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Planning with and for children

May 26, 2021 | Early Years

Just as the word ‘planning’ strikes boredom into some people’s hearts, it strikes excitement into Dr Claire Warden’s. She thinks the challenge around the word is that it has come to mean paperwork that feels detached from children. In this blog, Dr Warden will share the reason she started planning with and for children through Floorbooks 35 years ago and provide a taste of what they are today through answering questions that people have asked her.

What is a Floorbook®?

A Floorbook is a large book that is filled with images and words that are the traces of playful inquiries, theories and plans and have been collated by children and adults. The Floorbook represents a central hub for the process of documentation and planning in a centre. It includes children’s narratives where they share and tell stories; observations where children and adults share what they notice; samples of children’s work or traces of play; and the reflections of adults and children as they share multiple perspectives.

Why do you need to plan with and for children?

Children have a right to be heard and, when we notice their ideas, we can offer experiences that mean something to them so their engagement goes up. Hearing someone’s voice develops a sense of agency and empowerment in both children and adults that will stay as a capacity for learning into the future. The skills needed for the future are flexible thinking, problem solving and developing a growth mindset, which come from developing confidence in yourself. The Floorbooks give children an easy way of looking back at their own growth and development as a learner.

Planning with and for children is responsive planning that takes place in the moment but also acknowledges that adults have a role in framing, offering and monitoring intentional moments. Key strategies and features have been tried and tested to ensure that Floorbooks meet the needs of quality improvement and accountability.

Where did Floorbooks begin?

A large part of my love of the planning cycle has come from the use of Floorbooks. The journey started in 1986 when there was a real tension in my teaching between the expectations about the delivery and testing of a national curriculum and children’s rights. It felt at the time that the formative aspects of the work we do every day, all day, as we interact with children was being overwhelmed by adult-directed outcomes and targets. This style of work develops convergent strategies, to get all children to the same point, at the same time, in the same way. I worked to find a solution, to develop a way to tick all the boxes, to respect a child’s right to be heard and to play while still being accountable to a curriculum to monitor breadth and balance.

How does this planning approach work with the curriculum?

The two fundamental approaches to planning are: curriculum driven and child led. When our planning is only curriculum driven, children’s plans and ideas are often overtaken by the adult ideas. When we reframe that approach and create a balance of planning WITH children, it allows us to demonstrate our respect for their thinking.

The challenge in some settings is the pressure to always start with the curriculum and divide it up to create an activity for children to do. This approach starts with an observation of playful inquiry and plans alongside the group of children to document with them as partners in learning. During this process the adults observe, question, plan, act and then reflect to ensure that there is progression and rich diverse opportunities for children. This whole planning cycle is visible in the pages of the Floorbooks as well as in a planning diary for operational notes.

Is it inclusive?

All children have a right to communicate. Inclusivity and social justice are central to this approach as we value children’s cultural identity, forms of communication, ways of knowing and existing knowledge and understanding. The Floorbooks are co-created with children and allow educators to have a sense of empowerment and autonomy in how they make the process of learning much more visible and enjoyable. The joy of planning with and for children is that each day is filled with the wonderment of their uniqueness and understanding rather than trying to think of things to do.

We start with a provocation or an invitation using a Talking Tub of objects and images. The Talking Tub frames the conversations between the adult and children so that gathering times are not question-and-answer sessions but a moment to share possibilities and ideas that emerge from exploring an image or handling a real object. This supports the intentional actions by the adults as these ideas can then be shared through documentation in the Floorbook, which is stored in the book corner for children to revisit. Consulting children happens easily when the choices are shared visually and physically through exploring a Talking Tub.

How do they support quality improvement?

The flexible nature of Floorbooks ensures that they gather evidence for all seven quality areas in Australia as they can be used to share the process of thinking for children, the adult team alone or indeed child and adult co-constructing their journey together. Imagine if your development planning was collated into a Floorbook and the shared leadership and thinking within the pages improved the quality of your provision for children and families.

Where do I begin?

Listening to children and considering how you can create an environment that respects their rights would be a great place to start. Then the process of planning with and for children can begin and take root across all the members of the team. I have written Planning with and for Children as a practical guide to take you through the research, features and strategies so that you can share the way you balance children’s right to be heard with monitoring breadth and balance in your setting.

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