Good to see a common sense approach to risk noted in the The Annual Report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills 2017/18. Those of us in early years have the challenge of knowing that we need to provide young children with a degree of risk and challenge in order for them to develop not only physical, but also emotional and vital life skills while being under pressure from many sides to keep children safe.
“Physical development in early years
The pressures of performance tables and Ofsted are not the only things that can lead to providers compromising on the substance of their provision. The gold plating of regulations and, in particular, health and safety requirements can do much the same.
We know that in the early years, a crucial part of preparing children for school is developing their muscular strength and dexterity. The best nurseries recognise this and encourage children to be busy and active.
But we also know that in other settings this good practice is stifled by undue concerns about the risk and safety of such activities. While it is a basic expectation of any institution that cares for children to carry out proper risk assessments, some level of risk is an essential part of childhood. Without it, we stifle children’s natural inquisitiveness and their opportunities to learn and develop and deny them those opportunitiesto build that muscular strength and dexterity. We hope that nurseries and other childcare settings take a common sense approach to managing risk.
This article has a strong US focus but contains many thinking points for me. It echoes again how much children’s lives have changed in recent years and how much more adults directed they become. Well meaning adults work as hard as they can (in more ways than one) to do the very best for their children but, by inflicting adult determined rules and goals on children, instead can limit children’s opportunities to learn and develop.
As with most things I think there is a balance to be had. The discipline, teamwork and sportsmanship that comes with organised sports is significant though I’d agree with the article that these are not skills particularly suited to very young children who are still developing emotional, communication and movement skills.
Staff at playgroup have observed the children’s significant and sustained interest in tools. Over the last year we have been building on this interest and providing increasing opportunities to use real tools. Children enjoyed hammering golf tees into a pumpkin last Hallowe’en, they’ve helped dismantle the rotten sandpit in the garden using an electric screwdriver. They’ve become very proficient at assembling Ikea wooden boxes and even helped with the finishing touches to our garden water play feature.
Their interest and enjoyment in these projects has been the primary inspiration for building (!) on the use of real tools in the playgroup setting. Pete Moorhouse’s book has been the secondary inspiration. His enthusiasm and guidance has led to us now having our own workbench complete with vise, saw, screwdrivers, pliers and hammers.
Pete’s book is full of useful information highlighting the way that working with real tools encourages children’s independence and fosters creative learning. We have already witnessed deep learning at the woodwork bench. The children’s concentration and focus is substantial and can only benefit their abilities to be creative, to persevere and problem solve let alone provide significant exposure to opportunities to develop coordination, physical skills, language and communication.
Pete’s book is not just for children! It inspired me to get out my tools and create the workbench.
I’ve rebuilt my garden deck over the summer and I’m learning to carve spoons.
It’s given me a “can do” attitude. When I went through secondary school (and it wasn’t that long ago!) girls all did Home Economics and learned to cook and sew. Admittedly I loved this and still enjoy these activities. I regret now though that I was never given the opportunity to do woodwork, that was reserved for the boys. It’s an activity I’m now getting a lot of enjoyment from. It highlights for me again the learning that is in learning and why I love working in Early Years. I’m learning just as much as the children are.
I have Pete’s book, if you’d like to read it please let me know, I’m happy to lend it out for short periods. He has an on-line booklet too though, for anyone who is interested. Both the book and booklet are probably more aimed at professionals working with children but are still worth a read to get a flavour of the massive range of benefits woodworking provides.
Shocked by this article which states there are concerns that children are starting school unable to read or write. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, it clarifies that this is at age 4! Thank goodness I live and work in Scotland where we are a little more in tune with children’s learning and development 🤷🏼♀️