“Play is the only way the highest intelligence of human kind can unfold” Joseph Chilton Pearce
Critically discuss how practitioners can meet children’s all-round care, learning and development needs by adopting a holistic approach.
Recent government publications have focused on frameworks which support a holistic approach to the care and development of children.
This essay will explore recent and historical theories of ‘holism’ and the merits of such in the context of early learning. It will investigate how differing approaches meet the individual needs of children. It will discuss how the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge for the Children’s Workforce enables the five outcomes of Every Child Matters: Change for Children (ECM) to be delivered through the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS); simultaneously embracing a holistic, play based approach to learning and development. It will also identify the need for practitioners to truly understand and fully embrace their principles in order to deliver a ‘child centred’ curriculum. Additionally it will explore the writings of those who appose the EYFS and establish if these notions are justified. References will be made to the writers setting and this will be referred to as ‘the setting’.
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Through play, the holistic development of the child is encouraged. ‘Holistic’ is a term devised from the Greek word meaning ‘whole’ and ‘entire’. A true holistic approach is child centred, recognises that every child is individual and unique, and should be treated with respect, regardless of age, race, religion, social status, disability. Every child has the right to a safe, secure, happy childhood with accesses to outside agencies who can offer support if needed. Play is a means through which children explore and make sense of their world preparing them for adulthood. Children are naturally curious, and by providing space, resources, opportunities, positive interactions with adults, peers and a safe environment for them to explore, learning and development will take place. Research undertaken by ‘play for change’ (2008) revealed that play is vital to a child’s development and practitioners should hold a sound knowledge of it. It is through play that children learn from their mistakes and build relationships with others. There is no right or wrong way to play, it is something that morphs and changes constantly. It becomes, evolves and is built upon by the child. Pound mentions that;
Play encourages creativity and imagination. It is intellectually, socially, emotionally, physically and linguistically challenging and encourages children to work in depth (alone and with others). It can offer all children the chance to explore and learn at their own pace and stage of development. It has a crucial role in enabling children to consolidate learning…
(Pound 2008 p74)
Children should all have the right to an individual, experience rich learning environment, which is provided by practitioners, who have a clear understanding of how to meet their learning needs and styles. This in turn will engage children’s learning and enable them to develop and reach their full potential. Lindon defines the term holistic in a child context as;
A holistic or whole child approach stresses the importance of thinking about and behaving towards children as entire individuals, that all their skills are important and support their whole development.
Lindon (2009) p10
And Miller (2000) describes holistic education as;
…each person finds identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace. Holistic education aims to call forth from young people an intrinsic reverence for life and a passionate love of learning.
The Children Act (2004) and ECM underpinned all legal changes to the children’s services. The ECM document, aims to protect children from harm, keep them healthy and help them to achieve their goals in life. Prevention, intervention and protection are at the forefront of this wider vision by promoting multi-disciplinary working and effective protection for children.
The EYFS is the framework central to a ten year strategy that brings together all other existing frameworks. Integrated within the EYFS are the five outcomes of ECM, which are, be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic well- being. Also the principles of the Common Core of skills and knowledge, which are; effective communication and engagement with children and families, child development, safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the child, supporting transitions, multi agency and integrated working and information sharing. These combined frameworks provide a child centred approach to the care and education of children. This is underpinned by a holistic, play based approach. It will ensure that all children have access to a consistent approach to care, learning and development. It is essential that all practitioners have a sound understanding of current frameworks and how to relate them to every day practice thus ensuring they are meeting the needs of all children.
Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs forms the basis of a holistic approach. Maslow identified five levels of need, starting with food and water. The next stage is safety and love followed by self esteem. At the top of his pyramid is self actualization. He believed that a child can not progress to the next stage until all their current needs have been met. He considers it the priority of the curriculum to meet the needs of children inside the classroom. The practitioner must provide an environment where children are safe, secure and emotionally stable and have a sense of belonging. A safe and happy childhood is the bedrock for children’s future learning and development. This concurs with the principles of the EYFS when providing a holistic education for children and the DCSF write that;
A secure, safe and happy childhood is important in its own right, and it provides the foundation for children to make the most of their abilities and talents when they grow up.
(DCSF 2008, p7)
Children begin learning and developing before they are born and research proved that;
…90% of a child’s brain connections will be made by the time they are five. That means that their development and learning from birth to the age of five has significant influence on their future lives.
