Supporting the Specific Areas
By Stacy Mann
Published July 2021
With the revised Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework being implemented in September 2021, it is important that as a workforce, we reflect on our provision. The specific areas are of no exception. As we are aware, the prime areas are important in building a foundation for learning and the specific areas are where the prime areas are strengthened and applied. We can use specific areas to support holistic development.
The overarching principles are of paramount importance when developing your curriculum and the provision for the children in your care. The first three principles will be unique to your setting and therefore can be used as the foundation to build learning and development for the children moving forwards.
So, firstly, a unique child-the children in your care will be from different backgrounds, be of mixed abilities and be unique! Getting to know the children and finding out their unique ways of learning will support in the planning.
The positive relationships that are surrounding the children will then be a focus for establishing and maintaining. You are key person to the whole family, not just the child. The other relationships will also be of importance, the professional relationships of the team and when liaising with other professionals.
And then, your environment, what does that look and feel like? Is it being used to the potential of the setting and can it be adapted to ensure a quality provision?
It is when we have a sound understanding of these elements, that we can work on the production of and reviewing of the curriculum.
Your curriculum is designed by you with the children as the inspiration. The Early Years Statutory Framework underpins this curriculum and the supporting guidance will aid the structure and details. It is important for this to be a child centred approach and to ensure that it is both meaningful and purposeful when caring and educating the children and families. It should also be a working document that builds, changes, and reflects the needs of the children. To maintain a broad, brave, and bold curriculum, the adults must reflect and take action.
The supporting documents available in both Birth to 5 Matters and Development Matters hold the specific areas in high regard and give lots of advice and guidance in the implementation of the areas of learning. We must ensure that this is holistic, all the areas interlinked, and we can treat them in this way, paying attention to the Prime Areas in the first three years. The following links are helpful in giving ideas and guidance to planning the specific areas:
The specific areas have changed in terms of Early Learning Goals which are not required to be assessed until the end of the reception year.
When observing, assessing and planning for the children I cannot stress enough; we are meeting children where they are and not where the Early Learning Goals say the children should be. We are not getting a baby ready to be 2 or a 2-year-old ready to be 4, meet them where they are and challenge within their age appropriate development stages and their interests. Motivation for learning is innate from birth, it is our job to nurture that, not destroy it.
‘It is crucial for children to develop a life-long love of reading’
Development Matters (2020)
Literacy is more than likely embedded within the routine of the day-reading stories, interacting with the children, mark making and so on. To plan and provide for the children with intention surrounding literacy may need to go a little deeper. Consider the environment of the setting and how it is designed to enhance literacy skills, the liaison and support given to parents surrounding the quality interactions at home and the power of reading together, the resources available to excite and ignite the reading interest of all of the children and the reflection of your own communication skills when reading, singing or interacting with the children. Just a few reflective questions can support this:
How long do I spend speaking to the children in a meaningful way?
Would I want to listen to this story? How can I make it more interesting?
How does the language I use with the children promote improved literacy?
Understanding the world provides a powerful, meaningful context for learning across the curriculum’
Birth to 5 Matters (2021)
Understanding of the world is a broad term and encompasses everything that we do in Early Years to teach the children about the world around them. A sense of curiosity can be engaged within this specific area and it will be promoted and enhanced in all areas of the curriculum. Consider how social mobility is embraced within the setting and how this can be built on. First-hand involvement is key such as caring for the natural world and the community around us.
An example of this for a birth to three-year-old, would-be open-ended play with treasure baskets, looking for worms and noticing people’s differences, to name a few. A 3 or 4-year-old might show in an interest in different occupations or want to explore how things work.
‘Plenty of time is required for children to revisit, develop and make sense for themselves’
Birth to 5 Matters (2021)
When we stand back and look at the bigger picture, we will find that we use Maths in our everyday experiences. How many times have you travelled up a staircase and counted the steps on the way? Or used mathematical language when asking a child to get something for you? For example: It is under the chair. Sometimes we overcomplicate the simple steps that it takes to support children with Maths, yes the lovely, well thought out activities provided are wonderful and the children certainly enjoy them most of the time, however, we sometimes underestimate the power of repetition and how this is fundamental for children to develop. We may sing ‘three little speckled frogs’ or ‘12345, once I caught a fish alive’ a thousand times and the children will still engage with the melodic tone. Maintaining our enthusiasm is the key here to keep children motivated, it may feel monotonous to us, but the child is listening and valuing the mathematical language and carrying that into their play.
Expressive Art and Design
‘The frequency, repetition and depth of their experiences are fundamental to their progress in interpreting and appreciating what they hear, respond to and observe’
Development Matters (2020)
In Early Years, we historically enjoy creative experiences and the expressive art and design specific area gives plenty of opportunity for this. We value process over product, and it is important to be aligned with this in your practice. There are many adults that have stories to tell about a time as a child when their expressive arts and/or design was criticised, it is our responsibility to ensure that this does not happen. Praise for effort and involvement, the child is creating something that is unique to them, they are exploring their imagination, critical thinking, and experimentation. One of the most holistic development spaces is within Expressive Arts and Design. Emotions can be expressed, language is used and enhanced, fine motor skills developed, gross motor skills developed, and many more areas are practiced. Remembering that Expressive Arts and Design has a wide ranged of media and materials included.
The seven areas of learning and development are all important and link together ensuring an holistic experience for the children.
Playing in the mud kitchen:
CL-speaking to other children, using a range of vocabulary, listening to the conversations.
P-fine motor skills manipulating the malleable textures.
PSED-expressing self, having freedom to explore, socialising with peers.
EAD-making and creating with mud, herbs, and other items.
UW-Recreating kitchen experiences, focussing on what they know.
L-Enhancements of making recipe books to include in the mud kitchen, telling stories about what you are making.
M-Using different ratios, measuring, counting, filling, and emptying.
Of course, this is not extensive, but just from this simple exercise we can see how one small activity/experience can provide learning in all the areas-both prime and specific. This can be enhanced with different items to include herbs, recipe books, different utensils etc, or it can simply be enhanced by the children and their curiosity. Repetition is good. We can ensure that the children have opportunities to revisit and learn something new every time.
When it comes to planning for the specific areas, there are some key points to remember:
Holistic development is rich in purpose and meaning
Let the children lead the way
Use the guidance that is provided to support the framework
Make it interesting and exciting
Listen to the children and become attuned to their needs
Reflect and develop your quality interactions with the children
Discuss as a team the ethos and pedagogy of the setting
In the moment, discussed by the people who are attuned with their development and who have a great knowledge of both the child and child development.
Planning is about observing the child, assessing what these observations tell us and then providing experiences and opportunities within play, continuous provision, and the environment.
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