A guide to working as an early years educator (nursery or pre-primary sector)
Working as an early years practitioner opens up an industry full of opportunities. Starting a childcare role is the chance to support children as they learn, develop and prepare for school. It’s a career path that could see you become self-employed, go into education, or secure a role that makes a difference in your local community. If you enjoy working with children or want to combine a new career with caring for your family, an early years role could be for you.
What are early years?
The early years age group describes children aged 0-5. The first few years of a child’s life are crucial. Children need to be ready to start school, and that means they must have developed mentally, socially and emotionally.
Children need the right care and mental stimulation, or they will have problems later in life. As part of the learning process, babies hear, taste, touch, see and smell the world around them. Taking in information helps the brain to develop, and a lot of change happens quickly, especially age 0-3.
What do children learn in their first few years?
Babies can grasp things in their hands from the time they are born, but it’s not until around 4 months that they try to pick objects up. Next comes building, throwing and eventually scribbling on paper.
As children grow, they become strong enough to hold themselves upright in a sitting position. By 8 months, most babies can do this and start learning how to push themselves forwards. Crawling is more difficult than it looks. It requires moving the arms and legs together and developing body strength. The developmental process can be different for every child.
Some children shuffle instead of crawling, and some push ahead to trying to pull themselves up, without ever crawling around. What’s important is that children progress and start moving about. It can take up to 18 months to start walking.
We can help children to learn and develop. Young children need attention, praise and opportunities to develop their skills in a safe environment. Fun activities, games and interactions all help.
Positive experiences in their early years can make sure children develop into successful adults. A lack of care and development during a child’s first few years can cause serious problems. If a child doesn’t have the right start in life, there are negative effects on behaviour and health. Children that haven’t developed normally by school age are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, obesity and addictions in later life.
How do children develop?
From birth, babies start to build relationships with family members, recognising faces and voices. Social skills are linked to developing speech and language. Research has shown that we learn language through social interactions. Speaking also helps children to communicate their needs more effectively.
As we get older, we start to interact with other children and develop the social skills that we will use throughout our life. It’s important that young children have opportunities to meet new people, play and develop their communication abilities. Social skills include developing a sense of self, joining in with other children, sharing and resolving conflicts.
Developing behavioural skills is key to ensuring that children adapt well to starting school. As they grow, they learn that they must balance their needs with those of people around them and regulate their actions. Behavioural skills can be taught through consistent rules, the positive influence of other people, rewards and appropriate discipline.
Solving problems is another skill which allows children to explore the world around them and develop independence. Learning how to think for themselves and communicate solutions, encourages logical thoughts and creativity.
What is an early years practitioner (educator)?
An early years practitioner (educator) is someone who works with young children in any school, nursery, or childcare environment. It’s their role to encourage learning and development, through play and teaching.
Being an early years practitioner involves creating a secure environment, using imagination to help children to learn and working with parents to support their children. Tasks can include building literacy, language and numeracy skills. You’ll also need to monitor progress and plan educational games.
If you work as an early years practitioner you must meet a child’s needs, put together activities and keep them engaged throughout the day. Children need to develop listening skills and the ability to sit quietly, ready for a classroom environment. An important task for an early years practitioner is to create the right balance between children being active and having quiet times to relax. Observing children and monitoring their progress, is key to helping them to develop.
Why get a job as an early years practitioner?
If you work with early years, every day will be different, with new challenges. Working as an early years practitioner is rewarding because you’ll get to see children learn, develop and grow in your care. Hours are often flexible, so you’ll have a great work-life balance, that will make sure you can put family life first.
What skills do you need to work with early years?
You need to enjoy working with children and want to make a difference to their lives, to make a success of a career in early years. Passion for the job is essential. To work with young children, you need the patience to deal with tantrums and a willingness to get involved with messy activities like sticking and painting. Creativity and lots of ideas to make learning fun, will help you to communicate your thoughts, in a way that children can understand.
Building positive relationships with parents is something that you’ll need to be good at too. By communicating and working together, you can make sure a child is happy, healthy and gets all of the support they need, both from you and at home.
Why get a qualification?
Competition can be high for early years jobs. Getting a qualification will make you stand out and look great on your CV. Parents want their children to learn, as well as play, in a childcare setting. Nurseries and schools are now looking for better-qualified staff to give children a more educational experience.
What qualification do you need?
The CACHE Level 2 Certificate in Early Years Education and Care course will give you the skills and experience to get a job working with early years.
Why take this course?
This qualification will teach you how to support children in your care and how to help them to learn and develop. You can study online, or send off assignments through the post. Stonebridge College offers distance learning courses, so you don’t need to physically attend a college. You can fit studying around your life; it’s completely flexible, and there’s no pressure to rush assignments.
Your tutor will visit you in a work setting several times during the course, giving you the confidence to apply for jobs working with early years. Once the course is finished, you’ll have 350 hours of experience working with babies, toddlers and pre-school children.
What can you do after you have a qualification?
When you’ve finished the course, you’ll have full authorisation to get a job working with early years. You could go on to further study at degree level.
Where can you work?
