I came across an interesting blog on the wonderful land of Twitter, appropriately titled: ‘Are you addicted to Themes? A tale about themes, a Caterpillar and change.’
As with most of the inspiring blogs and other information I come across, I always share, this time via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. The majority of colleagues agreed with Denita’s analysis of ‘no themes’, with a few saying they still use themes and topics to make sure that children have variety. My view is that Educators who still hold on to the security blanket of themes, do so as a result of pedagogy practice within their Early Years professional development, in particular how they learned to emotionally connect with and to communicate with children. It is more important to know how to listen to and observe children as they scaffold their learning and development.
Belinda Johnson, a Childminder from Eastbourne, commented on the Facebook entry: “Sometimes I wonder whether using themes gives practitioners a lifeline to hold on to? Understanding how a child learns and following their leads in play, can be quite scary, (and great fun) . . . . . . it requires us to get into the head of a child and see what they see, and think how they think . . . . and think, ‘What next?’ So this week we have created tunnels, discovered what happens when we mix different things together, met new people, had a picnic, watched bees, hover flies and butterflies . . . . I don’t understand themes either!!”
Whenever I share my knowledge of how children can learn and develop and how they can experience a rich curriculum without the use of themes, Educators at times are quick to respond with:
‘What about the inner-city child who has never been to a farm or zoo?’
‘If you follow the child’s lead, they will never be able to experience anything new?’
‘We have been told that Ofsted want to see themes!’
In my response to these points, I would say that we should present new concepts in a way that stimulates questions and charges up children’s critical thinking. For example, the concept of celebration includes birthdays, religious events and festivals such as the current World Cup, all of which will stimulate a response!
Some Educators have a light bulb moment!
Here are a few examples to share, where I have personally collaborated with children on their current interests:
Three year old: ‘Laura, I am going on a train to see my nanny in Liverpool.’ With that one sentence from the child, I explored ‘transport’ and ‘families’! How long does it take on the train from London to Liverpool? Visiting train stations and transport observing. Looking at the child’s family tree, where do their relatives live? And so on and so forth. Others say, ‘Yes, but what about the other children – we can’t do this for every child, Laura!’ Yes you can, because it is more than likely other children will be interested as well.
Four year old: ‘Laura, what is your favourite colour?’ Me: ‘Great question! Purple and do you have a favourite colour?’ Child: ‘Yellow!’ Me: ‘Amazing colour and I wonder what paint colours make yellow?’ Child’s eyes light up. Off we both go to the paint area and start to mix a range of paints! Note, by then a number of other children had joined us. Educators rolled their eyes as this was the afternoon and was therefore supposed to be quiet time! Nothing like a bit of chemistry in the afternoon!
Four year old: ‘My mummy said that my body is made up of blood and bones!’. Shared x-rays; songs: ‘The knee bone is connected to the thigh bone’, ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’, as well as a range of story and text books.
Equally, with babies and toddlers, carefully observe them to see what stimulates their sensory needs, how they interact with each other and access their environment.
As my friend and Early Years consultant and writer Jennie Lindon states: ‘Children don’t do Autumn, they do kicking leaves!’
In addition, Educators can share their interests and their passions. For instance I love cooking and visiting markets; can you imagine what I could share with children? Equally, developing the Reggio Emilia concept of provocations: once, during a period of interim management in a nursery, I collected bags of pebbles and seaweed on a weekend trip to Brighton (my car smelled on the journey back!). On the Monday, I filled two builder trays with the pebbles and seaweed, as well as adding other seaside and beach items and placed one tray inside and one outside. With written key words, such as ‘pebbles’ and ‘seaweed’, I prepared open-ended questions and included photographs of beaches and the sea as examples. With clipboards and pencils the children scribed their thoughts and drew. This particular provocation went on for a good few weeks.
Thus, by monitoring and analysing the curriculum, Educators will know if they need to ‘set up a provocation’ on a particular concept.
This is effective and personalised teaching, which I have discussed in the past.
Rather than doing prescriptive, bland and predictable themes, we can be more adventurous by listening to and connecting with children.
There are a few colleagues on Twitter, who share a number of ‘awe and wonder’ provocations that they present to children in their settings and I would recommend that you follow them:
I know that coming away from themes will take time and extra professional development. But, imagine the fun and the real life learning journey we can have with children!
As the late Maya Angelou said: ‘I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.’
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