Each one of the early years educators has played an important role in setting the foundations that is the basis of the main curriculum’s and foundation frameworks in schools today. Maria Montessori believed in independence in nurseries and that children should be taught to use their senses first rather than just educating their intellect with subjects such as maths and science. These of course came later in the children’s education but the main focus within her nurseries was to develop observational skills through the environment and learning outdoors, and to provide the children with carefully organised preparatory activities rather than repetition as a means of developing competence in skills.
Montessori believed children should be encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning, enabling them to become more independent.
The teaching practices of Maria Montessori have been highly influential on current practice as many specialised Montessori nurseries are currently running up and down the country. They promote her curriculum of independency and use many of her approaches to practice such as the idea that the child’s freedom, dignity and independence are of paramount importance.
In a typical Montessori nursery there is a general atmosphere of children doing things for themselves carefully and competently – carrying furniture, setting tables, pouring drinks, washing their hands – and following activities which absorb and interest them. This is, in some ways, a very different method to the practices used in government run nurseries etc. as they follow a more standard curriculum where reading and writing are encouraged more formally and learning plans set out at an early age.
Some of this practice is reflected within my current placement through the children’s play such as tidying away independently at the end of activities and being responsible for making sure toys are put away before a new activity is begun
. In my placement, when the children are told it is tidy up time they know they need to put everything away and must help clear up until the room is tidy. The practitioners join in with the tidying but do not do it for the children, so they are leading by example but are still allowing the children to think for themselves and take responsibility for putting away their own play equipment. During snack time I have also witnessed the children carrying their own chairs through if they are a few chairs short in the hall. This gives the children a sense of independence and is also a good way of developing their gross motor skills and co-ordination. In the key stage 1 classes children are encouraged to pour their own drinks and are given small jobs such as handing out the lunchboxes and folders at lunchtime and the end of the day. These are just a few ways that the children are encouraged to be independent within the school day as well as managing their own hygiene and dressing/undressing independently for a physical education activity.
Part of the stepping stones within the foundation stage state that children should be encouraged to dress and undress independently and select and use activities and resources independently, which is exactly what I have witnessed in my previous and current placements. The birth to three matters framework has a similar view on independency as the emotional well-being guidelines for a child focuses on developing healthy independence e.g. ‘activities which provide small steps to be achieved will support all children, including those with disabilities, thus reducing frustration and supporting them to become independent.’ These clear guidelines from the various frameworks and curriculum’s undoubtedly show the positive effect Maria Montessori has had on current practice, and that her theories have been widely acknowledged within teaching practice today.
Rudolf Steiner set up the Waldorf schools where the main consideration is around practical activities that develop the mind and the imagination. The types of activities that Steiner introduced in his schools were things such as knitting, weaving, playing a musical instrument, woodcarving and painting. These are very much practical based activities and many are still carried on in schools today such as learning to play an instrument. This is seen as an important activity for children in the early years and lessons and clubs for this are seen as mainstream activities. Steiner believed that education should be designed to suit the changing needs of a child as they develop mentally, physically and emotionally.
This can be seen in the current practices and provisions as there are different levels and stages of which a child can progress through at their own pace, such as the stepping stones in the birth to three matters and foundation stage curriculum. Each individual child is encouraged within their own abilities to progress with their education and onto the next levels of development and learning within today’s practices, and Steiner’s approach has therefore been influential on many areas of the early year’s education. His ideas on allowing children to be taught by the same teacher for up to seven years have been adopted in some ways by secondary schools as a class is given the same form tutor for up to five years and then another for two years if they progress to higher education. He believed this was an effective way of giving children stability within schools, and the tutors would almost be like main carers for the children until they left school.
Friedrich Froebel’s ‘kindergarten’ is the modern day nursery, playgroup or parent and toddlers group. He wanted parents to be fully involved with their children’s learning and play an active role in their child’s educational development. This was an important feature of Froebel’s vision and can be seen in current practices through parent/teacher evenings and the various reports and progress write ups that are sent home to parents from early years settings.
The placement I am currently with send home termly reports explaining to parents and carers how their child is doing with regards to education and also to their social, emotional and physical well-being. Froebel believed the role of the mother was to recognise their child’s capacity for learning and wanted to encourage the parents to support the children with this, and as you can see from the current approaches to this in early year’s settings his work has helped to develop the understanding of the importance of the role of a child’s family in their learning and nurturing. This is now very much reflected in the governments recent every parent matters agenda.
