The Famly Sessions 2 Video Recap:
Child-Led Play and Next Steps

Watch the talks and read our key takeaways from the event.
June 24, 2019
Reading time:
a light bulb with the letter p inside it

a black and white image of two hearts

famly icon - piggy bank

a black and white image of two houses



a black and white image of a bunny and a bottle


a black and white heart icon

With Famly since

  • At the Childcare Expo 2019 in Manchester, we held our second Famly Sessions event.
  • The event is all about spreading free advice and CPD to early years staff on a range of topics. This time it was about the importance of child-led play.
  • Watch the videos from both main speakers and read our quick breakdown of their most important points.

Child-led play is one of the most important ways we can help support children in their learning.

That’s why we decided to make it the topic of our second Famly Sessions event, held at the Childcare Expo 2019 in Manchester.

The main speakers were:

In both cases the central theme was clear. It was about trusting the child and finding the confidence to step back and interact, rather than interfere, with the child’s play. Above all, it was about taking the time to focus on what really matters – the children.

That’s where Famly comes in. As the most easy-to-use nursery software out there, we focus on making your strenuous tasks quick and easy, getting you back in the rooms helping your staff, and the staff back in the room to support the children. If you want to find out more, you can book your free online demo here.


One Small Step for A Child with Dr Sue Allingham

After first writing for the Famly blog on the topic a few months ago, we asked Sue to use her decades of experience in early years to deliver a talk all about next steps, where practitioners often go wrong, and what we can do to get back to the true purpose of next steps. The video is below, but first, our five key takeaways from her talk:

The big ideas

Dr Sue Allingham on next steps – Five key takeaways

  • Start by reflecting on what next steps really mean in your setting. With so many influences out there, the reasons why you do next steps can easily get lost.
  • Give the control of next steps back to the children and create environments where they get to choose their own next step.
  • Next steps are not just a linear progression, and they shouldn’t just be the next statement on Development Matters. Next steps are not a checklist.
  • It is inappropriate to have next steps on display on boards. It puts children into a box and encourages adult-led next steps, rather than child-led ones.
  • The most powerful next steps happen when teachers can use their deep knowledge of the child in the moment to progress a child’s thinking.
Next steps should be child-led

Throughout the talk, it was clear that Sue is a big advocate of moving away from activity-led, tickbox exercises where the children have no agency and the adults make all the decisions.

At [7:56] in the video above, she took us through two great stories of a time a child took control of his own next steps, both of which led to powerful learning opportunities. They came about because the practitioners involved focused on providing opportunities for Conor that suited his interests and let him take control of what happened next.

At [23:10], you’ll find a great discussion on the open-ended resources Sue had left around the room. The point? You can’t predict how a child will use what you give them. More importantly, if you get it wrong it can interfere with the child’s learning.

Take a jar lid. You might want to extend a child’s learning by talking about colours and shapes, but what use is that when all they care about is the great noise that it makes! When you allow the child to make their own next steps, you allow them to take charge of their own learning journey, giving you more engaged learners.

Next steps are more than a checklist

One of Sue’s biggest concerns with next steps is that they are such a big part of our daily language that they’ve become a one-size fits all idea [5:13]. But one size does not fit all, and not everything needs to have a next step attached.

This is why it’s important to realise that next steps do not only go up. As Sue points out “There are no linear progressions in the child’s head.” [16:13]. As practitioners, you can be crushed by the idea that all that matters is progress in a clear upwards trajectory. What we really need is to provide many different trajectories for every child.

That’s why Sue doesn’t think next steps should ever be a continuation of a Development Matters statement [16:33] and why we need to see an end to ‘next step boards’ [20:10]. The first is a wonderful document in Sue’s eyes, but it is too restrictive to be used for next steps. The latter only serves to put children in a box and put far too limited a focus on their development.

Deep knowledge of the child

So if checklisted, prescriptive approaches are not the best way to understand next steps, what is? Well, this is where Sue explained the importance of truly understanding the child.

She told the story of Jack [24:41], whose exploratory play, building a robot covered in buttons that had all sorts of different functions, was stopped in its tracks when an adult interrupted with ‘What colour is that button, Jack?’. By trying to extend the play away from it’s original purpose, the adult had left Jack confused and made him step out of his imaginary world.

However, with careful observation and a deep knowledge of each child, it’s possible for adults to interact and help children to find their own next steps, rather than interfere and stop progress.

