Grasping the Thistle!
Holding onto what matters in Early
Specialist Early Years Trainer,
Consultant, Speaker and Author.
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Who programs your sat nav?
• Who has had an impact
on the way you think
• What or who influences
your practice when in
• What influences have
you gained from your
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Time to reclaim our profession?
• Do we still believe in a flat earth or
that the earth stands still?
• Is it right that politicians’ views now
dominate Early Childhood?
• Is data a fair way of judging
• Should the leader be dismissed as a
consequence of a school/setting
failing its inspection?
• Does a child need the skills to use
words in life rather than in tests?
• How can we collaborate in a climate
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What needs to change?
• Is achieving excellence for
children a continual process or
• Are we providing meaningful and
memorable learning journeys?
• Are we kites without strings or
are we connected to something
far bigger than us…..
• Do we need to become freedom
• Should we become advocates or
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Theoretical influences on
• There have been many people who have had
an influence on how we plan and provide
early years environments today.
• Theorists and pioneers have all had a view on
how children learn.
• Practitioners will use elements of many of
these theories and approaches, sometimes
without even realising it.
• Every child is a unique individual.
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1592 - 1670
• John Comenius – Wrote the first picture book for
children called: “Orbis Pictus” (The World of
• He advocated that children should be allowed to
learn at their own pace through play in nature.
• He also stressed the basic concept of ‘learning by
doing’ using the senses.
• He is most noted for the significant contribution
of realising the social reform potential of
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1712 - 1778
• He is best known for his book ‘Emile’.
• Free play is based on his belief in children’s
inherent goodness and ability to choose
what they need to learn.
• Stressed concrete rather than abstract
materials for children which is still one of
the cornerstones of developmentally
appropriate curriculum in early childhood.
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1746 - 1827
• Believed that good education meant the
development of the senses and concepts via
• He emphasised the importance of a secure home
in developing the ‘whole child.’
• He shared ideas and practices for teachers on
equal rights to education for the child.
• He wanted education to be of the hand, the
head, and the heart of the child.
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• Established the first nursery school in the United
Kingdom in 1816 for the children of cotton mill
workers at New Lanark in Scotland.
• The school was an early attempt to provide group
care and education to engineer social change.
• He stressed “unceasing kindness, in tone, word
and action, to all the children without
• He provided musicians, dancing, artists and wild
animals to stimulate interest.
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1782 - 1852
• The ‘father of Kindergarten’ aged 2 - 6.
• He believed that play was the highest phase of
• He stressed that imaginative play was one of the
best ways for children to learn.
• His kindergartens included blocks (gifts), pets,
and fingerplays and songs.
• He believed that women made good teachers.
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We live in interesting times…
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1870 - 1952
• Designed materials, classrooms, and
learning methods for the children.
• Proved that the children could achieve through self-
help with proper motivation and environments.
She believed that young children were capable of
– extended periods of concentration;
– enjoying repetition in order to practice learning;
– revelling in ‘freedom of movement’;
– self-motivation and self-discipline;
– enjoying silence and harmony.
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• Dewey believed childhood was an important part
of our lives
• He believed that learning should be via discovery
and be ‘child-centered.’
• Children should have real-life experiences and
learning should be set up so that children were
allowed to make choices as they must learn to
learn in a democratic society.
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1860 - 1931
• With sister Rachel opened a clinic and school for
children of the slums of Deptford and Bradford.
• Their practice of providing a garden for free play,
self-expression, fresh air, sleep, regular
wholesome meals and baths proved successful in
developing healthy minds and bodies.
• Were rooted in political action and led to the
establishment of the school medical service and
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1885 - 1948
• Her philosophy emphasised the child’s point of view
view and the notion of play as the child’s work.
• Believed that children could make sense of the world
through play and learning through doing rather than
through being told.
• Wanted children’s inquisitive minds to be free to find
things out for themselves.
• Saw children’s emotional needs as important.
• A firm believer in fantasy and imaginative play.
• Understood that children should be active in their play
and not restricted to desks or tables.
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Child development or readiness?
“There are characteristic
phases of development as
children pass from infancy to
maturity. And these phases do
call for difference in treatment
and methods of teaching. But
they are not marked off from
each other at their boundaries.
There is nothing in human
to the life of an insect.”
Susan Isaacs 1932:20-21.
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“The children themselves
are the living aim and end
of our teaching. It is their
thought, their knowledge,
their character and
development which make
the purpose of our
existence as schools and
Susan Isaacs (1932:11)
“These differences confirm
the need for elastic
methods in the school,
and for individual
treatment of children. The
appeals which stimulate
one child to effort may not
be the most fruitful with
Susan Isaacs 1932:54
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▪ Believed that play was integral to the development
of a child's ability to deal with real problems.
▪ Stressed that knowledge and understanding are
constructed through experience alone and with
▪ Conversation, play and opportunities to follow
interests were central in children’s learning.
