Leadership programme

Teaching life skills in Early Years

Emily Thomas and Jane Baker

Why do we do it?

At Pinner Wood, we understand the importance of life skills and inclusion beyond academics. We value a holistic approach which develops the whole child and as part of our school ethos, we aim to encourage independent learners from the moment the children start school.

Over the past two years, the Early Years team at Pinner Wood have developed children’s independence by creating targeted life skills lessons, known as curricular goals. When the new EYFS framework was brought in in 2021, we understood the need to enhance the curriculum to meet the needs of our children. As well as this, we noticed an increase in the number of children coming to school without basic life skills, such as: washing their hands effectively, getting changed independently and recognising their surname.

Because of this, the team developed a progressive scheme which explicitly teaches vital life skills to develop the whole child through a holistic approach and gives teachers autonomy and the ability to adapt to meet the needs of their pupils.

What do we do?

Each half term, we focus on one curricular goal (life skill), which we link to a school value. This is a clear and achievable goal which the children will spend half a term working towards. For example; ‘children to be confident in getting dressed for an end of term production.’ The team meets on a regular basis to discuss the needs of the cohort and creates a new curricular goal based on the current concern, rather than previous goals in prior years. At the end of the year, the team reflects on the curricular goals taught, and discusses which milestones were effective in teaching the knowledge and skills needed to achieve the goal. As well as this, the EYFS and Year 1 teams meet at the beginning of the Autumn Term to reflect on which life skills have been successful when transitioning to the next year group. For example; Year 1 teachers commented on the need for more technology usage in Reception, as children were struggling to complete basic iPad skills. Whilst no longer a requirement in EYFS, the team understood the importance of preparing the children for Year 1 and that this was a life skill that was not being taught in enough depth at home.

How do we do it?

As previously mentioned, each half term focuses on a different curricular goal. These are then broken down into four milestones, and the steps are taught explicitly using teaching time. Often, each milestone (activity) is taught on a weekly basis. Teaching Assistants take ownership of the curricular goals by teaching and assessing each milestone. They then keep a record of this.

An example of children completing their milestone activities during teaching time.
Assessment tool used to track children’s progress in Nursery.

Triangle = fully met
Broken triangle = partially met
Line = not met

Child initiated activities are planned alongside explicit teaching, such as a dentist office in the role play area or washing and dressing babies in the water tray. These activities promote the importance of the skill and further encourage independence to complete it.

A child-initiated activity in Reception.
An adult-led activity in Nursery.

To maintain strong links with families, parents are notified of the curricular goal in the weekly newsletter and are given ideas for activities to do at home to support their child. This encourages communication and strong home-school links.

What impact have we seen?

Over the past two years, we have seen a real increase in children entering Key Stage 1 with increased confidence and independence. We know that our children leave EYFS with a bank of skills which enables them to be independent learners. In addition, from conversations with families, parents feel supported in knowing the basic life skills needed to be ‘school ready’ and the age-related expectations. We have also found that by regularly assessing these vital goals, children with poor gross or fine motor skills can be identified and given early support. We believe that by investing in independent skills in Early Years, we are improving the children’s life chances from the moment they start school. By enhancing the curriculum in this way, we are developing self-sufficient and resilient learners through a progressive scheme that is tailored to their needs.

Emily Thomas & Jane Baker, Pinner Wood School

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