Your connection to the child is massively important, but so is your enjoyment in caring for children. If you aren’t positive and relaxed, it’s going to have a negative effect on the child you’re caring for.
The unique child is at the heart of Early Years learning, and care is no different. Understanding the individual child will help you understand how best to care and support them as they develop.
Not every child develops at the same pace – it’s about watching out for those developmental stages and supporting the child as much as you can with the best care you possibly can.
Last month, Early Years author Sue Asquith broke down the new Development Matters and explained one of the most critical points – Partnerships with Parents. But this time, Sue takes a closer look at another of the points – High Quality Care.
I don’t need to tell you that early childhood is an absolutely critical time in terms of growth and brain development. You definitely know that already! But it’s important that we give the right kind of care, so our little ones have the building blocks they need to succeed in later life.
If we do a quick google search of ‘high quality child care,’ up pop ideas on how to be inclusive, as well as creating stimulating, safe and nurturing environments. And for good reason.
The EYFS principles place a big emphasis on ‘positive relationships’ and ‘enabling environments,’ and these are two big pillars of high quality care. Meaningful connections with grown ups and providing a safe space are essential ingredients to help children learn, as they need a little help to take those first steps.
So what exactly is high quality care in action? Page 5 of Development Matters highlights 6 bullet points – let’s dive into these points to really understand what high quality care means, and what little changes you can make to make sure you’re doing everything you can do to deliver it.
A child-led focus
‘The child’s experience must always be central to the thinking of every practitioner’.
Let’s think back to the EYFS principle of A Unique Child: ‘Every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured’.
I recently saw a social media post saying that popcorn is made in the same pan using the same oil, yet not all the kernels pop at the same time. Children will ‘pop’ (learn and develop) at their own rate with supportive relationships and environments. By observing them and keeping in contact with a child’s parents, you’ll be able to see what stage they’re at, and how they’re developing.
Have a think about the points below to gauge if you’re putting the unique child at the centre of their own learning:
Work in partnership with parents to share information about each child’s likes, dislikes, interests, strengths and next steps.
Consider the balance of adult-led and child-initiated learning opportunities – this will vary depending on the age and stage of children and current cohort.
Remember what Tina Bruce has to say about deep learning happening when we follow children’s interests and they have time to wallow in their play.
Consider your curriculum – follow children’s leads and use them to extend their knowledge and vocabulary.
Remember what Ofsted says about cultural capital – every child starts childcare with their own unique set of experiences and skills. How can you add to this? Think about what essential knowledge they need for their age and stage of development.
Positive relationships help children thrive
‘Babies, toddlers and young children thrive when they are loved and well cared for’.
Babies, toddlers and young children need their trusted adults to meet their basic needs. This is exactly where the EYFS principle of positive relationships comes into play.
‘Positive relationships’ between the key person in childcare, parents/carers and children are crucial. It’s all hands on deck to understand and identify a child’s routines and next steps. Communicating about routines, such as milk feeds for example, will inform when weaning might start, or about toddlers’ sleep routines might influence when to stop afternoon naps in the setting.
The revised Development Matters states ‘The top priority is for the key person to develop a strong and loving relationship with the young child.’ It’s incredibly important that everyone working in Early Years has a thorough understanding of attachment, and that they’re trained in the care of babies.
Let’s have a look at the points below, as they’ll help you understand if you’re doing everything you can do to help children thrive:
Is there a consistent key person for babies and toddlers?
Do you have a key person buddy system, where necessary, to ensure continuity for babies, toddlers and parents/carers?
Is everyone working with babies and toddlers properly trained? Remember that the EYFS Statutory framework states when caring for under two year olds:
At least half of all staff must have received training that specifically addresses the care of babies.
If you have a room for children under two, the member of staff in charge of the room must, in the judgement of the provider, have suitable experience of working with under twos.
Your enjoyment is crucial
‘High-quality care is consistent. Every practitioner needs to enjoy spending time with young children’.
Babies respond and react to the voices and facial expressions of the people caring for them, as it’s their way of understanding the brand-new world they’ve just come into.
That’s why it’s so crucial that practitioners really enjoy spending time with them – children can pick up if an adult is stressed, negative or doesn’t want to interact. Not only is this unpleasant for the child, but it may actually leave them very unsettled or distressed.
The time you spend with children helps them learn about themselves and to slowly develop a sense of self. When you think about it, that’s going to be a whole lot trickier if you don’t engage or even want to engage with them in the first place.
And not only that – the way we show our own emotions rubs off on children when we co-regulate with them. Co-regulation, a fancier term for helping children understand those big scary emotions, will be very difficult if we can’t control our own.
