From Across the Pond: What Early Childhood Educators Can Learn

By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. When I began this blog six years ago, I had just started on a journey of professional learning through social media. Prior to 2012 I was not engaged on any platforms. Now I manage three Facebook pages, Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research, Resources to Support Early Childhood Development and York Region Nature Collaborative. I am in countless Facebook groups and very active on Twitter. If you were to ask me six years ago if I felt that there would be learning involved in being “on Facebook” or tweeting on Twitter I would not believe you. Yet it is true and what the experience has done is to globalize my learning and expand my professional learning network. I have met some incredible educators who I now consider friends from down under, as far away as Sweden and from across the pond. I have been to Australia with my friend and colleague Cindy Green where we made very strong connections with Lisa, Marilyn, Dannielle, Amanda and Sally and have learned so much from them. Going to Sweden to visit Suzanne Axelsson from Interaction Imagination was an incredible experience and I am forever grateful to Suzanne for her friendship.

Now on my bucket list is to go to the United Kingdom to see Juliet Robertson from Creative Star Learning again after spending an inspiring and enlightening time with her this summer when she came to the Rhythm of Learning in Nature with the York Region Nature Collaborative. A few summers ago Debi Keyte-Hartland visited to attend the Rhythm of Learning and so did Suzanne and the learning was profound! I so want to reconnect in person with Debi! Until then I learn from afar about early years theories and practices like schema play that have their origin from across the pond. I have written about schema play in past posts. In this post I focus on tuff trays, heuristic play, treasure baskets and something I am really excited about called planning in the moment!

Tuff Tray

From various posts and groups from across the pond I found out about tuff trays and was both intrigued and appalled! I loved the possibilities inherent in these sturdy and durable trays for children’s play and learning but was taken aback by the many posts depicting photos of food in play. On a particular Facebook group the debate about the use of food in play got pretty heated but that’s a post for another day when I have the courage to take on the argument against this type of play. Setting aside this practice that I wish would stop for ethical reasons, I could see the play possibilities in these trays especially messy play which I have a great fondness for! Recently, I had the privilege to present a series of workshops in a town about 3 hours away from where I live and met up once again with Lynn from Scholar’s Choice who had an amazing display of products that included a tuff tray. Guess what I left for home with? I am excited to continue to incorporate tuff tray possibilities into the workshops that I do for educators.

Tuff Tray and Loose Parts

Many years ago when absorbed in the world of research a friend introduced me to heuristic inquiry and I was fascinated by the methodology. The word ‘heuristic’ comes from the Greek word ‘heurisko’, which means to discover or reach understanding. When I discovered that there was a thing called heuristic play, I was excited to find a practice that connects to the exploratory play of toddlers with objects. Heuristic play is when one experiments with objects to discover possibilities. When I searched the Internet for more on heuristic play, I found that often the objects are placed in baskets by adults and referred to as treasure baskets. Treasure baskets are inspired by the work of Elinor Goldschmeid and are popular in the UK as a way to encourage children’s curiosity with the use of non-commercial plastic toys for infants and toddlers (Dietze & Kashin, 2018). Of course, I had to try this out with my grandson and created my own treasure basket which he loves to play and discover with.

Griffey and the Treasure Basket

While perusing on social media I came across something called “Planning in the Moment” and I was intrigued to learn more. I found that it is also referred to as “In the Moment Planning” or ITMP! Exploring further I wasn’t surprised when I discovered that this way of planning for young children comes from the UK. As I am continually in pursuit of ways to support early childhood educators as they accept the challenge to stop using a thematic approach and to embrace a practice that is more authentic to children’s interests I felt compelled to purchase my own copy of Planning in the Moment with Young Children: A Practical Guide for Early Years Practitioners and Parents by Anna Ephgrave.

Planning in the Moment

As the author says, planning in the moment is nothing new. It is what a responsive parent does with their child every day. It is what skillful educators have always done. It is about listening, watching and waiting. It is about “planning” how to respond that is “planned” in the moment and uniquely suited to that unique child in that unique moment. The adult will be considering, whether consciously or instinctively if they can add anything in that moment that will benefit the child. I love when the Ephgrave challenges educators to …

Put your clipboards down, put your electronic tablets away, forget any pre-conceived activity plans or learning objectives. Open the doors and play with the children – plan as you go, plan on the hoof, plan spontaneously, plan responsively – call it what you like. The important thing is that you are led by the child in the moment and you respond accordingly.

What I love about the book is that there are planning forms associated with the practice and I went right to the chapter that spoke to the paperwork. Ever since I was a practising early childhood educator, I have been on a quest to find the format that authentically can support the planning and programming process. I laughed when the author recognized that many readers will have turned to this chapter without reading the rest of the book and pleaded with us to go back and read previous chapters. I promise I will! Chapter one explains that child-initiated play leads to deep levels of involvement. Chapter two looks at scheduling. Chapter three details the importance of the environment. Chapter four considers the important role of the adult within child-initiated play. The adult listens watches and waits … and waits … and waits. While the adult is waiting, they are planning how, or if, to respond. Each week, educators select “focus children” for the following week. I find this compelling. I will be going back and reading the first four chapters, chapter five on paperwork, chapter six on assessment and record keeping and the conclusion. I know that Cindy and I will find this a valuable resource in the professional learning project that we are undertaking in the new year with an organization with multiple child care sites.

