Imagine being a juggler spinning plates. The act is a familiar one; it has been performed on stages up and down the country ever since music hall was popular entertainment. The plates spin round, the juggler runs from pole to pole twirling, maintaining momentum, sometimes increasing speed in the nick of time just as a plate begins to fall. For early years educators the management of a classroom can seem like this, juggling the needs and interests of all the children, making sure each one is gainfully occupied. Planning a motivating and purposeful activity for a small group takes an understanding of how children learn, and how teachers can affect that learning; whole class teaching, with all the children involved in the same activity, demands a range of complex skills too; but managing to organise groups of children and individuals so that each child is working at a suitable activity with the right amount of support seems to be the hardest to achieve.
It is easy to see the results of poor management. Children stand around in queues waiting for a small amount of attention from the teacher, frustration arises because children are overdependent on adult support and are unable to function without constant intervention, equipment is lost in the general chaos of a badly organised classroom; all these features cause problems for children and staff alike. However it seems as if the more talented the teacher, the more difficult it is to see the amount of thought and planning that goes on behind the scenes to facilitate the whole range of pupil-teacher interactions. Good teachers make the plate spinning seem easy, almost as if good management is by accident rather than design. The focus for this chapter therefore is to make explicit such skills, to explore how the organisation of the rooms and the management of children, resources and adults can support the education of the children within them.