Positive relationships

Activity planning for the process or the product?

In the third episode of Early Years Observations, I explore adult-led activities with a physical outcome.
Planning for the process or the product?
May 18, 2022
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Sometimes, the Early Years can be a little preoccupied with adult-led activities where the outcome has to be a product. 

The production lines of cards for mothers day, chicks at Easter, and ornaments at Christmas - we’ve all been there. But, this focus on a “product” can sometimes take over from the learning.

So, why do we do that? 

We know we need to follow the children’s interests and their lead, yet so often the focus of the day is on what an adult’s chosen to do or make.

So, here are three things to think about, when you’re thinking about adult-led activities with a physical outcome:

  1. Why plan an activity to the outcome?
  2. Learning where there’s no ‘product’
  3. How should I do it instead?

1. Why plan an activity to achieve a certain ‘product’?

There are great reasons to plan adult-led activities where you end up with a product, for example, when you’re cooking.

Michele Barrett, the Headteacher of Vanessa Nursery School, explained how, in their setting, they build up from adult-led activities with a physical outcome up to child-led activities with the same outcome to support learning. 

She explained, ”We think cooking for children is really important because of the amount of learning that happens when you cook. But children don’t know how to make cakes or biscuits so it needs to be an adult-led activity. It starts with the adult teaching a range of recipes but then as the children’s learning develops, they can come into nursery and say, ‘I’m going to make biscuits today. I know the ingredients are there, I have my picture card recipe, I know I can make it and leave it on the side and someone will put it in the oven for me.’”

There are also lots of pedagogies where children engage in meaningful work, so often (but not always) they’re adult-led and there will be a set outcome.

We spoke to Hannah and Jenny from Deerness Valley Nursery, and they explained that the children at their setting help prepare their lunch each day, which of course, is adult-led and has (at least hopefully) a set physical product as the outcome. 

Hannah explains, ”We don’t set up activities here that are “just activities”. We have a family philosophy and if the children were at home, parents wouldn’t set up activities for the children, you just involve them as you’re living your life and doing the things you have to do. For example, we don’t have play-dough but the children will help to bake bread, which provides the same sensory experience but in a real way.”

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2. But isn’t this episode about learning where there is no ‘product’

“Make a this” or “make a that” activities are the bread and butter of Early Years activity inspiration and we’d know!

But the important thing to think about is why we plan this way. 

Why is it that this type of very adult-led activity is so often seen as the default?

Planning an activity or experience should be about the learning and the process, not solely to achieve an end product. Some of these ‘makes’ are lovely for parents to take home, but that shouldn’t be all it’s about.

And, parents know

If their child is more interested in experimenting with throwing felt tips out of the window, to see how long it takes them to hit the ground, than actually drawing with them, they’ll know that that beautifully decorated Christmas bauble probably wasn’t their child’s work.

And parents would rather their child was doing something they enjoyed. If a parent gets a decorated egg, knowing that the paintbrush was forced into their child’s hand and they hated every second of painting it, it takes the sheen off the gift.

Basically, don’t make adult lead activities with a product the be-all and end-all.

3. So how should I do it instead?

A cute little, hand-print of a reindeer is an Early Years Christmas staple, but the questions to keep in mind are “what do we want the children to get out of it and what will the children actually get out of it?”

And the answer is potentially loads, it just depends on how you deliver the activity. Think about how to make ‘makes’ more open-ended. 

Instead of leading all of the children to a table in the corner, one by one, to dip one hand in the paint, print the reindeer, then immediately wash the paint off, only for Rudolph to be whisked away to the drying rack, why not:

  • Offer different coloured paint
  • Add paints of different temperatures
  • Lay paper out on the floor so you can and the children can print with hands and feet
  • Combine sand or cornflower with paint
  • Offer a variety of different tools like sponges or brushes.
  • Create some edible (or at least taste-safe) paint
  • Print with your own hands or feet, 
  • Add some images of real reindeer

This way it’s more open-ended and a great learning experience for the children.

And even if you don’t get the “reindeer handprint”, share a photo or a video of all the fun the children had instead!

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The big ideas

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Official Danish Government Reopening Advice

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

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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.

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