20/05/2013 08:35 BST | Updated 20/07/2013 06:12 BST

Let Them Play


With all the talk recently about structured play and teaching children manners, I thought it would be useful to discuss what some of this means in a nursery setting.

Working in early years means getting messy; being physical and, more importantly - rolling with the mood swings! Our job as the adult (in nurseries and as a parent) is to model appropriate behaviour in front of children and help them to work through what can only be described sometimes as 'the turmoil of emotions' that they are experiencing and can't quite articulate.

Recent press articles and MP comments, such as those by Liz Truss, talking about children taking turns and saying hello to the teacher when they enter the room is not really a helpful way of looking at 'the problem' - if there actually is a problem in the first place!

Promoting positive behaviour is such an integral part of nursery life and is about much much more than a room full of children playing nicely and being well-mannered. It's about giving children the time and the space to be able to slowly work things through for themselves. They're exploring big ideas about the world and this is the time to tune into what fascinates them.

Helping them explore their big ideas is far more important than a constant reminder of 'don't forget to say thank you'. We're not worried about the manners because we know that children are such keen observers of adults that by us modeling positive behaviour in everything we do, the children soon pick this up when they're ready and start to use it themselves.

The secret is to let them learn. Have faith and confidence in your children because they are incredibly assertive learners.

So, to address some of Liz Truss' concerns about 'lack of purpose' and 'unstructured play', I say welcome to early years!

What she calls chaos, we call a rich and varied curriculum; her 'lack of purpose', we believe to be the most vital element to learning - play; and what she calls 'unstructured play' is, well, anybody's guess.

As much as I believe adult qualifications and education matter, don't be misled into believing all that is required here is a qualified teacher to instill 'good manners' into children this young. Working in early years encompasses a much deeper understanding of children's social and emotional development than instilling good manners and the model of early years Truss describes is far from what many in child care believe to be in the best interest of our children.

What many of us who work with young children fear is that this model may lead us to children as young as two being rushed on to tasks they are not developmentally ready for, such as colours, numbers and reading. We need to remember what's at the heart of this issue - and that's the well-being and happiness of our children.