Early Years Curriculums and Approaches
In the UAE, Early Years settings or nursery schools can choose which curriculum approach or philosophy they follow. Some nurseries will follow one approach or philosophy exclusively while others will blend two or more together to fit their philosophy and vision.
Best practice is very similar whatever the curriculum and evidence shows that young children learn best through being active, with hands on play based experiences. Children should be supported to be independent and looked after by respectful knowledgeable adults who understand what a child needs at each age. A high quality nursery will understand the importance of a stimulating environment, will allow children to make appropriate choices within a safe and secure environment and encourage partnership with parents. All children need to feel emotionally safe and be looked after by kind and positive adults who have the ability to understand each unique child.
The following is an outline of the different approaches/philosophies that nurseries follow in the UAE, with the main themes of each approach discussed. Parents should be aware that each nursery will interpret the approaches in a different way and that no one approach is necessary better than the others. Rather what makes a high quality nursery is the quality of the staff and in particularly the leader who will follow best practice according to the needs of each individual child, supported by good policies and procedures in place to ensure a high standard in all areas of care and learning.
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
The Early Years Foundation Stage sets standards for the learning, development and care of children from birth to 5 years old. The EYFS sets out what all early years childcare providers must do to make sure that your child learns and develops. It promotes teaching and learning to make sure that all children have the skills to get them ready to progress through school and future life.
“Every child deserves the best possible start in life and the support that enables them to fulfil their potential. Children develop quickly in the early years and a child’s experiences between birth and age five have a major impact on their future life chances.
(Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage, 2012)
The EYFS stipulates that there are four guiding principles which shape Early Years practise:
A unique child: Every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self‐assured.
Positive relationships: Children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships.
Enabling environments: Children learn and develop well in enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and/or carers
- Learning and Development: Children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates. The framework covers the education and care of all children in early years provision, including children with special educational needs and disabilities.
It states that the characteristics of effective learning are:
playing and exploring - children investigate and experience things, and ‘have a go’;
active learning - children concentrate and keep on trying if they encounter difficulties, and enjoy achievements; and
- creating and thinking critically - children have and develop their own ideas, make links between ideas, and develop strategies for doing things.
Children are grouped according to their ages and each age group will have learning objectives that the teachers will follow. The framework allows for staff to make professional judgments and adapt the programme for each child.
The framework is organised in 7 Areas of Learning and Development
Three Prime Areas
Communication and language
- Personal, social and emotional
Four specific Areas (help to strengthen and apply above areas)
Understanding the world
Expressive arts and design
However these areas should be taught together where possible and the approach should be broad and balanced play based activities in a holistic manner.
Other features -
17 Early learning goals - by the end of FS2
Assessment for early intervention between the ages of 2 and 3 years.
Ongoing assessment is recorded by teachers to support the next step in children’s learning.
- Partnerships with parents are welcomes and encouraged.
The Steiner Waldorf approach
The Steiner Waldorf approach is founded on the work of the Austrian philosopher and educationalist Rudolf Steiner, who wished to create a form of education which would help children achieve clarity of thought, sensitivity of feeling and strength of will.
The Steiner approach to the care of young children encompasses birth to seven years and includes parenting, home childcare and pregnancy. In addition to providing kindergartens (three to six plus), Steiner Early Childhood settings usually include sessions for parent and child groups (birth to three years), playgroups and nursery groups (two-and-a-half to four years), where an understanding of this approach is developed before the child starts kindergarten.
This approach takes as given the interdependence of physical, emotional, social, spiritual and cognitive development. It takes account of the whole child, including his/her soul qualities, and believes that children’s learning flourishes in a calm, peaceful, predictable, familiar and unhurried environment that recognises the child’s sensory sensitivities. Young children need to experience the relevance of their world before they separate themselves from it and begin to analyse it in a detached way.
Learning gains meaning by its relevance to life and should not be separated from the business of daily living.
