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The most important concept in early years?

    Attuned interactions build language and self-regulation in good times and bad

    An important education person said to me only this week, “but this early years, we don’t need to worry about that do we?  It’s only playing.”

    How often we hear that.  As though playing is ever “only”, and as though it is a simple thing.

    Early learning and childcare is massively complicated and skilled.  There is so much we have to know about and know how to do. Just look how many pages are in the guidance documents and quality frameworks.

    And we have to know so much about what is probably the most complex thing in the whole universe – child development and learning!

    I’m here to tell you that whether you are a Frobelian, a Piagetian, an outdoor enthusiast, a dedicated spotter of schemas, or just plain confused – there is only one concept you really need

    One? Yes, just one idea.  But it’s not that well known, and it is not super easy to describe.

    But it is so obvious once you get it, and it unlocks everything we want to do, as well as how to do it.

    And here it is.  Drumroll please …


    I forgot to say, it has a very boring name. But it is a simple, powerful concept.

    It is all about understanding each child as having a mind – having emotions, thoughts and plans.  And then tuning into them with our actions and words.

    So a child is crying and we might say, “oh you are sad. I think it’s about …” And we offer them comfort and help to solve the problem.

    Another child is constantly getting up and noodling away when we are trying to read a story to a group. So we puzzle out what’s going on in their head.  Are they feeling bored? Is something else more interesting? Are they uncomfortable sitting for too long?

    Don’t we do this all the time?  Well, perhaps you do.  But many people feel the pressure and instead think “how do I get him to sit still”. Or “how do I stop them from …” Or “how do I improve engagement”

    That’s less mind-minded – let me show you the contrast

    Child or washing machine?

    What’s the difference between a child and a washing machine?

    I have a lively relationship with my washing machine based on its tendency to eat socks, and also shrink whatever is my current favourite jumper.

    But I don’t think it has a mind.  I don’t consider its feelings or plans.  I don’t think perhaps it is bored washing my socks, or wants to make a point over the jumper.

    Instead, it is all about what are the right inputs to get the result.  How do I get it to …?  What are the steps to …  What’s the next step.

    So here’s a simple language test.  If you can say or think it about a washing machine, then it is probably not mind-minded!  For example:

    Washing machine thinking

    How do I get her to listen?

    Why do they damage the toys?

    How do I engage them in reading?

    How long should they spend outdoors?

    What schema are they following?

    Mind-minded thinking

    Does she understand what I’m saying?

    Do they know how to play with …

    How do I make reading interesting for them?

    Do they want to go outside?

    What is it about this that interests them?

    Once we get mind-mindedness, almost everything about providing quality learning and care gets really simple – from managing behaviour to planning learning

    I’ll do some more posts on each of these, but meanwhile here’s a fun thing to try – can you spot “washing machine” language about children when you or others use it?  And can you rethink it in a mind-minded way?

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