Like so many, I love a good photo of an inspiring Early Years environment. I like to ooh and ah at an imaginatively designed construction area, gasp in delight at a play dough station and will share inspirational practice on Facebook along with outdoor mudpie kitchens that look better than my own kitchen. I will actually squeal out loud at the most beautifully decorated doll pegs you have ever seen over on Instagram, talking for hours with someone I’ve never met on the wonderful things we’ve seen.

Social media has become a network for Early Years Enthusiasts to collaborate and link up, a supportive platform to share, advise, show off, motivate and enthuse one another. Never before have we had access to a support network like it, sharing tips, ideas and inspiration from all over the globe! Never before have we had the luxury and often the absolute joy of seeing inside someone’s home, nursery, classroom or outdoor woodland, either by video, live stream or perfectly presented photograph.

It is certainly apparent how social media now supports and informs our practice and professional development, and has become a place to turn to when we are looking for inspiration or guidance. After sharing my own thoughts on enabling environments recently and noticing the reaction to and from, other Early Years Enthusiasts on displays, colour schemes, decor, resources and equipment – it is apparent there is a real thirst for knowledge and it seems to be a favourite thing to do or as we say here in Birmingham – everyone’s cup of tea!

The role social media has played in enabling so many to see what high quality Early Years environments look, and make you feel like, is significant. It enables teachers to go back into school and advocate that the bright colourful display of gigantic dinosaurs and swinging 3D branches may be a little over stimulating. It has enabled nursery managers to send a plea out to parents for loose part materials such as tyres, crates and guttering to help resource their vision. It is truly wonderful that so many are inspired and now reflect upon and respect PLAY and the way in which the environment has a crucial role in nurturing children’s emotional wellbeing.

What I am seeing and hearing quite frequently though is the how and why. How have practitioners been informed and educated of these changes and do they know why children benefit from learning in this way? What is the point of these resources of staff don’t understand how to facilitate play? Yes, it is a step in the right direction to focus on your environment but it is so much more than looking pretty for a photograph. In the same way you have spent time and money on your environment you must invest the same dedication to the training of your team. To ensure all practitioners are stepping in the same direction together.

Ask yourself:

  • Do all staff understand this new vision and pedagogical approach?
  • For example, you have a new magnificent construction area and it has totally changed how a group of boys are playing, interacting and exploring. How do staff respond to that?
  • What is the role of the adult/play partner?
  • Have you reviewed your planning – continuous provision, in the moment, next steps and long term?
  • As a team have you discussed what children can and can’t do in this new construction area, identified some rules? Created some key words and terminology – so everyone has the same approach? Or does one practitioner allow them to build a three storey sky scraper and the next day a different practitioner won’t let them stack the blocks?
  • As a team have you identified how children are learning through play in this construction area?
  • Have you looked at the ages and stages of development of the children?
  • Have you considered the benefits of this construction area in relation the characteristics of effective learning or just the prime & specific areas of learning?

If you have made changes recently or practice is a bit stale, it may be worth considering just how and why are children learning through play based opportunities in your setting. Producing documentation to share with parents around how you learn through play is always a good idea, not only does it easily document and display your ethos on your learning environment but also celebrates why children are learning though play. If you produce this with your team it consolidates your how and why and supports professional development and perhaps most importantly, the confidence of your team.

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