He also believed children learn through structured play at their readiness, in an organised and prepared learning environment. This is similar to the guidelines of the curriculum’s and frameworks we use today as children are taught through structured activities that are carried out in stimulating environments. The fact that activities and play is structured benefits the teachers immensely as they will always have a clear view of what they need to be teaching the children, and when and where they should be learning specific things. They are also able to plan the day effectively and help each child reach their early learning goals. Structured play benefits the children as they need routine so they know what their day will consist of, and are also able to develop their independent learning skills within a structured, focused and supportive environment. If a child’s day has routine or structure to it they are able to feel in control of themselves as they will always know what they are going to be doing, and how much time they have for certain activities.
The special materials that Froebel developed to assist his activities were things such as shaped wooden bricks and balls, with which he had a linking set of theories. These types of play resources are used throughout early year’s settings today. The foundation stage framework states that ‘well planned play is a key way in which children learn with enjoyment and challenge’. This clearly shows that Froebel and Isaacs’s theories have been influential towards current practice and benefit children and teachers through the education policies. I have seen these benefits first hand within my placement. The teachers have the opportunity to plan their lessons and the activities ahead and so are able to plan time for their own personal work and preparation for other lessons into the day, and can inform the children exactly what they will be doing that day, thus giving them a clear, structured routine they can easily follow. Children are able to choose freely within play activities yet each play resource is chosen carefully and all of them can relate to either a certain topic they are doing ect. so the children’s learning of a certain subject can be carried on through their play.
The foundation stage curriculum states that ‘well planned play, both indoors and outdoors, is a key way in which young children learn with enjoyment and challenge.’ Froebel’s theories have, from this example, been the basis of many of the curriculum’s ideas on play, and making it structured also allows the teachers to plan and resource a challenging environment that will extend the children’s learning. The curriculum also states that practitioners should be ‘supporting children’s learning through planned play activities, extending and supporting children’s spontaneous play and extending and developing children’s language and communication in their play.’
Many of these requirements would not be possible if play was not planned or structured, as practitioners would not know what resources the children would be using during the day, and so would not be able to make assessments effectively or develop and extend the children’s learning to their full potential. Froebel’s theories and early years work mean practitioners and children can benefit from play immensely. Children; in all areas of their development, and practitioners; as it enables them to focus their assessments thus informing future planning to better meet the needs of the children.
Margaret McMillan was another early year’s educator who has inspired and influenced many of the current provisions and practices used today. Her main emphasis was on fresh air, exercise and nourishment, and still influences some aspects of current English nursery practice. Many early years settings regard outdoor play as an important aspect of a child’s learning, and gardens and play areas are available for the children at either frequent intervals throughout the day, for a substantial amount of time (as can be seen in the placement I am currently at), or constant access is given. McMillan recognised that imagination is good for society as a whole, an idea that is seen in the educational reforms of the 20th century, and can be clearly seen in the practices within her nurseries today.
She believed that children are ‘active’ learners, meaning they learn whilst doing something (usually playing), a concept that has been brought into current practices as practical activities that involve moving about or using some kind of resource, and especially general play, is now much more emphasised in early years settings than it previously was. Rudolph Steiner also believed that practical play activities were a good developer of the imagination. His Waldorf schools concentrated on activities such as wood-work, knitting and playing musical instruments, which are now mainstream subjects in secondary and primary schools e.g. design technology, which covers all creative areas, and music.
Children can develop their creativity, imagination and emotional development through music as well as many other areas of personal learning. Teachers are able to apply their own skills in these creative areas and demonstrate to the children how they can achieve what they are aiming for. By seeing their teachers own personal skill first hand the children will be able to respect and learn from practitioners in a more understanding way.
Susan Isaac’s was also a believer that play is central to learning, and also that parents/carers are seen as partners, working with teachers and their child to develop and support their child’s abilities. This is similar to Froebel’s theories on parent/teacher relationships in the way that he saw parents as the main educators of young children. This concept is still clearly seen in the practices of early year’s settings as parents are encouraged to be involved in every aspect of a child’s learning, and have the opportunity to work with the teacher in developing their child’s abilities. This benefits the children and the parents as both can create a bond with each other through the education of the child, and the parent will be able to understand more fully how their child learns best and how to encourage and support them if they are struggling.
