Early Childhood Education/Early Years

Debra Laxton and Marilyn Leask with inputs from the MESH Early Years Editorial Board | View as single page | Feedback/Impact
Early Childhood Education/Early Years
Effective learning
Activities and Types of Play
Case Studies


The importance of pre-school child development is widely recognized and all families are entitled to some free pre-school provision often in school or private nurseries.

There are also some initiatives for 0-3 year olds providing local programmes of an hour or so a week based on research into child development. Examples are provided here. Some are funded by government and some are businesses run as franchises usually following successful development and testing in one local area. Typically a franchisee buys the right to run a programme developed by the parent company and in return for the exclusive right to run courses in an area. The franchisee benefits from advertising, training and materials from the parent company.

A Parent’s Guide to Promoting Early Learning and Development at Home (0 - 5 years): Supporting Families During the Coronavirus Pandemic



These exist in different forms in many countries. Some are informal get togethers for a few hours a week hosted by parents in turn, others are more formal. Parents stay with the children. They provide a means of socializing the children and enabling parents to get to know others in the area with similar age children. Children will often have access to a wider range of toys, puzzles and books than a family can provide. Some have paid staff and may also address parenting issues, share tips on cooking and caring for young children.

Family Learning Courses

Family Learning courses are run by a local council with trained staff to help with parenting. The example of the content from three sessions is from Central Bedfordshire:


"Fun With Books and Fun With Numbers

These workshops, for family adults, will introduce you to the reading and maths methods used in school with children aged 4 to 11 so you can support your child’s learning more confidently and effectively.

Keeping up With the Children - English

On this course, for family adults, you will find out how English is taught in schools and build your own English skills so you are better able to support your child’s learning and skills development. The course covers methods used with children aged 4 to 11.

Keeping up With the Children - Maths

On this course, for family adults, you will find out how maths is taught in schools and build your own maths skills so you are better able to support your child’s learning.

Baby College http://babycollege.co.uk

This organisation provides a good example of how research is now being used to shape activities with children. They have developed a three year programme of physical, multi-sensory and cognitive games, exercises and activities including music, dancing, sign language all designed to cover every aspect of a child's development. The developers – mothers with babies - are working with neuroscientists and paediatricians as well as university research groups to strengthen and extend the programme. One focus is on developing strong neural pathways that are vital for early brain development and all subsequent learning. Parents are given age related materials on a weekly basis. Session leaders are trained and parents pay a fee to attend.

Baby College Recommendations for Development Classes for 0-3+ Year Olds
Bea Waterfield & Donna Twyford, Baby College UK Directors
March 2018

The Principles of our Programme for 0-3+ year olds
Each Child is Unique – recognised for their individuality, babies attending Baby College are from the very first moments addressed as individuals and this is reinforced with Hello and Goodbye songs. With positive encouragement by parent and teacher babies are allowed to go at their own pace and helped to explore their environment.
Forming Positive Relationships – Within the class environment independence is fostered within clear boundaries and parents are firmly positioned as their baby’s first and best teacher. Through positive parenting techniques shared in class parents become responsive and encouraging role models for their children.   
Providing an Enabling Environment – safe, friendly and well-structured fun classes encourage learning through play.
Children Learn at Different Rates - we play games to help babies to understand the world around them and these games are structured so that each child can go at their own pace and where the principle that “learning should be fun” is foremost.

Areas of Learning & Development covered by Baby College classes
Communication and Language – one of Baby College’s core themes. Language and communication skills are encouraged throughout the classes - specifically our Hello and Goodbye songs, Look & Learn cards, Signing, Nursery Rhymes and Phonemes.
Physical Development – the replacement of infant reflexes and development of essential balance skills are behind our whole programme.  Gentle physical exercises are used throughout the Infant (0-9m) and Toddler (9-18m) programmes: activities include dancing, tummy time, knee rides, spinning, encouraging crawling, hand eye coordination and foot eye coordination games.  Our Junior (18m+) programme is a highly physical programme and movement is used extensively: dancing, movecube, copycats, hoop play are just some examples.
Personal, social and emotional development – our social and inclusive classes encourage strong bonding and attachment between parent and baby and positive interaction with other babies and their parents.  We encourage face to face interaction, responsive parenting, turn taking and tidy up skills.
Literacy – phonemes, nursery rhymes, signing, ‘talk to your baby’ and music activities promote literacy in all our classes.
Numeracy – number and shape theme games included in the Toddler and Junior classes are used alongside traditional nursery rhymes to help develop mathematical understanding.
Understanding the world – heuristic and sensory play are promoted throughout all three age groups and role play and imaginary games about the world the children live in are encouraged in the Junior classes.
Expressive Arts and Design – music, dancing and singing are an intrinsic part of the programme and craft and imaginative exercises are used within our Junior programme and homework is set each week to consolidate this at home.

