Early Years, what’s the best way?

This question is probably the biggest and most debated in the world. Yet it is an important one, as the way we choose to teach our children can influence the way they develop – both emotionally and academically.

That is why, if you are genuinely interested in pursuing a career within the educational sector, it is essential that you know all the facts.

Early Years what's the best way - teaching methods

Yes, it is important to have the right qualifications – and thanks to online providers such as Association of Learning attaining training in Early Years Education has never been easier – however, in order to be the best teacher you can be, you need to know more than the UK’s approach to teaching. You also need to be able to think outside the box and consider the techniques used elsewhere.

Do that and you can give your career a real and competitive edge.

How do different teaching styles compare to the UK?

Whilst, the UK possibly has the most rigid, competitive and targeted orientated approach out of anyone, this has not made us top of the league.

In fact, for the last 16 years Finland’s approach to comprehensive school teaching has earned them one of the top spots in Europe.

 children in Finland receive no formal instruction on these skills until they start school at the age of 7. Instead, their day-care centres follow a more relaxed approach, where they focus on creative play and encouraging children to be active for at least 90 minutes (outside) every day.


Not only to Finland adopt the philosophy of ‘a late start to schooling’, they also believe that the best time to set the groundwork for a strong school performance is before children start school.

Yet this is not the only way they differ:

  1. Unlike UK preschools which begin teaching children basic writing (alphabet), maths (numbers and counting) and reading skills from a young age; children in Finland receive no formal instruction on these skills until they start school at the age of 7. Instead, their day-care centres follow a more relaxed approach, where they focus on creative play and encouraging children to be active for at least 90 minutes (outside) every day.
  2. They strongly promote health and wellbeing, encouraging children to form good social habits early on. For instance, making friends, respecting others, learning how to dress themselves etc. and being responsible individuals.
  3. They do not focus on preparing children academically for school, but instead choose to encourage a ‘joy of learning’. This is achieved by helping them to improve their communication skills so they become more language enriched.
  4. Teachers in Finland take great care not to organise/control the kind of play children take part in. Instead, they adopt a mix of free play and teacher-directed play which allows them to assess how the children play/are developing, whilst at the same time allowing the child to improve their attention span, concentration and problem solving skills. This is similar to the UK’s popular approach of learning through play.
  5. Due to their commitment to equality (both morally and economically), they have outlawed school selection, formal examinations (until they are 18 years old) and streaming by ability. As a result there is no competition, privatisation or league tables. Nor do they ‘teach to test.’
  6. They incorporate a quality over quantity approach, meaning their school days are shorter and their homework is usually light.

All of these beliefs/principles have resulted in Finland having happier, less stressed children compared to many other countries.

Do other countries teach differently?

Due to Finland’s unique approach to education, there is often a misconception that every country has got a different teaching style.

This simply isn’t true…

The reality is, many schools base their teaching programs on the theories of various influential people. From Piaget to Vygotsky to Reggio Emelia to Montessori… all of these well-known theorists have influenced the policies of numerous countries, with many combining the theories of more than one within their teaching styles.

Early Years teaching methods

Take the following:

  • The theories of Piaget and Vygotsky regularly influence the pedagogy and curriculum of schools in England, Germany, France and New Zealand.
  • The Montessori approach has influenced teaching styles in Germany and Japan.
  • Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) and Reggio Emilia– Japan.
  • Bronfenbrenner and Rogoff – New Zealand.
  • Bruner – France
  • Freire, Robinson, Zimmer, Humboldt and Frobel – Germany

How do these theorists differ?

I could talk for days about all the many ways the above theorists have influenced Early Years Education. However, to give you a clearer picture of the differences between them, I will focus on just a few below:

  • Montessori – the first of its kind to adopt a child-centred approach, this educational program has been proven to help children experience stronger gains in reading, maths and social problem solving. Originally developed by Dr Montessori, this approach aims to develop children as a whole – physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively. In addition, it adheres to the following principles:

    – They believe children have got the greatest capacity to learn from birth to the age of 6, as they are naturally born with an ability and readiness to learn.
    – At this age children best learn using sensory-motor activities.
    – Every child is considered to be a competent learner who is capable, confident and resilient.
    – Children should be made the ‘centre of learning’.
    – Children learn best in enabling and multi-age environments.
    – Children learn how to be strong and independent based on the loving and secure relationships they see around them i.e. their parents.
    – Learning environments should fulfil the needs of every child, and should help them to become independent, active learners.
    – Teachers should observe children in order to guide them towards activities which best suit their development stage and passions.
    – Children should be offered uninterrupted periods of time where they can focus on activities they enjoy and find interesting.
    – They believe every child is different, and develops and learns in different ways and at different rates.
    – All areas of learning and development are considered to be equally important.


