Reflective Practice and Professional Development

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The setting I volunteer within is a multi-cultural play group which aims to provide a broad and balanced learning experience to children between the ages of Birth to Five years in a happy, secure and stimulating environment.

The play group offers four morning sessions per week and has children and families attending from the local multicultural community.

Play group offers a variety of resources, a creative area for painting, sticking and coloring. A role play area for children to dress up in a variety of different costumes and a home corner which comprises of a kitchen area with plastic food and a play house. We also have an activity area for puzzles, books and writing.

The practitioners at the play group are all dedicated to the development and well-being of all children, and have a shared ethos that children learn most successfully through play-based activities.

All practitioners are experienced and are qualified to BTEC or NVQ3 standard and all have previous experience working with children.

The play group’s aims and objectives are to encourage the development of social skills, caring for others, independence and a pride in the children’s personal achievements. To develop children’s self-esteem and to ensure each child is able to integrate and contribute to their world and society with confidence.

We all as practitioners endeavour to keep the environment attractive and stimulating. The walls are decorated with examples of the children’s work which connect with the current theme, and informative posters.

My role and responsibilities in this setting is to play an active role in providing a thought-provoking, exciting and safe environment which encourages learning. I also spend time with the parents having informative chats about their children’s progress.

The area I would like to focus on is inclusive education, Inclusive education is a broad subject and the term ‘inclusive education’, is used to cover the inclusion of all children into educational settings. The Foundation Stage Curriculum Guidance states that ‘no child be excluded or disadvantaged because of ethnicity, culture or, home language, family background, special educational needs, disability, gender or ability’ (QCA/Dfee, 2000, pg.11)

Play group actively seeks to meet opportunities and their sixteen point quality statement policy states that; staff are encouraged to challenge stereotypical and racist attitudes. That they will actively promote positive cultural images in both general attitude and creative activities, ensuring that all of the children, regardless of their cultural or religious influences, are seen as valuable members of society.

The members of staff are encouraged to demonstrate on a day to day basis that they positively value and respect children of all ethnic origins/racial groups, religions, cultures, languages and different abilities. Children of both sexes are positively encouraged by staff to participate in all activities.

As practitioners we try to select toys and equipment with the different needs of the children in mind. Displays aim to show and reflect a positive image towards the different cultures. Books are chosen to meet all the children’s ages and abilities, and also to reflect the many differing lifestyles there are in our society.

The foundation stage curriculum guidance suggests that inclusive practice should included, “opportunity to extend children’s knowledge and self esteem, a flexible approach to supporting children’s difficulties and materials that positively reflect diversity and are free from discrimination or stereo typing. (QCA, Dfee, 2000, Pg 17, 18).

When planning for activities in any of the six areas of the curriculum it is equally important to support inclusive practice.

Study Topic 2, draws attention to the Dfee’s statement that ‘inclusion is about providing equal opportunity for all children and promoting the practice that will make it reality’ (The Open University, 2004, Study Topic 2, Pg .6).

This is done by practitioners ensuring that children of all abilities and backgrounds are able to access and participate in all the activities and day trips provided by the play group and Sure Start and to be able to participate to an appropriate level.

It is important that practitioners audit provisions on a regular basis. The importance of this was highlighted during a recent audit at the setting. Practitioners discovered that although care is taken to ensure that the provisions for inclusive education are available to all staff, often these provisions are not utilized and sit in store cupboards.

From carrying out the audit we realized that the home corner only depicted western culture and was not changed to show other cultures or races from around the world. One other item that practitioners noticed was that we could not provide enough resources for children who were left handed; three children had to share one pair of scissors between them.

During the audit we also found other available resources such as information on different cultures, dress up clothes from all over the world and musical instruments that were still in boxes packed away which could have been used to regularly change the home corner to depict other cultures and to allow the children to participate more in song time.

We also found boxes of fibre optic lights and balls which had different textures and feelings which were tucked away at the back of the store cupboard which practitioners were not utilizing.

These items could be used to provide sensory experiences as the lights would be therapeutic to watch and the balls would allow children to feel different textures.

Study Topic 13 discusses; ‘that creating areas which are suitable for children with special needs or impairments will benefit all the children in the setting’ (The Open University, Study Topic 13, Pg 14).

The practitioners was surprised at how many provisions had been tucked away, and without the use of regular audits would almost certainly be forgotten about.

In TMA 03 (See Appendix A). I discussed the baking activity which involved cooking with the children, in which I supported the children through the use of scaffolding. The Reader defines scaffolding as “support that is contingent upon the learners need for assistance.” (Devereux and Miller, 2004, p.10)

Through careful observation during the activity I was able to give the correct amount of support to each individual child and then carefully decreased the amount of support to facilitate more independent learning.

This activity would be considered to be supportive of effective inclusive practice as I provided support to a child with a severe difficulty with fine-motor co-ordination.

When assisting the child to cut up the banana, I put my hand over hers and guided the child and then gradually after a few cuts decreased the assistance until the child was eventually cutting the banana independently.

