They are not a HERD to move! How to intentionally plan for smaller learning groups.

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There are many benefits to working in small groups with children. Without the distraction of a large group, small groups allow us to be in-tune with the children remaining fully present and enhancing the quality of our interactions and relationships. The size of the group you are working directly with can raise the overall quality of your program simply because of what can be achieved when there are less children. This is not meaning the enrolments are less, rather it is about separating children into smaller groups for optimal learning.

Judith Colbert discusses in the article ‘Limiting the size of the group does not merely make it easier to support various aspects of a child’s development. It also makes it possible to see how the children and adults interact together to create what might be termed a “learning group.”

By stepping back to get a bigger picture of what is happening in the classroom, it is possible to glimpse how these children will see themselves in relation to society later in life and to lay foundations for learning and achieving goals within complex settings in years to come.’

Children’s participation is increased when the group has fewer children. The reason for this is that you spend less time monitoring and managing the class room and more time engaging. Colbert goes on to discuss 'Complying with group size requirements and dividing children into groups is just the first step toward achieving a quality program. The rest of the journey depends on opportunities for interactions between the teacher and children and the teacher’s ability first, to observe the children and foster learning and growth in the major domains of development, and ultimately, to support the creation of not merely a group of learners, but also a learning group that has the power to enhance the knowledge and understanding of all of its members, including both children and adults.'

It is easier to give children one-one time when the group is smaller. The voice of each child is better heard in a smaller group, and quieter children have more opportunities to voice their opinions. Other positive outcomes are:

  1. Educators are enabled to develop a deeper understanding of each child’s individuality, uniqueness and personality enhancing relationships with each child.

  2. The educator has the time in small groups to pause and wait for children to respond. (Did you know it can take up to 40 seconds for a child to hear a question, process it and respond. When we consider this it highlights the importance of having to time to genuinely wait a response from children)

  3. Routine and rituals (such as meal times etc.) become enjoyable times and interactions rather that hurried or chaotic transitions – working in small groups means no more need to move entire group of children at one time and removes the need for ‘crowd control’

  4. Responsive learning relationships are strengthened in smaller groups as educators and children learn together and share decisions and develop deep respect and trust.

  5. It is easier to make well informed and purposeful curriculum decisions

Documenting less children at once mean more time can be spent on quality documentation… Less is More! And simply…. It is A LOT less stressful!!!

How can this be incorporated into practices? I would like to share the work of the educators at Rosie’s Early Learning in 2017. This was the developed research focus of the educators for term 1. The research focus is an intentional pedagogical strategy used in the ROSE Way planning framework. This research focus of the educators was Landscapes of Individual Intelligences - Understanding the importance of emotional intelligence in a child’s agency. From this the educators documentation lens focussed on building and constructing the story of how children's learning was enhanced the closer we could get to their individual intelligence.

Inspired and guided by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs they delved their research into the physiological level which heightened the awareness of children’s identity and understanding of their capabilities and competencies. The five levels of Maslow’s Heirarchy are:

  • Self-actualization – includes morality, creativity, problem solving, etc.

  • Esteem – includes confidence, self-esteem, achievement, respect, etc.

  • Belongingness – includes love, friendship, intimacy, family, etc.

  • Safety – includes security of environment, employment, resources, health, property, etc.

  • Physiological – includes air, food, water, sex, sleep, other factors towards homeostasis, etc.

From the work completed by the educators and children in 2017 researching The Rights of Children there was a noticeable empowerment for both children and educators. This inspired further research to explore and gain a deeper understanding of how various elements of a child’s life come together and impact on their Individual Intelligence.

In term 1 2018 the educators focussed their lens on Emotional Safety as they welcomed new families and educators in the Rosie’s Family, and the current children move into a new and the unexplored environments of – Under 3 and Over 3 spaces. Our scope of Safety incorporates: Emotional safety in a new environment, emotional intelligence and resilience, self-management, social awareness and social skills (relationships with others). Emotional Intelligence is about the connection we feel between body, mind and spirit – how we make sense of thoughts and feelings – that is the critical aspect of social and emotional learning ( While social and emotional awareness continue to develop into adolescence, the greatest window of opportunity exists between birth to 8 years.

As the children, families and educators transition, settle and begin develop emotional safety through landscapes of their individual intelligence, we will be championing further connections to develop ways for the voices of families and community to be included in our planning and curriculum.

In conjunction with this, the intentional planning played a vital role in developing and identifying children’s levels of agency through:

  • Children developing awareness of and taking responsibility for their personal wellbeing and resilience

  • Reconnecting with the natural world and exploring Indigenous practices

  • Using many languages to explore emotional intelligence

  • The input of families as they share areas of emotional intelligence they would like us to focus on

How did this look in pedagogical documentation: This is an extract of the reflective thinking and planning strategies as the teaching team begin to develop how they will engage the toddlers.

It was established throughout the Toddlers journey of Emotional intelligence in Term 2 that using visual references, language’s and technology was a key aspect of unlocking the children’s own understandings and perceptions of the concepts and developing a platform to highlight their agency.

As we continue our journey with the children and extend on their work from term 2 we endeavour to further unravel the children’s perceptions. Educators will endeavour to support and empower children to follow their thinking and develop their own ways of creating sustainable communities in their own social circles and the wider community.

Children had developed their own ideas and perspectives of emotional intelligence through their actions, support and empathy for others, acceptance and respect of cultural difference and engaging with the expressive languages of Auslan sign language, paint and exploring literacy through dramatic play.

During the end of term 2 the children were showing that they want to be inclusive in their own environments with others and feel more comfortable and happy when they collaborate together in play. There has been a growing display of empathy and thoughtfulness in their own connections and relationships which we would like to foster by extending their work though during term 3 by planning collaborative experiences and thinking about how we can scaffold these identified languages of the children to work to form meaningful group work around the continued theme of the statement.

In conclusion how does this link to the Quality areas. Although the interactions of children and children’s agency is connected with all 7 of the quality areas I am just going to choose 2 of the areas to discuss. Quality area 1 & 5.

Quality Area 1 – Educational Program and Practice This quality area shares insights into the foundational way in which educators think and plan for children. Specifically this quote:

Educators are deliberate, purposeful and thoughtful in their decisions and actions. Educators

recognises that learning occurs in social contexts and that interactions and communication are vitally important for learning.

Understanding the purpose of the intentional planning through grouping children into smaller learning groups is an excellent example of deliberate, purposeful and thoughtful thinking in the educational planning of curriculum for young children.

Quality Area 5 – Relationships with Children This quality area prioritises the interactions with children to be a the forefront of educators planning and minds. Specifically this quote;

Group size affects factors such as noise level, the amount of stimulation and level of engagement in an education and care setting. Smaller groups enable children to form caring relationships with one another, engage in meaningful shared experiences and discovery through play. It is important for educators to consider the context of the group to ensure its size will benefit the experience of each child.

So much food for thought in this work – how will you reflect or re-think the group sizing for learning.

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