Fundamental British Values in the Early Years

In recent weeks, many settings, including our very own Little Knellies, have been enjoying celebrations to mark The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. With street parties, flag waving and parades galore; the pomp and pageantry will undoubtedly create some exciting memories.

In amongst all of the fun, we aimed to continue to highlight the importance of Fundamental British Values (FBVs). When the FBVs were first introduced as a strand of learning back in 2014, it was often mocked or misunderstood…it is not just about fish and chips, Big Ben or even The Queen! In fact these values are very much relevant today, particularly with all the events happening globally:

  • democracy
  • the rule of law
  • individual liberty
  • mutual respect and tolerance

Even our youngest learners are capable of understanding these concepts (at times one might say better than some of the adults in charge!) but what might it look like in an Early Years classroom?

Democracy: this can be demonstrated through smaller actions, such as negotiating and turn taking in play. In Little Knellies we also have regular opportunities for the children to make collective choices, for example, voting with a counter for which book should be shared at the end of the morning’s activities.

The rule of law: developing a sense of right and wrong is complex for young children. Their sense of justice can be quite egocentric and very much based on their needs. This is absolutely age appropriate and acceptable. However, as practitioners we need to scaffold their evolving understanding of fairness. We have clear rules in our classrooms based upon respect for our property, for our environment and one another, this can be as simple as wearing aprons for painting to tidying away when we have finished playing.

Individual liberty: it is wonderful to support children’s growing sense of self. One of our key prerogatives is to instil a sense of self-confidence and for children to have a positive view of themselves. We have daily reflections in the classroom celebrating our successes and achievements as well as providing opportunities within the classroom for children to test themselves and experiment as learners. Knowing that the process is the key part of our learning rather than the finished product, although we should be free to feel proud of our creations too!

Mutual respect and tolerance: here at Little Knellies, we promote a sense of community, connection and equality. In play, inevitably there will be minor falling outs, we encourage students to see things from the other person’s point of view as well as respecting their choices. As an all girls educational setting we have a unique opportunity to challenge stereotypes attributed to gender! As practitioners we are continually reviewing resources and activities to ensure they reflect and value the diversity of children’s experiences and that challenge gender, cultural and racial stereotyping. We recently celebrated Diversity Day in our Junior School; encouraging the children and their families to celebrate their cultural identities (at least 56 different countries were represented as part of the rich tapestry of our community). The event also enabled us to understand others’ cultural connections a little better.

I am proud to be British, I am proud to live in a country which promotes and typically embodies these core values. As Early Years practitioners we have a crucial role to play in supporting children to develop these values for themselves to help empower them to continue to challenge the moments they will undoubtedly encounter, when these values may not be shared by those around them. I hope that our learners will all feel empowered to be themselves, to respectfully allow others to be themselves and continue to fight for this to be a universal right!

Risk Taking in the Early Years

Here at Little Knellies, we endeavour to share experiences promoting lifelong skills as well as challenging stereotypes of activities that might be more ‘typical’ in an all girls educational setting. As part of our Learner Profile and holistic learning program we support the children to become risk-takers but what does this mean

What is risk?

To many, the word risk immediately makes you think of something that is dangerous or harmful. However, part of living life to the fullest involves risks.

A healthy baby would not learn to sit, crawl or walk without taking risks. Similarly, a child would not learn to negotiate steps or to ride a two wheeled bike without risk taking. These most certainly will not come without accidents and perhaps injury, but as long as we allow them to continue to take these risks, with active encouragement, children will get back up and keep practising until they have achieved their goal.

What happens when we take measured risks?

When we allow children to take risks in a safe way, we allow them to build self confidence, independence, as well as teaching valuable life skills. Children will learn how to self regulate and decide if something is too high, for example when climbing a tree.

Positive encouragement goes a long way in this instance and helps them revisit the task until they have achieved what they set out to do. Putting children in charge of their own actions sends a message to them that we, as adults, trust their judgement and capabilities. Another important fact with allowing children to take measured risks will allow for you to see when or if a child needs some additional guidance or support.

Taking a measured risk

Here at Little Knellies, we believe in the importance of taking measured risks, whilst teaching the children how to be safe.

