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.