18 Mar 2021
My Morning in Pre-Prep
BY MR TIMMS
This week I spent a morning in Pre-Prep. Some of the children were, I was told, incredibly excited about my visit as they did not even realise they had a Head.
I had made sure I was dressed for the occasion. Gone were the smart suits and silk ties…the thought of my herringbone weave being stained with snot, playdough, paint and glue was too much. Instead, chinos, jumper and sensible shoes. I looked, and felt, every part the early years practitioner.
I crouched down next to a girl and boy who were using their iPad to research owls and create a fact file. She was spelling out ‘regurgitation’ phonetically. Impressed at her word acquisition, I thought I’d use this opportunity to get her to explain to me what she was learning. "What does that mean and why do they do that?" I asked. She looked at me like I was an absolute buffoon for being unable to grasp such a simple fact. "It’s the food that they can’t digest. Last week we looked at their pellets." She announced. In the neighbouring class, we all sat on the mat sharing our work with partners and explaining our findings.
Then, it was to 1:1 reading. We went through our phonics – with actions – and recognised some matching words. I came across a smaller group of children who were investigating some nonsense words using blending skills. I’ve never seen a child so delighted to put a collection of words inside their very own starred treasure chest box.
The use of questioning in one Maths classroom was inspiring. Children were engaged in discussion by asking justifying questions that held the child accountable for their learning. Individuals were gently pushed to provide evidence and support their ideas.
Next it was snack time and we had pizza slices and listened to a story all about pirates and dinosaurs. What’s not to like?!
There was also a little group of children exploring a sea bass and a sea bream outside. The group were delighted with the opportunity to explore these two creatures: slipping them out of their hand and feeling the texture of the scales and fins; exploring which had sharper teeth; comparing the eyes of both fish. And all the time they were talking to each other and sharing their thoughts:
"They use their wings to swim"
"It makes me feel a bit funny when I touch it"
"That one must be tastier because it’s got less bones."
"It smells like fish."
"The fish are grey because that’s the colour of the sea."
The teacher resisted the urge to ‘correct’ every little misconception they spouted. Instead, they kept asking follow-on questions that encouraged them to take their thinking to the next step, forcing them to evaluate the logic in what they were saying. And, when they could see it might not be logical at all, they happily changed their original conceits without a moment’s doubt.
And so ended my morning in Pre-Prep.
But what did I learn?
Well, I learnt that not a minute is wasted. I had, after all, only experienced a mere fraction of the opportunities that are available to the children throughout the day. Every single activity that was planned (and there were loads) was grounded in their topic and designed to help them develop the characteristics of effective learning, a practical skill or learn a little bit more about the world. The adults were focused, at all times, on capturing and stretching the children’s learning. Specific needs were met. Children benefitted from direct teaching that explored the concepts and ideas that were then taken further as the morning continued. It was all just so nurturing and playful. It was purposeful. But, above all, it was so much more than just regurgitation.
It was a magical morning, but I can't help but think that every day in Pre-Prep is a special day.