From Nursery, the children are invited to take part in wood work activities at our workbench. They use real tools, including a sharp Japanese saw, hammers, a hand drill, nails and screws- to name but a few. This really opens up their young minds and gives them the freedom to experiment and explore with real tools, which perhaps they have only seen adults use up to now.

One child (aged 4) recently made a train and whilst initially telling me she was not going to use that saw as it looked “dangerous”, with a few further words of encouragement and reiteration of safety rules, she decided to take that ‘measured risk’. She followed this with “I can’t believe I used that, I am so proud of myself!”. When she had finished her mini project she evaluated the session by saying “Do you know, at the beginning I didn’t think I could do wood work and use tools, but I can, I really can!”

Another example of measured risk taking involves the use of our large scale play equipment in the garden. The children have access to raw wooden planks and logs. They know how to move these around safely for use during their play. We have climbing cubes of differing sizes which they enjoy jumping from. A favourite game is placing a plank between cubes to walk along, whilst another is balanced up against the tallest cube. The children love to climb this and or slide down. The beauty for us practitioners is seeing them work as a team, which builds upon communication and negotiating skills as well as turn taking and enhances a great imagination!

We are so proud of how the children in Little Knellies are encouraged to partake in and embrace risks, and all the learning that will occur as a result of this.

Technology in the Early Years

In September 2021 the government’s revised Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage notably omitted an Early Learning Goal referring to the use of technology. This created many discussions in Early Years forums. Those for and against. But is technology important for children?

The past two years have highlighted many of the wonderful attributes of technology. It is through technology that we remained connected with loved ones during national lockdowns. People continued to work. People continued to learn. The Early Learning Goal citing: ‘Children recognise that a range of technology is used in places such as homes’ was undoubtedly addressed.

As with all aspects of the Statutory Framework, the Early Learning Goals provide a framework for educators; setting standards and creating some parity for the learning experiences of children throughout England. One thing it is not is an exhaustive list of things for children to be able to ‘do’ by the time they are 5.

Children engaging in technology can be a wonderful thing, the quality of educational apps have improved significantly during my time in the classroom. The integration of digital learning journeys such as Tapestry and online learning platforms such as Seesaw have enhanced the learning environment. It is also pleasing to note the commitment of technology brands and those who create educational resources to delve into more options for offline opportunities.

I myself find it quite marvellous to engage with technology to enrich learning experiences, and sometimes as a standalone activity; a fun gimmicky monster is often a more desirable companion for letter and word play than me, as Mummy or the Teacher! I am always impressed with the dexterity and complexity with which some children can engage with technological skills such as programming and coding. A daunting prospect to many adults, children are at ease with this digital vocabulary and skill set.

However, there is much research around the negative impact upon children and their development. From language delays to ‘links’ to neurodiversity there are those who believe that technology holds no valuable place in the Early Years. For older children there are growing concerns around the self esteem and mental well being of children associated with social media. Many children have access to a wider range of technology for more hours of the day than they did a decade ago and if we are honest the pandemic likely  increased the volume of both for most families. After having to live so much of our lives through technology even adults became somewhat jaded when it came to screen time.

Ultimately, life is all about balance. Too much of anything is never great for us. We have to make choices as parents and educators in regulating this balance, for and with our children. In the classroom I would actively work to balance the interests of a child who was spending all of their time completing puzzles; the same is true of a child who constantly migrated towards technology. I would hate to see digital experiences come at the detriment of other vital skills and experiences which help to shape young minds. Demonising screen time inevitably adds to the parenting guilt stack. As with most everything else; do what works for you and your child!

School Readiness

In the coming months parents up and down the land will hear all about how to get their child ‘school ready’, but what does this really mean?

Often, usually at the end of summer, schools and nurseries will discuss with parents what they can do to get their child ready for school. Historically, there has been a common interpretation that this should revolve around a knowledge of letters and numbers; parents can become worried when they compare their child to others. There is often a belief that children’s success in later life is pinned upon their ability to read from the outset and ‘know’ numbers to 100. However, we firmly believe that accelerated learning does not equate to quality learning.