Play is still seen as central to learning and parents/carers are seen as partners in helping their child progress through the stepping stones. In my current placement children are given ample time throughout the day to have free play and choose to do whatever interests them. The day is structured (as Froebel believed it should be) so they still have time set aside for number work and writing activities, but are not pushed to complete the more intellectual side of the work as play and ‘active’ learning are the most emphasised activities throughout the children’s day. This benefits the child in the way that they will have a break from concentrating on the more intellectual side of things and be able to relax, whilst still learning through structured play and various activities. Having the ability to choose will keep them interested in learning about writing and reading as they will feel they are not being forced to learn about them.
Friedrich Froebel introduced the idea of structured play and fully involving parents with their children’s learning. His work has been extensively influential on current practice in early years settings today as the basic framework and curriculum’s that guide children through their learning are based around his ideas about how children should be working with their parents and how carers should be involved in all aspects of their child’s learning and development through school, and how children should learn at their own pace and be guided instead of pushed towards their learning goals. The national curriculum states that ‘teachers are required to report annually to parents on pupil’s progress’ through their learning goals. Parents also have a say in whether their children are included in religious education classes and sex education, and are given the right to withdraw their children from it or go to the classes with their children to guide them through it. Secondary and primary schools send home letters to parents informing them when classes such as these will be taking place, and permission slips are enclosed so the school know which children can take part in the classes and which cannot.
My current placement sends home a daily report on each child so the parents can see their child’s routine for the day including what they played with, how long they slept for, what and how much they ate during the day and generally how they got on. This gives the parents a clear understanding of how their child is getting on in the nursery and allows them to give feedback to the practitioners so they can work together to ensure the child is reaching their full potential in all areas of development. This clearly shows that Froebel’s ideology of parents being involved in children’s learning has been taken into early year’s settings today and has had a positive effect on current learning and the guidelines in the curriculum.
Parent and toddler groups are also a popular class for parents to attend when their children are young. They allow parents to be fully involved with their child’s play, and as children learn most substantially through play this gives the parents a better insight as to how their children learn and what stimulates them most effectively. They can then use this knowledge to help progress their child’s learning at home.
The foundation stage has the same principles as the national curriculum in the way that parents are encouraged to become involved with their child’s learning throughout and to work with the practitioners to extend the children’s learning both in the classroom and at home. According to the foundation stage curriculum, when parents and practitioners work together in early years settings the results have a positive impact on the child’s development and learning, therefore each setting should seek to develop an effective partnership with parents. This was one of Froebel’s main theories within early years and so current practice has clearly been influenced by this and has expanded on his views to make sure parents, practitioners and children can benefit from his work. Practitioners can listen to any concerns parents have over their child’s development and then work with them to find an appropriate solution to the problem.
Froebel also recognised the importance of specific training for early childhood teachers. He believed that early year’s teachers needed more focused training as the early stages of a child’s development and education formed the basis of their personalities and eagerness to learn in the future. This may have some contribution to the fact that early years practitioners must undergo specific training in order to become qualified to work in early year’s settings, such as NNEB’s, NVQ’s and BTEC’s.
My opinion of Froebel’s work and the research I have done on his theories is that his work has been the most influential on current practice due to the fact that most of his work has been combined with, and been the main basis for many of the guidelines in the curriculum’s and frameworks used in early years today. The emphasis on active learning is well established within early years settings, but combined with the current guidance from central government upon meeting targets, it is indicated by the inspection of early years settings that play-based learning is not a priority, though the training of practitioners, which Froebel believed was essential, has received considerable attention in recent years, and current practice is now trying to catch up with the ideas Froebel proposed.
The role of the mother in children’s learning is not as Froebel expounded due to mothers of young children being encouraged to work rather than stay at home. Teaching and nurturing children in the home is regarded as less effective or desirable than education in more formal, out of home settings, though the parents as partners scheme initiated by the government throughout the curriculum’s gives parents and practitioners a way of communicating and working together to help the child, so in this way I think his ideas on parents being involved in children’s learning has been responsible for this being put into practice.
Friedrich Froebel’s theories have, in my opinion, been the most influential on early year’s practitioners, and their approach to practice is guided by many of his ideas and concepts on how children should be learning. His work surrounding the ‘kindergarten’ (the first form of modern day nursery) produced the framework and theories that practitioners work with and expand on in current practice and so in my opinion his work has had the most effective influence on today’s early years educators and their practice, and this evidence suggests his work will continue to be explored and expanded on within the curriculums and frameworks for years to come.
Bruce T learning through play: babies, toddlers and the foundation years, (2201), Hoddler and Stoughton•Tassoni P, BTEC early years (2nd edition), (2006) Heinemann•Bruce T, Time to play in early childhood education (1991), Hoddler and Stoughton