Theme: Enabling Environments
This content is based upon the third of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) themes, as digested on the EYFS: Principles into practice (PDF-170 KB) Attachments card. The principle of the ‘Enabling Environments’ theme is that environment plays a key role in supporting and extending children’s development and learning.
This theme contains four commitments to be met for children:
- 3.1 Observation, assessment and planning: Babies and children are individuals first, each with a unique profile of abilities. Schedules and routines should flow with the child's needs. All planning starts with observing children in order to understand and consider their current interests, development and learning.
- 3.2 Supporting Every Child: The environment supports every child's learning through planned experiences and activities that are challenging but achievable.
- 3.3 The Learning Environment: A rich and varied environment supports children's learning and development. It gives them confidence to explore and learn in secure and safe, yet challenging, indoor and outdoor spaces.
- 3.4 The Wider Context: Working in partnership with other settings, other professionals and with individuals and groups in the community supports children's development and progress towards the outcomes of Every Child Matters being healthy, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and achieving economic well-being.
- Effective practice
Whether or not you share the family's language when you become the key worker for a child learning English as an additional language (EAL) you will become an important language role model for that child and, perhaps, the family.
If you share the family's home language you are uniquely placed to have an overview of the child's bilingual development and you will need to discuss with parents which language will be used, by whom and when. Children need a consistent approach, it is better for adults to use one language at a time rather than try to operate in both at once; this is likely to be confusing.
Recognise a child's language development and routines
If you are caring for a baby you have a fascinating journey to share; those early words will take on a special significance as you and the family observe and discuss developments together, sharing progress at home and in the setting, and carefully planning next steps together.
It is important to find out about a young child's abilities in their home language when they first come to your setting so that you can build on their prior learning. Do you know which language they hear or speak, with whom and in what context? For example, they may hear and/or use their home language or dialect with older relatives, English with siblings or from TV, another formal or standard language for TV and perhaps another for worship.
Understanding young children's daily routines, particularly around meal times, toileting and sleep are essential in order to meet individual needs. Parents are almost always ready to discuss what is best for their children and will therefore appreciate your interest.
Considering children's environment
The physical learning environment should give all children the opportunity to make independent choices; this will enable you to observe what interests a child has and begin to develop the language which will support those activities.
The physical environment should also include play and learning resources that positively reflect the children's cultural and linguistic identity and experiences; for example books, posters, labels, role-play equipment including community language newspapers and food packets, displaying a variety of scripts to support language awareness.
Opportunities to play outside are often particularly beneficial as most children tend to be less inhibited in their language use in an outdoor environment. Practitioner observations have shown that children commonly make at least five times as many utterances outdoors as they do inside. This has clear implications for ensuring that the potential for outdoor spaces as learning environments is maximised.
- Challenges and dilemmas
Refer to the Challenges and dilemmas on the EYFS: Principles into practice (PDF-170 KB) Attachments card for 'Enabling Environments' and consider these in light of working with children and families for whom English is an additional language.
A wide range of challenges and dilemmas are posed when teaching children EAL, including:
- ensuring your setting really does say 'welcome' to one and all
- building bridges where misunderstandings have arisen because of difficulties in communication
- having a professional dialogue about the potentially emotive issues surrounding children and families who speak languages other than English at home
- ensuring that children learning EAL understand routines and know what they can access independently and when to seek adult support.
- Reflecting on practice
Refer to the Reflecting on practice notes on the EYFS: Principles into practice (PDF-170 KB) Attachments cards for 'Enabling Environments' and consider these in light of working with children and families for whom English is an additional language.
How would you and your colleagues answer the following questions about your provision?
- Have we created a learning environment where linguistic and cultural diversity are visibly celebrated?
- Do we record cultural and religious information at admission, including customs, and are we sensitive about diet, festivals, worship, etc.?
- Do we actively seek to inform ourselves about the languages, culture and circumstances of the families we work with?
- Have we thought about what additional support EAL learners may need in order to access routines, activities and equipment?
- Do we have a common understanding about EAL development with our partner agencies, particularly health, including speech and language therapists and health visitors?
- Do we work with partners in adult and family learning to signpost or provide opportunities for parents to learn or improve their English skills? This enables parents to access resources and participate more fully in the wider community as well as their child's learning journey.