The Early Years Curriculum- or how to tend to your (kinder)garden...

Like many other people, the current confusion around EYs curriculum and what is and what isn't wanted, and how it is "meant" to look is driving me round the bend. Trawling through various posts on social media and the endless blogs and vlogs doing the rounds has me doubting what I know to be right and true. I have taught for so many years now- how have I done it without a meticulously mapped out curriculum? How have my children learned to read, write and do so much more without learning broken down into documented chunks?

And then I remembered this...

And it suddenly hit me, just now- what if this simple image gives a view into so much more than maths mastery- what if it gives a child focussed, respectful view of the EYs curriculum? Stick with me...


Let's begin with what has to be at the roots of any curriculum. Not phonics. Not recall of maths skills or fast, efficient handwriting styles at 4. The STATUTORY characteristics of effective learning- these are NOT about rates of development! They are fundamentals for all learning surely? The HOW that enables children to learn and secure the WHAT?  Anyone like me who was teaching back under the old 9 scales at the end of the EYFS may recall what was then the Dispositions and Attitudes strand which was shown by evidence and research to infact be the golden points, the golden thread unlocking the door to everything else!

And from those roots grows the precious, unique, special plant which should be our absolute focus and priority in all we do. The UNIQUE CHILD. Growing in their own way, on their own journey, petals opening at different times to the plants around them sometimes dependent on when they were planted.

Some plants have stronger deeper roots, others roots are taking a little longer to take. As anyone knows plants needs more than roots, soil, mud and sun. They also need water to grow thrive and to feed those roots to enable them to deepen, spread, make new connections and grow more complex. And this is where we come in. We fill the watering water can with the water that is a respectful, child focussed, empowering, enriching curriculum. We hold the watering can, we hold the the power to pour carefully and give the plant the water it needs- not too much to drown it, not to little too starve it. But carefully and loving measured, planned amount which provides the perfect recipe for the plant to take root and flourish.



So here it is. The water in our watering can. Take out the maths references and see what you notice.


1. ENABLING ENVIRONMENTS: physically and emotionally full of meaningful experiences that make sense to the UNIQUE CHILD.


2. Time for the UNIQUE CHILD to explore.




4. Interactions with skilled, knowledgeable, tuned in, fascinated adults through POSITIVE RELATIONSHIPS.

In a nutshell? Our curriculum?

Underpinned and (quite literally) rooted in...

We secure holistic learning across all 7 areas with the prime areas of language, personal, social and emotional development, and physical development at the heart of everything. We secure this learning through the roots and in the water we provide for our children.  The current push to break down learning into chunks for everyone to follow together is going to end up with a very sparse, poorly nourished garden. Far from that of Mary, Mary Quite Contrary.  Instead the current agenda for the Early Years of education are leading to gardens with wilting plants. And as for those plants who need the most care and attention? They will often find themselves stuck under artificial lights to make them grow through force.The very best intervention for these plants is not to remove them from the garden and put them in an artificial environment but to give them the extra nourishment they need whilst they grow in the beautiful, diverse gardens that are our classrooms and settings. 


Let's not forget the godfather of the Kindergarten, Froebel- and reflect upon our curriculum.


The Early Years curriculum? It isn't rocket science. It's gardening. 


What sort of garden are we nurturing?

So finally- I am finding my way out of the maze.


I am finally feeling confident and reassured in what I know is right for young children.


I know what curriculum means and I always have.


I know what children need to grow and flourish.


There may be brambles invading our gardens right now but we can come together and push them back. 


And I am off to fill up my watering can.


How about you?


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Step away from the pedagimmickry and fancy pants! 

Back in 2015 when I first started the Facebook page Keeping Early Years Unique (KEYU), it was out of sheer frustration. As an experienced Early Years practitioner I was finding myself caught up in discussions on social media about what I referred to as "fancy pants pedagogy". This was all singing all dancing provision which whilst perhaps looking very attractive to the eye upon a first glance, held very little pedagogical  substance below the surface. Social media is full of examples of beautiful tuff trays, carefully written challenges and learning prompts that the intended learner is unable to read. Ironically with the mission of extending and challenging learning- these set ups often hinder it, perhaps asking a child "Can you make a tower of 10 blocks?" Meanwhile the child has plans to build something much more intricate and complex- using perhaps 100 blocks! Or more.   

So this morning, when I saw this article from the TES "How teachers can steer clear of education gimmicks", it seemed the perfect time to get blogging again! Especially in light of EYFS reforms and the never ending discussions about what OFSTED do/don't want to see...


Although Holme's article was not aimed at Early Years, it just highlighted how fads and gimmicks run throughout our entire system. "Pedagimmikry" (which I thought was a perfect phrase for pedagogy built on gimmicks) is alive and well in the sector. This type of practice will often look good, perhaps even exciting- however, dig a little deeper and it’s based on complete and utter... fluff.


Pedagimmickry or Fancy Pants Provision, often requires educators spending lots of time/money/energy preparing and setting up. It’s the type of thing you will find all over the social media channels with lists of tagged names below, as readers tag in friends and colleagues or comments like “let’s do this next week”. Before we tag a colleague or plan to adopt something we need to ask ourself one pivotal question. It is a favourite of my good friend Dr Sue Allingham and it is simply "Why". If it is because it looks good, or the children will like it- is that really good enough?


Now let me be clear. I am not crticising our wonderful sector. We get sucked in to the perfect pedagogy vortex. Perhaps we’ve been on a course, we’ve seen a photo, it looks good, we think the children will love it. Perhaps they will- for five minutes. Or even a week. But then it’s over. It’s done. It was a fad. It has taken our time. Our energy and perhaps our money too.


