NEWS COMMENT: Do Toddlers need Teachers?

March 30, 2016 Published by

Save the Children has joined with ten figures from child development and neuroscience to urge the government to focus on early years education and is calling for every nursery to have a qualified early years teacher to support children’s learning by 2020. Read more here.

The news comes on the back of a briefing from the charity and the Institute of Child Health at University College London – Lighting Up Young Brains – which shows that toddlers’ brains develop connections at twice the rate of adults. The charity thus argues that ‘this makes children’s early years a critical time for the brain to develop key skills such as speech and language.’

[pullquote align="right" cite="" link="" color="#05b1cc" class="" size=""]"It’s crucial to understand that all children learn in different ways and the most important thing in early years is that they have a secure attachment with one or more primary carers, from whom they will learn a huge amount."[/pullquote]

But is a teacher in every nursery the best way to invest in early years development?

I would undoubtedly agree that early years are critical for children’s development and that we need to focus on helping toddlers to learn and grow during this period. However teachers in nurseries need to have very different training to that of teachers for school age children. Normal teacher training is not necessarily appropriate in this setting as preschool children need to learn and be supported in very different ways to older children.

We need to understand that children of nursery age learn through play, rather than in a more formal manner and the focus at this age must be on emotional and social development. Most Early Years Foundation Stage teachers are wonderful advocates of this concept and successfully teach children in this way.

To further support the development of children at nursery age, it’s also crucial to realise that they all learn in different ways and the most important thing in early years is that they have a secure attachment with one or more primary carers, from whom they will learn a huge amount, regardless of whether this carer is an EYFS teacher, mum, dad, grandma or the childminder or nanny.

young-toddler-writingThe reporting of this story however somewhat devalues the important skills that such practitioners, as well as parents and other carers have, as well as giving parents the impression that children need formal ‘teaching’ from the age of two, which simply isn't the case. As most school teachers would agree, formal school level teaching methods would be highly unlikely to be successful in this setting and moreover could prove counter-productive, causing children to switch off and actually learn less. It can also be emotionally damaging to rush children in this manner. 

By placing so much importance on children learning from teachers at nursery, we also risk marginalising those parents who decide to keep their children at home until they enter formal education at five years-old. The learning journey can take place in the home, or a number of other settings up until school age and children will not be disadvantaged

Overall, the key to nurturing preschool children’s ability to learn is to ensure that they have access to developmental opportunities via a balanced play diet, regardless of the setting. Children, especially those of a preschool age, learn through play and through their daily experiences and our focus must be on providing these opportunities wherever children are and whoever they are with.

You can hear more of my thoughts on this subject in my recent interview with Bob FM here.



Photo Credit:
20071225-2039-32 by Dan Foy licensed under CC-BY 2.0



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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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