Identifying the beliefs of Children’s Learning, Development, and the Social Influences that shaped them. A child’s learning and development begins from the moment they are born, the early years from birth to five are an important milestone in a person’s life, what a child experiences in the early years has a major impact on their future chances in life. A safe, secure and happy childhood is important in its own right. We can shape a child’s learning from an early age, children learn through experience and adult involvement, therefore interaction with babies and young children is fundamentally important, it helps to build ideas, creates thinking and helps them develop as learners. Babies are born with an interest in people and a drive to find out about their world. Observing and assessing babies and young children is an important basis in their learning and development. ‘Watching children learn can open our eyes to the capacity of how they learn’ (Pugh, 2001, p. 66), and this shows us the importance of these first few years in a child’s life.
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Over the decade’s early education, policies and practices have seen significant changes. We still use many of the earlier theories and methods through the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) in our early education settings today. The EYFS is part of a ten year Childcare Strategy introduced in 2008, it relates to the Childcare Act 2006, and its aim is to give young children the best start in life, it sets standards to enable early year’s providers to implement the rich and personalised experience many parents give their children at home. It provides legal requirements relating to learning, development, assessments and welfare. The EYFS principles which guide all practitioners consists of four themes; a Unique Child, Positive Relationships, Enabling Environments, Learning And Development. It implies that all children from birth to five will acquire the same skills and knowledge in preparation for school while at the same time recognising that all children are individuals that require individual learning strategies. The construction of early education and care of children and young people dates back many years, as early as the 17th century. Friedrich Froebel a major theorist was born in 1782 in Thuringia what is now Germany and was well known for saying “play is a child’s work”, he formulated the idea of kindergarten meaning ‘children’s garden’ as a means of educating young children. Play and the outdoor environment were important in Froebelian kindergartens. His approach emphasized that children are able to develop their capacity for learning through play, and that active learning is essential with guidance and appropriate direction. He believed that training of workers within the early years was essential, and the importance of parents as partners in the education of young children. The influence of Froebel’s methods are well established in early years settings to date, his work was one of the theories that made the basis of early education. Many recent theorists based their work on these early findings, and say, he was ahead of his time as one of the EYFS themes and commitments, of today states active learning. Active learning it is implemented through the learning and development principle of the EYFS, it provides physical and mental involvement, decision-making and personalised learning, and it occurs when children are keen to learn and are interested in finding things out for themselves. Play is a dynamic process that develops and changes, it provides children with opportunities for developing cognitive, social, emotional and physical skills. ‘Froebelian kindergartens were seen to be middle class; despite this his methods were adapted for use with disadvantaged children and families’ within developing 20th century nursery and infant schools. (Pound, 2008, p. 16).
The first nursery school opened in Scotland in1816 by Robert Owen(1771-1858), he was a mill owner who refused to employ children less than 10 years of age, he believed that education should be a common right for all children, and that children are passive, contrived and by due preparation and accurate attention can be formed into any human character. He managed their behaviour through kindness, which in the19th century was unusual, children as young as 2 years attended his school. The opening of his nursery school influenced changing attitudes on child labour, and set the basis of early education for young children. The start of the curriculum method was one of Owens’s ideas, his vision on education-inspired generations of activist; he recognised the link between social welfare and early education this is an important part of practice in modern day settings. ‘His commitments to education were radical as were his ideas on the importance of equality, although his policies were a bold step forward, he was criticised as being rooted in his desire for profit. (Pound, 2008, p. 13)’
‘In the UK the development of early education was very slow compared to Europe, it was In 1870 that publicly funded education became compulsory for children age 5, the need to understand these early childhood services is important as they laid down the foundations of our education system (Pugh, 2001, p. 8)’
During the 1960’s the voluntary playgroup movement emerged. A letter sent to the Guardian by Belle Tutaev, a young mother of a four-year-old expressing concern to the lack of appropriate nursery provision within our education system. For many years the main means of early education was state primary schools, and this was aimed at children over 5 years, after campaigning to the authorities to no avail she opened her own playgroup, this progressed and by the seventies playgroups became a recognised form of pre-school provision.