Ultimately we fall for pedagimmickry and fancy pants because we want to do the best for children, give them the best experience, improve our practice. But there are things we forget in all our striving.


  • We forget to take a step back.
  • We forget to look at our wonderful children.
  • We forget to look at their development.
  • We forget to Observe. To listen. To tune in.
  • We forget to be fascinated by the ordinary- which in truth is really the extraordinary.

We forget that for our children, the world itself is fascinating. They do not need the gimmicks and fads. A large cardboard box will do very nicely thank you! Or a hill to roll down. Or a spot to lay and look up at the clouds. Or a puddle to jump in. Or a snail to race.


Neither do they need a new England style mud kitchen made from some pallets in a gorgeous shade of pale green complete with running water and matching pans and dinner service. A board across some crates, some old pans, spoons and mud will do the job just as well. If not better.

Image from this fabulous free guide: Making_a_mud_kitchen_LowResAW.pdf (

Children don’t need pedagimmickry or fancy pants pedagogy.


Children need what makes the difference.

Reflective, skilled fascinated, tuned in adults.

Adults who know what matters.


Children: Unique, complex and fascinating.

Ditch the pedagimmickry. Ditch the fancy pants.

No one needs it. Not you. Not the children.


Save your time and energy. Invest it where it matters most- in every interaction you have with those lucky children.


Spent it reflecting, evaluating, discussing and ensuring your environment is responsive, open ended and enabling.


Let's Keep the Early Years Unique.


Anyone with me?



Write a comment


  • Richard Holme (Saturday, October 02 21 09:59 pm BST)

    Brilliant post. The final advice is perfect and although it frustrating to see this alive & kicking in EYs it is also a relief to see the resistance to it too! Keep pushing back.

  • Nicola (Sunday, October 03 21 10:54 am BST)

    Just brilliantly said! You do what’s right for your children and because you believe in what you are doing will make a difference to children’s development, skills and love of learning.

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Join me on a journey. The journey to reclaim you!

What a year. 

Actually make that- what a TWO years. 

And what a year to come. 

Working in any stage of education is always full on. But goodness me, what a roller coaster we have all been on. But we are still here. Still hanging in there perhaps. But still here.


Some of us will have been luckily enough to have a break. Colleagues working flat out in our wonderful PVI sector- may not have been so lucky. I really hope you find a way, however you do it, to have some time for you.


I started this holiday ready to completely switch off. Of course I didn’t. But I did make a good attempt, so I decided not to beat myself up.  I steered clear mostly of Twitter (and felt much better for it) and Instagram I left the Keeping Early Years Unique page for a few weeks.  I spent time in beautiful Somerset visiting my parents, did lots of walking, running, reading (yes I actually read 4 books over the break), colouring in, embroidery (ok it was a simple set) and even some diamond art. I even attacked the spare room that is meant to be my office...and made it look a bit officy! 


I did all of this in an effort to rest my mind- and I felt great for it. It was lovely to be thinking about what colour to colour the mermaids tail, or to sit putting tiny tiles on to my diamond art picture. I loved climbing up to the beautiful "Hurlstone Point" and chilling to Otis Redding's Dock of the Bay. I did all of this in an effort to get back to me- the me that somehow over the past few years has become all consumed with things Early Years.  


I love working in the Early Years. I am passionate about it as many reading this will be- but if we are not careful our passion and commitment to the sector, to keep pushing back against the nonsense coming from those deciding policy whilst working at the coalface- can easily become all we know, all we do.  Maybe we find ourselves coming home to families who don’t get the best of us, but simply what's left of us- which often may not be very much at all.


A random post on Facebook about how an employer can replace you, but a family can't definitely hit home. It is a message we all need to heed.



This summer I finally took the plunge and went to some Park runs- my first in Minehead and my second nearer to home. Both times I went along on my own and yes I completed both courses. Not the fastest- but I kept going. The atmosphere is amazing. The volunteers cheer you on, and on both runs I got chatting to other lone runners. Some people take their prams, their  dogs and other walk the course. So if you have not joined in before- I highly recommend it along with the amazing Couch to 5K app, which got me off my sofa over lockdown!


I have also taken the plunge to lose weight and through my GP signed up to Slimming World. Its only my first week- so I will let you know how I get on!  But I am at a place in my life when I am ready to take action.   


I shared this on Instagram and the response was amazing- it literally blew me away. So many people related to the challenges I face balancing life, work, mental, emotional and physical health. 

So I decided to try something new. To build another community. But not one concerned with debating Early years, but a community of like minded folk (not all necessarily school/education based) who are ready to make a change in their lives. To join me taking steps on the road back to ourselves.


If you want to start the journey to reclaim you, come on over and join here. There's already over 200 of us in 24 hours. So you are not alone. We really are on this journey together!


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The EYFS reforms- A gift to the sector or a stolen gift returned? 

28th July 2021

So like many of you I was ready for a break. The summer of 2021 would be the one that I finally achieved a goal that has evaded me for many recent years. This would be the year that I would switch off, forget about work (as much as possible), stay well clear of the the educational debates of social media and fully recharge my batteries for the year to come (and whatever that may entail). 


My plan was set. My mind was made up. Summer 2021 would be a time to switch off, to step away, to lose myself in time with family and good books. Well that was my plan. 


Unfortunately, my email inbox had other ideas. (Tip: moving forward anything from the DFE/OFSTED will be directed to my school email not my personal one). I am not going to post hyperlinks in this blog to the many links received over my final/weeks of term and even the beginning of the holidays.  Why? I really do not want anyone reading this blog to get lost down the rabbit hole of updates. This blog really IS NOT about giving you more to read or worry about!