The learning experience of children under the age of seven therefore is integrated and not subject-based.
Children should not be introduced to print until they are seven years old, instead they should experience a very language rich environment – through the spoken word, songs and poems and being told stories.
Play and imagination important - emphasis on imaginative play.
- The learning is cross curricular and pace should be set by the child.
Montessori is a holistic approach to education that encourages children to learn through their own actions, at their own pace. Fundamental to the approach is the belief that a child’s early years – from birth to six – are the period when they have the greatest capacity to learn.
What makes the approach different, is that it is based on a deep understanding of the way children learn – through choosing, trying and doing themselves. It allows children to discover things individually using all five senses and through understanding, rather than being told.
Montessori classrooms are often noted for special pieces of equipment, many of which were created by Maria Montessori. These are designed specifically to provide concrete representations of abstract concepts. For example, mathematical concepts are established using number rods, golden beads and spindle boxes, all designed to be interesting, fun and self-correcting, so the child can immediately see if they make a mistake.
The learning materials are all carefully designed to help children understand where they may have gone wrong and to enable them to work out ways of correcting themselves without being “told” how to do so.
There is a strong physical dimension to many Montessori activities, encouraging dexterity, balance and appreciation of shapes, colours and sizes. Children are given freedom to select activities appropriate for their learning from open shelves.
HighScope is a quality approach to early childhood care and education which has been shaped and developed by research and practice over a forty year period. It identifies and builds on children's strengths, interests and abilities. The HighScope curriculum is used internationally in a variety of settings including day care, créches, playgroups, nursery and primary schools. The central belief of the HighScope approach is that children construct their own learning by doing and being involved in working with materials, people and ideas.
HighScope provides children with:
A consistent and flexible daily routine which provides for child and adult initiated activities
Opportunities to choose, plan, carry out and reflect on their activities
Opportunities for children to engage in the active participatory learning process
- Adults who value and appreciate children and provide a creative and supportive learning climate
HighScope promotes family involvement by:
A partnership approach to the child's care and education
On-going exchange of information between the family and the setting
Curriculum-based workshops to support families to promote children's development at home
The Reggio Approach
The Reggio Approach derives its name from its place of origin, Reggio Emilia, a city located in Emilia Romagna in Northern Italy.
The Reggio Approach is a complex system that lends itself to the role of collaboration among children, teachers and parents with the co-construction of knowledge. It values the interdependence of individual children and social learning and the role of culture in understanding this interdependence.
At the heart of this system is the powerful image of the child. Reggio educators do not see children as empty vessels that require filling with facts. Rather they see children as full of potential, competent and capable of building their own theories.
Fundamentals of the Reggio Approach
Education based on Interrelationships: A network of communication exists between the children, parents and teachers of Reggio. These three elements work together to create the spirit of cooperation, collaboration, and co-construction of knowledge.
Parents: It is the right of parents to participate actively in their child’s education. The role of the parents, is highly valued in Reggio inspired schools.
The Reggio Teacher: The Reggio teacher is unique and highly trained to respond to the needs of each child. She sees herself as a co-constructor of knowledge, releasing the traditional roles of a teacher and opening doors to new possibilities. The Reggio teacher is a keen observer, documenter, and partner in the learning process.
The Environment as the Third Teacher: the environment is very important in supporting the child to feel safe and secure and to develop their interests. The layout of the physical space in the schools encourages encounters, communication, and relationships. The arrangement of structures, objects and activities encourages choices, problem solving, and discoveries in the process of learning.
Long-Term Projects as Vehicles of Learning: One of the highlights that often first attracts educators to the Reggio Approach is its complex, long-term exploration of projects.
Importance of Documentation: Documentation is a key element in the Reggio Approach. Documentation serves many purposes, but most of all it is used as a research tool for studying children’s learning processes and making their thinking visible.
As already noted these approaches may be interpreted in different ways and followed at different levels of adherence to the original philosophy.