Special educational needs are now included under the term of equal opportunities. The SEN Code of Practice defines the term special educational needs as; ‘Children have special educational need if they have a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provisions to be made for them’ (Dfee’s, 2001, p. 6)

Another example of inclusive practice would be through the use of Guided participation where a ‘more able other’, provides resources and models how to use these resources. The Open University defines Guided participation as; ‘young children taking part in activities with more experienced others’ (The Open University, 2004, Study Topic 1, Pg.18.)

I could also support inclusive policy by ensuring that resources for all activities are accessible for all children, taking into account special educational needs, disability, and learning styles.

It is echoed in Study Topic 2, it is important to; ‘Acknowledge and accept the diversity of all children to be able to accommodate differences, rather than to change children to fit the setting.’ (The Open University, 2004, Study Topic 2, P.12)

We as practitioners have to understand that it is important to involve children in relation to their settings provisions.

In Study topic 2 the UN Convention for the Rights of the Child states that; ‘children have the right to express their views, and when young children are empowered, they act as a source of information, expertises and skill for adults.’ (The Open University, Study Topic 2, Pg 10).

Different ways of trying to gain an understanding of children’s view of a setting could be through the use of age appropriate discussions and the use of open questions, or by letting children express their views through drawing pictures.

These are all suggestions within the ‘Mosaic approach’ which was devised by Clark and Moss in 2001 and was based on the premises that; children are experts in their own lives, children bring their own interpretations to situations, and that there are many different ways to listen to children’ (The Open University, Study Topic 13,pg17)

When we consulted with the children at circle time they picked up on the lack of pets at the setting and that more dressing up out fits were wanted in the dressing up area.

Study Topic 2 discusses that; ‘If children’s view are respected, and they are encouraged to take responsibility for decisions based in their views, they will acquire the confidence to challenge abuses of their rights’ (The Open University, Study Topic 2, Pg 10)

The setting welcomes the involvement of parents and has an open door policy whereby parents can pop in and observe or participate at any time during the day. There is also a time allocated at the beginning and end of each session for a quick exchange of information between parents and staff. Sometimes the exchange of information can be rushed and some less confident parents may come and go without speaking to a practitioner or gaining the practitioners full attention.

There is a monthly newsletter keeping parents informed regarding study topics and other events. If problems or concerns arise there is a meeting planned with both parties to address these issues as soon as possible. The Foundation Stage Curriculum states that; ‘practitioners should share with and receive from parent’s information about children’s achievements and targets. Parents have important information that supports practitioner’s planning for, and work with, children.’ (QCA/DfEE, 2000, pg.24)

In the short term I would like to attempt to improve the inclusive provisions of the setting ensuring that all staff understand and follow the equal opportunities policy statement. That key workers have a better understanding of the cultural and religious beliefs, languages, family backgrounds, special educational needs and disabilities of the children in their care and to ensure that all provisions in the setting meet the requirements of inclusive practice set out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA). The Foundation Stage Guidance states that; ‘an awareness and understanding of the requirements of equal opportunities that cover race, gender and disability and the code of practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs is essential.’ (QCA/DfEE, 2000, pg.17)

This can be achieved by first bringing these issues up at a staff meeting and suggesting that all staff look at the ways in which we are meeting the requirements that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has set for inclusive practice.

We plan to target these issues by suggesting that play group could focus on our multicultural backgrounds as an on going theme. This way the practitioners can learn alongside children (as learning partners) about the diversities in all our lifestyles. The Foundation Stage guidance suggests that practitioners should; ‘find out about the child’s faith, cultural heritage, home experiences and interests so they can be used as a starting point for learning and teaching.’ (QCA/DfEE, 2000, pg.12)

I would also suggest that the home corner should be changed regularly to depict other cultures than the western world. This can be achieved with the use of the items discovered during the audit and also possibly asking for help and information from the children’s parents.

The Foundation stage guidance suggests that; ‘practitioners should ensure that displays and resources reflect children’s homes and community experiences.’ (QCA/DfEE, 2000, pg.12)

Also I will discuss the findings of the resource audit and make all staff aware of all the resources available and suggest the possibility of selling unused items to allow for the replacement of new more appropriate ‘inclusive’ items. This would solve the problem of the lack of left handed scissors.

And that more time is allocated to give practitioners and parents an appropriate amount of time to communicate on a one on one basis, a diary could be sent to and from home so parents can write comments on areas of their children’s work and development.

As noted in ‘Start Here: reviewing the changes’ “We live and work at a time of rapid change in terms of how childhood is thought of and experienced.(Hancock et al,2007)

I am aware that the role of the practitioner is still evolving and that there are now many opportunities for professional development in the early years educational field. The Open University states that; ‘practitioners need to reflect on professional development on a continuous basis in order to embrace new opportunities and challenges.’ (The Open University, Study Topic 14, pg.33)

My short term goal is to pass the re-submission of this ECA and then to go on to pass my re-submission of my E123 ECA and to achieve a Certificate in Early Years Practice (NVQ Level 4) by the end of 2009.

This will be an interim qualification as my aim is to achieve a BA (Honours) degree in Childhood and Youth Studies within the next 4 years, with the long term objective of becoming an Early Years Primary School teacher.

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