Nicola Mulliner is Head of Early Years and is responsible for leading and managing the Childcare and Early Years Service (CEYS). The team have responsibility for regulating and registering childcare providers, supporting high quality practice in the early years foundation stage across schools and early years settings and for supporting families and settings with children who have special educational needs and disabilities.
Today is National Nursery Practitioner Day, a day founded in 2018 to recognise the valuable role of people who work in nurseries and promote childcare as a career, contribute to this sector. We know that positive early experiences unlock the keys to success in later life, so the role of nursery practitioners is one that has an impact far beyond the Early Years Foundation Stage (Birth-5).
Creating a learning space
If you’ve visited a nursery recently, you’ll most likely have been struck by the welcoming feeling of the indoor and outdoor learning environment and the rich and exciting play opportunities young children have access to. This however can sometimes lead to a common misconception that the work of nurseries is just to entertain and care for children and let them play freely all day.
In reality, nurseries are carefully designed and well-planned educational spaces, often referred to as another teacher! This space comes with its own curriculum and supports an educational programme: the early years foundation stage curriculum. The early years foundation stage (EYFS) curriculum sets out what school nurseries, day nurseries, pre-schools and reception classes should be offering for children from birth to five years old, the guiding principles behind this pedagogy of young children learning through play, to be curious, confident and independent learners.
A curriculum for early years
Unlike other areas of the curriculum for older children, the EYFS considers not just what children need to learn, but how young children learn.
It divides children’s learning into different areas:
- Communication and Language: hearing language, and learning to verbalise their ideas, and listen to others.
- Personal Social and Emotional Development: forming positive relationships and developing social skills.
- Physical development: developing co-ordination, control and movement, and learning about healthy food and physical activity.
- Maths: using and understanding numbers and describing shapes, space and measures.
- Literacy: learning to link sounds and letters, and engaging with books and the written word.
- Expressive arts and design: this includes art, music, movement and dance.
- Knowledge and Understanding of the world: finding out about people, places technology and the environment.
In each of the areas of learning, children will be seen to be playing, exploring, creating, thinking critically and learning through experience and imagination. This is why you’ll likely see lots of different areas or zones in a nursery or in a reception class: each of the zones are designed to give children the chance to learn in a variety of ways that interest them and meet their needs and that support their well-being.
Supporting children to develop
It’s nursery practitioners who support the delivery of a rich and well-resourced early years curriculum. Nursery practitioners will be expected to hold an equivalent Level 3 qualification in Childcare and Early Years which reflects the importance and significance of this area. Knowing and understanding how young children develop and grow as unique individuals is key to unlocking each child’s potential.
Nursery practitioners understand the science of child development and how the brain relies on those positive early experiences to build and grow and how important those early years of life are for relationships for the child and their family. Practitioners use this understanding of how children develop and learn to help them grow in confidence, independence and resilience.
This is why we work collaboratively through our Best Start Partnership with Highlands College, with sector representatives and with young people themselves to make sure we have skilled and motivated practitioners working in our schools and early years settings year on year. Over 60% of students who qualified in their Level 3 studies this year have taken up posts within the childcare and early years sector and other have continued with relevant studies.
While today is a day dedicated to celebrating the work of nursery practitioners, we know that their excellent work continues throughout the year and will last a lifetime.