Suggested Structure for a One Hour Session
Hellos, Welcome and Introduction (10 min) – Music is playing as everyone arrives to set the right atmosphere. Welcome everyone to the class, ice breakers if a new class, getting to know everyone’s names. Welcome the class with a familiar hello song that is repeated every week and ideally uses all the children’s names and a hello wave (or sign). Introduce the topic or theme of the week and also set any expectations in the first few weeks for how the adults (and children) are expected to participate.

A Dance Together (5 min) – Social, fun and with some physical movements like bouncing, twirling, swings, into the middle and out. Good to have a simple dance routine that becomes familiar. Run this at the beginning of the class for little ones but later in the session for older ones (where is it good to stay calm and focussed near the beginning). Babies are carried around for dancing until they can walk confidently.

Cognitive & Concentration (10 min) – Three or four short cognitive, language-based games. Picture cards, signing, babbling or phoneme play. Other possibilities are a “treasure basket” or theme based craft activities for older ones. Encourage rich use of language and plenty of eye-contact and focus from parents. Round off this section with concentration practice like listening to a story or listening to music.

Physical & Music (10 min) – Songs with associated movements including rocking, swaying, bouncing, finger and toe songs or clapping songs, parts of the body songs, theme of the week songs. Songs should be repeated for several weeks for repetition and familiarity. Traditional nursery rhymes introduce the rhythm of language and are part of our cultural identity. Action songs and copy cats for toddlers and juniors. Songs with simple instruments like bells, drums, shakers for toddlers and juniors. Include “Tummy Time” every week for babies.

Specific Vestibular Movements for Infants & Toddlers or Theme Game for Toddler and Juniors (10 min) – vestibular work for Infants: spinning, upside down, swinging. For Toddlers and Juniors a game to reinforce a theme including colours, shapes, numbers, sensory (some props needed for this).

Sensory Activities (5 min) – parachute play or scrunchy play:  fun songs, visual stimulation, sensory stimulation. The peak of the class, exciting (bear in mind tiring for little ones). Games that promote sensory integration so therefore include sounds, sights, movements & touch combined or all at once. Best example is a brightly coloured parachute – brings everyone together, very stimulating and fun and takes teamwork.

Goodbyes & Calming (10 min) – Calm music, cuddles, bubbles. It is good to spend a little time calming down before the end. A familiar goodbye song repeated each week with waving and repetition of their name. Set some “homework” or ideas for things to do between classes A reminder of what has been covered that session, the topic, the sound or signs of the week. A chance for adults to ask questions and to give out any handouts or for the older children a sticker. Calm music as they leave.

Class Delivery Notes
Our classes are split into three age groups which correspond roughly with the development and physical capabilities of the children at different ages.

Infants 0-9 months – Babies who are on the whole pre-crawling, in close contact with parent throughout the class. The class is mainly delivered direct to the parent who is encouraged to concentrate as much as possible on their baby and to follow the class leaders example (the class leader demonstrates with a doll). Getting the perfect balance of stimulation (not over-stimulating or under-stimulating) is the challenge with this age group. We have a carefully planned balance of quiet and more exciting activities and help parents recognise the cues from their babies of over-stimulation so they can help their baby stay calm and engaged. We allow parents to feed, change nappies or have a walk about whenever they need to.
Toddlers 9-18 months – This age group is suitable for babies who are starting to explore up until confident walking. Still very dependent on engagement from the parent. The class leader engages mainly with the parents who need to be encouraged to help their children stay engaged using positive encouragement and proactivity whilst still allowing them the freedom to explore and start to develop a little bit of independence and confidence.
Juniors 18 month+ - Children are ideally walking confidently and starting to engage with the class leader directly (with support and encouragement of the parent). Shy children are gently encouraged and praised but participation is chosen and not coerced. This class works best if fun and play based with the learning along the way. We think more “children’s party” than “school”. Children are engaged and entertained so challenging behaviour in class is rare. We encourage parents to maintain their own focus in class, to join in everything themselves to set a good example and to try and pay attention to normal and desirable behaviour and to minimise attention for undesirable behaviour.

Peep Learning Together Programme https://www.peeple.org.uk

This organization also provides a good example of research-based early years programmes. Early years programmes are provided to families in different settings by trained educators. Established in the mid 1990s, the vision was “to transform a community by working with the students of the future by supporting their parents as first educators - and to do so from birth”.