Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Joy and creativity in the early years

It wasn’t long ago that I was attending my daughter’s year three parents’ evening and told her teacher how much she had been enjoying the opportunity to take part in woodwork. But it seems a shame, I added, that having learnt good cutting and joining skills in nursery, she had no further opportunity to use a saw for the next three years of her schooling. I probably did not express myself very well, because the teacher’s first response was an expression of shock, followed by her saying something like “just imagine, nursery children running around with saws. It doesn’t bear thinking about.”

A couple of weeks ago at Kate Greenaway, we had one of those absolutely joyful days that make nursery education so much fun. We are building a climbing frame around one of the trees; our tireless outdoor learning consultant Wendy Titman has worked with an amazing group of people to get the children involved in splitting the wood, shaving it, shaping it and sanding it down. The children were absolutely equal to the occasion, listening very carefully to safety instructions and maintaining the highest levels of concentration throughout. The only dodgy moment during the whole day was when the press photographer asked a child to look at the camera and smile – whilst he was sawing away. Luckily no fingers were harmed during the production of the photo.

Joe from Touch Wood, who had been working all day with the children, rounded it off with a wonderful story underneath the tree, based on an Aboriginal legend. Like all good endings, we had a mix of song, dance and story with some children hanging on every word, and others copying actions and creating their own dances around the edges. Parents who joined us during the day were as struck by the competence and perseverance of the children as we were. Whilst climbing frames usually arrive fully made through a process which is absolutely mysterious to the children, this one is bumpy and grainy, and the children have gained a deep understanding of the properties of wood and the skills of woodworking.

My only regret is that so much enthusiasm, creativity and potential ends up being machined out of young children. How often do children have really rich experiences in nursery, only to be given more impoverished versions of the same thing later in their schooling? I know from the experiences my daughter and her nursery friends that children who can ride two-wheeled bikes end up squabbling over tricycles in tiny reception yards, that children who have been out in forests and experienced mud and large-scale water play find themselves peering into a tiny plastic tray with a few centimetres of water in it.

We are still neglecting the creativity and potential of far too many young children by giving them dull, dry and limiting experiences in the EYFS. But let's not be gloomy: watch this video clip of Paige's day in Reception to get a little dose of joy.