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Proportion of 'structured'/ led activities versus free play at preschool

(13 Posts)
chipmunkswhereareyou Thu 25-Sep-08 14:41:19

Ds's primary school nursery has a 2.5 hour session. All but the last 15 mins is free play where they can choose to join an activity or not and then the last bit is a story. Is this unusual...I thought it'd be a little more structured - not necessarily learning stuff but teacher-led activities.

For some children I appreciate that free play is better but for ds I think he'd prefer activities as it is a bit less chaotic and he is a sensitive soul.

Just wondering if this is the norm at all preschools or the mix is normally more 50:50 of activities that are done altogether vs. free play.

TheFallenMadonna Thu 25-Sep-08 14:43:33

Free play is the preferred way of doing things at the moment. To the extent that our preschool leaves its doors open all the time to allow children a free choice of being inside or outside and increasing fuel bill by a gazillion percent.

chipmunkswhereareyou Thu 25-Sep-08 20:03:33

It surprises me really that it's SO unstructured as I thought the idea was to help them learn to co-operate, concentrate and listen etc. (within reason given they are all 3 and 4!) in preparation for reception?

emy72 Sun 28-Sep-08 11:31:33

I can only tell you that from my experience that's what they do, ie free play. Although apparently a lot of planning goes in setting up the room(s) in a way that each activity is actually geared towards learning goals.

Littlefish Sun 28-Sep-08 11:40:05

Even if they are choosing to join activies or not, I'm sure that a lot of thought will have gone into what those activities are, how the children will be supported, which children's interests are being followed etc.

At my dd's nursery, they have two x 15 minute sessions during the 2.5 hour slot when they all come together. Apart from that, the children choose which of the areas/activities/adults they wish to spend time with.

As far as I'm concerned, my daughter's concentration skills, social skills and problem solving abilities are being developed at times when she is really interested in what she's doing. This can only help these skills develop more effectively, rather than trying to force her to do activities which don't interest her at the moment.

She will have 13+ years of more formal education. So I'm more than happy that her nursery recognise that self chosen activity (supported by knowledgeable and caring adults) is exactly the way to help children develop into well rounded individuals.

(Can you tell that overly formal education for very young children is a bug bear of mine, Chipmunks! [wink}

rachelp73 Sun 28-Sep-08 12:35:37

Chipmunks, my DS1 was a very sensitive little soul and I actually took him out of the first preschool he attended as it was in a huge hall, with different activities laid out and they just went from one to the other as they wished. They had snack time, and then circle time at the end, but that was as structured as it got. It really didn't suit his personality at the time. He wanted and need a lot of guidance and needed to know what they would be doing next etc etc. He was just totally lost in that environment and became more unsettled as time went on.

He settled into his next preschool very quickly. Each morning had a different theme eg. Monday was literacy day, Wednesday they did what they called "Keep fit" in the big hall, Thursday a lady came to play the piano for them and they had singing. etc etc. On the other days they would do a craft activity, or do cooking, or do specific games involving numbers etc. There was still a lot of free play, and they had different play equipment out each day (unlike the previous place where it seemed to be the same thing day in day out) but the day and the week was structured much better in my opinion. Knowing what was happening each day suited my worrier of a son much better and he soon gained so much confidence. It was fantastic to watch him develop his confidence. He recently started school, and was at home immediately (not literally! He settled quickly I mean LOL). He loves it and the nursery he went to was such a good preparation for him. I loved the supportive and nurturing environment of that nursery so much that I cried when he left in the summer!

What I'm trying to say is that I know the current thinking is for preschools to be all free play. But for a minority of children, who are sensitive and born worriers, I am not sure that it is the best environment for them (not in our experience, anyway).

chipmunkswhereareyou Sun 28-Sep-08 13:57:05

Rachel - that's EXACTLY what it is all about for me with ds and I'm quite relieved to find someone else who had the same thinking on this. DS is a worrier and anxious and likes to know what he should be doing and what's coming next. It's absolutely not about whether he's learning or not but whether he is comfortable and happy and in an environment that suits him.

He seemed fine with it on Friday so if he can cope I will stick with it but will keep an eye on things if he seems less happy again at any stage.

rachelp73 Sun 28-Sep-08 14:30:37

Chipmunks, I persevered for a number of weeks with my DS at the first preschool but he just didn't settle, crying, and having nightmares etc and it was definitely getting worse instead of better (he was 2 years 9 months by the way). If your LO seems fine with it, then maybe it's just YOU that's worrying?
I turned up early a few times at the first nursery, and peeped through the door, and it seemed to be a lot of (the younger) children including DS1 just wandering around looking a bit lost, not sure what they should be doing etc, and the staff just shuffling around too! My gut feeling was that it just wasn't right for HIM.

