Emotional Development, the Foundation of Learning?

We’ve all met the parents who tell us proudly that their little Arron was counting to 200 before he could peel a banana, or that Suki was reading the classics before The Gruffalo. Whilst we might try our best not to compare our own little terrors, these sky high achievements can induce worry...
Emotional Development, the Foundation of Learning?
By Jenny Mollon
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Hearing about young over achievers that are able to do complicated maths before the age of 4 can leave us nervously worrying about our offspring and when they will be able to write numbers let alone do anything with them.

But, and it’s a BIG BUT are these kinds of academic achievements really meaningful when it comes to very young children?  What do the experts have to say?

It might surprise some parents to know that one of the most popular and highly regarded Early Years curricula, the English EYFS focusses on just three prime areas – and NONE OF THEM ARE ALGEBRA (or classic literature for that matter)!

Often referred to as the most important area of learning, and fundamental to becoming a successful, happy and well-rounded adult – is your child’s Personal, Social and Emotional development.  Confidence, friendships, relationships and positive emotional health are key here.

The EYFS Early Learning Goals – Personal Social and Emotional Development

The EYFS details the expected, by age, incremental achievements for children age 0-5 in “Development Matters" a useful document published by the UK government for parents and Educators alike. 

Here we take a look at the EYFS expected goals (or outcomes) for children nearing the end of their Early Years education.  

In effect, this is what your child will be working towards in nursery and it is therefore vital that parents understand these goals as a way of understanding your child’s development as well as how well your nursery is supporting him or her in their journey through the Early Years.

Emotional Development is key to all other areas of learning - as Tamara Stubbs, Centre Director of Babilou Downtown and the Blossom Nurseries in Downtown and Dubai Marina told us when discussing the issue of Physical Development:

"I truly believe a child's 'core strength' comes from their inner self, their confidence and their ability to take risks alongside their ability to manage their bodies within the space that they are navigating.  It is not only physiological."

Nurseries using different curricula will have their own set of goals or expected outcomes, we advise parents to make themselves familiar with them, taking guidance from your child’s teaching team.


The Three Key Goals for Personal, Social and Emotional Development

Children are confident to try new activities, and say why they like some activities more than others. They are confident to speak in a familiar group, will talk about their ideas, and will choose the resources they need for their chosen activities. They say when they do or don’t need help

So…confidence is key.  The confidence to choose and to follow their own interests, secure in the knowledge that their thoughts and ideas will be valued by their peers and adults.  Children who possess this confidence should enter school with minimal anxiety, engaged and ready to learn.  More so, a confident child is able to fail and try again – a personal trait which many educators believe to more important for success than simple academic aptitude.

Top tips for parents:

  • Offer children chances to explore and experiment, and value your child’s way of doing things
  • Offer help when asked but not before

How nursery can help:

  • Encourage children to build strong, warm and reciprocal relationships with key adults and children outside of their regular group
  • Create activities that encourage sharing and taking turns


Children talk about how they and others show feelings, talk about their own and others’ behaviour, and its consequences, and know that some behaviour is unacceptable. They work as part of a group or class, and understand and follow the rules. They adjust their behaviour to different situations, and take changes of routine in their stride

This goal focusses on the importance of being able to collaborate and follow simple rules.  Whilst we all want our children to shine as an individual, the reality of life in education and beyond is that collaboration, teamwork and cooperation are vital.  Disruptive behaviour interferes with a child’s individual learning as well as well as for the wider group. 

Top tips for parents:

  • Be a good role model, demonstrate fairness and collaboration in your own relationships
  • Listen to children kindly and respectfully
  • Praise positive behaviour (even if it is hard to find sometimes!)

How nursery can help:

  • Encourage and praise sharing, cooperation and teamwork
  • Focus on children who struggle with new routines by making changes in a way that is gradual and gentle


Children play co-operatively, taking turns with others. They take account of one another’s ideas about how to organise their activity. They show sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings, and form positive relationships with adults and other children.

Positive relationships are a fundamental tenet of most early years curricula.  In the EYFS, this is closely aligned to the work of John Bowlby, a British Psychiatrist who developed the concept of Attachment Theory.

Positive relationships refer to the idea that children are born biologically pre-programmed with an innate need for healthy, long term, warm and reciprocal relationships.  The quality of a child’s attachments in the early stages of life have been proven to have lifelong impacts upon self-esteem, confidence and healthy relationships in adult life. 

Top tips for parents:

  • Again, role modelling is key: always demonstrate consideration for others, respect and kindness
  • Explain your actions and encourage children to explain theirs

How nursery can help:

  • Encourage children to develop relationships with individual adults and support children to spend time with these key members of staff – one on one and in small groups

How will achieving these goals help your child?

Achieving a solid platform of emotional well-being, self-confidence and having good self-esteem will help your child become a robust adult who is able to conquer challenges, rebound from failures and celebrate their own successes with grace. 

These attributes are the key advantages that parents should be looking to help their child achieve in their early education – well before the acquisition of maths or literary skills!

Not only is it important for parents to understand these elements of child development, it is clear that these areas are those which schools will be looking during assessments for KG/FS places. 

More than knowledge of colours or phonics, schools are looking for children whose inner confidence will enable them to become creative, thoughtful and inquisitive learners.

The Guides

Start > How to Assess a Nursery, and Your Child
Now > Personal Social and Emotional Development
Next > Communication and Language Development
Jump > Physical Development

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