For a while now I have been thinking of writing a post about what child-led really means. I find that some interpret it as just letting children do whatever they want but this is diminishing the important role of the adult. I appreciate the term child-initiated that is used in the book and in this video that I came across when it was shared on a Facebook group focused on in the moment planning. In conclusion, I would like to take this time to express gratitude to all the educators named and the many, many others from all over the globe who have supported my learning. Once again, I will end a post with my favourite quote from the great and amazing giant Lev Vygotsky on whose shoulders I stand.

It is through others that we develop into ourselves ~ Lev Vygotsky

I am excited to hear your thoughts in response to this blog post for those of you on either side of the pond. What are you researching at the moment? How are you supporting children in the moment? What resources are supporting you? How have others influenced your practice?


10 thoughts on “From Across the Pond: What Early Childhood Educators Can Learn

  1. Love, love, love this. As an educator who is call-in, I find that I am always planning in the moment – there is no other way. As a parent and grandparent who spent a lot of time outdoors with my family, I was always able to pique the children’s interests simply by finding some new treasure outdoors. That would always spark inquiry, then discovery, and the learning would begin. I use this same method when working with children in my care. I always just referred to it as teaching on the fly, or spontaneous teaching, as I was never really in the rooms long enough to know what the children’s interests were, and am never with the same group of children two days in a row. So, planning in the moment is right up my alley!! Been a great admirer of both Suzanne, and Sally for quite a while, and agree that we can learn so much from our counterparts across the pond!!


  2. I totally agree with the idea of planning in the moment. It is where the vast majority of my profoundly rewarding experiences as an educator have come from. Planning in the moment also lends itself very nicely to ecologically friendly teaching practices, sustainability, and teaching in nature. I’m a huge proponent of incorporating elements of the Flow Learning model, as well. I find it to be a refreshing alternative to the heavy-handed themed learning that we are all moving away from.


  3. “Led by the children in the moment and we respond accordingly” – this is key. Many colleagues ask me where do you come up with these ideas,I always say the children. The children are our greatest source for inspiration, ideas and guiding us. Being perceptive to their interests, processes and actions we can understand how they learn best. Follow their lead and teaching becomes exciting and opens up an adults mind to see the world from a child’s perspective! Just a side note tuff trays are a great vessel for a self contained story table. We use them for this all the time in our classroom.


  4. As an early primary educator in B.C., we are so excited about the draft ‘ early learning framework’ that has been shared at meetings across B.C. As they authors seek input for the final draft. This document, acknowledges that early play learning now expands to 8 years old. This is huge for me, as I have always known tht children need this play based, child centred, playful inquiry approach for years beyond preschool. How can we expand this conversation to include the whole child in a holistic framework for all children?


  5. I am originally from the UK but now teach in the US. The practices in this post are standard practice in most preschools in the UK but have not really been explored here. I’m planning on returning to teach full time in my school district next year where they are totally hooked on teaching from a curriculum . I wonder how I might persuade my peers to adopt some of these practices or even get through an interview without them thinking I’m some kind of risky radical. Teachers in the UK are apt to complain but coming here, I realize how far they have come in the last 20 yrs.


  6. My goal this year is to focus on the group. I am an educator in Toronto and had the opportunity to listen to a pedagogista from Italy. It inspired me to look at how we can help children learn together. She said, “The group is more important than the material.” I feel if we can help children to see what can be created together they may realize they couldn’t have done it alone. This builds strong relationships and helps children see the skills in each other.


  7. Beautiful post!

    Whether I am working in a preschool classroom as a RECE (Registered Early Childhood Educator) or running an IBI (Intensive Behaviour Intervention) session with a client diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), building onto previous learning experiences, documenting play, and asking thought provoking questions have consistently led me to build and maintain strong professional relationships with my clients.

    I am currently researching controversial issues that surround the field of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). Some issues revolve around too much “table time” while others primarily focus on repetitive tasks that lack generalization. With play-based learning in mind, sessions in which behaviour therapists are implementing developmentally appropriate activities based on the interest(s) of the child are likely to be more effective as well as engaging. It is also through play-based learning that the true skill of having generalized an acquisition skill will shine.

    I am also excited to hear about planning in the moment as the NET (Natural Environment Teaching) portion of our sessions are an excellent opportunity to implement planning on the go in order to maximize on the client’s full learning potential while documenting the process.

    I feel very privileged to have studied BCD (Bachelor of Child Development) at Seneca College and learning the various ways in which we engage children while making memories along the way.

    Diane, I will end this comment with one of your famous quotes that really stuck with me these past few years:

    “Arts, not crafts”. (Short and right to the point!)

    Looking forward to your next post.



    Do you recall that famous quote which says something along the lines of “do something you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life”? That.


  8. Pingback: Hygge in the Early Years: Supporting the Foundational Conditions for Learning and Development | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

  9. Pingback: Curious about Curiosity: Ditch the Plastic and Value the Vintage! | Technology Rich Inquiry Based Research

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