Teaching in the Early Years


Choosing a nursery for your child is a huge decision. Finding somewhere that offers the assurance that your child will thrive and reach their full potential is undoubtedly one of your main priorities.

As a nursery provider, we understand that the quality of care offered to your child is incredibly important. But so are the educational benefits of nursery life. In fact, one question we’re often asked by parents is, “do you teach the children?”

The answer of course is, we do! Teaching is often understood by many as the delivery of subjects, topics or information. At nursery, we perhaps don’t ‘teach’ in the way you might have first imagined.

So, what does teaching look like in the early years? Let’s find out.

Children and the world around them

Children begin the learning process as soon as they are born. From those very early stages of life, babies are learning about relationships, security their needs and the big wide world around them.

As soon as your child starts at one of our nurseries, we will use observation to inform our decision about where they are in their development, and what interests they may have.

From these initial observations, our staff will start to plan activities to support your child’s ongoing development, ensuring that they are supported in making continued progress.

What do children learn at nursery?

All of our nurseries follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). The EYFS is a curriculum specifically designed to support children from the age of birth to 5 years.

This curriculum is followed until your child finishes reception year at primary school.

The EYFS framework outlines 7 key areas that children develop during their time at nursery. The 7 areas are split into 3 prime areas and 4 specific areas. The 3 prime areas are:

  1. Communication and Language
  2. Physical Development
  3. Personal, Social and Emotional Development

These 3 prime areas are the foundations for learning and are a focus for our youngest children. This ensures that your child has the underpinning skills to learn as they grow.

Without mastering the prime areas, children may struggle to develop within the 4 specific areas:

  • Literacy
  • Mathematics
  • Understanding the World
  • Expressive Arts and Design

The EYFS is a guide for Early Years Practitioners and professionals. It is by no means a set of targets that children should achieve by a certain age.

All children develop in different ways. For some children, this may mean that skills take longer to acquire than for others.

Supporting the youngest children

Babies rely on having key people around them to develop their understanding. As a parent, you will be your child’s first educator.

Offering your child security and care is all that is needed at this early stage. These interactions and relationships develop your child’s ability to learn more about the world around them.

A baby’s emotional development is an important part of their ability to learn. This provides them with a secure foundation to become a confident and capable learner.

From a baby’s perspective, everything that they experience is often their first. The first year of a child’s life sees them reach so many important milestones that will provide them with the skills for lifelong learning.

It’s important to remember that whilst children are continuously absorbing the world around them and making sense of the information they are given, their ability to process information can be delayed.

It can take up to 7 seconds for a young child to process the answer to a question or understand an instruction that they have been given. With this in mind please be patient with the very youngest children to give them the time they need to think.

Teaching and learning for toddlers

Toddlers are naturally inquisitive and enjoy exploring the environment around them. This is an ideal time to provide them with a variety of experiences which allow them to explore and discover the world around them in a safe and supervised way.

A language-rich environment will also allow them to develop their communication skills. The more language they hear, the more impact this will have on their language development as they grow. Most toddlers can say around 20 words by 18 months and 50 or more words by the time they reach 2 years.

Children at this age are also able to understand some simple boundaries around expected behaviour. At nursery, this is supported through the introduction of ‘Golden Rules’. These are simple rules in from which children are taught about the expectations of their behaviour at nursery; however, these can also be supported and implemented at home.

Children learn best through play. Playing with your child, listening and reacting to what they do will provide them with the skills they need as they progress. As with babies, toddlers’ emotional development is also an important aspect of their ability to be a lifelong learner.

Teaching in Pre-school

Teaching and learning for a pre-school child are still predominantly done through play. However, play becomes a little more structured in preparation for their departure to school. It is important that we prepare children for their time at school, so activities that support children in the following areas will also be encouraged:

  • Having strong social skills
  • Can cope emotionally with being separated from their parents
  • Are relatively independent in their own personal care
  • Have a curiosity about the world and a desire to learn.

There is also a focus on helping children to become more independent and develop their self-help skills in preparation for school.

Many parents feel that their child should know how to write their name, name all of the colours and count confidently before starting school. This is actually not something that schools expect all children to be able to do when they start.

Schools are more concerned with children being able to display the skills needed to learn, e.g. building relationships, communicating with others, being aware of personal care needs and confidence to learn.

You may find this guide useful to find out what your child should be able to do and when: Guidance to your child’s learning and development in the early years foundation stage

Ensuring that children are learning

All nurseries will have a way of observing and monitoring your child’s learning and development. For example, at our nurseries, we use an application called iConnect which our staff can use to complete regular observations and assessments.

These observations allow our staff to see where your child is at in terms of their development and highlight any areas where they may require additional support.

Based on these observations, our staff can then plan what we call ‘next steps’ for your child. Next steps are the activities and learning opportunities that our staff create to ensure that your child continues to make progress.

Parents can view all of the recorded observations through an app called ParentZone. ParentZone will enable you to see what your child has been up to during their time at nursery and see what they have been learning about.

The differences between school nurseries and day nurseries

School nurseries and day nurseries are similar in the sense that each will follow the EYFS curriculum. The main differences are that school nurseries tend to be less flexible than day nurseries. For example, school nurseries will only accept children from the age of 3 years and can only offer short days of around 9.00am – 3.00pm during the school term times. Whereas day nurseries can offer more flexibility as they tend to open from 7.30am – 6.00pm and are open all year around. So, if you require childcare at the beginning or end of each day, then you will need to make additional arrangements for your child if they attend a school nursery.

Many parents believe that if their child attends a school nursery, they are more likely to get a primary school place. This is not the case. Your local authority is responsible for allocating school places to children, and there is no guarantee that your child will go to your preferred choice of school even if they attend the school’s nursery.

Arguably, the biggest difference between a school nursery and a day nursery are the childcare ratios that are followed. At a day nursery, 3-4-year old’s will be on a 1:8 staff to child ratio. Whereas at a school nursery the ratio is much higher at 1:13. What this means is that children at nursery schools will generally receive less time with their early year’s teacher.

Ensuring children are ready for school

At some point, during your child’s time at nursery, your attention will turn to the future and you’ll start thinking about primary school. Nursery providers have a duty to ensure that your child has the skills and development to start at primary school on the right foot.

At our nurseries, we will usually contact the primary school your child will be attending in order to ask what they expect children to be able to do when they start with them in Reception. Based on the information we are provided with we will put things in place to support the development of these skills.

Whilst this is mostly done during the last term before they commence school, all children in our pre-school rooms at our nurseries are given support throughout their time with us to ensure that the transition from nursery to school life is as smooth as possible.

When to send your child to nursery

It all depends on your own circumstances and needs. Most parents have different reasons to send their child to nursery. There isn’t exactly a ‘right time’ to register at a nursery as this will rest on what your plans are. For instance, if you’re returning to work after you’ve given birth then you may need childcare when your child is still very young. Alternatively, if you see nursery or childcare as more of an opportunity for your child to socialise with other children, then you may choose to wait until they are a little older.

We usually recommend that you start making enquiries at nurseries when you’re still pregnant so that you have all of the information you need ahead of time. We would also advise that you start your child as soon as possible. There is a lot of research and evidence which shows that the more time children spend at nursery the better they do at primary and secondary school.

You may find it helpful to read another blog we have written specifically about when to register your child at nursery.

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