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Views & Opinion Planning for future learning Comment by Alicia Blanco-Bayo, Early Years Practitioner

Looking at the Early Years Foundation Stage Framework and the guidelines stating how to approach teaching and learning in the Early Years, adopting a circular approach that shows how we must consider each individual child as the centre of any teaching strategies, should be used as the starting point of all learning.

Planning for appropriate learning whilst considering individual needs is the key to supporting young children so that they take steps as and when they are developmentally ready to do so. As children come through the school gates, the social assumptions of being ready for school begin and with them the silent concerns when parents see their child interact with others and compare views and opinions with other parents. It is at this point that the support of an Early Years Specialist is paramount so that the whole philosophy of school readiness is understood and our children are placed in the centre of all teaching and learning.

Assessment through observation Each child is a unique being at the beginning of their journey, and the Early Years practitioner is

the professional who is going to travel with the child at the pace required. The role of the adult is fundamental as regular observations of children’s responses to varied situations will provide key information. These notes are initial clues to identify individual stages of development and then plan next steps accordingly.

Perhaps it is easier to figure out how this can be done if we create our own context. Have you ever met the 3 year old child who comes across as quite confident, but perhaps prefers to experiment with different resources and in more than one area within the setting? The child who might not choose to focus on a specific task but seems happy enough to be with other children. When you meet the child as the Early Years professional, you can define where to begin the journey; you should carry out a series of observations over a period of time and during a number of tasks and play situations. These observations should enable you to assess the developmental stage the child is at, and having done so, design an individual learning plan. Although it might seem like a complex workload for the Early Years teacher/practitioner,

once a system is in place it certainly makes sense to follow similar procedures in the learning stages beyond the Foundation Stage.

Putting a system in place

- Regular Observations and notes about children’s responses in a variety of scenarios; - Links to Learning Intentions under the Early Learning Goals as the little steps taken throughout the Foundation Stage;

- Use a series of topics that should originate from children’s interests, to plan learning opportunities that will support those needs identified through the observations; - Observing and taking notes of children’s responses as those learning opportunities are presented will again provide information to plan future learning.

The child takes a central place in the planning of learning experiences that will support his or her individual growth. As unique beings, each child has a gift and it is up to the educator who enables the environment to make that uniqueness shine.

Unhappiness at school: it’s time to rethink mindfulness in the classroom Comment by Graham Doke, Founder of Anamaya and Anamaya for Schools

The Demos report ‘Mind over Matter’ released last month (15th October) once again brought the issue of unhappiness amongst young people back into firm focus. As part of the report, the think tank surveyed 1000 teenagers and found a steady decline in children’s self-belief between the ages of 14 and 18, the latter being more likely to think that there is too much focus on exams rather than preparing for life in general.

The report rightly highlighted the need to put more focus on young people’s social and emotional skills, rather than just academic grades, and called upon schools to provide children with the positive mind set and self-belief they need to be successful, confident adults.

Whilst I am sure I am in the majority in thinking these are very important points, with schools under more and more pressure to reach targets and cut costs, turning these commitments into action is virtually impossible for many. But, there is potential for a solution.

A mindfulness programme can undoubtedly provide not only the learning but other social and emotional skills required. But, given the target and cost pressures, few schools can afford the large financial costs involved.

So can one be delivered affordably? A parliamentary report on mindfulness also released last month (20th October) recommended the use of the web to provide a solution for schools. Its ease of use and accessibility seem to make it ideal – but the ease of the web comes with its own hazards, and great care has to be taken in using material offered on the web. Mindfulness, particularly for children, suffers from something of an identity crisis. In common usage, mindfulness for kids has become simply awareness – awareness of the here and now. This has led to a proliferation of audio sessions on the web which are aimed only at this immediate awareness. Whilst they may be fun and well- motivated, they do not teach mindfulness. A mindfulness programme of real use to schools must be complete in its curriculum

November 2015

and must not confuse the teaching of immediate awareness with its overall objective, the development of what is now being termed ‘meta-awareness’. This is the awareness of awareness itself, to produce thoughts, emotions and behaviours that are intentional and deliberate, rather than reactive.

In such a programme, the sessions must be engaging, delivery must be modified for age, and the course structured with a careful path from beginning to end. To conserve teaching resources, home use is essential, but teachers must be offered remote training to allow them to engage classroom discussion.

A web-based programme will never be as effective as one classroom based. But given the reality of resources, a properly designed, produced and supported web-based solution will certainly fill a gaping hole in the coming years. And with our young people apparently unhappier than ever, it’s time to think creatively about how we can make mindfulness available to every classroom in the country. 13

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