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.