All about early years: people, places and practicalities

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    Wednesday, 16 September, 2015 - 16:02

This section aims to help musicians and early years practitioners understand the background and context for planning music experiences with children.

Click on the dots for more information.

Waypointwaypoint/eyfs-and-learning-early-yearsEYFS and learning in the early years672.0583.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/childrens-centresChildren's centres270.0284.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/nursery-classes-nursery-schools-and-day-nurseriesNursery classes, nursery schools and day nurseries229.0421.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/pre-school-playgroupsPre-school playgroups222.0560.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/stay-and-playsStay and plays193.0728.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/daily-routinesDaily routines762.01055.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/early-years-professional-rolesEarly Years professional roles725.0394.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/early-years-approachesEarly years approaches674.0712.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/reggio-emiliaReggio Emilia789.0725.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/te-whārikiTe Whāriki788.0769.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/engaging-parents-partnersEngaging the parents as partners232.01084.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/when-parents-are-not-presentWhen parents are not present737.01135.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/setting-where-parents-are-presentIn setting where parents are present76.01140.0""#0000002
Waypointwaypoint/go-back-20Go back3.510.2""#0000002

This section aims to help musicians and early years practitioners understand the background and context for planning music experiences with children.

Click on the dots for more information.

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Understanding of how babies and very young children think and learn is continually growing, and government policy and guidance for practitioners working with children from birth to five is changing to reflect these developments. The Childcare Act, 2006 raises the status of services for children and their families, in recognition of the critical importance of the earliest years. It introduced a new quality framework, the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS), which established a single, coherent phase for children from birth to five that became statutory in early years education from 2008. The EYFS built on the two previous documents providing guidance for working with this age range, Birth to Three Matters and the Curriculum Guidance for the Foundation Stage as well as other expertise.  A new updated EYFS will be launched in March 2012 coming into effect from September 2012.

EYFS and learning in the early years

This section will be updated shortly, to reflect the revised EYFS, in operation since Autumn 2012.

The Early Years Foundation Stage (2012) provides a flexible framework that puts the child firmly at the heart of practice, using observational assessment to tune into children’s individual strengths, interests and preferences in order to plan experiences that support their learning and development at a pace that's right for them.

Further information on the revised EYFS will follow soon, including effective practice, learning and teaching, the importance of play and creativity, and music in the curriculum.


Children's centres

Children’s centres are places where children under 5 years old and their families can access holistic integrated services and information, provided by multi-disciplinary teams of professionals. Children’s centres and built on initiatives such as Sure Start Local Programmes, Neighbourhood Nurseries and Early Excellence Centres, and bring integrated early years services to communities.

Nursery classes, nursery schools and day nurseries

Nursery classes, nursery schools and day nurseries fall into three groups: state, voluntary and private.  Most day nurseries are privately run. The qualifications of staff can vary widely in these three groups though in maintained nursery schools and classes there must be a qualified teacher, and in the others, a qualified nursery staff member. 

Most nurseries:

  • take children between the ages of three and five, although many day nurseries take younger children.
  • are open throughout the school year, although some private day nurseries open during the school holidays.
  • operate a core day of 9.00 am to 3.30 pm, although many nurseries offer longer days.
  • some nurseries offer part-time or full-time places depending on needs.

Pre-school playgroups

Pre-school playgroups are often non-profit-making. They may be staffed by volunteers, often including parents.

Most playgroups:

  • take children between the ages of three and five, although some will take two year olds.
  • are open throughout the school year.
  • usually offer half-day sessions and are not always open all week.
  • provide places for between 10 to 20 children – there must be one adult for every eight children, and at least half of the adults must be qualified leaders or assistants.

Stay and plays

Stay and Plays

  • are for children between the ages of birth to five years.  Children are always accompanied by their parents, guardian, relative, or childminder.
  • are open throughout the schools year.
  • offer half day sessions often two mornings a week.
  • usually have between 10 and 20 children present.
  • are led by  qualified early years practitioners.
  • may be attached to children’s centres.


Childminders provide home-based childcare, usually for working or student parents. They primarily work with babies and children under five, but it is also common for childminders to look after older children before and after school and during the holidays. It is compulsory for all childminders to meet a set of national standards and to be registered by Ofsted.

