Reflections on Dr Lynn McNair’s Keynote at Froebel: Gifts for Our Future 9 by John Dagger

Before hearing Lynn speak at the Gifts for Our Future conference, I had been pre-warned that the content of her presentation might be upsetting.  The title ‘Rules, Rules, Rules, and We’re Not Allowed to Skip’ had already set transition alarm bells ringing and I was not expecting to be uplifted!

Lynn began by grounding the audience in some important Froebelian principles, with ‘discipline being a non-issue in a well conceived educational programme’ jumping out at me in particular.  I have worked for many years in the early stages, and mostly in P1.  More recently I have been practicing in Nursery and the topics of discipline, rewards and self directions are ones I have discussed with colleagues often, especially those still in P1.

It wasn’t very long before Lynn was talking about Golden Time, and the sun and cloud charts that are used with this reward and sanctions system.  My heart sank.  I had used these in my classes.  I thought I had used them well.

I had read about Golden Time many, many years ago, and it had made sense to me at the time.  Everyone else was using it . . . but I had never taken the time to really ask myself “WHY?”  Why do I need this idea of punishment – of loss – of being ‘bad’ or ‘naughty?’  And, more importantly why didn’t the nursery need this system?

In my latter years in P1 I’d like to hope that the system wasn’t really being used – It was just ‘there’.  I had moved on to a much more play based curriculum and interdisciplinary method of teaching and learning.  But it was still there.  In the background.  Looming. . .

It upsets me to think of the pressure I had most likely and unwittingly placed upon my learners.  I have heard first hand, from ex pupils currently in P1 visiting my nursery of how they view the sun and the clouds.  One girl was telling me just a few weeks ago how she worries about a boy in her class who is always on the black cloud.  Knowing the wee lad in question makes me wonder how well he understands the rules of his new environment.  English is an additional language for him, and I suspect he may be finding new routines difficult to understand.

Lynn touched on EAL in her presentation mirroring my thoughts, before moving onto classification.

I made my peace with ‘PIPS’ many years ago (A baseline and end of year assessment tool used in every P1 in Scotland).  They had to be done.  Simple as that, so I made them a game.  I have never ‘taught to the test’ and agree with Lynn who noted that ‘this type of pedagogy celebrates rote learning, memorising and high-stakes testing, while it produces an atmosphere of child passivity and teacher routinisation.’  Froebelian practitioners embrace freedom from rote learning as it opens the door to understanding, and, as I have always championed, all learning has to start from where the learner is.

Lynn then turned her attention to how the curriculum is designed in many Primary settings.  How it can often be a ‘top down’ controlled system, closely aligned with corporate power and military values.  She shared with the audience the words of a P1 explaining how they felt about ‘groups’ and how good or bad a child is at learning in relation to these.  John Hattie’s research would certainly support the child’s question as to why they were even being grouped in the first place.  I was very lucky in my final year as a class teacher to have been in a school which recognised the power of mixed ability learning, of collaborative learning and of challenged based, skill focused learning.   In that last year I even took the plunge and had no groupings in my class.  Everyone made progress.  I was happier, and I hope the children were too.

Lynn concluded by focusing on the transition process and how children view their own school readiness.  Her words have made me reflect on the transition policy we have in place in my current setting, and as Lynn noted, it is probably well intended – but possibly not well enacted.

Lynn’s presentation has already caused much dialogue between myself and colleagues within and beyond my setting.

Lynn’s presentation, although difficult to hear, has held a mirror up to every practitioner involved in transition.

We have been challenged.

We have been challenged to consider new possibilities and to focus on play.

I plan on rising to the challenge.


John Dagger

Head Teacher,

Mount Esk Nursery School

Froebel: Gifts for Our Future 9 – Graphic Record

Those who attended the Froebel: Gifts for Our Future 9 Conference in October, may remember Albi Taylor, busily working away at the back of the hall creating a record of the proceedings.

We are delighted to be able to share this wonderful record of the day with you now.


More about Albi’s work can be found on her website here.