As early childhood educators, we are frequently asked questions about what we do and how we teach the children that walk through our doors every day. In the past, we have held onto many traditions in early childhood education that Mother Duck as a group based our practice.
In more recent times, following current research, we have shifted focus on what we believe to be best practice and adjusted what we do to make sure we are providing our families with the highest quality care and education. Here are some of the reasons why we see our approach as beneficial for our children to be able to confidently navigate our ever-changing world in years to come.
For more years than we can remember, we always had set group times, where all the children were expected to sit on a group mat, with their educator sitting on a chair above them, while a story was read, a song was sung, or a game was played. We saw this time as a beneficial experience for children as we could “focus our teaching” and explicitly teach the children a new concept. This was the time of the day for us to ‘teach’. Plus, they all have to learn to sit on a mat when they go to school – right?
But from a family perspective, what you may not have seen when you saw Group Time written on the room routine, was the 4 children on the edge of the mat kicking and pinching each other. Or the child with their fingers in their ears because the version of Old Mac Donald had a Farm that 16 2-year-olds were singing was WAY too loud with WAY too many different notes being sung at the same time. You would not have seen the distant look in a third of the children’s eyes because they already knew what a cow said – or the look of concern on some other faces that they didn’t know what a cow said. And it was always mission impossible to have all the children sit on the same mat at the same time for the duration of the group time without distraction. As educators, most of the 10-15 minutes spent at the group time mat was more about crowd control and classroom management than it was about introducing a new concept or idea to the children. Most children at this age are not ready to sit for a prolonged period – unless they are interested in what is being discussed.
As an educator, we saw this day after day, and after a lot of research and reflection decided there had to be a better way to focus our teaching and interact with the children with intent. After years of reflection, research, professional discussions, and more research this is what we have discovered:
- There is a strong connection between regular and sustained interactions with an engaged adult to support the development of children’s language skills, their thinking skills, and their social skills.
- Planned, intentional periods of time sitting with a small group of children, supporting, and encouraging them to master a similar skill, and focus our attention on the conversations and experiences of these children will have longer-lasting effects than trying to engage a whole group of children, with differing skillsets, on the same topic.
- This is a long-held understanding, but we have now embedded a truly play-based educational approach. The children spend their days playing with the support of an engaged educator – an educator who can dedicate their attention and demonstrate their thinking so that we can build on what the children already know in a variety of situations.
- Structured morning meetings provide the opportunity for children to sit with an educator and plan their thinking, projects, and goals for the day. We can then be spontaneous throughout the day to sit with individual or small groups of children to read books and sing songs. In this way, we can respond to children’s cues for a moment of closeness and quiet to recharge their batteries. Our intention behind “group times” is no longer to contain and control the group of children, but to provide the small group of children with what they need – and what they are telling us they need from all the kicking and scratching and the bored, concerned, and distracted faces.
Of course, when children get to school, they will still be expected to sit still and listen to their teacher on a group mat and eventually at their desk – but instead of reducing the time children must be little by making sure they can already do everything school expects of them, we have made the decision to ensure that they squeeze every last drop out of being little. And after 5 years of running, climbing, playing, and exploring, when they start their first day of Prep on the group mat – their bodies and minds will have matured enough to be able to sit and concentrate for longer so that they can listen to a story or start to understand new concepts. But for now – we have chosen to let the children play!