E and his Pegs

E is almost three.  Today was by far the most I have heard him talk.  Us adults can never know for sure but I think a big factor in this milestone was that a number of louder kids weren’t in for various reasons.

Most days with us he does not say a word. The one exception has been “no!” if someone is taking one of his toys.  That said, he does communicate fairly well with facial expressions, eyes and fingers.  Anyways, today he was fiddling with some pegs and fit three together.  He tapped me on the shoulder to show off his handiwork and raise his eyebrows as if to say “check this out.”  I responded “you put those three white pegs together… that’s pretty cool E.”  Wondering what he would do with more pegs, I then went to the shed to get a lot more and offered them to him.

He said “wow!” and then proceeded to fiddle and experiment with them until he made this.


I sat down next to him and he told me.

“It’s a truck.  It’s smashing!  It’s fast”

As he moved it up and down he explained “It goes up and down.”

If it fell apart he would exclaim “woah! uh oh!” and then work on putting the pegs back together.  He spent a good deal of the session playing with these pegs in a variety of ways.

I am bored of unpacking the learning and development inherent in this play but I am beginning to realise it’s part of my responsibility as an Early Years person in a country where early childhood is little understood or respected.

  • gross motor – pinching pegs for the amount of time he was is strengthening his fingers, hands and arms for future writing.  (Just writing this feels like I have to justify his play as some sort of down payment on future school).
  • oracy – a young “EAL” boy feeling confident enough to communicate his observations and interests in a setting away from his parents is significant, to say the least.  In the weeks and months prior to today I could see how much he wanted to communicate in his facial expressions and eyes. Vocabulary gap, disadvantaged two year olds, blah blah blah.  (Would he have communicated this to a speech and language therapist who he doesn’t see 5 times a week?  Can’t say for sure of course, and it is absolutely different for every kid but it is my personal opinion his speaking today would not have come without the months of relationship-building we have been doing).
  • Executive Function –  Since it’s “just” play and it’s “just” fun, it’s also suitably low-stakes. As his pegs repeatedly fell off and he had to put them back on he was in a state of mind where he had a (flexible) plan, experienced set-backs, persisted and enjoyed the process.  It is absolutely just fiddling with pegs but it is also absolute sustenance for developing executive function.
  • Well-being, involvement and brain development – these are all terms that I think some non-EYs people here as Charlie Brown’s teachers (“WAH WAH WAH WAH”) but they need to get with the program.  After feeling safe and secure, young children’s brains need concete multisensory experiences to make neuronal connections.  Simply put they need to be loved and they need to be able to get into stuff, touch and fiddle with things.  EYs (which is birth until 7) is about this and much more.  In the plainest language possible: Kids who feel safe and have the time and space to get into a wide variety of things have better brain and physical development than those who don’t.  Education cannot plaster over severe class inequality, but people who want to talk about social mobility would do well to start taking this stuff seriously.

Related: This week I’ve been singing nursery rhymes with a number of the kids, hitting those plastic “boom sticks” together in a simple rhythm.  A lot of kids have enjoyed this and joined in.  Today E did and sang his ABCS for the first time (while dancing) in our setting as far as I know.  My adult brain realised this and called for a coworker to come to try to take a video.  Again I can’t know for sure but I believe my sudden break in this shared moment stopped his singing.  As I imagine many other EYs people know, by the time someone comes to “document” something, the moment is over or the simple fact of the ipad coming out fundamentally changes the moment.  E continued to hit out a rhythm and dance but to me it appeared he realised he was singing out loud and was getting attention for it and got quiet again

This was not an entirely ruined moment but it was another example that has had me  realise how my quest to document and assess things (and get pictures!) can get in the way of the actual good stuff.  I have been taking a lot less pictures recently.  Young kids feed on our genuine interests in their activities and the ipads can ruin the moments at times.

I don’t know for sure all the reasons that led to E’s relative avalanche of talking today but I hear from lots of academics and experts that oracy is important in education.  Laminated pictures and structured circle times might genuinely work for some people but they would not work for me.  I hope people can respect that wacky “save childhood brigade” approaches can be done with skill, experience and to great results when given the space and trust to do so.  People in education and early years especially should be open to looking at what we do that actually gets kids talking and what we do that might get in the way at times.

Thanks for reading!


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