Following Children’s Interest by Andrea Turner
16th September 2016
Andrea Turner left her 15 year legal career to become a well-known and much loved early years mentor, blogger and owner of an established childcare business. Andrea’s passion has allowed her to grow both professionally and personally over the years and Childcare Expo are delighted to have her on board to share her stories and opinions on the early years sector.
Caring about what children care about
This is Pips. Pips isn’t quite 2 yet and, just like every other child, Pips is unique. She doesn’t care that Joel and Sean are battling with baddies to protect the bridge they just built from the cardboard boxes the new digital drum-kit just arrived in. Nor does she care that Olivia and Lacey are putting sun-cream on their dolls because the sun’s coming out or that Olly is watching his reflection in the french doors as he belts out Frère Jacques on a microphone. They’re not even cause for distraction, so deep is her level of involvement – her motivation to succeed. What Pips is interested in at the moment is finding out what she can do for herself: practising her fine motor skills, whether that’s doing up her zip on her hoody or transferring glass beads from one container to another with small tongs. And she’s been practising these skills for days now. Her perseverance has paid off: she can now get herself ready for outdoor play completely independently, from top to toe. Did I mention she’s not even 2 yet? All she needed was for us to respect her choices, give her time and space, and just be there for when she needs support, even if that support is just a few words of encouragement. In other words, an enabling environment.
But understanding how children are learning is just as important as what children are learning – perhaps even more so. What Pips is doing here is active learning: it’s being involved and concentrating; it’s keeping on trying; it’s enjoying achieving what she set out to do. She isn’t persevering because I want her to, she’s persevering because she wants to – because she’s getting pleasure from it and she’s satisfying her own curiosity – and it’s this motivation that encourages a lifelong love of learning. Listening to her interactions and observing her engagement with activities tells us an awful lot about her emerging and developing characteristics of effective learning. Knowing how she learns is the key to offering experiences and activities that will really grab her and keep her engaged.
Now, Pips knows what she likes and what interests her but so does her big brother, her Mammy and Daddy and her grandparents too. They know more about her than we do that’s for sure – afterall, she spends 144 hours per week with them as opposed to only 24 hours a week with us. They are her first and enduring educators. They’re the real experts on Pips. They know all about her ideas and family events, her favourite objects, songs and stories and the topics that fascinate her and stimulate her curiosity – even if we don’t particularly like or approve of them (think dummies, apps on tablets, TV characters & programmes). They see what makes her laugh when she’s having a bath, what soothes her when she’s being tucked in at bedtime, what makes her sad when she’s watching Frozen. All things we couldn’t possibly know without having positive relationships with her family: without respecting that the quality of Pips’ home learning environment and the activities she enjoys doing there with her parents is incredibly important and has a huge influence on her future outcomes.
So, Pips loves Peppa Pig. I hate Peppa Pig. Well, except for that one episode where they’re learning to speak French. Does this mean that to follow Pips’ interests I have to go all out Peppa Pig across my setting and plan activities with a Peppa Pig theme until she’s over it? And if so, what about the other children’s interests? The fascination with superheroes. The curiosity about snot and other bodily fluids. The obsession with bees. The passion for mud. Some experts would say yes: that we should be supporting children’s interests for as long as they are important and meaningful to them. Others would say no: that we’re supposed to be focussing on children’s thinking rather than their interests, that we should be using children’s interests but not following them.
I’m on whichever side that really listens, really watches and really cares. Whichever side does less forward planning and more planning in the moment. The side that does less ‘play-based’ learning and more real play. The side that does less tables, tests and tick boxes and more guiding, facilitating and provoking. For me, the more respectful, responsive and collaborative we are with children and their families, and the more skilled we are at involving parents in their children’s learning, following children’s leads, valuing their ideas and caring about what they care about, the more likely we are to nurture lifelong lovers of learning just like our very own Pips.
You can read more from Andrea on her blog here.