Pedagogy – What is it in the Early Years?

January 31, 2023 3:22 pm
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Pedagogy in the Early Years – What is it?

Pedagogy in the simplest terms is the ‘how’ of teaching. It is the method and practices that you teach within a class or your setting to provide children with opportunities for early learning and how your relationships and interactions with those children can affect them.

Pedagogical approaches in Early Years

Many Early Years theorists have developed pedagogies; however, some haven’t made the list as their work cannot provide a secure way to evaluate your provision.  *Our list is in no particular order*

 Before you adopt a specific pedagogy you must be mindful and think about why you are introducing it to your daily practice. It is always worth researching and reading about the pedagogy you are interested in as this will ensure you are choosing it to directly benefit the children you are caring for.

1. Reggio Emilia 

This approach was developed by Loris Malaguzzi after World War II. This approach is heavily child-centred and focuses on the many ways the children can express themselves. The practitioners are there to observe and promote the child’s interests and the environment around them plays the part of the ‘third teacher’.

The Basic principles of Reggio Emilia

  • All children are independent learners and require adults support not instructions.
  • With the focus being, exploring and child-led play, this means the children are encouraged to problem-solve themselves (with guidance if necessary).
  • Children are natural communicators, however, we must be aware of and understand the ‘100 languages of children’. There are so many ways children can express themselves!

How can you add this Early Years pedagogy to your provision?

  • You should look at how you are engaging with the children, ensuring that you are acting as a guide and not interrupting their play.
  • Instil a hands-on approach when learning, by doing this you are providing the children to communicate using their 100 languages. You can do this in many ways such as drawing, painting, dancing, playing music and role play, by encouraging this you are giving the children opportunities to express themselves.
  • The children’s voice is extremely important and as practitioners, you need to ensure you are making the child feel like their conversations are opportunities to work and search together. Sitting down and engaging with the children is key.

 Products we provide that can aid this pedagogy

Our In the Moment planning sheets are a perfect resource to use alongside this particular approach. This planning sheets consist of space for the following;

  • Observation made
  • How learning was extended i.e. questions asked
  • Outcomes / next steps
  • The area in which the activity of the observation took place
  • Tick box for characteristics of effective learning covered
  • Tick box for areas of learning covered

Get your In the Moment planning here.

 2. Fredrich Froebel

Fredrich Froebel was a nineteenth-century German educator and creator of the kindergarten; he is arguably the most significant pioneer of early years education and care. Froebel saw children as curious, active and creative learners that learn best through self-reflection, play, activity and talking. He believed his garden was a place for curiosity, investigation, play and activity. He saw it as a spiritual place where children could be “at one” with nature.

 The basic principles of Froebel

  • This approach is heavily child-initiated play, which is extremely important as it means the children will stay engaged and motivated with what they are doing.
  • Encourage children to be autonomous learners; children learn best when they are doing it themselves and when they are aware of their learning.
  • Childhood isn’t just about preparing you for the next stage in life; learning begins at birth and continues throughout life.
  • Understanding and experiencing nature is an essential part of Froebelian practice, this can help them think about the bigger questions of sustainability, the environment and climate change.

How can you add this Early Years pedagogy to your provision?

  • You should provide opportunities to engage in repeated actions, this will embed deep learning and knowledge.
  • Provide lots of constructive play ensuring there is plenty of opportunity to talk, listen and communicate with adults and peers. This is a key part of the Froebelian approach.
  • Froebel emphasises a lot of self-discipline, you need to consider providing an environment where children can concentrate and remain focused when participating in an activity.

 Products we provide that can aid this pedagogy

Our ‘Weekly Activities Book’ can provide children with the opportunity to express what they have done within setting and at home over the weekend. Provide your children with the opportunity of autonomous learning and then use this as a prompt to discuss what they have been up to.

Get your ‘Weekly Activities Book’ here.

3. Montessori 

This particular approach was developed by an Italian physician and educator called Maria Montessori. In 1907 Maria opened her first Casa Dei Bambini’ (Children’s house) for young children that were not old enough to attend school, within the first year of applying her method of teaching many of the students were able to read, write and do basic mathematics.

The basic principle of Montessori

  • There are five areas of the curriculum; practical life, sensorial, mathematics, language and culture.
  • This approach views learning as its reward.
  • There are windows of opportunity that are known as ‘sensitive periods, these periods include intense focus, repetition, commitment to a task and extended periods of concentration.
  • A prepared environment is key, this means that everything would have a purpose and a place.

How can you add this Early Years pedagogy to your provision?

  • Providing a calm, focused environment is key in Montessori education. If you have a cluttered setting, are you able to cut it down and create more space?
  • Montessori emphasises opportunities for independence as early as possible and provides activities that can encourage this skill such as preparing, cooking and tidying.
  • Start small by providing more open-ended resources that allow the children to make their own choices and direct their play.

 Products we provide that can aid this pedagogy

Nursery Resources has recently collaborated with NurseryNook – James Tunnell. James talks about what loose parts/open-ended play consists of and gives you lots of amazing ideas to incorporate into your setting.

You can buy ‘Loose Parts and Beyond’ on PDF direct from us.

Head over to NurseryNook for some amazing courses and resources.

