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Exploring the importance of early years’ education

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Published on 16 October 2019

Student Annalise Hughes her sister and her mother
Student Annalise Hughes her sister and her mother

More than 60 delegates have attended the Early Education Sunderland branch autumn conference hosted by the University of Sunderland, whose theme this year focused on ‘the how of learning’.

Local Early Years teachers and practitioners, students, graduates and staff from the University’s Education and Childhood Studies programmes heard keynote speaker Nancy Stewart, an established author and Early Education Associate, discuss the characteristics of effective learning and why they should be at the centre of the early years’ curriculum framework. She also spoke about how we need to view young children as competent and autonomous learners supported by meaningful experiences.

After the talk, delegates attended workshops delivered by headteachers from four local nursery schools, who are members of the Early Education Sunderland branch.

Denise Kilner of Bensham Grove Nursery school, spoke about ‘Thinking is Doing’ encouraging delegates to reflect upon learning as an embodied experience. Sarah Dixon-Jones from Houghton and Mill Hill Nurseries considered resources as ‘Intelligent materials’ for children to make meaning. Julie Heron from Oxclose Nursery presented her experiences of disabling barriers for inclusive school practice, and Claire Nicholson, from Pennywell Early Years Centre, spoke about children’s wellbeing.

Nancy Stewart said: “There was such a strong buzz throughout the morning, as everyone engaged in the ideas shared in my talk, and then had the opportunity to explore how the ideas come to life in outstanding nursery schools. Many thanks to the partnership between Early Education and the Childhood Studies team at the University of Sunderland for making it happen.”

Dr Lindey Cookson, Team Leader and Principal Lecturer in Childhood Studies, who is also a committee member of the Early Education Sunderland branch, said: “It has been a pleasure to host an event which supports and encourages such innovative and creative Early Years’ practice in the North East. An event like this also supports our existing relationships with our external partners, many of whom provide placements for our Childhood Studies students. It was very generous of the committee to also offer places at a reduced cost to our Childhood Studies and Education students which again reflects the benefits of working together to enhance education, training and practice in Early Years.”

Kay Rooks, Chair of the Sunderland Early Education branch, and Associate for Early Education and Director of three private nurseries, added: It is very important to provide opportunities for the Early Years’ community to spend time together both to hear high-quality speakers, who know and understand young children’s learning and development and to engage in relevant high-quality learning experiences which stretch their thinking and reflect upon their own practice.”

Dominic Blackburn, a recent graduated of the Childhood Studies programme took part in the ‘Inclusion’ workshop.

Dominic, who is an Early Years teaching student working at Pennywell Early Years Centre on a Schools Direct programme, described the day as “amazing”. Adding: “The workshop was filled with a great atmosphere and new information. The keynote speech was fantastic and will definitely inform my practice.”

Second year Childhood Studies student Annelise Hughes, who runs a childcare business, attended the conference with her mum and sister (her business partners).

“I have come away with lots of useful information, ideas and links to use both at work and in my studies,” she said. “It was great to hear Nancy Stewart talk about the importance of understanding and planning for all of the different ways that children learn.

“I enjoyed the workshop and was really intrigued by all of the resources that were brought along. It also helped me hugely to be able to talk directly with the head of Pennywell Early Years Centre and arrange a visit to observe the Characteristics of Effective Learning in context.”


To find out more about the Early Education Sunderland Branch, contact Kay Rooks email kayrooks1961@sky.com or telephone or text on 07807 383 264.

To find out more about the University of Sunderland’s Childhood Studies programmes, including the new sector endorsed Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies, please contact Bruce Marjoribanks, Programme Leader for the BA (Hons) Childhood Studies: bruce.marjoribanks@sunderland.ac.uk

Gayle Blackburn, Leader for the Early Childhood Graduate Practitioner Competencies: gayle.blackburn@sunderland.ac.uk

Michael Elsy, Programme leader BA (Hons) Childhood and Society ‘Top Up’ degree: michael.elsy@sunderland.ac.uk

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