When families joining The Abbey Junior School ask us what they can do to get their 4 year old ‘ready’ for September, we suggest:

  • Fostering independence- managing own needs, changing for PE, doing up coats and shoes and packing their bags.
  • Having conversations- this skill can become easily lost in a busy life where computers and phones are all pervasive, but making the time to learn communication skills, turn taking, eye contact etc. are fundamental life skills.
  • Listening skills- sharing stories and focusing on activities for up to 10 minutes will help children take a positive step into the classroom

A quality Reception experience will build upon firm foundations of early learning and these skills are highly desirable in any classroom as it enables children to focus on other skills and learning.

Here, at The Abbey, when we meet children hoping to join our Reception we are not expecting a vast knowledge of graphemes, tricky words or an ability to count to 100. Instead we hope to meet young people who demonstrate a willingness to engage in conversation and learning, to express their own ideas, display curiosity and enthusiasm when exploring their environment. A positive attitude and aptitude for learning, enables us as teachers to work with children on the principles of ‘how’ we learn.

Reception is marked as the start of formal education in the UK. It is a formative year, and, as a teacher, hugely rewarding, as young minds have a world opened up to them acquiring skills such as reading and writing. This is also a year where children learn ‘how to be’ in school. We are not talking of creating a stylised or formal approach to learning and teaching, but that children begin to understand the role school plays in their own learning and development and how they can flourish in the school environment – which is different from home. Even the youngest children can reflect upon their learning so far and we equip them with the language and comfort of discussing their progress, their learning and ‘where next’.

In an education culture where children (or perhaps more so their parents) are often focused on a perceived, narrow ‘end goal’ (qualifications, exam results etc.) it is crucial that educators, including parents, fight back and recognise that formal skills in learning have their place and time but they are not at the core of what children need in their education as we look to the future.

A Toy Story

As an Early Years Professional, woman, and mother, I like to think I have always been somewhat aware of the need to try and break stereotypes of ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ toys.

‘Boys’ toys typically centre around scientific and mathematical concepts and spatial reasoning, as well as gross motor skills. Those designed for ‘girls’ play, will often be created to foster a sense of communication, narrative, creativity and imagination with themes of ‘beautiful’ and ‘cute’ underpinning them.

As a society there have been many positive moves to erode such notions, including legal obligations as well as a desire through quality practice. Whilst all Early Years’ settings are guided by the Early Years Foundation Stage to offer a range of experiences for all students. All too often unconscious bias impacts provision including the influence of children’s worldly experiences thus far.

I often see posts on social media of parents proudly sharing their photos of their sons caring for a Baby Doll or dressed in an Elsa dress, which is wonderful if the intent is to bolster and embrace their personal choices and preferences in play. However, I see fewer such posts boasting of the girls who spent forever creating a train track to circumnavigate the living room or a morning pretending to fend off a dragon.

As a parent of both a boy and a girl I can say I have sought not to label their play (I cannot promise I have always succeeded!). Both children love a tea party with their teddies as much as they love LEGO, from bug hunts (and sometimes dissection of them)  to the chance to be a Mermaid in the bathtub. Their collaborative creative projects can often run into hours worth of play!

Ultimately, we should all endeavour to achieve a perspective that we do not need to neutralise play but we do need to equalise opportunities, if they like it let them play with it! Personality is so crucially nurtured and developed through positive play experiences. Our sense of self is developed through interactions in play and it is therefore imperative that all play, with any toy is valued!

As educators we strive to counter these preconceptions and I feel privileged to work in a setting that has the opportunity to truly challenge what it means to play ‘like a girl’. Single sex education has a fantastic perspective and influential power to liberate children in their play. The children in our setting have access to a wide range of resources and without anyone dominating the playscape in many areas, our pupils are motivated to explore and learn. They are not inhibited to strive and succeed in subjects which are currently male heavy in the wider world.

It is crucial that the journey towards equality continues to move forward. This should permeate the lives of young women as they should feel empowered in their lives; understanding that there are no limits to what they can achieve, the roles they can fulfil and the life they can lead, regardless of their gender and the games they ‘should’ play.