During this period children are more responsive to the care and experiences they encounter. Bertram and Pascal (2006) p.70 discuss how high quality effective experiences provided in the early years improve ‘life chances’. Looking at the child holistically, with distinctive needs, interests and learning styles is beneficial to their development, and it is the belief of Hutchin that;
To ensure children are confident, happy and engaged in learning their individual needs must be met.
Hutchin (2006) p30
The notion of a holistic approach to education is not a recent one, and was identified as far back as 1805 by Pestalozzi (Pound 2008 p8). He was of the opinion that education was personal, and must appeal to the learner’s interests. He stressed the importance of recognising the uniqueness of all, and believed everyone had the potential to succeed. The EYFS integrates these principles into the framework and believes that;
The EYFS and the Early Learning Goals…provide sufficient flexibility for practitioners to follow children’s interests, respond to their ideas for developing play activities, and provide structured activities (which can also be playful to teach specific knowledge and skills.
DCSF (2009) p4
Te Whariki, the curriculum of New Zealand also stresses the importance recognising children as unique, and that working closely with families is crucial to a child’s development. It emphasises the important role play has in learning and development, and through its holistic approach aims to ensure all children grow up competent and confident, and can contribute positively to society. It also aims to ensure children are physically and mentally healthy (Pound 2008 p67- 69). Howard (2010), pointed out that;
Early Years Education today needs to be far more creative than it has been in the past, as it needs to equip children with the skills and processes for an unknown tomorrow.
(Howard, 2010 p51)
Addressing children’s individuality and uniqueness through a holistic approach will ensure they progress to healthy adults, and enable them to remain a confident, stable member of an unpredictable world.
Palmer (2006) p198 discusses how every child has a desire to learn and has an indication of what they want to learn. If the adult is aware of the child’s interests, they will incite their enthusiasm and desire to learn more. He also writes that a rigid curriculum which gives no thought to a child’s interests, or what inspires them, will not facilitate learning.
The core principles of the EYFS are that, children learn and understand the world in which they live through play. Purposeful play primarily facilitates the development of social and emotional skills. These skills then assist all other areas of learning.
Learning must be pleasurable, stimulating and challenging and performed in surroundings that reinforce holistic development. It is essential that it provides them with enough skills and self assurance to become a competent learner.
All children’s individual needs and interests should be planned, through analysis of careful non judgemental observation. Planning should be individual, and incorporate a child’s unique interests and developmental stage.
Some do not fully understand the principles of a holistic approach and the aims of the EYFS, or how to implement them correctly, to ensure the children are happy, engaged learners. This therefore, highlights a need for settings to ensure that all practitioners are suitably informed, and educated regarding its principles and delivery. A true understanding of its core values and aims is vital, and all who implement should understand that;
Play underpins the delivery of all the EYFS.
DCSF (2008) p 6-7
Many of the children within the setting can become restless in situations which are of no interest to them. The most common is during the extremely formal registration period. The relevance of such an activity, should, be considered to determine whether it holds any learning potential. The Setting Manager considers the formal approach to learning favourable, and insists all children gather together at the beginning of each session for thirty minutes carpet time and registration. It is believed, that this is an unrealistic time scale for children to sit quietly listening to one adult. Unfortunately, the Foundation Stage Manager has a differing opinion. She is of the belief that children “do not learn through osmosis” or “child initiated play”, and that an adult must have constant input in order for any learning to take place. Adult initiated activities are interpreted as; the children are given worksheets daily and asked to complete them following a model on the board. All children are given the same worksheet regardless of their ability. These worksheets are then used as evidence to add to their ‘port folios’. It is her belief that the purpose of observation is for expanding the content of a ‘port folio’ and not the main source of evidence for assessment.
To try and counteract these issues the larger of the two areas in the Foundation Unit has been re-organised. Low level print and interactive displays have been added. All areas have been made more accessible and enhancements such as materials, pictures and books added, to provide a good continuity of provision. Mark making tools have been placed in baskets around the area, these can then be transported by the children into other areas to encourage, and promote early writing skills. Numbers have been placed around the unit in various forms and interactive displays where shapes, numbers and colours can be sorted, have been added to promote problem solving, reasoning and number as well as fine motor skills. Photographs have been added to shelving units to help children to when tidying away. All provision is now accessible at all times allowing the children free flow play whenever possible.
