As Bilbo Baggins stood at the gates of Mordor, he possibly thought to himself ‘what on middle earth have I let myself in for’. I can safely say I know exactly how he would have felt as I too have experienced that Mordor moment, when I walked into the EYFS classroom of my school back in September as its reception teacher.
Before deciding on joining the EYFS team, some colleagues told me I was mad, others looked perplexed. Why would I, an experienced KS2 teacher, put himself forward to teach in EYFS? Well, I was intrigued with teaching and learning in EYFS and had used some of its approaches within my own Year 5 classroom so when the opportunity to be a reception teacher came along it was too good to miss.
In June, I spent 3 days observing the children and teachers and teaching assistants. I immersed myself in the daily routine, I found myself in awe at how the staff could turn any situation into a learning opportunity and wondered if I too could be as inspiring as they were. I would soon find out.
The first 2 weeks are a gentle baptism; only a few come in for no more than half a day at a time. Some are inquisitive and loud, others say nothing and a few cry, a lot, usually in the mornings as they are left at the gate when the bell rings and they hang onto their parents legs. But they all settle in quite quickly once they get into the classroom. The relationship you form at the very beginning is essential, you describe the class rules and then realise that most of them haven’t listened as their attention has been on the hole in your shoe, or on the child who has curled up on the floor to go to sleep, or because there’s a noise coming from the room next door that sounds like a monster because that’s what another child tells everyone else that’s what it is. But stick to your rules. Like any age group you need to have them otherwise anarchy will ensue, and it's no different with 4 year olds. What you take for granted in other year groups all needs to be taught and modelled at this age.
You soon discover how a 4 year old’s mind ticks, when your well planned lesson introduction is interrupted 15 times in the first 60 seconds. You learn that their questions are far more important than your own particularly when you want to find out if they have learned what you have been teaching. You stifle laughs but then realise that young children love to see their teacher laughing. You join in with them by getting down to their level which means sitting on chairs which are not meant for adults and develop a method of sitting that yoga specialists would be envious of. The table you once coveted as your own becomes a breeding ground for crayoned scribbles and suspicious looking finger marks. You soon discover you have superpowers and can prove to KS1 and KS2 staff that teachers do indeed have eyes on the back of their heads, you just need to be an EYFS teacher in order to have them.
I found my entire approach to teaching had to change if these young children wanted to learn. They learned by playing and talking, by running and falling, by dancing and singing, by lying down when you thought they should have been sitting, by sticking their fingers to their books and painting their friends’ faces with paint. Every moment becomes a learning opportunity, the day is filled with them and each becomes an integral part of your teaching.
EYFS gives you the freedom to teach and allows children to learn at their own pace, an approach I would love to see a school consider from 4 to 11.
Don’t let the gates of EYFS scare you. Welcome the change because as you step through into this world of wonder you will become a better teacher for it.