In this paper I reflect on my ability as an early years practitioner in supporting children as active learners. In addition I will analyse my observations and illustrate how support was provided for children in their active learning.
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The objective of my role was to support children as active learners and contribute to the nursery’s combined approach of organising and evaluating children’s learning. I took part in regular routines of arranged activities, observations and planning meetings and used approaches that enabled the children’s learning to be taken forward.
I also used Building the Curriculum 2 Active Learning in the Early Years as guidance for my personal reflection. These guidelines support practitioners in their approach to learning and deliverance of high quality learning experiences for children’s active learning. Using the guidelines enabled me to evaluate my use of appropriate resources, review my teaching and helped me to plan for change.
Building the Curriculum 2 Active Learning in the Early Years emphasises the importance of active learning and defines active learning as:
Active learning is learning which engages and challenges children’s thinking using real-life and imaginary situations. It takes full advantage of the opportunities for learning presented by: spontaneous play, planned, purposeful play, investigating and exploring, events and life experiences, focused learning and teaching supported when necessary through sensitive intervention to support or extend learning. All areas of the curriculum can be enriched and developed through play.
It works within Curriculum for Excellence which is about the enjoyment of education that produces learning activities which have real meaning for children in their own lives. Early years and Primary 1 have been combined to create the new early level in Curriculum for Excellence and the challenge for practitioners is to maintain the feeling of play whilst ensuring that children experience the whole of the curriculum. In addition, it emphasises the importance of active play as a curricular approach.
Active learning involves the child being at the centre of their learning so practitioners must listen to them and by using resources like a floor book or mind map, the child’s interests can be documented and acted on. Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the child states “Children have the right to express a view about things that affect them” and one of the principles of The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 includes the right to be heard too.
Another efficient way of listening is by observing children as this helps practitioners to understand the children’s stage of development. Documented assessments influence what staff can do to improve the quality of learning for children and it is done by generating focused learning and providing activities.
This information about children’s interest and further learning has come directly from the children themselves enabling the children to be put at the centre of their learning. By identifying the learning needs of the child staff are meeting and implementing the requirements of the provision of early education as stated by The Child at the Centre, 5.3 Meeting learning needs.
During my three weeks in placement I used observations to influence me in the provision of support I could offer to the children in their learning and I have spoke briefly about them and evaluated how this support helped children in their active learning.
Children learn about their world through play with active learning and the greater the variety of experiences the more stimulating their engagement and learning will be. They are seen as participants in their own learning, are independent in their own actions in everything they do and are able to make connections in their learning. However, when their independent learning requires support, they become co-constructors of learning. Adult intervention can help children construct their knowledge by building on the knowledge that the child already has.
This theory relates to social constructivist Jerome Bruner where he indicates how adults can “scaffold” what the child already knows by building on their prior knowledge enabling them to learn and develop and I used this theory in providing support in two observations.
In observation 1, during group time, the keyworker asks the children to share the knowledge they have about fireworks. I built on this knowledge by creating an expressive arts activity for the children and they were able to their thoughts and interests in a creative way. This observation also relates to the theory of active learning by providing activities and learning that have real meaning in the lives of children helps them to make sense of the world. (Observation 2)
In observation I used my judgement in deciding when to sensitively intervene or interact when the children were involved in self-directed or free flow play to enable them to build on their knowledge.
I knew that S was trying to get my attention and took the right moment to interact with him and give him the support to build on his knowledge of “putting on a show” and continue in his play. By listening to him and then interacting with him, I provided him with support to develop his language and communication and optimise his learning potential. Moreover, this observation allowed me to tune into S and assess his stage of development and provided me with an insight into what his interests, knowledge and experiences were.
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This activity also shows how Piaget’s theory of cognitive development evolves. S used maracas to represent his microphone and according to Beaver M et al, Piaget’s theory implies that S is in the pre-conceptual stage of his cognitive development and this stage enables him to develop his language more rapidly. I had already planned to provide a role play activity for the children and this planned activity would continue S’s active learning and language development. (Observation 1 and )
In her explanation of free flow play, Bruce T (2006 page 470) implies that there are 3 stages in the development of free flow play. As children enter the 3rd stage called more elaborate play, they have already begun to pretend and develop impulsive creative and imaginative play. The third skill requires more skill and includes social interaction, props and stories. She also agrees with Beaver. M (et al) page 174, that this type of free flow play is very important for the child’s overall development. I believe that S had already entered the 3rd stage of free flow play.
In the fruit and vegetable shop activity I observed two different types of play and learning. In the first observation, a group of three boys were content to be involved in their own solitary play but the second observation showed how role play can promote learning and encourage social interactions. Standard 5 of the National Care standard states that children and young people will have opportunities to exercise choice and the first observation showed that these boys were exercising their choice to play alone.
The afternoon observation showed social interaction between the boys and this role play gave them the chance to use their imaginations to explore, discover and organise their thoughts in order to make sense of their world. This activity also allowed them to develop their language and social development. By creating this activity I provided the next step in their active learning and according to Beaver. M (et al) page 174 “an important step part in their all-round development.”
Active learning has been establish in my nursery for a number of years and the nursery works within Building the Curriculum 2, guidelines. It provides a general idea of active learning and shows the relation of the four capacities in Curriculum for Excellence to what we already know about children. I visited the nursery prior to starting and discussed the play feature in the nursery with the nursery teacher. We spoke about how the children experience their free flow play but there is also structured play and focused learning for some children to give them support in their overall development.
In addition to providing activities that would provide support for the children in their active learning, I suggested to my mentor that we could create a wall display to share and celebrate the children’s learning. Our display carried pictures and photographs of the children’s work and also included printed text relating to some of the learned outcomes and experiences from Curriculum for Excellence. This “making learning visible” which was inspired by Reggio Emilia, Northern Italy, enabled the children to continue in their learning and share it with other children, parents and staff with a sense of pride and confidence.