Project Work in Early Years

A nursery vision and ethos should be walked and talked or lived and breathed, only then will it fully impact the outcomes of the children attending. As a Reggio-inspired setting, here at KTB Kids our child centred philosophy can be seen throughout our nursery, in the displays hanging from the ceiling, to our open-ended resources and our family dining where children serve themselves and support each other. In addition, central to our child centred approach are the projects that we undertake in 3 out of our 4 rooms.

In the Reggio Emilia curriculum, huge emphasis is placed on collaborative projects, something that in most curriculums’ students do not encounter until they are in secondary education or university. We believe that there is no reason that projects cannot be approached with young children too. As Loris Malaguzzi once said,

“Children need the freedom to appreciate the infinite resources of their hands, eyes and their ears, the resource of forms, materials, sounds, and colours” and we recognise that projects offer our children just that.

Children and adults learn together 

The beauty of projects is that they give children rights when it comes to their learning, projects offer the perfect circumstances for bilateral teaching and sustained shared thinking. Our educators understand that they are not ‘in charge’ nor do they have all the answers, they are instead seen as partners, collaborators, advocates for the children and co-learners, facilitating and supporting the children in the positive learning process.  Adults help the children and children help the adults. The structure of the project is crucial in providing the right conditions to allow this collaborative working, following set phases will provide the perfect opportunities for children to lead their own leaning, while being supported by an interested educator.

The child is central

Projects really are child centred, they cherish children interests, while teaching them something new. When considering starting a new project we begin by observing the children and exploring their interests and tailoring plans to meet specific needs. We have explored the bandstand at Dartford park, space, the building site and wind recently. When planning projects with younger children, once we have gained an idea of their interests and needs, we find it helpful to introduce the topic and encourage them to share what they already know through activities such as storytelling, dramatic play, and drawing. By carefully arranging materials to provoke curiosity we can identify areas that children want to learn more about, taking inspiration from children’s experiences including trips, holidays and celebrations.

Adult as a facilitator not a teacher 

The role of the adult in project work is to help children to find answers to their questions by providing activities that satisfy a child’s curiosity. Popular activities that children in our nursery enjoy are:

  • Interviews with experts that we invite into our nursery such as a policeman, builder or nurse
  • Organised field trips within our community, including a visit to the fire station or a full exploration of a wood or field space
  • Experiments within our nursery including understanding volcanos or to explore the elements
  • Research using reference books or internet searches  
  • Examination of artefacts that children or educators can bring in from home  

Collaboration is key

As projects are designed to be collaborative, it is important that we provide lots of opportunity to:

  • Share and discuss ideas, we always listen to our children and encourage families to share their news with us
  • Produce representations of their findings, through drawings, clay modelling, role play, play dough, building blocks and magazine collages

Reflect, review, and summarise 

At the end of every project we always evaluate and reflect what has been learnt. This includes the results of the explorations and accomplishments. Projects can also work as a spiral process whereby cycles can be repeated and the results for each cycle can be compared.

Projects place no focus on academic ability

What do children learn from taking part in projects? It is recognised that children engaged in project work have a better command of creative tools and instruments needed for study in later education, while they may build literacy and numeracy skills, children also importantly actually learn to appreciate literacy and numeracy as they apply them in a purposeful way which strengthens intellectual dispositions such as analysing, predicting, hypothesising and explaining. The benefits don’t end there; the nature of project work mean that they:

  • Effectively expand children’s vocabulary
  • Help to engage each and every child 
  • Build on children’s strengths and interests
  • Provide children with a sense of community while working collaboratively with peers to find answers to questions
  • Facilitate in depth study through investigation, reflection, and representation of findings
  • Encourage children to learn about the world around them
  • Support children to use their strengths to contribute to the group
  • Help children to gain confidence in their own abilities
  • Build perseverance

Whatever the topic, the holistic nature of projects means that all areas of learning and development can be supported.