Essay on Early Years Foundation Stage
Number of words: 3065
A consideration of the principles and practice that underpin the Early Years Foundation Stage and how the current framework relates to young children’s needs and interests
DfE (2013a) enunciates that the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is a set of statutory guidelines which all childcare providers (including schools, nurseries and children’s centres) must adhere to in catering for children between the ages of 0 to 5, upon which time they will enter full-time education. The EYFS has been in circulation for several years, undergoing numerous revisions and amendments. The most recent version was published in September 2014 and is a simplified version of past documents, by having four overarching principles which is guided upon: every child is unique, children become strong through building positive relationships, children learn and develop well in ‘enabling environments’ and finally that children develop and learn at different rates (DfE, 2014). These 4 areas will provide the structure for this assignment. The EYFS seems to comprehensively cover all the needs which children may have in their formative years. It is also concurrent with previous initiatives the government have devised, such as SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning), which implored teachers and practitioners to adopt a holistic stance in educating their pupils (DfE, 2010) and Every Child Matters, which stressed that each child was an individual and should be treated as so (DfE, 2004).
Principle 1- Every Child is Unique
Perhaps the most notable principle espoused in the current early year’s framework is the need to recognise the child as an individual, one who is unique and should have care tailored to meet their needs (DfE, 2014). This is a point which seems to have sound theoretical backing. Bandura (1977) feels that children do develop in a unique manner, also giving credence to the fact that the social environment influences their development, something the EYFS also recognises. Bandura also feels that social interaction is something that is imperative to the child’s development, which is agreement with the communication and language need identified by the framework. Although Piaget (1952) does recognise that each child is an individual, he posits that their development amongst each other is fairly uniform, as he feels that children progress through a series of fixed stages, particularly in a cognitive manner. This is slightly different to the message which the EYFS framework conveys, as they do recognise that children progress through stages, but the document expresses that their development may not be so homogenous: rather each child is on their own unique learning journey (DfE, 2014). In my own practice, children were treated as an individual, with an emphasis on the present, rather than adhering to a fixed model of child development. On my placement each child had their own box and folder where detailed notes on them were kept, which shows how they were being considered as individuals. It seems important to treat the child as an individual so that they can grow in stature and become someone who has an authentic identity. This is something which is inherent with the theory of constructivism which advocates children being treated as individuals who make sense of their world in a way which is unique to them, allowing them to build understanding in a way which is ‘special’ to them (Bruner, 1961: 22). This seems to ratify the ethos of the current EYFS framework in treating children uniquely, although parallel to this, it may also be pertinent to bear in mind that there are certain stages which children progress through. Even if each child’s development is not uniform, there may still be some similarities between them, which emphasise the importance of consulting certain theoretical models of development.
Principle 2- Children become strong and independent through positive relationships
This principle seems to be slightly paradoxical in nature. Piaget (1952) articulates the importance of children being active and independent whereas Vygotsky (1977) feels that guided participation (from an adult or worker) is essential in fostering a child’s development. The EYFS framework arguably combines these theoretical notions, recognising that children should have be independent and be able to explore, whilst being able to have a positive relationship with their ‘key person’, the adult who is most involved in their care (DfE, 2014). The framework elaborates that it is the key’s person role to ensure that the child becomes settled into the environment, becomes comfortable in the setting and also to build a productive relationship with the parents. However, Bandura (1977) offers an extra dimension of the key worker’s role, which is that they can model and display the desirable behaviours which the children they look after can copy and imitate, a phenomenon which Bandura feels is particularly powerful in influencing a child’s development. Nutbrown and Page (2008) emphasise the importance of the key person, in that they should exude warmth, friendliness and possess excellent interpersonal and communication skills which will enable them to develop a rapport with the child and be able to contribute to their development successfully.
Nutbrown and Page (2008) also speak of the importance of the key worker handling the transition for young children from being attached to their parents before progressing to being looked after in the children’s centre. This is something which has been covered many times in empirical theories which surround children’s development. Bowlby (1951), an eminent psychoanalyst, outlined the theory of attachment, where he stated that infants form an attachment to a primary caregiver (monotropy), typically with the mother, in the first few years of their life and should receive continuous care from this attachment figure for the first two years of their life. This seems to align well with contemporary practice, with the majority of children going to nursery when they are around three years old (Gov.uk, 2014). Bowlby (1953) conceptualised the absence of such care as maternal deprivation, positing that this could have many ramifications for the child such as delinquency, apathy, reduced intelligence and depression. However, a criticism of Bowlby’s attachment theory is that he did not acknowledge the influence of other stakeholders in the child’s care, such as the father, key worker or extended family members. Elfer et al. (2003) concentrate specifically on the relationship between carers and the child, advocating that they should exude warmth and friendliness and not shy away from forming a strong bond with the infant for fear of confusing it, as even a baby is able to discern between their parents and those that look after them in a childcare setting.
The literature expressed above seems to evidence the importance of the key worker in meeting the child’s needs, something which the EYFS framework also gives credence too. Key workers are influential in helping children to gain some stability in the setting and become comfortable there and allowing them to thrive and prosper. If they form a good relationship with the child this can help them to achieve their ‘early learning’ goals, particularly in how they communicate with others and explore the world around them (DfE, 2013b).
Sylva et al. (2004) articulate the importance of the key worker being on good terms with the parent in their authoritative EPPE study, which asserted that each child should be assigned a key worker. Essentially, if the key worker has a good relationship with the parent this may allow children to form a better relationship with the key worker and have all of their needs fulfilled, it could also boost the engagement of certain groups of parents such as teen mums, something which my placement noted the importance of. DfE (2013a) also highlight the importance of key workers being suitably trained and educated so they can provide a good service to the children under their care. This was again apparent in the children’s centre which I visited, where the early years teachers had to be educated at least up to a Level 3 standard. In essence, children need to build positive relationships with those around them to become independent, and the key worker is at the centre of this.
