Applying my early years theory to practice – “there’s something special about it!”

This month, in our ongoing collaboration with Edge Hill University curated by ALICIA BLANCO-BAYO, Early Years Lecturer and WTEY Programme Leader at the University’s Faculty of Education, we’re delighted to hear from EMMA COTTINGTON, a current student on the BA (Hons) Early Years practice at Edge Hill University. She is a Nursery Manager, Safeguarding lead, a volunteer CWO and mum to a sport loving 5-year-old.

Twelve years ago, I was sitting on the floor, inside a tent, drinking a pretend cup of tea, eating my pretend piece of cake whilst dressed as a pirate. “Thank you, this is a lovely tea party” I said to the two-year-old girl who had engaged me in her role play. “I want a tick” she said to me whilst thumping her chest, like you would see a footballer thumping their team’s badge on their chest. The little girl wanted to be rewarded with a sticker for her tea party. Her communication skills were developing well and she was beginning to put words together. I praised her, bent down and gave her a ‘sticker’. Her smile lit up the room, ‘ssss-ticker’ I recast to her and emphasised the word phonetically. She repeated after me and pressed her sticker firmly on her chest. She hugged me and ran off. It was at this point I knew I loved early years.

This was just a small ten minute snippet from one day in the life of an Early Years practitioner. I was able to self-evaluate and draw upon the knowledge that I had gained as part of my Foundation Degree in Early Years Education, studying part time at Edge Hill University. The ‘Young Children as Communicators’ module helped strengthen my knowledge of how to support effective language development of the children in my care. I also had an understanding of the importance of play and could reflect on theorists such as Vygotsky, Piaget and examine the work of Dr Jools Page on ‘professional love’.

Early years is a fast-paced environment, there are ever-evolving theories, new legislation and new agendas so I felt it was really important to be constantly adaptable. This is why I chose to study at Edge Hill where I was able to study part time, whilst still being able to continue to work to gain hands-on experience and put my learning into practice. I am a kinesthetic learner and this was a great way for me to learn.

There are so many routes an Early Years Degree can take you on. Whilst studying for my Foundation Degree in Early Years I was also working as an Early Years Practitioner. I gradually gained the confidence and knowledge to be able to progress onto a supervisory role. I have since worked as a Parental Outreach Worker, and for the last six years I have worked in nursery management under both Ofsted and the Independent Schools Association. The Foundation Degree has opened so many doors for me and given me an edge over my peers within application processes and interviews that I have applied for.

Ten years on, I have now decided the time is right to complete a top up course and gain my BA (Hons) in Early Years practice to see what new doors this can open for me. I would highly recommend stepping out of your comfort zone, push yourself and go out and do it. “Today’s learning is tomorrow’s knowledge!”


Using performing arts in the classroom

In her regular column this month, STEMtastic! founder KIRSTY BERTENSHAW discusses how to bring a bit of showbiz sparkle to your lessons.

Teaching some subjects can be repetitive and lack enthusiasm. Active learning can motivate learners and stimulate deeper learning. Students tend to remember the lessons they enjoyed and return with eagerness for more. Engaging a student’s own creativity can be fruitful, so here are a few ways to introduce the performing arts into the classroom (with suitable precautions during the current pandemic).

Story telling has always been a way to pass on knowledge, predating the written word. Active story telling can be included in almost any subject area, with or without props.

Science lessons can use theatre to explain interactions between particles, modelling displacement reactions and showing how chemical reactions are just rearrangements of atoms. Biological processes can be acted out too. Set up a circulatory system on the playground using chalk, and students can model the movement of blood into and out of the heart. Digestion can be demonstrated in the same way. The response of white blood cells to infection can be acted out like a play, with different roles for white blood cells and types of invading pathogen. Dancing can be used in similar way to theatre in science, to model the movement of blood cells in circulation, the interaction of particles, Brownian motion etc. Dance can also be used to explore the effects of exercise on the body. Science involves lots of knowledge that needs to be remembered, from the electromagnetic spectrum to energy stores. One way to encourage memory is using rhyme or song. Limericks, sonnets, haikus, and songs can all be written and performed (socially distanced) to help learning.

History content can often feel disconnected, with students struggling to relate to events of the past. Plays or battle enactments can stimulate interest and include all levels of ability. Students can even make their own accessories, raiding the recycling box for cardboard. Theatre can be used to show both sides of historical events, considering the impact on all individuals involved. Songs have been used to tell stories of battles and mythical encounters in the past, and old songs could be performed and then discussed to understand the story they tell.

Encourage imagination in geography – imagine what it would be like to be the first explorer to discover the Americas, or to explore a jungle for the first time. Set up an area for dramatising it, perhaps include pictures stuck on the walls of interesting plants, animals or geographical features. The exploration could be cross-curricular, writing the story as a play to describe the discovery, including music of the geographical area.

The National Curriculum for KS3 English already includes prose, poetry and drama, but active renditions can be encouraged. Show a few videos of spoken word performance artists and challenge students to present a piece of writing in different ways. In a world of emails and social media, the tone and meaning of a sentence can be hard to decipher. Consider this idea when presenting a piece of prose – what are the underlying emotions of the writer? Could it be interpreted in different way?

With smart phones in our pockets, these dramatisations could be homework, filmed in Covid-safe environments, perhaps with the help of family members, costumes or song. Some students will not want to perform out loud or in front of their peers but may prefer to film the learning instead – learning should be a positive experience!

Kirsty is the founder of STEMtastic, an education consultancy with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths

November 2020

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