Learning in the Early Years

I believe that children’s experiences in the early years are of some of the most important in their lives; considering the wealth of research that highlights the brains sensitivity and crucial development from the ages of 0-5. Therefore, I understand the role of a teacher in early years education to be uniquely crucial, and that high quality teaching demands practitioners who are knowledgable about, therefore responsive to, the needs of the developing cognitive, social and emotional wellbeing of a child.

I feel in any approach to the early years, the understanding and appreciation of the child as a ‘whole person’ is vital, as outlined in much of Scottish educational policy. As we grow older, it is common to dismiss or underestimate the challenges young children face every day. Daily events and environments that we have become familiar with and are well-equipped to respond to are ones that young children are experiencing and learning about for the first time; and the difficult emotions and cognitive challenges they face as a result of these are very real and significant to them, despite any apparent triviality we, as experienced adults, would presume. Therefore, by understanding the perspectives and differing experiences of children, and valuing these as those belonging to a whole individual, I feel that we can begin to understand more clearly their ‘starting point’, and therefore work to build upon their experiences and provide appropriately progressive learning. I appreciate that this requires a flexible approach that adapts to individual needs and experiences, as they vary greatly from person to person. I understand this as providing rationale for the educational policies emphasis on interconnected learning with experiences from the home (including engaging parents) as well as the wider environment.

And in this child centred, whole person approach, I note that understanding the needs of a child includes an awareness of the kind of pedagogy they will benefit most from. In reading Education Scotland’s Realising the Ambition (2020) I note that play based pedagogy is recognised as the best way for young children to learn and navigate their early experiences of educational settings. However, it is clear that in correctly valuing and appreciating the nature of ‘high – quality- play, a practitioners role is vital and poses a distinctive challenge. Firstly, it is important to understand that the existence of true play is determined by the child – adults must be sure the children are enjoying and intrinsically motivated to partake in activities for them to be considered as high quality play. I see the “child centred” approach allowing for this through its emphasis on observations of children informing planning and pedagogy, and note that useful observation may be a tricky skill to implement consistently in practice. Another challenge is posed for the practitioner in Realising the Ambition, which outlines their role as sensitively “balancing” of their input of “supporting, enriching and proposing” with also not infringing on the play and the children’s exploration, whilst observing carefully.

It is clear that in studying the role of early years education, we must keep in mind the valuing of play based and child centred practice, which is of most benefit to the children. However, the achievement of this relies upon practitioners who know their crucial role in ensuring play is not contravened in their efforts to promote learning. This is a challenging position, however one I look forward to developing in reflection, observation and professional development.






My Maths Experience

Unfortunately, maths is a subject that I have only had an uncomfortable experience with. I vividly remember the dread flooding over me as the teacher instructed “No hands up! I’ll pick randomly for answers….” when testing us on a new concept that I had already given up on making sense of. My worst experience of maths was in high school, when a teacher asked us to raise our hands if we got 5/5 on a list of questions we had been given. I had gotten around 3/5, but seeing all my other classmates proudly share a set of full marks, I untruthfully, raised my hand. Seeing this, the teacher exclaimed “Jessica, you didn’t get all 5 right! I saw, passing your desk, that you didn’t take your time, and made lots of silly mistakes. Can’t be doing that in an exam, folks!”

I felt so ashamed, not only of my poor result, but my inability to ask for help regarding it; which in my defence, wasn’t helped by the teachers inpatient disposition! If I hadn’t already made my mind up that I hated maths; that certainly did it.

But having explored some reading on the topic of anxiety in mathematics, and engaging in tutorial discussions, I realise that not only am I far from being alone in this fear, but that it isn’t really the subject that I hate, its the negative mindset that consumes my thinking when I approach it. As much as I know that transforming this could be a challenge, I feel a sense of empowerment when I realise that it is completely in my control.

I am further motivated through my understanding of a point made by Haylock (2019); that by changing how I think about maths, I will avoid passing on a negative relationship with the subject to the pupils I teach. Having experienced the impact of ‘hating’ maths – most explicitly, having to sit National 5 maths twice, and despising every second of it – this is something I would hate to impose on someone else!

