Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Nature Vs. Nurture

The old battle rages between leaving children alone to explore their environment free from intervention and a more focused/adult led approach. What we would all agree on (I hope) is that any learning in a setting should come through play/playful exchanges and not work sheets or direct teaching.
Our Nursery provides opportunities for children to explore the environment independently but still have an adult nearby to scaffold the learning.  We opt for a balance between the two approaches. Below are explanations of the types of interaction seen in Early Years settings and examples of them in practice.  I've added flowers as illustrations that plants will always grow regardless of how you interact, however the best approach is one where children learn through a mixture of adult led (structured) and independent play.

Child led:
Oskar is playing in the sand area.  There are no tools available.  Oskar lets the sand run through his fingers and notices it fall back into the tray.  He notices that as he opens his hands more, more sand falls through.  Oskar continues this for a short time before moving onto a new activity.

Oskar was happy to play with the sand however having an adult (possibly with some tools) might have helped him to learn more about the sand. The adult could have encouraged him to use some spray bottles and to wet the sand, or make his own sieve using a cardboard sheet.

Adult led interaction:
E.g. Ben is playing in the garden outside. Mr Smith goes up to Ben and tells him he has brought a tent to Nursery and he wants Ben to help him put it together.  Mr Smith hands various pieces to Ben and shows/tells him where to put the pieces and erects the tent as per the instructions. Mr Smith then tells Ben that they will put the books inside of the tent today and some cushions.

In this example the adult is leading the play by providing the resources and also directing the play to a defined end point.  The child is still learning, however the child might have gained more from this activity if the tent had been left out for them to explore freely and make with it what they want or erected together but the use of the tent left free for the child to choose.

Mixed approach: (Some adult interaction)
E.g. In the corner of the garden there is a box that Miss Jones has put out this morning.  Laiba picks up the box and examines it for a while.  Next she races to get a pair of scissors and some sticky tape.  She begins to cut off the edges of the box and tuns them around.  Miss Jones notices her play and comes across but does not talk to Laiba, instead waits on the peripheral waiting to be invited in.  Laiba continues to cut and notices Miss Jones watched. "Can you help me with the tape?" She asks.  Miss Jones replies and shows Laiba how to use the sticky tape but Laiba chooses where to put it.  Laiba then instructs Miss Jones where to stick her tape.  Before you know it Laiba has made an aeroplane.  She gets in and 'flies away' - it isn't long before other children join in with the play.

Here Laiba is playing and the adult waits to be asked to join in with the play. The adult still helps by showing Laiba how to use the sticky tape but doesn't lead the play nor does she instruct her on how or where to stick the tape.

The difficulty we as Early Years professionals have is that there doesn't appear to be a 'perfect way' to teach younger children.  Every child learns in a distinctly different way and we bunch children together based on their location (i.e. the community we serve) and hope to strike an approach which is effective.  

It comes down to how you perceive children's learning in your setting and what you think your children need.