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Alistair Bryce-Clegg: If there is no 'thrill', children will not have the 'will' to learn

Article By: Melissa McAlees

“Without thrill, there is no will to take part and without the will, how can children successfully acquire the skill?”

Credit: ABC Does - Alistair Bryce-Clegg

According to author and early years expert Alistair Bryce-Clegg, this principle applies to all aspects of early years education, and a lack of it can explain why many children do not engage in the ‘correct’ play that practitioners expect to observe.

Speaking at the Childcare Expo in Manchester on 16 June, Mr Bryce-Clegg said: “If there is no ‘thrill’ for children in their environment or activity, then they will not have the ‘will’ to really engage in the learning process. If they don’t have the will to engage then they will not acquire the skills that they need to equip them to reach their full potential.

“Inspiring children is a major part of a practitioners job, and when children are inspired to learn they are far less likely to be difficult to manage, as behaviour always improves when children are engaged in their learning.”

Mr Bryce-Clegg worked as a headteacher of an infant school for 10 years before becoming an early years consultant; working with a diverse range of settings to help them enhance their practice.


In his book ‘Best practice in the early years’, Mr Bryce-Clegg explains that the ‘thrill’ for children often comes from the exploration of something that a child has an established interest in and sometimes it comes from exploring something new.

“If practitioners provide opportunities for thrill and follow where the child’s interest takes them, that is where the learning lies.”

According to the author and father of three, the thrill for children comes from any activities with high levels of engagement.

“Children often crash into each other on the bike track, not because they have poor coordination skills but because it is fun, exciting and a little bit dangerous,” he said.

“Therefore, practitioners must think creatively about what ‘adventurous activities’ means for children, and what sort of activities will enable them to have the will and thrill while developing appropriate skills.”


He added: “You may have a group of children (most likely boys) who every time the door is opened, stampede towards the outdoor area and plant themselves on a wheeled toy, or rush into a role play café and set up a robbers hide out or den. Then the fun really begins…crashing, banging, hurting, destroying and fighting.

Credit: ABC Does - Alistair Bryce-Clegg

“First of all you ask nicely for more appropriate behaviour, then you demand better bike etiquette, then you threaten confiscation of wheeled toys or eviction from the role play area until attitudes improve.”

According to Mr Bryce-Clegg, children behave in this way because of their natural desire for power and control. Their behaviour can also be attributed to how they need to make sense of their complexities of the developing world and the provision within the environment.

“I work with lots of settings who resort to the ‘lock away’ method if the children’s behaviour becomes inappropriate,” he said. “This consists of locking away any toys to ‘teach children a lesson’. In my experience, this is hugely unsuccessful.”


It seems there are very few children in the early years who take time for a period of reflection and inwardly examine their misdemeanour. Instead, they become more grumpy and find mischief elsewhere.

Similarly, when children charge towards the door, it could be that there is nothing else in the room that they find engaging, and if there is no door to head for, they will find other ways of avoiding the tasks practitioners have created for them.

The fundamental issue, according to Mr Bryce-Clegg, is not about wheeled toys, or the children concerned, it is about the practitioners, environment and activities they provide.

“It is the thrill that gives them the will to want to engage,” said Mr Bryce-Clegg. “Regardless of their gender, find out what thrills your children and just make sure that you use that thrill to actively support the development of skill.”


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Alison Orchard

08 Jul 2017 1:31 PM

I agree totally and I think it all goes wrong at the planning stage. We religiously sit down once a week to plan for the following week. We have our termly theme which suppsedly reflects the children's interests. We then think what the children have been playing through the week just gone which is not based on the theme and feed it into next weeks plan. The trouble is the children have moved on to something different by then and no longer find it a thrill!