Natural growth

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There's no point in measuring children too often or too soon, says Professor Cathy Nutbrown


Some children will have enjoyed growing sunflowers this summer. I have seen some wonderful specimens in nursery gardens these past weeks, some standing so tall that their thick stems are supported with stakes to help them take the weight of their marvellous single flower heads, so huge, with large yellow petals and seeds that will feed the birds for
quite some time.

Not all sunflower seeds will have grown so well. Some tiny seedlings will have been eaten by slugs soon after sprouting, others will have rotted as a result of young gardeners being over-keen with their watering cans. Some will have shrivelled and died from heat and lack of water. But those sunflowers that made it through are grand, and quite awesome.

Sunflowers teach us two things. First, to grow strong and tall they maximise time in the sun, turning as the sun moves to make the most of its rays. Thinking about young children, we must create the best conditions in dynamic and quality learning environments to support their growth and development.

Second, the beauty of the sunflower is in its majesty of height, size and colour, and this summer some eager growers have been measuring their nurtured sunflowers - daily and weekly. But tall, strong, majestic sunflowers are not grown by constant measuring. They are the result of patient understanding, where the needs of the plant are understood and the best conditions for growth are provided.

This reminds me of the misguided reintroduction of the baseline assessment. Four-year-olds in their early weeks of school, instead of being celebrated for their individual strengths and wonders, will be measured against criteria that ignore their individualism.

Christian Schiller wrote that assessment should take place 'in the round' - we need to be aware of all that children know and can do.

A brief snapshot, taken at an important time of change when young hearts have taken a huge step into school will not tell us about them.

This autumn, be sure to make the most of the opportunities the outdoors bring. And remember - we should all be sure to lift our heads to the sun, be inspired to grow strong and tall in our work with young children, and not waste their time (or theirs) in measuring them too soon, or too often.

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