Who are you? What do you do? Why have you got purple nails?

Jeanne Barczewska, Senior Lecturer in Education (Early Years), writes about her role and why she loves teaching at UoN

I am very fortunate in my role as a Personal and Academic Tutor on a work-based Early Years Foundation Degree that I get to visit the students in their place of work. Not only does this -provide me with personal CPD opportunities — to keep up to date with practice in schools and day nurseries — but to meet children face to face whilst they are in their learning environment.

It is inspiring seeing the students doing what they do best — engaging with the children, planning for their development and on-going progress as well as collaborating with other members of staff.

Students begin to associate theory and practice before my eyes — it is an excellent method of formative assessment as knowledge of practice comes alive. For many it is a much easier way to articulate than writing assignments!

This past two weeks I have watched a child in a day nursery concentrating really hard on painting my student’s face — taking great care to avoid putting the brush near the eyes. I watched the entire group ‘paint’ the student with flour whilst uncovering and identifying hidden alphabet letters as well as randomly conversing about dinosaurs, princesses and giraffe’s — provoked by items of clothing worn by the various children. Some of the children ended up making ‘snow angels’ in the flour! Physical and therapeutic movements which left patterns on the floor — a mathematical experience of irregular shapes.

In a primary school reception class I saw children totally engrossed in the contents of a box from which the story of a lost dragon began to emerge. This led to a discussion about what it might be like to be lost or lose someone or something. This allowed the children to explore their emotions and relationships in a safe and secure environment.

At another school I observed the developing relationship between a three year old child recently diagnosed with autism and my student to whom this condition was a new experience. She had done some research with other colleagues and strategies that had been put in place were evident and successful. There was an unspoken respect between the two and non-verbal communication reflected trust.

Another visit took me to a school for children with special educational needs, where my student’s experience and in-depth knowledge shone through both our discussion and the practice I observed. This was evident between the student and the children as well as with the incredible team of teachers and support workers. It is always helpful to recognise the professionalism within the settings as these are the people who support our Foundation Degree students to achieving the balance between work and university study.

My last visit saw me observing a bread making session — a first for the student who had never experienced making bread and was quite uncertain about the ‘kneading’ process! She took this in her stride and maintained a lovely dialogue with the children who had all had opportunities to experience the strength required for stirring thickening dough. During this activity I witnessed exceptionally inclusive practice which was sensitively introduced in a way that maintained the engagement whilst involving a child who was on the periphery of the activity. This demonstrated wonderful behaviour management of a group in a situation which might otherwise have been disrupted.

In all the examples described communication between the students and the children was friendly and informative, maximising learning through well planned and carefully resourced activities.

In each of these visits children came and spoke to me, asked questions and involved me in their learning — some even ‘helped’ me to write my notes. Several children asked my name and one was particularly intrigued to know why I wore purple nail polish and then immediately wanted to demonstrate how he could do the splits — I am thinking he had perhaps been watching ‘Strictly come dancing’ or else attended a gymnastics club!

The Early Years Foundation Degree provides experiential learning for students combined with academic study — the students are a testament to their own successful achievements within their study. For tutors it is also a continual learning experience!

Come and see our Early Years department at our next open day, or find out more about the course here. Follow us on Social Media @UniNorthants #UoN