Those who are not familiar with the early years setting tend not to understand much about what goes on behind the doors of the classrooms serving our youngest pupils.
“Certainly many can misunderstand how crucial the teacher role is and quite how much learning can take place in these scenarios,” Tim Barber, an early years specialist in Hampshire, writes in an article for the Tes website.
“Effective practitioners do far more than tend to young children,” he continues. “Within child-initiated learning time, the adult acts as an observer, co-player or extender and will, of course, move between these roles.”
Essentially, this is a job that requires huge amounts of planning and large dollops of creativity, as well as an ability to develop relationships so as to be seen as a “co-player”.
At Barnsole Primary School in Gillingham, Kent, Peter Elliot leads a class of two-year-olds. He has a BA in early years leadership.
His day begins at 7.30am when he arrives to set up the classroom. The first three-hour session starts at 8.30am.
“Two- to three-year-old children are the centre of their own world,” Elliot says. “As a practitioner, you need to join them in their play as a co-learner, taking what they are doing and prompting their next step of development by role modelling or presenting a challenge for them.
“Trying to bring children to an activity they have not chosen for themselves with a pre-planned learning outcome won’t work.”
It’s an approach that requires detailed planning and in-depth knowledge of every child. It also requires the practitioner to keep track of any potential difficulties. The most common problems are speech and language development deficits. These may require referrals to other agencies.
Elliot spends his lunchtimes writing up notes from the morning’s session and preparing for the afternoon teaching session, including resetting the room. He is constantly adapting the space to catch children’s interest, to meet their development needs and in response to his observations.
After school, Elliot repeats the process, and inputs data points so that children can be tracked.
The level of work that goes into a typical day cannot be underestimated, Barber adds.
“Through a range of fun, effective and skilled interactions, the teacher develops the quality of children’s play to a high standard,” he writes. “Number recognition, accurate counting and early writing are just a few of the key skills that are developed.
“There is no doubt about it – children are most engaged when adults play alongside them. And, by doing this, early years practitioners are able to gain an accurate view of what children are capable of doing and plan next steps effectively.”