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The Role of Possibility Thinking in the Early Years

Possibility thinking enables children to move from acceptance to the realm of wonder, make believe & suggestion.
Why is this skill essential in the holistic development of children & how possibility thinking supports deeper learning.

What is this? 
Yes it’s a stick….. but it could be a magical stirrer of a potion, a new & wonderful way of communicating with your friends, a guitar or whatever your creative early years child wants it to be. 
A perfect example of possibility thinking.

What is possibility thinking? Literally, allowing yourself to think of possibilities; moving away from the given to a new place of ‘it could be’.

When we allow ourselves to think of a ‘possible’ we adopt an air of trial and error, testing & let’s see what happens-ness.

We are given the freedom to have a go and see if it fits in our own head; practicing and using current ideas and thoughts to see if they gel with a new idea, challenge or scenario.

Possibility thinking offers the chance to wonder, speculate & the permission to dare to dream.

What an opportunity! What potential to develop an inquisitive mind; thirsty to branch out & explore.

So why is the development of a possibility thinking attitude important for our children?

Possibility thinking can be seen implicitly in the EYFS framework; predominately in the characteristics of effective teaching & learning recommendations. There is evidence of the fostering of possibility thinking littered through each characteristic, which in my mind means that it should play an important part in the experiences which children are offered.

For example; in ‘Playing & Exploring’ there is the sub section of ‘being willing to have a go’. This crucial characteristic suggests that the development & ongoing support of a positive mindset to take that chance and use possibility thinking to find out about the world could lead children to know about possibility thinking & its role in their ongoing adventures.

In Creative & thinking critically’ the whole sub section called ‘having their own ideas’ encourages children to seek out alternatives, drawing on the usual & venturing into the potential to test & expand their emerging ideas & thoughts.

How can we support all our children to know the possibility of possibility thinking, be able to use it as an additional tool in their learning toolbox & met their own personal challenges of exploration?

  • Teach the skill of possibility thinking. This may come really naturally to some children (lookout for the ones who have a secure grounding of the characteristics as mentioned above) but to other children they may not have this already ignited within them. I would argue that it is there in everyone but like other things it just needs a bit of coaxing to flourish & embed.
  • Look for opportunities to include this explicit teaching in everyday experiences & activities. (Do we always do this in literacy inputs for example? What would happen if more were included in scientific explorations I wonder?’   Make ‘WHAT IF’ a core driver.

Helpful ‘possibility questions’ might include:

  • What does that remind you of?
  • What do you think might happen next?
  • What do you/don’t you like about this – why?
  • Is there another way?
  • How could we…?
  • What would you do if…?
  • Being a possibility thinker yourself. Model the choices you make with explicit vocab, discussing your choices & the reasons for them. Sprinkled with a thick dose of excitement & enthusiasm is sure to exude a positive vibe. It also gives children the permission to have a go themselves. If you don’t know that you can do this then chances are you won’t even attempt it.
  • Provide the resources to practice possibility thinking. Plan for resources which have the potential to be more than a single thing…..resources which plant the idea of ‘it could be anything’ in your mind.
  • Celebrate the extent of possibility thinking…..strengthen the impact of ideas with additional representations. Maybe in visual form, creative representations, dance, drama…anything to embed the ideas. The more connections children have between what they are learning, the deeper it remains as a working memory, ready to be recalled for future implementation.

Foster a nurturing possibility thinking environment. These could include:

  • taking risks – feeling comfortable with not knowing and embracing the opportunity for new learning that this provides: ‘shall we see what happens if…?’
  • rising to new challenges – viewing ‘being stuck’ as a valuable learning opportunity and an opportunity for moving forward in our thinking.
  • being willing to share and make mistakes – demonstrating that this is an important part of the learning journey and not something to avoid: ‘I’ve gone wrong here. How can I do it better?’
  • being imaginative – there is more than one way of solving a problem – playing with different perspectives and lines of enquiry: ‘Can we do that another way?’

My session at the conference will explore the significance of supporting children to use this skill within their own learning & will reflect on the role of the adult in guiding children towards becoming expert possibility thinkers.

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The author

Jayne is a committed shoe lover and School Effectiveness Advisor for Lincoln Anglican Academy Trust. She loves discussing all things Early Years with anyone who will give her the opportunity and prides herself in looking after the adults in the hope that they can also look after the children. Achieve your potential! Winner of ‘Literacy / Numeracy Blog of the Year’ at the 2019 Nexus Education Awards.

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