EYFS training day: Introducing history in the Early Years

CPD For Me

Once in a while, it is rather pleasant to be able to sit back, relax a little and be on the receiving end of some fantastic virtual CPD!  Today, it was the turn of David Weatherly and Sheena Wright to engage and inspire us.  David Weatherly is a School Improvement Adviser and an accomplished teacher at all stages of learning, as well as the author of the award winning Primary Connected History and Primary Connected Geography schemes published by Harper Collins.  Sheena Wright is an EYFS Education Consultant and a former local authority Early Years Lead Adviser with over twenty years of successful teaching experience across the full primary age range.

Today’s EYFS history training was entitled ‘Introducing history in the Early Years’.  David began by outlining the aim of the day, namely:

Colleagues will leave knowing how to develop provision in history to meet the expectations of the new EYFS statutory framework.’

He also shared the following objectives with us:

  • ‘Understand the value and purpose of studying history and the key concepts that underpin it.
  • Know the significance of the changes to the ‘Understanding the World’ educational programme and Early Learning Goal for provision in history in the EYFS.
  • Recognise the whole school implications for history provision Years 1 – 6 of the EYFS reforms.
  • Understanding progression and assessment in ‘Understanding the World’ as an area of learning.
  • Review several investigations and lines of enquiry which exemplify approaches to investigating history and understanding the past in the EYFS.’

David spent about an hour and a half concentrating on the ‘Principles of developing historical thinking in the EYFS’.  He discussed the purpose and value of studying history:

Engaging children and young people in investigating questions about people and events in the past helps them to better understand their lives today, the contested nature of knowledge and prepares them for the future as more informed citizens.’

Next, we were given a task to complete, initially individually and then in small groups in ‘break out’ rooms.  This centred on emigration from Ireland to the USA between 1800-1890 and encouraged us to think about key historical concepts.  David drew our attention to history in the recently released ‘Development Matters’ guide and highlighted those aspects that linked closely to key historical concepts.  We considered what history in the EYFS should look like; a LITTLE knowledge building, LOTS of concept formulation and LOTS of language acquisition.  David emphasised that the characteristics of effective teaching and learning underpin and support the development of historical thinking through playing and exploring; active learning and creating and thinking critically.

Next, we explored the statutory framework for the EYFS, including the seven areas of learning and development (all areas of learning and development are important and inter-connected); the new Educational Programmes (statutory overview of each area of learning); the Early Learning Goals (the level of development children should be expected to have attained by the end of the EYFS) and assessment arrangements (for measuring progress and reporting to parents).  We ‘zoomed in’ on ‘Understanding the World’  and the ‘ELG: Past and Present‘ due to its strong links with history.  It was reinforced that the Early Learning Goals should not simply be used as ‘the curriculum’ or in any way limit the wide variety of rich experiences that are crucial to child development.

Development Matters’, the non-statutory curriculum guidance for the EYFS, references the seven key features of effective practice (new); the characteristics of effective teaching and learning and what children will be learning in the age bands, namely birth to three, 3- and 4-year-olds and Reception.  Sheena encouraged us to reflect upon what the world to an EYFS child is like.  The characteristics of effective teaching and learning were reiterated here too.

Sheena stated that the rationale for EYFS reforms stemmed from a desire to focus on early language and communication (to close the word gap), focus on disadvantage (to close the attainment gap) and reducing teacher workload (primary assessment consultation 2017).  She also discussed the key changes, what EYFS teachers need to do, how to prepare for exploring the past and resourcing such continuous provision, what history in the Early Years should look like and what EYFS teachers, History Subject Leaders and SLT should consider, plus the implications for whole school history provision.

David projected his infamous ‘progression of skills in history’ sheet onto the screen; EYFS should have opportunities to develop a variety of skills, e.g. recognise; identify; describe; observe; select; categorise; classify; sequence; compare and contrast; recall; reason/speculate.  Progression from EYFS to Year 6 was also clearly illustrated.

After a short break, David then went on to explore these ‘Principles into practice; Exemplar learning enquiries 1’.  David took us through an enquiry centred upon ‘The Great Fire of London’ to show how the assessment opportunities within it could be used to track pupils’ progress against the ELG in the summer term.  It was a great insight into what working in the EYFS as a historian through the pedagogy of enquiry would look like.

45 minutes were allocated to lunch before we reconvened to look at ‘Principles into practice; Exemplar learning enquiries 2’.  History in the statutory framework puts great emphasis on visits, stories and words.  Sheena began by focusing on each of these in turn and fed us with some great ideas.  David dipped into a couple of other enquiries based around ‘using stories to develop an understanding of historical concepts’, ‘Winston Churchill’ and ‘same but different; examples of using artefacts to understand the past‘.

The challenge of working with mixed age classes was also discussed and David used ‘The Queen’s Crown’ to show how different lines of enquiry could be taken to address this issue.  Moreover, the importance of making meaningful links was stressed.

Despite not having the same ‘hands-on’ experiences and interaction as at David’s usual face-to-face events, the day was hugely insightful and thought-provoking.  I certainly have plenty to take away from the day and share with other teachers and trainees during our future Primary Humanities Network meetings and such like.

Many thanks, David, for inviting me along to the event and also to Sheena for her invaluable input too.

Take care and stay safe and healthy!

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