The development a child makes in their early years has profound effects on their life chances and later successes. When you think about it, this makes sense that if a young child has a good start in life, they are more likely to have a positive future. During birth to 3 years a child’s brain develops considerably. These connections help secure brain function and organization for later life. The quality and breadth of experiences children have at this stage in their development is crucial. In direct correspondence with this are the relationships and bonds young children make with adults in their care. As established by Educational Psychologist Maslow (1943), young children need to feel loved and have their basic needs met, such as food, clothing and housing. When these needs are met, it sets the scene for optimum learning to take place.
What is EYFS?
As a statutory requirement, all schools in the UK follow the English Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), which focuses on seven Areas of Learning (AOL) and development in phases from birth to 5 years of age. Children progress and develop at different rates and stages; the EYFS curriculum caters to this. The Early Year’s framework is built upon three key components for development and learning: a unique child, positive relationships and enabling environments; skilled EY practitioners plan and teach through these guiding principles. High quality Early Years teaching derives from expert early childhood educators who know about child development extensively. The Early Years also have a focus on developing pupils’ independence and autonomous learning.
The EYFS also emphasizes the importance of parents as partners. Research has shown the impact of parents and school settings working together. As the EYFS states, “Parents are children’s first and most enduring educators. When parents and practitioners work together in early years settings, the results have a positive impact on children’s development and learning.” Parents/caregivers have a wealth of knowledge about their child and skilled practitioners tap into this to help support and enhance children’s learning in class. Early Years practitioners use resources such as scrapbooks and home school diaries to help document learning and information from home. These communication sources are vital to home and school working together and support the development of sustained progress.
The Importance of Playing
At the forefront of EY, play is absolutely crucial to a young child’s development and learning, the importance of play should not be underestimated. According to Kenneth Ginsberg, a professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive and emotional strength.” Young children develop their speech and language through play by observing their teachers and other children. Practitioners create a model of how to play, talk, listen and communicate. Outstanding Early Years teachers know the value of play and plan for high quality play and interactions each week. Children are observed and supported in their own initiated play, and also during adult directed play or focused activities.
Developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978) theorized that children have two aspects to their experiences, what they can do on their own and what they can do when their learning is scaffolded in the ‘zone of proximal development’ (ZPD). Specialist Early Years teachers provide this scaffold when children are engaged in their play. Here we would also see elements of challenge and pace depending on the focus. Practitioners support the child in securing established connections and making new ones. This is where real learning takes place and young children demonstrate high levels of involvement and engagement. This enables them to flourish, reaching their full potential.
Practitioners plan for seven AOL across the curriculum; this involves three prime areas of learning and four specific areas. The prime areas are the bedrock of a child’s learning and development. They include communication and language, personal, social and emotional development and physical development. Once the three prime areas have established a secure foundation, they enable children to explore the four specific areas (literacy, mathematics, understanding of the world and expressive arts and design) from a stronger starting point.
Social interactions are a major factor in a young child’s learning and development. Early Years practice and provision provide the right environment for social development to take place. Here, pupils learn to share, take turns and work together in a team everyday. They develop conversation skills, negotiation skills and learn how to express their feelings and empathize with others. These social and emotional intelligence skills instilled within the EYFS curriculum, and pupils use and build on them throughout their lifetime.
Providing a Safe and Welcoming Environment
The environment pupils are exposed to within the school needs to make pupils feel safe and secure. When pupils feel this way they are then ready to learn. Transition from home to school can be hard for some children as they may find it difficult to separate from their main caregiver in a morning. A warm and welcoming environment indoors and out can help to ensure a smooth transition for EY pupils.
Practitioners take time to get to know each child in their class. They talk to the children and find out their interests, hobbies, and likes and dislikes. Practitioners then use this information to personalize the learning environment for the pupils. For example, a pupil who likes dinosaurs, the practitioner would find some resources to enhance an area of the classroom. This enhancement would then hopefully entice the pupil into that area and with adult scaffolding, learning experiences may be secured or new learning may take place. This approach also helps pupils feel valued and cared for. The EYFS also states, “Every child is a competent learner from birth who can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured.” Practitioners promote this ethos throughout their planning and encourage pupils to have positive dispositions to learning.
The most successful EY center will provide their pupils with a progressive approach that is child-centered, focusing on a holistic view of the child while meeting the needs of 21st century learners. Harrow International School Shanghai Early Years Centre embraces the very best principles of educational theory and research into daily practice. Parents have undoubtedly got a difficult decision to make when deciding on an Early Years provision they feel is right for their child, but above all, it is vital we value Early Years and give it the high profile it deserves.
Trisha Ferguson develops the Early Years philosophy and ethos at Harrow International School, which has been established through a combination of theoretical research and experience, ultimately instilling a life long love of learning in all our pupils.