During a recent Network meeting this question was posed by one of my colleagues as we discussed the different ways we all work: My instinctive initial response was “I am a constructivist, maybe a social constructivist.” We didn’t really delve much further into the reasons behind it but it really got me thinking.

Am I really a constructivist? Do I actually have a full understanding of this issue? The last time I really considered this was while I completed my Early Years Professional Status qualification way back at the beginning of 2014.

I decided peruse this in order to rationalise my initial response and to reflect on my thoughts. I did some research and re-read some of my university assignments so that I could try and link just one of the theories and explain why I think it links to my ethos, thoughts and practice.

Having spending some nights (and on some occasions early hours of the morning as I got a bit carried away and forgot the time) reading Linda Pond’s ‘How Children Learn’, I now know that John Dewey’s theory sits pretty closely to my own. I agree with many of the points he puts forward:

As long as people are alive, they are learning – This is something I agree wholeheartedly with. Children learn from the moment they enter this world but what they learn, in my opinion, relates very closely to attachments made during the early years (and indeed beyond). Secure and positive attachments are the most important aspect of early development and key to establishing an enabling environment allowing children to reach their full potential.

Importance of social interaction – to me this means so much more than just sitting together for a few minutes during circle time; it means planning opportunities for ‘real’ conversations that are meaningful to the child and allows them time to develop communication skills as they interact with somebody who genuinely wants to listen to them and shows interest (even if what they want to say seems like total gobbledygook) to what they have to say. It’s also about providing opportunities and resources that enable children to observe other people and participate in a range of social situations (not just sitting in the same room but getting out and about to experience real interactions with people other than those that they see day to day) so that they can imitate and learn from what they observe.

Need to develop the curriculum from children’s interests – personally, I believe that the curriculum for early years children should not be a set of adult led activities with predetermined outcomes. There’s obviously a place for this but, in my opinion it’s more about carefully planning the environment (and activities provided) based on the individual interests of children and their stage of development. Having spoken to several different practitioners who come from a wide range of backgrounds, I think it takes a practitioner who is very tuned into the children they care for and dedicated to ensuring they grow and develop to their full potential to set up this type of environment. Thinking on your feet in order to adapt the provision as children’s interests extend and change isn’t an ability every practitioner possesses or indeed deems necessary.

The value and culture of family and community should be reflected in the life of the school (or in my case the childminding setting) – accepting children for who they are and valuing their family, culture and beliefs helps children to be secure in who they are, in terms of their family and community (which obviously includes any childcare setting they attend). Personally I feel that as a society we try to ‘teach’ too wide a range of ‘diversity’ to the under fives, which is why at Jellybabyz I concentrate primarily on the cultures of the families (including my own) using my setting. This means that as children move on or new children enter the setting pans have to be adapted. Although I am aware of the diverse makeup of our community as a whole and acknowledge the major religious festivals and holidays in my medium term planning, I do not ‘cover’ festivals, and family make up or traditions that are not represented within the group of children currently attending, as topics.

This does not mean I do not cover diversity issues (I would be negligent in my role as an Early Years Practitioner if I failed to) because essentially diversity is all about understanding similarities and differences and can be highlighted in EVERYTHING I provide for the children. Children who gain an understanding of similarities and differences, and are encouraged to think critically for themselves, will be able to apply this knowledge to all areas of their lives well beyond childhood. By helping children think for themselves I aim to give them the skills to cope with different people, objects and beliefs (not just faiths) which in turn leads to equality being a central part of their well into adulthood. My personal stance is that the inequality and discrimination is the result of a lack of knowledge and understanding and an ability recognise the similarities and differences then accept them for what they are without prejudice.

Teachers (yes that includes me and YOU) are not just teaching children as individuals – they are helping children to live in society and shaping society as a whole – I really think Government policy and some settings need to think about this and have a serious review of what is provided for our children and young people! Personally I believe that as a society we need people who posess a range of skills so that we can thrive as a whole and that all should be valued and appreciated for what they offer. However we live in a society the seems more focused on assessing everyone and benchmarking them against just academic skills: in the long run I see a society that fails to prosper and where many people are made to feel they have ‘failed’, are ‘not good enough’. Coming from a teaching background, and seeing the impact that SATs and other ‘testing’ had on such young children, I believe we are going to see children with mental health issues, a lack of social skills, and worse of all a lack of people with caring skills.  

So what is my conclusion? Yes indeed I am a constructivist with aspects of a social constructivist. I believe that learning is perceived as an active, not a passive, process where knowledge is constructed based on personal experiences and the continual testing of hypotheses. However I believe that constructivists such as Piaget have overlooked the essentially social nature of language and consequently failed to understand that learning is a collaborative process. We cannot learn in a vacuum. Without social interaction children cannot (and will not) develop to their full potential.

As a result of this process I have extended my own understanding and knowledge, but have also created a rather long ‘to do list’. As a reflective practitioner I continue to evaluate my own practice, the impact it has on the children in my care and my provision as a whole.