Working with children under three: Old Station Nursery

Top tips for working with children under three

Fundamentally, practitioners need to know and understand how caring for young children and meeting their basic needs leads to creating the best conditions for learning. See our top tips for working with children under three.

In order for babies and toddlers to flourish, their essential physiological, safety and belonging needs must be met.

How can you create the ‘basic conditions for learning’?

  • Physiological: Offer regular nutritious meals and snacks, access to fresh drinking water, quiet and comfortable places to sleep or relax, suitable clothes for the environment
  • Safety: Ensure the indoor and outdoor environments and resources are risk-assessed, suitable and safe, and ensure the security of the premises. Provide emotional security and stringent child protection procedures
  • Love/belonging: Build genuine, trusting relationships with the child and their caregivers and provide opportunities for children to develop friendships. Recognise and accept each child as an individual so they develop a sense of belonging
  • Esteem: Respect and value children’s contributions celebrate with children, share their joy when they have achieved, offer sensitive support when needed and encourage positive dispositions, such as seeing difficulties as opportunities to try new ways.

Scaffolding learning

Just as scaffolding on a building supports it structurally while internal developments take place, others scaffold the development of babies and toddlers to help them secure their learning.

Methods for effectively scaffolding learning with babies and toddlers can take many forms, including:

  • Demonstrating: Showing in a practical way how something works or performs. This can be done alongside verbal instructions

For example: Babies learn from adults how to hold their bottle upright and begin to feed themselves; a practitioner saying, “Press here” on a pop-up toy so toddlers learn how to use equipment, independently pressing the button

  • Commenting: Providing verbal remarks or descriptions during interactions to help children link words with actions

For example: “Ah, you want to stand up? Come on then, 1,2,3, up we go”, “Wow, you’re running very fast Scarlett”

  • Questioning: Asking open-ended questions to support thinking and problem-solving

For example: “That’s a great way of doing it. Are there any other ways you could try?”

  • Encouraging: Giving reassurance and promoting confidence through verbal and non-verbal communication

For example: Smiling and saying, “I can see how hard you are trying, keep going”

  • Learning from peers: Groups of children of different ages and abilities playing alongside each other and working together learning from each other

For example: Younger toddlers observe how older toddlers use resources then copy their actions

  • Suggesting: Hinting, prompting or putting forward something for consideration either verbally or non-verbally, without giving the solution.

For example: Pointing at or suggesting, “I wonder what would happen if you used that one?”

Lifelong learning

Characteristics for lifelong learning help all of us to learn and develop throughout our lives. Without these characteristics, we may struggle to achieve what we set out to do, give up at the first hurdle or be unable to cope with change.

How can you promote characteristics of lifelong learning in babies and toddlers?

  • Plan first-hand experiences with a range of exciting and stimulating resources
  • Introduce new and interesting opportunities to spark curiosity
  • Be curious and explore ideas together
  • Encourage children to explore and try new experiences such as tasting new foods or safely touching an animal
  • Provide time to explore, think, discover and listen to children’s ideas
  • Help children as needed without taking over (scaffolding)
  • Encourage children to keep trying and if things go wrong, celebrate that they have had a go and then encourage them to start again or try a different way
  • Show children what you do when things go wrong, modelling persistence, resilience and critical thinking
  • Support children to see the importance of the whole process not just the end product.

Want to know more about effective pedagogy?

You can learn what ‘effective pedagogy’ looks like when working with babies and toddlers in our ‘Your Essential Guide to Working with Children Under Three’.

Our brand-new book is a treasure trove of insights and practical strategies to equip you to provide high quality education and care for babies and toddlers.

This book will support and inspire practitioners working with young children, using practice-based research and examples for best practice and confident pedagogy.

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