▪ Stated that children should be provided with
experiences that are slightly above where they
were learning so that they could progress in their
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Finding our way?
"Ultimately only life educates, and the deeper that
life, the real world, burrows into the school, the
more dynamic and the more robust will be the
educational process. That the school has been
locked away and walled in as if by a tall fence
from life itself has been its greatest failing.
Education is just as meaningless outside the real
world as is fire without oxygen, or as is breathing
in a vacuum."
Vygotsky, L. (first published in 1926) Educational Psychology
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Reggio Emilia 1945 onwards
• Started by mothers against
the Fascist regime.
• All children are
communicators and have
potential and are part of a
• The environment is the third
• The adult is a guide,
researcher and nurturer.
• Documentation is important
• Education is about political
discussions and asking
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Te Whariki 1996 onwards
• Starts where children are now.
• Based upon interwoven
strands of cultural perspective,
provision and community
• Strands are: well-being,
• Aims to grow competent and
confident learners who are
healthy in mind, body and
spirit, secure in their sense of
belonging and make a
contribution to society.
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“I think that it’s a mistake to take any school approach
and assume, like a flower, that you can take it from
one soil and put it into another one. That never works.
This doesn’t mean at all that [we] can’t learn a
tremendous amount from it, but we have to reinvent it.
… We have to figure out what are the aspects which
are most important to us and what kind of soil we
need here to make those aspects thrive.”
Howard Gardner, 1997
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Going round in circles
• In 1930 Isaacs
children, staff, the
school and its
• By 1932 she is
the effects of testing
and formal teaching.
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A new pathway?
• Parental interest in
education created a
• Started Belle Tutaev, a
London mother, who in
1961 organized a
nursery group for her
child in a hall, sharing
the tasks of child care
with a neighbour.
• These spread across the
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• Very young children who
are mostly not of
compulsory school age
start school well before
the term of their 5th
• We start far earlier than
many countries and
provide a curriculum not
based upon long-term
research and child
development, but the
whims of politicians.
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Play is not a swear word
“The main principles
of traditional early
childhood education in
Britain are child-
centred, in contrast to
the traditional subject-
centred and teacher-
Bruce, 1987, 81.
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• Are we misinterpreting the principles of Early
• Should we be testing children at such a young age?
• Is learning through play not evident in our practice?
• Do we know how to teach in a developmentally
appropriate way in P1 and P2?
• Should there be a curriculum at all for these
• Who knows best?
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• Time: develop at their
own pace and explore
their own interests.
• Agency: influence over
what they do and some
• Belonging: be cared and
respected as part of a
• Competence: feeling
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Going against the flow
• Some HT/managers impose their ideas on less
experienced or less confident staff.
• Staff become conditioned to a workplace
culture where they are subordinates and
children become just data.
• SMT are not your boss - develop a mantra to
stand up against them.
• Use your knowledge of child development and
psychology to correct their misinformation.
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Together we are stronger!
• Rethink the education
• Unleash possibilities of
how we teach/learn.
• Create intrinsic
motivation for children in
• Create resilient and
creative learners for the
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Who is an activist?
• A person who campaigns to bring about positive
political or social change.
• It is important to go beyond the stereotypes of
activism that are often deliberately generated to
discredit and marginalise people who protest.
• Activism includes the positive and courageous
actions of ordinary people in their daily lives.
• Activists are not criminals.
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Not passive but actively engaged
▪ Learn about the issues
▪ Find a network…. Upstart/KEYU?
▪ Gather local and national support.
▪ Focus upon what needs to happen:
• a pedagogy based on actions that directly confront
and challenge the current system of injustice;
• A pedagogy respecting the expertise of the children
themselves, rather than looking for expertise
• the influence of parents, carers and the community.
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You are the grain of sand…
“The answer is simple.
We must try to do the
right thing, even if the
powers that be are
not quite ready to
make this easy.”
Margaret McMillan (1921)
p147 The Nursery School.
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• Ball, C. (1994). Start right: The importance of early learning London: Royal Society of Arts.
• Bruce, T. (1987) Early childhood education London: Hodder and Stoughton
• Curtis, A. (1998) A curriculum for the pre-school child. London: Routledge
• Cleave, S, & Jowett, S. (1982). And so to school: A study of continuity from pre-school to infant
school Windsor: NFER-Nelson
• Department of Education and Science (1985)The curriculum from 5 to 16 London: HMSO.
• Department of Education and Science (1990) Starting with quality London: DfES
• Pound, L. (2005) How Children Learn: From Montessori to Vygotsky. Leamington Spa: Step Forward
• Macleod-Brudenell, I. & Kay, J. (2008) Advanced Early Years Essex: Heinemann
• Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (1999) Early Learning Goals. London: DfES
• Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (2000). Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage.
• Smidt, S. (2002). Early years practice. London: Routledge Falmer.
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