The ORIM blog

Providing opportunities, showing recognition, sharing interactions and being positive models for the youngest children

Cathy Nutbrown
Professor of Education, School of Education, the University of Sheffield
The views expressed here are personal

July 2022

We know that young children benefit from the focussed attention of their close adults – parents, other family members and their early years educators – in home and group settings.

I’m thinking particularly here of those adults working in group settings who, having time to know each child well, can attune their encounters with individual children to meet their immediate needs and support their holistic development.

A tuned-in adult can tailor the opportunities of time, space, materials and experiences they offer a toddler for exploration and play. They can recognise each subtle and important developmental changes young children moves through as they play - and respond to each child accordingly. They can shape their interactions with their young learners to ensure time and exchanges between adult and child is meaningful and that their play is rich and sustained. They can act as positive models for young children around so many aspects of learning and development, and of all that it means to be human and a learner. ORIM pedagogy with the youngest children necessitates adult time as well as knowledge, skill and understanding.

Adults responsible for young children’s early playful learning can share what they do around an ORIM approach to early childhood pedagogy with parents – and learn from their experiences too.

All of this takes time – a most essential resource in early childhood provision.

There is presently a proposal to reduce the time early childhood educators could spend with two-year-olds in their setting by allowing more children to be the responsibility of each adult working with them. Such a move would rob these young children of the quality adult time they need, and must be resisted. The very children who were born under COVID lockdown restrictions and who need sensitive transitions, need more – not less – adult time.

Our youngest children deserve the highest quality provision. To reduce staffing costs by giving poorly paid staff - who already work long hours - more to do with more children is to require those staff and children to pay the price. Cutting costs for parents by giving less to their two-year-olds, and adding to the stress for early years practitioners, is morally wrong and counterproductive. Easing the cost of early years provision for parents by adding pressure to early years educators and reducing quality for the youngest, most vulnerable, children is not the solution.

Proper investment in the youngest citizens is what is needed. All young children deserve this. Their educators too, deserve this.

A similar proposal was put forward about 10 years ago, in a bid to address the crisis in the early years workforce. It was withdrawn after strong opposition. So, the ratios question has again reared its head. It is - yet again - time to stop talking about trimming away quality adult time from the youngest children; it’s time to find a more permanent publicly-funded solution which recognises that quality provision for the youngest is not a matter of profit – it is a matter of public funding.


The government consultation[1] asks for views on:

  • changing the current statutory minimum staff:child ratios in England for 2-year-olds from 1:4 to 1:5

  • making the Early Years Foundation Stage statutory framework (EYFS) explicit that childminders can care for more than the specified maximum of three children under the age of 5 if they are caring for siblings of children they already care for, or if the childminder is caring for their own baby or child

  • making the EYFS explicit that “adequate supervision” while children are eating means that children must be in sight and hearing of an adult.

The online consultation closes on 16th September 2022.


© Cathy Nutbrown 2022