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Supporting the early years

26 March 2021 | by Guest

The following article has been submitted by a group of BPS members, working with our Policy Team, in response to the Department of Education’s draft Early Year’s Framework and Statutory Instrument (EYFS).

‘Mental health can’t be separated out from cognitive development and language development and social competence. And they all have their roots early on, in either a very sturdy or very weak foundation’

- Jack Shonkoff, Centre for the Developing Child, Harvard

It’s not every day that colleagues come together to draft a BPS response to a government departmental consultation.

When we came together on Zoom to discuss the draft Department of Education’s Early Year’s Framework and Statutory Instrument we realised that, apart from agreeing on several points, we had had a common experience as we had begun to read it.

For one of us the early years are a bit of a distant memory and for another, much more here and now, with the third of us in between.

One of us had vivid memories of our three year old and his cousin in tutus, throwing themselves off the sofa, screaming (yes, screaming) out their numbers and reciting the days of the week, and the five year old running in circles around the kitchen table as he shouted out his spellings.

What we thought about was the hilarity, the movement, the curiosity and the energy that went into learning at this stage.

We thought about school drop offs, the social chat at the school gates, the playdates and were reminded that school is a community.

For some it is their first experience of community, and for others an extension of an already established local or faith community.

We reflected on how important the welcome to the early years learning and social environment was important for establishing a sense of belonging early on.

We welcomed a lot of what was in the EYFS framework, the guiding principles that every child is unique, that children learn through positive relationships and that children learn best in environments where adults respond to their interests and needs and that children learn at different rates.

We also, however, wondered why there was no opening emphasis on the importance of play (there is a wealth of research and evidence to suggest that young children learn best through play and that child-led play is an important precursor for all other areas of their development).

The fact is that children’s development is not linear and does not progress in all areas at the same rate, so why is there were not more emphasis on the need for teachers to develop relationships with, and engage parents, and why is there were not more emphasis on links with the community?

It struck us that the relational aspects of learning and belonging were missing.

Rather worryingly, we did not see anything about a child seeming happy or content in school.

The EYFS framework talked about children being able to self-regulate, without any connection to the need for adults to model and support this.

This is a big ask for tiny people not only from a developmental perspective but also given the variety of contexts they are living in or coming from.

It seemed to us that children need to feel secure in the school environment, and that without emotional wellness there will be no opportunity to ‘learn’.

We were reminded of Bruce Perry’s model which highlights the importance of the three R’s - regulate, then relate, then reason.

Teaching the proper understanding of varying emotions, (naming them and how to express them in a way that makes sense to the individual child), and brain/body connections and the foundations for, (and importance of), containment to both staff and children is essential.

It is important that the world around the child is explored and supported to help the child’s learning, development and wellbeing.

Also, that we avoid language that is ‘within child’, as some children might experience difficulties learning that are beyond their control, and the support and learning adaptions they receive from others, is absolutely necessary for empowering and enabling them.

We recommended:

  • a focus on supporting parents/carers and opportunities for family.
  • a focus on children’s wellbeing and play, as an important precursor to all other areas of development.
  • avoiding a deficit model but using a model that focusses on strengths, resources and links with support from education and community.
  • an emphasis on a child’s individual and unique interests, strengths and needs. With important attention on their individual contexts as described in point above
  • a whole school approach that considered staff and pupil wellbeing, such as the Welsh Government’s Framework on embedding a whole-school approach to emotional and mental well-being

We rather enjoyed the experience and support from BPS office staff. We hope you enjoy our reflections too.

We are most grateful to all those supporting the early years – because this is so important for the development for children’s development later on in life, and future generations.

Learn more about attachment and attitudes towards children.

Authors:

  • Nicola Doherty, Consultant Lead Clinical Psychologist, Paediatric Psychology Service, Western Trust. Visiting Professor, Ulster University
  • Dr Sara O’Curry, Consultant Clinical Psychologist. Head of Psych Med for CYPF at Addenbrookes and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Trust
  • Dr Abi Wright Educational Psychologist. Early Years Lead Educational Psychologist, Neath and Port Talbot Council

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