Archives for posts with tag: school readiness

Lots of children, my own son included, can become disenfranchised by subjects that feel too much like hard work, with maths and literacy typically falling into this camp. For some maybe they sense failure and therefore feel safer not trying, for others the learning approach, mechanics of writing or lack of perceived relevance to their lives may be the root cause.

Walking back from school last week it was a welcome surprise to hear the words ‘That was the best literacy lesson ever!’ Now that’s a lesson ripe for Ofsted inspection! With descriptive content never the issue for my son, but the mechanics of punctuation, handwriting and staying on task the culprits, the challenge of writing a story using certain punctuation and with a word count of precisely 201 words, achieved the desired effect. With a verdict of ‘That was the best literacy lesson ever!’,  I expect you’re wondering how this was achieved? Working in pairs, story writing was elevated to a challenge and the focus on a precise word count, not 198, 200 or 202, but 201 words, apparently freed him up to write with excitement and drive.

This week his verdict was ‘Literacy is awesome!’ High praise indeed from an 8 year old sceptic! Walking through the school gate home from school he eagerly shared what they had done and later over dinner excitedly told the whole family about his robotic invention for tackling the tiresome chores of Christmas preparation. Like any good robot his naturally came complete with ipad (for online shopping of course), large box (for hiding presents in), extendable arms (for multiple present wrapping) and hover board for beating the Christmas rush! A great teacher is able to tap into the interests and strengths of children and in so doing help support and extend learning. Clearly this activity did just that. An avid inventor already, working in pairs his time and energy saving ideas flowed and literacy came to the fore as he labelled the gadgets and features of their invention.

With two such positive evaluations I was keen to share this great feedback and apparent change in attitude with his teacher. ‘How interesting’ his teacher reflected with evident satisfaction ‘as we scrapped literacy lessons last week and have been focussing on challenges, with a literacy focus instead!’ As the irony of this revelation sank in I couldn’t help smiling at the message written large by an 8 year old. With an ever greater Government focus on school readiness and meeting literacy and numeracy targets I hope Nicky Morgan will be persuaded by this convincing argument.  As for the robot invention, I’ll guess I’ll have to wait until next year!

Happy New Year! I know it’s nearly February but with the lergy over Christmas and my book manuscript finally submitted, this weekend was definitely a time for celebration! It’s been a journey which I have thoroughly enjoyed as I’ve probed and discovered more about the world of objects and sensory-rich play. Like the exploratory hand positions that we instinctively use as adults to find out more about objects which may have their origin in children’s explorative play, young children’s hands and mouths are critical to their exploration and understanding of the world around them. From time to time we get a glimpse of this deeply rooted connection. If you’ve ever seen a child or adult poke out their tongue whilst concentrating on writing or doing something challenging then you will have witnessed this in action. Having researched and written about children’s full-bodied play and learning I saw this first hand when I sat reading with my nearly six year old. As he carefully decoded the writing on the page, he wriggled and squirmed, rolled and stretched, bent and twisted his body into any number of positions and shapes. As he contorted he literally spelt out the words with his body on the floor.

With the final consultation on the EYFS over and the new framework expected in the Spring, it is hard to see how the emphasis upon school readiness and educational programmes will make learning more accessible for those, like my little boy, who thrive on full-bodied learning. Children are quick to pick up cues about what constitutes work and play and like it or not, sat still reading at a table with an adult present, invariably points to work rather than play.  Whitebread et al (2011) suggest that the question shouldn’t be’ is the child ready for school?’ but ‘is the school environment [and that includes our own attitudes], ready for children?’ Sat watching his own unique approach to reading, the answer I fear is ‘no’.

Travelling back from the amazing TACTYC Conference this weekend in York, I arrived at my parents in law’s house in Norfolk, deep in a power cut. Having debated the whole school readiness issue and easily concluded that the vital question is not whether children are ready to learn but what? (Whitebread, D. and Bingham, S. 2011) it was great to see a spontaneous and fun learning and play opportunity evolve. On arrival in the candlelit kitchen the children had hidden in the gloomy shadow of the table, only jumping out with a ‘boo’ when I least expected them. Shrieks of laughter ensued as they played hide and seek in the shadows of granny and grandads house. The arrival of a large specialised vehicle with double cherry picker on an extendable arm was good enough reason for us to decant to the street. There the children sat mesmerised on the dark pavement watching the spectacle unfold. They marvelled as the vehicle legs jacked the crane up and two power line repairmen climbed into the cherrypicker, the manoeuvrability of which caused lots of interest and discussion. They chatted to the ground based electrician, asking probing questions to better understand what was happening. They shared their knowledge of the dangers of electricity and explained to me, aged five and eight years, why the two men would not be electrocuted, (because the crane was insulated). As time edged past 9.30 the children were persuaded to come back in the house for bedtime. Not wishing for the experience to end, but fighting off tiredness my eight year old remembered the pass the parcel present she’d won earlier that day at a party. We rushed in the house to fetch it and she plucked up the courage to ask the two workers from the cherry picker to sign her new autograph book! Back in the house feeling really tired the children quickly succumbed to bed and us adults ate a candlelit tea.

With busy lives and routines it’s so easy to miss the sense of awe and wonder of occasions like these for children. A powercut turned into a magical evening of spooky tea and hide and seek games. The visitors in high vis jackets with their amazing equipment, sparked discussion over hydraulics, vehicles and safety. Returning to the issue of school readiness, moments like this make us realise the importance of changing the emphasis of the debate. Instead of focussing on whether children are ready for school let’s consider instead whether school is ready for them? Opportunities like these clearly won’t be available in schools, but the daily weather, seasons, visitors from the community and so on all give opportunities for children to extend their knowledge and make the links to real life. In doing so they tick several curriculum boxes too! If I was observing that night I would have evidenced elements of personal social and emotional development, communication, problem solving, knowledge and understanding of the world, physical and creative development. Not bad for a spontaneous night in the dark!