Friday, 21 April 2017

How long is too long?

A recent conversation thread in a Facebook group got me thinking.... how long is too long?

3 year-old 'Little Sally' was being required to sit at carpet time for 20 mins and was struggling.
This created a hubbub amongst the group's members (mainly Early Years practitioners) regarding how long we expect children to sit on the carpet for and if this is best practice.  

Is it ever ok to demand children sit on a carpet for longer than most adults could? 
Can children really concentrate for up to 20 minute never mind sit still for that long? 

I don't know about you, but I'm a fidgeter and as a KS1 teacher I spend a good portion of my working day on the carpet with the children. I usually have a pen in my hand for writing on some form of board or other and you can bet your life that I'll be messing with the lid or twirling it in my hand! Another given is that I'll be switching up my positions- legs crossed, legs to one side, kneeling! 
I couldn't keep still for more than a minute or two yet I (hands up) will become exasperated by fidgeting kids. Admittedly, my threshold for fidgeters is probably longer than most but still, I'm expecting my class of 6 & 7 year olds to do something that not only do I fail to model for them but that I also know I can't do! 
Why is that? I'll come back to the why in a minute....

Bringing the conversation back to 3 year olds and EYFS settings.... my understanding and experience is that children, not just at this young age I might add, learn best from doing, exploring, investigating, tinkering, having a go.....PLAYING for want of a better term and that they, even those aural learning amongst the group, will develop their ability to listen for increased periods of time at their own pace as they mature. This being said, the point could be raised that some children at this age can sit through an entire DVD with only a wiggle and squirm needed to quell their restlessness but the difference I see here is CHOICE! 
If a child of 3 is watching a DVD they love and want to continue to watch it then that is their choice, if they wish to get up and move onto another task then this is their choice too and most carers wouldn't be shocked by this happening so why then are some settings expecting and almost demanding that the same 3 year old sit for 20 minutes and listen to something they perhaps have little or no interest in? And why are they complaining when the child chooses not or is unable to this? 

Sadly, I have no answers here but I would look at the increased pressures placed on schools and nursery setting to get children 'School Ready' and the need to unpick what that term actually means. 
To me, 'School Ready' means eager to learn, developing an enjoyment of toys, books, social interactions and an increasing understanding of their own emotions, it most certainly doesn't mean the ability to sit on the carpet for 20 minute! 

Is there also a misunderstanding/ communication of what is actually expected once children are in a school setting? Do some settings panic and think 'We'll have to get them sitting for 20 minutes because that's what they will want them to do at the school'? I'm not sure, but if that is the case then this miscommunication needs clearing up quickly for the sake of Little Sally who can't and shouldn't have to sit for 20 mins!

So back to the 'WHY', why do we expect children to do something we, as adults, struggle with? Personally, I'd be irritated by a group of adults wriggling, fidgeting and messing with things too but  the reason for this is because their body language is telling me I'm boring, I've gone on for too long, this isn't what they want to do any more and I'm irritated because I've got a lot to say and as teachers, don't we just love the sound of our own voice! 

However, regardless of age, we need to be responsive to this. 
Yes we might still have a chunk of our lesson we want to get through but for whatever reason, things need changing up. 
Surely good teaching flows with the needs of the pupils and is responsive to not only their 'next steps in learning' but also their 'next steps RIGHT NOW'? 

Clearly, Little Sally's teacher isn't being responsive to the RIGHT NOW and it warmed my heart to see in the Facebook thread, so many amazing practitioners who were equally as outraged by these demands as I was. 

Poor Little Sally is 3... let her play, who wouldn't want to play?! 

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