(I hope you sang that blog title too....!)
Today I read an article on the Telegraph website:
Children struggle to hold pens because of excessive use of iPads, claim experts
In the article it states that experts, including paediatric doctors and orthopaedic therapists, are warning that more and more children are entering school without the ability to handle pencils correctly. The article suggests that this is down to more and more use of technology, especially the use of touch screens. Here at Ace Early Years, we do agree that it seems more children are entering our settings with poor motor skills. We could spend the rest of this blog bemoaning this but that probably wouldn't be useful! In the end, as much as we might like, we don't quite have the influence to change society! However, we can change what happens in our settings, so we thought it would be more useful to explain how we support children with developing the motor skills!
So if we want children to have spectacular pencil control then they will need to have good control over their whole body - for example good 'core muscles' to hold themselves up. We've put together some of our favourite activities for developing gross motor skills - click on the picture to find them! You'll notice that most of them take place outside! We firmly believe that children learn best outside - and while we don't 'teach' gross motor skills explicitly, when you're outside - you don't really need to!
Of course children are going to need to practise their fine motor skills to develop their strength and dexterity. We've put some ideas together here - click on the picture to open them!
Many of you will possibly already do some kind of focus on motor skills. We use Dough Disco, inspired by Shonette Bason-Wood, over at Spread The Happiness! We love Dough Disco because it is a great way to improve the strength and dexterity of little hands, plus its a chance to have a good dance to whatever music you like! Here's a video - if you've never seen Shonette before, you're in for an experience!
We made an episode of Ace TV all about pencil grip - check it out!
So - what do you think? Do your children have poor pencil grip? Is there an overuse of tablets and touchscreen phones? What do you do to combat this? Let us know!
In today's blog we wanted to once again reflect on the meaning of play. We've been looking at this recently and you can check our previous blogs 'This isn't play - it's work!' and 'Today this could be... the greatest play of our lives!'
Why should we care if an activity has lots of play involved? Well, play supports the development of cognitive, emotional and physical skills. Play is so powerful in doing so because through the very nature of play we are engaged in what we are doing. We enjoy the activity and we want it to continue. For adults, it's possible for us to force ourselves to stay engaged with activities, but we all know that if we're not enjoying something we will take less away from it. For children it is so much harder to stay engaged with an activity they are not enjoying. So if we take all the play out of something, then a child is less likely to learn from it.
As we've already talked about, play needs to have a level of control. If too much control is taken away from a child then we can't truly call it play. So what about when we control what the outcome of their play will be? For example, if an adult sets up a creative activity to make birthday cards. A child chooses to come and make one and the adult shows the child what their finished card will look like. The adult supports the child to make the card in a very specific way. We're sure you're already saying to yourself "This isn't play!" and we'd agree with you. There may well be learning going on - for example, practising specific practical skills or developing language. Would the learning have been more meaningful and/or deeper if the child had more freedom to play?
Play can often have a goal, for example the objective may be to make a birthday card or to construct a bear cave. But it's really only play if that objective is an integral part of the activity and not the ONLY reason for the activity. You might have experienced this if you've had a creative activity that develops in stages. For example, when we made Easter cards once, the children could either use a foam egg or cut and decorate their own. For some of the children the process, the actual cutting and decorating of the egg, was something they wanted to do and this increased the levels of play for them. Some of the children didn't value that process and just wanted a card to give to their parents and so their activity wasn't play.
If the child values the process as much as, or even more the finished outcome, then the activity has a level of play to it. If you could just as soon as provide the child with the finished outcome and they don't care, then the activity isn't play. So, with this in mind we need to be careful when we intervene with play. If a child is being creative, take their lead. Ask open ended questions and be careful not to get them valuing the finished outcome too much. This is really important for children with low self-esteem because play is a much safer way to try things! When we value the finished article too much a child may feel that theirs isn't good enough and so may end up not trying at all. If we value the process more, if we value the inherent play, then children will be more inclined to have a go. And will therefore be more likely to learn things along the way.
We just wanted to reiterate that it might be more helpful to think of activities taking place on a spectrum of play. What we mean is, there will be activities that are more 'pure' play activities and activities that have less play taking part. We don't want anyone to be thinking we're saying you shouldn't be offering activities that 'control' the play or are more adult led. These activities may well be important to teaching new skills, for example. What we want to do is help you to think about the activities you offer so that you can think critically about if they are providing the learning that you want them to.
