A New Challenge: Teaching in Early Years

This blog was originally published by True Education Partnerships. You can read it on their site instead by following this link (though if you do, please consider coming back here to leave a comment on it!)

I spent the summer term and summer holidays trawling every search I could think of, in search of a new teaching position. Fresh out of my NQT year, I was hungry for more, hungry for a fresh challenge and hungry to be one of the lucky few who appeared on my Twitter feed, rightfully celebrating every drop of their success at securing a post in what was a pretty awful summer for recruitment. As August’s days ran out like the sand in an hourglass, I began to lose hope.

To cut a long story short, I’ve found myself working in a nursery for a while. And it is wonderful. I was initially so reluctant to work in Early Years – all of which stems from being thoroughly put off at university – so if I can learn to love it, and in such a short time-frame too, I’m fairly sure most people can.

This blog is a taste of Early Years, a collection of snapshots of every day that still manages to feel somewhat magical to me. I think I’m aiming it at the student I was, pushing through my degree from 2016-19 with the misguided view that the most valuable place for me to be would be Key Stage Two (Early Years colleagues who may read this, forgive me – I was young and misguided! And student teachers, there is still just as much fun to be had in KS2, you just have to look a little harder to see it sometimes.)

The first day

My first day at preschool coincided with the first day for many of the children in the room. They ranged in age from only-just two to not-far-from four years old, and I think the scene was quite typical of preschool Septembers. A few tears (from parents and from children) a lot of cuddles, and some quick-thinking to thrust some distraction where it was sorely needed to ward off thoughts of hometime!

I felt way out of my depth, even having taught Year One in my NQT year so not being averse to quite young children. But I was immediately accosted by a confident three-year-old, returning for the first time since March.

“Read to me?” she asked, with approximately zero space for negotiation. And, being the massive bookworm and lover of children’s books that I am, I did not need too much of an invitation. Perhaps Covid-19 has robbed the preschool room of its soft furnishings, but there is still so much joy in sitting on the floor with a book, with a three-year-old hanging off your every word and leaning casually on you as if you’ve known each other forever.

I will never cease to be amazed by the trust the preschoolers place in the adults who work with them. I suppose it’s youthful naivety, something we have a duty to protect, respect and nurture, but it’s something beautiful too. That girl (who still asks me daily to read to her – we’re currently on Percy the Park Keeper and I couldn’t be happier) didn’t know I was feeling out of my depth but her timing was perfect, setting me at ease with a request for something I knew I wouldn’t be able to get wrong.

Everything you don’t see

At the end of the summer holidays, I collected a huge number of shells from beach walks with that gung-ho teacher attitude of “I might need those.” And I’m so glad I did, though I never envisaged them becoming part of a dinosaur tuff tray setup!

Everything in my NQT classroom was so planned and curated for progress (or so I hoped) that I almost felt uneasy at first, with preschool being so open-ended and free-flowing. For any trainees reading, who aren’t sure about Early Years, don’t be afraid of this! The conversations I’ve had with children over various tuff trays since that first week of September have been enlightening. And sometimes more so is the opportunity to sit back and just watch.

The average person on the street doesn’t see what I see or what Early Years colleagues see in our rooms every day. Average Joe might see a child pouring sand over a toy digger with its overflowing scoop pointed skywards, and assume aimlessness or ineptitude. I see a child exploring the capacity of said digger’s scoop. I see them learning how dry sand behaves and then seeing later that the same doesn’t happen when the sand is damp. I hear them narrate their experiences to themselves, making sense of their world.

The same goes for painting. I didn’t appreciate quite how much children get out of gradually covering a page with paint, with what I once saw as random splashes and streaks of poster paint. A ‘mess’ of mixed paint, almost soaking through the paper, is so much more than that to the two-year-old who proudly produced it. It’s the development of what will become a lifetime’s pencil grip. It’s learning to recognise colours, it’s learning what happens when you put those colours on top of each other, it’s experimentation with shapes, it’s raw joy in creating something.

If you’re a trainee who’s not really considered Early Years before, then be open to it. There’s so much happiness in a classroom full of children who are far too young to have any idea what’s happening in the big wide world. That happiness makes my current work days a pleasure. If you’re like me six months ago, thinking ‘there’s no way I could do that!’ then step out of your comfort zone – you might surprise yourself. And if you’re one of the far too numerous people who don’t give Early Years the credit it deserves, then think again. From tiny acorns, great oak trees grow.

3 thoughts on “A New Challenge: Teaching in Early Years

  1. Great blog, really valuable perspective with the switch from outside looking in to inside looking out. I hope it’s read and taken account of by many not working in early years

    Liked by 1 person

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