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Understanding planning in the moment

I will explore the practicalities of planning in the moment from an Early Years settings point of view. Look at its features and benefits versus an adult-led system.

Planning in the moment (PITM) is not a new revelation. Parents and practitioners have always been responsive to children’s needs but Anna Ephgrave founded and developed the theory. Her settings have shown great success using this theory. The children’s development has improved, with deeper levels of learning, improved teaching and outstanding Ofsted grades. Other settings have gone on to follow suit also. What makes it so special?

I have worked through several Early Years curricula’s, each one becoming more involved than the last. Previously the work of a nursery nurse was far more about playing with the children and planning lots of activities to develop their learning. We collected some evidence but in no way did we record as much as some settings do now. Throughout my career, the paperwork became more intense and staff would often work through their lunch break or do overtime to complete learning journeys. This became a very unsatisfactory part of the job and meant we were constantly thinking, planning, observing, recording and stressing about it all, rather than enjoying being with the children and teaching hands on.

Many settings use adult-led planned activities and there are benefits to this system, such as looking closely at children’s development, getting them to follow instructions, providing structure. But who is this structure better for? As professionals, we need to look at the bigger picture and decide what is best for our future generations.

Creativity has been reported (Education Scotland) as being important to employers. Skills like problem solving, critical thinking and resilience are all sought after. The EYFS and the characteristics of effective learning are guidance that settings must follow to develop these skills. This is not easy when adult-led activities have done all the thinking for the child and leaves no scope for any creativity. We must remember that children learn through play.

PITM follows a wholly child-led approach whereby the adults do not plan or lead any activities. The thinking is done by the children who have constant opportunity to explore, develop and practice the characteristics of effective learning. Children will feel respected and valued as their ideas are listened to and tried. The adult’s role is to teach and look for opportune moments to provide this. Teaching strategies vary but include asking open-ended questions (although not too many); to wonder and ponder with the children; modelling; coaching; facilitating; demonstrating; recalling and narrating. Being child-led, the child will initiate play and conversation so allow and enable them to ask questions. This teaching is done in the moment, as the play is occurring. This means that the adult has observed, planned and provided appropriate next steps all at once, when it is relevant to the child.

The here and now is the whole point of PITM. Not planning an activity for next week or next month, when the child has forgotten about that moment and has moved on to a new interest because the previous one was left to wilt away. PITM builds on what the child is interested and engrossed in that moment meaning their learning can be deepened, leading to better outcomes.

In order for PITM to be successful, you must have an enabling environment (see my previous blog on this). Open-ended materials are a crucial resource to create an enabling environment whereby all of the learning areas and characteristics can be used. Anna specifies that everything needs to be out all of the time for children to access and have the choice and freedom. This works great in a school or very large nursery with huge rooms. Small, pack-away or home settings often struggle at this point. I believe that by adapting this, it can still work, and I’ve seen it work! You must still have an enabling environment whereby the 7 areas of learning are covered; the characteristics of effective learning can be used and there is variety in the resources on offer. Remembering that less is more and using versatile resources is key. Loose parts are open-ended and will form part, or all, of your resources. You must also remember that the outside must provide the same scope as the inside but not be a replica.

With this in place, the children will make choices, develop their own ideas, be self-motivated, be more involved in their play, use their creativity and so much more. Although they will be developing their own learning within the 7 areas, your opportune teaching will ensure these are embedded and taken to the next level. You may want to take a picture after your teaching has come to a natural end. Following the moment, you will record the observation if the child is one of the focus children for that week. Although not every teaching moment is recorded otherwise you end up recording more than teaching.

The written planning is done afterwards but is very brief. It does detail your teaching which is important for staff development and demonstrates that you were planning in the moment. Learning journeys are still part of PITM, with wow moments alongside these. If you follow PITM as Anna suggests, you will no doubt use her paperwork format. This is her tried and tested way but there is nothing to stop you from adapting these.

If you find you are missing areas of learning from observations, reflect on your environment and ensure your resources cover all areas of learning. Ensure they are attractive and inviting and provide interest. It can take a while to change how you work so give yourself, and the children who have been used to being directed on what to do, time to adjust. Constantly reflect and evaluate how it’s working and work on your own areas of improvement. Lastly, to fully understand PITM, you must read Anna’s book ‘Planning in the Moment With Young Children’ (2018). It will guide you through step by step.

Which system will you choose now – adult-led or child led?

Please note that I hold no affiliation to Anna Ephgrave. I have written from personal experience and knowledge.

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