Pause to learn

June O'Sullivan
Friday, May 15, 2020

Since I have been operating the LEYF business from home, I’ve increased my video conferencing to check-in everyday with the 15 nursery hubs that still remain open.

We talk about all the usual things as well as the changes and how we are adapting.

Last week we had a lively pedagogical conversation as staff had noticed that the quality of teaching was conspicuous, and the concentration and engagement of the children was rich and deep. They seemed to be benefiting from just staying still. Musing on the reasons, we concluded that it was due to:

  • New team members reshaping the creativity when joining with colleagues to form the nursery hubs.
  • Smaller groups of children and more space indoors and outside - outdoor learning could offer a template for socially distanced early years and embrace the benefits of education in the outdoors.
  • Pure child-led play - a joy to watch and a great cure for stress.
  • Renewed confidence from each member of the new team as they use this quiet time to test their ideas.
  • Positivity and resilience among the working staff.
  • Reduction of the demands of routine, assessment and all the other external stuff which allows children to pause.
  • Time to enjoy activities that are truly child led because staff and children can play and converse uninterrupted.

Since this lockdown, I have had far less time but conversations with friends have been all the richer and led me to investigate new ideas and organisations such as The Alternative UK and the Culture, Health & Wellbeing Alliance, both organisations focus on ways to pause and then re-connect and rethink my values and actions.

The weekly conversations with the nursery teachers have also given me pause for thought. Young children take the temperature of our world and right now it is high. We have raised it for the children by pushing them to do more, know more, understand long before they are ready.

Observing them in their half empty nurseries, they are showing us their wisdom. They are not screaming out for a return to the old but actually deeply enjoying the now.

So now is the time to pause and truly reconsider what we want moving forwards and how we want our ‘new normal’ to be. Arundhati Roy published an essay called The Pandemic is a Portal. She says “Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.” I agree with her, especially for small children.

June O'Sullivan is chief executive of London Early Years Foundation. This blog first appeared on the LEYF website

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