Making Links to Learning through Play, Modelling and MLD!

abc doesBoys Learning, Child Initiated Learning, Continuous Provision, Creativity, Environment, EYFS Policy and Practice, Mark Making, Outdoors, Planning and Assessment, Role Play, Talk2 Comments

Phew, what a week – and it isn't over yet!

It started in Millstead Special Primary School in Liverpool where I was working with staff looking at the implementation of an EYFS approach across the school. Millstead has children with various levels of need from PMLD (Profound and Multiple Learning Disability) to those with ASD  (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). It was a truly amazing two days from which I learned so much. There is HUGE potential for learning for many of the children at this school which would be significantly enhanced by running an EYFS approach. I will post more about this soon when I have done a little more research and got more feedback on the strategies that we decided to put into place.

Today I was in Chester, modelling! Not on the catwalk (obviously)…rather modelling practice at Victoria Infant School. The Nursery teacher, Joanne, had been on one of my conferences and had put into place lots of new initiatives. She invited me over to have a look at how the environment was running. She offered me as much 'Rocky Road' cake as I could eat - how could I refuse?

Victoria are about to have a new building and since they are just outside where the original walls of Chester would have been they had to have an archaeological dig on the school field before the builders could be given the go ahead.

So, last week the children all went out to see what a 'dig' was all about.  (Incidently, they didn't find any bodies or hoards of treasure – just a few old coins and some bottles)

This week Joanne has set up Nursery's own 'dig' as an adult focus/cont prov activity outside, building on what the children previously found out



The session starts inside Nursery where the children gather for a 'Welcome', where they are all greeted and they sing together. Then they split into 2 groups and do a 10 minute (and yes, they stuck to 10 minutes) focus activity on PSRN.

The aim at this point of the session is that the children will all then go into CP (which has been planned to match needs identified by assessment and themed to children's interests) and that the adults will take focused learning into the CP and work alongside the children.

This cohort of children are very keen on the outdoors and often there are only 2 or 3 children left inside during an entire session. Although the Mark Making area has been set up with resources that meet the children's developmental needs and there is a good variety of materials choose from, lots of children just do not use it.

Joanne has done an environment audit and changed the setting to better reflect the interests and needs of the children. As the current set up of the Nursery is fairly new to the children the staff are still grouping the children so that they can take small groups into each area and model appropriate use of resources.

I observed Joanne doing just that in the Paint and Workshop area. She decided that she would give the children the option of basing their 'creations' around the story they had been reading – Six Dinners Sid! Some did and some didn't. This wasn't the main focus of the activity, the focus was appropriate use of the area.

The children were accessing their own empty pots and bottles of ready mix paint which they were pouring out themselves. There was also a range of other equipment available like these gizmos from 'Ramquist'. They were fab!


The children independently washed their own pots and brushes when they had finished AND they put away!

For continuity, Joanne has also set up a very similar area outdoors with the same expectations for independent learning, providing the children with warm water and a towel for their washing up.

The purpose of my visit was to work with Joanne and the team on making links between the child initiated play and next steps in learning WITHOUT losing any of the engagement.
After the short focus session the children all  went off to free play in the CP and the adults dived in to the play – and this is what I did next….

A large group of boys are very engaged playing  with a wooden fire engine in the Small World.

Joanne has a deconstructed role play area just next to the small world so, without saying anything to the boys, I begin to collect boxes and place them next to their play. Of course they ask what Iam doing and I tell them that I am building my own fire engine. I am pleased when they ask if they can help and I say 'of course'.

When the engine is built they go to get in it and I tell them that they cannot get in it until they have made a badge that tells everyone that they are fire fighters. Then if there is a fire everyone will know who can help.

While I am talking I am already at the mark making table with scissors and scrap paper in hand. I don't have to ask twice. I am immediately joined by the entire fire crew.

We are all mark making! Had I known the children's ability levels better at this point I would have had different expectations for their outcomes and would have encouraged them to access their 'next steps'.  When mark making has an ENGAGING PURPOSE it is attractive to even the most reluctant of boys!

Then we are in the engine and we are rescuing a wooden lady stuck on the roof of the Small World house!


Just when I think I have got it sussed (for the moment anyway) Joanne opens the door and announces that 'outside is open' and I find out she wasn't joking when she said they were an outdoors lot as the entire fire crew disappear outside leaving me on my own to rescue the poor wooden lady!

When I make it outside I am chuffed to see that the fire engine play has gone out with them and there is now quite a crowd of fire fighters battling with imaginary fires! There is a large pile of Community Play Blocks in the middle of the space so I attempt to link the experience that we have just had indoors with the cardboard boxes with the wooden blocks.  I stand next to the blocks and shout over to the fire fighters 'Can I ride in your fire engine'? To which they reply 'We haven't got one….(wait for the penny to drop….ah, yes there it goes!) Let's make one!' So they did.

Once we are done I say 'where is the next fire?' They tell me it is over by the shed. I ask them how they know when there is a fire and they tell me that they can see it and smell it. 'What does it look like?' I ask (all innocent). It's red and orange they tell me, and black (says Seth) for the smoke.

'Could you paint it?' I ask, 'then we can put it out!' This creates great enthusiasm for the, as yet untouched, outdoor easel!




and Seth got to have his black smoke!

We leave the pictures on the easel and do not put them on the drier (which these well drilled children inform me I will get into trouble for – but I don't care!) and we play more at putting the fires out.

At this point I decide to go inside and observe  how much of this play is dependent on my input and how much they are initiating amongst themselves.

