The assumption is so often made that children between the ages of three and five are simply ‘playing’ and no matter the experience, be it at home, kindergarten or school, playing with a simple toy or activity will achieve the same opportunities and outcomes.
The term ‘playing’ can be dismissed without consideration for the fundamental learning opportunities available within a young mind during this time. Given the right environment, climate and level of engagement, these early learning experiences can be key in positively stimulating a child’s interest and engagement in language, learning and investigating and provide the fundamental foundations from which all future learning and education will develop.
The Importance of Education from Age 3-5
The finely-tuned intricate workings of an Early Years Setting in school can therefore come as quite a shock to those not immersed in its rational ad pedagogy; even more so with parents who are walking got the first time into this web of decision-making about which setting will be best for their own child.
An increasing volume of research, building on the theories of Piaget, Bowlby, Skinner and Bandura, continues to show that children’s early learning experiences at this stage have a direct link to their successes much later in life. this research has meant that over time, significant emphasis has been placed on the importance of the learning, progress and development of children between the ages of three and five, and parents are now, more than ever, paying careful attention to their child’s education at this stage.
For parents, this can feel as if a tsunami is on the horizon. That each decision they may make could in some way harm or deprive their child of opportunities to develop physically, personally, emotionally or cognitively. That before their child has embarked on his educational journey, they may have messed it up. This feeling is completely understandable. Early years providers can show parents that this is simply not the case.
As parents, you are the experts about your child. You know them best and you are best placed to take the information from the many Early Years Foundation Stages (EYFS) settings around you and make informed decisions about your child’s first steps into education. You are in the driving seat and you are in control.
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
The EYFS Framework sets the standards that all quality Early years providers shout meet to ensure children learn and develop well and are kept healthy and safe. It promotes teaching and learning to ensure children are ‘school ready’ at the end of their time in an Early Years setting and gives children the broad range of knowledge and skills that provide the right foundation for future progress through school and life.
The EYFS Framework is based on four important principles that shape effective practice in Early years settings:
- Every child is a unique child who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self assured;
Children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships;
Children learn well in enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents/careers;
That children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates.
There are many different theories, principles and pedagogies that underpin Early Years education and the important thing is that you know what these are and which will suit your child best. There is endless research online to help you narrow down your choice. Even more importantly however is that the Early Years setting you visit or contact can explain its pedagogy, curriculum approach, regardless of whether it follows the Development Matters guidance from England, the Australian Early Years Framework, Montessori, Steiner, Reggio Emelia or the Forest School approach to name but a few. There will always be a clear rationale upon which the setting builds its curriculum and approach to early education.
What You Need to Look for in an EYFS Setting
There are key things that you will be looking for when you visit any EYFS setting be it a school, nursery, childminder or kindergarten setting.
Do you like it here? Are the people friendly? Are the staff interested in your child as an individual?
Does the setting have a teacher trained and qualified in EYFS and trained EYFS practitioners?
Is this setting safe? Look for things like locked gates between play areas and kitchens, garden doors that won’t catch fingers, child-proof guards in the plug sockets etc.
What is the ratio of adults to children? Anything more than 1:13 may pose a safeguarding concern.
Welfare – are the needs of the children being met? Are the children happy and engaged? Are adults interacting with the children at their level and in an appropriate way?
Activities – are the activities set up appealing, engaging and structured? Would your child like to do these things?
Learning environment – are the learning spaces within the setting inviting, well-organised and purposeful? Are there opportunities for children to engage in a range of different activities and access a range of different resources to cater for individual needs and interests?
Your Child Will Not Start Full-Time Straightway
Once you have decided on the EYFS setting you feel confident will meet your child’s needs, do not expect your child to start full-time straightaway. To build confidence and familiarity and carefully adapt attachments (remember many young children will only know a few adults prior to education), children will usually begin coming for short settling-in sessions where they will get to know their parents or familiar adult will always return to them.
Once the staff in the setting are confident that they know your child well and feel the child will be comfortable, they increase the duration of time the child stays. Remember each child is unique so this can happen at different rates for different children. It is advised that you do not linger or draw out dropping off time: part with your child quickly and trust the provision to support your child.
Communication Between the Home and the Centre
Communication between home and the provision is vital in establishing an effective relationship to support a child. Any quality setting will welcome information from home be it a note, a message at the door or simple text. This helps staff to know and plan for your child more effectively throughout the day.
Equally, you should expect regular communication from the setting, letting you know your child is getting on. This can be informal notes and photos as well as more formal reports and parents’ meetings. These are nothing to worry about and are a great opportunity for you to discuss your child.
This article is contributed by Naomi Jones from XCL International School, Penang.