Learning and Development

Tales from the Totem Pole: 3-4 years

Mary Barlow continues her journey through the early years with a look at the world from the perspective of a three- year-old child…

Jakub and Kamila are three-and-a-half- Jyear-old twins. They have been coming to the nursery for nearly six months. Their first language is Polish and they have yet to say very much in English at all, tending to stay close together and only watching what is happening. In group situations they hang back while the other children explore, and only when they are quite sure what is expected of them do they join in. Their key person, Emma, has noticed, however, that they have recently begun to develop more independence in familiar situations, for example, helping themselves to a snack and pouring a drink.

LITTLE POINTER: It is important that, while doing everything possible to assist the settling in period, staff are relaxed about the extra time it is likely to take when children have more than normal to contend with.

One morning all of the children are excited; following a storm there is a branch across their play area! Small leaves and twigs are strewn everywhere. The children rush outside to explore their new rain washed world; they are especially interested in the branch. They jump over it then begin to pull it towards their den- making area. Staff begin to plan a day of activities based around the storm. As usual, Jakub and Kamila have not joined the others; they are happily engrossed in their own activity. They each have a stick and are using it to stir in a small puddle. Kamila adds a handful of sand, Jakub tears up a leaf and drops the pieces into their mixture. Emma knows what they are doing; making potions is the same in any language! She quietly squats beside them, picks up a stick and starts mixing a tiny puddle of her own. Like Kamila she carefully crumbles in some sand and, like Jakub, tears up a leaf and drops it in piece by piece. Then she adds something of her own: she scoops up some soil on her stick and carefully stirs it into her mixture. Kamila and Jakub do the same.

LITTLE POINTER: Whatever language children speak, actions speak much louder than words! Mirroring a child’s actions signifies not only that you are giving them your full attention, but that you value what they are doing.

Gradually. they are joined by other children who have tired of the excitement of the branch. Each brings something of their own to the experience. Holly fetches some scissors to cut, rather than tear, her leaf. Jon also uses scissors, but goes to cut some grass to add to his mixture! Phoebe picks some daisies and
adds petals to the concoction. Ben brings a saucepan, followed by Pip who has spoons; they are cooking! Samuel, on the other hand, collects some tiny bottles and carefully scoops some of the mixture into one. His medical condition means that he has to take frequent medication, so Emma is not entirely surprised that he is making medicine! Emma is pleased to notice that Kamila and Jakub remain at their activity and seem pleased to be joined by the others.

The branch remains in the den-making area; otherwise, the storm is forgotten as staff abandon plans to follow it up and provide potion making supplies instead. Pestles and mortars, various containers and interesting substances including corn-flour, vinegar, ketchup and lemonade are provided for the children. The staff have capitalised on the children’s fascination and their interest persists for several days. Emma will always remember this as the day Kamila and Jakub became active agents rather than passive observers in the nursery.

LITTLE POINTER: Responsive planning is fluid and ever-changing: not only devising plans at short notice, but being able to abandon them when necessary too.