EYFS Best Practice: Prime time - Under threes ... Personal, Social and Emotional Development

In promoting PSED, Norland Nursery chose to focus on the elements in isolation as well as how they weave together. Clare Crowther explains.

As part of our preparations for implementing the revised Early Years Foundation Stage, our team at Norland Nursery has been reflecting on how to support and facilitate the Personal, Social and Emotional Development of babies and children under three.

Under the revised framework, the goals for PSED cover three aspects:

  • 'Making relationships'
  • 'Self-confidence and self-awareness', and
  • 'Managing feelings and behaviours'.

The new educational programme states that PSED 'involves helping children to develop a positive sense of themselves, and others; to form positive relationships and develop respect for others; to develop social skills and learn how to manage their feelings; to understand appropriate behaviour in groups; and to have confidence in their own abilities' (statutory framework, para 1.6).

We recognise that PSED is usually viewed as one area of learning and development. However, when reviewing our practice, we chose to focus on the elements in isolation as well as how they weave together. To what extent, we asked, were we valuing and promoting each element in the children, parents and staff who come together as a learning community?


For definitions of each of the three elements of PSED, we turned to Social and Emotional Aspects of Development: Guidance for practitioners in the Early Years Foundation Stage (DCSF, 2008).

Being me

This document defines personal development as 'how we come to understand who we are and what we can do and how we look after ourselves', summarised as 'Being me'.

Taking 'Being me' as a starting point for the aspect of 'Self-confidence and self-awareness', we explored how we support children to develop a positive sense of themselves, so building their self-esteem and sense of self-worth. You may want to explore this within your team too.

Elements of our practice that we have identified as effective and successful in promoting self-confidence and self-awareness include:

  • genuine responses and interactions that build a secure, respectful relationship with a child and, in turn, their self-esteem
  • an inclusive approach, so recognising the uniqueness of every child, their personal characteristics, culture, needs and stages of development
  • using welcome stations (available from Community Playthings). These cloakroom stands give the children a sense of belonging as they provide spaces for the children's coats, comforters and treasured possessions. The personalised cubbie boxes positioned under the coat pegs provide a special place for the children to store their artwork, letters from friends and any models that they have made
  • displaying positive images of children adds to the sense of belonging and ownership that a child need to feel truly valued. We display photographs of the children on their welcome stations, cots or sleep mats and lunch and registration name cards
  • documenting the children's learning with photographs celebrates a child's participation and achievements. A 'wow' board or 'special moments' display are also effective ways of capturing significant events to be enjoyed by both children and their families
  • ensuring that all intimate care is carried out by a child's key person (see below).

Being social

Social development in Social and Emotional Aspects of Development is described as 'how children come to understand themselves in relation to others, how friends are made and recognition of rules and expectations are formed.' All of these underpin the aspect 'Making relationships', which focuses on children's ability to form positive relationships, develop respect for and hold a positive sense of themselves and others.

Some of the elements of our practice that support this aspect of development include:

  • The integration of all children in mixed-age key families, which brings mutual benefits for both young and old. The younger children observe and learn from the older children who, in turn, learn about responsibility and caring for those who are younger.
  • Using opportunities within the daily routine, such as cafe and lunch times, to encourage children to come together in small groups, so developing social confidence and skills. For example, the children might take turns to pass around the glasses or pour water for each other. The social behaviours are modelled carefully by the children's key person as they sit together in their small family grouping, so valuing the time they have together as well as the resources - this can be as simple as ensuring a tablecloth and a fresh flower are placed on the table.
  • Encouraging the children to take responsibility for themselves and those around them through turn-taking and life skills such as negotiation and co-operation.
  • Involving all children in caring for and welcoming others.

