Hi, I’m Connor and I just turned 5. There’s only a few more days of school before the Christmas holidays. We’ve had a tree and an elves workshop in our classroom. My teacher is starting to pack it all away cause it’s almost the holidays and when we get back it won’t be Christmas anymore…
We’ve made the Christmas cards with the children, done the Nativity play, put out decoration-making materials ad nauseam and now it’s time for some Christmas films while we quickly pack it all away before the onset of January. Sound familiar? But does it have to be that way, and can we create further opportunities for learning without rushing children on to the next topic?
Topic-based environments attempt to shoe-horn in all the areas of learning laid out in the Early Years curriculum. However, we don’t necessarily need to ‘pack away’ each experience quite as quickly as we do. It certainly would alleviate some stress for teachers and the benefits to leaving provision out for longer, are clear.
Take Christmas role-play, for instance. Most children in Early Years settings have only experienced a maximum of 3 or 4 Christmasses before now. They were extremely young when they had those Christmasses, so how much can we realistically expect them to be able to recall through their play? We put up the tree and lay out accessories for them to play with. But quite frankly, they haven’t much of an idea what to do with it all, such as the traditions of Christmas Eve or Day that some families practise. So what happens in those final weeks of school before Christmas? The children effectively trash the Christmas corner – they hit one another with empty ‘present’ boxes and argue over who is going to wear Santa’s hat or carry his knapsack. There really is not much role-play to speak of. Just a lot of wasting of wrapping paper and charging about.
But what if we kept it all there for January? Might the role-play evolve into something else, based on real experiences that occurred over the Christmas period? Might there be quality talk about what gifts were exchanged or what food was eaten? From a resource point of view, might teachers encourage children to save wrapping paper and packaging from Christmas Day, to bring into class? Might there be some uncooked Brussels sprouts or parsnips left over that could be added into the home corner? Think of all the Christmas cards that could be brought in to be reused, and the writing opportunities that this would create?
Children need to role-play the things that they know and have experienced if they really are to learn through their play. Teachers might be bound by topic, but they have to be realistic. We need to think carefully about children’s realms of knowledge in order to further develop their skills. Why not use some of the great deal of stuff we will all accrue and probably waste this Christmas, to do just that.