Planning in the moment
I recently ran an information session for parents on In The Moment Planning. The idea was to familiarise parents with the concept of planning in this way, explain how it works and to advise parents how they can support settings using this method. The session was successful and I felt it might be useful to write it up as a blog for other parents who may be interested or perhaps thinking about sending their child to a setting where In The Moment Planning is used or their child is already in a setting using this approach.
I think it's probably a good idea to start with explaining what In The Moment Planning actually is. It's a great title, but what does it mean? It's actually nothing new and something you do as parents very naturally - every time you look at or listen to your child, you are assessing and planning how to respond to that child. The response is planned in the moment.
It has to start with the child and is led by the child and then the idea is to find ways to respond which suit that child. It is called ‘In the moment’ because the staff in settings will be seizing that moment and therefore, supporting the child immediately.
We understand that for learning to take place, children need to feel safe and secure, in fact we all do. Any of us who have ever felt anxious, unsure and ignored will know those feelings do not enable us to take on or process any information. In settings, starting from the child's interests, ensure the child remains content and so new learning is possible and that child's progress is maximised by putting their well being first and responding in ways that respect and value their unique identity.
Practitioners and settings will talk about the importance of children being fully engaged, but what does this mean? In the book, In The Moment Planning, the author, Anna Ephgrave describes fully engaged children as being happy, independent, confident, unique, taking risks, taking the lead, communicating, challenged, creative, secure, curious, persistent, sociable, enthusiastic and other similar words. I am sure, we all want children to feel this way. She continues by stating that:
A child who is not happy cannot become deeply engaged
A child who is not challenged will not be deeply engaged
A child who is being controlled by adults will not be deeply engaged
A child who feels insecure will not be deeply engaged
When children are deeply engaged brain development is enabled with new synapses forming and this means they are making progress. Deep involvement indicates brain activity and this happens most during high quality child initiated play. This is another term you may have heard but may not be entirely familiar with what it actually means. A lack of child-initiated play severely limits possibilities for children to explore and communicate their own interests and ideas. It also restricts opportunities for children to engage in the sort of dialogue that can scaffold their understanding and knowledge of the world around them. Genuine child initiated play is spontaneous and belongs to the child or children, it is not imposed by adults with any kind of agenda of what they feel the child should be doing and learning!! True child initiated play cannot be pre planned because we don't know what the children will initiate. That means that staff will plan as they go, plan spontaneously - plan in the moment and respond as appropriate.
High level involvement occurs most often when children are able to pursue their own interests and settings using this approach will encourage this by ensuring the setting is enabling for all children, accommodating their interests and that they are supported by skilled staff. Planning in the moment helps to make this possible.
Another term that you may have heard used is Enabling Environment and I will give you some examples of what this means for your children. Settings planning in the moment will set up their environment to be a more workshop style both indoors and out. Nothing or very little is set up on tables as the children are able and encouraged to select what they want to do in each area.
Most settings will try to ensure that the resources they have are accessible to the children and that they are varied, open ended and of a high quality. Open ended means that there is no set purpose to the resources so children are free to use their imaginations and they are able to select resources that best support their chosen activity. In the setting where I ran my session, we have removed all activities and routines that result in low level involvement as they are a waste of everyone's time and energy.
So, what are the implications for settings who are embarking on this exciting and wonderful journey? The environment is key and it must be suitable for the age of the children who are there. The resources need to be well organised and as much as possible, should be accessed independently by the children. As discussed earlier again, as much as possible, they should be open ended to enable deep level engagement from the children. It is also important that the resources are authentic. Anna Ephgrave (2018) states “Children respond to authentic resources and experiences.” and she elaborates on this by explaining “Authentic does not mean items from the 1920s. However, China cups are more authentic than plastic ones.”
You may well be asking yourself, if the room is not being set up and if activities are not being preplanned, what actually are staff doing!? What is the role of the adult in all this? The adult is there to facilitate learning and this is done through observations and interactions. The adult’s role is to remain observant, interested and responsive - ready to interact if they can add anything of value to the play. When children are playing it is sometimes tempting to join in thinking we are enhancing their play experience. This can be the case, but also, adults can spoil play for children because, we are adults and don't really know how to play anymore. In settings staff will know the children very well and will have a sound knowledge of child development. This ensures that the adults enhance and extend the learning at the appropriate level. The adults role is to encourage and support children's learning - they do not solve their problems - that doesn't teach them anything.
As parents, there are plenty of opportunities to support staff working in the moment with your children. In Early Years, all staff are committed to working in partnership with parents so that all parents feel involved.
Home school books, or something very similar, are a really useful resource for you and staff. It is important that you read and then respond to comments from staff so that you are aware of what your child has been doing and what interests and activities they have been exploring whilst in the setting. This enables you to continue these at home and you can add any moments that you have noticed. In Early Years, we understand and value the fact that parents are their child's first educator and they know their children best - if asked, you would be able to say exactly what your child likes, dislikes, enjoys doing and what they can achieve.
Most settings will find photos helpful but any other ways you can share your child's interests is crucial as these are the starting blocks for conversations that staff will have with your children. In her book, Anna Ephgrave suggests that you send photos via email (or printed off and brought in) 3 times a year and these can be photos of things that are of interest to your child or an experience they have just had, something your child would really like to talk about.
As I said at the beginning of this article, planning in the moment is nothing new - you as responsive parents will have done this with your children every day of their lives and something that those of us who work in Early Years have always done, we respond to that unique child's specific interest in that moment of interest. Carrying out an activity the following day or week based on that interest will not be the best way to respond and this is the way that planning has happened over the last few years. We have discussed how child initiated play enables children to become deeply engaged and when this happens deep level learning is taking place. Settings who plan in the moment and value that child initiated play, will respond to each child's unique and innate desire to learn and will encourage and support that learning.
Anna Ephgrave (2018) ends her book with a wonderful quote from one of my favourite pioneers of play, Susan Isaacs (1885-1948) https://eyfs.info/articles.html/teaching-and-learning/educational-pioneers-susan-isaacs-1885-1948-r40/ and it sums up planning in the moment perfectly, so I thought I would add it here:
“Finally, it is a wise general rule to leave the children free to use their playthings in their own way - even if this does not happen to be the way that we might think the best. For play had the greatest value for the young child when it is really free and his own.” Susan Isaacs, (1929) The Nursery Years
Anna Ephgrave (2018) Planning in the moment with young children. A practical guide for Early Years Practitioners and Parents. Routledge. London.