With the welcome date of Monday 8th March chiming as the full return to school date, no doubt that many of we early years practitioners will be looking forward to having our children return to our magical settings. However, there will inevitably be waves of anxiety and apprehension about how the transition back to school life will go. Being a relatively new member of the HfL Early Years team, I have fond memories of when we returned to school in June last year as part of the start of the phased school return. The staff presented a mix of excitement and anxiety, whilst the children demonstrated a mix of confusion and excitement.
So, as practitioners prepare for the return and begin planning for getting children back on track, I thought it was opportune to take a moment to ponder on the importance of elevating the status of children’s wellbeing. Educational, social and emotional learning are firmly linked and so children demonstrating high levels of wellbeing and involvement are happy and will, therefore, learn more. So, let’s get this right first before attempting to fill any academic gaps. Education now, more than ever, needs a holistic emotional approach.
Taking time to plan how your setting will be an emotionally positive environment will ensure heightened levels of wellbeing and involvement when children transition back to school. Children will only make progress across the specific areas of learning if their wellbeing and executive function are secure.
First and foremost, let’s think about your environment. If you get this right then it can become, in Loris Malaguzzi’s words, ‘the third teacher’. The environment needs to be welcoming, inclusive, cosy and inviting. Consider a peaceful wellbeing nook with wellbeing resources such as a self-regulation interactive chart where children can demonstrate to you how they’re truly feeling. Resources such as worry stones, books that communicate feelings and scrapbooks or photographs that celebrate the remote learning journey that we have all been on will all be positive additions to any wellbeing corner. Using natural materials such as stones, shells or a range of materials found in nature will also complement this area. Ensuring the corner is cosy and has a ‘hygge’ feel to it by using welcoming materials and fabrics will contribute to a home from home feeling to bridge the gap between home and school life.
You may find it useful to carry out a wellbeing audit of your setting to check that you have everything in place for when your little learners return. This will help to ensure your environment is adding value to learning. In order to enable children to have the opportunities to be curious, creative and to make connections and develop their learning, we need to create spaces that allow them the ability to communicate effectively. We should aim to provide a space where they feel safe and free to experiment and to express themselves creatively, where there is an abundance of endless opportunities.
Are aspects of home brought into your environment? For example, celebrations of learning during lockdown. Carefully consider the furniture within your setting, such as soft furnishings and ergonomic furniture as well as the flow around it all. Can children move freely throughout your setting from one area to the next to enable productivity and connections between their ideas? Are there enough opportunities to bring nature into your setting, seeing as nature has a powerful effect on enhancing wellbeing? Are there opportunities to use natural materials? Do children have access to high quality, open-ended resources that deepen their thinking and are purposeful for their learning? Do you have a multi-sensory environment that creates awe and wonder as well as provocations that promote aesthetic stimulation, curiosity and wonder? Consider experimenting with lighting to create a calm and inviting atmosphere, for instance, using fairy lights, candles, light boxes or OHP projection. (Be sure to check that these resources are safety compliant.) Consider the acoustics in your setting and if these can be improved. Noise can greatly affect children’s ability to learn, so carefully think about how you can improve the noise levels to promote learning possibilities. Moreover, why not get the children involved in auditing your environment and consult them in the process giving them ownership in creating a space they love to learn in.
Regaining routines will undoubtedly need to be given time to successfully embed once again. Using a physical or visual timetable as well as a first and next box will help children to understand how their day will unfold and will help to alleviate any anxiety too. Giving children lots of praise and encouragement to work as part of a team will also help rebuild the synchronicity within the group that you had before lockdown. Children will need clear structures to help them to process daily events and expectations within your setting. Sharing will also need to be planned as part of themes for circle times.
Once children are content and involved within your provision, enhanced adult interactions will flow. Only then will adults be able to assess where each unique child is in terms of their development and then begin to build teaching and learning opportunities that target gaps in learning. Using the Back on Track: Early Years Foundation Stage - curriculum | Herts for Learning can help to identify gaps in learning and development so they can robustly inform both longer and shorter term teaching priorities with an emphasis on the prime areas and the characteristics of effective learning. The modules also apply principles that will support the identification of key skills, knowledge and understanding that need to be retaught and consolidated within Nursery and Reception curriculum provision and planning.
Strengthening your provision for your children also means your adults are able to do the best they can for your children, so taking the time to check their wellbeing and mental health is also a priority. Promote wellbeing and mental health within your staff team and take time to look after each other and, most importantly, be kind to each other, modelling values to the children. Remember those resonating words from Captain Sir Tom Moore,
‘At the end of the day we shall all be OK again. The sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away…Tomorrow will be a good day.’
If you would like consultancy to support with your environment and wellbeing of your early years setting, please get in touch.