However, for your information- here is a timeline/list of publications/information/updates I received in addition to COVID guidance…


28th June (OFSTED) Updates to Early Years and Schools handbooks

10th July (DFE) The reading framework: teaching the foundations of literacy

22nd July (OFSTED) Ofsted EIF inspections and the EYFS

23rd July (DFE) Updates to Development Matters (non statutory EYFS guidance)*

27th July (DFE) Foundation Years vodcast: Implementing the new EYFS in primary schools



*Whilst I respect the sentiments of the author of the new Development Matters, that these changes in his view are minimal, no track changes doc was provided. Anyone who is planning to use this to support their practice will surely need to reread the new document- all 120 pages+ to ensure they are upto date?

So when you take all of the above into consideration along with the Baseline assessments starting in September, I think it is pretty fair to say that the repeated claims about reducing workload are resting on pretty shaky ground. We are a sector already on our knees.


We are a sector of which a significant part of is consistently disregarded and has been throughout this entire pandemic- of course I refer to our fantastic, underpaid, under recognised PVI sector. To be honest for many in the PVI sector the EYFS reforms are the least of their worries, working through a pandemic and staying viable is much more pressing. Just last week a local setting had to close it doors after 53 years serving our local communities. A real loss to the town and an unneccessary one at that.


Seeing that the latest vodcast which seems to be how the DFE train the sector in 2021 (thankfully this one was not hidden away on a private social media group) was only 13 minutes long. I thought that I would listen on hands-free, as I drove to do some shopping.



As I listened the following thoughts came into my head... 

  • This is nothing new. 
  • This is an attempt to give back something to the sector that we have always had but that got eroded somehow along the road


I am completely dumfounded as to why so many think this reformed/rewritten EYFS is offering something so new? Answers on a postcard please!  I could write a whole blog debating the statements being made about the new ELG's being easier to assess and based in child development knowledge (still waiting for the recognition that self-regulation is not about doing as you are told and to see the research behind 4 year olds recalling number facts by heart by hey ho- I suspect I had better not hold my breath on that one!) And do not get me started on aligning the goals to KS1... a slice of Bold Beginnings anyone?



Maybe there are people seeing the changes as liberating because they have only ever worked in a system where:

  • accountability ruled (note to reader- I have no issue with being accountable as a public servant as long as it is accountablity that is relevant, purposeful and concerned with the best outcomes for children)
  • child development is viewed as trackable, tick offable, target driven (what do you mean haven’t they jumped to 40-60 secure +++ since last week???)
  • the initally low stakes assessment of the GLD morphed into a monster where children aged 4 who do not meet goals aimed at 5 year olds are deemed as failing- leading to interventions put in place to catch them up or being labelled as having SEN and parents being informed their 48+ month old is behind
  • the EYFS moderation process is often no longer led by highly qualified, skilled, knowledgable accredited moderators


It is a system gone mad. And to try and blame it on the EYFS in its various forms over the years, the Development Matters 2012 document where  42 pages stated that the learning and development grids "...should not be used as checklists", or to blame the sector itself... be blunt- it is the gas lighting of a sector and sadly, some seem to be falling for the rhetoric.


We need to dig a bit deeper and really look at how have we got to where we are in 2021?


How utterly absurd is it that so many now seem thankful to the powers that be for giving something back that we always had, but has been eroded by the givers themselves over a period of years?


How have we got here? Well, we have people in ivory towers, with no, if ANY experience, of working with and studying young children writing and deciding policy for our sector. We have ministers who won't listen to the voices of practitioners, academics, organisations and research/evidence that does not fit their view of childhood.  We even have one minister who covers his ears when spoken to by professionals (not sure he would get the ELG for listening!)


We have OFSTED inspectors, some of whom are real advocates for EYs (and we thank them) whilst others (often not EYs trained) who do not seem to understand early childhood nor know their own guidance.


The recent OFSTED myth busting that so many of us have been calling for states quite clearly that curriculum maps/progression grids are not a requirement- so why are some inspectors still asking or them and even referring to them in reports? Of course, we welcome myth-busting documents but it is not just those of us on the ground who need to read them! 



The removal of EYFS moderation is also stated as being linked to workload reduction.  Frankly, the notion that assessment is now all about valuing practitioner knowledge of the child and professional dialogue is exactly what I spent years doing as moderation manager in my LA.   I will say it again loud and clear "THIS IS NOTHING NEW! IT IS WHAT MODERATION IS MEANT TO BE!"  Much like inspectors, of course there are moderators who do not adhere to the EYFSP statutory requirements.  This is not a reason to get rid of moderation, a process that for many teachers is a supportive and perhaps rare CPD and networking opportunity. If moderation has gone so wrong then let's look at why. Could it be the depleting LA support? The removal of accreditation? 


Indeed, I stepped down and was replaced as moderation manager by an OFSTED inspector who opened her 1990s style powerpoint by telling a packed room of Reception teachers “2 or 3 pieces of evidence can make a convincing case for awarding an ELG”. After the years I had spent focussing on building moderation a powerful two-way discussion about unique children- I almost got my coat and left!


I am also fascinated about the way in which some in the sector are so thankful to almost be given permission to spend time interacting/teaching children. This really begs the question “What on earth have we all been doing instead all this time and why do people feel they need permission?” 


