Teaching in reception for the first time

Are you new to teaching reception?

By Cathy Gunning

It could be argued that teachers who move into teaching reception for the first time, face the same challenges as the children themselves as they start in reception. 

Imagine a child coming into a reception class after 48 months at home with a parent, or a 52 month old child leaving their new born baby sibling at home while they are pushed through the reception class door knowing nobody. Think about the refugee children who may have been in the country for just 11 weeks, having left their father and now living with their relatives, or a child who has been neglected for 18 months, having lived with their birth parent, then moving to a relative, and now living with a new unknown adult who is a foster carer.

All young children coming into school (and reception) for the first time need and deserve the best from us for a strong foundation and brilliant early years experience.

Strangely, an adult teaching reception for the first time can also feel just as vulnerable. EYFS teaching in Reception requires a distinct set of skills and knowledge. It is different to teaching older primary children, so as a teacher new to reception, you could find yourself feeling just as small, unknown and lost as the children you are expected to teach.

Feeling thrown in, or ‘put’ in reception teaching is often something I hear from colleagues. They feel out of their depth. Some feel that they are floundering. 

How can you prepare yourself?

Becoming confident in EYFS pedagogy is a journey. It has taken me over 30 years to arrive here and I am still learning and exploring what it means to best teach young children. How do they learn best? What do they need? What is important? My best advice – and where I always start is: where are the children at? What do they need? 

We can help them to feel a sense of belonging – becoming part of this class, playing, interacting and being together, making progress, supporting our needs, understanding our emotions, embracing our differences and similarities, and becoming a great learning community together.

We can start from here and build a curriculum that helps them to make sense of the world around them. 

How do we hear their voice?

How do we make them welcome?

How do we ensure they belong?

How do we make them feel accepted and loved?

How well are they known?

How do we know if their needs are being met?

How do we promote and ensure their right to move, be safe, play, learn, interact and be heard?

How do we know they are learning and understanding at the appropriate stage of their development? 

Is their wellbeing and joy helping them make progress?

Trust yourself

If you have a hunch, be curious. If you know the child, find out more. If you care for the child, let them be known and heard. If you respect the child, let them play, have fun, thrive and learn to their full. Find the ways they learn. Every child will learn, we just need to build a relationship, attune, listen, know and understand. 

Gaining confidence

My personal mission is to support teachers to grow in confidence. Teachers must be able to feel confident when teaching a class. The children benefit from your self-efficacy to grow and learn themselves. This often can’t happen instantly. But how do we become confident when new to teaching in reception? How do we gain confidence in this New to EYFS phase? How do I get confidence when I am thrown in?

The answer to these questions at the start of your Reception teaching journey is to find help, and know who to talk to. Teachers who are new to reception are often just thrown in or put in reception or nursery from key stage one or two. They are experienced teachers but have not studied the EYFS, they may not know the EYFS statutory and non statutory materials and resources. This is a distinct and very different pedagogical approach and requires wise and experienced pedagogues to help you develop your confidence. 

In order to grow in confidence teaching reception children for the first time, it is essential to recognise this and familiarise yourself with the different approaches, understanding very young children’s learning and play needs and how best to fulfil these as their teacher.

Cathy is an education coach and mentor committed to growing confidence in teachers. She has supported teachers and leaders for many years, having played, studied, taught, learned and led in education throughout her life. 

Further reading

New to teaching reception

Further reading

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