Are toddler learning outcomes needed?

I enjoy taking Daniel and Emma to groups. I like that they are free to explore and play as they want to, without direction by me. Recently I went along to an outdoors group that I discovered via Facebook. It was held at a local country park and seemed like a lovely idea to get out with Daniel and Emma.  I was a bit surprised to discover it had a specific set of learning outcomes for the children.

We do go out regularly and like to puddle jump in the rain. When I woke up however to heavy rain I wasn’t too keen on going along to the group.

Daniel had woken up in a really grumpy mood; tears, tantrums the works. I decided that we might as well get our waterproofs on and head out; thinking he might be distracted by things at the group.

What a mistake. He sobbed the whole time. I had to carry him across to the group where he stood crying. Another mum tried to distract him for me and get him to play with her boys, but he was having none of it.

The organiser came across and had a chat. I have met her before at a local playgroup where she used to help out. She is lovely and what I would describe as ‘artsy and floaty’. She has a different slant on things to me and likes things to be quite organised (or so she says…). She is a childminder I think and has a wealth of experience and knowledge of childcare and education.

However, I find myself struggling with some of her ideas and in particualr, the notion of organising play for toddlers with specific learning outcomes. I think there can be structure in terms of trying to prompt things and moving from activity to activity (ie Play, tidy up, juice and biscuit, songs, goodbye), but at the end of the day toddlers will do what they wish to. With the best will in the world Daniel will not paint pinecones if he doesn’t want to. He will not sit for songs if he doesn’t want to. I can try to encourage it, but toddlers are willfull things!

Sleeping in rose and rebellion carrier
Sleepy Emma in the R&R

Anyhow… We had a chat about the playgroup and how she felt it lacked structure… and then seeing Daniel was uspet took him and offered to get him a ‘bic bic’ and some ‘ju-juice’. Now, I am not massively precious about Daniel eating biscuits and the such but I restrict them for when he is at playgroups. It was 09:50am, and not a time of day I would want him eating snacks at. He also only drinks water and milk so I was a bit unhappy that he was handed a cup of blackcurrant juice. I also had to smile when Daniel didn’t have a clue what bic-bic was… it’s a biscuit.

To be fair to Daniel he held onto his biscuit; he didn’t eat it as he wasn’t hungry and he tasted the juice and declared that it wasn’t water. But how would you have felt in that situation? Do you think she should have asked me if it was OK for him to have a biscuit and juice? I don’t know; I felt a bit uncomfortable with it and didn’t feel I could take them away from Daniel given he would probably cry even more.

Soggy biscuit time

Anyhow, Daniel was having none of it activity wise. There was a lot of mud stomping and painting of pine cones. Once those activities finished we gathered under a canopy to read a story (the group has a phonics base and the ‘phonic’ was ‘i’ at this session). The story was Itchy Bear and the children had an instrument (see the i….) to shake when the word itchy was read. It was basically kids shaking their instruments and not listening to the story. Daniel really enjoyed this bit of the session.

For all the talk of needing structure to groups this particular group felt like the most unstructured one I have ever been to! Don’t get me wrong it was lovely and the other parent’s and carers there were welcoming but I am not sure the children learnt any of the expected things…. it seemed like a good excuse for them to jump up and down in mud, collect sticks, have biscuits and cake and read a story. All of which are great and have their own merit; but I struggle with the notion of it being one great big learning activity, especially on the phonics side of things.

The group has a blog and when I read the reflection of the session it didn’t tally with my experience there at all. For instance what I interpreted as children jumping up and down in the mud was described as ‘mud ink’ and the children were jumping to carefully print on the sheet. Maybe they were; I’m not so sure.

Maybe it is just me; but does a group need learning outcomes? For me, Daniel and Emma will have plenty of time once in education to learn and have targets and outcomes. I don’t think they took anything away from the group other than perhaps realising that if you keep hold of a biscuit in the rain, it will go very soggy. And that’s no bad thing.


Daniel evePuddle jumpingntually enjoyed himself when he heard the story being read, and the pictures here show him stomping in the puddles and leaves as we went back to the car. But did he learn about the letter i (ink… ingredients…. itchy…. instruments) I don’t think so. Did the group fail because of that? No. I don’t think it did.

What do you think about things like this? Is it just me?




  1. 18th October 2014 / 14:32

    Why can’t kids just have fun, get dirty, and enjoy themselves? Why does everything have to do with learning.
    As for being given juice and biscuit! Why? I hate when people think Molly should have snacks (chocolate buttons, biscuit etc) and as for calling them stupid names! If you are going to be an educational group then use proper words. It irks me when toddlers are asked if they want a “teety” (sweety) or “drinky poo” etc.
    PS I love that sling carrier.
    Also your blog is loking fab

    • 19th October 2014 / 18:33

      thank you, I am pleased with how the blog is looking, still some tweaking to do though!

      And thanks for commenting; I think we have very similar opinions on this!!

    • Pauline
      19th October 2014 / 21:12

      I agree entirely. Good reply

  2. 19th October 2014 / 05:52

    Hmm … maybe I’m showing my age here but the notion of ‘outcomes’ from a playgroup seems really odd, sort of counter productive and hopelessly prescriptive

    Surely the position on biscuits, drinks etc should be clear upfront almost to the point of a clear statement on what the playgroups stance is on healthy/balanced eating – and that way allowing parents to opt in or out rather than be put in the position that you were – oh and as for bic bic etc stuff like that irritates me beyond belief

    The Blog by the way is looking great

  3. 19th October 2014 / 13:42

    I think it depends what angle you’re coming from.
    As a parent of a younger child it perhaps doesn’t really matter, I certainly wouldn’t worry about Alex learning things at a group. As the parent of a slighter older child I think it is useful introducing the phonics etc as if he was at preschool or nursery it would link up with what they do at his age as long as it isn’t forced and is done in a fun way.
    As an early years practitioner, learning outcomes are useful, they help you plan and make sure activities are varied each time.
    I think it’s fine as long as they aren’t made to sit down and learn.

  4. 19th October 2014 / 13:43

    Oh and the juice thing is really annoying, Seb still only has milk and water with the odd flavoured milk or smoothie. It is so uncomfortable when you go somewhere and they offer juice.

  5. Pauline
    19th October 2014 / 21:14

    And is it juice, or water with flavouring, preservatives and millions of E numbers.

  6. 20th October 2014 / 17:46

    Specific planned outcomes seems a bit OTT in this kind of group. The juice and biscuit thing would bug me too, I find it so frustrating when people dish out snacks like that without checking first!

    • 20th October 2014 / 20:57

      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment; I really appreciate it. It did seem a bit OTT to me too, it was organsied chaos, which is great for kids in my opinion!

  7. Justine
    20th October 2014 / 19:50

    At Daniel’s age the only outcome should be that he enjoys himself and makes friends – that develops his social skills anyway! As for juice and bic-bic – surely you should always check with the parent first as the child may have dietary issues such as coeliac or diabetes.

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