Planning? What planning? – Oh yes, it will be that ‘on your feet planning’.   15 comments

I think that those who read my blogs or perhaps have read some of my articles in Child Care Journal, will not be surprised at the title of this blog, but maybe new readers will be surprised.

Surely as an Ofsted registered childminder, I should pre plan the activities and experiences that I offer the children, and I should plan their next steps. And if you believe the examples of good practice provided by Ofsted, then I should also be linking everything to Development Matters (or another non statutory  document of my choice)

If you believe what you read, you could be forgiven in thinking that children will simply not progress and even fail to thrive if early years practitioners do not do all this planning.

Well I have news for the government, and those that believe the stuff written , children do extremely well if they are given opportunities to play, explore, investigate, outside if possible, but inside can, if  an enabling environment, provide  the ‘right’ opportunities.

I can not help questioning how the heck did I, or anyone else of my generation, or the generations before mine, or even those of my children’s generation ‘manage’ to thrive in their earliest years without anyone planning their every move through next steps and referenced activities?

How did any one over the age of say 25, actually become an adult, pass exams, get jobs, be successful without anyone planning for them when they were under 5.

I wonder if people like Branson, Beckham, Dyson, Sugar , who are all very successful in their own right. had their early years planned for them?

Or the great theorists in the early years field like Piaget, Brunner, Vygotskyy, or more recently people like Bruce or Tassoni or Scott  became such   well respected experts about children without their own early years being planned in fine detail?

And what about all those university lecturers, the ones who lead the degree courses that early years practitioners undertake to become graduates – was every second of their early childhood planned?

I think we all know the answer

‘Ah but’, I can hear some of you saying ‘What about the disadvantaged children?’ ‘We must improve their outcomes’ I totally agree, but this is not done by directing their every movement, and planning every next step, there is much more to it than that.

So rather that write about the theory, the whys and wherefores, I am going to tell a story about my childminding week, and the complete lack of forward planning , in writing (and very little in my head), with no next steps thought about, never mind recorded on paper.

At the end of my story, I will ask you some questions.

Once upon a time ………

Oh – of course,  not that sort of story, this is a real life story based on honesty and what actually happened (warts and all)

Currently I am only working 3 days a week – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, some days I work alone, some days I ‘do things’ with my colleague Carol, sometimes I have an assistant working with me (being my daughter or husband). As it happens this week a bit of all of these things happened, but each day I ‘did something’ with Carol.

On Tuesday, Carol came to my setting (home), I admit I was not in the best mood as I had had a very unpleasant experience on Monday at uni with my dyslexia support person, and I was still angry and upset. I had set  up the environment in the lounge with large box of toddler type toys such as shape sorters, cars, stacking toys and so on, a selection of puzzles and a box  containing interstar construction set  (with the CP in what I call the middle room and in the conservatory – and too much to list).

So some on your feet planning in setting up the environment, based on ages of children and interests shown before.

Between us we had 5 children aged 18m to 3 years.

While the children engaged in free play of their choice – doll play, home area play, and a fair bit of  what to the untrained eye would be called ‘making a mess’  by the younger children as they explored various schemas of transporting, enveloping and enclosure ; Carol and I observed (including taking photo’s) – and Carol supported me with my feelings about Monday, and I supported her with an issue about working in partnership with parents.

We had a shared snack time, with all 5 children and both of us adults in my kitchen, lots of conversation, encouragement of manners and healthy food choices.

Some pre planning in our heads as  we always have a shared snack at about the same time, and are aware of the dietary needs and likes and dislikes of all the children

I then got out the playdough, and Carol sat with the two oldest children while they played with the playdough. These two girls (one who attends my setting, and one who attends Carol’s setting) had not spent much time together before, but both Carol and  myself had noticed some parallel play and some interaction, which we had acknowledged between ourselves, and wanted to support this developing relationship. The children ended up making ‘food’ with the playdough, so Carol modelled how to make sausages and they sang the song ‘5, fat sausages’, while I  (being the other side of the gate across the kitchen doorway with the younger children) – passed them the ‘real life’ frying pan from the home area.


More on your feet planning

By then it was lunch time and Carol had to go home – but before she did we agreed we would go to my fostering agency site the next day and take a picnic lunch.

