Supporting the Prime Areas
By Stacy Mann
Published July 2021
Considering the Early Years Foundation Stage changes, to be implemented in September 2021, it is important to revisit the Prime Areas of the framework and review and/or revise your own curriculum and pedagogy.
The main objective for this document is to:
- To define the changes in the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework in terms of Prime Areas
- To explore ways to implement the Prime Areas in an Early Years Setting
But more than this, the changes offer an opportunity to instil confidence and reassurance in the practices of the setting. As ever professional reflections are important in moving forward and being the best version for the children in your care. By refreshing knowledge and building on the knowledge of the EYFS, we will ensure that children get the best start in life at our settings.
Drawing attention to the four overarching principles of the Early Years Foundations Stage is how we will set the scene for the continued care and provision. These principles have not changed, and it is of paramount importance that these principles are embedded into everyday practice and not forgotten at a time when there is so many things to consider.
A unique child-regardless of changes in the framework and in the supporting documents, the main concern for us all is recognising the child for who they are right now, realising that they do not fit into an age band ‘box’ but that they are unique in their characteristics and personality. Getting to know the children in your care is the best way to ensure that they make progress, as you will have information on their motivations for learning, what makes them smile and the ways in which they communicate best.
Positive relationships-this principle goes far beyond the positive relationship with you as a practitioner and the child. Yes, that is the most important one but the relationships that surround that child as the centre being, is far broader and has an impact on them so must be considered. The families, the other professionals and the practitioners in the setting all need to work together to create positive relationships with each other and the child.
Enabling Environments-the environment created for the children and families will send messages to them that we do not always think about. First of all, does it feel welcoming? And then thinking about provision, time to relax, outdoor spaces and day to day functions. It is worth reviewing this in the moment, as well as regularly as a team. Is it working or does something need to change? Different cohorts will require different spaces, so an ‘it has always worked’ attitude will not be productive, be open minded to changing the environment from time to time and ask the children their thoughts-if they don’t have the vocabulary, observe, and tune in, are they settled and comfortable?
There is an equal sign in this picture for a reason, when all the three principles are in place, it is then that we can consider learning and development. The foundation of learning and development is the emotional well- being of the child and family. This is where the supporting documents such as Development Matters and Birth to 5 Matters can support you in your curriculum and pedagogy. You may have noticed that Development Matters have been reduced by a third, this is to allow you to build onto and use your own ethos to create something that is unique to the children and families that you are working with and your setting.. Birth to 5 Matters offers more depth and additional information that can support decision making when it comes to any changes that you are considering. It provides a robust guide to supporting the children and staff team.
Curriculum-this is a word that has been used a lot during this document already but also something that is being discussed a lot in the Early Years arena. So, what does it mean? It simply means what we want children to experience, know and be able to do. Building your own curriculum is what practitioners do on a daily basis and this need not be an onerous task.
Delving into both Development Matters and Birth to 5 Matters is a way to inform your curriculum, ensuring that you take a broad and balanced view of the curriculum you provide for the children. Lots of settings are adopting a view of amalgamation of the two documents with a sprinkle of their own ethos and pedagogy.
The Prime Areas encompass all the foundations for the children’s development and ensure that these are strong before moving onto the specific areas. In no order, they are Personal, Social, and Emotional development, Communication and Language and Physical development. It important to note that these areas are not delivered in an isolated way and that every experience offered to the children is holistic. It allows you as the practitioner to take an experience and turn it into a learning opportunity. The children are able to develop all of these prime areas at the same time during one activity or experience.
Case Study examples.
Jemima is 3 years old and has started to play in the garden after arriving at the setting, she immediately runs to the sand tray and picks up a huge bucket filled with pebbles. She empties some of the pebbles out and begins to fill the bucket with her hands pushing the sand down using her palms. A child nearby notices Jemima and they smile at each other. The other child asks Jemima if she is 3 and Jemima says, ‘I am 3 and a bit!’. The pair laugh and begin to play side by side filling the buckets with their hands.