Daily routines

Every nursery will have a different routine so a first priority should be to familiarise yourself with the structure of the session or the day. Some children will be full time and some part-time. Part-time might mean just mornings or just afternoons or it could mean a certain number of days each week. In many nurseries you can expect the session to start with the children gathered together in groups of 10-15 led by an early years practitioner who is either a teacher, a nursery officer or a teaching assistant. This is often a time for taking the register and also for the early years practitioner to let the children know what learning opportunities there are in the nursery that day and help the children plan what they might do and with whom. The day will proceed with a mixture of focussed group time or free flow time. 

In the free flow time, children either will be involved in their own initiated play or might take part in a small group-focussed activity led by an early years practitioner.  Resources for music will vary enormously from amazingly equipped music trolleys and outside musical instruments to a box of toy instruments. Some will allow children free access to some or all of these instruments whereas others may not. As at the beginning of the morning or afternoon the session may finish with the children coming back together in their groups where they might sing songs, read a story or share what they have done that day.

The children will have a snack at some point during the morning and afternoon. In some settings this will be done happen at group time and in other settings the children will be able to help themselves in their own time.

Early Years professional roles

Within early years there are many different professional roles. This is particularly apparent in children’s centres where multi-disciplinary teams are brought together. Below are most of the professionals you would meet in an early years setting.

Head of children’s centre
Head teacher
Centre manager
Teaching assistant
Nursery officer
Senior nursery officer
Family worker
Special needs support (SENCO)
Social worker
Educational psychologist
Other – cooks, caretakers


The HighScope programme was created in the USA in the 1960s by David Weikart and others in an attempt to address the poor academic performance of children from disadvantaged areas, in particular, to improve literacy and numeracy. It is directly based on Piagetian ideas of children’s cognitive development. Teaching and learning is based on a sequence known as ‘plan, do , review’ in which children plan what they want to do (often in small, teacher assisted groups), then implement their plans and finally review what happened as a result.

Early years approaches

Alongside the EYFS musicians might encounter different approaches (often imported from abroad) to learning in the early years settings they visit. Behind each of the approaches are different philosophies and models of the child as a learner. It is useful to be aware of these approaches and think how they might influence your approach to music in the early years. The reality is often a hybrid of different approaches. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive list. For more detailed summary visit or take a look at Glenda MacNaughton’s excellent book Shaping Early Childhood. As you read the following descriptions and other information you might find it useful to reflect on these questions.

  • What image of the child and model of learner does the approach have?
  • What image of the educator does this approach have?
  • What does this approach look like in practice?
  • What, if anything, does this approach have to say about music?
  • How is this approach being applied in relation to music in your early years setting?
  • How does this approach fit with your early years music practice?
  • What might musical development look like in this approach?

Reggio Emilia

Reggio Emilia is a city in northern Italy is recognised worldwide for its innovative approach to education. Its educational philosophy known as the Reggio Emilia Approach, was started by Loris Malaguzzi and the parents of the villages around Reggio Emilia in Italy after World War II. It is a socio-constructivist model influenced by the theory of Lev Vygotsky and others, which states that children co-construct their theories and knowledge through the relationships that they build with other people and the surrounding environment. It promotes an image of the child as a strong, capable protagonist in his or her own learning, and, importantly, as a subject of rights. It is an approach where the expressive arts play a central role in learning and where a unique reciprocal learning relationship exists between teacher and child. Much attention is given to detailed observation and documentation of, and reflection on learning process takes priority over the final product. Parents are viewed as partners, collaborators and advocates for their children. Teachers respect parents as each child's first teacher and involve parents in every aspect of the curriculum. Click here for more information on Reggio Emilia.


Montessori education is an educational approach developed by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori in the late 19th/early 20th Century. The approach emphasises the children’s natural learning abilities and suggests that educators should support and aid this rather than trying to force its direction in one way.  A large part of the role of the educator is to provide the right environment for learning with careful attention given to the materials and resources, the idea being that the child learns concepts through a  ‘discovery’ model, where they learn concepts from working with materials, rather than by direct instruction. Montessori and her collaborators also developed specialised educational materials.

Te Whāriki

Te Whāriki is the curriculum framework used by most New Zealand early childhood services to guide children’s learning opportunities. It aspires for children to grow up as competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body, and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society. The literal meaning of Te Whāriki is ‘the woven mat’, the idea being that the curriculum’s principles and strands weave a learning programme for the child. Te Whāriki’s four broad principles are: empowerment, holistic development, family and community and relationships, interwoven with these learning strands: wellbeing, contribution, belonging, communication and exploration.

