Early years practitioners are now well familiar with the term 'child-initiated learning', but they are not always confident about putting it into practice.
A change in job role and the arrival of a new head teacher prompted Kim McGrail, the main nursery teacher and SENCO at Basnett Street Nursery School in Burnley, to go on a child-initiated learning course run by Early Excellence.
'I have always been a reception or Key Stage One teacher and I moved down to the nursery, so I wanted to develop and further embed my knowledge of child-initiated play,' she says.
'We had a new head teacher come in at the start of the year and we wanted to re-arrange the nursery, so the child led the planning rather than us.
'I went on the course this summer, as we were keen to become more confident in identifying and supporting child-initiated learning and have the confidence to observe the children and say, "right, let's scrap the planning and we will do this or that with that particular child".'
She adds, 'We also had a course run by the local authority on the EYFS, which obviously covered child-initiated learning, so we could consolidate and embed what we knew.
'I am now going to access more training for my staff and me. I have been leading the staff through change and have had to develop my leadership.'
Early years consultant and trainer Margaret Edgington, who delivers training for Early Excellence, Early Education and a range of local authorities, says that the aim of her course on child-initiated learning is to explain what it means.
'It is an area of confusion for some people,' says Ms McGrail. 'Some people think that child-initiated learning is a sort of complete free-for-all, and others think it is allowing the children a choice between resources chosen by the adults.
'What it really means is the children making the choices within a really well planned and structured environment.
'It is about preparing a really good environment, and also about helping the children to know what they can and cannot do in that environment - setting and explaining the boundaries. If there is a complete free-for-all, you are going to end up with broken equipment, so children need to understand self-regulation.'
Ms McGrail says that she shared what she gained from the course in presentations at staff meetings and by modelling child-initiated play with the staff.
'Nobody particularly likes change, but we talked through what child-initiated learning looks like and how it is important to not always jump in and intervene.'
The staff have found it different. 'They are new to the idea that it is OK to stand back and observe the children. In the past they were very hands-on,' she says.
'Now we are getting more confident. For example, there were some carpet tiles outdoors for the bugs and some of the children lifted them and got really interested in looking at the bugs. We scrapped the planned activities and got out the magnifying glasses and the microscope so they could investigate further, and I put out worms and bugs we had collected.'
Mrs McGrail says her setting has also been using the outdoors much more and has been developing it so the children can access it, whatever the weather. 'Previously, the way they worked was that if it was raining they didn't go out,' she says. 'But now we follow the children's lead and are out come rain or come shine.'
Part 2, looking at reflective practice, will be published in the 11 February Nursery World.
THE EXPERT'S VIEW
Kathie Brodie, Early Years Professional and trainer, says, 'When the EYFS first came in people were keen to go on training for observation and planning, but now they are appreciating that putting the child first is at the heart of the EYFS, and this is a massive change in philosophy for many people.
'Practitioners are used to planning months in advance - that is how they were taught and that is how they have worked - so experienced practitioners can find themselves struggling when it comes to standing back and following the child's interests.
'This is why it is important to see this training in child-initiated learning as Continuing Professional Development - it can re-ignite a practitioner's enthusiasm. It is fantastic when you stand back and watch a child's wonder and awe at making discoveries, such as whether something sinks or floats.
'A good course will get across the message that the child is the expert here and it is for the adult to follow the child's interests. That does involve setting boundaries sensitively, so if a child puts the dinosaurs in the pram to push round the room, that is fine, but I wouldn't accept it if he had taken the pram off somebody else.
'When you are choosing a course it is always worth checking not just the contents, but who and what level it is aimed at, so that you go on a course that is right for you.'
5 February: Developing confident very young children initiating their own learning, led by Paddy Beels
23 March: A focus on promoting and supporting child-initiated learning out of doors, led by Margaret Edgington
25 February: Supporting confident children initiating their own learning, led by Paddy Beels
June/July: One-day training conferences led by Ros Bayley and Sally Featherstone.
Topics include child-initiated learning.
Nathan Archer, development manager for Lincolnshire Montessori, has found funding for a wide range of courses under the EYFS.
'In Lincolnshire there is a comprehensive and quite diverse training programme using external trainers,' he says.
'They encourage practitioners to attend four training days a year, over and above core courses such as health and safety and first aid. They charge £10 and pay for staff cover at minimum wage rates, too.
'Another option could be to look at taking the Level 3 Certificate in the EYFS. Some local authorities give grants towards course fees.
I would suggest reflecting on the gaps in your knowledge and understanding and talking to practitioners who have been on the course to see if it is the one for you.
'The Graduate Leader Fund is managed differently by local authorities, but generally you can use some for staff continuing professional development.
We are bringing in Pat Brunton and Linda Thornton for the day to run a course on babies as scientists and researchers, and Paddy Beels to lead a course on documenting children's learning.
'Bringing in people involves all the staff team and means they can reflect together so their learning is embedded.'
Train to Gain funding is usually geared more towards qualifications than CPD, but there is an allocation for leadership and management training. Mr Archer advises providers to find out what is available in their area and see how they can access some of it to benefit the setting.
Providers offering after-school care may also find they can access funding for EYFS-related training from their local authority's extended services team.