Considering in enhancing Children’s Interactions

Interactions with young children are profoundly important for supporting and extending their learning. They are so much a part of the daily experience of both practitioners and children that it is easy to assume that they come about readily and naturally. Our experience challenges this assumption. It would seem that something about the role of educator – as opposed to parent, carer or interested adult – puts pressure on practitioners to say things, and say them in ways, that are sometimes unnatural and often unhelpful. Why is this? Well, research into interactions between adults and young children in a variety of contexts suggests that by adopting the role of educator, adults sometimes force their own agenda onto children at an age when children are often highly motivated and driven by an agenda of their own, and do not welcome the interference!

It is important to examine the interactions that take place between early childhood educators and the children, from 6 months to 6 years, with whom they work. We can start by exploring both adult-led and child-led contexts and ask how interactions in these different situations can be made more natural, more purposeful and more effective – for children and for practitioners. Interactions are so important for young children’s learning and development.

There have been many attempts to identify the elements that lead to effective interactions between practitioners and children. But these are hugely dependent, of course, on the author’s or researcher’s definition of ‘effectiveness’.

In the influential study of under fives in Britain in the 1980s (Bruner 1980; Wood et al. 1980), Bruner describes the challenge of trying to achieve what he calls connected discourse (conversation) to occur. At the time, he and his colleagues were looking for a simple exchange between the adult and child where there was at least a three-element exchange on a single topic: A talks to B, B replies and then A responds to B’s response. Of 9600 half-minute periods observed, Bruner reports that only 2 per cent contained such conversations.

In Tizard and Hughes’ (1984) famous study of the difference between the interactions children and adults have in the home and at school, the authors analysed what they term passages of intellectual search, characterized by persistent questioning on the part of the child and the process of relating the adult’s answers to existing knowledge. They found that mothers were more responsive to the questions of the child than teachers in schools and that mothers built more effectively on their child’s existing knowledge, understanding and language.

The government-funded project ‘Studying Pedagogical Effectiveness in Early Learning’ (DfES 2002a) claimed that effectiveness is a result of the adult and child operating from a shared frame of reference that the researchers refer to as ‘a mutual learning encounter’, which includes not only the relationships and interactions between a practitioner and a child but also between the practitioner and the child’s family.

Around a similar time, Siraj-Blatchford and her colleagues in their report on ‘Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years’ (DfES 2002b) introduced the term sustained shared thinking (or what Bruner termed joint involvement episodes: Bruner 1966) to describe ‘an episode in which two or more individuals ‘work together’ in an intellectual way to solve a problem, clarify a concept, evaluate activities, extend a narrative etc. Both parties must contribute to the thinking and it must develop and extend.’ This research identified that the quality and quantity of episodes of sustained shared thinking were contingent upon the qualifications of the practitioners in the different settings within their study.

More recently (2008), Robin Alexander’s research project ‘Talk for Learning’ has drawn on Gordon Well’s use of the term ‘dialogic inquiry’ to speak specifically about dialogic teaching, which he describes as the exchange between adult and child which formulates the extent and manner of the child’s cognitive development. Dialogic interactions he conceives as collective, reciprocal, supportive, cumulative and purposeful.

In 2007, Mercer along with Karen Littleton adopted the term interthinking to describe how teachers and primary/secondary age children work together to solve problems, ‘combining their intellects in creative ways that may achieve more than the sum of the parts.’ (2007: 4).

These different terms describing the nature of interactions are not exclusive, but they demonstrate in their different ways how researchers and educationalists have attempted to capture the complexity that characterises an effective educational exchange between a practitioner and a child.

Is there a project definition of ‘effectiveness’ that would adequately describe the findings of research? All of the terms cited above seemed helpful at some level or other in describing the nature of an interactive episode, but most did not offer an adequate yardstick, against which judgements could be consistently made, as to whether an interaction was actually ‘effective’ or not.

There are commonly-held criteria that are used in the judgement of ‘effectiveness’ altrhough there are possible limitations:

For an interaction to be ‘effective’, learning has to be enhanced. This alone might be seen as problematic for practitioners working with young children, as ‘enhancing’ could be appropriate in an adult-led context but sometimes result in overwhelming the child’s agenda when activity was child-led.

For an interaction to be ‘effective’, it has to be enhanced by the practitioner. This may seem obvious. But on many occasions learning is enhanced by other children; by the environment or by the child’s own independent enquiry. In an ‘effective’ interaction between a child and practicioner, the practitioner must make a contribution that benefits the child. The contribution made by the practitioner might be cognitive, emotional, social, dispositional or metacognitive, but if the practitioner intervenes or interacts without any discernible impact on learning or development, then that interaction is clearly unhelpful or unnecessary.

