Early-years teaching is a challenging world

Last week, in a nursery unit in Leamington Spa, a boy of about four brought me his breaktime orange and said: "Can you open this for me please?"

As I took it, I weighed up the conversational options. Should I introduce him to the word "peel"? Would it have been better to encourage him to do the job himself or was that a fine motor skill too far? Did we need to talk about the environmental issue of peel disposal?

In the end, I just handed the peeled orange back to him with my usual feeble: "Good lad."

There, in one brief conversation, you have the challenge of early-years education - it is a constant search for ways of building on the child's existing knowledge and experience, while deploying a high degree of insight and expertise in the field of language and child development.

And clearly, like many who have spent their working lives with older children, I am not very good at it.

Now, though, with the Government's Sure Start programme having a real impact both in terms of numbers and quality - and a new 10-year plan for early years in the offing (of which more in coming weeks) - we all need to be much more aware of what is happening to young children.

It is appropriate, then, that today we feature two experts in the field - one honoured for years of valued work, another about to graduate and already beginning to fly.

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