Friday, 29 August 2014

A childminder in a quandary ... what to do?

A childminder colleague was told during inspection this week that she has not summarised children’s learning often enough – she normally write summaries every 3 months but because 1 child was new she had waited 4 months before writing a summary assessment.

This has worried me because I currently write summary assessments every 6 months!

In between the 6 monthly assessments. which are written during the month of the child’s birthday and 6 months later with input from staff, parents and the child (if possible), we –

• Regularly observe each child individually – when I say ‘regularly’ I mean we observe each EYFS aged child at least once a week in writing and more often when we are playing with the child and during our ‘planted practitioner’ activities – see this blog.

• Watch and listen when the child is playing as part of a group, to note how they are getting on making friends, communicating with others, using our resources, being imaginative, initiating and joining in games etc so we can offer targeted support if needed.

• Regularly assess each child’s learning against Early Years Outcomes to check that the child is not falling behind in any of the areas of learning – when I say ‘regularly’ I mean I link observations to the Early Years Outcomes guidance for each child at least once a month and more often if we have any concerns about their learning.

• Plan individual learning opportunities to support each child across the 7 areas of learning – I note these briefly on the child’s play plan. For example, a child is constantly asking ‘what’s that?’ when he hears a noise so we have planned lots of listening games for him to enjoy.

• Plan group learning opportunities to support all the children across the 7 areas of learning. For example, this month we have focussed on teaching the children about shapes, colours and size, using our resources and teaching skills to support them individually and as part of a group. I note these group activities on my group planning sheet and record briefly how the child has participated / what they have learned in observations and on their play plan.

• Work closely with parents to ensure their child is making good progress here and at home, asking questions about what the child is doing and saying at home, where they have been, what they enjoy doing etc so we can plan activities that link into their interests. For example, a child is growing sunflowers at home and we are growing tomatoes and herbs with them here– we talk about how their sunflowers are growing and ask questions to find out how tall they are etc.

• Note each child’s learning styles and characteristics so we can plan more effectively to support their learning, asking parents for information about how their child is learning at home.

• Share ideas for activities and things children might like doing with parents to promote their learning at home. For example, we went on a shape walk and talked to parents about some of the things we saw on the walk before suggesting parents do the same over the weekend.

• Work as closely as possible with the child’s other setting to complement their learning, using planned activities from nursery or pre-school to link into their learning here. For example, a child’s pre-school is making a Harvest display and we have planned to visit the local church to see their display – we will talk about similarities and differences with the child.

However, having received feedback from the childminder who has been given an action this week to summarise learning more regularly, I am concerned that I am not doing enough.

Part of the problem is that I do not want to increase my written workload. We feel that we know all our EYFS children really well here at Knutsford Childminding – we know their starting points, the things they are working on at the moment, their interests, learning styles etc and we do not want paperwork to take us away from the pleasure of having lots of time to sit down, play and have fun with them!

But... and I know it's bad English to start a sentence with 'but'... we do not want to put my outstanding grade at risk either … and this is where the problem starts. We don’t know how much paperwork we need to do to keep the grade! We feel like we are working towards an exam without anyone giving us the syllabus.

We have read the latest Ofsted inspectors evaluation schedule and we feel that we have all the evidence we need for outstanding but we also know that individual inspectors have different expectations and if our colleague’s inspector had been here instead of with her earlier this week … I would have lost my outstanding for not writing summary assessments often enough!

It is a very bad state of affairs when a regulator who comes once every 3 / 4 or more years can have this sort of effect on an outstanding childminder with 20 years childminding experience… instead of feeling confident that I am doing enough, I am now concerned that I need to do more. I am looking at my record keeping and wondering if there are gaps and I am worrying that I will have to change the way I do summary assessments ‘just in case’ I get an inspector who expects more in writing from me.