Over the next 2 decade’s the changing family patterns and employment patterns meant early years provision were a much needed source, this saw the growth of private nurseries. Only after a review in 1988 on early childhood and education services, (The Education Reform Act) did the government realise there was a growing problem. It found flaws, in uncoordinated services, which varied between different parts of the country, compared to the rest of Europe there were low levels of public funding. It had different services ran by a diversity of different organisations, this meant a wide range of clients used them, all with different aims and purposes. The education system needed the government to intervene. A number of national reports was to be published, one of them the Rumbold report published in 1990, expressed concerns about education and the lack of access to Early Years services. It highlighted the need for the development of good quality provision in the early years, and ‘believed it to be vital that all that work, or are involved with young children recognise the importance of their educational role and fulfil it. She urged those who make provision recognise the growing demand for and the expansion of high quality services to meet children and parents needs (rumbold, 1990). The report also highlighted the way in which young children learn are as important as what they learn, and argued against the introduction of formal learning. At the time, this report was ignored but it is now used as a basis for best practice in today’s Early Years settings.
‘The establishment of the Early Childhood Education forum in 1993 meant bringing together all national agencies working in the field,’ (Pugh, 2001, p. 11) it clarified that an early year’s policy is needed, and an expansion in services, the forum gathered strength with over 45 national organisations by 1998. Its aims were to champion children’s rights and entitlements, support the training development and education of early childhood practitioners, and all those who work with children and their families. The government took action and in 1995, funding for the education of 4 year olds was introduced this was in the form of vouchers that could be redeemed in private, voluntary, or local authority nurseries, the vouchers were extremely criticised at the time and was abolished in 1997 when Labour Government was elected.
The election of the Labour Government brought big changes in the way our whole Education System was run, especially Early Education; its key issue is to eradicate child poverty, and provide more family friendly policies and children’s centres. The Sure Start initiative, launched in 1999 under the National Childcare Strategy plays a major role in doing this, by helping families in local communities of need with children under 4years old. The government pledged 1.4 billion pounds over 6 years. This meant that parents had access to a multi agency of services within the Sure Start Children’s Centres. They are now a key influence within our communities helping children, families and society, by learning and developing life skills in the early years so that young children grow up to be happy, healthy and are able to achieve their goals in life. The centres are at the Heart of the Every Child Matters Change for Children 2004.
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The green paper Every Child Matters was published in 2003, in response to a report by Lord Laming in 2001, into the death of Victoria Climbie. Victoria was a young girl who was horrifically abused, tortured and killed by her great aunt, Marie-Therese Kouao and partner Carl Manning; they were the people who were supposed to be caring for her. Shameful failings within a number of systems meant on 12 occasions over 10 months the chances to save Victoria were missed. Evidence from this Inquiry demonstrated the dangers of staff from different agencies not fulfilling their separate and distinctive responsibilities. The death of Victoria showed a fundamental need for an integrated service that would be part of a political agenda for many years, despite the Children Act 1989 provisions, child protection strategies and services stayed within the social service system, and the level of communication and co-operation between these and other services in health and education were variable. The Every Child Matters agenda is recognised by five outcomes; be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, and achieve economic wellbeing; these outcomes are a universal ambition for the government, and form a strong basis for the EYFS curriculum used in Early Education Settings to date.
The transfer of responsibility for children under 8-years-old were made from the Department of Health, to the Department of Education and Skills and from 2001, an integrated inspection service was introduced, bringing together all the services, enabling multi-agency working, which was an important step forward. The Early Years Development and Childcare Partnership in local authorities were also introduced, helping to increase levels of provision in Childcare. Working in partnership with the Local Education Authority, each authority completed an audit, with a plan to reach the government’s targets for early education places for all 3- and-4year-olds. This was made easier in the change of policy earlier, that allowed non maintained sectors to apply for nursery grants, ‘children in private day nurseries, pre-schools and some childminders could now access their free half-day nursery provision. In this way the strategy started to tackle the long-term split between Early Years education services and the childcare services.’ (Macelod- Brundenell,and Kay 2nd edition 2008 pg 352 ).
It has been without doubt that Early Education has come a long way since Froebel in the 17th century, and the opening of Owen’s nursery school in 1816, but not many things have changed, it was evident then that children learn through play and exploration, and early learning is important in the first five years. Maybe many generations of children have missed out the chances given to young children of today.
The EYFS has been an important milestone for early education and young children, and is now the way forward in preparing a child for school, but its existance is still in the primary stages, and many small nursery settings may find adapting to these changes and sustaining them quiet difficult as the standards and welfare requirements set are extremly high.