The road to helping children process and eventually control their own feelings is a tricky one, so those early interactions are really key. Providing a calm, welcoming and positive environment is the first step in that, and we need to be calm, welcoming and positive, too.
A few things to keep in mind:
If you are a childminder you have the choice over which age group of children you want to provide care for. There’s nothing wrong with preferring one age group over another.
If you work in group provision it might help to spend time with all the different age groups before making a decision. You shouldn’t make the decision in a rush, so really take the time and think about it.
Why your responses matter
‘Effective practitioners are responsive to children and babies. They notice when a baby looks towards them and gurgles and respond with pleasure’.
Babies are very skilful communicators. It always fascinates me how they can change their cries to communicate exactly what they want!
Before they move and communicate, babies rely on adults to pick up their body language. Responsive practitioners recognise the different ways babies communicate, and take action following this. Here are some examples and actions you can take to get started:
Observe body language, eye gaze and gurgles. Babies may try various ways to engage your attention.
If babies roll their hands, it might indicate that they want to sing ‘wind the bobbin up,’ or rocking to and fro with their arms out may be a clue for ‘row, row, row your boat’.
Babies’ eye gaze might give you a clue about what they would like to play with, or to take them to something that has attracted their attention.
Talk to parents/carers about their baby’s routines. What are the signs that they are tired? How can you best sooth them when they are upset?
Share information about how babies’ communication and language skills develop with parents – keep that line of communication going so you all understand the different stages of development.
Discuss babies’ favourite songs and rhymes with their parents – keeping them engaged is key!
Frustration is normal
‘Practitioners understand that toddlers are learning to be independent, so they will sometimes get frustrated’.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember what it is like to be a toddler. But I am a Mum and have cared for many children throughout their toddler years.
It’s an inquisitive stage where children are constantly learning about the world and their place within it – a time of huge feelings, emotions and frustration. Toddlers can be furiously independent, and need time and choices so that they feel in control.
It’s usually the parents picking out the child’s clothes, the ones dressing them, feeding them breakfast and then carrying them to the car to their childcare setting. When you think about it, it’s no wonder that they have the odd tantrum! They don’t really get a say in any of that.
There are quite a few ways we can manage this frustration and let the children become more involved in the decision-making, and nurture this budding independence:
Offer the toddler a choice – this t-shirt or this one?
Allow a little time for them to be involved with getting dressed
Offer choices where possible, e.g. which cereal for breakfast? This or this for snack, shall we cut your sandwiches into triangles or rectangles? Better still can they help you peel their banana and make their sandwich?
Acknowledge and affirm “that zip looks a bit tricky. Do you want me to help”? (They might want to keep on trying to achieve this for themselves, so imagine the meltdown if you step in and do it for them without checking)!
I will never forget the day my son proudly shouted out that he was ready for us to go pick up his brother. I found him standing at the door with his trousers stuffed into his wellies, wearing his Gillet, his sunglasses and his sun hat with his little football tucked under one arm.
Can you imagine the trauma if I had said that he needed to swap his wellies for trainers and put a coat on? It wasn’t worth it, and the photo I took still makes me smile 14 years later!
Acknowledge the big steps
‘Practitioners know that starting school, and all the other transitions in the early years, are big steps for small children’.
When the word ‘transition’ crops up, Early Years providers often think about preparing children for school, or moving rooms if they’re in a setting.
But there are so many transitions in early childhood – milk feeds to weaning, bottle to cup, nappies to using the potty or toilet, maybe moving to a new house. While it’s important to prepare children for these steps, we often forget these are also transitions for parents. Sometimes parents need your reassurance with transitions, too.
What can you do to help?
Discuss typical child development with parents, talking about what their child can do and deciding together on their next steps, with examples of what you can both do to help them achieve
Weaning, moving to using a cup and toilet training, etc, are all big steps for children and parents – agree the right time for all such transitions and give parents time and space to ask questions or discuss any concerns with you
If in group care, introduce the child and parents to their next key person when the time is right for their child to move rooms (parents might have only just got used to sharing information with you when it is time for moving on)!
Celebrate children’s milestones and set up next steps with parents.
Remember: we’re not preparing a baby for starting school – we’re supporting their growth and learning through each age and stage. If we can support each unique child with positive relationships and enabling environments to give this high quality care, we’re making sure that children only ‘pop’ when they’re ready!
It’s all about giving that support to both children and parents when and if they need it.
Official Danish Government Reopening Advice
Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.
Find out below how Famly helped Tenderlinks in recording child development, and see what we can do for you in a personal demo.
“Famly’s strengthening our parent partnerships as staff can quickly note down meaningful observations and then come back to them later ensuring they can stay focused on the children." - Vicky-Leigh, Manager, Tenderlinks Nursery
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