You could get a job working with children in many different roles. More and more parents are going back to work, rather than staying at home, so there’s never been more demand for childcare. Early years practitioner job roles include:
Early years teacher
An early years teacher works with children aged 3-5. Tasks include planning activities and creating learning resources. It’s important that children gain confidence and develop their social skills within a safe environment.
You could be working in an infant or primary school, a children’s centre, or a nursery. Opportunities for progression include working as a special educational needs (SEN) teacher, working in management, or as an early years coordinator. You could also go on to become an adviser, trainer, or OFSTED inspector.
A nanny looks after other people’s children in their home. You could work as a nanny only during the day, or live in the home of a family. As a nanny, you’ll be responsible for providing meals, planning activities and tasks like keeping toys tidy.
Being a nanny is rewarding because you’ll develop a close bond with the children you work with and get to see them grow up. You could progress your career by working for more than one family, or even set up your own business managing a team of nannies.
Childminders look after children at home. It’s a career, with all the benefits of working for yourself. Childminding can be a varied job, with flexible hours, which could involve looking after under 5s in the day and caring for older children when they aren’t at school.
Key areas that childminders need to focus on are health and safety, preparing meals and providing activities to keep children engaged and occupied. You’ll need to learn more about how to handle accidents, creating a secure environment for children, communicating with parents and the legislation you’ll need to follow.
Pre-schools are often attached to schools, whereas nurseries are likely to be privately run. They usually cater for older children and have a more educational focus, to prepare for school, than a play-centred nursery. A pre-school assistant will report to a pre-school manager, and duties will include helping to develop children’s social and language skills and leading educational games.
You could progress to become a pre-school manager, or leader, with the right experience. These roles include putting together curriculum plans, supervising events and managing staff to ensure high standards are maintained.
Working in a nursery
If you work in a nursery, you’ll be part of a team. Nurseries can be run by councils, privately, or in schools, colleges or businesses. Qualifications are essential to building a career in a nursery environment. In a group, a manager must hold at least a level 3 qualification and at least half of all other childcare staff must hold a level 2 qualification. A minimum of two adults must be on duty at all times.
The ratios of children to qualified staff is also important:
1:3 for children under 2 years
1:4 for children aged 2 years
1:8 for children aged 3-7 years
Roles within a nursery environment include:
Usually new to nursery work, nursery assistants may be working towards a level 2 qualification. As a nursery assistant, you’ll have the support of a nursery nurse, or supervisor. Gaining a level 3 qualification will help you to get a promotion.
A Level 3 qualification can help you to progress to become a room leader, in charge of managing a group of nursery nurses. Tasks can include making sure childcare is carried out to high standards and that health and safety requirements are met.
Deputy nursery manager
As a deputy nursery manager, you’ll be supporting the nursery manager, who is in charge of the day-to-day running of a childcare business. A manager’s role will be to manage staff, make sure that children and staff have a safe working environment and monitor profits. You’ll need a nationally recognised level 3 qualification and at least 2 years of experience working in a daycare setting to work as a manager.
Where can you find early years job vacancies?
You can look for jobs on sites including:
How do you apply for a job working with early years?
You need to make a good impression when you apply for a job as an early years practitioner. Make sure you use an email address that looks professional and check that all of your contact details are up-to-date. Get a friend or family member to check your spelling and grammar. If it’s been a long time since you wrote a CV, you should also look online for templates to help you out.
Remember to include all of the experience you have, even if you don’t think it counts. Helping out on a school trip, or babysitting is relevant experience. Include any voluntary experience you have and remember to sell yourself and make the most of your skills. You may not have as much experience as someone else, but you might be more creative, or better at organisation. Make sure each cover letter explains why you want the job and don’t send out the same letter to every job opening.
How do you approach a job interview?
Once you have an interview secured, you need to prepare. It can help talking to a friend or family member who already works as an early years practitioner, and finding out what kind of questions you should expect. You can also have a look online and on internet forums, to see if there are any common experiences or things you can learn from. Don’t forget to do your research. Think about why you want the job and what makes the organisation a great place to work.
On the day, always arrive early, in case you are delayed, or get lost on your way. Dress smartly and simply. Don’t wear too much make-up, or jewellery that children could pull on. Make sure your interviewer could picture you working with young children. Ask questions and don’t forget that a position needs to be the right fit for you, so you’re also interviewing them.
How much could you earn working as an early years practitioner?
A qualified early years practitioner can earn between £15,000 and £22,000 a year. Salaries can vary depending on responsibilities.
Where can you take your career?
Once you have your qualification, you could go on to further training at level 5, or take a childcare related degree. After working your way up the career ladder in management, you could get a job as an area supervisor, community nursery worker, or manage childcare for an organisation like the NHS. You could also set up your own nursery or crèche. Getting qualified will open up a range of different career options and with hard work, you’ll find many opportunities for success.
Study using a 19+ Learner Loan
If you need some support studying, we’re offering loans from the Government to anyone aged 19 or over. Using a loan means that you can get qualified to work with early years, and you won’t have to worry about the cost. You’ll only need to start paying back your loan, in affordable monthly instalments, once you’re earning over £21,000 a year. Millions of students have already made the most of this fantastic opportunity, and you don’t need to have a job to apply.
Are you interested in a fantastic new career? Becoming an early years practitioner will give you flexibility and varied job opportunities. Get started with Stonebridge.