We all stand on the shoulders of giants such as Froebel, Montessori, Isaacs, McMillan, Malaguzzi, Vygotsky amongst others and their modern day counterparts such as  Katz, Donaldson, Bruner, Laevres, Fisher, Ephgrave and many others!


Interaction and observation has always been our bread and butter, the core of what we do- and again if it has ever ceased to be so- then it is time to reflect on what happened- who and what has taken us away from our core purpose?


Who out there in an office tucked away knows more about children than the pioneers and guiding lights mentioned above? Who should be guiding our steps, steering our pedagogy? Every Early Years document I have ever read from the original curriculum guidance in its pink ring binder with its footsteps to Birth to 3 Matters to the EYFS framework in its various ages and even OFSTED's own teaching definition has always advocated the crucial role of high quality interaction... 

*Interesting to note that this definition was in the Early Adopters EYFS framework and was removed for the 2021 final version. It is still however featured within Birth to 5 Matters. 

The vital role of high quality interactions and positive relationships have always featured in early years frameworks and guidance since the birth of the foundation stage.

So in 2021 for the DFE to wrap this up all of this as a gift to the sector, as if they are doing us all some great favour, by liberating us from post it note writing (erm most of us dropped that years ago when we discovered hundreds had dropped down the back of the radiator), iPad snapping, trackers and endless data...


For the DFE to say they are about reducing our workload as they send endless updates, guidance and vlogs in our final weeks of term, final days and even the start of a break after one of the toughest years ever....




What if- just what if- those handing us the gift of these reforms, were the ones who took it away or broke it in the first place?  

The gift of childhood.

The gift and joy of teaching in the Early Years...


...and are now riding in as  savours to hand it back, wrapped up but with crucial parts broken, missing and ripped paper held together with cheap sticky tape- all in the name of improving outcomes. 


Of course, we all welcome workload reduction.

Of course, we all know our place is with the children.

Of course, we all want the best for each child in our care.


We are teachers wherever we work and whatever our qualifications. We teach. We play. We interact.


We do not need permission to do our jobs, what is in our bones- do we?

Moving forwards

So in September- what will I be doing in my setting?


Well we will be doing what works. What has always worked. Standing on the shoulders of those giants. Respecting child development.


We will continue to put the unique child, positive relationships, enabling environments and holistic learning and development, the characterisitcs of effective learning, well being and involvement and PLAY at the core of all we do.


This approach has served me and the hundreds of children I have cared for and educated since I qualified as an NNEB, pretty well to be honest and I hope it will continue to for the rest of my career.



This is nothing new! EYFS poster 2008

  • We will reflect.
  • We will evaluate.
  • We will talk.
  • We will tweak.
  • We will be informed by the evidence of past and present.


We will use  the guidance that works for us, meets the needs of our children: Birth to 5 Matters, building on all that has gone before to put the meat on the rewritten EYFS shaky, fractured bones.


What won't we be doing... two words: Baby. Bathwater. 


What else won't we be doing? Topics. Mapping. Reinventing the wheel.

  • We will stay in the moment.
  • We will do exactly what our children need. What they have always needed. And that doesn’t change…
  • We don’t need a gift or permission from anyone to do what is right.
  • We already have worked with children at the core of our practice and we always will. Maybe now it will be a bit less of a battle when "visitors" come calling?


But that’s September.

Right now I have more pressing issues calling me...and I am sure you do too!


There’s a large G and T,  a pile of  thrillers from the charity shop, a new colouring book and a brand new set of pens (if you know you know), a huge diamond art project, and a much loved patient family who haven't seen nearly enough of me this year...


Happy Summer everyone. You rock.


And to those working through the summer- sending you solidarity, support, positive vibes and wishes that you will get some time for you.  Hang in there PVI family. You are loved, respected and valued by us all. We stand with you. 


Please get involved and leave a comment below.



Write a comment


  • Helen Moylett (Wednesday, July 28 21 11:13 pm BST)

    Thank you Elaine you are SO right. No amount of DfE blether can disguise the facts stated clearly here. If you try and make the EYFS more like NC and then hand it back to us broken don’t expect gratitude. That will only come from those who don’t like the ‘messy’ nature of child development, weren’t EY trained and/or have been trained in compliance to a weighing the pig accountability model and actually believe big brother DfE is liberating them but social justice is NOT a strength of any dept of this govt including education.

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Speaking my Early Years truths- Sorry but not sorry.

Maybe it’s because it is half term?


Maybe it’s because we have worked (and are still working) through a pandemic?


Maybe it’s because we have changes left, right and centre coming our way?


Maybe it’s because I have spent far too long on Social media- Twitter, Facebook and now Instagram?


Who knows why. But this week apart from writing reports, running, drinking gin and losing myself in a gripping novel I have been reflecting, challenging and speaking my Early Years truths.

About what? Whether stickers work. Cut and paste report writing. Why some loose parts are not loose parts but simply junk. And why Pedagogical approaches are so much more than labels and posters.


What was interesting is that with each of these posts- the response was overwhelmingly positive. There seemed to be almost a collective sigh of relief from many reading the posts and blogs- as if to say “phew- I thought it was just me”. And yet in other cases there were more personal and negative responses implying that I was attacking the sector, picking at people's practice, implying people were lazy and in one classic reply someone told me he was “disappointed” by my post. Let’s be clear- he wasn’t my father, my husband, my son, a friend or colleague. He was a stranger. Someone I do not know and who doesn't know me. So to be brutally honest- I will still somehow manage to sleep at night. 