Therefore on Wednesday, I made a picnic, packed all the things we needed for a day out into the car

In my head pre planning (and Carol was doing the same at her  setting)

As it was raining I added the all in one waterproofs, and as an afterthought, I added some weaving frames, a large box of ribbons and other weaving materials. some tubs of bubbles and some foil ’emergency blankets.

So on my feet planning

Carol arrived in her car at my house, and I followed Carol in my car to the site.

Pre planned, as if possible we  travel in convoy for safety reasons

The  fostering agency that I work for, and in term time I have use of their site on Wednesdays, and I can invite colleagues to join me – usually Carol – sometimes my daughters Michelle or Rosie, but can invite others if I want to.

They have a craft cabin, a sensory room, planting in poly tunnels and outside space – and we can walk to the farm shop, passing all the animals (and a lake) on the way.

This visit we decided to use the sensory room, I added the foil blankets to room full of the fixed equipment / lights. One child really enjoyed using the foil blankets, other bouncing on the water bed type piece of equipment (lots of language around this including words like squishy squashy, wibbly, wobbly and so on) the children also did a lot of running, climbing, going round and round the tall tubes of lights – and the friendship between the two girls who played playdough together on Tuesday continued to blossom. We noticed one of Carol’s children’s language development was developing well, which is excellent as a few months ago we were discussing language delay and needing to work with parents to decrease use of the dummy.

While in observation mode, Carol and I also discussed some concerns around if our insurance would provide cover in the future once we had retired, in connection to any allegations from children.

By 11.30 am, the children were saying they were hungry, so a instant decision to have lunch early. We went outside and had a lovely picnic, we take our own picnic’s but there is always some sharing when children spot items they want to try.

After lunch the children played on the pirate boat and slide in the small bark area. I had set up the weaving frames and left the box of weaving materials available. However the children did not want to do any weaving, but they did want to select ribbons and run about with them. They also want to show their lovely ribbons to Carol and myself – and we discussed length, colour, and width, likes and dislikes. One of Carol’s children was so taken with her ribbon that she asked me if she could take it home – of course she could.

We agreed that would meet at 11am at the arboretum on Thursday and take a picnic. We then packed up, and drove pass the animals at the farm park, so lots of naming of animals and animal sounds.

So a mixture of in head pre planning, and on feet planning.

Thursday morning and as we were not leaving until 10.30am I put out the large little tikes dolls house and all the people and furniture, completely at random really, as we have not had it out for a while  – but I knew one child liked dolls, and small world play, and I thought the younger children could just explore (and was still safe if they put in their mouth) – this proved to be a really good choice as all the children engaged with it – oh and made me pretend dinners.

As it was a bit cold and looked like it might rain, I put warm jumpers and waterproofs on the children, and loaded buggy, picnic and children into the car. We arrived at the arboretum car park at 11am (Carol was already there) and made our way into the arboretum itself. Carol and I both have season tickets which are excellent value for money.

There is so much to look at and discuss – we hardly ever have the same discoveries – today it was flowers and blossom – starting with daisies, moving on the flowers in the flower beds with discussion and observation of different colours of flowers, stages of growth and the water droplets on the flowers and leaves from when it had rained earlier on, and then to the blossom (the magnolia trees smelt lovely)

We then came across an area that we have visited before, but not for a long time and not with these particular children – however the children reacted just as previous groups of children have – they just had to run – and so did Carol!


In fact running became the thing that the children wanted to do most – (as well as picking up sticks and fir cones) so here are a few pictures of the children running


Even though they spent a lot of time running, we discussed; feeling tired, needing to rest, where to rest (and the bird poo on the bench and finding another bench ), going in different directions, stopping, starting (go). The children came up with really good ideas; sit on the floor to rest, walk to find another bench, and so on. The younger ones did struggle with the idea of running in the other direction round the tree – but they soon got the hang of it.

While walking and looking for another bench the children spotted the play area – which they have used before – and they remembered that there are benches in the play area – so they headed there – taking a short cut through the undergrowth (Carol and I kept to the main path over grass).

Once in the park area, the children were off – and climbing, running, sliding, solving problems, mastering new skills (as seen in the photo below) and lots of conversation between themselves (and to Carol and myself who had taken up position on the bench – close enough to support verbally and to respond to requests of help, but far enough away not to interfere with the play).


