Picture the scene... in the wee small hours an early years practitioner sits stooped over their dining table, feeding sheet after sheet of pictures and text into the laminator as it slowly saps the will to live from their tired bodies!! Ok, maybe a little over dramatic but we've all lost at least a few hours to the laminator demon in our quest to label all and sundry in our setting haven't we?.
But why do people do it? Some feel that hidden somewhere in some secret ofsted manual it says we have to label everything thats not nailed down. Others tremble after often illinformed advisors criticise for a lack of laminated pictures and text. Practitioners all over the country fear failure if everythIng isnt signposted to within an inch of our lives!!
At the risk of being controversial (me??? surely not??!!!) this is ABSOLUTE RUBBISH!!!!!!!
Not one to just pluck statements from thin air for their shock value, bare with me as I explain my somewhat outspoken view.
Ill start with looking at how the labelling myth came into being. In the 1980's and 90's classrooms all over the UK started to include new shiny furniture with rainbow coloured drawers in every shape and size. A whole industry sprang up offering choice upon choice and drawer upon drawer. With these came the sure and certain knowledge that by labeling the drawers with beautifully laminated (or sticky backed plasticed in those days) labels children will most certainly be able to find resources ( and more importantly be able to put them away in their right place after use). So began the label myth. Often rooted in teachers OCD need for a tidy classroom the tale soon found new meaning and practitioners all over began to believe that without these pictures, labels and even real objects stuck to drawers children would NEVER learn to read!!! Oh yes I kid you not! The myth remains strong today that children learn to read through interaction with the furniture!!
Well sarcasm aside, this just isn't true! Children learn to read firstly by having the opportunity to spend quality time sharing books, magazines and other texts with supportive adults in a comfortable relaxed environment where they begin to see reading as a nice thing to do with others and a pleasure to be a part of. Where they are able to freely talk about characters, plots and what might happen next. With this in mind an area where adults and children can share stories and books together in your setting far outways the need to label drawers and shelves. Try adding a sofa or loads of cushions and encouraging practioners to actually relax and enjoy the book sharing process with children rather than it being a preplanned, enthusiasm sapping activity at a table.
Ok, so some may argue that young children's awareness of text and it carrying meaning is the reason for the laminating plague and yet even that requires a rethink in our modern world. Yes, children do draw meaning from familiar text but that is not from the "lego" drawer or the "playdough roller" label. Children absorb text like sponges from their surroundings outside of our settings on a daily basis and there's no resaon why we can't replicate those experiences in our settings. How quickly do children get to recognise the Mcdonalds sign or the TESCO logo while out and about? Show me a child who doesn't quickly learn to recognise their favourite tv shows logo or their most played with toys name. Children already live in a text rich environment and it is this that we need to reflect in our work with them. Try compiling a package wall with familiar packets from kitchen, bathroom and sweet aisle. Give children pointers so they can find their favourites and chat with friends about who likes what. Fill your role play area with real life packets of cereal, baked bean tins and baby lotion bottles and let children "read" them as they play and develop their creative storytelling abilities (being an author is after all not just about putting pen to paper!). And if you feel the need for an alphabet line then look to make one with "environmental text" logos and signs aplenty. This also offers a great way of integrating other languages into everyday play with packets from around the world readily available in supermarkets now.
Providing a text rich environment is about reflecting children's own experiences and making reading real. So add comics, magazines and catalogues to your reading materials. Select books with familar characters and recognisable logos. It is not about getting children to read what we make them read but about providing an exciting and stimulating enviornment where children are supported to explore and enjoy reading what they want to read. After all why do we want children to read in the first place? Is it to tick assessment boxes or to please senior advisors? Or is it to raise a generation of children who love to read? Even if that is a favourite comic or a techincal blog on the internet!
It is worth also thinking about the access to resources issue when it comes to labeling. Why are we doing this ? Is it to allow children to make informed, independent choices in their play or is it so we know that the resources are "where they should be"? With idependence in mind changing multicoloured drawers for smaller baskets with fewer objects that are truely mobile can help children much more to make independent play choices and to create these where they choose rather than trawl through loads of drawers trying to find what they want. A small selection of toys collected by a child in a basket and taken to their play is by its very nature already special to that child. Removing the need to label baskets takes away the need for practioners to get it put back in the right place everytime, and frees up more time for them to play with and alongside the children to help support their learning.
Stepping away from labeling everything can benefit the child,relax the adults and can offer a chance to distance yourself from your relationship with your laminator! Remember - a text rich environment does not depend on labels and children do not learn to read from the furniture!! Make it exciting, make it fun, make it useful and make it relevant!