The two outdoor areas have also been improved, adding various materials to support learning. There are still many more improvements to be made both indoors and outdoors. Contrary to the manager’s beliefs, children are observed when possible by all other staff members. These observations are used to inform the planning of some team members. More in depth training as to the holistic aims of the EYFS, and its correct delivery would be advantageous. However, following her retirement in July, September will bring new changes to the routines of the setting, and promote a more child centred approach to learning.
It was the belief of Montessori (Pound 2008 p 29-31) that a child’s natural ability to learn stems from solid experience and the use of objects to explain ideas and concepts. Observation played a major role in her work and a fundamental part of the EYFS is assessment through observation and it identifies;
Providers must ensure that practitioners are observing children and ….use these observations and assessments to identify learning priorities and plan relevant and motivating learning experiences for each child.
Italy’s Reggio Emila approach to learning not only agrees that all children have potential, and are individual and unique, but it also believes that observing and recording children’s experiences and play through various means e.g. photographs, videos, written observations is crucial to learning and development. (Pound 2008. P52, 53)
Nutbrown and Carter (2010) p114 write that;
Watching and learning are the essential tools of assessment with which practitioners can both establish the progress that has already taken place and explore the future…The role of the adult in paying careful attention to children’s learning, and reflecting upon that learning, is crucial to the enhancement of children’s future learning.
Observation plays a key part in establishing a child’s developmental progress, interests and learning styles. Observing children in everyday activities enables practitioners to build up a precise image of the child, their understanding, and personal interests. These judgements should be based on children’s actions that are independent and uninfluenced by an adult. A holistic practitioner must be able to identify a child’s individual learning needs and care requirements, as well as establish how their learning and development has progressed. Coates and Thompson agree that;
In recording development and progress, relationships and actions become significant and illustrative of the progression in children’s learning.
Coates & Thomson(2010) p68
The holistic approach of the EYFS promotes the use of observations and maintains their importance in a child’s development. It writes;
…observe children’s activities carefully, trying to discover what the child is thinking about and learning and the goals of the play, so they can accurately support and extend the child’s learning focus either at the time, or later by changes to the environment or in planned activities.
The project approach is a more recent approach to education and believes that all children have the desire to learn and want to make sense of their experiences through hands on experience. They must identify situations where learned skills will be useful and used appropriately to solve problems. Children build on their existing knowledge and they need the practitioner to aid the progression of these skills Classrooms must offer flexible learning which supports the needs of all children (Chard). A skilful practitioner will have the ability to engage with children and support these concepts.
The EYFS recognises the importance of these ideologies and makes many references throughout the document on how to implement these measures and incorporate them into the curriculum successfully.
It has been established that learning through play is central to the ideologies of the EYFS and indoors and outdoors are both equally as important as learning environments, and both equally as important in a child’s development. It states that;
Play underpins the delivery of all the EYFS. Children must have opportunities to play indoors and outdoors. .
The EYFS believes that children should be allowed to have responsibility for their learning and be able to make decisions and learn from their mistakes. A great deal of emphasis is placed on the fact that what a child can already do and are interested in, is a starting point for their learning Tassoni and Hucker agree that;
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Play is considered to be one of the primary needs of a child. Play is often said to be child’s work… Play is the main way in which children learn, and therefore play affects all aspects of a child’s development.
Tassoni & Hucker (2000)p.1,5
The EYFS offers a developmentally, flexible continuum of goals for children from birth to five. For practitioners who agree with its principles and understand its true pedagogy implementation should be reasonably unproblematic. There are six areas of learning and development within the EYFS, which are broken down into, one hundred and seventeen scale points. Scale points four to eight are not hierarchical and can be achieved in any order. Scale point nine reflects those children who are beginning to move beyond the early learning goals. Many of the scale points interrelate and are often achievable together. The developmental stages of the EYFS overlap recognising that children are unique and will develop, grow and learn at differing rates. The children in the setting have a broad spectrum of abilities, and the flexibility and overlapping developmental phases of the EYFS enable practitioners to effectively identify where children are in relation to their development. It also assists some practitioners to plan and resource for individuals, as well as small groups who share similar abilities and interests. One member of staff works solely with a child who has special educational needs and she finds the EYFS guidance a valuable tool for establishing his progress when planning activities to support his learning, using the Look, listen and note section.
This exemplifies the EYFS has a true understanding of the holistic approach to children’s development. Kelly agrees that;
An important feature of the EYFS is the principle of it being a developmental framework. Rather than prescribing a set of learning objectives or “targets”, it is intended to provide a continuum of development (milestones) which acknowledges the fact that children are unique and may not progress in the same way or at a uniform rate.
