The Importance of a Great Start! – Frances Mwale, Farlington School Prep Headmistress

22 Apr 2016

Farlington School 2016-Importance of an early startAlmost two thirds of the way through their academic year, Reception girls at Farlington are really blossoming: investing time, effort and expertise in early years’ education makes all the difference. The foundations of learning are being carefully put in place and now our young learners are gathering momentum and developing their individual passions.

So what is it that motivates a 5-year-old? I recently read an article about ‘carrot and stick’ approaches. Children can be motivated by working for a reward (carrot) or because failing to work hard means a sanction (stick). But far better than these extrinsic reasons, suggested to be ‘ultimately damaging to pupils’ achievement and autonomy’, is the intrinsic motivation that comes from purposeful learning, autonomy and mastery of something: to know that we are really good at an activity, to be able to direct our learning ourselves and for learning to have its own value are really the cornerstones of the Early Years curriculum.

Pondering what makes me want to get out of bed to do my job each day and reflecting on myself as an adult learner, I would concur: attacking the tasks of which I know I capable, being able to apportion my time and performing the tasks that hold the greatest interest for me are all wonderfully motivating. Alongside the ‘joys of the job’, inevitably there are tasks that just have to be done: whether one is motivated or not! For example, currently working on my fitness is, needless to say, a real chore: yet as I get a little less out of breath each time I exercise and I receive a more rewarding post-exercise glow, so I am spurred on. The same applies to our girls: each small step towards achieving their goals and to mastery of the basics gives the warm fuzzy feelings that acknowledge their efforts as worthwhile. A little resilience is hopefully developed along the way, too.

Of course, alongside all of the above, we need to be able to draw on what is termed these days as our ‘learning toolkit’. The skills of reading, writing, numeracy and critical thinking all allow us to make progress and to learn more. In order to discover new learning, we need to build on what has gone before.

To ensure a really positive transition from Nursery to Reception, Reception joiners are given every support to settle quickly. They soon feel an integral part of the School. Sharing a playground with Nursery boys and girls means the setting is not only familiar but becomes one in which older girls get used to being role models to others, deepening their knowledge, skills and understanding as they explain, nurture and engage with younger children. If being truly comfortable and secure in our surroundings is a given, we can focus on the way forwards. To use an analogy, if we were wearing comfy shoes, a cosy waterproof and carrying some delicious snacks and plenty of water, we are fully prepared to climb up any mountain facing us!

There are inevitable stumbles along the way in any journey. The skill of our Early Years teachers means they can help children to see these as opportunities to learn rather than engendering a sense of failure. How marvellous to know that, despite falling at one of the hurdles, they were not only able to complete the race but also gained a personal best and even managed to win!

A sense of fun really helps. Spending time in Nursery and Reception this week, I was drawn by the girls towards photos of their funny faces, made when flipping pancakes, told about finding hidden penguins around the School and how these had been kept warm and dry and then offered a tasty treat: an ice cream made of mud and sticks in their outdoor learning area. Wonderfully creative, articulate and purposeful, it is ever a delight and a privilege to be around the younger pupils.


Farlington School, West Sussex