About 5 minutes later 2 of the crew come looking for me. There is an emergency on the climbing frame. 'Which climing frame?' I ask . 'The one outside!' they say. 'But I don't know the way to the climbing frame…you will have to draw me a map…like the one you looked at this morning when you did your dig' (linking back to prior learning).

I get an 'Okay, but it will have to be a quick one!' But that's good enough for me and this is what I got.


I follow the maps and amazingly they lead me directly to the climbing frame where I find out 2 things. The first is that the map making proves to be a hit and inspires others to go in and make their own map (it is really nice to have a change from a treasure map!) 

and, thing number two is that the emergency is not a fire, but a cat stuck up a tree. Which cat do you think it might be? You guessed it, good old Six Dinners Sid!

So, then the learning focus takes a bit of a switch away from fire fighters and onto Sid.

Oh, no! How will we get him down? I cry. One child says'I can't see him up there' and I think, this is going to be a spanner in the works she is going to blow my cover as she has decided she is not prepared to buy into the imaginary cat! But I am wrong and she finished her sentence with 'I need to get a NOCLA!' A nocla? She disappears and comes back an it is all clear.

 I am pleased to see she is also referencing back to her earlier activity by bringing the map!

So now we can see him, how are we going to get him down? Lots of suggestions are made: a magic ladder, a net, a sky lift….but nothing seems to work. Well, they all work, but as soon as he is down he manages to get himself back up again.

The children don't want to find a resolution to the problem because they are enjoying the play too much. This is when you know that it is going well.

I suggest we sing a 'Sid' song to get him down and to my delight they agree. We stand on a small hillock for what seemed like 3 hours but was probably 5 minutes singing the most tuneless and repetitive song I have ever heard. In the beginning I had thought it would be a good way to get some music into the play (as we all know those Creativity profile points are hard to get – the sooner they start the better!) By the end I though it would be good to keep my ideas to myself in future!

Then Grace comes up with the plan of all plans…'He needs six dinners, he will come down for that!' What a girl!

As if by magic the dinners arrived! Because so many children were eager to provide a dinner we ended up with more than six. It was like a PSRN gift from above. I didn't even have to speak, it was duly noted that there were too many dinners and some good accurate counting ensued.

 As if that wasn't enough good fortune it was also announced that they all had to be different so the plates were re- sorted.

Just to make sure they were right, the Big Book was sent for and comparisons were made!

When all was deemed to be correct, the dinners were left for 'Sid'.

As it happens this was just in time for the end of the session so we would need to wait until tomorrow to find out if he came down or not!

HOORAY I think. A ready made link to today's learning….SO MANY things we could do now….

I was genuinely sad that I wouldn't be there to join in!

Just when I thought my job here was done and the children were tidying up the outdoor area I went inside to find 2 boys in the deconstructed role play. They were playing 'haunted attic' (how many times have you chosen that as your role play theme?)

I asked them if they were okay and they said that they were locked in the  attic and could not get out as the key had been stolen by a ghost!

When Joanne had been showing me round before the children arrived she had pointed out activities that she had put on her mark making area to help to develop fine motor and pincer grip. One of these items was a box of bobbins and string.

Armed with this prior knowledge I told the boys that I knew how to make a magic bracelet that could get us all out – and would they like me to show them how to make one.

They were keen. The fact that I had to walk out of the haunted attic to go and get the box of bobbins, therefore clearly having made my escape, didn't seem to matter. We were still stuck when I got back.

So a fundamentally dull activity that the boys probably wouldn't have touched with a very long barge pole was given a purpose and that resulted in high level engagement. Once again, had I known the ability level of the children. I would have differentiated what I asked them to do with the bobbins. Colour recognition, repeated pattern, particular numbers, shapes etc…

But they were willingly threading bobbins and that was a good enough start.


 I had such a BRILLIANT time and really felt that the children got lots out of the morning and were very engaged because they led the learning.

Ideally, if I had been part of that team, we would have sat down and looked at the six areas of learning. We would have identified ability groups with each of those areas,used assessment to identify what each group needed to do next and then discuss what that next step would look like as a CONCEPT not an ACTIVITY.

Then as the children are engaged in their own play the adults play alongside and can apply the appropriate next step concept and differentiate it to suit particular children's developmental needs.

That way you lose the need to have children in explicit groups for everything and only group for specific PSRN and Letters and Sounds Activities.

I really hope I get the chance to go back and play again…oh, and the cake was really good!

Thanks to Joanne and her talented team for having me.


2 Comments on “Making Links to Learning through Play, Modelling and MLD!”

  1. Hi Diane
    Ideally I try and record as I go along when I can and you are dead right, what I haven’t recorded as it happened I write down retrospectively. You need to know which children did what so that you can record their attainment and your curriculum coverage.
    What I mean by ‘concept’ rather than an ‘activity’ is that you look at what the children have achieved and then indentify next steps. If at this point you link that next step into a specific activity in a specific area then you reduce your opportunities for impact and engagement.
    So, on my planning I would record what the next steps were for each group in an area, the ‘concept’. Then when I am with the children in CP I would apply the identified objectives wrapped up in their play.

  2. I love this as an example of how to use CI activity to promote learning across the 6 areas. Would you be making observations of individuals / groups as you did this? (difficult I imagine but often what we are asked to do). Or do you advise writing it all down asap after the event? (with the photos taken as prompts).
    Also, could you clarify what you mean by “what the next steps would look like as a CONCEPT?” how would you write this into your planning?
    Thanks, Diane

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