There are some rather difficult activities which are valuable largely from the input rather than the output or end-product point of view. Planting seeds involves giving information, explaining procedures, and handling materials; it also involves waiting for germination and growing which gives some idea of time. The degree of success will vary as regards the health and strength of the plants which come up but it is thethat is the important part. Similar activities are useful more for the skills involved and the information and vocabulary absorbed than the finished objects. Letting children help or at least watch when toys are mended or when new equipment is being made is an enjoyable ‘activity’ even if the child’s participation is limited.
Introducing such skills as telling the time and fastening shoe laces is often seen by both parents and some infant schools as the job of the nursery group. This can be a difficulty as the majority of children, particularly boys, are not yet at the stage where they can tie bows, let alone bend down over the fat tummy many have at this age to tie laces. If practice of this kind is introduced it should be with easily manageable materials and should be an optional activity. Use of clocks is less important than giving some sense of time. Using egg timers, melting ice cubes, huge ‘hour-glass’ apparatus made of two transparent plastic bottles suitably fastened together and silver sand, telling stories which involve time and using a cardboard clock-face as one of the props, marking off days on a calendar, and singing songs and rhymes involving the days of the week will do more good in the nursery group than a set piece every day involving a clock and time-telling practice.
Obviously there are so many of these activities that they cannot all be provided every day within a nursery group – nor should they be. Nevertheless it is wise to keep a check on what is being offered to ensure a reasonable balance of provision for all stages of development and for individual interest. Making a frequent check on material to ensure sufficient variety within each type and stage of puzzles and matchingis only commonsense. This is one area where, in addition to a basic stock, use of a ‘ library’ of material shared by several groups is a good idea. Where equipment has to be made some adults might find that making one new set each week suits them best. Other groups organize a grand ‘ making’ session where everyone (including mothers) is encouraged to come and take part. This is usually very successful if one person has done a fair amount of thinking, organizing and collecting of material beforehand.
Common enough to merit mention is the feeling of some infant-school teachers that nursery groups encroach on the materials and activities of the early school years. They feel that a child who has spent two years in a lively, well-equipped nursery becomes bored with what goes on in the reception class. Since reception classes have always had to deal with a wide spread of experience and competence within any one intake of children, their concern may be rooted in the fact that with more children having pre-school group experience there is an upward change in the average level of ability. Using similar equipment and activities should not present a problem since most good equipment and activities are useful over at least a five-year span, from two to seven years. It is the child himself who makes the difference in what is done and achieved. If this feeling arises because children have been pushed too far rather than given wide experience then this is a different matter. If nursery-group experience produces a poor attitude tobecause of too much pressure too soon this is a serious matter. Nevertheless widespread, successful nursery will certainly make a difference to reception classes.
The other complaint often made about nursery-group children is that, although they are more independent and can do more for themselves, at the same time they demand more attention in the form of asking for their work to be commented on and discussing things with the teacher. This can only be regarded as very sad after all the hard work put in by nursery staff – they have tried to ensure that even the shyest, most inarticulate three-year-old, when he leaves them at five, trusts adults and feels able to take part in, or even initiate, a conversation with them and other children. Outsiders can see both points of view, and that of the children. The problem of the reception-class teacher is not the children – it is not having enough help to carry through this very valuable aspect of nursery.