get that in place the rest will follow. Lovely piece. Shared with a practitioner doing a uni' piece on outdoor learning, especially maths.

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    1. Thanks Niki, sometimes when I write pieces as personal as this I never know how they will read.

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  2. I think it's going to be a long process, but hopefully...the powers that be will see what all the experts in early years have been telling them...when you let them play.they are learning, leave them to their childhood. As always, a great blog Kierna :)

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    1. So true, Jane, why is childhood under attack, isn't life hard enough once they are 18 plus? Thanks for a lovely comment xx

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  3. If not now when? That's the question that educators must ask...parents are not always in touch- they are scared that their kids will not take work seriously. What they (kids) learn now WILL prepare them for the future, and seriously when are they ever going to get a chance to "play"?!

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    1. So true, Salma, if you think of all the skills children learn during play, most management boards would love to have employees demonstrate a 10th of them!

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  4. This hits pretty close to home for me as my son is in kindergarten this year (which in our District here in the US starts when a child is 5, or in his case almost 6 because he has a December birthday). I know that's a little older than children elsewhere start kindergarten. But even looking at his class of children who were at least 5 when they started, I can see that expecting them to read in kindergarten is an unrealistic expectation for many of them. Not because they didn't go to "good" preschools, but because they are simply not neurlogically ready to read. And if articles like this ( http://www.mothering.com/community/a/is-your-child-ready-to-read-a-checklist ) are correct then a preschool program with opportunities for a variety of gross motor activities and engaging crafts that build fine motor skills are probably what's most important for creating a strong foundation for learning to read when the child is developmentally ready.

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    1. Exactly Lea & yes indeed in my system the children are 4 when they are expected to know a range of sight words etc.

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  5. I know you are good at the imparting/building the message of 'can do'. You have helped me with that very thing countless times. Thank you. Great post!

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    1. Aww thanks - right back at you, you have made me a much more reflective practitioner.

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  6. I'm totally with you. The list of goals for children of 3, 4 and 5 is incredible, and while my 4 and 5 year old children are on target, I can't help but feel they're very lucky to be doing so in an environment which is fun and they love it there. There is so much more to learning than being able to divide by 2, and at 4 years old it's more important in my eyes to understand what clothes are appropriate for a rainy day, and why you should war them.

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    1. (wear them. Proof reading fail ;) )

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    2. So true & luckily there are many, many passionate teachers out there who do their best to make learning fun. I just thought you were using pirate speak at the end!

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  7. If standardized tests are any measure of success (debatable) of our schools (I live in the USA) then all our pushing for kids to learn more earlier isn't doing much good. I agree. Kids need to learn social skills and confidence. They learn all the rest as they are ready.

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    1. Thanks Mae, judging by the response to this post, it's time parents & teachers united for what they know is a much better learning environment.

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  8. AMEN, Kierna. AAAAAAAAA- MEN. Great post.

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  9. If only Michael Gove agreed with you British schools would be far happier places! Your nursery sounds great! We've opted out altogether and moved to Spain where we decided to homeschool. Instead, when my daughter was two and a half we happened to meet a young Spanish couple, a teacher and child psychologist, disillusioned with the Spanish system, who have set up their own school based loosely on the Stenier/Montesoori/Rebecca Wild/Summer Hill philosophies, with only 8 children, so far. My daughter is nearly 4 and spends her 'school' days climbing trees, getting muddy, reading, drawing and doing whatever she feels like doing within a safe environment and learning in her own good time. I know we are lucky, but if we have to move back to England I'll be homeschooling or sending her to a Steiner school. The UK system is producing stressed out kids and happiness seems to be unimportant when the MP's talk about re-thinking the education system. Let them play. Sitting at desks can wait!

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    1. So true & isn't it sad that people have to take their children away from 'traditional' schools if they wanted this opportunity in the UK. Having spent time in Sweden & Norway, I can see that their much more child friendly early years approach works, why can't the so called 'experts'.

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    2. I know and its crazy that our types of school are called 'alternative' not traditional or normal
      - why cant they be the norm? Surely teachers would be far happier just observing these little people discovering things for themselves instead of ticking boxes and force feeding literacy etc down their throats.

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  10. Sliced bread doesn't even hold a candle to my daughter.***smile*** I love and believe in her with everything I am. I agree that confidence is key and I hope to have educators such as yourself in her life to help her always believe in herself. I don't want my daughter to be bored, confined to a chair and day dreaming in school. I hope she will be dreaming only the night before of what the next day may hold. Great post from a mom who supports you.

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    1. Thanks Teri for a lovely comment xx

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  11. I completely agree with you as a preschool teacher and a parent. Unfortunately a lot of schools put too much emphasis on the academics and not enough on developing a love of learning. It could be a lot worse though. Thank God we don't follow the American style of testing for entry into kindergarten. That is truly horrible.

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    1. That is true Kerry, I think it's horrible to test the youngest children coming into school - where they are supposed to be starting their educational journey.

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