Children’s Learning from Birth to Six

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During my three week placement in a pre 5 nursery I was able to observe children in their play. I then went on to assess the observations and together with listening to the child's ideas was able to plan for further learning using the Early Level of the curriculum framework. This is a reflective report of how I was able to support children as active learners.

At the beginning of placement I felt quite daunted by my lack of knowledge of the children, their likes, dislikes and their levels of development but after observing and interacting with them for a few days I felt that I had gained enough information to plan experiences that would engage them in active learning. The Scottish Executive (2007, p5) defines active learning as "learning which engages and challenges children's thinking using real life and imaginary situations......All areas of the curriculum can be enriched and developed through play".

I found the setting to be an enabling environment with children encouraged to follow their interests. This is in accordance with Standard 5 of the National Care Standards, the Scottish Executive (2005 p17) which states that "Children and young people will have opportunities to express their views, exercise choice and where possible, influence the programme". The staff engaged in responsive planning which enabled them to assess children's level of development and progress and plan the next steps in the individual child's learning. Taking part in planning meetings allowed me to engage in the discussions and reflect on how children's interests can be developed and supported. This gave me experience of team working and provided me with the opportunity to listen to other practitioners reflecting on their practice. Paige-Smith and Craft (2007) believe that there are many reasons why reflective practice should be undertaken. It is important for supporting planning and is also thought to be essential to continuous professional development. I feel that throughout my time at placement through the cycle of planning, observing and assessment I was able to identify the next steps in children's development and learning and put in place strategies that would enable them to achieve these goals. Although I do believe that it is a challenge for practitioners to plan in this way with regards to the number of children in the setting and all their individual interests and needs that have to be met. Good time management skills and team work are vital to cover all areas of the curriculum.

During an experience I had planned I was able to support the children in their active learning, see appendix 2observation 11. The fact that I had taken onboard their interests meant that the children were deeply involved in play which resulted in the children and I engaging in sustained shared thinking. I used questioning to encourage children to think for themselves and to extend their learning. Social contructivists believe that children learn when they interact with people and their environment. The theorist Vygotsky thought that children require social interaction with adults in order for them to develop cognitively. According to Bruce and Meggitt (2004, p242) "Vygotsky believed social relationships are at the heart of a child's learning". Social constructivism underpins active learning and as the Curriculum for Excellence is built around active learning the theory is still seen as relevant today. It was very satisfying for me to work closely with the children in this group, discussing with them their ideas and feel it is a valuable way in helping children learn. With more experience I hope that this will become second nature to me to work in this way.

After discussions with my mentor about a child who was having difficulty interacting with other children and subsequently making friends I went on to plan a football activity outdoors, see appendix 2 observation 5. I modelled the behaviour that was required for him to join in with his peers, at the same time being sensitive to his feelings, encouraging him and building up his self confidence. As I slowly stepped back from the game he began to take instruction from another child and take his lead from others in the game. The theorist Bruner called this assistance from both myself and his peers scaffolding for the child's learning. (Bruce & Meggitt 2004). Afterwards my mentor commented that I had dealt with the situation well, using sensitive interaction and she was very pleased with the progress that the child had made and hoped to build on his success.

In this setting children's learning is displayed on a learning wall. I took photographs of children engaged in experiences. These together with children's quotes and sample's of work were displayed. I also displayed learning outcomes achieved which made visible the children's learning to both parents and other staff in the setting. I found that the learning wall also presented the children with the opportunity to revisit their learning and to reflect on it. By inviting comments from the children I was able to discover what they thought they had learned and their likes and dislikes. After further discussion with staff I came to the conclusion that utilising a learning wall enables the staff to review curriculum provision. I feel that this method of planning really engages children and would be happy to make use of it in my future practice.

I realised that the learning wall was a useful tool for informing parents of their child's learning as they could easily see the learning outcomes that had been achieved. Together with children's profiles, home link diaries, newsletters etc staff and parents can communicate information from both the setting and home which could provide opportunities for planning to help children reach their full potential. The HM Inspectorate of Education (2007) are aware of the importance of practitioners working in partnership with parents to create effective early learning environments. Although I did engage with parents in the setting I did not feel as confident as I would have liked, that should change in future as I become a more experienced practitioner. I have discussed this with my mentor and decided which strategies I could use to improve my practice. Ward (2009) believes that practitioners and parents have equal interests in the child's learning and development and should work in partnership in order to achieve the best learning outcomes for the child.

Active learning takes place during all types of play for example planned purposeful play and spontaneous play. The Scottish Government (2010 p3) believe that "the activity in active learning is cognitive even when, as in the case of very young children, physical action may also be involved". There are many opinions regarding the value of play. According to Bruce & Meggitt (2006) there are twelve features of play and if seven or more are observed then play is likely to be of high quality. During an observation, see appendix 2 observation 3, of spontaneous quality play I witnessed active learning taking place. The child was acting out being a fireman. I was able to engage with the child and extend his thinking by giving the child my undivided attention and showing genuine interest in his play. Afterwards I discussed the observation with my mentor. She informed me that the child had previously been on a nursery outing to the local fire station. This confirmed to me that the child had indeed been engaging in quality play, Bruce & Meggit (2006 p469) "....using firsthand experiences, ....., making props,......, being deeply involved, trying out recent learning, .....". The child was making sense of his learning through play.

During my placement the children had been given a book bug pack of books. These had a pirate theme and had obviously caught the children's imagination. I decided to use a mind map to ask children about their thought on pirates. I was able to document their ideas and from the information gathered was able to go on and plan experiences and provide resources that were both stimulating and challenging, see appendix 2 observations 4-12. During these experiences I tried to think of ways in which I could extend their learning carrying it on in the direction that the children wished. It was not difficult to plan this way as the children were already interested in the subject. Even after all the planned experiences were completed the children's play continued to have a pirate theme. At one point they used building blocks in the construction area to build a pirate ship. Some children left this area to make treasure maps and others to make telescopes. Soon they were wearing the pirate scarves we had made earlier in the week and those without made captains hats. During this time I was interacting with the children in the 'ship', engaged in sustained shared thinking with the children asking question such as "I wonder........" and encouraging them to extend their thinking further. Lots of collaborative play was taking place. According to Wood and Attfield (2005 p106) "In the most effective settings cognitive outcomes are associated with adult/child interactions that involve sustained shared thinking". This is similar to the Reggio Emilia approach were projects begin with teachers observing children's interests and then go on to provide children with the opportunity and resources to explore a topic in depth. The project can be taken in any direction by the child/children. (Kinney and Wharton 2008)

The Scottish Executive (2007) believe that when children are involved in planning the resulting play is more meaningful and purposeful with children being deeply immersed in their learning. This is the result I witnessed in the setting. I have reflected on my practice, see appendix 1, and haven taken into consideration feedback from my mentor, see appendix 3, and have noted ways in which I can improve in supporting children in active learning, see appendix 1.