But is the EYFS as holistic and child centred as it claims to be, some think not, the Open Eye Campaign believes it is;
…overly prescriptive, potentially harmful to the development of children and a breach of the human right of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their own philosophies.
Open Eye (2007)
However, the DCSF counter argue that;
There is no obligation in the EYFS for children to reach any particular standards… The EYFS is founded on the importance of play. It doesn’t require any ‘formal’ approaches, and in fact discourages them, recognising that children need to play to have fun and to learn about the world around them, by playing freely with support from adults.
And the QCDA( Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency) states that;
Parents can apply for an exemption to the school that their child attends, if they consider that the learning and development requirements of the EYFS framework (or some element of them) are in conflict with their religious or philosophical beliefs.
These statements reinforce that the core principles of the EYFS places the child at the centre of its practice, and any parent has the right to withdraw their child from any aspects of the curriculum they disapprove of. It also confirms that parents do have the casting vote on how their child is educated.
Within the developmental stages are the early learning goals. These are not necessarily attainable by all children, and the goals cover a wide range of achievable objectives. In agreement with the earlier citation by Kelly (2009), it is believed that it ensures all children, whatever their stages of development have their learning needs identified and met. Most children will not have achieved all scale points at the end of their reception year and ideally implementation of the EYFS should continue into KS1. In their letter to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Siraj-Blatchford, Duffy and Nelson request that the EYFS;
Continues the Early Years Foundation Stage to the end of Key Stage 1.
Siraj-Blatchford, Duffy and Nelson (2008)
Kirklees are in agreement with this fact and write that;
Teachers in Y1 can continue to use the EYFS Profile as their assessment tool for children where they consider this to be appropriate. This will be particularly the case for children who have not obtained any or most of the Early Learning Goals (ELG) – scale points 4-8 – in a particular EYFS Profile scale.
Transitions can sometimes prove stressful for children and this is recognised by the Common core of skills and knowledge. This asserts that, supporting a continued approach will enable the child to adapt more easily to stressful situations they encounter throughout their lives. These could be between classes or family issues. Within the setting a great deal of training and discussion has taken place to implement these measures, ensuring the Year One Teacher plans effective, responsive activities that support continued development. Many changes have been made to the ‘set up’ and structure of the Years One classroom to guarantee a continuum of good practice which will enable children to carry on achieving.
It is also essential that practitioners listen and respond to children’s needs and feelings. Assisting them to overcome difficulties and address any problems they face. Sharing these fears and worries with others will help them deal with them in a controlled, safe environment, with attentive, understanding impartial adults The children within the setting attend ‘circle and nurture time’ on a weekly basis. This session allows the children a chance to discuss how their actions, and the actions of others impact, both positively and negatively on feelings. Children are given the opportunity to discuss their feelings, worries and concerns with a member of staff who is trained to deal with them. Any serious concerns are forwarded to the designated person in charge of ‘child protection’. They are dealt with in a tactful and sensitive manner following the relevant policies. This activity also reinforces social skills such as turn taking and sharing. One of the achievable goals outlined in the EYFS is;
Work as part of a group or class, taking turns and sharing fairly, understanding that there needs to be agreed values and codes of behaviour for groups of people, including adults and children, to work together harmoniously.
During this session they also participate in ‘nurture time’ this is based on the premise of play therapy and the children are given the opportunity to address their feelings through carefully controlled play situations. It gives them a chance to deal with, and express their emotions in a calm controlled way, with staff who are trained to deal with and support the child through any difficult and emotional times.
The EYFS’s holistic aim puts the child at the centre of all practice and recognises their individuality. It welcomes and celebrates difference and diversity in all, and great importance is placed on communicating effectively with parents and involving them in every process of their development.
Parents are recognised as the child’s main educator. Part of this involves each child having a key worker who will help them to develop whilst offering support to both the child and the family. Key workers provide a safe and secure attachment for the child and their parents. They are a point of contact, with which parents can discuss any worries or concerns. They are responsible for a small group of children who they help to settle and observe. They liaise with parents and other outside agencies where necessary. This concept relates to Bowlby and Goldschmied’s theory of attachment. Both believed that secure attachments are essential for positive social, emotional and intellectual development, and that children will show a preference to one adult, and that these attachments are a normal part of development. (Pound 2008 p44-45). Jackson (2009) draws our attention to this and writes;
…the key person system is designed to ensure that each child in a day nursery has a special relationship with an individual staff member.