Perhaps if I do 3 monthly assessments instead of 6 monthly … will that be enough? How do I know? I have always reassured other childminders in my role as support childminder on the Childminding Forum and Independent Childminders Facebook group that 6 monthly assessments are enough as long as you know the child really well … has my advice been wrong all this time? Should I apologise to my colleagues and tell them I was wrong and they need to do extra written record keeping and summary assessments more regularly? I wonder how many will feel even more overwhelmed with the paperwork burden if I go on the groups and say this to them.

What do you think guys? Answers on a postcard to… confused of Knutsford Childminding please!

Monday, 11 August 2014

Teaching children British values

In her first major announcement since taking office, Nicky Morgan (the new Education Secretary) has said that early years providers must teach ‘fundamental British values in an age appropriate way’ to children from the age of 2 - Guardian article.

David Cameron has backed her up, saying that we need to teach ‘freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions’. The announcements follow concerns about extremist views being taught to children in some Birmingham schools and the intention is to protect children from extremist radical views.

There is a consultation which most of us will probably ignore. It is open until 17th October 2014 – so nothing is going to change quickly…

Childminders are asking - what are the ‘fundamental British values’ that we need to teach children? Well, first of all they need to be meaningful … and understandable. We are talking about teaching something many adults (in my experience) struggle to fully understand to toddlers in nappies and children who might not have a very good grasp of English.

Ms Morgan says we are to teach children about –

• Right from wrong
• Taking turns and sharing
• Challenging negative attitudes and stereotypes
• Mutual respect and tolerance of different religions and beliefs

I have been thinking about some of the ways we might support children’s learning about 'fundamental British values' and my list of planning ideas includes –
• Teach children to share and take turns – in conversation, at the shops, when reading books etc
• Celebrate British special days eg St George’s Day
• Help children to understand about friendship and support them to make friends
• Focus on listening skills so children wait before shouting out and understand not to spoil a song or book by talking through the words
• Promote manners – please, thank you, sorry, age appropriate behaviour at the table etc
• Take children on outings into the local community
• Teach them about British flowers, trees, birds and animals
• Cover a variety of themes about people who live in the world around us
• Watch British television programmes
• Teach them about the British weather
• Teach empathy and understanding
• Give children age appropriate words to describe disability
• Help children to set appropriate behaviour boundaries
• When doing arts and crafts, use British artists and sculptors for inspiration
• Cook British food with the children
• Learn about British villages, towns and cities
• Use the learning characteristic ‘critical thinking’ to support children to ask questions and become independent and creative learners.

So… what we are doing already then?!?

I believe if we focus on this sort of teaching as we already do and not on marginalising or intolerance of minority then we will be ok. The problems will start if we teach children that only one way is right and that, because we are British, we are somehow morally superior to other nations and cultures - because that will teach intolerance, stereotyping, racism and extremism in itself.

While I remember, Ms Morgan has said that we cannot teach –
• ‘Creationism as scientific fact’
• ‘Climate change denial’
• ‘Views and theories which are contrary to established scientific or historical evidence and explanations.’
I can honestly say I have never tackled those subjects with my under 5s … or my over 5s for that matter … so that’s not a worry!

Ofsted will be inspecting us on how well we teach ‘fundamental British values’, so we will need to keep an eye on the consultation which will hopefully tell us more about what Ofsted will expect to see when they visit us.

Meanwhile, this is a very interesting and informative blog .

And for another bit of fun… can you pass the UK citizenship test?

I got 10/10 but I am not allowed to boast about it… well that wouldn’t be British now would it??

Chat soon, Sarah x

Friday, 8 August 2014

The planted practitioner - ideas for promoting children's learning

When more than one childminder / assistant work together, experiment by ‘planting’ one of the practitioners somewhere exciting for the children… at a table with some resources or in the garden doing something different to the norm or on a cushion with an activity and see what happens…

What tends to happen is the children flock around the planted practitioner to see what they are doing. Reassured that the practitioner is not going to be called away elsewhere, the activity unfolds and the children display high levels of involvement and, as a result, have an increased motivation to stay and listen and talk and learn.