So, in this scenario, that is an exchange of a few minutes, Jemima is showing all three prime areas in her play. Physically she is using fine and gross motor skills filling the bucket with sand, lifting the bucket of pebbles, and patting it down with her palms. She is socially engaging with another child of a similar age and using her language skills to proudly confirm that she is 3 ‘and a bit’. In the moment, as a practitioner there may be nothing else to do here, no interaction needed or you could step in and enhance the play by adding water or other objects, or by interacting with Jemima and her friend to discuss the possibilities and to listen intently to their ideas.
Tocin is walking near by the table where other children are playing with play dough. The play dough has been ready made and the children are using their hands to manipulate the play dough and make different shapes. Tocin watches for a while at the edge of the table, one of his friends asks him if he would like to play. Tocin doesn’t answer and moves to the other side of the table.
In this scenario, an adult could model some language answering the child who asked if Tocin wanted to play. This would ensure that some language was being exchanged at the same time as promoting social development. Once at the table, the play dough could be remade with the children so that they can see the ingredients and the transformation. Within this sort of experience holistic development would lie in the fine motor skills (physical development), the discussion with others and the new vocabulary being used (communication and language development) and the socialising, confidence building with the other children (PSE Development).
Characteristics of effective teaching and learning
The three are characteristics of effective teaching and learning are: playing and exploring, active learning and creating and critically thinking. Reflecting on these characteristics of effective teaching and learning enables practitioners to develop and adjust their practice. Again, getting to know the children and their motivations is crucial to getting this right, as well as replenishing the environment and experiences offered. For example, the play dough situation, play dough is made prior to the children arriving and each space has a lump of play dough with items to share in the middle of the table. This would be suitable for children playing and exploring and who are actively learning. However, for a child creating and thinking critically, we may consider the process of making the play dough being in their control. The ingredients for the play dough could be offered to allow them to make links with their own ideas.
Communication and Language
‘The development of children’s spoken language underpins all seven areas of learning and development’
Development Matters (2020).
With the focus on less paperwork and more interaction, speaking and listening with the children should be a main priority. From an early age, serve and return is an amazing way to encourage more spoken language and to add new vocabulary. This can be done in many ways in the setting through storytelling, role play, having conversations, narrating, and asking genuine questions. Be interested in what the children are doing and how they are doing it.
The three aspects that children will develop are listening and attention, understanding and speaking. The opportunities for all these areas in one day are endless and refers to the four principles of the Early Years Foundations Stage. Reflecting on whether the environment enables the three aspects is one that would be beneficial. For example, in an area where there are books for the children to snuggle and read/listen to a story, what is right next to that area? How quiet is it for the conversations about the pictures to happen?
Within Development Matters and Birth to 5 Matters, there are examples of how to support the babies and young children’s learning.
Birth to Three Age Band:
‘Gazes at faces, copying facial expressions and movements like sticking out their tongue. Make eye contact for longer periods’
Development Matters (2020)
Some examples of this could be using exaggerated intonation, sing songs, playing and interacting on the floor and outside, narrating what is happening. This could also be shared with parents and families to encourage them to do the same when on walks and at home.
Within the Development Matters (2020) guidance there is the use of ‘observation checkpoints’. The checkpoints are places within development that the practitioner can consider for formative assessment. They may be used by all the staff team or only utilised for newer, less confident members.
An example for (around) 18 months: does the toddler understand lots of different single words and some two-word phrases, such as ‘give me’ or ‘shoes on?’. If the answer to this is yes, great, continue with all the rich experiences. If the answer is no, then ensure that more emphasis is put on moving this progress forward, this could be more storytelling and singing. It could be getting to know the child’s likes and dislikes better and using the likes as a motivation for more vocabulary.
Children in reception will be learning to ‘engage in non-fiction’ books. This could be extended very early on ensuring that there are interesting books (not just stories) in the setting as a resource for the children. Maybe there is a child who is interested in building and has paid attention to the local construction site? Non-fiction books about construction, cement and real pictures could enhance their engagement and motivation.