I would like to set the record straight very simply and clarify a few things…

  • I am a reception teacher. Before that I was a NNEB ( I still am a Nursery Nurse at heart truth be told)
  • I am still working in the classroom- its where my heart is and where it will always be. I have no desire to ever leave it for a “promotion” to anything more than I am now...besides what can be more than working on the ground?
  • I am proud to be a part of this sector. I think we are bloody amazing to be honest- the challenges we face, the responsibility we have, our resilence, our creativity, our flexibility, our strength.
  • I don't have all the answers and am still on my own journey. I'd never proclaim to be any sort of expert or oracle. I'm just me doing my thang. 

But I would also like to add:


  • I have been on this roundabout quite a few years now.
  • I have done so much of what I speak out about.
  • I have been that teacher spending hours setting up tables and trays.
  • I have been that teacher sticking to a topic plan like a life support machine wondering why my class of 20 boys won't engage in our princess theme.  
  • I have been that teacher returning from a course "dangerously inspired and ready to change the world by Monday morning" frantically trying to level sand toys for emerging, expected and exceeding diggers all whilst swinging a piece of play dough round my head to dance music. (The irony of that gem was a) no child cared which digging implents they were meant to use and b) I was the only one who had improved physical skills as they all went elsewhere leaving me gasping for breath.) 

So I’m  afraid the bad news is that I will not stop. I will continue to call out the nonsense.  I will continue to speak my truth- and I urge you too.


I will continue to challenge, debate, discuss, reflect and ask the questions that need to be asked- normally beginning with a big fat “why”. 


I will continue to campaign alongside a sector who have had enough- be it against:

  • The immoral, unethical, fatally flawed Baseline testing of 4 and 5 year olds.
  • A Bold, bored, bland Beginnings curriculum (that has become the  EYFS reforms
  • the deficit model of childhood and it's utter disregard/lack of respect for the cultural capital of our amazing unique children and their families who know them best
  • the sad decline of play in our settings and classrooms
  • the focus of this government and its friends in high places on the wrong things...


...and the workload increasing nonsense such as progression maps in the Early Years which OFSTED tell us they really do not expect to see.

I will continue to demand answers and for the research and evidence for what is thrown at us- and ask you to do the same in whatever ways you feel able.


And I will continue to challenge pinterest pedagogy, fancy pants provision, style over substance practice where sometimes terms such as “loose parts”, “In the moment planning”, “Montessori”, “child initiated”- even “play” are misconstrued and misunderstood.



The bad news is folks, I won’t stop speaking out. Speaking my truth.


The good news is- if anyone finds me that offensive or disappointing- its easy to unfollow, mute or block.  I completely understand- I’ve done the same on several occasions. Sometimes you need to.


The even better news is- if you are still here, still with me- we can keep on going, keep on asking what must be asked, keep on demanding better.

We can keep learning together, reflecting, debating- respectfully and openly- even when it's uncomfortable. And do you know what?


We can be the change. 


The change our sector needs.

The change we need.

The change our children need.


Anyone with me?

Write a comment


  • Nic Ward (Saturday, June 05 21 07:19 pm BST)

    Absolutely with you! It’s taken me a good few years to get to where I am in my early years pedagogy and thinking but I’m finally more confident in standing up for what I believe is good early years practice. It’s not easy as to be honest you feel like you’re battling everyone (SLT, parents, inspectors etc..) but knowing what I believe in will result in best outcomes for my children keeps me battling. Also it’s so rewarding to see those I’m battling with start to see and understand the why! I absolutely love teaching and wouldn’t change it for the world!

  • Rachael Quadrino (Saturday, June 05 21 07:58 pm BST)

    Great words Elaine, thank you. I agree with everything you say. I am also an NNEB, now EYFS teacher with no desire to come out of the classroom - that’s where I get my happy fix, with the children I am there for. Let’s keep fighting

  • Ann Fox (Saturday, June 05 21 08:35 pm BST)

    Behind you ALL THE WAY!

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Loose Parts: Sometimes one persons just junk.

Right. I am going for it. I am about to unleash on my keyboard something that if I was on TV maybe I would put into Room 101- or if I was on Radio One- maybe I’d be calling into “Unpopular Opinon”.

Here goes.


Sometimes junk is just junk. It's not fit for play. It's not safe. It has no place in your setting.


There I said it.


Before I start let me be clear about me…


  • I am a bit of a hoarder.
  • I have lost track of the times I have said to my husband “I will take that into school” and received a look that says “really???” as I stack old pots pans, birthday cards, decking boards, rolls of wallpaper, old duvet covers and more into my boot.
  • I spent my 80’s childhood with my late Uncle Tony, going to auctions, the local tip and boot sales (which is where I built my complete Famous Five collection)
  • I return from our local scrapstore with vacuum hoses, large wooden disks and cork wheels.
  • I love a charity shop ramble and facebook market place sale- just last week we had 50 tyres delivered to school to zone off our garden.
  • Before my mum retired to the west country- she would save me bags and bags of kitchen roll tubes for school!


Oh and as  a small child I spent hours sitting on a wooden workbench covered with a piece of sheepskin and a horses saddle convinced I was on a horse. I was there for hours. 


Ok so to be clear I love upcycling.


  • I love holding on to things that “the children will love” or “that will come in handy one day”.
  • I love seeing how they choose to use things. What they make them into- often having much better ideas than me.
  • I love the fact that every child can create. Every child can achieve and succeed.
  • I love the fact that loose parts allow endless possibilities and the creativity that pours from children as they use them.

But recently I have found myself in a place where I was probably finding myself back in 2015- just before I started Keeping Early Years Unique.  I am finding myself a member of a whole range of social media groups where I see posts that I just cannot stay quiet about- often for safeguarding reasons- and again as in 2015 I am finding myself somewhat outnumbered by people telling me that I am adverse to risk. Let's be clear. I am not. I just know that somethings are simply not safe for young children to use and are not fit for playful purposes.



