'Early years is all play – but that’s still hard work'

02nd February 2018
When it comes to knowing your children, early years teachers are peerless. They know who’s motivated by dinosaurs and who needs unicorns, says Jo Brighouse

My four-year-old couldn’t wait to get into school this morning. He and a friend were making a robot dog for the class zoo and he was desperate to carry on with it.

And it wasn’t just him. The children in his class were visibly happy and excited as they congregated in the playground.

I’m pretty sure this is all down to his teacher. Early years teachers are amazing. They combine the patience of a saint with the creativity of a Turner Prize winner and the persistence of Jeremy Hunt.

I honestly don’t know how they do it. The creativity alone would finish me off in no time. While up at my end of the school we call a fraction a fraction and spend our mornings dismembering Dickens into its grammatical parts; in early years, all learning is disguised, camouflaged and made irresistible into the bargain. Children are not learning phonics – they’re searching for pirate treasure. They’re not learning about shape and measurement – they’re building homes for hedgehogs in the garden.

From the daily morning dough finger disco to the afternoon hunt for polar animals, my youngest child’s days are packed full of learning – and he has absolutely no idea that he is learning anything at all.

Social skills so crucial

And all the time early years staff are working just as hard on the other stuff: taking turns; using a knife and fork; weeing in the toilet not the book corner. They build the social skills that are so crucial but which are so often sidelined a few years on as data and progress graphs take over.

When it comes to knowing your children, these teachers are peerless. They know who can be pushed and who needs coercing. They know who’s motivated by dinosaurs and who needs unicorns. They can calm a whole class and get them into assembly in a straight line in under two minutes.

These are skills that are regularly overlooked in the whole school scheme of things. We could learn so much from them – which makes it more than a bit ironic that we are always trying to make them learn from us.

Reception staff must sit through so many hours of staff meetings that are neither relevant nor helpful to them. Their schools are likely to be led by headteachers who have never taught their age group.

Mostly, they are seen as a foreign country, visited only when you need to borrow some sand or read about in the news when some edu-bigwigs (who are guaranteed never to have taught young children) decide they need an injection of “rigour”.

So the next time I get any say in my CPD, I’m going to request a day trip to Reception to take another look at the learning blueprint. I don’t expect I’ll pick up too much from the teaching (the annoying thing about a good Reception teacher is they make it look easy) but I am hoping to get my dough disco skills up to a passable standard.

Jo Brighouse is a pseudonym for a teacher in the Midlands. She tweets @jo_brighouse