By the way, I actually switched him to afternoon sessions as well at the new nursery (as DS2, baby at the time, was not a good sleeper and we were struggling to get out of the house in the mornings for the first preschool!). At his new nursery, the afternoon sessions are not QUITE as busy and structured as the morning sessions, as they cater for some children who stay all day and so keep the afternoon sessions a bit more informal and laid back. The staff were great though, as they always made sure that afternoon session-only kids got their turn at doing the craft activity or whatever that the morning children had already done before lunch. The following year when he was nearly 4, I switched him to mornings which were a lot busier - more kids etc etc, and more structured, and that was fantastic preparation for school. I think he revelled in the structured envrionment of the busy mornings, but he has always been a bit like that anyway - at weekends he'll wake up and say to us "So, what are the plans for today?" grin I think the average boy doesn't actually like a structured nursery environment - the stereotypical preschool-aged boy can't concentrate for that long and just likes to run round with his mates, or crash the cars into each other! My son wasn't like that, and concentrates really well and hates any type of disruptive behaviour in the class (I'm sure that will change when he's a teenager LOL).

Not that all that has got ANYTHING to do with your post really - I'm just waffling as per usual!

My point was that if your LO is fine with the free play environment, then I wouldn't worry about it yourself. There's plenty of time to learn a more "structured" way of doing things once he starts Reception. All that's required of them when they start school is that they are able to listen to the teacher and carry out instructions, and sit quietly for a short period. They will learn that during circle time and story time at both a "free play" type of nursery environment, or a more structured one.

Maybe the only advantage to the type of nursery that my DS eventually settled at was that it suited his anxious personality at the time. I have sent my DS2 there just because I like and know the nursery and staff, but he is very socially confident and it may be that he would have been fine in the free play type of pre-school that his elder brother first started at.

chipmunkswhereareyou Sun 28-Sep-08 21:39:16

"My son wasn't like that, and concentrates really well and hates any type of disruptive behaviour in the class" - my ds is very similar in this way. It all sounds fine and dandy but we both know the downside from the sounds of it - the anxiety!

I think he'd prefer a structured environment but if he can cope with this for 2.5 terms before he starts school we'll live with it and you're right, I probably am worrying unnecessarily!

rachelp73 Mon 29-Sep-08 14:26:40

Oh yes, chipmunks, sounds like our sons have similar persoality-types. I'm a bit of a natural worrier myself, and you sound it too so probably that's where they inherit it from LOL!

To reassure you, as I already mentioned, he has taken to school like a duck to water, and loves it when he has a task to sink his teeth into and concentrate on.

I think he will always be a worrier though: he started Footie Tots recently and loved it, although got SOOOO anxious when the woman running it said halfway through "Who's thirsty? You've got about 1 minute to go and get a drink and then come back to me for the next bit." Well, my son rocketed over to me, hands trembling and his face contorted with anxiety "Mum! Mum! I need a drink and WE'VE ONLY GOT 1 MINUTE!" He looked like he was about to cry despite me explaining that it really didn't matter if he took a bit longer than a minute to get back, as he wouldn't be the only one, and when I told him that I hadn't brought a sports bottle with me so we'd have to go down the corridor to the water cooler, he actually DID burst into tears, saying "But I won't finish in time!" God........I hope he'll grow out of that.

Another example is that in Reception they've been doing a bit of human biology I think. V simple stuff like anatomical names - skull, brain etc. They've clearly been told by the teacher that our hearts keep us alive as every night when he goes to bed he will shout down anxiously asking when his heart is going to stop! grin Bless! I think he will always be a worrier, but it has improved since he was 2-3 years old. THEN, he literally had to hold on to a piece of my clothing whenever we went out of the house, even in a shop, and if he "broke the chain" he'd almost have a panic attack shouting "Mum! Mum! Come back!" I'd be 2 feet away. hmm

chipmunkswhereareyou Mon 29-Sep-08 15:05:05

Ah bless him he sounds really sweet.

The upside is ds is rarely naughty as he hates being told off and all you have to say most of the time if there's a hint of naughtiness is 'stop or I will shout at you' as he hates being shouted at grin.

Eddas Mon 29-Sep-08 18:46:16

in my dd preschool they set out 6 tables with activities on(mainly with an assistant at the table) then there's the home corner and puzzles etc etc. For just over an hour the children roan freely to whatever they want to do. There are set activites which they try and encourage each child to join in with at some point over the week(the tables are changed weekly, i think) they also normally have painting or a water table out.

Once the hour(ish) is up the children are asked to help tidy the toys away. They aren't forced too, but most of them do. Then they sit on mats and have a register and a song and story. Then they go a few at a time to the toilets to wash their hands before sitting down to have a snack. Then after snack time they go outside if it's nicehmm or stay indoors for a bit more play, with bikes etc.

If you think about it that is structre. They are learning to listen to adults and do things at set times, but are free to choice which activity they do.

At first I thought they just chucked out a load of toys, whatever they fancied that morning, and the kids got on with it! Now i'm on the committee of the preschool I have learnt that the manager takes great care in working out which activities are out each week. It may look but it probably isn't

If you have a committee look into joining it, it gives you a great insight into how it all works

Ripeberry Fri 03-Oct-08 10:21:40

Welcome to the brave new world of EYFS!
It is all child lead play and the teachers make play oportunities available for the children to develop their play or interest.
But the free flow thing is great in summer but today having the door open at the pre-school it was a bit nippy!
Some of them might have to get one of those "thermal doors" like they have in shops where you go through a blast of warm air.
That might keep the heat in.
But i've seen the old way of doing structured play and you always had some kids who did not want to do it and you could spend ages trying to encourage one child and the others would be getting bored.
Now that one child can carry on with his/her interest and have planning in place to make their experiences and play (which is learning anyway) more fun.

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