Last weekend was the annual charity book sale – an essential date in fellow book lover’s diaries from around the region.  With my love of books definitely evident in my children, they eagerly gathered their pennies together and begged that we could stay there all day.  Watching children in control is a wonderful sight and after an initial reckie of the books and reappraisal of their pickings, they each made their careful decisions on how to spend £3.50. As they proudly queued and paid, then leafed through their books on the way home, both children remarked upon their lovely trip out, helped by a hunk each of homemade cake!

Looking through ‘my’ books later I discovered a real gem that has relevance for the current debate on ‘school readiness’. Activity Methods for Children Under Eight, published in 1962, covers the topical issue of transforming formal teaching environments into child-led environments. In marked contrast to the current emphasis upon school readiness, ‘educational programmes’ and  ‘preparing early years children for school’, the aim then was for ‘intelligent, full living’ children. The need for ‘ample time for children to undertake everything at their own pace’ was recognised.  Practitioners were urged not to compete with the distraction of extreme weather but rather to harness its appeal as a tool for bringing the curriculum to life. The importance of ‘real investigations which stimulate thought and reasoning’, such as melting snow and ice, were also cited as great tools for enriching learning through play. With the Early Years Foundation Stage in a flux following its Review, and the prospect of a fundamental shift in approach to learning and play in danger of becoming a reality, there can be no better, nor timelier reminder of the important things in life than the image of surplus blackboards converted by a school carpenter into deep sand trays for play and exploration!

If we obsess too much with targets and education, as the revised EYFS threatens to do, then we risk the danger of destroying children’s zest for life and all it offers as well as labelling them failures before they’ve barely started on life’s rich journey. For evidence of this I need look no further than my then four year old, bought up in an environment free of pressures and yet still anxious about starting school because in his words ‘I can’t yet read or write.’ Returning to that same child aged five, still learning to read and write but buzzing with a love for books and I’m almost tempted to get busy with a blackboard, anyone for sandplay?!

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