The planted practitioner is able to listen to the children fully because the other practitioner is taking care of any children not involved in the activity and can step in if a child needs extra support such as to change a nappy. The planted practitioner can also better help the children to explore new ways of doing things because s/he is not being constantly distracted by other things happening in the background.

During the activity the practitioner will be able to mentally note observations which can be written up later. It is important that the practitioner does not stop the flow of children’s learning to write observations, take photos or get up to do something else … they are planted and engaged and will remain planted as long as the activity lasts or until they have to, for example, wind up the activity to get the children ready to leave for school pick up.

It is a good time to make observations during planted activities because the practitioner who is planted is able to work very closely with the children who are involved in the activity. Lots of language will be heard as the children talk through ideas and share information… and children’s learning in other areas of Early Years Outcomes will be observed.

The other practitioner might take photos from a distance or write some notes if s/he is not busy elsewhere, but most importantly one practitioner is planted with the children and the other practitioner is floating.

The planted practitioner can also use the activity as an opportunity to chat to the children, ask open ended questions, wait for answers and teach the children new things because they are already interested and involved and they want to learn. As we all know, when children want to learn they are receptive to learning new things and trying out new ideas.

Important things to note
Time – the best time to plan for this type of teaching is when children are most receptive to new learning (they are not tired, hungry or expecting something else to happen) and there is a good length of time available, for example, after breakfast or morning snack. Think about daily routines and look at timescales for activities – find stretches of free play sessions every day when a learning experience can be planned.

Space – there must be plenty of space for this type of teaching so children can move around freely without bumping into each other or feeling pushed out and can see / hear what is happening without being distracted by other things going on around them.

Undivided attention – the planted practitioner gives their undivided attention to the children who want to join in with the activity. This must be agreed with the other practitioner who is on hand to step in and deal with the other daily routines such as preparing snack with a group of children, reading books, keeping the house and garden safe and clear from trip hazards, dealing with toileting or administering first aid etc.

Type of activity – all kinds of activities might be planned for planted learning times. Some popular ones include –
• Making and using playdough – add smells or other sensory stimuli
• Small parts play such as making Hama beads with older children
• Water play with cups and spoons to measure, weigh and learn about capacity, weight, floating and sinking etc
• Making a farmyard scene with Lego or building a train track
• Setting up something new such as a wormery, vegetable patch or herb garden
• Using tubing and guttering to watch how water travels
• Making a new jigsaw
• Updating Learning Journey files

Asking questions – there is a big difference between asking interested questions which gain a positive response from a child and asking questions to find out what a child knows or can do. It is important to ask open, interested questions which challenge children to think about new ways of doing things – and to wait until they reply rather than rushing in to fill a silence.
Closed questions only allow for one answer such as –
• What colour is it?
• What shape is it?
• How many can you count?
• Is it big or small? Etc…

Good questions to challenge thinking and support learning might be…
• What should we do next?
• How does that work?
• What do you think will happen if..?
• Can you think of a way to..?
• Why do you think that happened..?
• Show me…
• Can you explain that to me?

Types of play - the EYFS talks about 3 types of play – adult led, adult guided and child initiated.
• Adult led – the practitioner chooses the activity to support the child/ren to learn something new or to follow a particular interest. The children join in, sometimes guided towards the activity and sometimes through natural curiosity.
• Adult guided – children play their games and the practitioner joins them, playing alongside them and taking on roles to support their play. Sometimes, the practitioner brings them different resources to enhance their play and learning.
• Child initiated – children play their own games. Adults might later guide their play by adding resource ideas, but the play is led by the child.
Most ‘planted’ activities will be adult led or adult guided.

I think it is tricky, but not impossible, for childminders who work on their own to plan ‘planted’ sessions. The problem starts when one child wanders away from the activity or someone needs attention which takes you away from the other children. Perhaps childminders who do not have a co-childminder or assistant might join up with a colleague to plan this type of teaching and learning opportunity for the children.

Don’t forget, if you try something new write it up in your SEF with an evaluation of how it went and what you might want to do differently next time! Ofsted like to see practitioners learning and growing in their practice.