It is important to clarify that ‘something positive’ might not always refer to something cognitive. In keeping with the project participants’ commitment to the development of the whole child, ‘something positive’ might be cognitive, social, emotional, dispositional or, indeed, metacognitive.

How to find a suitable nursery

Childcare can probably be said to be one of the greatest anxieties for parents. How do you go about choosing a nursery for your child? Here are a few factors to consider. You will be familiar with some of them, and while others seem obvious factors, the underlying reasons for them may not be what we would normally consider them to be.

One of the factors in choosing a nursery can be said to be location. You would, in an ideal situation, choose one that is en route to your work place, so that you are not going out of the way across the other side of town to drop off your child, only to cross your path again to head off to work. But choosing a nursery en route does not necessarily mean to pick one nearer your home. If you have to rely on a nursery because of work, it may be a good idea to choose one nearer your work place, so that the time between when you drop off and pick up is minimised. In the event that your child is ill, you can get there quicker to pick up too.

The cost of child care is also a concern. And while we would not want to spend more than we need to, don’t always go for the cheapest option available. Look at what is available for that price. The cheapest nursery may mean somewhere there is cost cutting, either in the form of cleanliness, staff, or materials for play. If it’s not clean, your child gets ill. If there are not enough staff, the children don’t get enough attention. If there are enough things to play with, children get bored. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you go for the highest priced option either. If you have to work longer hours to afford higher cost childcare, then it defeats the purpose.

You may also want to research the potential nursery and see what the rates of pay are like for staff. Higher rates of pay for staff may be an indication of how motivated the people looking after your child may be. Don’t assume, though, that if the fees are high that the staff are well paid; the money may not necessarily filter down to them!

Look for a nursery where you are comfortable leaving your child, knowing that they will be safe, looked after and get enough positive interaction and stimulus. How is your child when left there? Don’t mistake the joy on his or her face at seeing you at the end of the day as a sign of a good day – he or she might be glad to leave the nursery! Look for other cues. Is the drop off in the morning generally okay? If your child generally settles well, then that is a gauge of how suitable the nursery is.

Look for a nursery that offers a range of activities, as children may get bored doing the same things. Some outside space for children to explore is also ideal if you can find it, or if not a nursery that takes children out to play in local parks is also worth considering.

Childcare is stressful for the parents because you worry about your child or children during the time they are away from you, and there is a sense of loss of control during this period of this time. You are entrusting the most precious thing in the world for someone to protect and nurture. But if you take the necessary steps to find the correct nursery, it could do a long way into alleviating the anxiety when your child is away from you.

Stimulating play for toddlers

Question: What’s the difference between a nursery assistant and a football manager?

Answer: One gets paid millions to look after children.

Jokes aside though, looking after children and keeping their play stimulating requires a lot of effort on the part of adults. This is particularly so for those making the transition from baby to young child.

Toddlers may be described in many ways. Some call them terrible (as in “terrible twos”); others call them “terrific” (although I suspect those people do not currently have toddlers in their lives). Most toddlers fall somewhere in between. They are wonderful little people some days and trials on other days.

Toddlers are at an interesting stage of development. They can get around on their own, but they need constant supervision. They understand most of what they hear but are usually unable to communicate their wants and needs effectively. They want to do everything for themselves, but their skills and abilities are limited. They want to try everything, and most of what they do is motivated by an interest in cause and effect. (“Let’s see what happens when. . . .”)

Toddlers also have an abundance of energy. As they enter the toddler stage, some will still be taking two naps per day, but by the end of toddlerhood, many will not be napping at all. This means that a parent or caregiver must occupy the toddler for many hours each day, often without a break. This can be a challenge for most adults, whether they are encountering life with a toddler for the first time or experiencing toddlerhood for the second, third, or fourth time.

In addition to their abundant energy and desire to learn about the world around them, toddlers also have specific needs and characteristics unique to their stage of development. They are not walking babies or watered-down preschoolers. Expecting them to stay involved in activities that are not sufficiently stimulating or are too advanced for their abilities will lead to frustration for the child and the parent or caregiver.

This means parents and caregivers are instinctively doing things that stimulate their children to learn. Talking on a toy telephone, asking “Where are your ears?” as you change your toddler, playing hide-and-seek or peek-a-boo, letting him bang about with pots and pans in the kitchen—these are activities you’ve done countless times without thinking you’re providing a rich learning environment. You are. Running, sliding, swinging, and playing outside are activities which encourage physical development. Playing with playdough, paints, and crayons develops fine motor skills and promotes creativity. Washing hands before meals teaches health. “Hot! Don’t touch!” teaches safety, and a short playtime with friends helps your child learn social skills.

