The Topic Based Planning Debate continues ……. and in my reflection extends to a much bigger debate!   1 comment

To use topics or not to use topics – should we, shouldn’t we?

Recently there has been a bit of a discussion via one of the Facebook groups that I run (this one The Childcare Professionals Advice, Support and Discussion Group) about topics. My friend and colleague Laura Henry posted a link to this blog and then to a blog of her own with both blogs giving insightful views about topics in early years settings.

Topics are something that I have referred to many times here in my own blog over the last couple of years, but recently via my parents newsletter I have been reflecting on my own use of an over aching topic, here at Penny’s Place.

Therefore this is an ideal time to share with other the thoughts of myself and the parents

In the parent newsletter of 21st April 2014 – I wrote

‘As the children have not really been bothered about the topics lately – I am thinking about the benefits of topics and if we should have one or not. Therefore while I am reflecting and evaluating we will just ‘go with the children’s interests’ It would be really helpful, if you can let me know what the children are enjoying at home, and about places they have visited and so on.’

And in the newsletter from 27th April I wrote

‘I am still thinking about the topic planning – last week went well without it – but I think we will have some sort of outline topic – maybe just a book that we can change as and when we want / need to – but as I say I am still thinking – and we may go back to topics – or we may scrap them altogether. I would be interested in your views about topics’

Then in the newsletter from 5th May I wrote

We seem to have sort of drifting into looking at minibeasts – so we will go with this as our outline topic and see how it develops. Meanwhile, I am still debating with myself the positive and negative points about using topics.’

Meanwhile parents had commented via a questionnaire and verbally, and supporting statements for an award that I have been nominated for that they are very happy with the activities I provide, the structure and the outline planning – but especially with the flexibility in experiences / activities – in other words they like the over arching topic and do not want things to change

So on the 18th May (there was not a newsletter for the week before due to attending the Early Education conference in Edinburgh) I wrote;

‘The minibeast topic is sort of continuing in the background – and at the arboretum the children took part in a nature hunt and spotted lots of things – including minibeasts that they then ‘marked’ as seen on their identification sheet.

 I will be ordering our live caterpillars (already pre ordered and paid for) so that they arrive after my holiday. We still have the empty cocoons on the noticeboard from last year and the children still talk about them – so hopefully they will enjoy ‘growing’ some more caterpillars this year.

I have completed my reflection about topics – and decided that we will continue much as have been doing – with an outline topic ticking over in the background. I think this will aid some informal planning – and will also enable us to follow the children’s interest (or lack of interest) in the topic, and therefore to be adaptable and spontaneous’.

So for those not familiar with my outline planning and my over arching topic – here is a basic guide (although even that is not set in stone!)

Observation / Recording 

Over the week I record in my diary the activities that we do, I record who chose the activities and who took part in them – I will be honest some days my recording is in more detail than others – some days there is hardly anything recorded – it all depends on the sort of day we are having (a teething baby or a new child settling,some times means that I make the decision that there are more important things that I should be doing). I take photo’s to back up my records of what we did – so even if there is not much written detail there is always photographic detail (and these photo’s provide evidence of what each child did ….. and their development. As do the brief notes in each child’s evidence diary that is shared with their parents – along with verbal feedback. Again being honest there are days when there is nothing wrote in a child’s evidence diary – but again the photo’s and verbal discussion are the back up to these occasions.

At the end of most weeks – I record a few notes for each child about wow moments and ideas for the following week – Not every week as again sometimes I have more important things to do – and even if I have not recorded things in writing – those thoughts are still in my head. My view is being in writing is not essential.

Planning – topic, festivals and celebrations

Over the weekend I think about what we might do next week – if our over arching topic should continue or not;  I think about if I will be including any festivals or other celebrations, if we might be going on outings and so – and all of this gets mentioned in some way – usually in the newsletter or during the verbal handover – which of course are two way conversations – although parents know that they are just ideas and nothing is set in stone and can change for a huge number of reasons.

On festivals and celebrations – I stick mainly to the ones that are relevant to the children and their families – in other words to the ones that have some meaning to them. We do occasionally  ‘do’ other festivals and celebrations  if they happen to fit in with current interests., or if say, they have been to watch a parade or similar with parents. Does this mean I fall short in my duty as a childminder who follows the EYFS ? I don’t think so – the children need to learn in line with their their own level of knowledge and understanding about themselves, their families and the wider world. Sometimes – when I look at activities that others provide – I think that is too formal, or is really just a cut and stick activity – they relevance of this activity is completely lost for these children. My other concern is that by celebrating a narrow range of festivals and celebrations that we are giving a hidden messages to the children that only these festivals etc., that we talk about are important, that indeed these are the only ones that there are, and b) we may be presenting only one ‘version’ of the faith story or cultural story which in turn could give the impression that unless ‘done this way’ it is not right. I realise this is all a bit complex and that not everyone will agree me – and that is fine – I am not saying I am right in what I do – I am saying this is part of my ethos and practice at Penny’s Place and that all the parents sending their children to Penny’s Place agree with this ethos and practice.

My Equal Opportunities based practice is also rather different to the ‘norm’ and is threaded through everything we do – as I firmly believe that I can not possibly give the children experience or an insight into every aspect that makes individuals who they are – but what I can do is help all the children in my care know about themselves and their families – and to be come skilled at recognising and accepting similarities and differences.

This I believe – no,  I know due to the hundreds of children that I have cared for over the last 30 years, and the adults they have now become – gives children the skills to think for themselves and to think about the needs of others – and to not be shocked, surprised or frightened about people who look different, who dress different, who live in different houses, who have different faiths – and all the other things that make us different. In my opinion it is the general principle that we are all different (as are most other things in life – fruit, cars, animals – and so on) – not the specific detail – and this links back to festivals and celebrations – we all celebrate different things in different ways.

Over Arching Topic

This is very vague – on purpose – it is just a heading that could link things through the week. It does help with ensuring I plan some things – like ordering the caterpillars – but it does not mean I link every activity and experience to that topic, that the only stories we read are based on our topic – in fact usually we do not  do anything related UNLESS the children want to – in other words what we do is led by the children – sometimes they are interested in the over arching topic, often they are not – because the ‘here and now’ is more valid, more interesting, more focussed on them and their interests.

So on the first day of each new minding week I set out the environment based on those observations of the children and their current interests and stages of development – and I also have either semi prepared – in that resources are to hand / or just in my head some ideas for activities or experiences that we MIGHT do that week.

And within 5 minutes of the first child arriving here at Penny’s Place – I start reflecting, adapting and going with the children – and that is exciting and leads to fantastic opportunities to extend each child’s knowledge, understanding – and therefore development that is ‘right for them’.


If you have not read any of my daily blogs before – take a look, there are not that many new ones – but scroll back through and there are lots that provide evidence of my practice – both the semi planned stuff and the completely unplanned stuff.





One response to “The Topic Based Planning Debate continues ……. and in my reflection extends to a much bigger debate!

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Great points, Penny. Yep, we need to discuss this further. Maybe #EYTalking in a few weeks…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: