Why the first five years matter so much…
I am always excited when I see that people who have a platform, choose to use it to heighten society’s awareness and knowledge of the importance of education and care for our under 5’s, on this planet!
As an Early Years Educator myself, with thirty-five years’ experience of both education and caring for nursery-aged children, I have sometimes felt both a sense of “second best” and one of being under-valued by teachers of older pupils and society in general. ‘You just stand around drinking tea and watching them play all day, don’t you?‘ Indeed, a recent survey showed a deficit in public awareness of the importance of the Early Years, with less than one in five people understanding the unique importance of the first five years of our lives.
How mind-blowing is this? More than a million connections between the nerve cells in our brain, are formed every second in the first three years of life, which is faster than at any other time in our lives. It is these connections which go on to drive our development, building the foundations for all our future learning, behaviour, and health. You can understand now why the curriculum in the Early Years is also referred to as The Foundation Stage.
I am hopeful that drip by drip, thanks to people like Catherine, The Princess of Wales and Giovanna Fletcher, the blogger and actress, highlighting the Early Years Agenda, and even Dolly Parton’s work in Literacy for Pre School children in the US, that some of society is now accepting that providing a quality education with knowledgeable adults for 1, 2, 3, and4 year olds is crucial for the future of society. We need little children to grow up to be able to build trusting and loving relationships, to learn the skills to allow them to socialise comfortably, to attain basic skills in literacy and numeracy and go on to find enjoyable employment that is fulfilling. When young children are cared for by adults who understand that 95% of their brain development happens by their 5th birthday, we can only hope that the care and education they will strive to provide for their children will be stimulating, safe, healthy and engaging. But we also need our Governments and their policy makers, to understand how important the Early Years are.
Obviously and sadly, not all parents and carers have the ability, the funds or situations which automatically mean their children are immersed in quality Early Years environments and this is why we need passionate advocates to lobby, to fight for and to create environments, train practitioners and support families during the first five years especially, so that children will thrive in later years.
I am privileged; in my day-to-day work, I operate in an Early Years environment which permits me to have time to listen to parents and carers and wherever I can, to work to support them in their caring roles or, to signpost them to skilled people who can help them. At Woodlands Nursery, this could be the expert in parental engagement, Dr Kathy Weston, Founder of Tooled Up Education or Mrs Katy Persse, a specialist Early Years Speech and Language Therapist who works on site with me and the team. It might be the School Nurse, Carly Jacques RN who is so wise in the area of children’s physical health. Or Sally Brown, the Lead Practitioner in the School’s SEND Department who specialises in identifying and then resourcing the needs for any individual whose early years development is not progressing in a typical way. Early intervention is a vital component in providing the quality care and education that I am championing here.
I understand that I need to go ‘out of my way’ to get to know our under 5’s in my Early Years setting as individual, little humans and with my Early Years team, to plan and provide a learning environment which ignites their curiosity, challenges them cognitively, extends their language skills and helps them to learn to listen as well as keeps them healthy. We teach, model and uphold our expectations for socially acceptable behaviours and kindness to others. We ensure they have fresh air every day and use their gross motor skills to strengthen their bodies and to manage risk. We create a climate where books and IT are valued and used and teach them how to get the most from these two resources, even before they start full-time schooling. We celebrate the fact that numbers and mathematical concepts are all around them and through games, talk and active learning, teach them that one day, Maths will give them a lot of pleasure and support them to function as capable adults. We make sure that we cook, dance, sing, role play, paint, explore malleable materials and play co operatively to help them feel joyful, all the time supporting those connections between the nerve cells in their brains.
The serious work of the Early Years educators takes dedication, creativity, resilience, patience, drive, kindness, energy and a sense of humour. Help me to shout this from the roof tops please and banish the concept that all it takes is to stand around, drink tea and believe that children can raise themselves. A quality first five (years), helps them to thrive.
Head of Woodlands Nursery
Beechwood Park School
Shirley Hayman B.Ed (Hons) / EYPS, is a Nursery teacher and has been caring for and educating the under 5’s for 33 years. She is currently the Head of Beechwood Park School’s Woodlands Nursery. She has trained Early Years teachers and believes whole-heartedly that nursery practitioners need to be recognised as a vital component of a School’s teaching team. She has established two nurseries during her working life, a holiday club which brought ASD and neuro typical children together as well as working one-to-one with many children who were struggling to thrive at school.