Simply put, toddlers need a stimulating environment and a variety of experiences to help them develop. Activities which emphasize the senses and physical activity will be the most successful. A consistent daily schedule will help your child know what to expect and help him become more independent. He will enjoy repetition of the familiar in songs, books, arts and crafts, and simple games, and he will also be interested in anything new. Try to make a short walk or some outdoor play a part of every day. Be sure to allow your child plenty of free time with interesting things to discover and explore. We all learn best when our interest motivates us to find out about something, and toddlers are no exception.

In many cases, toddlers know how to create their own fun when given the proper materials. Although they require constant supervision, there are things you can do and materials you can provide that will encourage creative and independent play. The first step is to make sure your home is properly toddler-proofed for safety. Many small items interesting to toddlers, such as coins and beads, pose an extreme choking hazard. Make sure such items are well out of reach—an especially difficult task if you have older children in the house, too.

Performing kitchen tasks can be extremely difficult when combined with keeping an eye on an energetic toddler. At times, a one-year-old may be happy just to sit in his highchair or at his own little table with a few toys or snacks to keep him occupied while you work. At other times, he will want to be right there with you, underfoot and into everything. Kitchen cupboards and drawers are full of interesting things that may prove irresistible to your child. Why not provide your child with his very own Baker’s Box? Put together a collection of unbreakable kitchen tools in a plastic crate or small storage box. Store it in a spare cupboard that is low enough for your child to reach. He can use his tools for play or for helping you do some “real” cooking or baking.

The Corby Glen Playgroup

Corby Glen Playgroup is a committee-run provision. It has operated since 1968, moving to its current site, the Ron Dawson Hall, on the outskirts of Corby Glen village, in 1994. The playgroup uses the main hall for play and has access to kitchen, cloakroom and toilet facilities, all at ground floor level. An enclosed outside play area and the adjoining playing field is also available.

Daily Sessions

The children are provided with a healthy snack during the morning and afternoon which will consist of fruit with either toast or a biscuit, milk or water is offered to drink and all dietary requirement are taken into consideration. Water is always available throughout the session.

If the children are staying for the full day then they will need to bring a healthy packed lunch.

The daily sessions consist of ‘freeplay’ periods, adult led activities, messy play, group activities, song and story time outdoor and physical play.

The children will be able to participate in cookery, art and creative activities as well as being able to have quiet periods.

The activities are based upon The Early Years Foundation Stage, observations are made accordingly, and these impact on all areas of planning and play.

The children will make their own choices and decisions and will be encouraged in these area and given the support that they require.

 

Early Years Foundation Stage

The EYFS is for all children aged between birth and five years. It incorporates The Foundation Stage and Birth To Three Matters, and uses the knowledge practitioners have to benefit the children.

The EYFS combines play, learning, effective practice and welfare requirements as a whole, it is divided into four areas:

  • A Unique Child
  • Positive Relationships
  • Enabling Environments
  • Learning and Developing
The new curriculum takes into account the principles of Every Child Matters which are:

  • Be Healthy
  • Stay Safe
  • Enjoy and Achieve
  • Make Positive Contributions
  • Achieve Economic Well Being
Children who are already in setting will not notice any changes in their care, however, it will be a time of change and review for staff and management. The playgroup will review their practice and implement any changes necessary to improve the care, support and learning that the children receive.

Arriving and Leaving Playgroup

The children will need to be signed in and out of playgroup by their responsible person.

Any changes in collection of the child will need to be discussed with their Key Person.

If a child is not attending playgroup for any reason a call to the nursery would be appreciated.

What to Wear

The children will be involved in messy activities and although aprons are provided sometimes paint etc will get onto clothing, so appropriate play attire is necessary.

If a child requires nappy changing, suitable clothing and spare nappies are requested.

Toys

Children are not encouraged to bring toys into the setting, however comfort toys, blankets etc are most welcome to help a child feel comfortable and settle in to the setting. These can be stored in the child’s named pocket to keep them safe. Please inform the child’s Key Person on arrival of any such items.

Due to the nature of children’s play, the play group cannot be held responsible for damage to general toys brought into the setting.

Fundraising Events

The Playgroup is charity based and welcome fundraising ideas and suggestions and champions for such events.

All parents and carers are encouraged to attend fundraising events and are also welcomed at the committee meetings.

Fees structure

Corby Glen Playgroup aim to cater for everybody and allow for child attendance for anything from an to a full day. (care available 8am to 6pm)

Sessions

Breakfast Club, 08:00 – 09:00
£4.70 includes breakfast

08:30 – 09:00
£2.20

Mornings, 09:00 – 12:00
£11.10 includes mid-morning snack

Mornings, 09:00 – 13:00
£14.80 includes mid-morning snack

Afternoons, 12:00 – 15:00
£11.10 includes mid-afternoon snack

Full Day, 09:00 – 15:00
£12.20