We had our picnic in the park area, and while doing so a family group came into the park area, once the children had finished their lunch they went back to playing – and engaged with the little boy from the family group.

It was time to go home, so we followed the way out signs back to the entrance / exit, but the learning opportunities were not over – while visiting the toilets, the children spotted a tower and decided the wicked witch lived there in the castle, but then one of the children spotted it was actually a toilet, and renamed it the ‘toilet castle’


And there was more!

In the car park the children spotted a tractor and so we had to investigate. I asked what the farmer would put in his trailer, Carol suggested cake, the children laughed and said ‘NO’ and then suggested ‘pigs’. And no we did not ask what colour the tractor was – as the children told us as soon as they saw it.


So apart from the picnic a completely unplanned day, led by the children, and through on our feet thinking, supported by Carol and myself.

And now for my questions

Do you think the children ‘achieved’ anything this week?

Do you think if Carol and I had planned activities round a theme (say Spring or minibeasts) that the opportunities to ‘achieve’ would have been the same?

Do you think if we had planned everything, if the children would have engaged as much, or led their own learning based on their interests?

Do you think there was evidence of next steps being taken?

Do you think Carol and I noted development, and  the children’s interests?

Bearing in mind that you have only read about the days / hours that Carol and I spent together (so other experiences during the week, not recorded here) do you think the children were provided with opportunities  to flourish?

In other words would the children’s needs have been better met if we had lots of planning sheets, next steps and referencing what the planning links to within Development Matters?

Actually, although I hope those of you reading this do agree that planning is over rated and limits opportunities for children – you can disagree with me, because I know the experiences that I (and Carol) offer the children are excellent and all the children in our care are flourishing.

15 responses to “Planning? What planning? – Oh yes, it will be that ‘on your feet planning’.

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  1. Your posts always put my mind at rest that what I do is ok as your thoughts mirror mine exactly! Thanks x

  2. Lovely,comforting to see others so child led and not fixated with planning!

  3. Hi Penny. 48 yrs a registered childminder and I have always avoided rigorous daily planning
    I believe through years of experience that children learnthrough play without being so structulised. There is always something ready to fall back on for emergencies or severe weather weather conditions. Like yourself and many more of my colleagues feel the same and Plan on our feet.

    • I agree Marjie, many of us do, and very successfully. It is a shame not everyone recognises that this is far more beneficial to the children than pre planning.

  4. Really glad its not just me who thinks planning doesn’t have to be written down to be done. I like the expression “on the feet planning”.

    • Hello Sue, in the article I wrote for ChildCare Journal, I referred to ‘ thinking on your feet’ which of course is the same thing. Some colleagues from teaching profession, have introduced me to the term ‘ in the moment planning’ which again means the same thing.

  5. Thanks for putting this so succinctly, Penny. I am like you in that I do little written planning or next steps. Observations are key but providing the children with learning opportunities is paramount, whether indoors or outdoors and engaging with them in all aspects, whether routine or new experiences.

    • Quite Sonia, and observations can be in a number of formats.Formal written methods are good when there is a concern about development, or need to unpack reasons behind behaviour, otherwise in my opinion, photographs and in head notes, verbal to parents, and notes in child’s diary or LJ are enough

  6. Absolutely loved reading this. Couldn’t have put it better myself. Just wish Ofsted would take note.

    • If only Ofsted (and Government) realised that children do not learn in nice straight lines of progress at a steady rate, or all in the same way at the same time. It is silly isn’t it the EYFS (all versions so far) state very clearly that children are unique and each child learns in their own way at their own time – YET – we have to note concerns if not meeting some target, or engaging in all areas of the curriculum at the same time (well at least in the same half term)

      And …. if only Ofsted would realise that nice neat planning sheets not only do not show the children did those things but that they prevent the children from following their interests – things again that early years practitioners are supposed to promote.

      And … there are the Characteristics of Effective Learning (COEL)- which are almost impossible to achieve if following a plan. I have had people ask for my advice on how to show in PLANNING that the children are developing those COEL – my reply is always ‘you can not say what COEL the children will show / develop until the they have taken part’ ( assuming they do take part)

      It is not rocket science is it?

  7. It is with pleasure I read your blog. We are encouraged to plan everything for the children which takes away their independent thinking.

  8. booooo to written planning – thanks for sharing your experiences Penny, good to read – as always,x

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