Any time I come across an article or newsfeed from Stanford University's Bing Nursery School I tend to get excited and a tad emotional. It's a setting that I truly admire and I feel vibrates with an energy for the magic of children that I value in my own practice. I've never had the good fortunate to pay a visit but from this side of the Pond I still feel linked to the research and outcomes that they consistently explore and make public. An issue of their Bing Times can pass many an hour and the depth and range of its content is both inspiring and challenging.
One of my favourite pastimes is to revisit past online issues of Bing Times to try and unearth gems that I may have missed on previous readings. Recently I found myself being drawn to the October 2017 edition and as I read through I found my curiosity turn into wonder and evolve into a Eureka moment. An article about 'projects' really stood out, almost with a giant leap out of the screen. Here before me was an idea so breathtakingly simple and possibly even glaringly obvious that it made me sit up with a jolt.
The concept of a 'project' is genius. It relies on two things: play and faith in children. Both are being eroded in the current educational climate and yet both are critical for real, deep and valuable learning to take place. If you take a look at any given Early Years forum you'll come across reams and reams of requests for topic ideas. You'll find practitioners spending inordinate amounts of time looking for display, continuous provision and planning ideas. These are all stem from the notion that topics are needed to shape children's learning.
I have blogged previously about how topic-based approaches are not only a huge drain on time but also deflect us from the real root of learning and development - skills through next steps for each individual child. A topic becomes adult led, second guessing what inspires or engages children. They become things that are wheeled out each half term to try and mould a period time, usually so adults can say to other adults what it is that children are 'learning'. Most of these topics are overlong, risk disengagement and result in Pinterest Provision that pleases adult eyes but potentially limits the ability of children to bring their own magic to the setting.
If we took a step back and had faith in children and enabled them, through play, to bring their 'language', their dreams, their 'song' to us then we would find that we have created a space for children to immerse themselves in and make skills progress that no topic could ever hope to achieve. Faith in children puts play back at the centre of their learning experience. You relinquish control of the learning path. Children can learn without the presence of an adult or an adult influence - they don't need you to provide a topic. They have topics of their own - 'projects'...
This is the true value of 'projects': if you work in a school that insists on topic-based learning then a project ticks the box and then some because unlike a topic, a project comes from the children. And the only way to discover the project is to let the children play and observe them. Find out what motivates them, what they build, their fascinations, the ideas that drive them, the kinds of role play they engage in, the child-chat that ripples through your setting each day. Take a step back, take the notion of 'teaching' out of your head and enter their ether, their world, their dreamscape. Suddenly you'll find yourself with 'projects'....
So what is a 'project'? Well my interpretation is that it is an opportunity that you take to explore with the children the interests that they have shown you. It could be on anything at all. Literally anything. It's not a topic. Your continuous provision doesn't suddenly become dominated by it, not all children have to engage in it. You use a 'project' to inspire, to collaborate, to co-learn alongside the children. The beauty of a project is that equally you don't have to use them all the time, they are flexible not fixed.
I've chosen to introduce 'projects' in my afternoon direct teach time if and when I feel an opportunity has presented itself. In essence it's 15 minutes' worth of input , sharing, questioning, supposing, extending, imagining, dreaming, and 'singing' with the children. Not all children might grab the 'project' - that's okay. What I'm beginning to find is that those children seek out their own project because the open ended continuous provision and play enables them to do that. What I have done for all the children is show them that I value them, treat them as equals, and allow them to be in the centre of their own learning.
And the best thing about 'projects'? They don't have to last a billion years. They are organic, they rise and then fade, get replaced by others, take on lives of their own, return when least expected and most importantly, they create the conditions for high levels of engagement that then become the tools for skills development through the 3Ms.
In the space of a week I've so far explored Super Worm, paper aeroplanes and den making. All three projects have come from the children and all now have a life of their own, all interlacing with the children's individual or collaborative play. All three have provided an inordinate number of opportunities for children to apply skills and for adults to be alongside with the 3Ms. The projects haven't dominated, they've inspired. They haven't enforced, they've engaged. As soon as you have engagement then you are on to a winner. You have the perfect conditions for children to play deeply and learn deeply. 'Projects' are merely an extra layer over the top of day to day learning - children still retain choice, they still retain their voice and above all else in the world, they still retain the right to play... :)
My next blog will share 'Projects' further - brace yourself for the King of all things squirmy: Super Worm
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Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....