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to ask why more parents don't seem to care about play based learning being replaced with more formal learning in nurseries?

(86 Posts)
teacherlikesapples Sat 06-Jul-13 16:02:35

I am at the end of my professional tether. I love my job, I love supporting children to reach their potential and helping parents understand how their children learn, so that they can support their learning as well. One of the most important aspects of my job is creating an 'enabling environment' where children play & learn.

With the Government's shift towards more formal learning, this approach is under threat.

Ignoring the tonne of evidence & research to say that would be a huge mistake (and that they should in fact be extended the play based curriculum to older children! )

This feels like a massive tragedy to me. Not only will thousands of children be missing out on some really vital experiences, on a real personal note- I cannot in all good conscience continue to teach in an environment that I consider to actually be harmful to children. So it looks likely that I will leave a job that I love.

I'm just wondering- why aren't more parents more upset about this issue? Do they consider formal learning at this young age a good thing?
I would really love to speak with someone who holds that belief. I need to understand it.

I have read that the more structured approach can get some initial gains with some academic skills. So sure, if the most important thing to you is that your child learns to read at age 4, then perhaps a case could be made.

I am not aware of any real advantage in learning to read early, as long as children make steady progress acquiring literacy skills throughout their time in nursery and any issues are flagged up early & dealt with, it all works out the same. I don't see why teaching these skills earlier is worth sacrificing other important learning opportunities.

Formal learning in the early years, is essentially telling children 'what, how and when' to think. When compared to a play based curriculum it is nowhere near as effective in promoting independence, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, social skills... the list goes on.

It is IMHO a leftover approach from the Victorian era when children should be seen and not heard.

Am I being unreasonable to think parents should care about play being filtered out from UK nurseries?

Ok rant over. Does anyone care?

anchovies Tue 22-Oct-13 06:56:36

I am a governor of a nursery that recently received outstanding from ofsted on the basis of it's attitude to early years play based learning. The inspector whole heartedly agreed with everything the nursery was doing and especially liked the forest school and outdoor areas. They take a novel approach to mark making and numeracy, finding opportunities in play. The headteacher in completely commited and training focuses around this approach and also importantly how she can document progress whilst still focussing on every child as an individual.

Despite all this, the nursery is nowhere near full and is facing closure in favour of attaching another nursery to a local primary school because parents in this affluent area choose a more formal education for their three year olds. I find it heartbreaking!

SatinSandals Tue 22-Oct-13 06:32:56

I agree with you OP. If I had young children I would just vote with my feet, the forest schools sound lovely to me.

dianashaw Tue 22-Oct-13 02:26:19

Message deleted by Mumsnet for breaking our Talk Guidelines. Replies may also be deleted.

northernlurker Tue 09-Jul-13 23:35:10

Thing is hamster most children can learn to read and write and end up on broadly the same page (pun intended). Doing it at 3 or 4 confers no advantage - so why do it?

morethanpotatoprints Tue 09-Jul-13 22:27:23

write, sorry. I'm dyslexic and hate spelling words wrong arghhhhhhhhhh
Please excuse my writing and typing, as I use 2 fingers to type. sad

morethanpotatoprints Tue 09-Jul-13 22:25:26


Ah thanks I can't do much really but feel passionately about kids playing.

I feel so much for you in your position. You must feel like you are fighting a losing battle.
I don't know what the answer is and just wish more people could see it.
My dd loves reading and was always average but didn't want to do it heavily unless cajoled. She is reading a book a day atm and is hungry for knowledge which wasn't her personality at school at all.

ha, she could also write, sing and compose music, before she could read and right. She still struggles with spelling and blending loads of words, but she'll get there.
Maths has improved because she does the grocery shopping with me in tow. It has taken a while but through play she is really improving.

teacherlikesapples Tue 09-Jul-13 22:15:50

morethanpotatoprints - I'm a big fan of your work! So nice to know I'm not on my own here smile

morethanpotatoprints Tue 09-Jul-13 22:15:33


You are very narrow minded if you don't believe the children you talk about will level to their peers.
What does it matter when you learn to read.
An education is a marathon not a sprint.
As a H.ed parent I have read about dc who have ended up taking GCSE's very early, having only wanted to learn to read and write at 9, 10 or later.
If we allow dc to have fun whilst learning their education and what they learn will be fondly memorable, more so than if they are forced to do things when they are not ready.

morethanpotatoprints Tue 09-Jul-13 22:05:08

I must be boring to you all again but here we go....

The right of a child to play, is right up there on the Convention of Human Rights and if I remember correctly it was the Geneva Convention.

