From the moment we are born, we are constantly learning about ourselves and the world around us. The first five years of our lives (before we go to school) are arguably the most important period for our education and development. If our active minds are nurtured in safe and structured ways, we can get off to a flying start.
Pre-school and early years education can also help make the difficult transition into compulsory education much easier. Consequently, a range of careers are available in this area of education.
What does early years education involve?
If you pursue a career in early years education, you are not going to be teaching toddlers about trigonometry or the intricacies of Shakespeare’s tragedies. This area of education is all about helping young children to develop and learn through ‘play’.
The people who work in this area genuinely love working with children and play an integral role in helping them develop through fun activities.
You’ll laugh, you’ll smile, and your day might be just as fun for you as it is for the children. Furthermore, you will have the immense satisfaction of seeing children develop skills and knowledge that they will use throughout their entire lives.
The Department of Education has implemented something called the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework, which defines six different areas of learning that the education of pre-school children should focus on. These are:
- Personal, social and emotional development
- Communication, language and literacy
- Problem solving, reasoning and numeracy
- Knowledge and understanding of the world
- Physical development
- Creative development.
Careers in this area of education are therefore truly varied and concentrate on developing the actual person, rather than specific academic knowledge.
The compulsory school age for children in the UK is not until the first term after their fifth birthday. However, every three- and four-year-old is entitled to a certain amount of free nursery education every year.
This free education can be provided in nurseries, kindergartens, playgroups, pre-schools, reception classes and by childminders. Consequently, any early years education before the age of three tends to take place in private institutions.
People who pursue careers in this area need to have the right kind of personality and skills. Understandably, you have to be energetic, enthusiastic, confident and imaginative. Looking after a number of different children at the same time can be hectic, and communicating with them on their level can be challenging.
Therefore, you will need great patience and communication skills. Understandably, early years educators have a lot more interaction with children’s parents than other teachers do, and so they will need to have the ability to interact with them in a professional and reassuring manner.
Careers in this area are open to people with all kinds of academic backgrounds. Personality, communication skills, passion and a DSB (Disclosure and Barring Service, previously called CRB, or Criminal Records Bureau) security clearance are the only essential requirements.
However, to work as a teacher in a government-run reception class or nursery, you will need Qualified Teacher Status (QTS).
What can I do within early years education?
Careers within nurseries can vary greatly depending on the size and type of institution you work in: some might be small, private centres with only 20 or so children, whilst other larger, public institutions might be attended by over 100 kids. They might be run by private companies, community organisations, or be linked to a school.
Nursery work can involve dealing with children of all ages, from babies and toddlers, to older pre-school children. You might start your career as a nursery assistant without any qualifications, but you will need to train on the job and study for a level three qualification (i.e. an NVQ or BTEC), to allow you to progress and becomes a qualified nursery worker.
From here, you might even be able to progress into supervisory and managerial roles.
Working in playgroups can be immensely fun. These community-run organisations are for children aged between two- and five-years-old and tend to be run by groups of carers and parents.
Both men and women can explore a career as a play leader – these guys lead the play and education activities at a play group. They will need at least a level three qualification (i.e. an NVQ or BTEC), and most assistant positions are filled by parent volunteers.
Teaching a reception class has a lot more in common with primary education than other early years education careers. Firstly, most reception classes are actually part of primary schools. Despite the fact that this level of education is still focused on early learning and development, you will have to do a lot of lesson planning and preparation.
You will have to be creative and imaginative, but also be able to resist the temptation to give into children when they don’t perform at the right level (even if they are very young and cute!).
Setting high behavioural and learning standards is integral to helping a child develop appropriately throughout their education. To teach in a reception class, you will need to be a fully qualified teacher.
Childminders work in their own homes and run their own business. These people look after other people’s children in a safe environment and enhance their learning and development. They then charge a fee for their services.
For legal reasons, people who pursue these careers have to be registered with Ofsted. The minimum age of a childminder is 18. In order to work in this area, these guys must have passed the first module of the Home Based Childcare Diploma, and have an official paediatric first aid certificate.
A career as a nanny is very similar to that of a childminder. However, these people tend to care for babies and much younger children. They also work in the home of the child/children they are looking after.
Sometimes, they might even live with the family that employs them. No specific academic qualifications are needed, but some employers might require you to have a relevant childcare qualification (preferably to an NVQ or BTEC level).
As you can see, there are plenty of occupations available for people who want to work with children. If you want to be a big influence in a child’s development and put them on the right track to mental and social maturity, there’s probably a you-shaped place in this sector!