Fascinating Finn and a pedagogy of possibilities
By Kelly Brooker
As the deputy head of a federation of three nursery schools, I believe that discussion relating to a child’s right to play and the purpose of early childhood institutions has never been so critical and so urgent. As advocates for children, childhood and play, it is vitally important that we voice and share the values that underpin our pedagogy.
A pedagogy of possibilities
This is the approach we take that values free play and open ended learning as opposed to fixed goals and outcomes.
Free play is considered an essential and beneficial right of all children. To create a place of possibilities, adults observe children to understand rather than assess against measurable targets. We observe their innovation, their creativity, their ideas, their intents and feelings. The insight that we gain enables us to discuss, reflect and plan our environment to support and shape future learning. Loris Malaguzzi (1998) writes
The wider the range of possibilities we offer children, the more intense will be their motivations and the richer their experiences.
A place of possibilities
I believe that a nursery school is a place of possibilities, a living space where children and childhood are honoured, their ideas and abilities valued. A place in which children and adults are learning from each other. Where children are seen as individuals and achievements celebrated. By simply observing to understand rather than assess, we can find out so much about a child and how to support their development. In a place of possibilities, learning and resources are open ended, free flowing and ever evolving. This is argued by Samuelsson (2008) who states
In children’s play there are unsuspected opportunities to symbolise and use objects in a way that is meaningful to them.
This results in a child who is playing and learning simultaneously.
Recently, I was observing Finn digging in the garden. What began as a solitary endeavour, soon became a group project. As the children rake through the earth, Finn is in charge of classifying the objects found. Anything considered useful is put into the bucket, other treasures are put into Finn’s pocket to take home. The other children appear to accept Finn’s role as the expert, bringing him objects they have found to inspect, entering into a shared understanding of stones as treasures.
This to me reveals a connection with one another and a connection to the natural environment; a connection between communication, play and learning.
Finn declares out loud
I love to find treasure everyday… dinosaur bones and little stones.
He reveals his inner feelings, his joy and motivations in the equally joyful rhyme he has created. I was able to glimpse this insight, by standing back and observing only intervening when needed to model a safe technique with the rakes! This knowledge led to discussion with staff and future planning, provocations and support around Finn’s interests in digging, treasure and dinosaurs.
Photos of Finn's play are shared above with permission.
Assessment and attainment
In our current attainment driven educational system we can lose sight of the wonderfully rich opportunities within free play. I believe the unnecessary drive for comparable data leads to children being assessed against predetermined goals and then categorised into groups with acronyms such as EAL, EYPP and SEN. Their progress is reduced to numbers and percentages in meaningless data reports.
As advocates for children, childhood and play, perhaps we need to deflect the ‘academic shovedown’ (Rose, 2012) and ‘schoolification’ (Moss, 2010) of the early years and be confident in our pedagogy and the historical perspectives they were founded upon.
I am not sure where this knowledge of Finn would fit in any assessment tool, or if I see the point in dissecting if for this purpose. Indeed, how do we measure this joy of learning, discovery, shared understandings and companionship with our peers? I believe that in early years settings we need to be accountable but we are not and should not be viewed as "producers of child outcomes" because we are so much more than that.
Questions this leads me to ask are
- What do we want for our children?
- What is important?
- What experiences would we like them to have?
- What sort of people do we want them to be?
We can reflect on these questions for children like Finn. They are children who question and seek to find answers. Children who are highly self-motivated, innovative and creative. Children with high levels of well-being and self-efficacy. Children who are well able to develop empathetic and positive relationships. If we have children like Finn, who have these characteristics, then we need to continue to protect free play, providing open ended opportunities and a world of possibilities.
After all, there are no ultimate truths, but many different ways of viewing the world.
References and reading
- Edwards, C.P., Gandini, L. and Forman, G.E. (1998). The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia approach - advanced reflections. Greenwood Publishing Group.
- Moss, P. (2010). We cannot continue as we are: the educator in an education for survival. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 11(1), pp.8-19.
- Rose, J. and Rogers, S. (2012). Principles under pressure: student teachers' perspectives on final teaching practice in early childhood classrooms. International Journal of Early Years Education, 20(1), pp.43-58.
- Samuelsson, I. P. and Carlsson, M. A. (2008). The Playing Learning Child: Towards a pedagogy of early childhood. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 52(6), pp. 623–641
About our guest blogger
Kelly Brooker is a specialist in Early Years Education. She has worked as an Early Years Teacher and Consultant and is currently the deputy head of Barnet early years alliance in London. Kelly is passionate about protecting the future of maintained nursery schools in the UK. You can contact Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Early Education
We are a national charity supporting early years practitioners with training, resources and professional networks, and campaigning for quality education for the youngest children. We were established in 1923, and our first president was Margaret McMillan. For over 90 years, we have worked to ensure that early childhood teachers and practitioners have the support to ensure that every child can fulfil their potential. We believe that every child deserves the best possible start in life.
- For more on pedagogy, Reggio, Malaguzzi, early play and learning you can visit our Early Education pedagogic pages or join us here.
- Our principles and code of ethics tell you more about what we believe about early years.
- For more about celebrating and supporting the future of maintained nursery schools see our APPG page (APPG is the all party parliamentary group on nursery schools and nursery classes) and follow @APPG_Nursery on twitter
- If you are interested in being a guest blogger for Early Education or you would like more information, please email Cathy Gunning.