We say that the most valuable tool in the teaching and development of young children is the practitioner. Skilled practitioners scaffold learning without interfering or taking over, they understand through meaningful observations what a child is trying to explore and use this knowledge to stimulate further exploration and learning. Without the skilled practitioner an enabling environment is just an environment and as powerful as an environment can be, with all the right resources to encourage play, it isn’t up to much without the skilled practitioner. So why do we continually rely on the rhetoric that everything we do should be for the child, why can we not do things for the practitioner?
This idea that we do everything for the child is important when it comes to filling out time consuming statistical data that takes the practitioner away from being with the children, it has its place when we think about some of the practices we follow because we are told to follow them even though they don’t serve either the child or the practitioner but we cannot have a blanket approach when it comes to everything we do.
The child should be at the centre of everything we do and every decision we make but that doesn’t mean some elements of our practice can’t be for the practitioner. I engaged in a debate on Facebook recently, the question that was posed is ‘A dedicated area for maths, yes or no?’. Many commenters said that maths should be everywhere, agreed. And some said that they have a maths area to store typical maths resources, as do I. The ‘maths should be everywhere’ group proceeded to ask if this was for the child or if it was a way for the practitioner to organise resources. For me, it is very much a way to organise my room amongst other things that I will discuss further on. Many of the ‘maths area’ group said it didn’t mean that maths wasn’t happening everywhere, it was a way to organise and this is when the rhetoric that ‘it should be for the child’ reared its ugly head because as soon as someone points out that it’s not for the child they have won the argument right? From the tone of this post you can probably guess that I am going to disagree here because I think that truly skilled practitioners reflect on their weakness’ and are able to understand when they do something for them, as the practitioner, that will have a knock on effect of being for the child.
I will use the maths area example to explain this. I know that maths is everywhere; when a child is building, painting, playing in the sand and dancing they’re developing their mathematical thinking. I know that mathematical resources can be everywhere; rulers with the blocks, scales in the mud kitchen and measuring cups in the water tray but I am also aware that, as a practitioner, I struggle when it comes to some strands of maths such as cardinality, comparison and composition. I know that all of these can be developed through play but by having a ‘maths area’ which reminds me that we have resources to help me with this (resources such as numbers, tens frames, pattern cards, etc) is an important aspect as I build up my skills in these areas. If I know I am not confident in my teaching of something or unsure as to how to scaffold learning in this direction, is an area to help me to do this such a bad thing? Is it a bad thing that my environment has things that are for me, to help me to develop my skills and become a better practitioner?
As a final note I would like to point out that when I talk about a ‘maths area’ I do not mean that this is the only place maths happens or that children will be made to use the maths area. It is purely a space in the room that contains mathematical equipment just like a book case will contain books, this does not mean that they cannot be transferred and moved around freely. I would also like to note here that many of the original commenters on the Facebook post were probably referring to a maths area being for the adult when it is a prescribed area with a prescribed use and I fully agree that this is a complete no for me!