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Date: February 15, 2021

Nurturing Children’s Self-Confidence and Security in the EYFS

As schools fully reopen to all their children, the first weeks of the new term are likely to present children, parents and teachers with a great deal of anxiety. The children in our classes will have had varying experiences throughout lockdown and all will need to feel confident, valued and secure in the school environment for effective learning to take place.

Personal, Social and Emotional Development is, quite rightly, one of the prime areas of learning in the EYFS and, now more than ever, our practice should reflect this. With this in mind, there are a number of key principles that teachers and practitioners can use to create practice with the children’s emotional wellbeing at its centre.

To begin with, we need to consider children’s emotional needs. How do they develop security, confidence and a high level of self-esteem? Well, young children need to feel that:

  • Someone cares for them
  • Their interests are recognised
  • Their feelings are considered
  • Their ways of doing things are valued and who they are is affirmed

Let’s consider each of these specific needs and explore, in turn, key considerations for our practice.

1. Someone Cares for Them


Strong, close, positive and consistent relationships within the EYFS are vital. It is through these relationships that children develop a feeling of security and self-confidence begins to develop. Building these strong relationships between staff and children takes time, understanding and skilful interaction. Supporting a child as they play, teaching new skills and challenging their thinking are key aspects of what it is to be an EYFS teacher. If we attempt to teach in this way, however, without first building strong relationships then we are destined to fail. Children will walk away from an adult who is encroaching on their space if a level of understanding and trust has not yet been established. Valuable time will need to be given for staff to get to know children, to work sensitively alongside them, building trust and a foundation for learning.

2. Children’s Interests are Recognised


Building a learning environment around what we know will fascinate young children will be a crucial first step in recognising and valuing their interests. Children will naturally want to:

  • Move freely,
  • Use all their senses,
  • Communicate their ideas and ask questions
  • Build and construct
  • Represent and make things
  • Explore their own lives and of those familiar to them through role play and small world play
  • Tell stories and imagine.

To offer this wide range of experiences is to value how young children learn most effectively and, in turn, promotes the idea that we value our young children and the prior experiences that they bring with them to our setting.

Young children’s key interests are often, as many researchers and writers have found, based on a powerful, even egotistical, interest in themselves and their world. Providing children with a domestic role play area that is always available is a first, important step in valuing what children themselves bring to your setting. Within the home corner children will be able to play with, and explore, the roles and actions of those people who are most familiar to them. Through offering this opportunity, we are sending each child who uses the space a clear message that we value them, their world and their own experiences.

If we are going to really get to know the children in our class as they access the materials and resources available to them, then we will need to consider the nature of these resources. Open-ended materials that can be used for an endless variety of purposes will enable every child the opportunity to express their interests and ideas whatever they may be. Wooden blocks, workshop materials and also sand and water resources provide an open -ended context where children are empowered to make choices and decisions. Helping children to feel like an expert in the environment that you have created for them will be crucial in nurturing their self- esteem.

How we use time across the day will be crucial if children are to feel that their interests are recognised. As adults, we can’t always be there in every area of the classroom to share experiences, celebrate achievements and teach a new skill or concept. Providing time to talk, both before and after play, can be a great way to build an understanding of children’s interests and provides a great opportunity to celebrate children’s achievements. Engaging with children’s questions, observations and responses provides a rich context for teaching and learning and, just as crucially, builds children’s self- esteem and positive identity within the group. Celebrating children’s learning through the creation of displays which also value the child’s voice is a natural, and valuable, next step to explore.

3. Their Feelings are Considered


For both adults and children, confidence and security are often built on familiarity. As they access the resources and materials in your classroom, the children’s play will begin to flow in repeating patterns. Groups of children will predictably return to areas of the classroom and particular resources that they enjoy using. Sometimes this predictable aspect to children’s learning is seen as a weakness or an indicator of a lack of challenge. This concern can lead many teachers and practitioners to change classroom layouts and resources in order to overcome this. If children’s confidence and self-esteem really are a prime aspect of our curriculum then we really need to reflect carefully before doing this. If you are going to make changes to your classroom layout or the resources that are available, is it possible to involve the children in these changes as a way of valuing their feelings and input?

4. Their Ways of Doing Things are Valued and Who they are is Affirmed


Children will return to the areas of the classroom that interest them most. Instead of viewing this with concern, however, it is far more effective to build relationships with children by valuing their interests. If we are going to be able to enter our children’s world with them, then we need to first build their trust. Adults who interact with children using a set of pre-prepared questions often find that children switch off this line of questioning if it does not seem meaningful to them and their world. Mirroring children’s actions as they play and supporting them sensitively to be successful in carrying out their own ideas will be more successful in building trust and will also lay strong foundations for future learning.

Due to the very unsettling nature of the last few months, there is a danger that the ideas and considerations explored here are seen as short- term, Covid related, strategies. They are not. EYFS reviews and revised frameworks may come and go but Personal, Social and Emotional Development has always been at the heart of what we do. Strong, effective practice is built on, year after year, by teachers and practitioners who understand and value young children’s interests and fascinations and build respectful relationships for learning together.

With all of this in mind, take the time to consider some key questions:


  • Does your timetable allow enough time for adults to build strong, nurturing relationships with the young children in your class?
  • Do the resources and materials available in your learning environment empower children to express their own ideas?
  • How do the adults in your setting view children’s repeated play and exploration? Is this seen as a positive or negative and how does this impact on your practice?
  • Is talk seen as a valuable tool in valuing children’s ideas and celebrating their achievements?

Find out more

Over the coming months we will be hosting webinars and releasing a series of free planning guides, blogs and podcasts as well as our Online Training Programme to update you on the latest updates and practical guidance on supporting your youngest children and those working with them. Our Focusing on Well-being Webinar has both live and recorded options available exploring the critical roles well-being and involvement play in high quality learning to ensure Personal, Social and Emotional Development.

You can engage with us @earlyexcellence on our social media channels and don’t forget to visit our website regularly to find online training courses to inspire you – as well as our Early Years Resources Shop.