Last month we discussed some general points related to changing any curriculum, such as the importance of having the right staff and upskilling them so they can deliver your curriculum according to your philosophy and ethos. This is a requirement no matter what is in your curriculum.

In this article, we look more closely at some of the most talked about changes in the prime areas of learning and discuss how you might incorporate them into your practice. Remember that the Early Learning Goals (ELGs) are assessed at the end of the reception year, although obviously the suggestions offered in Development Matters, can help you scaffold progress for children, and more importantly help identify early any children who may be falling behind.

Prime areas of learning

Communication and language

The EYFS states that “the development of children’s spoken language underpins all seven areas of learning and development” and more emphasis is being placed on helping children with this aspect of communication, such as encouraging them to discuss in small groups and use a “rich range of vocabulary”. In the Early Adopters Handbook, you cannot help but notice the absence of the heading of “Understanding” but the need for children to understand what they are hearing, reading or experiencing has not gone away but it has been moved within the document. Instead of 3 subheadings of: “Listening and attention”, “Understanding” and “Speaking”, the new changes have only 2; “Listening, attention and understanding” and “Speaking” which puts greater emphasis on children’s oral communication, rather than being an attempt to dismiss their understanding, which will still be crucial.

When designing your curriculums, it will be important to have discussions, verbal interactions and times of the day when talking to adults, other children and parents are specifically encouraged if they are not being done already. Where children are not engaging in these verbal interactions, or where their vocabulary is not as wide and varied as you would like, then you need to consider putting in more time, special interventions or finding more ways to help.

Decreasing the ‘word gap’ between children aged 5, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, is a key aim and it’s not just the words spoken to children that matter, but the back-and-forth interactions they have too which make the difference. It could mean encouraging your staff to talk more to the children whilst standing in the lunch queue, or discussing age-appropriate things during a snack break, or setting up ‘pair and share’ activities to help children to discuss things with others more.

One thing to be aware of here is the language used by your own staff because children will model what they hear. If your staff consistently use a limited vocabulary or the wrong tenses in English, this might be something you want to address with them first. or the wrong tenses in English, this might be something you want to address with them first.

Personal, social and emotional development

Again, there are some changes to this area of learning which have just rearranged the wording or structure in the document slightly. For example, most of the content in the new “Managing self” sub-heading has been taken from the old “Health and self-care” under the “Physical development” area in the old EYFS. And “Making relationships” is now entitled “Building relationships”. One important aspect to note here is that there is a word change from children forming “positive relationships” to “positive attachments” to adults here. Positive attachments, as understood by child psychologists, are different from just relationships because the quality of the attachments that children make at and early age with their care givers can affect the rest of their lives, so this aspect underlines the importance of a key worker approach which can greatly influence children’s attachment experiences. However, it is not a child’s responsibility to form positive attachments, especially in early years – this will stem from the positive interactions they get from the adults (your staff) around them.

The old “Self-confidence and self-awareness” items have been split out into “Managing self” and other areas, and helping children’s confidence in every area is important.
There is an addition of one sub-heading called “Self-regulation” in this category now which talks about children understanding their feelings and behaving accordingly; setting simple goals and giving focused attention, even when engaged in an activity.

There has been debate in the early years community as to whether these goals are realistic for younger children but it must be remembered that the ELGs are measured at the end of the reception year. Younger children should be working towards these goals at all stages through your setting, so looking at the developmental milestones in Development Matters will be important here to fully understand and integrate these changes.

Many of the articles from our experts in the Parenta Magazine are designed to assist you in helping your children understand themselves and self-regulate, not by putting on specialised sessions to help children ‘give focused attention’ better, but by training your staff to help children with their emotional self-regulation throughout the day in whatever ‘session’ or activity they do.

Physical development

As discussed, the old “Health and self-care” part of physical development has now moved under the PSE development category, leaving the old “Moving and handling” heading to be split into:

  • Fine motor skills, and
  • Gross motor skills

However, these have become more specific and now include things such as “demonstrate strength, balance and co-ordination” as well as “negotiating space and obstacles safely”. Physical development is a prime area, which means that curriculums need to encourage a wide variety of movement, including tummy time, from an early age as these affect other academic development later on.

The inclusion of the words “Hold a pencil effectively in preparation for fluent writing – using the tripod grip in almost all cases” acknowledges that children develop at different rates and the needs of the individual child are more important than making any generalised benchmark here. Practitioners should be looking out for children who are at risk of falling behind in their physical development at every stage so that they can be helped early. This means, for example, tracking things back to use of the palmar grip or digital pronate grip and identifying problems here, well before you start concentrating on whether a child can do the tripod grip or not.

And as with all things, the holistic nature of learning and the importance of the characteristics of effective learning must underpin everything.

In the next article we will look in more detail at changes to the specific areas of learning.

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