Young children come to school from a variety of different backgrounds, having had a range of diverse learning experiences at home and for most, some form of pre-school education. The Foundation Stage aims to build on these learning experiences by providing children with an appropriate learning programme to develop their dispositions to learn and to provide them with the skills and competencies they will need to succeed in school and future life.
The Foundation Stage also endorses good early years practice where teachers have more flexibility in terms of what they teach. This flexibility allows teachers to follow the interests of the children, encouraging them to see links in their learning and to appreciate that the skills they learn in one area can be applied elsewhere.
Characteristics of the Foundation Stage
The Programme of Study (1996) outlined the Characteristics of the Curriculum at Key Stage I and the Foundation Stage seeks to endorse these elements of sound educational practice by providing a learning environment which best meets the needs of young children. The Programme of Study (1996) stated that Key Stage 1 teachers will: ‘provide opportunities for children to develop the skills they will need to become confident and independent,’ therefore, the learning experiences provided will reflect children’s interests and the practical and informal ways in which children of this age learn. These experiences will be enjoyable and challenging, and will motivate children’s and encourage them to adopt positive attitudes to school and learning.’
The contexts for learning will: ‘relate to the child’s immediate and known environment and will reflect the fact that children at this age do not see knowledge and skills as belonging to specific categories and subjects.’
It goes on to state that education at Key Stage 1 will foster the intellectual, social, emotional, physical, moral and spiritual development of children by:
- enabling them to work and play together harmoniously;
- promoting positive attitudes to school and learning;
- providing opportunities for them to learn in a practical way;
- using, to the full, opportunities provided by play for their development, both socially and academically;
- providing a wide range of opportunities for developing movement and manipulative skills;
- developing their natural curiosity and stimulating their imagination;
- providing opportunities for exploration, investigation, problem-solving and decision making;
- developing the fundamental skills of literacy, numeracy and oral communication, both through direct teaching and by the opportunities provided by other subjects and activities;
- providing opportunities for them to develop knowledge, understanding and skills through a range of contexts spanning all subjects of the curriculum;
- providing rich and varied contexts for developing skills, such as observing, investigating, organising, recording, interpreting and predicting, which are essential to learning in all subjects of the curriculum.
The aims of the Foundation Stage
The Northern Ireland Curriculum aims to empower young people to develop their potential and make informed and responsible choices and decisions throughout their lives. The Foundation Stage aims to provide a learning programme which will:
- promote children’s personal development;
- promote positive attitudes and dispositions to learning;
- promote children’s Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities;
- encourage creativity and imagination;
- enable children to develop physical confidence and competence;
- develop children’s curiosity and interest in the world around them;
- enable children to communicate in a variety of ways;
- motivate children to develop literacy and numeracy skills in meaningful contexts.
The principles underpinning the Foundation Stage
Young children learn best when learning is interactive, practical and enjoyable for both children and teachers. Children learn best when they:
- have opportunities to be actively involved in practical, open-ended and challenging learning experiences that encourage creativity;
- have opportunities to initiate experiences that capitalise on their individual interests and curiosities;
- are actively involved in planning, reviewing and reflecting what they have done;
- are enabled to express themselves by creating images, sounds, movements, structures and invented stories;
- are involved in play that is challenging, takes account of their developmental stage and needs and builds on their own interests and experiences;
- work in stimulating environments and have access to a range of resources;
- develop secure relationships with peers and adults;
- have choice and exercise autonomy and independence in their learning, and are encouraged to take risks.
The Northern Ireland Curriculum Primary Foundation Stage learning is supported by adults when:
- early years practitioners are committed, sensitive, enthusiastic and interact effectively to challenge children’s thinking and learning;
- planning is collaborative, holistic, child focused and informed by observations of learning;
- assessment is ongoing, formative and integral to learning and teaching. It is observation based, informs planning and is carried out in an unobtrusive way;
- practitioners manage the introduction and effective use of resources;
- positively affirming environments are created to support children’s emotional, social and physical development;
- the importance of process based rather than outcome driven learning is acknowledged;
- practitioners and parents/carers work in partnership to ensure children achieve their full potential;
- a multi-professional approach exists and practitioners access the expertise of other professionals;
- children are made aware of their progress by receiving positive feedback and suggestions for improvement;
- they reflect on their practice and are engaged in professional development.
The curriculum in the Foundation Stage
Children learn best when learning is connected. Although the curriculum has six Areas of Learning, further integration is encouraged to help children better understand the links between the different aspects of learning. In the Foundation Stage teachers have considerable flexibility to interpret the Areas of Learning to suit the needs, interests and abilities of the children. Throughout the Foundation Stage, children need to be closely observed so that:
The statutory curriculum in the Foundation Stage is set out under the following Areas of learning:
Religious Education — in accordance with the core syllabus drafted by the four main Christian churches in Northern Ireland and specified by the Department of Education;
Language and Literacy including talking and listening, reading and writing;
Mathematics and Numeracy including number, measures, shape and space, sorting and pattern and relationships;
The Arts including art and design, music and drama;
The World Around Us including Geography, History and Science and Technology;
Personal Development and Mutual Understanding including Personal Understanding and Health and Mutual Understanding in the Local and Wider Community;
Physical Development and Movement including Athletics, Dance, Games and Gymnastics.
Note: Although Areas of Learning are set out separately teachers will integrate learning to enable children to make appropriate connections.
USEFUL LINKS FOR PARENTS AND CHILDREN:
All About Me
Night and Day