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One of the great things about what we do at Inspired EC is spending time in different services, giving us the opportunity to see a broad range of ideas, perspectives and practices. There is however one practice which is present in the majority of centres we visit and it predominantly looks the same, no matter where we are… group time. 

In many centres (not all!) if you walk in at group time you will see:
  • An educator sitting on a chair 
  • Said educator holding a book up for everyone to see
  • Children being asked to sit cross legged on the floor (The amazing Alistair Bryce-Clegg talks extensively about the inappropriateness of this, particularly for young boys whose muscles are not designed for this type of sitting at this age) 
  • Children who inevitably struggle to sit cross legged on the floor and instead roll around or chat to their friends or play with the puzzle on the shelf next to the group time space
  • Children excitedly calling out their favourite parts of the book or pointing out interesting images on the pages of the book or asking questions about the book…or something completely irrelevant! 
  • An educator who has to constantly remind one child to stop calling out or ask another to keep their hands to themselves

Sounds like fun right?! 

This is not fun for anyone, yet for some reason many educators continue to put themselves and the children through this daily ritual, often with the logic that “they will need to be able to sit in a group at big school” Well that maybe true, but does it meant that we need to push it now? In the vein of last weeks blog post – perhaps this is something that needs to be worried about – WHEN THEY ARE AT SCHOOL!

Recently I visited an amazing service and spent some time observing educator practice. During this time I watched a group time with 3.5-5 year olds. The bullet points above played out almost like a script and I sat there wondering – why do we do this? Why do we find it necessary for all children to listen to the same story at precisely the same time, despite saying that we are led by children’s interests? As I observed the other educators in the room preparing for lunch and sleep times, tidying the room and doing other tasks I felt as though I had my answer, or at least part of it. A large group time enables us to “contain” all children in the one area and “keep them busy” so that we can get things done. Sure, it is a challenge to keep the room running, keep them tidy and complete programs and paperwork, yet I wonder if this is the answer? This is not a criticism of those educators, as they are doing what the majority of educators (myself included) have done for years, this was just a moment in time that prompted me to reflect. Perhaps there are ways of engaging the children, making these things a shared responsibility, a collaborative effort? If we do need to have a large group time – are books really the best choice?

I am a HUGE lover of books. I love to read with my own children and always loved to read with children when I worked in a service, however I rarely enjoyed group time and I think that was a result of the constant attempts to have children sitting and listening and not touching other people! I think books are important for children and should be readily available and educators should make time to read stories with individual children and small groups of children as interests and opportunities organically arise. When we read a book with an individual or a very small group of children, we have the time to have meaningful conversation about the book. When we read a book to a large group, trying to engage up to 20 children in meaningful conversation becomes onerous, drawn out and often very unpleasant!  

Don’t get me wrong – there is merit in doing things in large groups, but I don’t believe that expecting all children to sit quietly and listen to a story is the way to go. If you are going to do group experiences, think about giving children the opportunity to move or be loud, or actually engage with one another – after all, isn’t that the purpose of being in a group? Working together, interacting with one another…building relationships? 
Perhaps we should save the books for small, meaningful engagements with children and instead do social, active things with a large group. Think storytelling with puppets, large group games, music, dance, drama. Things that actually encourage children to be involved, to be active and to interact! 

Let’s rethink group time!
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