The question of a curriculum for children up to the age of three has been controversial for a long time. Back in the 1960s, the seminal Plowden Report concluded that “the day nursery is the proper place for those children who have to be away from their homes before the age of three. An institution with a more directly educational aim is right for children of three and over.” But the same argument flared up from the opposite direction just over a year ago, when Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, sharply criticised “those who dislike the words ‘education’ and ‘teaching’ when it comes to very small children.”
To get away from this conflict, it has often been argued that it makes more sense to think of care and teaching as inseparable in the early years: children will always be learning whilst they are being cared for, and vice versa. For example, in the original CurriculumGuidance for the Foundation Stage it was stated that the curriculum should be thought of as “everything children do, see, hear or feel in their setting, both planned and unplanned”.
But I think that taking this point of view neglects the fact that there is a real controversy about the respective importance of having basic care and routines in place, and having an effective curriculum. As the New Zealand researcher Carmen Dalli has noted [PDF], to see the baby and toddler as a learner requires a fundamental shift in thinking on the part of early years practitioners. If we think of every interaction as being teaching, or every experience being the curriculum, then it can be difficult to reflect on that, or to focus on the absolutely fundamental care routines and approaches which must be securely in place for every child.
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