Hence I am writing this blog. I need to know am I outnumbered? Am I wrong on this? I am sure you will all let me know! Am I banging the wrong drum here?

More and more of us are realising the potential of loose parts play- there is also a growing movement of bringing old furniture into our settings, something else I am not convinced about- for example I have seen settings using big heavy dressing tables, mirrors and items such a necklaces- with babies and toddlers- maybe that’s another “unpopular” blog for another day.


But for today lets think about loose parts.

Many of us will remember from our childhoods the joy of a box.  The quintessential loose part- the joy of climbing inside it, closing the flaps or cutting out windows and making a door. The power of a loose part is that it can be anything we desire and seamlessly connect together areas of learning through purposeful, authentic, creative experiences. 

With my maths head on- these photo frames, curtain rings and beads- opened up so many opportunities to discuss one of my favourite questions with young children “What do you notice?”  If you want to know more about using this  learning extending, brain developing, endless possibility maker of a conversation starter- dip in here to the phenomenal  Dreme website

I guess my concern is that with:

  • the popularity of loose parts (and quite rightly so)
  • the growth of social EYs media groups and influencers and a pinterest approach to pedaogy
  • the fact that we are living in a world that needs saving- so we commit to recycling, upcycling and making good-


....we need to ask ourselves one question:


“Why” are we choosing this loose part for our setting?


If it's just that it was being given a way for free by a friend or relative or it was in a charity shop or bootsale- then maybe that’s not a good enough reason.


The first thing we must do with any loose part is consider if its safe for our children.  These are not resources that were made to be played with- so we need to ensure that they are safe. We have a duty to safeguard and protect the children entrusted to us each day. This simple flow chart from the amazing Loose Play toolkit 2019 is a great place to start.

My good friend, the queen of risk, challenge and adventure, former Head Learner at the groundbreaking “Chelsea Open Air Nursery School” would say we need to not just do a risk assessment but a risk/benefit assessment where we consider the risks alongside the benefit. Do the benefits of this resource outweigh the risks? Watch her in action here.


I think the reason I have got a bee in my bonnet so to speak is because quite often the loose parts discussions I am seeing are discussing play for very young children, the under 3’s. 


Loose parts for this age group requires very careful consideration- due to the way that young children explore and make sense of their world- often through their mouths. Do we know the paint used on these items is safe? Do we know that these objects are safe for children to put into their mouths? Are there sharp corners.



Loose parts play for babies and toddlers is nothing new is it? But we must ensure that what we are offering children is safe for them to explore. Read more about heuristic play here 



Anyone who wants to learn about Loose Parts and develop their provision even further- please check out this amazing free resource from Play Scotland.  You won't go far wrong!




Oh and one other “unpopular” opinon before I run for cover from the deluge of buttons, beads, tin cans and other small items being launched my way…


If you ever get your hands on a wonderful cable reel.

Yes make it safe…


But please don’t feel you have to paint a ladybird on top of it.


Right. I’m off.


It's Bank Holiday Monday and I’m sure theres a lazybones Bootsale down the road….



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Keeping Early Years Unique: Let's go back to the (grass) roots!

Recently I have been thinking about the Keeping Early Years Unique movement. A post from one of our members reaffirmed what I know- Keeping Early Years Unique is a movement and a haven for anyone committed to a play based, child development rich, relationship focussed, no frills, evidence informed, tried and tested, pedagogically responsible early year’s experience for each child.


Keeping Early Years Unique began life 6 years ago with two members, two individual drops. Today the group has over 50,000 members, 50,000 drops in an early year’s ocean- and whilst the sheer amount of support gives me hope and inspiration- there is always the thought nagging in the back of my mind- how do we keep KEYU what I started KEYU to be? 


  • How can we hold onto KEYU values with so many of us in the ocean?
  • How do we keep the group unique so it does not become another page of painted tyres, cable reels and activity plans?
  • How can we make sure the absolute essence of KEYU is not diluted?


Therefore, with this in mind- I wanted to take some time to really clarify what Keeping Early Years Unique is and what it most definitely is not.   


1. Keeping Early Years Unique is all about children and their unique holistic development enriched by the power of their play. We view play as the most powerful, intrinsically driven vehicle for the learning that happens each and every day within our settings.


2. Keeping Early Years Unique is not a forum for asking about topics and themes- whilst the current reforms may be leading us back down this out of date road- it is not the road the Keeping Early Years Unique is on. Many of our members are on the alternative, empowering, child focussed road of teaching and learning “in the moment”. Despite the pressures and ideology coming from all angles-and the dangerous myth that In the moment is not enough- THIS is the road we are staying on. Why? Because it works! We know our children. We know our settings. 


3. Keeping Early Years Unique is not about over enhanced, labour intensive, learning limiting, fancy pants, levelled  provision- instead we are led and empowered by the work of the pioneers of past and present, where less is more, resources are open ended, meaningful, authentic and promote the statutory characteristics of effective learning.


4.Keeping Early Years Unique recognises, celebrates and advocates the holistic nature of children’s learning and development- we do not advocate tick lists or trying to fit learning into boxes and grids, maps or documents to define progress. We know that, to quote Birth to 5 Matters,  "The complex differences for each child mean the pathways toward maturity should be seen more as dancing around a ballroom than climbing a ladder." (p18)


5. Keeping Early Years Unique is a respectful movement, committed to long term change by challenging myths and inappropriate practice through discussion and debate.