Just saying grin

I care too.

teacherlikesapples Tue 09-Jul-13 22:03:59

Blu- I think you hit the nail on the head there with the phrase 'high quality play opportunities'

If the Government instead focusing on staff recruitment & training. Making sure the adults working with children understood child development and worked hard to plan and set up an environment that encouraged their learning.

As a teacher I am happy to do more training, I am happy to be observed, inspected, held up to scrutiny. I am happy to work alongside parents, to do paperwork that is meaningful to parents & children. I am happy to work long hours, research in my own time and put everything I can into my work- so that by the time holidays arrive, I am so worn out the first week of holidays is spent sleeping & catching up on every other part of life. I don't mind any of that. All I ask in return is that we have parents working with us, trusting us & supporting us. That the Government pays attention to the mountains of science & research that has been done in this field.

This whole thing is really getting me down sad

Blu Tue 09-Jul-13 21:36:12

I care, OP. The whole thing makes me boiling wild.

I don't even think we should be encouraging 'learning through play' in nursery, with targets and a curriculum and achievement monitoring. think tiny children should simply play. And be offered high quality play oportunities which give them lots of scope for imagination, creativity, building, finding out, seeing, balancing, speaking, using their hands, physical games.

Through which they happen to learn things.

But it is the quality of play that should be kept up to scratch, and play for play's sake should be sacrosanct in the life of a 3 year old.

teacherlikesapples Tue 09-Jul-13 21:26:13

No one does though. Both the quality free play curriculum & structured formal approach would promote that. Just in very different ways and arguably -very different outcomes.

The Cambridge University research had this to say "There is no evidence that a child who spends more time learning through lessons – as opposed to learning through play – will ‘do better’ in the long run. In fact,
research suggests the opposite; that too formal too soon
can be dangerously counterproductive. In 14 of the 15
countries that scored higher than England in a major
study of reading and literacy in 2006, children did not
enter school until they were six or seven. And more
children read for pleasure in most of those countries than
do so in England."

So while there may be a belief that children taught formally will gain skills earlier, those from a free play curriculum quickly catch up and tend to read more for pleasure and end up scoring higher in actual general literacy attainment. This is without even looking at the research on other areas of development such as emotional, physical skills, communication & social skills (all of which btw favour the free-play approach)

HamsterDam Tue 09-Jul-13 21:10:16

i understand kids can learn through play not just being sat with an adult, you would have to be completely thick to believe that which im not.
im not saying 4 5 and 6 year olds should be taught in this way all day everyday i just don't see the harm in encouraging kids that are capable to learn to read and write

teacherlikesapples Tue 09-Jul-13 20:01:56

CreatureRetorts- maybe those that care could ask @Number10gov why they choose to ignore the comprehensive research & findings of the Cambridge primary review which recommended delaying formal learning until age 6.

There are loads more research that shows this of course, but when the Government is attempting to argue the case for improving academics- why ignore the findings of the UK education elite?

teacherlikesapples Tue 09-Jul-13 19:50:24

HamsterDam- I think you are misunderstanding what is being discussed here. It seems you believe that the only way for a child to learn something is if they are sat in front of an adult. i.e Being 'taught' something.
That is just not true.

Also if the teacher is teaching everyone at once (i.e Teacher led formal learning) - do you think it will be as easy for them to 'stretch' each child & differentiate as needed?

Compared to a free play curriculum where the teacher ensures they observe & plan for each child as an individual. Make sure each child gets the opportunity for 1:1 & small group work, engages in child led & adult led activities. Through that they figure out where each child is & extend their learning for the ENTIRE curriculum (i.e not just literacy) all day. Every day. Just in a way that is relevant to that child's interests.

Rather than just hoping your child is ready when literacy is scheduled to be taught on Wednesday mornings between 10-11am.

HamsterDam Tue 09-Jul-13 19:30:49

maybe im selfish not to be concerned about the changes because i think my child will cope with them and reach his potential.
i would rather my child be stretched than bored in a class being taught to the lowest common denominator

HamsterDam Tue 09-Jul-13 19:28:03

he doesn't need to be reading when he starts school but if i can encourage him to get there then why not?
im not talking about sitting him down for hours threatening him or punishing him.
we do the alphabet he says a letter then i say the next one until we get to the end then start again the other way round so he says all the letters. then we do it with sounds. same for numbers, its a game and its helping him learn.
he enjoys reading loves books as do i so its just while we're enjoying a book we sound the letters of the last word of a sentence, im not making him try to read whole books he's not even 4 yet

teacherlikesapples Tue 09-Jul-13 18:35:58

HamsterDan- If an individual child is ready to learn something academically, then good practice in a free-play nursery would have the staff planning suitable activities to extend that learning, be it phonics, writing, mathematics etc... Most of my school leavers (4 year olds) know their letter sounds, can read/write their own & friends names- some are reading much more than that, all have a 1:1 correspondence, all can count & recognise numbers beyond 13, all learnt during free play.

