To be (levelling) or not to be (levelling)?

I innocently replied to a tweet recently on levelling continuous provision. Laura Henry also offered a reply with a great link to her guest blogger Alistair Bryce Clegg The term “levelling” created lively discussion and debate. However I would question those who challenged the term, do they not level when creating a next step, isn’t that helping children achieve the next level? How about we enhance the setting to accommodate individual next level? It’s a term, not a threat!
I recently went on Alistaires training “Excelence in Early Years” I’d read a lot of his articles, and I liked his style. Apart from his website articles being very readable, the ideas and inspiration for improving practice and making learning exciting has driven better practice at both my settings. I’ve bought many of his books. My team would fight over who took them home first, and they acted on the fabulous ideas, producing more excitement in the learning environment.

The training stressed the importance of the support of the practitioner in play, and yes, we “levelled” some activities. Now some people seem to have an objection to the word “levelling.” Levelling is not sinister, it’s not regimental. We talk of ages and stages in Early Years, next steps etc, and to my mind, levelling added clarity to the developmental stages. I don’t have lists of levels, I don’t put children on levels, however if I provide different levels in the activity I can support children to progress. It’s subtle, it’s implicit, it’s an invitation to “have a go.”

So what has levelling done to practice in my settings? It’s made practitioners think about what they provide. Are they providing challenge, are they providing open ended play, are the enhancements added helping children progress? Children play in mixed ability groups, so we should provide for mixed and therefore individual abilities. The activity of aeroplane making in the picture was spontaneous, so staff sometimes have to think quickly to provide for different abilities. Thinking In levelling terms can aid this spontaneity so all children have an individual take on the activity, they all took risks and all were challenged (and that aeroplane in the top picture flew REALLY well!) It’s all been good and improved practice. It’s not massively different, but it is better. If you don’t like the word, change it. We are always changing terminology in early years, early learning, goals, next steps etc. Training with Alistair puts levelling in perspective, I would highly recommend it (especially if you’re judging it!) It puts children in the driving seat, it helps staff support next steps, promoting progression and children enjoying the process. It’s made my team think more about continuous provision, and how to enhance it. It’s not the term you use, it’s how you use it. Always be open minded to an idea, always strive for improvement, always make learning fun!


Further reading

Confident Talkers Conversation Cards

Before I start my story about how I used my Conversation Cards today, let me explain these little gems. There versatile and multi purpose cards are by Laura Henry titled “Confident Talkers” They contain cards with open ended questions to use with children to encourage conversations. Of course as good practitioners, we use open ended questions on a daily basis, but we could  all do with some help to enhance and build on what we do. It’s good to have a different question, which not only help the children to be confident talkers, but confident thinkers too.


Back to my story. I love talking to parents about all things children. I often have coffee chats with the parents of my settings about the many facets of childcare. Recently I have been developing a collaboration with a  Children’s Centre near to one of my new settings. The new manager and I share visions of child and family care. I was honoured that she asked me to talk to the parents in her centre about the importance of play.

Now I’ve done this before, but somehow this time, I couldn’t get my preparation quite together. I wrote a few notes, changed them round, and I was feeling restless about the presentation. Then I had a light bulb moment, and decided the way to show and talk about the importance of play…was to play! What do I consider one of the most important points? Has to be communication and language development through play. I raised my cupboards for ingredients for cloud dough (7cups of flour/ one cup of oil) borrowed some toys from the setting. Ooh a bit of transient art, some nature resources plus some maths games. You’re never too old to play!

And then in the corner of my eye I spotted my new Conversation Cards. Hmmm, brilliant! This will weave it all together beautifully with the importance of  language and communication at the heart of my chat, developing children as confident talkers is central to our practice, and should be promoted in family life.

My Conversation Cards were a huge success. Parents were interested in using the questions with play ideas. Some parents struggled to ask their children questions, other than those which the answer was “nothing”, usually to “what did you do at school?” (Not my pre-school of course!!!)  That brought the discussion to what questions would be interesting to children, maybe they don’t want that regular questions when they get home from school. All the parents had a good rummage, choosing their favourites. I was so happy that the parents showed such genuine interest in encouraging their children to be confident talkers..thanks to my little gems, Confident Talkers, by Laura Henry.







P.S I have lots more ideas for my new cards!😉