The “P” Word.

In Early Years, the one word every practitioner dreads more than ‘OFSTED’ is ‘Planning’. We’ve all been there haven’t we? Whether you’re a Nursery Manager, Early Years Practitioner or a childminder, the word ‘planning’ is one that instantly makes people groan. On training courses, one of your first questions to your neighbour is ‘So what’s your planning like?” or “How do you plan?”

As much as ‘planning’ in some form is mandatory as part of our curriculum and our evidence for OFSTED, what is it that makes us resent it so much? Does planning need to be a chore?  When the revised EYFS came into effect, it was meant to reduce the amount of paperwork and bureaucracy, has that happened? Or are we still half-heartedly filling in endless reams of paper in order to provide OFSTED with enough evidence that we know what we are doing?

Ultimately, we plan to meet the needs of the children we care for; that in itself should make it a positive and fun exercise right? Here at Pebbles Childcare, we have both had countless experiences with different planning methods/forms and routines. We understand and promote it’s importance, but are lucky enough to be in a position where in our homebased setting, we are flexible, laid back and relaxed and confident about it enough to allow the children to take the lead.

It sounds like a bit of a cliche doesn’t it? But we are true advocates of child-led planning. We plan every week, incorporating celebrations, events and themes (just like nurseries) as well as planning activities and outings to support the children’s learning and development needs, however, there are times when we go completely off topic and let the children take the lead, as we truly believe children learn best when they are in control of their own learning.

For example, last week we had planned to finish off our ‘Spring’ topic and move on, planning activities and outings to meet the needs of individual children. However, as always, we ask the children over morning snack “What would you like to do today?” On this occasion, one of the children responded that they would like to do some painting, whilst another child declared “I want to learn more about growing flowers!”

This simple five minute exchange developed into our planning for the week; as a result of this we visited a florist to learn about different flowers and create our own bouquet, we used flowers to paint with (as requested!), we visited a Garden Centre where we learned the names of different flowers, learned about the similarities and differences between them as we used our cameras to photograph them, in addition to embarking upon ‘Flower Walks’ to see how many different types of flowers we could spot in our local area.

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None of these learning experiences were pre-planned by us prior to this week, but by following the children’s lead, developing their interest and making spontaneous plans based upon their interests, enabled us to provide priceless learning opportunities that the children were fully engaged in, which as a result of the children’s engagement enabled us to observe learning and development that we would not have witnessed had we not followed the children’s interest on this topic.

As practitioners, it’s important for us to challenge ourselves and question why we do things as part of our practice. When planning an activity/learning experience, ask yourself “What am I hoping to achieve?” “Is this exciting/stimulating?” Are you planning something just so you can tick a box and say “Yes they can do that.” ?

We are all guilty of getting so caught up in ‘box ticking’ and ‘meeting Next Steps’. Way back in 1990 when starting out as a Grade 1 Nursery Nurse in a small chain of nurseries, it was the norm to plan play and creative activities for a 5 week period, allowing very little room for spontaneity and child led learning. Thankfully, we’ve moved on since those days and our planning ideas and techniques have changed, allowing the ourselves to let the children take the lead. Our approach to the ‘P Word’ encourages the children to become more engaged and learning experiences develop and extend naturally through exciting and stimulating activities, allowing you the practitioner, to observe and capture incredible learning that you may not have witnessed before. This is something we witnessed first-hand this week. Allow yourselves to challenge your own and your setting/manager’s expectations of what the themes you follow ‘should’ be. Children’s minds are phenomenal things and can take them, and you as practitioners to incredible places when supported and nurtured in the right way. As a setting, we fully embraced the children’s interest as a theme and what we achieved through doing so is incredible; happy and engaged children who were excited and ready to learn at the beginning of each session, in-depth and detailed observations on each child; encompassing real-life and relevant learning and development, in addition to beautiful child-led artwork for the children’s scrapbooks and a basis for a new display to document our learning from the week.

Similarly, it’s important to be flexible enough to understand that as quickly as themes arrive and develop, they will change too. Amidst the flower theme this week, one of the children on the school run begun to show an increasing level of interest in the different types of cars we saw, particularly ‘Sports Cars’ and how these look and sound different from other cars, we then proceeded to notice familiar letters and numbers on licence plates and asked the other children about the types/colours of their cars. And so, next week’s theme was born.

Following children’s interests and planning around these can be difficult, particularly if you belong to a larger setting; where you aren’t in a position to respond so quickly to interests; to source resources or plan outings instantly or have the power to completely change your play space around to accommodate the developing interest.

We are very lucky to be in a position to not only respond so quickly and plan instant outings and have complete control over the activities we plan. Similarly, we are very lucky to belong to a network of other home-based childcare providers, through which we share and borrow resources depending on particular needs and themes (as well as donations from parents and family members), allowing us to access ‘new’ and different resources and props to enable the children to develop their interests and themes.

This support network enabled us to  respond to the developing interests of our children and provided us with resources to create next week’s learning environment:

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In summary, spontaneous planning, particularly child-led, has countless benefits not only for the children’s engagement and learning opportunities, but for us as practitioners too. Spontaneous planning enables us to truly get to know our children and the way in which they view the world and how they learn; providing us with the opportunities to plan thought-provoking and engaging learning opportunities which may have not arisen without the children’s input.

There truly is nothing more stimulating and engaging than learning planned for children, by the children.

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