4. Forest School 

Forests school pedagogy is all about providing the children with the opportunity to learn through hands-on experiences and doing this requires being outside (normally in woodland areas). This particular pedagogy originated in Denmark in the 1950s, this particular ethos is now seen worldwide!

 The basic principles of Forest School

  • Children are allowed to engage with more ‘risky play’, they are trusted to explore and discover nature.
  • The children are encouraged to choose their learning and encouraged to develop a positive relationship with nature.
  • The majority of the learning will take place in the natural environment or a woodland area. 

How can you add this Early Years pedagogy to your provision?

  • You do not need to have a full forest school to enjoy this approach; you could simply experiment and add it to your normal day e.g. designate a morning or afternoon session.
  • The biggest benefit of forest schools is the increase in physical exercise and fresh air, not only is this a positive factor to children’s physical well-being but to their mental well-being.
  • Taking risks is a massive part of forest schooling, we are all very good at protecting our children but sometimes taking risks is important. Teach them to engage with the risks safely and understand their limits. It is still important to do a risk assessment on any forest schooling activities. (ADD OUTDOOR RISK ASSESSMENT RECORD)

 Products we provide that can aid this pedagogy

When taking on this approach it is still important to remember that you still need to ensure you have the relevant risk assessments in place. Our ‘Outdoor Risk Assessment’ is a perfect way to record the following information;

  • Hazard
  • What might happen?
  • Who’s at risk?
  • Risk before controls (high, medium, low)
  • Controls put in place
  • Risk after controls (high, medium, low)
  • Risk level monitored by
  • Completed by: Name/Sign
  • Risk Benefits

You can buy your Outdoor Risk Assessment record book here.

5. Steiner/Waldorf

Rudolf Steiner was an Austrian philosopher born in 1861, he opened his first school in Stuttgart in 1919 for the children of workers at the Wardorf-Astoria cigarette factory. Steiner’s ethos was to provide an unhurried and creative learning environment where children can find joy in learning and experience the richness of childhood.

The basic principles of Steiner/Waldorf

  • There are seven core principles in Waldorf Education, they consist of; Image of the human being, phases of child development, developmental curriculum, freedom in teaching, methodology of teaching, relationships and spiritual orientation.
  • The environment should be familiar and not overstimulating.
  • Open-ended natural resources are heavily featured, leaving plenty of room for the children’s imagination.

 How can you add this Early Years pedagogy to your provision?

  • Repetition and routine are very important as it supports children in finding themselves in the world. Always consider what your routine looks like
  • Provide the children with plenty of physical activities and opportunities to learn from the real world, to Steiner ‘doing is learning’.

 Products we provide that can aid this pedagogy

Our ‘WOW moments’ sticky notes are a perfect way to capture those ‘doing is learning’ moments on the go such as;

  • Achieved something new
  • Overcome a hurdle
  • Created a really superb piece of work

Order your ‘WOW moments’ Sticky notes here.

Some other Early Years theorists and pedagogies

There are many other pedagogies that you can use, however, we thought we would just give you a little taster of some of the approaches used commonly in the UK. Here’s a list of some other philosophies that you can look into and research:

  • Bowlby – Focused on attachment and how these close relationships aid development.
  • Bronfenbrenner – Gave us a better understanding of the effect of the environment on the child.
  • Bruner – Coined the term scaffolding and expanded the idea of children as active learners.
  • Erikson – Developed various stages of development with positive vs negative potential results at each stage.
  • Freud – Had many groundbreaking and controversial ideas, connecting relationships with development of a unique personality.
  • Gardner – Encouraged respect for different forms of ‘intelligence’, with none seen as better than the others.
  • Goleman – Worked particularly in developing emotional intelligence in young people.
  • HighScope – Advocates for daily routine and daily plan-do-review in early learning.
  • Mcmillan – Had a key role in influencing positive early years practice after the war.
  • Piaget – Helped us understand how a child constructs a mental model of the world and brought in many theories on assessment.
  • Te Whāriki – The New Zealand curriculum that focuses on a homely environment and strong personal relationships.
  • Vygotsky – Focused on the value of play and how children learn based on their environment.
  • Watson – Developed behaviourism – that learning is developed through how we connect things.


Anon, (2021). Environment as The 3rd Teacher in Reggio Emilia Approach. [online] Available at:

Arnerich, M. (2021). Early Years Pedagogy 101: The Simple Guide | Famly. [online] Available at:

FROEBEL TRUST (n.d.). Froebelian principles. [online] Froebel Trust. Available at:

Michaela (n.d.). Montessori Education Method – The Montessori Method of Education and its Key Principles. [online] Montessori Academy. Available at:

Montessori Academy. (n.d.). Montessori Principles of Education | Montessori Academy Childcare. [online] Available at:

Montessori Academy. (n.d.). Prepared Environment | Montessori Academy Childcare. [online] Available at: (n.d.). Core Principles of Waldorf Education. [online] Available at:

Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (2019). What is Steiner Education? [online] Available at:

Tovey, H. (2017). A FROEBELIAN APPROACH. [online] Available at:

Uhrmacher, P.B. (1995). Uncommon Schooling: A Historical Look at Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy, and Waldorf Education. Curriculum Inquiry, 25(4), p.381. doi:10.2307/1180016.

Why The Environment Is Considered The 3rd Teacher In The Reggio Emilia Approach

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