“If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut.”
Not sure if I completely agree with the last part of Einsteins equation but how important is his message that Success is a product of work & play. But what do we mean by ‘Play’.
I had heard the phrase ‘heuristic play’ many times without really understanding it. I think I just heard the word play and ignored the word heuristic as something that had been tagged on to make professionals feel more important about what they do. My background as a psychiatric nurse has perhaps made me a little cynical about fancy titles for simple concepts – as there are a hundred and one different therapies with exotic names, which in practise are little different from each other. The word came up again in a recent discussion about a play strategy for East Lothian. I had to admit my ignorance and asked Maureen Black (East Lothian’s play guru) what it meant and she gave me the following definition.
heu·ris·tic – from the Greek word eureka meaning discovery
Maybe discovery play would be simpler – but it does describe why play is so powerful for learning and why it is so much fun. It also helps me to understand why somebody like Einstein would include play as an essential part of his formula for success. Discovering the world around you using all of your senses to make sense of it, order it, understand how you can interact with it, and change it. Discovering how the universe worked might not have been child’s play, but without being able to play Einstein might not have made such a success of it.
Another play word I have learn recently is – schema.
At an early years conference I listened to some staff from a Midlothian Surestart centre talk about how they had taught other staff the princples of heuristic play. They focused on schemas – this is where children exhibit typical behaviours as they play such as transporting, enveloping, enclosing, assembling, circling, horizontal and vertical displacement. A schema is a pattern of observable behaviour which children display over and over again. This was one of those eureka moment for me as it made sense of my own experience with young children, especially babies and toddlers. What parent has not witnessed a child repeatedly taking an object in and out of another object or a child utterly absorbed in moving things from one place to another an back again. Of course what children are doing as they work through their schemas is discovering their world and making it understandable and coherent
I think I have always understoon play as something that is natural for children – and something they need to be able to do to discover how their world works and where they fit into it. Concepts like heuristic play and schemas help me to understand the very complex things that are going on when children play
The service champions that have been such a crucial part of Support from the Start have had regular shared learning time, in which they exchanged ideas, proposals and problems. From the outset the champions were looking for ways for services to be more positively focused on very young children – prebirth – three, recogising the cricitcal importance of these years to childrens development.
Janice Macleod, (School nurse team leader) in particular has been indefatigable in her pursuit of the importance of attachement theory for the practise of frontline staff. She now chairs a multi agency working group which is leading on the development of training and practise development that will support staff to incorporate attachment theory into practise. Janice initiated a range of contacts – local, national and international in her pursuit of the goal of incorporating attachment theory into practise. Very productive relationships have been developed with East Lothian Councils Educational Psychology team, academics from a range of universities, researchers and practioners from a range of agencies and national agencies. In particular Janice established a working relationship with Penny Rackett an educational psychologist from North Suffolk who is particular proponent of the use of video interaction guidance (VIG) as a tool to improve attachment in the very early years.
VIG is a well established method in Psychology. It is also a Scottish invention being based on the work of Colwyn Trevarthen a Scottsih psychological researcher and I believe an East Lothian resident. It is a method or technique that requires carefully trained practitioners with excellent communication and interpersonal skills, who need access to detailed supervision. However, there is a simplicity to the method that is appealing – basically it helps parents / carers to see the positve aspects of their communication with very young children and by so doing helping them to build on the strenghts that they do have. An excellent website give a full description of what VIG is and how it is used in various settings and age groups. http://www.videointeractionguidance.net/index.html
The website describes VIG as follows:
Video interaction guidance is an intervention through which a “guider” aims to enhance communication within relationships . It works by engaging clients actively in a process of change towards realizing their own hopes for a better future in their relationships with others who are important to them. Guiders are themselves guided by the values and beliefs around respect and empowerment. These include a belief that people in troubled situations do want to change, a respect for what clients are managing to achieve in their current difficulties, and a conviction that the power and responsibility for change resides within clients and their situations
A small group of staff from East & Midlothian went to visit the schools featured in this short video at the invite of Grounds for Learning. The group included a teacher from Whitecraig Primary, and the team leader for a pre-school centre managed by Midlothian Surestart.. Whitecraig and two Suretart centres are now working with GfL to introduce natural loose materials into the playground. A P1 teacher at Wallyford primary is also working with a local artist to find ways of using different materials in their playground area – this time with an emphasis on recycled materials. Excited to see how these projects develop and hope they prove to be exemplars for other schools and pre-school centres in the use of loose materials for more imaginative play opportunities.
Whitecraig primary made a short video about their experience as a exemplar for the nature, play and nurture training held at the school earlier this year. This involved the nursery class working with Aline Hill from Big World training and Ros Marshall a nursery teacher and forest school leader, to run an outdoor learning programme. The programme included sessions that could be observed by staff taking a three day course in Nature Play & Nurture. Stobhill Primary in Gorebridge is currently hosting this training and acting as the exemplars. A further course will be available in the spring.
Two East Lothian community grups have worked with schools to develop gardening for learning and health promotion. The work was developed using the champions development fund. The video describes the work they have been doing.