The point that is being made here is that the formal learning approach relies on EVERY child being ready at the same time. That doesn't fit with reality.

pianodoodle- there is no harm in learning to read through play. Many children do. The issue I have is with the alternative. Many children are taught before they are ready or in a way that is boring or puts them off wanting to learn more. I want the children in my class to have intrinsic motivation, to be so excited about their learning that they just want more- I don't want me to be doing all the thinking for them.

There are several literacy concepts a child needs to understand before they are ready to read- not all children learn these at the same time. So it makes more sense to bring the literacy teaching to where that child is in play- be it the block area, home corner, sand pit- until they are ready for more formal teaching.

A bit fed up with assumption that just because we want to promote learning through play that means children won't be learning anything academically. Quite the opposite- especially if you can accept that there is more academically that the 3 Rs!

ReallyTired Tue 09-Jul-13 14:34:58

Lots of children being unable to read at 7/8 is very extreme. I assume it must be a steiner school.

I feel that when market forces dicated what children learnt with childminders, nurseries, schools etc there was a better balance between formal learning and learning through play. Most parents aren't stupid, they want their children be mentally stimulated with a range of interesting activities rather than hot housed.

What bunnybing described in 2006 sounds ideal.

pianodoodle Tue 09-Jul-13 09:45:49

Having said all of the above, I should add that there were aspects of the school life that I thought were great. There was a good atmosphere and the children were great.

Coming from a grammar school background I did feel like I'd been lured to summerisle for the first few weeks though - and Mayday was coming up.

pianodoodle Tue 09-Jul-13 09:35:25

What's the harm in learning to read at four alongside playing etc...?

Saying they don't need to doesn't mean it won't be enjoyable or beneficial.

You can take enjoyment from lots of things.

I was asked by an independant school as an instrumental teacher as lots of their parents had shown an interest in having their children learn.

The average age was 7-8 and many of these hadn't started to read properly. A complete shock to the system for me as my usual students (some as young as 5) all had these skills.

I was having to teach some their left from their right hand. I had to teach a few the alphabet up to G. Also they couldn't read their own practise notebooks, the titles of pieces or the words to sing along.

After a while I had kids who could now read music quite well but still could read words, and that apparently caused some muttering among the teachers who considered them too young to be doing it.

None of them were unhappy in their lessons, or showed signs of any particular hardship at having learned something for half an hour!

According to the school, the students have "caught up" with the average state school pupil in academic terms by the age of 14 or 15 but TBH from what I saw, I sincerely doubt it.

Lots of parents were also paying for extra tuition outside school as well. I was pretty bewildered as to why they decided to chuck so much money at a school that seems to teach bugger all then chuck more money away playing catch up.

I'm sure they all had a lovely time at the school but I'm not sure they'll have such a lovely time with their job applications.

Maybe I'm old fashioned :D

northernlurker Tue 09-Jul-13 08:01:05

Hamster - why does your child need to be reading when he starts school? There are plenty of ways to keep bright children engaged without that. Nobody thinks they're going to pressurise their child but my oldest is 15. I've seen a lot of kids and parents and some do go way, way too far. It's as well to be aware of that risk don't you think?

morethanpotatoprints Mon 08-Jul-13 22:51:16

Surely preschool means before school, which should be play. Why are people referring to classrooms?
Also do you realise that when your dc are digging in the garden, making a model, using plasticine, experimenting in sand etc. This is play, even if the key worker is leading your child to meet some objective.
Yes Gove is talking about formal education for 2 year olds.

SHarri13 Mon 08-Jul-13 22:20:19

For this very reason I have kept my older two sons at a playgroup rather than pre-school. They've got plenty if time to learn when they start school.

There are mothers of others in my eldests class that complain that they play far too much, they are in reception.

bunnybing Mon 08-Jul-13 22:14:25

Quite surprised things are getting more formal.

When DD1 started preschool in 2006 there was lots of playing both inside and outside, but every child encouraged to do complete a couple of specific activities - differentiated according to their ability - eg using building blocks to make a pattern/make a card or write their name.
By the time DD2 was at preschool in 2008 all structure had been blown out of the water - according to govt EYFs guidelines the children were now to pretty much do what they wanted for the 3 hours, so if they wanted to do sticking/gluing all the time they could etc.

I preferred the former way.

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