So if we want the most impact from our activities, value the process more than the outcome. And keep it playful!
This half term my team and I have created a performance space within our room. It was following our observations of how much our children love to dress up, sing, dance and perform. Opportunities to observe children in this area is always a joy to see but can be limited if the environment doesn’t allow or provide these experiences. Using all free and donated items our ‘performance area’ was born! Staff members asked for donations via local selling pages on Facebook and eureka - we acquired a keyboard, paper jam rock guitar, battery guitar with effects and ....a violin!!! We also managed to talk nicely with our site manager who found us a sturdy pallet complete with platform. A quick visit on Amazon completed the area using silver glitter curtains and some additional laminated stars and pictures, along with the dressing-up box, saw a quick and effortless transformational area of the room.
We easily could have gone with a Chinese restaurant or a ‘shop’ role play area which would have been less engaging to the children and largely would have resulted in the same type of play being carried out. However, we wanted to challenge children’s thinking, allow creativity and let our children shine!
Who doesn’t love a ticketed performance?! Pass the popcorn!
When a child plays on their own they are in complete control of their activity. They decide what their play involves, how their play develops and when to stop. This level of control gives the child the engagement that makes play so powerful. The control comes from allowing certain things to happen and preventing other things from not happening. For example, when playing with construction toys, a child decides which pieces to use to represent whatever it is they are building. This could be defined by the pieces themselves (maybe some of the pieces are specifically designed represent certain things, such as windows or trees) or the child defines what the piece is (they might use a block to represent a door). The child is free to stop building whenever they want to.
When children play together, the activity develops in a similar way. All the children must decide together how the activity progresses and it does so by children allowing the ideas of others to shape the play. There is potential for one child to be the 'leader' but this only happens with consensus from all of the children involved because without agreement, the play will fall apart. If the child feels the activity is no longer what they want to do, if they feel they can no longer accept the 'rules' then they are free to leave the game.
So what about adults? It's certainly possible for adults to play with children but because they are usually seen as being 'in charge' a child may feel that they are unable to leave the activity. This can easily mean that there is no play happening any more! This is where adults need to be very careful with their interactions when interrupting or initiating play. Practitioners need to know their children and the children need to trust the adults. That way adults can make the right decision with play:
But how do you choose which to do when? It is generally accepted that deeper learning takes place when children are most interested and engaged with their activity. The greatest levels of interest and engagement will take place when children are freely allowed to choose their play. So where possible we want children to feel that they are in control. We may adjust the environment to give different learning opportunities or we may integrate ourselves into the play but we should keep in mind that if we want the children to be playing then we need to allow them control.
After all, if there's one thing us adults are good at - it's not being in complete control, right?!
We've spent lots of time recently thinking critically about how our EYFS works. We've especially been looking at how to encourage high levels of engagement to make sure learning is maximised. You may have noticed we've shared some blogs and quotes recently about play - for example this blog by Teacher Tom.
In trying to help us think more clearly about this we began to try to develop a basic definition of play. This would help us more clearly create opportunities and support our children to learn through play.
In his blog, 'The Value of Play 1: The Definition of Play gives Insights' Peter Gray sums up his definition of play by suggesting 5 characteristics, based on other people who have studied the subject before him.
Unpicking our panicked questions required us to remind ourselves that play comes in many different forms. We all know that children play with building blocks and that pretending to cook food in a home corner is also play. When we use board games we say "We're playing a game!" and we have all heard children shout about "playing" football or tag. So it's helpful, when considering if children are playing or working, to think about the context of the activity we are observing or planning.
The final thing that Gray talked about that really helped us unpick the play/work conundrum was not to think of play as binary. It's not helpful to think that children are either playing or their not. It's much more helpful to think of playing as a scale. Perhaps on one end of the scale a child is 100% playing: they've chosen their own activity, imposed their own rules, they are actively involved and are using their imagination to develop their play. On the other end of the scale the child is playing very little: their activity has been imposed upon them, they have no choice of how to undertake it, the outcome is valued by the adult more than the process and their is no imaginative thinking going on. And when you put it like that - it doesn't sound 'fun' at all!
Over the next couple of blogs we'll look at the definitions in more detail to help judge different types of activities and how much play is going on!