6. When you join Keeping Early Years Unique, you join an ocean of activists working in partnership with a whole range of organisations including the NEU, Upstart Scotland, More than a Score, the Early Childhood Forum and the Early Years Coalition.


7. Keeping Early Years Unique will continue to campaign loudly and respectfully against the attempts to formalise learning for our children whenever and wherever they come from- whether it’s taking on OFSTED’s Bold Beginnings, the Governments Baseline Policy, or challenging the fatally flawed, developmentally inappropriate Early Years Reforms. We will continue to campaign for our children. We will march. We will start petitions. We will write open letters. We will write to MPs. We will keep talking to our colleagues and the families we work with. We will not stop.


8. Keeping Early Years Unique is committed to being part of the solution. Working in partnership with the Early Years Coalition-, we are proud to be a part of Birth to Five Matters- an alternative non-statutory EYs guidance with the child at the core. We will also continue to campaign for a birth to 7 EYFS in England. 


9. Don't forget Keeping Early Years Unique is just one part of the KEYU family! Job vacancies can be posted on the KEYU Job network page and EYs books can be sold in the KEYU second hand bookshop. KEYU inspired training and events can be found on the KITE page. In addition there are local keyu groups you can join too! 



So that’s us. In a nutshell.


Are you a drop in our ocean?


If you are not a member yet and KEYU sounds like your kinda place- come and join us today and bring a friend! 


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  • Kate Johnston (Monday, May 31 21 11:09 am BST)

    Love this! And so glad to work with you and other organisations committed to providing the best for our children.

  • Kerrie Brand (Sunday, May 09 21 10:30 pm BST)

    This actually makes my heart sing!! This blog has given me fresh hope. We have to respectfully challenge practice that doesn't respect the child and their right to a playful and exciting early years education and experience. Sometimes I feel alone in this plight but I now understand I'm totally not! Here's to a bright future where we fight for our children and never lose hope that we will succeed 😁🤗

Let's dance- Progression in the Early Years

So like many of you I have had another full on day of teaching...but this is a blog that I HAD to write. I am not writing it expecting masses of people to read it- but for the theraputic nature of getting my thoughts onto paper (albeit a virtual sheet) and in the hope that:


a) I may find I am not alone in my thoughts

b) maybe someone will read it, and feel reassured and empowered to "keep buggering on" (to quote a good friend and fellow EYs rebel!)


So let me begin at the beginning. Right now the world of Early Years is a very busy place to be. We are working through a pandemic. Many of us never closed our doors. Many of us are struggling to keep afloat financially due to the severe lack of funding and the challenges keep coming.  


We have a new EYFS around the corner. Those of you who know me, will know the concerns I have shared publicly around this through the Right from the start campaign, a grassroots movement urging the government to revoke its high pressure reforms with their focus on recall of facts, what is learned from books and the misinterpretation of self regulation as self control and doing as you are told.


There has been no CPD bar a few vlogs, blogs and articles. The exemplification materials are naturally delayed and yet the changes rumble on- when in fact surely it would have made more sense to delay for one more year to give us all time to really reflect and consider where we are headed!


Any how- that doesnt seem to look very likely- despite the DFE's strong messages around wanting to reduce our workload- so early years educators are doing what they always do best. Trying to make sense of things, trying to find a way to make things work using the very scant information given. This has led some to the idea of a progress curriculum- with educators trying to create documents showing how their children will progress under the illusion this is what OFSTED wants or requires. Let's be clear. They don't. How can I be so certain? Because I asked them. 

Many discussions around progress documents, basically documents setting out the progress children will make over time in small steps, so far tend to have been led by the Early Adopters. I can undertand why. They are trying to adopt a new framework with a view to getting to grips with it before roll out- but they have had to work through a pandemic. Last night progress documents were discussed within the Keeping Early Years Unique group- and as a group commited to play and child development- it really got me thinking...


Right now there are SLTs out there asking EYs colleagues to draw up progression documents, and EYs colleagues out there feeling they need to. I would say to quote my good friend Dr Sue Allingham. Ask yourself the question that must be asked: "Why?"  Whose benefit is this for?  Why are you doing it? Does anyone really think documenting when children can access certain resources or which wheeled toys they can use when and in which order will impact on children's learning? After 20+ years of working with young children- please take it from me- a document, a list of skills doesn't help children learn. You do, 


Ironically, but when documents attempt to stipulate what children can access and when- in this attempt to enable progress- what if we actually disable learning, what if we put a ceiling on learning, or put a lid on it. How could such a document claim to be about progress? We are all commited to ensuring our children grow, develop and thrive in our care- surely we don't need a piece of paper to do this? 


YES to reflecting on child development.

YES to looking at learning trajectories and the many pathways children take on their learning journey.


But reducing this by writing it into a document? No. And even if you tried? Well it would be more than a few pages of A4.


Any of us who have studied child development will know that it isn’t neat and tidy- it doesn't fit into neat boxes or grids. Neither does learning. Neither does responsive teaching. Instead like the pioneers of past and present we need to focus on being that tuned in adult- who listens, observes, respects and interacts in the ways that we know will make a difference for the child in that very moment.


Yes- we are surrounded by so much change right now- but don’t get sucked into this crazy vortex! Hold on to what you know about teaching and learning and about what REALLY makes the difference.