Having emotions

In Social and Emotional Aspects of Development, emotional development is described as 'how we come to understand our own and others' feelings and develop our ability to stand in someone else's shoes and see things from their point of view, referred to as empathy'. These elements are covered within the aspect 'Managing feelings and behaviour' which require us, as practitioners, to help children understand their emotions and behaviours, appropriate behaviours in groups and how to manage their feelings. We have recognised simple patterns in our practice that make a difference to the children's ability to manage their emotions and these include:

  • Listening attentively and modelling the feelings of others. We take time to ensure that we have heard what a child is trying to tell us, rather than assuming we have understood and imposing our thoughts on them. We also repeat what we think we have heard to ensure we are correct.
  • Avoiding using simple or cliched words and statements, such as 'You're fine' or 'You're OK' and replacing them with true descriptors of the child's emotions. We recognise a child's feelings as real and encourage children to express their feelings, rather than implying they should be suppressed.
  • Reducing conflict by ensuring that routines are flexible, and wherever possible, led by the child. We allow the children to make choices and decisions and to take risks within safe boundaries and a secure relationship.


When seeking to create an enabling environment for babies and young children, practitioners must give top priority to creating an emotionally enabling environment.

We have found that recognising the importance of PSED has been key to implementing the other areas of learning and development successfully. As we noted in part one of this Prime Time series (Physical Development, Nursery World, 9 July 2012), an ideal setting will thread the Prime areas of learning and development subtly throughout its practice.

Creating spaces ...

In seeking to provide an ideal learning environment that promotes the PSED development of babies and young children at Norland Nursery, we have created:

  • Quiet cosy corners, where babies and young children can feel both physically safe and free to explore at their own pace.
  • Islands of intimacy, as first described by Elinor Goldschmied. These spaces enable babies and children to be together at significant points of the day as well as for spontaneous chats and cuddles with an adult. Key family spaces also provide a sense of belonging for even the youngest of children as they work with their key person both individually and within their key family group.
  • Displays for each child that contain pictures of their family and any other significant people, or things - sometimes this includes the family cat! These pictures are displayed along the skirting boards or at a baby's height so that the children can be physically close to loved ones in their absence.
  • Spaces for co-operative play across the ages to support peer scaffolding (as explored by Vygotsky) and opportunities for turn-taking and negotiation.
  • A sleep room that promotes a sense of belonging by providing each baby and young child with their own cot or sleep nest and their own bedding. The children's comforters are readily available and labelled with their photographs. The babies and young children are changed into pyjamas and settled to sleep by their key person with a gentle stroke of their hair and their favourite story.
  • A nappy changing area that doesn't feel clinical and has elements of interest for the child and key person to engage with together. It is a space where the rhyme 'Round and round the garden' can be played on a child's tummy sensitively and without hurry.
  • Staff shift patterns that are planned around the needs of the children. A key person always informs their key children if they are going to be absent at the start or end of the day, by simply saying, for example, 'Goodbye. I'm going home now, but Maria will be here to look after you and sit with you for tea.' Such attention provides the child with a sense of ownership, belonging and emotional security.


Underpinning all aspects of PSED is the key person role, which is central to creating an emotionally enabling environment. Academic Peter Elfer describes the key person as 'the staff member who is there as far as possible to greet the child, to provide comfort ... to play with and enjoy time together and to be the one, whenever possible, to offer the intimate bodily care.'

As a team at Norland Nursery, we view a true key person approach as essential in supporting the personal, social and emotional development of babies and young children. The operational elements and organisation of the nursery such as staff shift patterns, room layout and deployment of staff are all centred on ensuring a child's emotional security. You may want to take time to reflect upon how this works within your setting.

