A Nursery Practitioners Guide to Development Matters (with free resource!)


nursery practitioner with children reading

Across the board, the Development Matters framework is available to support and guide nursery practitioners, together with the statutory Early Years Foundation Stage framework (EYFS).

Both frameworks are put into practice so you can ensure the learning environment and opportunities you are providing for children aged 0-5 are the best they can be.

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A child’s early learning experience is shaped by the opportunities they are offered and the environment they are provided with. Children should be exposed to a wide range of activities and situations that enable effective learning and progression to benefit their future.

Whether this is extra focus on children getting involved in different types of play, or more work on language development, all children should be given equal access to the best learning opportunities!

To stay up to date with these high standards, it’s recommended that the Development Matters framework is used alongside the EYFS.

In this post, we’re going to provide you with the complete guide to Development Matters, and how you can incorporate these practices into your own teaching.

What is Development Matters?

Development Matters is the non-statutory guidance that supports the EYFS framework used to ensure consistent, high standards of learning for children aged 0-5.

This guidance particularly focuses on giving a high-level view of the development and learning of children, offering you the resources to set every child up for a successful future.

The idea is that children’s outcome at 5 should be boosted by the use of both statutory and non-compulsory guidance as different children require different settings and activities.

Language and communication however, are key for all children at this stage of life, focusing on building up these skills prepares children for their next step in the world of education.

Therefore, there is an emphasis on in-depth learning in these areas when children are transitioning from one band of learning to the next. This ensures that you are not rushing children through stages and allows the opportunity for young ones to ask questions and reach out for support along the way. This further encourages children to use the communication skills they are building upon at this stage in life.

Development Matters can be referred to especially regarding disadvantaged children or children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) to avoid neglecting them and failing to provide them the correct support.

What is EYFS?

Introduced in 2008, the Early Years Foundation Stage framework sets the standards for the learning and development of children aged 0-5. This framework ensures consistency and quality, and ensures the health and safety of children in early learning settings.

This is essential in the earlier years of a child’s life as they learn through games and play in a variety areas such as literacy, mathematics, physical development, and communication in a safe environment.

There are 4 main principles which ensure that all children’s needs are catered for and shape early years teaching and learning:

  • Every child is unique – All children and young people are different, and therefore learn in multiple ways. Nursery practitioners need to recognise the differences between each child and provide them with the right environment.
  • Enabling environments – Nursery practitioners need to create learning experiences for all children to encourage different types of play and ways of learning. This mixture of techniques gives children their own sense of freedom as they can experience the opportunity to work on their own skills.
  • Positive relationships – It’s important to encourage children to build up their own independence so that they can come up with their own ideas and make decisions. This leads to positive relationships as children have already exercised their ability to make up their own minds.
  • Learning and development – All children learn best when they are allowed to go at their own pace and can engage with activities that involve creativity, active learning, and exploring. The learning environment should provide multiple opportunities for children to trial out what they enjoy.

child painting

Who is the Development Matters Framework for?

The Development Matters framework is for early years practitioners such as nursery school staff, childminders, nursery and reception staff, and also parents to use in addition to EYFS.

This is to ensure that across the board, there is consistency in the way early years are being taught and all children are being offered the same opportunities.

This is useful for parents as they can use examples of skills outlined in the guidance, such as incorporating more outdoor play with friends to encourage children to work together.

As a nursery practitioner, it’s part of your job to ensure that parents are working with you to provide the best education for the children you care for.

This not only involves the care they receive at nursery, but also extends to their home life to ensure they are being supported in the right way.

Development Matters is useful for guaranteeing that, if aspects of a child’s learning aren’t being encouraged at home, you can be flexible with your nursery curriculum plan to allow time to fill in the gaps at nursery.

Essentially this framework provides extra emphasis on what is most important for a child’s learning such as time and care, a structured curriculum, parent-practitioner partnership, and how you can help children learn.

These make up some of the 7 key features of effective practice that we will explore below.

What Age Does the Development Matters Framework Apply to?

In all early learning settings, children aged 0-5 are in an important stage of discovery and development.

By applying this detailed framework to the learning of young children, you are helping them to foster a love of learning from an early age by catering to their individual needs.

Every child is different and requires support in different ways.

For one child this may be in the form of allowing their learning to be centred around their own interests before introducing new topics that may be daunting or confusing. However, for another child this may include your involvement in their play in order to demonstrate how to share or play nicely with others.

This is why effective practice needs to be adhered to in order to provide the right setting for every child.

teacher and child writing

7 Key Features of Effective Practice

1. The Best for Every Child

All children from all backgrounds deserve the same opportunities as one another.

It is important to recognise that high-quality education in the early years of every child is essential for continued progress in learning and development throughout their lives.

Education and care is inclusive and therefore children from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who have gone through difficult experiences, should not be neglected.

For children who may require extra support, or children with SEND, it is important that this is highlighted as soon as possible.

This way, learning can be catered towards children with their specific needs in mind, whether this is a greater focus on language and communication, or increased group work opportunities.

With an increase of variety, children are free to develop at their own pace.

2. High-Quality Care

Consistent care should be provided at all times within pre-school settings as children need love and care in order to progress in their learning and development.

This care comes in the form of responding to a child’s needs, for example when transitioning between different early years stages, as this may cause upset or confusion for toddlers and young ones.

