However well the England football team do in the World Cup this summer, the event presents a wealth of learning opportunities, particularly for specialist physical development (PD) practitioners. For one early years sports specialist, it has led to a significant change in the planning and delivery of active sessions - and an encouraging growth in dialogue between practitioners and parents about sports initiatives.
For five years, Matthew Smith has been a sports coach for Active Learning nurseries, working across settings in the South of England. Like many sports specialists, he was used to working in a linear, sequential fashion, with sessions planned around the acquisition and refinement of particular skills. This is his story.
JANUARY - MARCH: PRACTICE REVIEW
'I am aware of the children's "learning journeys",' notes Mr Smith, 'and the visual evidence of PLOD (Possible Lines Of Development) boards in the settings I work in - the staff are trained to implement this approach and have followed the principles enthusiastically and consistently.
'However, I am not directly involved and do not take too much account of what they portray when planning my own schemes of work. Perhaps if I started an exclusively PD/sports PLOD board, my thoughts around a World Cup project may have more impact and PD could positively affect other areas of the curriculum.
'Photos are taken of the children throughout their active sessions, but these go into individual folders and are not seen by other staff. Could a PD PLOD board change this?'
MARCH - MAY: EXPLORING POSSIBILITIES
'I have tried a short "pilot" PD PLOD project around tennis - this will be changed for the World Cup later on. It went well. We started with basic racquet skills, then children began kicking the balls, so I was able to move into more football-type activities - trying to get them to understand that you can't use your hands in football led me to more rugby-type skills.
'Photographs were taken, but not put on a PLOD board. I can see how starting with a project/theme and working outwards can develop my practice - reviewing the visual evidence is taking up more of my time and becoming central to planning.
'I am beginning to be more fluid in my planning, and react to the children's interests more quickly. I am also beginning to adapt better to different levels of ability.'
MARCH - MAY: WORLD CUP PLOD BOARD DEVELOPS
'Football is the central focus now. Things to consider:
- 'What are the most important physical skills children need to acquire to be confident/competent footballers?
- 'Dribbling - needs good balance, co-ordination, speed, control, agility, spatial awareness, direction. Will use the Brazilian "futsal" balls, which are smaller and heavier than footballs but are easier to manage.
- 'Aiming - needs good eye-foot co-ordination, strength and power, and balance is essential for shooting goals.
- 'Introduce the concept of a team - what does this mean and how does it work?
- 'Introduce the principles of the game - that certain rules must be followed. What is a penalty kick?
'Photographs have been taken throughout each session with every group. These have been downloaded and I have chosen carefully those that go up on the PD/sports PLOD board.
'Post-it notes have been added to supplement the visual evidence of progress supplied by the photos. Now there is a clear visual record of how the project is developing - how skills are developing and how engaged the children are.'
IMPACT ON PRACTICE
'How has the PLOD board approach affected my practice?
- 'There is now a clear visual record of PD sessions that is available to all in the settings - and it has become much easier to continue with a line of development over an extended period of time.
- 'Examples of the children's participation and performance are visual and immediate - I can review the evidence and check the children's level of engagement. It can be quite different from what I experienced or saw at the time, so I can react to that accordingly.
- 'I feel much freer to react and adapt to the children's needs and interests; I am not so focused on just the physical outcomes of a session. I feel more confident to work around the theme, for example, to talk about the negotiating, collaborating and delegating skills needed for successful team work. This more creative and holistic approach works better with this age group.
- 'Having a visual record that is updated all the time means there will be a wealth of evidence collected over an extended period. This can be used to compare and contrast the interests and abilities of different groups - an invaluable aid to planning.
- 'I am much more confident now in discussing my practice with other staff. They can ask questions directly related to the visual evidence, and I can justify my planning and content decisions more effectively. They are much more engaged and interested in what I do because they walk past the boards frequently.
- 'My colleagues have also embraced the World Cup and are engaged in related projects. They are using their own PLOD boards to link to mine; a papier-mache world cup is being made, children are making personal football strips and there is a significant amount of history and geography lessons on the countries participating in the tournament.
- 'Parents are now more engaged with PD in the settings. They can see what their children are engaged in and extend the possibilities at home.'
'I will definitely continue to use the PLOD board approach in my PD practice. I have found it an invaluable aid to planning and reviewing sessions and can see how it could be used for any PD theme.
'The use of visual evidence helps validate my practice and gives me confidence that what I am doing is supporting the children's overall development. It also means that if I am absent, my colleagues can see immediately where we are at and plan accordingly. It means I am much better supported generally.'
What practitioners can take from this project:
- Consider having a PLOD board exclusively for PD in your setting.
- This may encourage a more collaborative approach to PD as there will be immediate visual evidence to support practice in other developmental areas.
- PD practice can extend and enhance a range of learning activities. PD specialists are trained to make connections between different fields - use their knowledge and expertise to support your own interests.
With thanks to Matthew Smith for his help with this article. Dr Lala Manners is director of Active Matters, www.activematters.org
WORLD CUP BOOK CHOICE
Kicking a Ball by Allan Ahlberg and illustrated by Sebastien Braun. Just published this month, Ahlberg's latest rhyming story - first written as a poem - celebrates the delight of kicking a ball. Set against life's other pleasures, large and small - ice-cream, riding a bike, travel, fatherhood - kicking a ball can still come out tops. This journey from childhood to fatherhood is full of humour and warmth and perfectly illustrated by Braun. Aimed at children aged five and above.
Noisy Noisy: Footballers (Ladybird series). Find out about the beautiful game through rhythmic text - the shot, the save, the goal - then press the hidden button on every page to hear the sound effects: the whistle, the roar of the crowd, the thud of the ball.
Big Kicks by Bob Kolar. Biggie Bear enjoys being by himself, playing jazz and collecting stamps. Then one day there's a knock at his door. It's the local football team; they are a player down for an important match. Biggie has never played football before, but his new team mates assure him that being big is all that counts. Once on the pitch, though, he realises there's a lot more to football than size, but he still finds a way to save the game.
Goal! by Mina Javaherbin. In a dusty township in South Africa, Ajani and his friends have earned a brand-new, federation-size soccer ball. They kick. They dribble. They run. They score. They are football champions! But when bullies try to steal their ball, will Ajani and his friends be able to beat them at their own game?
Harry and the Dinosaurs United by Ian Whybrow. Harry is in the school team and they are trying their best, but they just keep getting in each other's way. Luckily, Harry soon learns the best trick of all - teamwork. So together, Harry, his friends and their 'mascotauruses' win the best prize ever...
SNAPSHOT CARD: DRIBBLING
Learning outcomes For the children to control and manipulate the football using both feet and to transport it in a straight line on the train track.
Evaluation (Using weighted footballs for increased control.) The children enjoyed wearing the train driver's hat when it was their turn. This added a little bit of role play to the lesson.
Next step To dribble the football down an S-shaped train track and to use larger or smaller footballs for differentiation; to assist any children who are finding the task difficult (larger ball), and to use a smaller ball to increase the challenge.
SOME CURRICULUM LINKS
Encourage the children to:
- create their own trophies based on the real world cup
- design their own football shirts
- explore the traditional dance of other countries
- explore different flags, colours and patterns
- listen to the different languages spoken around the world.
Staff can also create links with families to encourage them to spend more time outdoors, to play sport and to be a positive sporting model for their children.