Learning and Development

Reflective practice – How to use it in your Early Years setting

  • Reflective practice – How to use it in your Early Years setting

In this new educational era, we face a great deal of uncertainty, so reflective practice is needed now more than ever, says Dr Helen Edwards. Here are some tips to help you one your way…

As the new academic year begins and nurseries open to even larger numbers of children, it is worth pausing for thought and reflecting. In the past few months we have all had to cope with new ways of working, adapting to a great deal of new guidance and operating in very different ways to those we are used to.

These changes require reflection so that we can all focus on what is working, adapt what isn’t and continue to grow and improve teaching and learning experiences for children.

I am sure that many practitioners have been busy thinking about a whole host of things - how roles and routines have changed; how resources are used and rotated; keeping staff safe and supported; and how a growing number of children can be welcomed back.

It may not feel like it, but much of this planning has probably included a large dose of reflective practice. Here are some practical ideas that you might want to implement for autumn.

Celebrate success

Reflection starts with a simple ‘taking stock’: the process of stepping back, thinking about what we have been doing, what has gone well, and what could be better. Here are some helpful ‘taking stock’ questions:

  • What area of our practice/environment are we going to focus on?
  • What have we been doing?
  • Who benefits from doing it this way? (Children, staff, families?)
  • What has gone well?
  • What needs improving and why?
  • Who/what else do we need to think about?
  • What can we keep/adapt to meet these needs?
  • How are we going to do this? (You could include external CPD, in-house training, who will do what, when you will return to this area of reflection to see how things are going?)

Remember to celebrate all the things that have worked well. It’s so easy to slip into the treadmill of ‘what next?’ and a never-ending to do list. Make sure you acknowledge the really good things, share with your colleagues and congratulate others.

Quick wins and active reflection

There will be areas where you feel things could be improved. Think about quick wins that would solve some immediate problems.

For example, what if you can’t think of a way for children to access all your resources safely. How do you choose which ones to use? Is it easier to put into storage those resources that are just too hard to clean daily?

Sometimes reflective practice can sound like we need to tuck ourselves away in silence before we can even start. I don’t know any practitioners that can do that easily! Instead think about ‘active reflection’, something that can be part of your day-to-day practice.

  • Be mindful
    Use your observations as a starting point. What can you see/hear? How do you feel? How might you be contributing, what influence are you having on the area you are thinking about?
  • Make a quick record of your thoughts
    This could be in a notebook or using an online tool. Not only will this help you to remember what you are thinking, it will also create a timeline so you can record this reflective journey, big or small.
  • Share with colleagues
    Whether your reflection is about your individual practice or about teaching and learning in the setting as a whole, it’s good to talk!

Using technology in reflective practice

Lockdown forced many of us to embrace the use of technology more fully. We saw this first hand at Tapestry where the number of videos and postings increased dramatically as practitioners devised new ways to support children’s learning at home.

As educators become more confident about technology, it can be used as a tool to benefit Reflective practice too. You could use video, perhaps with a voiceover to support your reflection. Visual and audio communication can be easier to share and feel more accessible to busy staff, and can require less explanation.

As we have all been realising, technology can help us to stay connected. If a setting has staff who are shielding or needing to isolate, they could use Zoom, WhatsApp or Google Meet for meetings. These would be inclusive, allowing all staff to have a voice in reflective practice.

Making the case for informal reflective practice

Another thing that lockdown has underlined is the value of informal reflective practice. For many, being at home and away from children was a real loss, but it also offered a chance for us to step back and think about what we might want to change ‘when we got back’.

I lost count of the number of chats I had with people about what they’d learnt during lockdown and how that might change what they did once settings opened to more children. In lots of cases these were fleeting thoughts.

I feel these fit into ‘informal reflective’ practice and they’re important to note. As reflective practitioners we need to learn to be alive to these and to capture them.

In this new educational era, we face a great deal of uncertainty. Developing our own routines for reflection, independently and with others, is more important than ever.

Many of us have honed these in the past few months. My view is that these are ‘skills for life’; valuable for us as professionals but also helpful throughout our lives.


Encouraging a culture of reflective practice

The ethos of a setting is at the heart of creating a culture of reflective practice. Writing about how to get this right could fill lots of articles and many books!

However, leaders and managers are key here. Simple things like modelling the right language can make a considerable difference, for example “What would happen if…..?” or “I wonder if we could change….?” Questions like this encourage us to pause for thought and reflect.

As settings open to even more children a simple option might be to have a weekly ‘reflective question’ which is shared with everyone. These questions might be good options:

  • How are children engaging with the new layout or routine?
  • How are children displaying their levels of well-being?
  • Which activities are the most popular and why?
  • Have there been any surprises this week?
  • Which activities might we start to introduce again, perhaps adapted?
  • What are we most concerned about?

Inviting everyone to contribute is important. It ensures that all feel their views are valued and that their reflections can help to improve the experience and learning of children.


Dr Helen Edwards is co-founder of Tapestry, an online learning journal for early years and schools which encourages reflective practice. For more information visit tapestry.info.