We finished with a brilliant analogy from Julie Fisher [26:47], explaining how a child’s learning is a puzzle, and it’s our responsibility to be aware of the puzzle pieces a child already has in place and whether or not they fit together correctly, rather than trying to jam another puzzle piece in where it doesn’t quite go.

The Importance of Play with Richard Knight

Before Sue’s talk, we had the wonderful Richard Knight from happy Famly customers The Early Years Alliance talk us through the importance of play. He asked us all to step back, consider what play really means, and whether that’s truly what we’re encouraging in our settings. The main takeaways from his talk where:

Richard Knight on the importance of play – Five key takeaways

  • Ask your team to reflect on their own memories of childhood play. This can help them to reflect on their practice, and whether they’re supporting an environment where that sort of play can thrive.
  • Adults should take a step back and be careful when and why they intervene. We should favour the freedom of child-led play choices over adult intervention, as that’s where learning takes place.
  • Play is nothing new. Understand the timelessness of play and it’s easier to understand the key values that underpin it.
  • Play belongs to the child. Let them choose and ask their opinions, letting those opinions inform your practice and planning.
  • Get the balance right between risk and reward. Compliance with regulations is important, but always make sure your actions are necessary in cases where they prohibit free play.
download pdf
What is play and who does it belong to?

As Richard rightly begins, we are all so busy. The thousand and one things on your to-do list can take up endless energy, but it’s important that we never forget the importance of play. As he says at [18:20], Play is the child’s work.

Richard introduced us to Bruegel’s Children’s Games [17:08], a painting depicting children at play from centuries ago. In many ways, not much has changed, and it serves as a reminder to the timelessness of play. The image also led to a fascinating discussion on rough play and violence, and how much rough and tumble is too much in the playground [20:20].

Richard also discussed the children’s rights to play [21:44] enshrined in The United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child. He also reminded us that sometimes we need to ask the real experts on play [24:49]. The play belongs to the children and so we should do what we can to involve them in planning, and gather reviews and testimonials on what they think of your provision – not just the parents.

How to reflect on play in your setting

One of the best exercises Richard ran through was brilliant in its simplicity. He started [2:40] by asking us about our childhood memories of play. How did it feel? Who was it with? What were we doing? Asking these same questions in your own setting can give your staff the chance to reflect on what play really means to them, and whether you’re nurturing an environment that encourages that type of play.

“Defining play as an adult may be difficult because we rely on what we can observe and see and hear,” said Richard [26:30], “but thinking back about our own play experiences might inform the experiences that we can try and offer children now.”

We also reflected on the dangers of manufactured play, and how to spot children just going through the motions, rather than properly engaging with their play. He recommends all practitioners take the time to reflect on why they approach play the way they do and consider if it’s the best approach.

What is the right level of adult involvement

Just like Sue, Richard was concerned with adults that step in too early. It’s easy to step in too soon because we all care about the welfare of children, he explained [21:26], but sometimes this comes at the expense of child freedom. As Sue explained in her talk it’s about risk-benefit assessment, not just risk assessment.

By understanding the power of play, it’s much easier to understand the benefit part of that assessment. Otherwise, it only looks like risk.

This goes for adult-child interactions and child-child interactions too. As an adult, we need to be there for the child to reach out if they need, rather than dragging them through an activity because of our own fear. In child-child interactions, we need to be wary of interrupting too early, to make sure children have the time to learn key cooperative and negotiation skills with their peers too.

And what about Famly?

We were over the moon that both Richard and Sue mentioned some first-hand experience of Famly in their presentations.

At Early Years Alliance, Richard has seen first-hand the impact of a system that has saved their thousands of nursery staff time to spend back with the children. Having asked the staff what they thought of it ahead of his presentation, he heard back that Famly had helped to strengthen home links, had been much simpler than previous systems they’d used, and had cut lengthy processes, getting them back where they should be.

Sue had recently had her first experience with Famly in a setting she visited in West Somerset. For her part, it was great to see a private record of next steps, rather than something out in public on the wall. Equally, the freedom practitioners had to enter their own next steps meant they weren’t held back by a system that only recommended linear next steps.

If you want to see whether Famly is right for you, just sign up below for your very own personal demo with Famly.

graphical user interface, text, application
Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.

Picture of a Guidance document
UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

The full recommendations from a working group of over 70 nursery chains in the UK.

Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

Learn more about Famly

Find out below how Famly helped Tenderlinks in recording child development, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.