27th March 2024 Early Years Foundation Stage All Posts

You, Your Setting & the Four Guiding EYFS Principles

Guest blog: Jamie Victoria, The Childcare Guru

The power of being unique

Welcome to a blog article that is going to celebrate YOU! I want to remind you how important, valuable and life-changing the work you do for your children is and most importantly give you that boost to know that being unique is your superpower!

We have a lot of freedom in the early years to create our settings in a way that we feel is best for our children, yes we have to follow the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), but we can create an environment and learning adventure (I prefer to call it that rather than a Curriculum because I’m not a fan of that word in early years!) for our children that works for them and their individual needs! 

This is why every early year’s setting is totally different even though we all follow the EYFS. For example, one setting near you may follow a Forest School approach to learning or one that follows a Montessori approach… or perhaps one that takes ideas from multiple learning theories to create something that they feel works best for their children. Yes, there will be similarities in how we all do things but also lots of differences, this is why all inspections are different too and what works for one setting might not work for another. 

So, don’t fear being unique – you know your children, staff and environment best. Always ask yourself ‘what’s the impact?’ if you are concerned about something you are doing at your setting and whether it is working then you can evaluate to see if the impact for your children is positive or negative and go from there. We will look at this in more detail further down!

The 4 overarching principles of the EYFS

The EYFS is built around 4 principles or ideas that everyone working in early years should be guided by and should shape our practice. Paragraph 5 of the EYFS explains these principles: 

  1. Every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident, and self-assured. 
  2. Children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships. 
  3. Children learn and develop well in enabling environments with teaching and support from adults, who respond to their individual interests and needs and help them build their learning over time. Children benefit from a strong partnership between practitioners, parents and/or carers.
  4. Importance of learning and development. Children develop and learn at different rates. The framework covers the education and care of all children, including children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

It can be easy for us to glaze over information like this in the EYFS as often we are looking for specific information like ratio requirements or staffing. But I believe these principles are so important to keep at the forefront of our mind.

Reflective exercise:

Take a moment to think about these 4 principles and how they impact your practice and what you do with your children (as yourselves)…

1. Are we supporting our children individually? 

2. Do we celebrate our children’s unique qualities and support them?

3. Could we strengthen our partnerships with parents and/or carers to better support our children?

4. Is our key person system working? Are children building positive relationships & attachments in our setting? And at home?

5. Can we strengthen our partnerships with other professionals to further support our children? Or other settings our children may attend?

6. What is the quality of teaching and learning like? Is it consistent across our setting? Are there areas for improvement?

7. Does our environment support our children in the best way? From how it is organised to the resources available? Even down to the brightness of the lighting, colours and decor! Could it be too overstimulating?

8. Are we supporting our children’s whole development? With a focus on those prime areas?

9. Are we giving all children the opportunity to thrive, including those who are disadvantaged or have SEND? Are they all making the progress that is right for them as individuals?

I think that’s enough questions to get you started! But a great reflection tool and example of how you evaluate and continue to strive for improvements! We must always keep evolving, learning is lifelong! 

Empowering your professional judgement & knowledge

Your professional judgement IS enough! 

If you are reading this blog, you already care greatly about your role as an early years professional and will want to do the best you can for you and most importantly the children you care for! So I’d like to remind you that…

Your professional judgement IS enough!

You know your setting and your children, and more often than not your gut instinct is probably right! I love the theory that we have 3 brains, our head brain, our heart brain, and our gut brain. Often they will work together as they are all interlinked and sometimes on their own too, for example, your gut could be telling you something isn’t quite right with a child you are caring for, and you might not be able to pinpoint exactly what but your experience and knowledge (head brain) is telling you that you need to look closer or ask for some further help. And that is incredible, never be disheartened if you don’t have all the answers or you need to ask for help, everyone does. 

We can often find ourselves looking for validation about our thoughts and opinions and concerning our work as early years professionals this could be our judgement on our children’s progress. How much paperwork we are required to do has reduced over the years and we have gone from using progress trackers as mandatory to back up our judgements on children’s progress to now being told we don’t have to do this. 

Ofsted wants to reduce the paperwork burden on early years professionals and when talking to you about your children and their progress they want to hear your professional opinion because you know your children best! They won’t ask to see your observations or how you track children’s progress, they want to hear from you instead – of course you can absolutely still use progress trackers or do written observations – it’s all down to what works for the individual. Ofsted just won’t ask to see paperwork except for the specific assessment requirements set out in section 2 of the EYFS.

