mud pies 2

“A chain of happy children trail each other joyfully around the garden dodging in and out of wigwams, wooden structures and plants.

Others work intently, like a team of chefs, making an imaginary cake out of shaving foam, mud, leaves and whatever else they can find in the garden of the Limelight Family Learning Centre .

Could they be the toddlers Children’s Minister Liz Truss described this week as “running round with no sense of purpose” in “chaotic” nursery settings?

As a former Deputy Head I believe letting children play is soooooo important !

Read the article “What would ‘schoolification’ of our nurseries mean?” By Hannah Richardson on BBC News

“As in most of England’s nurseries, the children at this one in Catford, south-east London, are allowed to go in and out of doors and pick activities as they please, a concept known as free flow in early-years-speak.

But it does not mean they have no interaction with adults. Ratios have to be maintained between children and staff, who are there to aid and support children’s learning.

‘More or less?’

The children may look like they are just messing around, but nursery manager Funda Mustafa says when children do something like “make a mud cake” they are practising a very wide range of skills.

“They’re using their fine motor skills, gross motor skills, they are sharing and taking turns. They are socialising and interacting, working as a team and they are learning to use their own thinking skills.

“And there’s a lot of mathematical language in there too. ‘Is this heavy or light? Do we need more or less?’ ”

Child-led activities like this, and the notion that children can come and go as they please, underpin so much of what goes on in nurseries.

But the recent comments from the minister send a clear message that she believes this is not the best way of preparing children for school.

She said she had seen too many “chaotic settings” lacking sufficiently qualified staff where children were running around and, she claimed, not getting positive outcomes.

Indeed, academic research in 2007 suggested Labour’s multibillion-pound investment in the Sure Start nursery scheme led to no improvement in standards when children started school.

She praised the French model of early years, saying: “There is a strong focus on structured learning, led by a qualified professional. I saw a teacher lead eight two-year-olds in putting together a series of plastic discs for a good 20 minutes. I was captivated – and so were they.

The Department for Education followed up the minister’s comments, saying it was a “myth” that free-flow play was compulsory, adding that there was no reason why structured teacher sessions could not also be the norm.

It added it was important for parents to have a choice of different approaches in early years settings – so they could choose what works best for their child.

Physical development

But what would the impact be of closing the doors and bringing out the tables and chairs?

The biggest representative of nursery and childcare providers, the Pre-School Learning Alliance, says it would be a “schoolification” of nurseries and a lessened experience for youngsters.

Its chief executive Neil Leitch says: “The government seems to forget that the statutory age for schools is five years old. It seems they want to formalise education for children who are younger and younger.

“Liz Truss’s vision seems to be that you have a row of two-year-olds lined up in a very regimented way receiving direction from a teacher.”

Read more here

What do you think? Are we now going to formalise learning even earlier in our obsession with League Tables?

How do we create life long learners who have had the joy of playing as children?