The committee members had quite a challenge to absorb the depth of information / evidence provided verbally and in writing to the committee. Reviewing some of the evidence offered to the committee really make you ask the question – Are we getting it right for children in Scotland. Scandinavian countries have been in the news a lot for the wrong reasons in the last few weeks – but their investment in children clearly pays off in improved outcomes. For example
Sweden’s strong focus on prevention starts at the very beginning of life with emphasis on breastfeeding (98% of Swedish mothers begin breast-feeding and 72% have maintained this at 6 months vs 79% and 22% in the UK). In addition long periods of maternity and parental leave support attention to the needs of the child in its earlier months. 100% of hospitals have BFHI (baby-friendly) status (compared with less than 10% in the UK) and early parent training is provided for a high proportion of the population.
What Works in Early Years Education, a review of approaches to Early Years Education across the globe, cites two international comparisons of academic performance in English schools, in one case with Slovenia, in the other case with Switzerland. Though the Slovenian children started school two years later, within 9 months they had caught up on English mathematics attainment. The Swiss children started school a year later than those in England, yet the Swiss one year younger than English children performed better in maths. A study which addressed why this was the case identified the variable academic ability of children in the English reception class.
However, one report given to the committee as evidnece stood out for me because it chimed so strongly with the ethos of Support from the Start – It is a report from an organsation called the Wave Trust which has produced a comprehensive review of international evidence on violence reduction. It gives the following six success factors in improving social & health outcomes.
1. Those who prioritise investment in the earliest years secure the best outcomes
2. The quality of parenting/care is the key to a successful society
3. There could be a major dividend from focused commitment to ensure children arrive at school ‘school ready’
4. The impact of poor early care can be alleviated by the right experience during school years
5. Galvanising the community is the secret of success
6. Innovative approaches to social care can provide significant benefits at minimum cost
We know that many of Scotland’s closest neighbours are so much better at improving outcomes for its citizens, and this reports emphasises that, but it also give a clue about what can be done to change it. The success factors / key messages they outline are relatively simple but they need to be applied systematically and need relentless leadership in pursuing them. They also need Scotlands citizens to be engaged and demanding better services for children.
A report from the team leading the evaluation of all eight Equally Well test sites is now available on-line at http://www.healthscotland.com/documents/5342.aspx This evaluation focuses on the generic service redesign for health inequalities learning from the full programme. This is in addition to the 8 local evaluations carried out in each test site. A communication plan is being finalised, which will include promotion of these learning points and approaches via routes such as presentations, conferences, email distribution, web distribution, distinct and bespoke products to help others adopt these approaches etc.
Another one in my ‘too read file’ – and this one was really worth the effort. Its finding are quite hopeful in that it highlights that sometimes small changes in practise, culture and thinking can potentially have big impacts.
This is the report of a major study, released earlier this month, which examined how nurseries and other early years settings can better support parents wanting to develop their children’s learning at home.
The Family and Parenting Institute, in partnership with the Campaign for Learning, conducted the study to identify which strategies are most effective in supporting parents to give their child the strongest educational start in life.
The findings identify best practice, help quantify the benefits of support to parents, and offer suggestions about how to make best use of resources at a time of financial constraint.
The study, named Provider Influence on the Home Learning Environment, was commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (now the Department for Education) and released on July 4, 2011.
One of the reports in my post holiday ‘to read’ file is a short briefing from Children in Scotland on pre-conception health. This is aimed at Scotland’s quarter of a million children and young peoples workforce. Its short, written in plain English, and with lots of references if you want more detail. Discussing this briefing at a team meeting would be an easy way for managers to contribute to the prevention / early intervention agenda.
Looking at the Children in Scotland website I noticed that the new Dads2Be resource is now available. This is a resource for professionals involved in ante-natal education to provide advice and support tailored to the needs of Dads ante-natally.
Having spent the last two weeks blissfully on holiday – I returned to the usual full in-box. Amongst everything else I have made a new ‘to read’ file of all the recent reports and reviews that have been sent to do with early years health and well being. Will post up links to some of these reports as I read through them.
The first was highlighted to me by Laura Hamilton senior health promotion specialist for physical activity – Start Active Stay Active It is a joint report by the UK’s four chief medical officers outlining the benefits of physical activity. Luckliy I had had a very physically active holiday so I was feeling quite virtuous as I dipped in and out of the report (as had my 11 year old daughter who is at home nursing a blister after a trip up Ben Lawers yesterday).
I note that the guidlines for physical activity for children have changed and that they have been given a specific early years slant for the first time. The headline summary is below but there are some very useful short guidance documents for different age stages on the Depatment of health website. The guidlines on the DOH website splits the under 5 age group into walking and not walking – which seems to be very helpful.
EARLY YEARS (under 5s)
1. Physical activity should be encouraged from birth, particularly through floor-based play and water-based activities in safe environments.
2. Children of pre-school age who are capable of walking unaided should be physically active daily for at least 180 minutes (3 hours), spread throughout the day.
3. All under 5s should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (being restrained or sitting) for extended periods (except time spent sleeping).
CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE (5–18 years)
1. All children and young people should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes and up to several hours every day.
2. Vigorous intensity activities, including those that strengthen muscle and bone, should be incorporated at least three days a week.
3. All children and young people should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods.
The executive sumary of the report notes that the evidence for the impact of physical activity on health and well being is conclusive, but is evidence enough to change policy on transport – fast food outlets – urban planning – school timetables etc etc.
In conclusion, we know enough now to act on physical activity. The evidence for action is compelling, and we have reached a unique UK-wide consensus on the amount and type of physical activity that is needed to benefit health.