Personal, Social, and Emotional development
‘Personal, social, and emotional development is fundamental to all other aspects of lifelong development and learning, and is key to children’s wellbeing and resilience’
Birth to 5 Matters (2021)
Personal, social, and emotional development is another area that should be embedded in all our practice. Reflections in these areas again provide an insight on how we can continue to improve, ensuring that the children’s well -being is at the forefront of our minds. This will also include how we sensitively choose the key person, how we prepare for transition and how well we communicate with the families too. Drawing on our own personal development as well as how we adopt warm and responsive relationships will also contribute to the development in this area.
Range 2: (12-18 months)
*please note that in Birth to 5 Matters the ranges overlap, so this is an approximate*
‘Builds relationships with special people’
Birth to 5 Matters.
Ways in which we can support this lies in getting to know the children, staying close and allowing them to be comforted when they are anxious or upset, making the day predictable and offering consistency and continuity.
‘Work and play cooperatively and take turns with others’
Early Learning Goal (2021)
This is an area that will be modelled from a very young age and the children will be shown how to do this in a sensitive, age appropriate and empathic way. Having a sound understanding of child development will enable the practitioner to understand fully what is developmentally appropriate in terms of sharing and the development of the social interactions for children. At the end of reception, children will have experience games, free play where turn taking will be required and will be developmentally ready to cooperate with each other. This can also be shared with parents, giving them ideas of how to promote cooperation at home.
‘Physical activity is vital in children’s all-round development’
Development Matters (2020)
This area includes both gross and fine motor skills; experiences that should be provided for the children throughout their lives. Physical activity should be a part of the daily routine in a setting and ensure that children enjoy exploring activities throughout the day. It also about considering time to rest, sleep and relax-both indoors and outdoors. Some of the examples given in both documents can be used to apply a varied curriculum and promote a fun, healthy provision.
Birth to 3 Age Band:
‘Begin to walk independently-choosing appropriate props to support at first’
Development Matters (2020)
Ideas to support this could include ensuring the environment is suitable, maybe there are obstacles that require the children to pull themselves up and navigate around, the adult being attuned to when the child is strong enough to stand and take some steps, working with parents to encourage walking, space in the outdoor area that is safe and has areas to explore.
An example of an ‘observation checkpoint’.
‘Look out for children who find it difficult to sit comfortably on chairs. They may need help to develop their core muscles’
Development Matters (2020)
By ‘checking in’ at this point, the practitioner is then able to adapt and review the environment. They can also provide experiences that may encourage core strength such as sitting down to scoot, yoga stretches and soft play.
Range 5: (36-48 months)
‘Can balance on one foot or in a squat momentarily, shifting body weight to improve stability’
Birth to 5 Matters (2021)
This can be practised through action songs and games, obstacle course, using equipment at local parks and motivating children to participate in dancing.
Through the examples shown and through reading the guidance, it is clear that the knowledge, understanding and providing for the children’s needs does not need to be reams of paperwork that no one really understands. The planning that is carried out for the children will often be in the moment, discussed by the people who are attuned with their development and who have a great knowledge of both the child and child development. Planning is about observing the child, assessing what these observations tell us and then providing experiences and opportunities within play, continuous provision, and the environment. Again, considering the principles of the Early Years Foundation Stage and working together with the children to create a learning environment that is inclusive and responsive is central to holistic learning, development and well-being.
- Get to know the children
Can you talk about your key children with confidence? Where are they now? What are you supporting them with right now? How do encourage their curiosity?
- Have an excellent understanding of child development
Have you revisited child development and considered how much you know already? Do you need to delve deeper into the current age group? Are you expecting too much? Are you challenging the children?
- Quality interactions
Do you actively listen to the children? How do they know this? Do you have meaningful conversations with the children? How could this be extended?
- Communication and Collaboration
How do you ensure that collaboration and communication is present within the whole team? How about the room teams? How about with the children? The parents?
Trust yourself and your expertise, the new framework and guidance provides an opportunity to refresh and revitalise your practice. There are no major changes and the changes that have been made give more indication of quality interactions with the children, which is our reason for doing the job. Celebrate the amazing relationships, the well-thought-out environments, and the dedication to the role in Early Years.
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