Early Years Diary: Preparing children for the real world
In her latest Early Years Diary piece, Anna McCallum explores a truth that is widely known but often forgotten; that what we do in early years settings has lifelong impact on children, not only in preparing them for their primary education, but also in preparing them for the wider world.
At first glance some assume that the main role of a nursery is to prepare children for school, and while it is true that that can be a component of what a nursery does, what is less recognised but more prevalent, is how we are in fact preparing children for the big wide world.
From birth to 5 years old, a child’s brain has developed faster than it ever will again, and with that in mind it is important to acknowledge just how much is learned in those first 5 years. To an adult, what young children learn appears to be extremely basic, but in reality they have learnt the fundamentals of how to navigate our world.
Whatever experiences children are exposed to in their first few years will be absorbed and stay with them for life, whether they actively remember them or not.
This is both miraculous and terrifying to me. On one hand a child can have an easy start in life, reaching all their milestones and paving a bright future for themselves, but on the other hand, a child can have a tough start in life, missing their milestones and having not such a bright future, and it is through no fault of their own; it is simply the hand they were dealt.
This is not to say that anyone who has had a tough start in life cannot go on to do amazing and marvellous things, absolutely not. In many cases it is because of such hardships that people go on to achieve greatness, much as ‘stormwood’ trees are often among the strongest and healthiest. My point is just that a child has no control over what happens to them as baby, and yet it will stay with them forever, subconsciously or otherwise.
It is our duty as early years practitioners to ensure that all children who walk through our doors are given the best early experiences possible, exposing them to positive ways of learning, planting the seeds that will grow into crucial life skills enabling them to overcome any difficulties they might face.
The prime areas of learning are considered the most crucial, as when a child struggles in anyone of the three prime areas they are unlikely to be able to achieve in the specific areas of learning. With that being said I will be focusing on some of the concepts of the prime areas of learning from here on out.
By engaging children in how to manage their emotions we can show them how to become sympathetic towards others, ensuring they can develop meaningful and long-lasting relationships.
My favourite way of teaching them about emotions is to ask them quite simply about how they feel, why they feel that way, and ways I manage strong emotions. I also recommend encouraging mindfulness by teaching self-awareness, breathing techniques and kids yoga. It is inevitable that young children will become overwhelmed with big emotions at times and giving them the tools to manage them from an early age allows them to grow into grounded and understanding adults.
Enhancing their understanding and communication skills will enable them to socialise well with their peers. I like to do many group activities to let them experience turn taking, sharing, listening to others and then responding appropriately. These group activities have become part of our daily routine, they help to build structure around our day and certainly helps to prepare them for carpet time that they will have in primary school.
Other important life skills are listening and focus. In order to teach a child how to listen we must first ensure we listen to them and also teach in a way that they want to listen. If we stand in a room full of children, talking in a monotone voice with no animation, we cannot be surprised that the children are not listening. By being enthusiastic, engaging and entertaining we can hold their attention to teach fun lessons, creating an environment where they will be eager to learn next time.
The ability to problem solve is one of the most valuable things we can teach children as they can put this in to practice in so many ways such as resolving conflicts with peers, making decisions, and working efficiently as an employee in the future. I like to enable a sense of autonomy among the children and ask them how they can solve a problem before jumping in and fixing it for them; I think more people should give them a bit more credit as nine times out of ten they are capable of figuring out the solution themselves.
Giving children their independence is so important in helping them to become liberated, strong individuals. Letting them do as many things for themselves as is appropriate for their age is great for building their confidence and self-esteem, allowing them to believe they are able of achieving anything they put their mind to.
Being a child is tough, being an adult is no picnic either. We need to make sure each child can handle anything life throws at them and the best way to do this is from day one. it is important they are free to make mistakes; equally, we need to teach them how to learn from them, and to show them how to interact respectfully with others. We have the responsibility to ultimately provide them with all the tools they will need to find their way through this complex but incredible world.
What do you feel is the most important life lesson to teach young children? Join the conversation using the hashtag #mynurserylife