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November 1, 2023

Supporting Behaviour in Early Years Settings

6 strategies for understanding and supporting the behaviour of younger children to create a consistent approach.

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lit.’

Sparking curiosity and igniting a love of learning begins in the early years. Between the ages of 0 and 5, children undergo what is probably the most transformative period of their lives: from crawling, toddling, scribbling and babbling, to walking, speaking, reading and writing – all in the space of just five years.

High-quality care, attention and education during this period enables youngsters to lay down solid foundations that pave the way to becoming strong, resilient, happy and healthy children and adults.

In short, the early years matter.

A time of discovery and delight

For young children in the initial stages of development and education, the emphasis is on discovery and exploration. Against a backdrop of positive relationships with adults, regular interaction with peers, and a rich, stimulating environment, children typically learn through hands-on experiences and play-based activities that foster their creative thinking skills.

You only have to peek around the door of a nursery or Reception classroom to see what this looks like in practice: cheerful, colourful displays on the walls; a wide range of engaging activities on offer; children playing and exploring together; and staff delivering purposeful, exciting learning opportunities, day in, day out.

A rewarding but challenging stage

Life in EYFS is not without its challenges, however.

A report by the early years charity, Kindered2, in the TES in January 2023, states that almost half of pupils starting Reception are not developmentally ready: they are unable to eat or use the toilet independently and cannot communicate clearly. The survey involved over 1000 primary school teachers, more than 90 % of whom reported having at least one child in their class who was not toilet trained, or was lacking basic language skills, such as saying their own name.

These findings have far-reaching implications for schools and, in particular, nursery and Reception settings: more staff are needed to support children with everyday tasks such as going to the toilet, eating lunch and getting dressed.

Furthermore, this lack of developmental readiness can adversely affect children’s behaviour. When language skills are limited and children cannot communicate their needs clearly, behaviour often follows and this can hinder progress, both inside and outside the classroom.

With teachers and other school staff already under enormous pressure and the retention crisis deepening across the sector, these findings are very troubling indeed.

The impact of Covid-19 on behaviour

It’s important to stress that this is not about apportioning blame and ‘limited school readiness’ cannot be attributed solely to parents. In fact, according to the Kindered2 survey, 89% of parents of Reception children felt their child was ready for school. Parents and carers are doing their very best in often difficult circumstances, such as dealing with the cost-of-living crisis and managing busy households.

So what are the underlying causes of ‘limited school readiness’ and how do they impact behaviour?

While teachers felt that parents spending more time on their devices and less time reading to their children were undeniably factors, 66% of those surveyed cited the pandemic as the main cause of children being developmentally unprepared for school. During extended lockdown periods, young children were unable to attend nursery and other childcare settings, something which has inevitably affected their ability to develop vital social and language skills.

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