The Power of Joyful Learning.

Alistair Bryce-CleggBoys Learning, Child Initiated Learning, Planning and Assessment5 Comments

Most UK schools went back for the new school year this week. Lots of practitioners will have had a sleepless night before their first day back.

It doesn’t matter how many years you have been doing it and how familiar you are with your team and your space, there is something nerve wracking about that first day.

If it is unsettling for us as adults – imagine what it is like for the children! It takes TIME to become comfortable in your surroundings, TIME to get used to new people, TIME to understand the rules and routines, TIME to feel part of the gang.

These early days are hugely important and can have a massive impact on children’s wellbeing, learning and engagement going forward.

Although you might be tempted, and sometimes pressured, to ‘get going’ – don’t rush this bit. It is important (have I mentioned that?)!


It’s a brain thing

Careful, measured, staggered induction is not just an excuse for Early Years practitioners to have the first couple of weeks of the school year off so that they can drink tea and eat cakes on home visits!

How our brains respond to stressful situations has a direct impact on the emotional links that we make to the space where we feel that stress, the people who are connected to that space and our ability to function outside of primal instinct.

So children who have a stressful induction take much longer to settle and begin learning.

The neuroscientific research about learning has revealed the negative impact of stress and anxiety on the brain and how there is and a significant improvement of the parts of the brain involved in memory and the functions that are linked to positive motivation and engagement.

There is of course a difference between children who experience initial separation anxiety and then settle quickly to those who literally cling to the door frame and then scream for the entire session. These children are giving out clear signals in the only way they know how. Just repeating the anxiety on a daily basis is not the most effective way of supporting that child’s social and emotional wellbeing.

It can also be unsettling for your other children when they are aware that another child is visibly and audibly upset. It is a well known fact that crying in Early Years is contagious. If you are not careful, before you know it you have a literal tsunami of tears!

It is also worth remembering that it is not just the children’s wellbeing that is important. We have all been in that situation where one of you is trying to greet new children and parents at the door whilst managing the children who have already arrived, while the other is sitting in a pool of snot and tears with a child clamped to each knee whist signing ‘I’m a little teapot’ and trying not to look stressed! But it is stressful. So the more we can do to alleviate that stress the better.

Which is why, I was more than a little heavy hearted to receive an email this week from a Reception teacher who said that her Head had asked her to start point of entry assessments even though all of the children had not had their induction yet and those that had were still part time.

The issue was compounded further because they are using a laptop based assessment so an adult has to take a child into a quiet space (the cloakroom) and administer the assessment for up to 20 mins! Her question was – what could she do?

Ideally? Forget about ‘formal’ assessment until your children are settled, happy and secure. Then and only then will you get an accurate picture of what they enjoy and can do.

Create an environment that provides opportunities for you to observe and assess your children through their play and interaction, rather than pulling them out of the environment to ‘assess’ them.

Aspire to create a culture of ‘joyful learning’ as opposed to ‘stressed compliance’.

The more strategic you are with your induction process the more likely your children are to engage and learn and the bigger the impact on their wellbeing and attainment.
Honestly, it is time well spent  – for everyone concerned!


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5 Comments on “The Power of Joyful Learning.”

  1. Great blog! This is applicable for us Childminder’s and Play Groups too! No matter how long you have been doing this it’s always nerve wracking when a new child starts! It takes me a few weeks (probably 6) to even think about assessment for just ONE child, how on earth teachers are expected to do that for 30 children is beyond me….and in the first week? I think if they know all the names by the end of the first term they are doing very well!
    Tsunami of tears made me laugh…..but worse than the tsunami is having one very loud, very determined, very cross ‘screamer’ who’s protests are amplified in a large hall! Joy ?

  2. As a management team we decided to follow the ‘first six weeks of school’ approach – no demands for plans, assessment, displays or explanation just trusting our team to create a learning environment with their little folks, create relationships and establish expectations for the first 6 weeks. It worked brilliantly, we couldn’t have cared less about value added looking high on paper whilst children shook with anxiety and our most vulnerable learners looked frightened. We took this approach from nursery to year 6. Unfortunately we were in a minority, I think there needs to be a culture change that involves management, practitioners and parents for real joy to return.

    1. I want to work where you work! What a great approach. My daughter has just entered reception and was pulled for what I assume is a phonics test of some sort, she is secure with reading before entry but she told me the other children ‘didn’t even know their abc’. Perhaps some children can cope but others not? I won’t even tell you what we were expected to do with our year 1’s on the first day…..absurd!

  3. Thanks for sharing!
    We’ve had a lovely few days with our new friends… just like “herding cats and juggling ferrets” ? lol

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