Hanover’s Play-Based Curriculum – why do we do what we do in our Lower School?
From birth to age 5, a child’s brain develops more than at any other time in their life – and early brain development has a lasting impact on a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and in life. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), which is the statutory ‘curriculum’ for all children aged 0-5, is designed to make the most of this capacity to learn. It makes it a legal requirement for children in childcare, nurseries or the early years of school in the UK to learn through play – because research evidence shows that this is the most effective mechanism for children’s development.
At Hanover Rainbow Nursery, and Pink and Purple Reception classes, are part of the EYFS. In these classes, children learn through self-chosen play, with free-flow access to the outside rather than set ‘playtimes’. There are short ‘carpet sessions’ where children are directly taught (for example: sharing stories, rhymes and songs; phonics in Reception; counting and solving simple problems -‘how many people are here today? Is that more or less than yesterday?; the teacher ‘modelling’ reading and writing, etc.). But for most of the day children are choosing their own play, with the adults finding ways to extend their learning through suggesting, questioning, providing a different resource, and discussing with the children. EYFS staff also focus on and support children’s ‘learning characteristics’ – helping children to be active learners, to have a go at new things, concentrate, keep on trying, have and develop their own ideas, or develop strategies for doing things. And the outcomes for our children prove that this is working – in fact last year, our end-of-Reception data put us in the top four schools in Islington, with 90% of children reaching the Early Learning Goal in all three Prime Areas (Communication and Language, Physical Development, and Personal and Social Development).
Children at the beginning of Year 1 are not very different to how they are at the end of Reception – so at Hanover our curriculum continues seamlessly into Year 1 and beyond. Children still have access to a wide range of resources both inside and out, and we make sure they have time to develop their individual interests. As they move up through Key Stage 1 (Year 1 and Year 2), we ensure that the challenge increases so children are continuing to learn, develop and cover the curriculum. There is more direct teaching in groups, as well as in carpet sessions; children work on ‘challenges’ set by teachers; and there are separate PE, music and art lessons. But children still get to choose how and when they do many activities as we continue to prioritise high levels of motivation and engagement. We also keep our focus on building the strong learning characteristics which will support children throughout their education and beyond.
Our child-centred, play-based approach is unlike that of many primary schools. But it is similar to what children experience in many other countries, where ‘formal’ teaching doesn’t start until age 7 – such as high-performing nations like Finland and Singapore. We believe that early formal learning (for example, when most learning is done in seated ‘lessons’ involving writing), while sometimes delivering good test results in the short term, is not good for young children. Research evidence suggests early formal learning doesn’t improve reading performance – by age 11 there is no difference in reading ability between children starting formal learning at 5 and those starting at 7. But those children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes towards reading and showed poorer comprehension than those starting later. We also know that play is important for children’s wellbeing – and at a time where concerns about children’s mental health are increasing, we are determined to ensure that our children are happy, motivated and enjoying the learning they do at school.
If you have any questions or comments about our approach, please let us know – we always want to hear from families and would be happy to discuss this further. Thank you for your support for your child’s learning and wellbeing!