There are two Teachers, two Nursery Nurses and two Classroom Assistants within the setting and although certain children and parents have formed attachments with staff, there is currently no key worker system in place. This decision was not undertaken without due consideration. Many incidents have occurred, where one of the Classroom Assistants had ‘miss’ informed parents and wrongly recorded information, she was offered the relevant training and self development but declined the offer, stating that she did not have the time or the confidence to drive to other locations. Other members of staff offered help and advice, but this too was declined. These concerns were brought to the attention of the Head Teacher, who recommended that a well informed member of the team should be readily available whenever parents are in the building, and all recorded information should be checked before being placed in the children’s profiles. At this present moment in time these issues are still been addressed, and it is hoped that in the near future an effective key worker system will be established.
Although children may appear the same and share similar interests they are all individual and unique. This not only relates to their interests, development, and learning styles but also their race, religion and cultural heritage. By celebrating and embracing difference and diversity the EYFS maintains that every child is included and not put at a disadvantage. It is important that every child must learn to value the differences and diversity in others and mature into confident adults that will make a positive contribution to society. In her introduction to diversity, inclusion and learning in the early years Siraj-Blachford identifies that;
In modern, diverse societies, and a world that increasingly recognizes the realities of global interdependence, it is essential that children learn social competence to respect other groups and individuals, regardless of the difference. The learning must begin in the earliest years of a child’s education.
Siraj-Blachford (2010) p151
Pound (2009) p 9-11 discusses how Bronfenbrenner developed the ‘Egological Systems’ this theory relates to how everything that surrounds a child has an influence on their development, and that practitioners must treat all children, their families, beliefs and culture with respect and create a setting that is both welcoming and accepting.
In recent years the setting has become a more diverse environment and now welcomes families of differing religions, countries and heritages. In order to ensure each individual felt accepted and valued, a display which contained the words ‘hello’ and ‘welcome’ in several languages was added. This was displayed along side a talented wall which contained a picture of each child engaged in their favourite activities and the words ‘I am talented, together we are awesome, because I can……’.
The Leeds Gypsy Roma Traveller achievement service also provided a range of resources which were displayed around the setting. The aim was to raise awareness and overcome prejudice of the Gypsy, Roma and Travellers in the setting and highlight the values of their culture and heritage. A parent informed the setting that she had enjoyed looking at the displays and artefacts and had gained a great deal of knowledge and understanding from them. One child became greatly interested in the objects displayed on a table. He took ownership of the toy caravan and placed it into his pocket at the beginning of every session. He removed it at intervals during the day and used it to enhance his play in various areas. He then placed it back on the table before he left, usually hiding it behind a bigger object where it was ‘safe’ for the next day.
All current frameworks place a strong emphasis on safe guarding, multi-agency working and information sharing between settings, social services, health professionals and all those who come into contact with children. The common core of skills and knowledge emphasises the importance of practitioners holding a sound knowledge of how these agencies work and interrelate. Early intervention is vital. When effective, operational partnerships are formed between various organisations relevant information can be obtained and acted upon rapidly ensuring problems are detected and addressed before they become harmful to the child. A practitioner who recognises the holistic approach to the child must be aware of the policies and procedures when dealing with safe-guarding issues. The common core of skills and knowledge are not yet legal requirement any many settings and practitioners are unaware of its existence. Making this legal requirement will guarantee all practitioners are capable of delivering its aims in the correct manner with the child at the forefront of their practice.
This outlines the necessity for practitioners to be reflective and undertake regular personal development to ensure they provide the best quality of care and learning. It also requires practitioners to regularly reflect on and develop their own practice, in order to improve the provision, learning potential and wellbeing of individuals in the setting ensuring their individual needs are met.
When delivered as intended the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge, ECM and the EYFS’s principles do place the child at the centre of all good practise. They stress the importance of meeting a child’s individual needs and care requirements. None the less it has been established that some do not comprehend how to deliver it effectively understanding truly the child’s uniqueness. This has identified a need to further train practitioners in its aims and principles.
Many theories and approaches have been considered when compiling the EYFS and the most vital components have been added. John Oates (2007) one of the writers of the EYFS, states that it recognises the importance of uniqueness and developmental differences between children. He claims that assessing children is not to establish success or failure, but to stress how the main areas of learning are built upon from previous experience.
Although the school that the setting is attached to aims to provide a holistic approach to care and education, it has been established that the setting and its staff needs to go through man