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On Friday the 10th of June myself; Kaomi James, Acting Manager at Media City and Abbie Harrington, Deputy Manager at Monton had the pleasure of attending the ‘ABC Does…Excellence in the Early Years’ training day. The whole day in its entirety exceeded any expectations I had, getting to meet Alistair in person and experiencing his wit and humour first hand was amazing, not to mention his extensive knowledge in the Early Years sector. 

Upon arrival we were greeted with FREE…yes free refillable coffee and breakfast croissants and our very own goody bags detailed with the phrase ‘I’m an Early Years Superhero!’ alongside branded note pad and pens. 

Once we all had our daily dose of caffeine and full stomachs, the training began. Firstly, Alistair did a brief introduction, discussing what the day would entail and what we should expect to learn from the day. We then jumped straight in to discussing the importance of curriculums in our Early Years settings; why they are prevalent for us and how our pedagogy will directly impact effective learning. Highlighting the expectation of learning formatted from adult-led play; are we, as practitioners offering children enabling and engaging development opportunities if the beginning, middle and end of an activity is full of our own expectations? Or are we unknowingly restricting the natural curiosity of children by doing this? Alistair challenged the embedded construct that this is the way children learn and instead offered the incentive that how children feel about learning, is more important than what they learn.

With this in mind, we then looked at areas of provision within Early Years setting, acknowledging that the environment children learn in plays as much of a role in facilitating learning as practitioners. Alistair encouraged us to directly challenge our environment and look for set patterns. For example, if we have a group of children that gravitate towards our writing area regularly; are they sitting there challenging themselves with writing new things or is the provision just not offering them with new and valuable opportunities for learning? On the contrary however, we must also be conscious we are not forcing children out of their comfort zones before they are ready as this too will not produce quality learning. Alistair emphasised that good Early Years settings both look and feel like play but are strongly underpinned with rigor. 

As the day progressed, we continued to divulge into the importance of engagement and attainment within our settings and how we as practitioners should be constantly observing children’s interactions with their peers to monitor their development rather than with adults. During this discussion, Alistair made a point that really resonated with me. He said that as practitioners we constantly feel the urge to get involved in children’s play by asking questions that we believe to be developmentally appropriate such as ‘What colour is it?’, ‘How many do you have now?’ when in turn, we should learn the art of watching these natural interactions with children to give us an insight in to how we can add to and improve the provision around them to continually facilitate healthy development. I believe the reason this resonated with me so strongly is because I can understand the need practitioners feel the need to add to children’s development. The art of learning to observe rather than interrupting will be something I will be cascading into my own setting, alongside many other things but the reason I wanted to highlight this point is because it feels as though it is stripping back an embedded culture within Early Years settings. Which is necessary because the world is constantly changing and evolving, so Early Years teaching styles should not fall short but more to the point; it’s hard to ignore the feeling of guilt you would feel as a practitioner wondering if you have hindered a child’s development progression rather than added to it like we believed we would have. However, by adopting this approach we can encourage practitioners to constantly be self-aware of their own practice and to even challenge other embedded constructs that will seem out-dated in our current climate. As childcare practitioners we must trust our judgement, because we are the ones who work directly with these children daily. Therefore, we can see what works best for them and again, I am going to steal Alistair’s work and say, although something may be developmentally appropriate doesn’t mean it is developmentally acceptable. 

Above I have only detailed a small fraction of the wondrous training Alistair provided for us, mainly because I do not want to give too much away as I could detail my experience for hours! But I am so thankful I had the opportunity to meet him in person. He is a well-known pillar in our nursery group and the Early Years community, and as a group we have already taken so much insight from him and his approach to Early Years teaching and development. Therefore, getting to experience his character and knowledge in person was a truly amazing experience and added even more fuel to my fire to continue to model his approach in my setting. The entire experience was fantastic, from the beautiful building it was in, to the refreshments provided; including lunch and snacks throughout the day, to the materials on offer to buy to enhance your setting. Let alone the quality of the training provided, I just cannot recommend it enough to anyone who works within the Early Years sector. Thank you so much Alistair and the ABC team!

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