  • Steiner and Freinet – these two alternative programs have been found to be no more effective at fostering development, than traditional mainstream programs.
  • Reggio Emilia – named after an Italian town, this approach is renowned for being forward thinking due to its socio-constructivist model.

    Influenced by Lev Vygotsky, they believe children and adults are capable of constructing their own theories and knowledge through the relationships they build with others and their environment. This approach also draws on the work of Jean Piaget, Howard Gardner and Jerume Bruner where they promote the image of the child as a being strong and capable in their own learning.

    Other distinguishing features include:

    – Their commitment to research in learning and teaching.
    – They believe expressive arts should play a strong role in learning.
    – They perform a lot of detailed observations, keeping clear documentation/records of a child’s learning experience.
    -They have 2 teachers to every classroom, as well as an atelierista (a specialist art teacher) who works closely with the teachers in all aspects of the teaching day.
    – At nursery level, education is seen as multi-functional (a balance between educational and being a place of childcare), with educational activities taking place only in the morning.
    – In schools, they strongly believe children aren’t just empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge. Instead, they feel all children have unlimited potential – something they have the right to realise and expand upon on their own. For instance, taking responsibility for their own learning.

Learning through play - early years teaching methods

  • Learning through play – this particular approach is popular throughout the world, due to prevailing research which has revealed that it can enhance both academic and child development.

    At the core of this approach, is the belief that play-based programs can increase child motivation, as it naturally encourages them to explore, experiment and solve problems using fun, playful and imaginative ways.

    These play-based activities are both child initiated (free play) and teacher supported, meaning teachers will pose questions to the child – whilst they are playing – in order to get them to predict, solve and even hypothesise an answer.

    Learning through play also contains the following features:

    – This program is based on a combination of free play and guided play (intentional learning) where the teacher will actively take part in the game as a co-player.
    – Uses hands-on learning to broaden children’s awareness of maths, science and literature.
    – Supports a positive attitude towards learning by encouraging children to think, be creative, use their imagination and not be afraid to be curious.
    – They believe teacher interaction (during guided play) can help children to develop good social skills e.g. sharing, co-operation, negotiating and the ability to resolve conflict.

Teacher led early years

  • Teacher centred approaches – this approach is less prevalent following research which has revealed that young children can experience negative effective due to direct-instruction. From decreased motivation to learn, to high stress levels, to behavioural problems; being taught in a strict and structured environment all day long can often be counterproductive.

    This point is further emphasised by studies which have shown that children who experience play-based programs, achieve higher learning outcomes compared to those taught using direct-instruction.

    To describe this style more accurately, it is comprised of the teacher instructing the child on basic academic skills – through rote learning – by asking them to remember facts and figures.

Which is the best way?

There is no denying the similarities between Finland’s approach and the variety of play-based programs.

Both have born positive results with children experiencing increased language and literacy skills; higher learning outcomes; greater social competency (in facing challenges and finding solutions), and a greater willingness to input into how they learn.

However, this doesn’t mean that direct instruction doesn’t have its own advantages…

What all of these different methods does prove though, is that a balance is needed between play and instruction, so that children can freely develop.

Similarly, children should not be put into one set mould, but should be taught based on their individual needs and capabilities.

For this reason, if you are serious about becoming a teacher, then acquiring qualifications in a range of Early Years courses can help. The more diverse your knowledge on teaching techniques, the more you’ll be able to help your students.


Thanks for stopping by today, I hope you have enjoyed this post on Early Years teaching methods.

You may also like my post on introducing colour into Early Years teaching.


*This is a collaborative post

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7 thoughts on “Early Years, what’s the best way?

  1. I’m a parent governor at my littlest’s nursery school and I do think they do an excellent job of promoting learning through play. He has made real progress since he started. My role has been an eye opener to the issues faced in education at this level

  2. Interesting read – thank you. I always wondered why my cousin chose to be a senior school maths teacher rather than younger – not surprising when you think of all that has to be considered.

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