Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Early Years 2 year old Funding Debate

Two year olds are very special little people, vastly different in needs to under twos and three year olds. They are constantly busy, always on the go; rarely do they sit still, or not for very long anyway. There is so much learning going on in their little brains and bodies every minute of the day. They rarely walk anywhere and need very special experienced and trained practitioners to keep them busy, stimulated and safe but understand informed risk.  By the time they are close to three years old it is amazing how far they have come and how much they have learnt.

Two year olds brains are frantically wiring and they crave movement and activity; they get a lot of pleasure and satisfaction from moving and dumping items from one place to another or one container to another, they need to explore. Two year olds are beginning to learn language, sharing, turn taking, following an instruction, concentration and listening skills as well as the basic educational curriculum embedded in the early years foundation stage and development matters. All these areas of learning will happen in a spasmodic fashion and with differing timescales and experienced highly trained practitioners will be working hard focusing 0n supporting two year old children’s communication and language, physical and personal, social and emotional development.
Two year olds are unpredictable, erratic and naturally impulsive, this is because the area of their brain that is involved in planning and logical thought is far from developed.  Two year olds have a "see and do" attitude to the environment they are playing in. Asking a two year old not to touch or do something will generally have no effect as their impulsiveness will take over once an adult is out of sight.  Sitting for any length of time will be extremely challenging and is likely to result in frustration, wriggling, walking around and, in some cases, the odd problematic bite or pinch.

Two year olds need a room full of a wide variety of equipment and resources and the pace of the session needs to be notched up; waiting times needs to be minimal. There needs to be a quick turnaround of activities and practitioners need to offer high levels of support to help two year olds engage in a wide range of play. The outside classroom is particularly inviting for this age range so long as the outside space is busy, inviting and stimulating.
Two year olds social and emotional needs are still developing together with their understanding of their peers needs and feelings. During this year twos will learn how to share and play with each other through squabbles, negotiation and interacting with others. When twos touch and explore the world around them they are learning about shape, colour, texture, weight and text, all of which will assist in developing literacy and writing skills later on. in readiness for school. A safe secure environment with robust key person relationships and plenty of duplicate toys and resources will make for a fun enjoyable two year old working environment.

Two year olds need to run and jump; climb and roll; throw and catch; kick a ball and ride a trike. Large movements are essential for this age group and the key person and practitioners must also ensure a wide range of outside activities are readily available on a daily basis. This age need a free flow in/out environment more than ever to sate their brain growth and physical needs. Twos are also just beginning to learn independence skills which will go on to help develop positive confidence and self-esteem. Ensure there are varied opportunities for children to pour, use a fork and spoon, thread and do puzzles; sweep and clean the tables, help lay the table and carry items, to name just a few.  Challenging activities develop concentration skills, hand eye coordination and strengthen their muscles and fine motor development essential for later learning.
Two year olds classed as being in poverty are now offered 15 hours of government funding to the most deprived and with differing eligibility criteria as set by each local authority. Primarily places are offered to looked after children, adopted children, children with a disability or special educational need or households that qualify for free school meals. Other families that may be eligible are families receiving Working Tax Credit, Universal Credit and incomes not exceeding £16,199.

The two year old scheme brings with it many additional areas of challenge to settings due to the basis of the scheme and the deprived areas it is designed to support. Many children arrive in settings with additional needs or additional family needs, e.g. substance abuse, domestic violence, child protection issues and court orders. These additional needs can put huge pressure on settings and practitioners in a wide variety of ways, e.g. paperwork, support mechanisms, attending meetings and case conferences, writing reports, IEPs and liaising with outside agencies. It takes experiences managers and practitioners to have an in-depth understanding of some of these children/family needs together with correct, up-to-date and adequate training in areas such as Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, behaviour and social and emotional difficulties. Training is essential but often expensive; and sometimes not enough available locally in the evenings and weekends in order for practitioners to easily access. Practitioners cannot always be let out in the working day due to maintaining both staff and child ratios. On another level, paperwork to obtain Higher Needs Funding or a Statement of Educational Needs for many of these children is extensive and time consuming and requires high levels of expertise.
To be referred to the two year funding programme generally means there is an additional need of some kind, so it is imperative staff/child ratios remain high (1:4) for these wonderful but busy little people in order that they receive the high quality care, learning and development, social and emotional, communication and language and physical support that they need and deserve in order to flourish and grow in confidence and self-esteem and to aid their success in future years.

If twos are to be integrated into the formal school environment there must be an extensive training programme of expert lead practitioners in these new two year old classrooms in order to cope and deal with the complex additional needs that accompany many of the funded two year olds. Specialist and safe indoor and outdoor environments must be created that offer a high-quality, balanced and holistic curriculum with a deep understanding of each twos brain development and their additional need. Early years settings in the Private/ Voluntary/Independent (PVI) sectors have been working with these impulsive and active little bodies and their additional needs for many years and have become very experienced in satisfying their every need and creating expert and dedicated play and learning spaces that challenge and extend their successes.
The Department for Education (DfE), Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and schools would do well to ask some of us for our opinion and expertise in supporting twos transitioning to school settings, we have a wealth or knowledge and experience to offer.
Education Consultant, Early Years Specialist & Gifted & Talented Expert

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