‘But what do all of these children DO??’, was one small Foundation Stage boy’s reaction, during a visit to his future Year 1 classroom as part of his school’s Year R to 1 transition programme. In his eyes, the more formal arrangement of tables and chairs in the Year 1 classroom, the absence of tangible play-based resources and activities, together with a palpable emphasis on ‘real’ work, suggested to him that the children ‘incarcerated’ here were undergoing some form of punishment! As all Foundation Stage practitioners are aware, most small children’s perception of ‘punishment’ is to be restricted in their freedom to move around, explore, and initiate – and to labour on adult-imposed tasks which may not always enthuse them! To be restricted in their pursuit of the myriad interests which form the rich tapestry of their day does, indeed, seem torturous!
Just one small boy and his misinterpretation – but there are countless children for whom the transition from Year R to 1 could be a retrograde step, were it not for enlightened practitioners’ understanding that play based and stage appropriate Key Stage 1 provision supports the ‘Every Child Matters’ agenda and pays enormous dividends in children’s well-being, ability to enjoy and achieve, and in their overall progress and attainment.
“He who is to be a good builder, should play at building children’s houses.”
For those concerned about the challenge for more able children in such provision, we need look no further than National Guidance for justification. In the Foundation Stage Profile Guidance, Chris Pascal notes: ‘In more free-flow, play-based activities…we know from the research that children cognitively are often performing higher than you might expect – at the edge of their capabilities…it’s important to make sure that you don’t lose those play-based activities as a rich source of learning…what children’s capabilities are.’
Happily, practitioners across the country are taking this and additional sound advice on board – supported in some part by the 2005 QCA training guidance, ‘Continuing the Learning Journey,’ which clearly outlines the benefits of this approach and exemplifies the positive aspects in the accompanying DVD material. For less confident schools, this guidance strongly supports Year 1 and 2 teachers in building on the firm Foundation Stage practice and creating stage-appropriate practice and an exploration-based curriculum for children in Key Stage 1. Based on recent research (EPPE/SPEEL), the ‘Continuing the Learning Journey’ package is a tool to support on-site professional development in Year R/1 Transition – although other texts contain a treasure box of ideas and guidance as well (for more ideas see below.)
Transition has become a key focus for many schools, with a range of activities planned throughout the year which underpin a smooth transition for children at the end of the Reception Year. Some schools develop a year-long Action Plan involving transition activities, beginning with preschool to school transition through Year 1, and involving Senior Management in the process. Quality time allocations are made for the transfer of records, so that Year R teachers can help Year 1 teachers to ‘speak Foundation’ and know how best to support those children still working toward the "Early Learning Goals", and opportunities are given for children to visit the new space and adults. Conversely, some Year 1 children visit the Reception class to share their own experiences.
The use of photographic diaries provides excellent talking points for children and their parents – and a class portrait display awaiting the incoming children indicates that they ‘belong’ in this new space! Some Year 1 teachers continue some of the routines from the previous class until the children are settled enough for change. There are fortunate schools which can allow the Year R TA to spend time in the Year 1 class to support less confident children – and some teachers are brave enough to part with a beloved class puppet or toy for the duration of the main transition period.
These physical effects are a great help in smooth transition – but it is in the continuity of practice and provision - and planning for continuity and progression in learning - that the real key to smooth transition and secure and confident learners lies. Evidence in Year 1 of continued planning under the six areas of experience, including ongoing and exciting role play, outdoor provision, and first-hand and ‘real’ experiences supported by skilful intervention, are crucial for these young children. This is the training ground for the creative thinkers, collaborators and problem-solvers of the future, as we prepare children for a world of which we have no concept (a glance back to our own classrooms in comparisons with today’s ‘learning labs’ will confirm this!)
In an ideal world, the learning environments for our youngest children as they move through the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 should bear one warning sign: ‘Beware, free range children!’ for as such, they will become the captive lifelong learners we so desire.
Anya Fox Mundy is a County General Adviser for Early Years; a freelance writer; and a Foundation Stage, KS1, 2 and 3 Education Consultant for a range of children’s educational television providers.