What children really need from early years provision is time for high quality play.

Politicians of every party want to make their mark on education. Their policies however, don’t always reflect the evidence of what works and can stem from firmly held beliefs that are resistant to reason. We currently have a government which fervently believes that education has been damaged by something called child-centred, progressive education. I have summarised below what I think they mean by this but am not an advocate myself. In contrast I offer you what the consensus from early year’s professionals and child psychologists. Decide for yourself what you’d prefer.


What small children need from early years education:  

  • An early learning environment which offers warmth and individual attention to create security and a safe space to explore and learn about the world. I am safe
  • A sense of belonging and acceptance that frees the child to become a unique individual so they can discover their interests and their strengths. I am recognised and accepted.
  • An empowering environment that provides the unique stimulation that child needs to develop their skills and move forward. I am motivated and curious.
  • A flexible environment that can adapt to the child’s needs. I am understood
  • Adults who are available and attuned to their needs. I am trusted.
  • Opportunities to be listened to and have your questions answered. I am valued.
  • A rich language environment where words are the currency for knowledge so I can learn about myself, others and the world about me. I can communicate.
  • A place where feelings are acknowledged and there is a strong focus on the child’s wellbeing. I am happy.
  • Achievements, however small are acknowledged and celebrated. I am successful.
  • Where risks are managed not eliminated so a child can learn from experience without fear of rejection. I can make mistakes and try again.

What the government believes about early education:

  • Play is another word for wasting time. What is this preoccupation with time wasting?
  • Education is all about disseminating knowledge, filling the child’s head with useful information. Children need to be taught from an early age
  • Children are just immature people who need guidance. We don’t need to understand children just tell them what they need to know.  Child Psychology is a touchy- feely subject which tries to nanny people.   
  • Each child’s development depends firstly on genes and then the quality of parenting and teaching. The child’s wishes are a distraction
  • Children are too young to know their own minds and should be firmly disciplined. Children who are left free to choose are running about without any sense of purpose.
  • If you want to accelerate progress just start earlier, the child’s brain is malleable. Literacy and maths are the priority in education, there is no time to waste on play.
  • The child is an independent, autonomous being with feelings, abilities and wishes. Whoever said that is just plain wrong in my book.  
  • Education is all about rigour and repetition. Just tell them what they need to know and repeat if necessary.
  • Some children take longer than others to learn what they need to know. So let’s make the school day longer. What we need is Results, Results, and Results.


So is it any wonder that there is so much confusion. Politics needs to become more like science and less like religion if it is to provide the government we need for the 21st century. In the meanwhile we need to be a voice for the child to ensure that early years education remains nurturing and supportive of each child’s unique development.


About hooperj

I am a child psychologist and wellbeing coach and author of What Children Need to be Happy, Confident and Successful: Step by Step Positive Psychology to Help Children Flourish which is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
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