Supporting learning is an important part of good early years practice with babies, toddlers and three- to five-year-old children. Early Years Update offers a range of practical ideas to underpin the information in the Early Years Foundation Stage Principles into Practice cards

Theme: Positive Relationships

‘Children learn to be strong and independent from a base of loving and secure relationships with parents and/or key person.’

Commitment 2.3 Supporting Learning

‘Warm, trusting relationships with knowledgeable adults support children’s learning more effectively than any amount of resources.’ Areas of knowledge covered:

  • listening to children
  • effective teaching
  • positive interactions.

This section of the EYFS framework focuses on the key role that the practitioner plays in supporting and extending young children’s learning. The DVD contains two short video sequences illustrating adult child interactions in two different settings, both emphasizing the importance of being interested and aware of what children are saying and doing, and then responding appropriately.

The disc contains the reports from the research projects Effective Pedagogy in the Early Years (EPEY) and Study of Pedagogical Effectiveness in Early Learning (SPEEL). Both are important, as they define clearly what effective pedagogy in the early years looks like and how it is put into practice in settings that provide the best outcomes for young children. The ‘in depth’ section of the DVD summarizes these findings to provide a clear guide to what practitioners should do to support young children’s learning effectively.

Supporting effective practice

To fulfil this very important commitment of the EYFS, practitioners should:

  • read the EPEY and SPEEL reports to further their understanding of their role in supporting children’s learning from birth onwards
  • review their practice in the light of what they’ve read
  • work with colleagues to develop the setting’s working practices, to free up more time to listen to children and follow their ideas and interests
  • share with parents the importance of listening to their children and of encouraging them to express their ideas and opinions.

Working with babies

Babies communicate in many different ways, long before they are able to talk. Spend time talking one-to-one with each of the babies in your care and watching carefully for their responses. Babies communicate through facial expressions, gestures and body movements as well as through sounds. Make eye contact and use exaggerated facial movements to convey your message and watch for the response you get.

Encourage babies to interact with one another through the use of some shared resources – a treasure basket, for instance – and talk aloud in a running commentary on what you and the babies are doing, thereby letting them know that they are important members of the social group.

When talking to babies remember to give them time to respond and time to think through their ideas, instead of bombarding them with comments and questions. Discuss with parents the importance of them talking to their babies at home, and of being receptive to their babies’ responses.

For families whose home language is not English, it is helpful to ask the parents to teach you a few key words in their own language, which you can then use when talking to their baby in the setting.

Ideas to use with toddlers

Involve toddlers fully in the day-to-day life of the setting by talking with them about the daily routines as the day progresses. This will help them to understand that they are active participants in the life of the setting and not passive recipients of care.

Encourage children to become independent by giving them opportunities to make choices and take an increasing responsibility for how they spend their time. Regular routines can be reassuring for children and help to give structure to the day, but shouldn’t be allowed to take precedence over opportunities to follow up on a good idea or try something new.

Giving children an understanding that, within reason, anything is possible, will encourage them to try things out, volunteer their ideas and so develop their social, cognitive and physical skills.

Value young children’s early attempts at using language and listen carefully to what they are saying. At the same time, value the non-verbal language which children use to express their thoughts and needs. When disputes arise – over sharing toys or taking turns, say – use these as opportunities to help children develop negotiation and conflict resolution skills. Talk with them about individual rights and responsibilities and encourage them to begin to appreciate the rights of others. The more opportunities they have to practice these skills, the more confident they will become in extending their own learning as part of a team.

Working with three- to five-year-olds

Listening to children and following their interests is an excellent way to both support individual children’s learning and tap into a wealth of wonderful ideas that can be developed into exciting learning opportunities. A ‘large group time’ at the beginning of the day is an opportunity to discuss together what is on offer for the children to do. Keep this fairly broad and open-ended and listen carefully to the children’s responses. By following up on their suggestions there will be new ideas and avenues to explore, often far more interesting than those we adults thought of.

To encourage children to put forward ideas, it is vital to create a climate where all children feel comfortable to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of ridicule or contradiction. This needs careful management on the part of the practitioner, including a willingness to find things out with the children rather than feeling one has to be the fount of all knowledge. By becoming engaged in sustained shared thinking alongside the children, adults can provide the ideal role model for active learning.

Provide time during the day for children to reflect on their ideas and actions and talk about what they have done. By sharing reflections in this way, children will refine and develop their thinking, as well as seeing that their play and learning is valued and respected.