Tokenistic Pedagogy

The Early Years and Education Sector are currently full of a range of exciting, interesting and thought provoking pedagogies and learning styles. Nearly every Early Years setting or school now holds ‘Forest Sessions’ or are naming themselves as certified ‘Forest Schools’, anyone within a coastal radius has a ‘Beach School’ edge and the Curiosity Approach and Hygge ways of living and teaching are becoming the norm.

Whilst this is a wonderful opportunity and experience for the children involved, it is only truly beneficial if these pedagogies are fully embedded in a setting’s practice.

Too often we are seeing half-hearted attempts at implementing new elements of pedagogies and learning opportunities, as they are deemed the ‘Next Big Thing’ in Early Years, without the setting fully investigating, exploring and understanding the true meaning and ethos of a particular learning style and approach.

For example, merely taking children into the forest to explore once a week does not make you a ‘Forest School’, staff need to be trained in delivering this type of practice and this should be replicated in the Forest School sessions delivered to the children and encompass all of the traditional Forest School elements; the fire circle, boundary setting and the children exploring and leading their own play and learning for the duration of the setting, free to explore a vast woodland space.

Similarly, with Beach School sessions, these should be delivered by knowledgeable and trained adults and children should be free to explore the coastal environment independently within agreed and safe parameters, dictating and facilitating their own learning and development. By taking the children to the beach and letting them swim in the sea or build sandcastles, does not constitute a ‘Beach School’ session.

Whilst it is fantastic that settings are gaining inspiration from each other and are keen to develop and improve their practice, the important question and one which isn’t asked that often is “Why are you doing that?” “What benefit does that have on the children?”

By placing a few ‘interesting’ and ‘natural’ objects within your learning space and leaving the children to explore them amongst their everyday resources, does not make for a ‘Curiosity Approach’ inspired setting, and these half-hearted attempts of ‘changing’ the pedagogy of a setting have little to no real benefit to the children.

Meaningful, thought provoking and high-quality pedagogy is embedded into the ethos of a setting and this is not only evident within a setting’s practice, learning opportunities and resources, but also in the attitude, practice and general delivery of the practitioners of the setting. This type of pedagogy holds countless benefits to the children and when it is delivered in a thought-provoking, challenging and exciting way, children will naturally learn and develop within their environment, supported by well-informed, confident and knowledgeable adults.

Similarly, themed days/weeks are wonderful ways to celebrate events and holidays and each year, more and more themed days are added to our Early Years calendar, and whilst it is great to focus on some events and celebrations, many settings begin to feel inadequate if they miss a particular day or do not base their entire week’s planning around these celebrations.

A perfect example of this; it was recently ‘BNF Healthy Eating Week’. Did we ‘celebrate’ this? No. Did we focus on this and plan our activities around this? Also no. Why?

Because we promote healthy eating daily, positive food practices and healthy choices are embedded as part of our everyday practice and so it would not be relevant nor beneficial for the children to spend a whole week focussing on something they do every single day.

Many settings feel that they have to justify not participating in certain events and celebrations and in our opinion, if it’s something you do every day, why do you need to? Because again, celebrating all of these events and celebrations and allowing these to influence and essentially form the basis of your planning, especially if it entails things you don’t actively promote as part of your day-to-day practice, again quickly becomes tokenism and loses authenticity and meaning for the children.

Naturally, our practice and pedagogies are, and have always been, growing and developing as time and society are changing and new ideas, research and legislations are introduced into our sector. And as such, unless you fully believe in and are willing to fully embed, adapt, learn, develop and grow with the pedagogies you learn about, then ultimately the practice you are providing is tokenism and awe-inspiring pedagogies are not created from token gestures, a few hats here and there and an occasional visit to the forest.

Pedagogies are born from research, knowledgeable practitioners that understand the needs of children, create environments based upon their research and create these provisions and learning styles with the child at the centre of their ethos.

Frankly, if practitioners are trying to implement too many differing pedagogies and learning styles into their everyday practice and environments, then they do not fully understand pedagogy as a whole and in essence, by incorporating these tokenistic gestures into play and provision, is somewhat insulting to the pedagogues of their time who dedicated their lives to their research in order to provide us with the pedagogy and theories that we are all too familiar with today; Steiner, Froebel, Montessori and the McMillan sisters did not do things by halves when it came to children and their play, learning and development, and so we should not be disrespecting and disregarding their work by using half-hearted efforts to implement pieces of pedagogy because ‘everyone else is doing it’.

As practitioners, we should be doing what is right by the children we care for and shaping our practice around them, their needs and their interests, not what is on trend in the sector at the time.

We’ve spoken many times about taking practice back to basics and are firm believers in this and can see the detriment of how over-complicating Early Years can have significant negative impacts on practice and provision.

The pedagogues we have to thank for these awe-inspiring pedagogies we are so familiar with today, did exactly that. They weren’t influenced by what other settings or professionals were doing, they weren’t trying to keep on top of trends or be the top pick on someone’s Pintrest board; they focused on the children, developing research, play and practice, for the children.

If we take anything from their work, it should be that underlying ethos and sentiment, that as long as it’s for the children and benefits the children whole-heartedly, then that is the ultimate goal for any practitioner when developing pedagogy and practice within their setting, because if you aren’t changing your resources, environments and practice for the benefit of the children, then who is it for?


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