Therefore, making children comfortable with change by encouraging them to join in on a new type of play, prepares them for bigger future transitions.

Providing care at a high-quality standard, allows children to know they are supported while they experience new parts of the learning world and also improves their independence.

3. The Curriculum

Within children’s learning, the key is to be flexible but ambitious.

Children should feel gradually challenged by the curriculum, encouraging them to make their own decisions and not to be afraid to make mistakes along the way.

However, you should make it possible to switch sequences of topics around if children begin to struggle or require extra time as this helps them develop skills in other areas of learning.

Adopting a flexible schedule allows children to feel free to learn in the way that suits them best, as all children have different interests and move at different paces.

child cutting and sticking

4. Pedagogy

Supporting children is vital at this stage of early learning, as when faced with a variety of learning methods, children need to feel comfortable exploring how they learn best.

Different types of learning should be provided for children such as:

  • Indoor play
  • Outdoor play
  • Observation of adults
  • Guided learning
  • Space and time to invent their own play
  • Group work

Planning these activities enables children to learn freely and ensures exposure to various types of learning. Then, by getting involved and sensitively supporting children, this makes it more clear for you which methods allow each child to progress to the best of their ability.

5. Assessment

Effective assessment includes understanding what children should know, and be able to do, at every stage of their early learning.

Assessments are less about numbers, but more about whether a child is progressing well and highlighting where more support is needed.

Checking what children have learnt in their early years development process is essential for determining which aspects of the curriculum you need to revisit. In some instances, assessment can be useful for highlighting whether extra support is needed or if a child has special educational needs.

Some children may experience difficulty in self-regulating their concentration and patience at some stages of assessment and therefore, may find it difficult to understand where they need support.

That’s why it’s your job to step in as a nursery practitioner and identify where they need help.

6. Self-Regulation and Effective Function

Children have varying abilities when it comes to effective function, which concerns aspects such as attention-span, memory, and flexible thinking.

The abilities of each child then have an effect upon self-regulation for children, for example regulating feelings, focus, and patience when they may be struggling.

This is why language development is key,as when a child’s language develops, so does their ability to guide planning and actions.

Pretend play is a useful way of getting children to practice planning ahead, thinking about their actions, and concentrating on one activity at a time.

7. Partnership with Parents

Parents should be directly involved with their child’s learning, as the learning that happens outside of the early years setting, equally contributes to a child’s progress in their wider life.

Having a grasp of each child’s home life is very important in order to recognise which parents need encouragement to interact more with their children at home.

This includes effective communication between you and parents to ensure each child is receiving appropriate support at home, nursery, or reception. The communication between both you and parents should represent a respectful partnership, centred on the best interests of the development and progress of the child.

nursery school setting

Why is It Important for Nursery Practitioners to Understand Development Matters?

It is recommended that Development Matters is used alongside the EYFS framework to support early years learning and development.

Development Matters provides extra guidance that is recommended to help push effective practice, and the best possible learning environment and outcomes for young children.

Physical development, literacy, mathematics, and communication and language are all areas of learning vital to the development of each and every child. Development Matters offers observation checkpoints to you in all areas of learning.

For example, by checking if they can understand simple questions such as “where is your coat?” this can help to monitor the development of communication and language of a 2 year old child.

Why is It Important for Parents to Understand Development Matters?

During these stages of learning and development, children’s abilities are changing at different paces and it’s important for you to be including and informing parents along the way.

Development Matters gives parents that extra reassurance that their child is getting the best possible standard of care, and any support that they need.

By using the recommended guidance alongside the statutory framework, this highlights to parents that you are meeting their child’s needs.

Parental understanding of Development Matters is particularly important for parents of children with SEND, as it means these parents can be certain that you are providing tailored support.

child reading with caregiver

What Are the Changes to EYFS?

As of September 2021 changes were made to the EYFS, with the goal of reducing paperwork for staff and improving literacy and language skills for children aged 5.

Less paperwork for you, means more time available to spend with the children in your care, inevitably adding to the development of the children.

This extended time with the children ensures that other areas of EYFS can be adhered to, including safeguarding and welfare.

What Are the Changes to the Development Matters Framework?

The non-statutory curriculum guidance has also changed, meaning it’s easier to navigate and understand to create the right nursery plan for the children you care for.

It will be beneficial to speak to your colleagues and nursery owner about how to incorporate the new changes into your nursery plan so your curriculum is consistent with other nurseries across the country.

The latest changes to Development Matters encourages more professional judgement. This essentially means you should be incorporating your experience and knowledge of working with children in early years settings into decision-making.

In turn, this allows you to assess or track the progress of each child without always having to refer to specific early learning goals or age bands.

A Nursery Practitioners Guide to Development Matters

To recap, we have outlined the importance of EYFS and working the Development Matters framework into your nursery curriculum plan.

This will ultimately support your main goal of helping young children in early years settings learn and develop at their own pace, learning how to overcome challenges and seek support. This ensures that children feel encouraged to join in with new activities, form relationships, and learn safely.

We created the Learning Journals platform with this in mind, as the platform allows both nursery practitioners and parents to monitor, capture, and share moments during a child’s development.

Therefore, we make it easier for you to share that your nursery is following EYFS and implementing parts of the updated Development Matters framework to give parents total reassurance. This creates a line of communication with parents so they know every aspect of the child’s learning is catered to, and that the right level of support is being provided.

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