Blog from the Foundation Years team featured in the December 2020 edition of the Foundation Years newsletter.

As we reflect on the year, the National Children’s Bureau (NCB) would like to reiterate our heartfelt thanks to all of you working in early years for everything you have done to support and protect our country’s youngest children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The early years sector has been asked to dig deep like never before and your work to keep provision open has been immense. We know how tired you must be and how much uncertainty remains about the future.

Earlier this year, the Early Childhood Unit at NCB undertook a survey which found that 94% of settings said emotional health and wellbeing was their top priority for supporting under 5s in the autumn term. As a result, we worked with the Department for Education (DfE) to focus our most recent round of Learn – Explore – Debate events on putting wellbeing at the heart of early years practice.

At the events, officials from DfE joined us to express their thanks for everything you have done and are doing to keep children safe and support your colleagues during this difficult year. DfE also set out how the reforms to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) play a role in reducing practitioner and teacher workload, allowing for more time spent interacting with children and less time on excessive paperwork.

We then heard from Phil Minns HMI who shared early findings from Ofsted’s COVID-19 research, including how practitioners recognised children were ‘understandably disorientated’ as they returned to settings and the huge effort from settings to maintain high standards. Phil also reminded us that Ofsted won’t look at assessment and tracking on inspections and are happy to have a conversation with you about what you know about your children.

Introducing the main session, Gill Holden invited those working in early years to think about themselves with the simple question ‘what are you doing to take care of you?’. Debbie Garvey gave us an introduction to the neuroscience and provided a historical timeline of wellbeing in early childhood, putting theory into practice by exploring what children need. In a video case study, we heard from Marie Briggs about how she supports children’s wellbeing in her childminding setting by building strong, non-judgmental relationships with parents.

Debbie then spoke about how we support staff and explored what adults need, including the importance of play and learning from children. In our second case study, Lucy Pottinger told us how she supports staff wellbeing in her nursery which included an appearance from nursery empathy dog Frank!

Over 500 of you joined us at these events, coming together with colleagues across the country and officials from DfE and Ofsted to discuss practical ways to support the wellbeing of both children and staff. While we weren’t able to meet face-to-face, it was inspiring to connect with you all in the chat and breakout rooms and hear about the amazing work you have done and continue to do.

Thank you once again for all of your hard work this year. We hope you have a chance to rest over the festive period and we look forward to connecting with you in 2021.

Best wishes and Happy Holidays!

Foundation Years team, NCB