The early years curriculum 1: Birth to Three Matters

Since 1997 there have been a number of initiatives regarding the care and education of young children, including very young children. One of the most important things to happen was the bringing together of childcare and education and a recognition that what happens to children in their earliest years may be critical to their subsequent development.

Increasingly, women who are mothers want or need to return to work after the birth of their children. There is still a view in the United Kingdom that these women are ‘bad’ mothers, who put their careers or their financial security before the well-being of their children. There is also a general and lingering suspicion of childcare away from the home, despite a substantial body of evidence highlighting the benefits of children being with other children and other adults. Dahlberg et al. (2004), in the most recent edition of their book looking at quality in early childhood provision, talk, deliberately, of early childhood institutions rather than of early childhood services. They point out that a service implies a giver and a taker, a buyer and a seller. This is the language of the market. Talking of institutions, they argue, takes the discussion into a more public arena where aspects of culture and society, fairness and equity, may be discussed.
Despite the bringing together of care and education, parents are still faced with a plethora of perplexing choices when making decisions about what to do with their young children. The wealthy might employ a nanny or an au pair, or send their child to a private nursery. Some might opt for playgroups, where parents often play a role. Many will try to get their children into the nursery school if there is one in their area and if there is a space. These are often like gold dust! Many will send their children to day care centres and more and more will select children’s centres offering all-day provision.

Think about these words: Nursery, crèche, childcare centre, daghem, asilo nido (which means ‘nest’), nursery school, nursery class, kindergarten, école maternelle, scuola d’infanzia, children’s centres, wrap-around care, maintained schools, private schools, special schools, independent schools, playgroups

And these: Teacher, teaching assistant, nursery nurse, educationalist, carer, pedagogue, volunteer, helper, manager, childminder, nanny, au pair childcare centre worker, practitioner, manager, Sure Start And these: Montessori, Reggio Emilia, High Scope, Sure Start, Steiner, schemas, Te Whaariki,

Foundation Stage, Birth to Three Matters, Every Child Matters Are you confused? Not surprising, really. These words have been taken out of several current and popular books on early childhood education and care, and it is no wonder that those working with children or thinking about their learning and development feel that they are walking through treacle. We are not going to unpick all these terms now, because there is not the space. You have been asked to think about them purely to get a sense of the complexity of the field.
In 1997 the UK government decided that the time was ripe for developing what it called a framework to support those working with children from birth to the age of three. Already in place was the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage, which applies to children from the age of three to the age of five-plus. (We will turn our attention to that in the next chapter.) The resulting document was called Birth to Three Matters (Department for Education and Skills 2004b), a title which holds the promise of a recognition of something we all know. In the foreword to the document, Baroness Ashton tells us that the publication of the document constitutes a milestone in recognising and valuing our youngest children and the contribution made to their growth and development by the adults who work with them. It raises the status of work with this important age group and marks our commitment to supporting quality and effective practice with children from birth to three.