What is a curriculum?
A curriculum is what you want the children to learn in the time they are with you. It’s important not to use the early learning goals (ELGs) from the EYFS as the basis for your curriculum. They should only be used as an assessment during the summer term of the reception year.
The curriculum is a top-level plan of everything the early years setting wants the children to learn. The curriculum needs to be ambitious. Careful sequencing will help children to build their learning over time.
Young children’s learning is often driven by their interests. Plans need to be flexible. Babies and young children do not develop in a fixed way. Their development is like a spider’s web with many strands, not a straight line. Depth in early learning is much more important than covering lots of things in a superficial way.
It must be based on the statutory early years foundation stage (EYFS), which gives you a framework that you can build on, through the educational programmes that sit under the seven areas of learning. These are high-level curriculum summaries that you must follow and work into a rich curriculum that meets the needs of the children.
The seven areas of learning are:-
You can decide how best to deliver those areas by creating a curriculum unique to your setting, providing activities and experiences that deliver those areas of learning.
From there, break down those high-level curriculum summaries into smaller steps. Decide what you want children to learn, the activities you want to do with them and how your setting can support their learning.
Childminders or nursery leaders (working with their staff) should decide how to implement these activities and experiences, so the children can progress in all the areas of learning. You should evaluate how well the curriculum works, checking what children know and can do as they move through the EYFS.
Your curriculum should be unique to your setting. Watch your children, studying how they lead their own play. Talk to parents and carers to find out their interests. Listening to what children say also provides clues about their curiosities and interests.
Use this knowledge to decide how best to engage children in the curriculum, choosing the right activity or environment. It should not be overly complicated and should meet the needs of the majority of children. Some children, such as those with SEND, may need additional support.
The EYFS is about how children learn, as well as what they learn. Children need opportunities to develop their own play and independent exploration. This is enjoyable and motivating. They also need adults to ‘scaffold’ their learning by giving them just enough help to achieve something they could not do independently. Helping children to think, discuss and plan ahead is important, like gathering the materials they need to make a den before they start building. These are ways of helping children to develop the characteristics of effective learning.
When children are at earlier stages of development than expected, it is important to notice what they enjoy doing and also find out where their difficulties may lie. They may need extra help so that they become secure in the earlier stages of development. It is not helpful to wait for them to become ‘ready’. For example, children who are not speaking in sentences are not going to be able to write in sentences. They will need lots of stimulating experiences to help them develop their communication. That’s why the time you spend listening to them and having conversations with them is so important.
Effective pedagogy is a mix of different approaches. Children learn through play, by adults modelling, by observing each other, and through guided learning and direct teaching.
Practitioners carefully organise enabling environments for high-quality play. Sometimes, they make time and space available for children to invent their own play. Sometimes, they join in to sensitively support and extend children’s learning.
Children in the early years also learn through group work, when practitioners guide their learning.
Development Matters and Birth to 5 Matters
Development Matters is the non-statutory curriculum guidance for the early years foundation stage to support you in planning your curriculum. It is NOT a curriculum in its own right and should not be used in this way! It can help you to design an effective early years curriculum, building on the strengths and meeting the needs of the children you work with. It guides but does not replace, professional judgement.
‘Development Matters’ sets out the pathways of children’s development in broad ages and stages. The actual learning of young children is not so neat and orderly. For that reason, accurate and proportionate assessment is vital. It helps you to make informed decisions about what a child needs to learn and be able to do next. It is not designed to be used as a tick list for generating lots of data.
You can use your professional knowledge to help children make progress without needing to record lots of next steps The guidance can help you check that children are secure in all the earlier steps of learning before you look at their ‘age band’. Depth in learning matters much more than moving from one band to the next or trying to cover everything. For example, it is important to give a child many opportunities to deepen their understanding of numbers to 5. There is no value in rushing to 10.
Children who may struggle in their early learning are not ‘low ability’. We do not know what their potential might be. Every child can make progress with the right support.
The observation checkpoints can help you to notice whether a child is at risk of falling behind. You can make all the difference by acting quickly. By monitoring a child’s progress closely, you can make the right decisions about what sort of extra help is needed. Through sensitive dialogue with parents you can understand the child better and offer helpful suggestions to support learning at home within
Development Matters is not a long list of everything a child needs to know and do. It guides but does not replace, your professional judgement.
Birth to 5 Matters is another resource that has been developed to support practitioners to design and plan a curriculum that meets the needs your children.