This morning I visited Gill and her lovely team at Noah’s Ark Playgroup in Bentley Heath Solihull. Despite this playgroup having to pack away at the start and end of each session, as soon as you step inside an overwhelming sense of calm and a feeling of-ah this feels nice, a cosy sense of belonging and warmth gently takes over. There is a gentle hum from the children playing, a group of children are absorbed in squashing and squeezing against one another as they navigate a rocking bench. Practitioners sit nearby, sensitively joining in and facilitating play through the carefully thought out environment. Stimulating activities and invitations to play are in abundance in this modestly sized nurturing space they have created within this church hall.
Gill has been the manager here for over eleven years and the playgroup is currently rated as Outstanding with Ofsted. She has a waiting list of over thirty children for the next academic year and it’s easy to see why! We discussed many things and the one thing we kept creeping back to is the value that others have for Early Years Provision. When I say others, I refer to those that lead manage and govern settings to which Early Years provision such as this one is attached, but who quite often, have no depth of knowledge or true understanding of the Early Years setting in which they have responsibility for.
One of the reasons this causes concern and is at the forefront of our minds is the message that Bold Beginnings sends about such formal approaches to learning for young children. How will it be interpreted by those in such positions of responsibility who lead, manage and govern, when they are not trained in Early Childhood Care and Education, and therefore cannot understand child development and recognise or value the importance of play.
A quote that I keep referring to is ‘if the race is already halfway run before children begin school, then we clearly need to examine what happens in the earliest years’ Esping-Anderson, 2005. How many times do we have to hear research and evidence that highlights how crucial play is in a child’s earliest days before our Early Years workforce are really and truly recognised and valued for the part they play, and I mean play-with children every day!
Those of us that work with children-the nursery nurses, playworkers, practitioners, educators-whatever you want to call us, are working day in day out to love, care, play and nurture children in our care as if they were our own. We do this until the day comes when we wave them off to school with a tear in our eye and a copy of a transition document that nobody will read because the child will be judged too high and have nowhere to go in the game we call ‘assessment’. Only to be told that that’s only when the ‘real learning happens’, our hard work, patience and the love and care we afford the children is often devalued.
We lose all hope when others don’t share or seek to embrace a more joined up way of working, a way to collaborate that improves outcomes for children. Sharing knowledge and respecting the vital role that Early Years settings like Noah’s Ark do must be cherished. The wealth of knowledge and expertise that Gill and her team have on child development, assessment and understanding how children learn is extensive. What’s more the difference their pack away play group has not just on its community but on children’s emotional wellbeing and overall development ensures they really do make a difference and ensure the earliest days count.
Quality Early Years provision in all its forms should be applauded-celebrated and shared with others in which to promote how children can and do learn through play. When we find quality Early Years provision we must champion professional development to demonstrate how it improves outcomes for children. So that we continue to make our voices heard and the roles we play as an Early Years workforce valued, in the hope that those in positions of leadership make the correct decisions in collaboration with those Early Years professionals who have so much to share.