We’ve spoken a few times before about the restrictions following a rigid ‘Topics & Themes’ plan can impose on settings, practitioners and children alike and how there doesn’t have to be a specific ‘time’ you celebrate or introduce a theme if it is not relevant or of interest or benefit to your children.
(We have previously used the example of starting an ‘Autumn’ theme in late September at the same time every year – but what if the leaves aren’t changing yet? Are there weather changes to notice and discuss? If not, then is it appropriate to start this theme and learning so early when children don’t and can’t have the first-hand experiences to bring their learning to life and cement their understanding of the seasons.)
We’ve recently critically reflected upon our own practice as we discussed this week how in previous years we’ve done ‘more’ and provided more Bonfire Night inspired activities for the children in the days leading up to our annual fireworks display at the setting and this year we have done less, and we reflected upon why that was.
To put simply, our children were still incredibly interested in Halloween; witches and potions this week as they are all slightly older this year and so embraced Halloween and the traditions (Trick or Treating) much more forcefully this year in comparison to previous years and so they were keen to collect sticks and ride them as broomsticks and asked to make potions at the water station this week so they could extend and develop their witches inspired play.
We could easily have said no, and provided Bonfire Night based activities on the basis that it’s the first week in November and Bonfire Night falls at the end of the week, but if we had provided these activities and introduced this learning instead of following the children’s over-arching interests – what benefit would this have had? Would they have fully engaged? No. Why? Because they still had processes and traditions to work through in their play in relation to their own Halloween based learning and experiences – this type of play and interest was relevant and important to them, and so we supported and facilitated this for as many days/sessions that we needed to.
This then made us reflect and we concluded that timing is everything, but it doesn’t have to be rigid, just as we are flexible and follow the children’s lead in their play and learning, if celebrating a particular topic and theme, we should be flexible with that too – who says we have to introduce the learning and activities before the event? Is celebrating topics and themes before the event, relevant? For younger children, they won’t remember their Bonfire Night experiences, if any, from the year before, so will the learning and activities we introduce prior to the event be meaningful if children have no or limited re-collection of the event?
Is it beneficial if the children lack interest or understanding? Have they experienced it first hand? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves when introducing a new topic or theme to the children – it is much more beneficial to children to work through, process and experience this learning if they have had a first-hand experience or memory of the particular event, than if we try and introduce it using photos/videos, it becomes much less meaningful and thus beneficial to the children as they cannot draw upon their own thoughts and experiences to support their learning and play.
This is why we must never get complacent in our practice, we must challenge our own routines, themes and practice, and that of our colleagues in order to keep children’s learning and development experiences relevant, beneficial and engaging, even if that means challenging age-old practices and routines of the setting.