Guest Blog:- Elaine Bennett, EYFS Leader, Consultant and Author

I would like to welcome Elaine Bennett- Elaine kicks off the first of our “Expert” guest blog! I hope you enjoy reading about her EYFS philosophy. Please do tag friends and colleagues, and feel free to ask any questions. I am sure Elaine would love to answer any you have! Happy reading #eyfsmatters

elaine pic

I am currently the EYFS/Yr1 Leader at Friars Primary School and Nursery in Southend, Essex. My career began many years ago when I became a NNEB…I later became a teacher. As a Nursery Nurse I studied play, child development, early learning and observation in depth for two years and I strongly believe this is what has made me the practitioner I am today. I believe that the Early Years truly are the foundations for life and that every child deserves the very best opportunities to play, learn and develop at their own pace in a enabling environment supported by adults who are interested, enjoy being with them and understand them. I am in a unique position as I support practice in my own school, across the LA (as a former EYs advisor at the LA) and nationally as a consultant/trainer and writer. My particular focus in my training and writing is how children develop mathematically, the research I draw upon highlights the importance of high quality interactions, rich environments and spontaneous play to not only develop mathematical learning but those all-important characteristics of effective learning and crucial disposition and attitudes. I strive to develop positive, can-do attitudes towards maths with children, families and practitioners…in a culture when many admit to feeling the polar opposite!
I am increasingly concerned about the push towards formal, inappropriate, abstract, specific focussed learning in the EYs and into KS1. All of the evidence shows how this is damaging but still it is happening. Worryingly its happening more and more up and down the country. I believe that if we want children to flourish as readers, writers and mathematicians and (learners in general), they need strong firm prime areas, and the basic concrete understanding, knowledge and skills to enable them to fly for when they are ready and not before. I do not agree with set rigid over planned themes that follow the adults agenda instead of the child…where provision is over themed, tenuously linked and over enhanced and ultimately limited by the adult agendas…stifling creativity and child led learning. The pressure on teachers to get through so much in a day is resulting in children not being able to develop at their own pace, limiting their time to play and develop…as they more from one group to another, eg guided reading, phonics, set playtimes, assemblies…these disruptions ultimately impact on children’s progress as they never truly have to time to develop their thinking skills….and the adult who care for them do not have the time to truly get to know them. I would argue that this is in breach of the EYFS statutory requirements. It is in response to these concerns that I started the “Keeping Early Years Unique” group on Facebook…after one week we have over 750 like minded members, enjoying discussions based around best practice.
There are so many trains of thought out there about the early years…so many initiatives and schemes…and many not based on any solid theory, research or child development. I would say to anyone working with children: don’t follow anything blindly. Always know and understand why you are doing what you are doing. Develop your own ethos and principles based on what you have learned. I once heard Judith Stevens say “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”. I stand by this…what’s good is always good no matter which government in power and what their agenda is. Ultimately children are always children and in today’s busy world with children’s mental health and poor communication in the news regularly, psed and communication have never been more important!
I am inspired by the work of pioneers such as Montessori, Froebel, Reggio Emilio, Bruner, as well as the more recent work of Ferre Laevers ,Linda Pound, Helen Bromley, Jan White, Sir Peter Williams, Community Playthings, Anna Ephgrave and Ruth Moore amongst others. And what is it that’s always good??? Play… play…play and play and practice based on children’s holistic development.

Learning and Development is one part of the EYFS. Without positive relationships (staff ,children, parents, outside agencies), enabling environments (inside and outside) and the unique child….true learning and development will not happen. These principles are so tightly woven and interlinked. So why are so many schools and settings just focussing on one of them??

Elaine is the author of the Storybook Maths series (BEAM), Everyday Maths through Everyday provision (Routledge) The building blocks of early maths (Routldege) More than Numbers (Early Education). She is also an associate consultant for Early Education and SMART Pd, (a maths specialist training company) whilst still being based in school. Her “Building Firm Mathematical Foundations in the Early Years” EYPP case study focussing on the approach to maths she has developed in her school can be found on the Foundation Years website.

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