Engaging the parents as partners

‘In those groups that have included parents as a regular part of the session the musical and social development of the children was more sustained and coherent for each child than for those who have not had the same intense level of parental involvement.’
Turning their ears on….keeping their ears open – Summary Youth Music research project (2005)

‘Parents are children’s first and most enduring educators. When parents and practitioners work together in early years settings, the results have a positive impact on the child’s development and learning. Therefore, each setting should seek to develop an effective partnership with parents.’
Foundation Stage Curriculum Guidance (2000)

‘There were more intellectual gains for children in centres that encouraged high levels of parent engagement in their children’s learning. The most effective settings shared child-related information between parents and staff, and parents were often involved in decision-making about their child’s learning programme. More particularly, children did better where the centre shared its educational aims with parents.’
EPPE project

‘In the One-to-One sessions there was no expectation of participation on the part of the mothers, nor were the activities excessively animated or ‘playful’.  We avoided play songs that had over stylised actions. The focus was on the babies and on quite simple activities to interact with them. Several activities require the babies to cooperate – swinging hammocks for example – so that taking part was clearly defined and they were not doing it alone. The practitioners, while guiding the sessions, remained ‘low key’ and tried to pick up on the tone and feel from the group. The Music One-to-One practitioners made a clear demarcation between speaking to mothers in an ‘adult-directed’ style and speaking ‘as if’ to the babies…the priority was to bring out the parents’ ideas…making this a comfortable place to be was important.  We also recognised and acknowledged that the sessions were meeting other needs as well – for social contact with others, to get out of the house, to share anxieties about baby care – that for many the music session was simply the activity that brought them there and was, in many respects secondary.’
Music One to One Report

Encouraging parents to become partners in your project
General suggestions

  • Display documentation of music sessions on walls where the parents will be able to see it, including photos, reflections from musicians, practitioners and children and  questions.
  • Compile CDs of children’s music-making to be taken home.
  • Invite the children and parents to bring CDs from home. This way individual cultures and musical preferences can be brought into the setting and shared with others helping to build understanding and respect.

When parents are not present

In settings where parents are not present:

  • Screen videos and photo slide shows of music sessions on electronic whiteboards.

‘Iqbal is sitting at the whiteboard with a group of friends. He has located the folder on the computer which holds the photos and videos of the music session he took part in the previous day and is busy telling his friends what he has been doing. It is the end of the school day and his mother has come to collect him. Excitedly he brings his mother over to show her. Later on, the practitioner involved in the project has a conversation with Iqbal’s mother in which she reveals that she has now bought some instruments for Iqbal to play at home.’

  • Invite parents to join particular music sessions.
  • Provide opportunities for parents to share information about children’s musicality and musical experiences outside the setting.

‘Some early years settings will have journals which go between the setting and home. Both practitioners and parents contribute to it. Messages and questions about a child’s music- making could be included.’

  • Share ideas parents can try out at home.

‘A whistle fascinates Calum in the music session. After the session, the practitioner suggests that in the story sack he takes home he takes a story about a boy and a whistle. The storybook is accompanied by a selection of whistles.’

In setting where parents are present

In settings where parents are present:

  • Provide comfortable seating for parents near to where the music activity is taking place.
  • Invite parents to contribute songs from their own cultural heritage.
  • Run parent-only music sessions.
  • Understand that some parents may find the ‘playmate’ role one they are not used to adopting and may feel that it is childish or inappropriate (the Music One 2 One report suggests that this is sometimes the case).
  • Empower parents and demystify the expert and music-making (Stay and Plays and other informal settings)

Playing musically with children is often about ‘tuning in’, something which parents are ideally equipped to do, as they know their children better than anyone else does. Musical play is often an extension of pre-verbal conversation parents already have with their children. They may however be inhibited by the presence of an ‘expert’, worried about the musician’s expectations and when they see their children using what may be perceived as very expensive instruments they might be extra nervous. They will often want their child to get it right because the musician is watching or might put beaters into their children’s hands to get them to ‘perform’. In these situations rather than telling the parent what (s)he should be doing, reassure, talk out loud about what you doing and the ways in which you are responding, point out interesting musical things their children are doing with or without adult intervention, and gently find a way of saying the child will find its own way and just needs time.

  • Work to hand back ownership to the group (Stay and Plays and other informal settings)

Sometimes it is good to remember that this is the parents’ space as much as the children’s and they may not have invited the musician or the project. Handled well, parents will take ownership of it. This way the project and music-making will sustain themselves past the duration of the project.

  • Invite and use contributions from parents (Stay and Plays and other informal settings)
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