“As a small boy I learnt by the use of the stick, so when I became a
teacher I taught using the stick!”, a Nepali teacher told me. Using the
stick to hit children and ensure they learn creates fear, and I saw fear in
the eyes of little Nepali pre-schoolers being introduced into the world of
education. That Nepali teacher came to Kathmandu to train as an early years
teacher and discovered that little children learn through play. I had the
opportunity to take him out into pre-schools to show him the power of play,
and how the eyes of little children turn from fear to excitement in
learning, without a stick in sight! Revolutionary? Perhaps, but it started
Are there qualities that we, as more experienced learners, display when we
engage with little children in their learning?
Is the building of relationships, in which a sense of love and care
is conveyed through the way we engage with children, a starting
point? Is there not a reciprocal aspect to those relationships, as
sometimes we lead and at other times follow in the intricate
learning dance? It always seems to me that the use of the eyes is a
powerful way we convey our responsiveness – in the way we engage
and set up boundaries and expectations.
Is fascination with children’s learning an important quality? It
seems to me that children instinctively know when an adult takes an
interest in them, and views them as powerful learners. I love
seeing children grow and develop, and am constantly amazed by their
curiosity and capacity to learn. Is that an intellectual and
emotional satisfaction we gain from teaching?
Surely patience is a quality we need. I am conscious, from my
experience, that there are many issues that interrupt or get in the
way of learning, or make learning harder for little children.
Trying to understand why children behave in the way they do is
taxing at times. Isn’t this where time and patience is required as
we seek to understand and look for ways to help and guide children
in their learning?
Is the ability to read children’s needs an essential quality? Don’t
we need to provide interesting activities that challenge,
activities that match the learning and developmental needs of young
children? Isn’t this a constant learning experience for us as early
How do we motivate children? How do we praise and encourage them in
learning? Surely the greatest reward gained in learning is the
satisfaction and enjoyment it brings? I have never been an advocate
of rewarding learning with chocolate! I have never liked the idea
of sanctions or withdrawing toys. The ability to use humour, or to
redirect children’s attention to new activities often diffuses a
difficult situation. The use of the voice, the way we make eye
contact, and our comments can have a powerful effect on children’s
motivation to learn and to persevere with something when the going
Only a few weeks ago, that Nepali teacher sent me an email to thank me for
opening his eyes to the importance of play as the powerful and effective
way children learn. After many years away studying for his MA in Early
Childhood Studies, he has returned to his isolated valley on the Tibetan
border with Nepal. There he will train his fellow teachers to use their
sticks to light fires to keep warm – and to support learning by using play
to ignite the children’s imaginations!
Dr Andrew Lockett serves as an early years consultant. Initially he was a
nursery teacher in Bedford. He went on to be a support teacher working with
children with special educational needs and with their families. He then
trained reception teachers and eventually became a local authority
inspector for early years and an OFSTED inspector. In retirement he is
working in a variety of different locations overseas.
First published in Early Days Volume 7, issue 1. Used with permission of
the author and editor.