Parent Matters#1 – Early Years

This occasional series is for teachers and parents exploring areas of concern that parents have about all matters educational.

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A number of parents have expressed concern that their youngsters will be pushed to learn before they are ready. I interpreted this to mean worries about ‘formal’ learning like sitting in rows writing, arithmetic and reading for the children.

For clarification here are the ages and different stages of education in England:

Foundation Stage 1 ( in pre-school/nursery / childcare environment)
Nursery – age 3 to 4

Foundation Stage 2 (in infant / primary school)
Reception – age 4 to 5

Key Stage 1 (in an Infant / Primary school
Year 1 – age 5 to 6
Year 2 – age 6 to 7

Key Stage 2 (in a Junior / Primary school)
Year 3 – age 7 to 8
Year 4 – age 8 to 9
Year 5  – age 9 to 10
Year 6 – age 10 to 11

For the purpose of this post we will look at the Foundation Stage 1 / 2. These two years are known as Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). It has its own curriculum and very structured assessment system. Now for many parents reading this they may well say ‘There! Told you so. Too much too soon!’

This is not the case though. The assessments are for the staff to make sure that children make progress towards being ready for formal school. The National Curriculum( the one that has SATs tests!)  does not kick in until Key Stage 1 and most primary / infant schools often delay adoption of it until the spring of the following year when the children are settled into Year 1.

While the children are in Foundation Stage they will appear to be playing most of the time. There will be occasions when they are gathered together for story telling or the sharing of news but most EYFS classrooms, especially Reception classes will appear to be very fluid with children choosing what they want to do.

However, do not be fooled into thinking that it is one big free-for-all!

There is a great deal of planning and assessment going on. The Foundation Stage Profile looks at areas such as Personal, Social & Emotional Development / Communication, Language & Literacy / Problem Solving (number) / Knowledge & Understanding of the World / Physical Development / Creative Development.Parent Matters#1 You may like to read my post ‘Laying Foundations’ which outlines the benefits of the FSP

At present staff, have to make detailed judgements on the progress each child makes within the areas above. They then have to plan to move the children to the next stage but this is not done by sitting them down in a formal way. Skilled practitioners will watch, look and listen to the children as they choose activities and will ‘lead’ them towards other areas either to extend knowledge or begin a new skill.

A great deal of work is done through language and the extension of vocabulary. Writing can be taking place in sand or outside on a specially prepared wall. Number work will be in the form of sharing and matching things, all the while with a constant dialogue with the child.  Those of you with young children will know how rich the environment is in these classes. That is to take advantage of the children being ‘little sponges’ and just soaking it all up!  Staff will be watching for those first shoots that indicate the child is ready to move on and only when they are ready should that happen.

The present framework is complex and takes a great deal of ‘clerical’ time but it is due to be revised for September 2012. It will still contain those elements that build on children’s readiness for formal school.

One of my dearest Twitter mums told me that her concern about school was that ‘Nursery is fine – lots of play, a little learning but ‘full on’ reception with alphabets at 4!’ was too much.

I hope she will be able to see that ‘learning’ is happening all the time and in a very structured way but completely unbeknown to the children!

If your child is due to go into Reception in September, do ask about the curriculum. You will then be able to see where all the scaffolding for formal learning takes place. You will also be able to supplement it at home without reverting to exercise books.

This series is designed to help parents share concerns and ask questions and hopefully get some answers from practitioners. Do leave a comment to join in the debate whether you’re a parent or a teacher. You can help each other!

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