Moving forward, I hope to re-engage with the subject from a fresh perspective. Just because I have not experienced the “inherent beauty” Haylock describes as existent in maths; doesn’t mean it isn’t there, and that I can’t help others to see it. I hope to actively seek knowledge that will help me to engage in practice on placement that provides the students with purposeful, enjoyable and challenging learning opportunities in maths; with particular interest in how I can capitalise on the interdisciplinary opportunities that the subject provides to do so.

Health and Wellbeing – The Importance of Connection and Promoting Health

As part of our Teaching across the Curriculum module, in Health and wellbeing, we have been asked to watch and reflect upon two videos regarding issues around the health and wellbeing of children, and reflect upon what we have learnt from these in relation to our future practice.

One of the videos focussed on the importance of relationships in the lives of babies and young people; in particular the influence relationships have in creating the environment in which the developing brain responds to and grows accordingly to cope with.

The points made in the video emphasised to me just how significant the relationships a child grows up experiencing are – they seem to be the foundation of a humans psychological development. I understood that this influence over an initially ‘fragile’ developing brain, creates ‘key pathways’ in the brain that remain relatively fixed in adult life; and although not always apparent, these can effect a persons wellbeing.

Therefore, the relationships we provide children with have great impact on the way their brain develops and operates throughout their lives; and resultantly, I appreciated the importance of Suzanne (the video’s speaker) ending question. As professionals, we must ask ourselves: what kind of brain am I allowing children to develop? What environment am I creating for this child’s brain development to be framed by? By doing so, we can ensure that we actively address any potentially problematic influence we are having; and ensure that the environment we do create has a positive impact. it is clear that the relationships we provide pupils with, and promote between pupils, must be positive, respectful, and, in particular, ones that the children feel secure in. As Suzanne said, experiencing threatening relationships as opposed to secure ones can lead to a brain developing into one that is highly stressed and impacted negatively. The importance of establishing safety and security in a relationship has been further emphasised to me in my reading for placement; I have been looking into some of the additional support needs that are present in my placement class and have found a lot of literature on the topic to focus on the role that promoting and maintaining safe relationships in the classroom has in reducing the anxieties common in young people with additional needs such as attachment disorder and autism.

I also watched ‘Sugar crash’, a documentary exploring the detrimental effect of too much sugar being a part of our everyday diet. from a teaching perspective, i was struck by a comment made in the beginning of the documentary regarding a little girl who had tooth decay as a result of excess sugar – the video explained that she “had stopped smiling” which emphasised to me the issues that the impact of unhealthy diets have not only on the physical wellbeing of a child but also the social and emotional. Her tooth decay must have led to issues regarding self esteem and confidence, and resultantly would limit her self expression and communication. As a teacher, it is important i am mindful of the severity of this effect, and work towards increasing knowledge as to avoid it, but also to support children adequately when required.

I further noticed just how unaware I was of the ‘hidden’ sugars in everyday foods – foods that I have often seen in children’s lunch boxes, such as yoghurt drinks. These foods are often marketed as ‘healthy’, which could lead to confusion in parents and children as to what they should include in their daily diet. Teachers, by being aware of this and promoting this knowledge, could perhaps help establish a critical view in children and families of the marketing of food, equipping them with the skills needed to understand what is good to involve in daily diets.

I was very surprised to find that at 4 years old, a child should only consume 3tsp of sugar a day – clearly, this is not often the case. What does this mean for the health, behaviour and overall wellbeing of the young children I will teach? This information could be useful for me to draw upon in practice when trying to unpick the cause of disruptive behaviours in children. I am interested to explore further the possible effects of this, and will be mindful of promoting this information in classroom learning.


Why I want to be a teacher…

I feel, very strongly, that I have benefited from possessing a love to learn throughout my life. This desire to constantly expand my knowledge stems from my wholly positive experiences in early education. I was lucky enough to be the student of some fantastic teachers, who allowed me to explore, collaborate, self – generate and experience success and enjoyment within the primary classroom; ultimately leading to the development of a lifelong hunger to learn that I am very lucky to possess. It would be nothing short of a privilege to dedicate my career to allowing others to experience and benefit from the same passion. Further, it is a role in which I will be able to constantly expand on my own skills and professional development, which excites me greatly. I am someone who derives great pleasure from communicating and building relationships with others, which further enhances my attraction to the career, as I feel this is integral to the role.