Remember – the expert in anything was once a beginner! You absolutely do not need to know everything nor are you expected to, learning is lifelong so to keep on trying we will keep on learning and building on our knowledge. Similarly, if you don’t feel so confident about all the typical developmental milestones at different ages and stages and need to refer to guidance, like Development Matters – that is not a bad thing! Everyone has to at some point, we can’t remember everything all of the time – what I’m trying to say is don’t doubt your professional judgement because you may not have all the answers all of the time!

Intentions & implementation of your curriculum

What do you want your children to learn whilst they are in your setting? What are your intentions?

The word ‘curriculum’ can panic us! As I said earlier, I personally don’t really think it fits well in early years but essentially curriculum means the programme of study for students. In schools, you have your subjects and then the topics that you will teach that help shape a curriculum. In early years, the 7 areas of learning are our subjects and what topics we teach within those can help shape our curriculums – that is a very high-level overview! Other factors will also shape a curriculum, for instance, values, learning styles/theories, the children and their needs/interests… there can be multiple factors! This is why there really isn’t a one-style-fits-all approach to curriculum in early years. 

When it comes to curriculum Ofsted is looking for the 3 i’s – Intent, Implementation & Impact… which translates into: 

  1. What do you want your children to learn whilst they are with you? (Intent)
  2. How do you ensure your children learn those things through your teaching and your environment (implementation)
  3. What are the outcomes for your children? Are they learning what you set out for them to learn? Are they prepared and ready for their next stages in learning & future success? (Impact) 

So let’s bring it back to the start and focus on your setting, your children and look at those 4 guiding principles to help you reflect on how your curriculum is supporting your children in the best possible way!

Reflective exercise:

Think about the values or qualities you want your children to have or be working on, for example, independence could be one. Then note down how you can support this through those 4 principles, focusing on your setting & your current children: 

A unique child 

(Being independent supports our children’s uniqueness by…)

Positive relationships

(Our children have positive relationships which support their independence by…)

Enabling environments

(i.e. our baby room environment supports independence because…)

Teaching & support from adults 

(Our teachers support our children to be independent by…)

Learning & development 

(Independence can support our children’s learning & development through…)

It’s important to spend time just remembering the why behind what we are doing! It can then really help in understanding how to better support our children and how to plan for their needs. 

To be effective, we have to be reflective! 

What’s the impact on your children? Focus on being child-centred

Always always always ask yourself, ‘what is the impact?’ – it truly is such a powerful question!! 

We are always looking for a positive impact in everything we do but don’t be disheartened if sometimes the answer isn’t as positive as you’d hoped because you can then be powered with the tools to make changes. 

Some examples…

Q: “What’s the impact of rolling snack for our new pre-schoolers?” 

A: “Snack time has become a little chaotic and children don’t seem to understand the expectations very clearly which means their behaviour is affected… we need to review this process as it is not currently working as we hoped”

Q: “What’s the impact of inviting parents into the setting to talk about the work they do or their passions?”

A: “The children were very engaged in learning about different professions, they showed great curiosity and asked questions. Children had a real confidence boost when their parents were invited in and overall there was lots of learning in many ways”. 

No child is the same and what works for some children will not work for others, so we have to adapt to support the needs of our children. You might find that a routine or particular way of doing something worked with the children you had last year but not this year and that is totally fine! Never stay fixed, keep changing and evolving, we must be child-centred in our approach to everything because, well that’s the reason we are doing it in the first place right?!

Final thoughts…

Trust in your judgement, celebrate being unique and following the right path for you and your children, reflect on your practice to ensure what you do is as effective as possible, and have the children at the heart of everything and if in doubt… Ask yourself ‘what is the impact?’

Catch up on Jamie’s first guest blog ‘Simplifying the EYFS: Your Go-To Guidehere.

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About the Author

Jamie, aka The Childcare Guru, brings 15 years of Early Years expertise, including roles as Nursery Manager, Forest School Manager, Deputy Head, and Ofsted Inspector. With a passion for supporting the early years community, Jamie is now a consultant, author, and trainer, dedicated to creating exceptional experiences for young children since 2018.