Principle 3- Children learn and develop well in ‘enabling’ environments
Piaget (1952) conjectured that babies are naturally inquisitive and want to explore the world around them and become active participants within it. Therefore it seems appropriate that there should be an environment which stimulates them to do that, intellectually, socially and building their autonomy and independence. Such environments are deemed to be ‘enabling’ with the key worker again at the centre of cultivating and propagating such an environment, which could be potentially similar to the environment to the child is exposed to at home, to ensure greater consistency and continuity (DfE, 2014).
However, structuring the environment in such a way may allow children to learn about concepts which will be of use to them in their development as an adult. The children’s centre where I was placed at were proponents of heuristic learning in getting the children to problem-solve and explore activities, with the emphasis being on play and reward, with items like treasure baskets used quite frequently. Outdoor and indoor learning in the EYFS seem to be equally important, something which the government recognises and gives credence to in the EYFS framework, making it mandatory that childcare providers give access to an outdoor environment which is safe and has plenty of opportunities for play (DfE, 2014). Garrick et al. (2010) extend this, articulating that the environment of an EYFS setting should have abundant opportunities for play, including allowing children to indulge in creative pursuits (something their study valued highly), physical opportunities (like sports and outdoor play areas) and ‘pretend’ play. If a centre did include such an extensive range of opportunities, this could allow them to cater for a larger spectrum of learners as it is widely acknowledged that pupils thrive and learn in a multitude of different ways (Gardner, 2004). Furthermore, the potential for progression in the children could be enhanced if they were encouraged to develop a ‘growth’ mind set by staff and engage in activities that they would not do normally, so they can become more familiar with varied tasks and not be reticent to challenges in their future life (Dweck, 2006).
The indoor environment is also imperative for facilitating children’s development. A multi-sensory approach with numerous types of activities can contribute significantly to the development of children and really aid them in reaching a higher level of maturity and cognition, as they interact with the world around them in different ways and become more flexible and adaptable. Steel (2012) infers that such an approach could have positive longitudinal consequences for the child, including improved academic attainment and retention of knowledge, which seems to be a sound rationale for such an approach. Whilst it seems essential that the indoor environment should be stimulating cognitively, it may be wise not to neglect the emotional aspect of it. Again, the key worker is at the centre of providing the warmth needed in an enabling environment. Nutbrown and Page (2008) assert that they should show warm responses to the children under their care and react well to them.
In essence, an enabling environment is made up of the components of suitable and stimulating indoor and outdoor areas, which the key worker is central in maintaining and facilitating.
Principle 4- Children develop and learn in different ways and rates
The final principle espoused by the EYFS framework is perhaps more concerned with the cognition of children, although it does refer to their social and emotional development in part. Nevertheless, Katz (1988, as cited in Carr, 2001, p.21) hypothesises that each child has a certain ‘disposition’, something which is distinct from learning; it is concerned more with how they react to certain situations and the habits they adopt and carry out on a regular basis. In a later document, Katz (1993) elaborates that dispositions in young children are normally learned from those around or the environment they are raised in or looked after, which seems to resonate with Bandura’s (1977) theory of modelling mentioned earlier in the assignment. Katz (1993) also articulates that dispositions are strengthened when they are acknowledged and efforts are made to continue them (particularly if they are good habits), which seems to emphasise the importance of treating the child as an individual.
It seems evident that all children learn and develop in different ways. However, a conjecture could be made that there may be certain strategies which a practitioner or worker can implement which will result in children developing into sensible and mature adults. One way in which to do this is to cultivate a child’s resilience in their ability to complete a task or try a new activity. Children may give up if they perceive the task to be beyond their capabilities and not extend themselves to complete this. This could be a natural response from the child (particularly if the task is incommensurate with their skillset) or it could be something that they have learned over time. Dweck (1975: 673) terms this as ‘learned helplessness’, where a child habitually gives up in the face of a challenging task or adversity, possibly because of a lack of response from the adult in encouraging the child to complete the task and persevere.
Combining the sentiments expressed by Katz and the argument above, could be essential in helping children to progress appropriately, particularly when faced with unfamiliar situations and tasks. Siraj- Blatchford et al. (2002) concluded in their Researching Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years (REPEY) study that shared sustained thinking was crucial in helping a child to tackle new problems and persist. This is defined as two or more individuals (with at least one adult ‘facilitator’) working together to complete a task, although the authors stress that each person should be actively contributing to the task, and that there must be a progression towards an eventual solution, even if that is reached straight away. This coincides with Vygotsky’s (1977) theory of cognitive development, which posits that a child will enhance their zone of proximal development (the difference between what they can do on their own and with help) if they are supported by a more knowledgeable other such as an adult or more capable peer. Both arguments suggest that collaboration between adults and children is essential to further the child’s development, although again the manner in which this is done should be unique to the child by using questioning which is appropriate to the child’s level of cognitive development (Bloom et al., 1956).
The rationale which underpins the EYFS framework is the need to treat the child as a unique individual and consider their needs at length, in a cognitive, emotional, social and physical sense to facilitate optimum development in them. There are several ways to ensure this, including that the environment is stimulating and appropriate enough for the child’s needs, that they have access to a multitude of activities, that the key worker has a warm and fulfilling relationship with the child and that they encouraged to develop a growth mind set and persevere with challenging tasks with the facilitation of another adult. Arguably, if a childcare provider follows all of the actions above and adheres to the EYFS framework, then this should allow for children to progress to the desired level of development and maturity.
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