How can you get the best out of your students?
It is common for Early Years settings to provide work experience or placements for students that are studying childcare or Early Years courses. The placements can be over a set period of time and will usually be placed with a particular age group to gain experience of the job role. This practical, hands on experience is a great way for the students to put theory into practice and develop a working knowledge of childhood theories, strategies and the Early Years Foundation Stage curriculum; however the jobs that students are expected to carry out differ from setting to setting.
Some settings may encourage students to shadow a practitioner and gain a great deal of valuable experience. This is a great way for students to learn what the job entails, how to build and maintain appropriate relationships with children, staff and professionals and also pick up useful strategies that they may keep with them for the rest of their career. However this is only valuable if the practitioner who is being shadowed is professional and promotes best practice, otherwise the student may pick up ‘bad habits’.
Students are often useful to complete easy but time consuming jobs such as washing out paint pots or cleaning up after lunch as they are not counted in ratio, meaning practitioners are able to stay with the children. This can often be helpful for practitioners on a busy day, eliminating some of the stress. However even though the students are not counted in ratio it is still very important that they are spending an adequate amount of time with the children and experiencing different aspects of the daily routine. It is okay to ask students to carry out small jobs but practitioners should make sure that the student is still involved in the routine as much as possible; as a student that always cleans up after lunch may be missing out on taking part in sleep time or feeding back to parents. It is a good idea to ensure the student has a mixture of job roles and is able to observe a range of scenarios or parts of the day.
Some settings may struggle with staffing from time to time and it is not unusual to think about using students to fill in the gaps. If they have a strong student who they feel is confident in their role, some settings may pay the student to work and be in ratios to cover staff sickness. It is a good idea to run this past the students course tutor prior to starting to ensure this is acceptable and will not affect the students placement hours. If this is an option, the manager should also be mindful that the student is not yet qualified and may not have a great deal of experience so they may be counted in ratios but should not be left unsupervised. With the rules around qualifications and ratios due to change, this may no longer be an option however students can still offer an extra pair of hands on a very busy day.
Getting students involved in the nursery routine can help them develop confidence and build on their skills effectively. Allowing them to create a display board or carry out an activity can support them in learning key skills and boost their self esteem. Many courses may require students to carry out specific tasks whilst on placement and have their employer sign them off. It is a good idea to ask this during their induction into the setting so you can plan for time to observe the student.
Students can be a lovely asset to your staff team and can offer fresh knowledge and a burst of energy. It is important to support students as best you can as they are the future Early Years workforce!