Educating babies and the EYFS

Last week we highlighted the consultation for the proposed changes to the EYFS which needs to be completed by 31st January. We hope you have been able to have a look at it and make a contribution. We have been busy working on our response this week and it has really got us thinking. A key issue for us is the idea of ‘Educational Programmes’. Although this terminology is seen in the present EYFS, they are currently referred to as ‘The areas of learning and development’. The consultation document is much more explicit in calling these ‘Educational Programmes’. The seven areas for learning and development remain the same including the three prime areas and the four specific areas although don’t be fooled by the titles remaining the same – the content is a whole other matter! This change in terminology emphasis made us question the suitability of ‘Educational Programmes’ for those young babies who fall within the remit of the 0-5 age group covered by the EYFS. We believe it is important to continually consider appropriate practice with these very young children given the growing number of them who attend ECEC settings.  It is difficult to obtain accurate numbers on this as those who collect this data tend to group children as 0-3s or under 3s. We think that in the context of the UK it could be about 42% of babies (Goouch and Powell, 2013).  Here, babies are usually looked after in baby rooms separate from the older children.

Picture1What do babies need

In the ongoing research funded by the Froebel Trust that Jo is carrying out with Nicola Kemp, we have found even the definition of a ‘baby’ is problematic. Different settings have different ways of deciding when it is appropriate for them to transition from the baby room to the toddler room; this decision can be based on parental wishes, when the child begins walking, issues around ratios and space, if the child is emotionally ready etc, etc. The difficulty often with addressing this kind of decision-making criteria is that it can lend itself to talking about babies in a deficit way (i.e. as non-mobile, non-verbal) recognising what they can’t do rather that what they can). It certainly does not paint a picture of ‘The Scientist in the crib’ i.e. the young baby described by Gopnik et al. (1999) as ‘‘the greatest mind that has ever existed, the most powerful learning machine in the universe (p.1).

What do adults who care for babies need to do?

Alison Gopnik, a renowned developmental psychologist addresses parents in her lovely book ‘The Gardener and the Carpenter’.  She advises them that babies do not need ‘carpenter -adults’ who follow specific plans, who measure, check, then measure again in order to ensure the final product is suitable. Instead, she asserts babies need ‘gardener- adults’ who provide them with appropriate environments so that they can flourish and grow. These adults need patience to watch and wait, to be prepared for surprises and to be able to celebrate the unplanned.

We argue that if babies have warm, attentive adults who seem babies as competent, powerful learners then we have no need to put in place educational programmes for them. They will learn at their own rate and in their own time in the supportive environment they are provided with.  These attuned adults may be professionals, they may be parents who have been supported by policy to look after their baby at home, or it may be extended family. What do you think? Do we really need educational programmes for babies?


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