Why the Early Years is Important
I have spoken on here before about how I am currently a second year university student and I am studying Early Childhood. One thing I have noticed over the last two years of studying this subject, is that many people seem to overlook the Early Years and seem to think it is a chance for their kids to just go and play with other kids and essentially have practitioners babysitting these kids. But this couldn't be further from the truth.
Admittedly, I haven't spent a massive amount of time in Early Years settings. I spent ten days in one pre-school over a period of five weeks and 23 days in another pre-school over a period of five months. 33 days isn't actually that long thinking about it, although it definitely felt like a long time at the time. But during those 33 days, I have witnessed a lot about what goes on in Early Years settings (along with learning about it at university), and feel that today I should share some of that with you to give you a bit of an insight into what goes on in Early Years settings and why they are far from a play and babysitting service.
For starters, Early Years practitioners work incredibly hard at what they do and there are a lot of layers to the service they deliver. I have only been to two nurseries/pre-schools (both offering childcare for children aged 4 months to five years), and at both they had a manager, deputy manager, safeguarding officer, first aiders (with all practitioners having first aid training), room managers, senior practitioners (i.e. children's key person), SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator), behaviour management manager, as well as many more. Practitioners have to go through so much training to get to these positions, it's not just a simple matter of learning this stuff at college or university, you have to go through weeks, months, possibly years (probably a slight exaggeration there) of training.
And yet despite all of this training they go through, they get paid very little. The average Early Years practitioner is paid £19,500, with entry level positions starting at £13,500, and more experienced practitioners earning £27,589 a year. This isn't a lot. I have witnessed what these people have to go through on a daily basis and they deserve WAY more pay than this. Because this is what they have to go through on a daily basis...
When looking at ratios, there is a ratio of 1:3 (1 staff member to 3 children) for children aged under two years. For children aged two years, there is a ratio of 1:4 (1 staff member to 4 children). For children aged three and over, there is a ration of 1:8 (1 staff member to 8 children). Imagine having to be responsible for this many children, as well as other children in the room and quite possibly other members of staff, and deal with everything that's going on. The average number of children women have in the UK (as of 2019) is 1.8 (which I know isn't a full number, so let's just say the average number of children a family may have is between one and two). I'm pretty sure a lot of you reading this could never imagine looking after this number of children who are either crying, running around, knocking things/themselves/others over, had a toilet accident, need food, having to deal with multiple parents coming in to drop off/pick up their kids whilst still keeping an eye on the other children in the room, trying to keep the room calm while there are visitors - who more often than not are parents coming to view the nursery/pre-school for their child(ren), as well as many other things.
I'm not sure how many of you have heard of a man called John Bowlby, but he was considered as the founder of 'attachment theory' and he stated that the first six months of a child's life are paramount in forming attachment bonds and that the attachment children form in early childhood can affect the attachments they make later on in life. There is also Mary Ainsworth who, in her 'Strange Situation' study, found that there are three types of attachment: secure; insecure-avoidant; and insecure-ambivalent, with Main and Solomon later finding a fourth attachment type: disorganised. The majority of people fall into the 'secure attachment' type, however there are still people who fall into the other three attachment types. I have studied this a lot over the past four years and have found, from research, that it is important for children to form these secure attachments in their early years as if they don't, this will have a knock-on effect on the relationships they form with others as they progress through life.
This links to things such as social and emotional development. These two types of development interlink a lot with each other, as well as linking to attachment. It is the attachments children form in their early years that can enable them to develop emotionally and form emotional attachments towards others. This then enables them to interact socially with other adults outside of their family and children. This is why attending an early years setting is vital to young children as, even though it is not compulsory, they get the chance to form emotional bonds with others and interact socially and form friendships with the children in the setting, as well as forming close bonds with the practitioners. I know it's expensive to send your child to nursery/pre-school, but even doing things such as taking them to toddler groups (such as Tumble Tots) or even taking them to the park and allowing them to interact with other children, can prove very beneficial to their current stage of development and how they progress and grow throughout the rest of their lives.
The Early Years are important because this is the time where children grow and develop the most. It is the time where the foundations for the rest of their lives are built. Without putting so much time and effort into the first five years of children's lives, this then has a knock-on effect throughout the rest of their lives. If they don't develop a secure attachment in these five years, they will then struggle to make any form of attachment with anyone. This then has an affect on their social and emotional development as without being able to form secure attachments with others, they struggle to make an emotional bond, show empathy, and struggle with making friends. Of course, this isn't true in all situations, as there are bound to be people who made secure attachments in their Early Years that struggle with making friends; the same as there is bound to be people who had insecure attachments in their Early Years that can make friends with people easily.
The trouble is, the Early Years is overlooked by many people, including the Government. Why else do you think attending nursery/pre-school is not compulsory? Sure, I don't think it's right for children that young to be sitting in a classroom five days a week, but that's not what happens. They have plenty of playtime, which allows them to develop physically. They have the opportunity to mix with their peers and make friends, something which will greatly benefit them when they start school. They begin to learn how to read and write. They learn resilience by making mistakes and bouncing back again. They learn about a variety of things about the world, such as different cultures and religions. Those are just some of the basics. They learn so much during their Early Years, yet so much emphasis is put on GCSE's, not in learning knowledge that will greatly benefit them, but on learning knowledge just to pass an exam, where the majority of the stuff they 'learn' (or memorise) will never be needed again. Of course all parts of schooling are important in their own way, but I think the Early Years is particularly important as children grow-up so much during this time that it shouldn't be dismissed as something 'unimportant' just because of their age. Children are actually a lot smarter than you think, no matter how young they are.
Love Beth xx