I have been on this roundabout before. A few short years ago I went on a training course, a very entertaining training course and I returned with pages of notes and anecdotes that actually told me very little! I  took the advice given and returned to my setting ready to level digging implements. I made signs to hang above the sand tray showing what all children could do, what most could do and what some could do.  Reality hit me before I went much further. The signs were never hung, the implements never put into levelled trays and I realised I had been sucked into a vortex- a parallel universe in my bid to get our provision right- after all OFSTED were due and surely it was what they wanted to see wasn't it?? I finally woke up and remembered that my wonderful children were driven by fascinations and an intrinsic desire to learn. Not whether they should be using a tea spoon or a shovel to fill a bucket or egg cup.


On this ever spinning carousel I have  also tried over the years to plot out DM across the terms. I have children almost a year apart in age. So guess what- it doesn’t work! I wrote it out, cut it out and pasted it, printed out the grids but again guess what? The children do what they do- they are motivated engaged learners driven by that intrinsic desire to learn- they couldn't care less what they need to learn in the autumn term according to my grid. In short- who did this impact on the most? Well it wasn't the children's progress but it was my workload.


So what is the alternative? What should we be doing? How can make sure our children make progress and reach their full potential? Well- I think this quote from the new Birth to Five Matters document pretty much hits the nail on the head.


Let's dance with our children around the ballroom.

Let them take us by the hand- and let's follow their lead.

There will be times when we need to take the lead and that’s important. We are all teachers and we teach. Just remember that for children to respond to your lead and to want to join you in the dance- they need to know you are partner who respects and values them.


It’s a simplisitic and reductionist view of children, their learning and development to assume that that we can put up a ladder for them all to climb. We can't. There are even discussions about how they need to climb the ladder at the same time? Worse still this model disregards the amazing dance that is learning and teaching in the early years. A dance that we are all experts in whilst those deciding policy would definitely find themselves at the bottom of the leaderboard.


So back to progression documents?


It’s a no from me. I like dancing too much.


How about you?


Write a comment


  • Laura Carter (Sunday, March 28 21 08:54 am BST)

    Beautiful words.

  • Ruth smith (Sunday, March 28 21 09:06 am BST)

    Yes Elaine, I am totally with you on this.
    I found myself thinking... "but do we need progression maps for those staff new to early years?" and then I thought, no, they just need to dig deep and do the reading. Learn about child development by reading, being with the children, asking questions, watching the children and our very experienced staff then it will mean so much more and stay with them for longer.
    I love your term 'sucked into the vortex'. It's so easy for this to happen no matter how experienced you are.
    Thank you for reminding us of this👍

  • Jeanette Kershaw (Sunday, March 28 21 09:35 am BST)

    This is so reassuring to read Elaine. Thankyou

  • Lara Harrey (Sunday, March 28 21 10:09 am BST)

    Thank you Elaine, this has made me feel so much better about all of this.
    I started becoming quite panicky about the idea of doing progression documents for everything. Apart from Maths and Phonics, my gut says listen to what the children are telling us and watch what they do. Then we will know what needs to be discreetly taught and what the children will be interested in.

  • Nicola Ward (Sunday, March 28 21 10:09 am BST)

    I totally get what you’re saying. I think it’s much easier if you’ve been in early years for a while. I have been teaching for 20 years in either nursery or reception and feel I can look at it and decide if there is anything we want to add to our already good practice. I think each setting will need to do what they think is right for their children and staff. If your staff need support in looking at what progression looks like then that should be your focus. Really for me your intent of your curriculum should be enough. What is it you want your children to learn and experience. Hoe are you going to do it, did it work by the time the children left you? Do you have happy children that love coming and are they curious learners, building up their skills and knowledge?

  • Nicola Ward (Sunday, March 28 21 11:35 am BST)

    I totally get what you are saying and think it’s so much easier if you’ve ‘been’ in early years for a while. I think you need to look at where you are as a setting, what works well and are there bits from the new documents which would be helpful to add or discuss. If your staff need to look at what progression looks like to support practice then start there. I don’t think progression in skills are necessary. We are looking at what children come in like and how our curriculum supports them in all areas to be happy, curious learners building up a range of skills and knowledge. It’s a lovely feeling when you see progress in action - children using new words, making up more detailed stories, getting long with others, exploring new resources and their ideas.

  • Emily (Sunday, March 28 21 11:59 am BST)

    Thank you for writing this is exactly what I've been thinking but I was starting to fall into 'the vortex' and was planning on spending my Easter hols writing progression maps!! 🤯🤯 Who is it all for and what impact will it have on my children? These are the 2 questions I always ask myself!!

  • Ruth (Sunday, March 28 21 12:21 pm BST)

    Yes yes bloody yes!!!!!
    We need to be listened to and led by people who actually know what they are talking about! Great blog piece

  • Sue Tomlinson (Monday, March 29 21 12:16 pm BST)

    The Early Years needs time and space for amazing practitioners to support teaching, learning and development through the Early Years dance. Thank you Elaine such common sense built on experience and a love of EY and children.

  • Katie Shipley (Wednesday, March 31 21 09:46 am BST)

    What was Ofsted referring to when they said "And also, have you seen this?" Sorry if I'm being thick! Love the blog - the point about actually accidentally putting a lid on children's learning by the very fact of writing these progression maps etc really rings true.

  • Victoria Carter (Sunday, May 02 21 09:54 pm BST)

    Thank you Elaine! I needed this! Thank tou

  • Laura Hankinson (Sunday, May 16 21 04:59 am BST)

    Reading this, actually Elaine, reading most things you write grounds me. It reminds me, every time what our job is really all about. A great blog - thank you 😊

  • Marian Thomas (Thursday, July 29 21 07:56 am BST)

    Yes!!! To all of the above. Confirmed all that I have learned from working in EY for a long time.

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