Some of the factors we have considered include:

  • Ensuring that all children have a key person allocated to them before they enter nursery. Ahead of a child starting nursery, the key person visits the child's home to learn about the child's interests, likes and dilikes; to find out about the family's individual circumstances; and to ease any concerns that the family may have about their child starting nursery. Importantly, home visits also mean that the child and their family have a familiar face to turn to when they begin their settling visits.
  • Ensuring that, wherever possible, the key person completes the intimate care of the baby or child. We believe this promotes the child's rights and emotional security and ensures their needs are approached with sensitivity and respect. We also get the permission of children to change their nappy or clothes, to wipe their faces and to place them to sleep. Sometimes a little negotiation is required, but it ensures the child's rights remain uppermost in our minds.
  • Promoting confidence and independence by offering a secure base from which children can explore and return to as they need. The Birth to Three Matters framework suggests one of the roles of a key person is to provide a healthy dependence from which independence can grow. Peter Elfer et al supports this viewpoint, describing the relationship between a key person and child as an invisible piece of elastic (2003). It stretches to give the child independence but springs back to the key person when the child is need of reassurance or comfort.
  • Sharing meal times together, so supporting the empowerment of babies and young children, their independence, sense of responsibility and social skills.
  • Working alongside the child and their family and taking time to really get to know the child and their circumstances.
  • Allocating time for the key person to observe, plan and share in the learning and development of the children in their care.


Academic Ferre Laevers (1997) argues that feeling unconditionally accepted, liked and loved is central to a child's emotional health, and only when a child is emotionally healthy can they be receptive to and involved in learning.

We use Laevers' scales for well-being and involvement (see box) to help us develop experiences that promote the PSED of the babies and young children in our care. The key person role is essential in this process as they are able to bring a deep understanding of the child and their approach to learning.

When exploring the PSED of our children and the effectiveness of our practitioner support, we ask ourselves a set of key questions, including:

  • How involved is the child in their learning?
  • What level of well-being are they displaying?
  • Are there any influencing factors that need to be considered?
  • Were the adults joining in with the play sensitively and fitting in with the child's ideas or were they leading or possibly changing the direction of the play?
  • How did the baby or child react to the challenges in their learning?
  • How did the adult respond to and praise the child?
  • Did the child seek the support of an adult or other children?
  • Did the child have the opportunity to make a mistake or form a false hypothesis?
  • Were the child's efforts respected, and given genuine support and affirmation?
  • Did the adult enter into sustained shared thinking with the child?
  • How is the adult offering responsive interaction and facilitating future learning?

These are just some of the questions that you may want to ask your team.



Academic Ferre Laevers believes that 'emotional well-being' and 'involvement' are conclusive indicators of the quality of education within an early years settings, and devised scales for both as assessment tools.

The scale for involvement is:

1. Extremely low - the child shows hardly any activity

2. Low - the child shows some degree of activity but which is often interrupted

3. Moderate - the child is busy the whole time but without real concentration

4. High - there are clear signs of involvement, but these are not always present to their full extent

5. Extremely high - during the episode of observation the child is continually engaged in the activity and completely absorbed in it.

Further details can be found in the manual Wellbeing and Involvement in Care - A process orientated self-evaluation instrument for care settings (Research Centre for Experiential Education, Leuven University, www.kindengezin.be/img/sics-ziko-manual.pdf.) See also www.nurseryworld.co.uk/go/pioneers/


  • Working with Babies and Children: From birth to three by Cathy Nutbrown and Jools Page (Sage)
  • Key Persons in the Nursery: Building relationships for quality provision by Peter Elfer, Elinor Goldschmied and Dorothy Selleck (Letts)
  • Young Children's Health and Well-being by Angela Underdown (Open University Press)
  • Young Children's Personal, Social and Emotional Development by Marion Dowling (Sage)
  • Why Love Matters: How affection shapes a baby's brain by Sue Gerhardt (Routledge)
  • Social and Emotional Aspects of Development: Guidance for practitioners in the Early Years Foundation Stage (DCSF, 2008).

Clare Crowther is head of Norland Nursery Bath www.norlandnursery.co.uk

Clare and her team were involved in the consultation of the revised EYFS, trialling the revised framework at Norland Nursery, together with the know-how guidance for the two-year-old checks. Clare and the team are sharing their experiences of working with the youngest of children at the forthcoming Norland Conference, What Matters to Children? (13 October 2012)

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