When it comes to really effective teaching and learning in Early Years, high level engagement will give you high level attainment. But what does high level engagement look like? How is it different to high level compliance?
Well, when children are working with an adult on the carpet or in play – high level engagement is often easy to see as a good practitioner will have children enthralled. Sometimes that will manifest itself in a ‘jazz hands and sparkles’ type delivery and sometimes with a ‘whispering and wide eyes’ routine, but either way the children are definitely highly engaged and learning.
When the children then leave the adult and move off into Continuous Provision, the engagement can often disappear and rather than explore the learning opportunities that your environment has to offer – children head straight for what they know, the often low level, but familiar ‘comfortable’ play.
That is where these 3 little words ‘thrill, will, skill‘ come into their own…
‘Without thrill there is no will to take part and without the will, how will children successfully acquire the skill?’
You have got these children (most likely boys) who every time the door is opened stampede towards the outdoor area and plant themselves on a wheeled toy or pick up a stick or make a gun.
Then, the fun really begins…Crashing, banging, hurting, destroying, fighting. You know the score.
First of all you ask nicely for more appropriate behaviour. Then you tell, nay demand better outdoor etiquette. Then you threaten confiscation of the wheeled toys and construction or compulsory eviction from the outdoor area until attitudes improve. The problem is…attitudes never do, or at least not on a long term basis. The issue isn’t really about the equipment or the behaviour itself, it is more about the reason why the children behave in the way that they do.
Some of that behaviour can be attributed to how children need to make sense of the complexities of their developing world and some of that behaviour is very much about the environments that we create and the provision that we put into them.
I work with lots of settings who resort to the ‘lock away’ method. This consists of locking away any and all wheeled toys to ‘teach children a lesson’. This is not a great solution for a number of reasons, but primarily because a lot what the children are doing is perfectly natural and normal behaviour and finding an equally satisfying alternative to crashing their scooter into a stack of milk crates is beyond their immediate control.
There are very few children in early years, especially boys, who when their favourite thing in the world is confiscated and ‘locked away’ take time for a period of reflection, inwardly examine their misdemeanor and then vow to be better citizens! They just get grumpy and find mischief elsewhere.
Part of why lots of children behave inappropriately on the wheeled toys and with weapons is because they can. What they are doing is easy in terms of skill so they ramp up the risk factor which in turn increases the thrill
If you have children who are heading for the door, the simple fact is that there is nothing – I repeat NOTHING in the rest of our provision that they find as thrilling.
Every area of provision that we create should have been placed there in response to a need that we have identified through assessment and observation. Our provision is there to support and extend children’s learning. This could be social, it could be physical, it could be academic but it is there for a reason.
If we look at a group of children whizzing around a track at 50 miles an hour taking corners at 90 degrees, they are showing a very high level of skill and dexterity on the piece of equipment that they are using. In that respect this piece of provision is not providing challenge. The children find it easy to manipulate and that is why they like it.
Most children don’t crash into each other on the bike track because they have poor coordination and direction skills. They crash into each other because it is fun, exciting and a little bit dangerous.
It is this thrill that gives them the will to want to engage. What we need to do is capitalise on this and make sure that the provision on offer also develops their skill level.
The other reason that children can behave in this way is their very natural desire for power and control. Although we may give children a range of choices within their everyday routines, we rarely allow them full control of what they want to do and how they want to do it. Rightly so, this is because children have not yet gained the knowledge or experience that will equip them to make this sort of decisions or choice.
Through this type of ‘crash and bang’ play they get the opportunity in a controlled, safe and supportive environment to explore what is impossible and dangerous and experiencing cause and effect in relation to their actions. They can take ‘safe’ risks which will ultimately help them to take more calculated risks in the real world. They can create and explore simulated realities without having to change what is happening in their own ‘real worlds’.
So, there is a large element of physical role play (this also spans superhero and weapon play) that is a perfectly normal part of children’s social and emotional development that should be expected and supported rather than locked away.
But, there is also a large part of this type of play that is done purely because of the thrill factor. The thrill and the will are high but the skill is sadly lacking. For the solutions to this issue we don’t need to look to child development but to our own provision. Why not give your setting a ‘thrill test’?
The thrill doesn’t have to come from big physical activities. It comes from any activities with high levels of engagement. Thrill can be small and quiet as well as Ta-Dah! The one essential thing that you need to be able to provide a high level of thrill within your space, is to know your children.
Undoubtedly, when you discover a dinosaur bone in your digging pit, that fairies have moved into your outdoor area or an alien space ship has crash landed outside the window, these events will promote high levels of engagement because they are ‘an event’. But, although this type of event is great fun and hugely valuable, it would be very difficult (and impracticable) to have one of these every day.
How many times have you seen this scenario?
A bank of computers 3 boys deep. You could certainly say that you were getting the ‘thrill’ and the ‘will’ but this is another one where the ‘skill’ is often lacking. If you really observe what the children are actual doing, are they developing social skills and turn taking?(Very unlikely). Are they taking their learning forward with programmes that will extend and challenge them? (Again, unlikely). Are they engaged in low level provision thinly camouflaged as learning? Yes! probably.
What I am basically saying is that if you have gang mentality on your wheeled toys and scrums around your computers and constant confrontations in your construction while your workshop area remains void of testosterone and full of sparkly pom poms then you need to have a rethink.
Take some time and do yourself a ‘thrill, will, skill’ audit. Identify your areas of ‘thrill’ (easy) they will indicate high levels of ‘will’ and then the harder bit…Take a long hard look at the level of ‘skill’ development that is taking place and then adjust accordingly.
This is not only about children (often but not always boys) on wheeled toys it is also about children (often but not always girls) who will sit in mark making or workshop areas for long periods of time and produce beautiful pieces of work that do not challenge them in the slightest.
Regardless of their gender, find out what ‘thrills’ your children and just make sure that you use that ‘thrill’ to actively support the development of ‘skill’.