Theory and practice

In the moment planning in the Early Years

What is it and how to get started
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December 13, 2017
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In a rush? Here's the quick run-down.

  • In the moment planning means that you get rid of most of your planning in advance (and all the paperwork that comes with it) and instead give your practitioners the freedom to extend a child’s interest in the moment.
  • Like anything, it comes with challenges. How do you get the staff on board? What do you show to Ofsted? How do you document it all? Sure, any big change comes with certain anxieties.
  • But with a strong understanding and little guidance on how to implement it, you’ll soon be wondering what on earth you were so worried about.

What is in-the-moment planning?

“Let the children choose what to do, join them and support them in their pursuits. Then write up what has happened.”

That’s Anna Ephgrave, and she’s the author behind one of the most influential books on in-the-moment planning.

Instead of taking the familiar long-term cycle of observation, reflection and planning, you do all of this instantly. That means working more closely with the children to observe an interest and extend it in the moment. You can then use this to enhance and build upon children's existing knowledge.

In-the-moment planning can be broken down into three stages:

  • The Child’s Spark – This is when the child first shows an interest in something. There should be an air of fascination around the object and concentration in what they are now doing.
  • The Teachable Moment – The teacher will notice this and approach the child. This is the opportunity to extend their interest, by asking open-ended questions and considering ways to apply this interest to other options within the environment.
  • The Documentation – At a later date, you can document the observation. Include the spark, the teachable moment and what you did next. This will help you to map out each child’s interests, and plan an environment that works for them.

Why should I use in-the-moment in my Early Years planning?

Child-initiated play and child-led learning are widely regarded as one of the most effective ways to support young children in their natural curiosity. And, in-the-moment planning is one of the most effective ways to introduce child-led learning.

Child-led learning is particularly effective because it means children are fully engaged and involved, which is linked to better brain development in developing children.

What’s more, the longer-term cycle you find with traditional planning can often miss the target. But why?

  • First of all, children are not storing up their questions for tomorrow. Being in the moment means you are more likely to be ready with answers when and where they are relevant.
  • Many of the children's interests will be changing from week to week. By being ‘in the moment’, you can observe and work on a child’s interests as they arrive, rather than turning towards a pre-planned task when they might already have disappeared.
  • Finally, it’s paperwork. It might take a little time to get used to, but with less planning comes less time spent in your office away from the children. And you don’t need me to tell you why that’s a good idea…

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How do I implement in-the-moment planning?

Like any big change to your nursery environment, implementing in-the-moment planning is the most difficult part of the process. Understanding it is one thing, but getting your staff onboard, creating the documentation, and putting the whole process in place can seem a little daunting.

That’s why we’ve covered some of the most standard concerns, as well as some of the best tips we’ve found for putting in the moment in place.

1. You need skilled Early Years educators

One of the first things you might notice about this process is that it requires practitioners to complete their usual observation cycle almost on the spot.

Of course, the process is completely different when you’re working so closely with a child. But there’s no doubt that you need strong, instinctive practitioners to make in-the-moment planning work. Your educators need to be:

Strong observers, with the ability to pay close attention and see exactly what a child is doing and look beyond the obvious ‍Good with improvisation. Having the confidence and ability to think on your feet, answer the right questions, and come up with suggestions is central to the whole approach.‍Up-to-date on their child development knowledge. Sustained shared thinking, schemas and a broad understanding of how children develop will help practitioners to find a child’s interests more precisely.‍

2. It starts with an enthusiastic team

A great starting point is a pretty simple idea. Most practitioners get into the Early Years because they want to work with children. At its core, in-the-moment planning enables practitioners to spend more time helping children develop and less time doing paperwork.

After that, it’s really just about having confidence in the concept yourself. Adlai Stevenson once said, “You can’t lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.” Get yourself clued up first, and make sure have the understanding to get your practitioners clued up too.‍

3. Get the paperwork right

Remember, you are turning the whole concept of paperwork upside down. You’re now working on a child’s basis. They are not learning based on your planning.

In that sense, documenting really is more simple than you think. Note down the spark, teachable moment and what happened. It really should just be an accurate record of the interaction that took place between you and the child.

4. Get your enabling environment ready

Your setting's core provisions you have should be engaging and stimulating, so that children can approach things themselves and allow child-led learning to take place. Variation is also key. This is particularly true when you are starting out or if you don’t have a full picture of each child’s interests.

You also need to rethink the way you make environmental changes and whether to add or remove certain provisions. You are still making provisional changes based on what you’re observing, it’s just based more clearly on the interests of your cohort.

The review process is all about how the environment is engaging your children. Take into account how their interests are changing, and how the environment has affected this. Take the time to look back and constantly revise to make sure you have an environment that works for the children.

Top tips for perfecting in-the-moment planning

Here’s a few final tips to get you ready to implement in the moment planning at your setting.

  • Don’t ask a child what their interests are. They should be allowed to play freely while you interpret these interests.
  • Stop thinking in terms of week-to-week planning. Instead, it’s about creating a constantly changing environment that changes as the children do.
  • Observe and listen closely to every child that you are focusing on.
  • Ask open-ended questions to get to know the child's interest. These are usually ‘How’ or ‘Why’ questions, and they should never have a yes or no answer.
  • If you’re not able to dedicate the time to each child, consider having focus children each week who you give your full attention to. This could be as little as 10% of your cohort.
  • Always go to the child. By asking them to come to you, you are disrupting the flow of their play.
  • Every setting is different, and you need to experiment to find out what works for you. Don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t feel right from day one, these things take time.

The big ideas

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UK Nursery Covid-19 Response Group Recommendations

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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.

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