Making the leap

It’s great that so many people are reading our blog entries and want to contribute their own guest posts. This week we are very happy to be able to share a guest post by Kerry Holman, who is a member of the OMEP UK (World Organisation for Early Childhood UK branch) charity committee. She is discussing the important transition that children in England make at the age of five from a play-based curriculum to a formal curriculum.

When does the playing have to stop?

Last week, I was chatting to a mum whose little boy had just made the transition from the Foundation Stage into Key Stage One; he had spent his first two days in Year 1. Making polite conversation, I asked her if he had enjoyed his first days in his new class. However, I did not anticipate the response! It went along the lines of him saying to her:

“I am sorry for being naughty in Reception. If I promise to be good, can I go back to Reception?”

She went on to tell me how he had come home after the second day, and felt like Year 1 was a punishment for his behaviour in Reception (which, from her description, sounded like a “typical” five year old boy who loved to play). Now, as an early years teacher myself, I felt really sad for her son. Our conversation reminded me of the Characteristics of Effective Learning within the Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) which are all about children playing and exploring, creating and thinking for themselves, and becoming active learners. This little boy felt like the play had gone.

We often hear about children starting school, going into Reception for the very first time. We share and see photos of children in their school uniform on their first day, hear all about their new teachers, and all the rules they must now follow! This was discussed in the post last week. Often, these children have come from some form of pre-school setting, be it a nursery, a childminder, or a more traditional pre-school setting. Their transition into school is of course a huge milestone, and rightly so – but ultimately, the majority are transitioning into a setting which follows the same framework (The Early Years Foundation Stage) as they did in pre-school, with a learning through play ethos. It is not until Year One when they move into a whole new Key Stage, and a new curriculum.

There is research out there exploring this transition from the Foundation Stage into Key Stage One, and a really good read is a book by Julie Fisher, published in 2010. It is nearly 8 years old now, but the story I heard inspired me to read it again. It describes research conducted that explores the views of parents, teachers and children during this period of transition. It highlights the value of child-initiated practices and the place of play in Key Stage One, which are particularly important when children are just starting.

The anecdote I’ve shared, and the research that is out there, suggests that maybe some people need to pay more attention to this transition. Perhaps we should listen to the children who directly experience this leap, from a play based framework to a curriculum where children don’t feel that learning is fun. We need to listen to children more to support their well-being, and their confidence during this transition, so that they are able to develop as independent and confident learners moving on. What do you think?

12 thoughts on “Making the leap

  1. Kate

    Oooh – loads to think about here. I agree with you Kerry that we need to not only pay more attention to transitions but also to think about the learning environment we are placing four and five year olds into. It is important to remember that in many other countries such a Norway, children of that age group would still be in a kindergarten setting. That is because they recognise the developmental benefits of play where children are able to explore their ideas without having to get it ‘right’. Perhaps that is what this little boy was missing?


  2. Adrijana

    I am not sure am I right person to comment because I am coming from different educational (and cultural) background. But I would like to share my own experience with kindergarten in England. I come from Croatia, country where school at the age of 6. And yet we have difficulties with transition. Our preschool curriculum is open, child centred, developmentally appropriated, based on free play. Can you imagine my surprise (although I know some facts about UK school system) when I saw little children sitting and writing, and spelling and doing math instead of playing. It is natural that children would choose environment where he/she can express his/her playfulness. And while kindergarten is place wher children can play, school is very serious institutin where you have to sit down, spak only when someone ask you and be invisible. Standardised. In a world who is demanding children right to be unique. Not standardised.
    As I mentioned, in Croatia children at the age of 5 have all rights to be just the way he/she is. But in school is the same story. Standardised.
    I think that school should have to change their approach to learning and teaching. To became more child centred, and less content centred. Less standards and more uniqueness. Regardless on children age – it doesn’t matter are they 5 or 7.
    If we make the school wher children be able to learn on its own way, in its own time, maybe school wouldn’t be feel like punishment.
    And we all can contribute to that if we stop saying “You know, when you come to school one day, you have to stop playing. It is serious bussines.”
    And when they stop playing they stop learning.


  3. Charlie

    Well put! As a Year 2 teacher I often think that the transitions between year groups are big events for the children. With the new primary curriculum I have seen children and parents really struggling with the jump from Year 1 to Year 2. The children are expected to learn and know so much. It’s a sad fact that with all those pressures it’s often all too easy to forget that they are still young children and still need to learn and make sense of the world through play.


  4. Jo Barnes

    Very well said. As a mum whose daughter is experiencing difficulty with this transition right now, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. As an Early Years professional I am very passionate about the importance of play in children’s development & learning and feel this is often overlooked in Key stage 1 for more traditional teaching strategies and box ticking exercises. Soap box time lol !!
    More research needed !! Xx


  5. catherine cameron

    Thought provoking comments. Interestingly I had the opportunity to see a key stage 4 science class and a key stage 4 science club this week. The difference was palpable, the science club was buzzing with energy, ideas, movement and team work, the taught lesson was full of quiet notetaking. I know it was just a snap shot and there is a time and place for both, but I know where the real scientific learning was taking place. My soap box time 🙂


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