Wellbeing curriculum improves practitioner knowledge and child self-regulation

Bright Horizons is the home of passionate experts in early years care and education. For more than 30 years, we have been responding to the evolving needs of families, employees and businesses. Caroline Wright, director of Early Childhood details more about the Bright Beginnings curriculum

Our experienced and dedicated early childhood team deliver truly unique learning experiences, adapted to the needs of each child. Last year we rolled out our new child-centred wellbeing curriculum, Bright Beginnings, across our UK nurseries.

The initial findings are optimistic and indicate that our curriculum has had a positive impact on teaching and learning in our pilot nurseries. With wellbeing at its heart, our Bright Beginnings curriculum gives young children all they need to reach their full potential for their educational journey ahead.

Helping families look forward to that brighter future

Bright Beginnings at Bright Horizons focuses on children’s emotional wellbeing as the key to learning and was designed to acknowledge the importance of giving children a voice and promoting decision making, to promote confidence, wellbeing and a genuine love for learning. It is based on extensive pedagogical theory and research and focuses on the significance of the adult’s role as educator.

Our new curriculum was conceived pending the 2021 changes to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) curriculum and early learning goals. As early childhood practitioners and researchers, we reflected on our experience of young children’s learning needs, parents’ aspirations for their children, and how we could best contribute to this open-ended notion of ‘school readiness’, whilst remaining compliant with conditions of registration under EYFS.

The Bright Beginnings curriculum comprises five areas of learning, known as Opportunities and Experiences for Learning. They focus on:

  • Feelings and Friendships
  • Sharing Thoughts and Ideas
  • Technical and Life Skills
  • Thinking Creatively
  • Exploring and Learning About My World.

Integral to Bright Beginnings are Bright Horizons Children’s HEARTS Values for Wellbeing, which provide the underpinning ‘conditions for learning’:

  • Healthy Body
  • Emotional Wellbeing
  • Attachments
  • Relationships
  • Teaching
  • Safe and Secure.

What we’ve found

Given the rising issue of mental healthin young children, with over 1 millionchildren being diagnosed with mentalhealth problems in 2020-21, we wantedto lead in developing a curriculum thatwould support children’s emotionaldevelopment and help give them thebest possible start in their educationaljourney and equip them with the skillsto manage their emotional health in thefuture.

Our research into the impact of Bright Beginnings was designed to establish the extent to which our curriculum offers this support to children. As such a large provider of childcare in the UK, understanding the impact in a pioneering curriculum change was crucial to us.

We have an enormous responsibility to our children, staff and families to be on the right path for that brighter future. Putting our curriculum into practice was essential to assess the impact.

We focused on a participation methodology involving an initial sample, which recruited a cohort of 31 nurseries, all identified to be within “phase one” of the roll-out of our Bright Beginnings

framework. We looked at routine observations and assessments of children attending Bright Horizons nurseries aged between 0-5 years.

These are our three key findings:

1 – Improved teaching to impact

child wellbeing

The introduction of Bright Beginnings has positively impacted the teaching and learning provided by practitioners, which has led to measurable impact on children’s engagement and wellbeing levels within our nurseries. There has been a significant increase in children’s wellbeing and involvement, using Leuven Scales as the measure. Starting afresh with new areas of learning and aspects, which include the seven subject areas of learning in the Early Years Foundation Stage, while focusing on skills and unique opportunities for children, has helped practitioners to extend their provision and understand that children don’t learn in boxes. They report a deeper understanding of the way children’s learning is interconnected and ‘holistic’ in nature.

2 – Improvement in children’s emotional wellbeing

As part of our research, we also examined children’s self-regulation, decision making and sense of agency. The research report confirms a significant increase in children’s pro-social skills, as well as some evidence to suggest a positive impact from Bright Beginnings on children’s overall self regulation skills.

As the report states, self-regulation is a complex concept that is multifaceted in terms of the mental capacities required. Behaviours noted within the surveys highlight improvement within

the behaviours associated with self regulation, including their ability to control the impulse to scream, hit others, show a tantrum and in their ability to recognise behaviours that are socially acceptable in others as well as themselves.

The surveys also produced significant results when identifying improvements within children’s ability to control impulses linked to their wellbeing.

3.–Greater understanding of children’s learning

As a large UK childcare provider, we have a great sense of responsibility to our children, their families, as well as nursery staff and in order to be sure that we were not on the wrong path, we wanted to test for any impact of introducing a new curriculum to staff and children. We carried out surveys to assess practitioner understanding of ‘holistic’ learning, and monitored environments and planning for evidence of increased cross-curricular learning experiences for children. The

initial findings are optimistic and indicate that the curriculum has had a positive impact on teaching and learning.

The findings also demonstrate practitioners’ confidence in using Bright Beginnings and their understanding of the holistic nature of children’s learning and development. They make comments such as, ‘maths is everywhere’, ’I get so much more from my observations now and ’the observations link to lots of opportunities and experiences now’.

So What? Now What?

What matters most, is to fill each day with the simple joys of childhood and that’s made possible by our family of dedicated, passionate professionals.

Warm, welcoming people, collectively charged with the care of 12,000 children every day. Real people with HEART who believe in Honesty, Excellence, Accountability, Respect, and most of all building that bond of Teamwork with every child and every parent. For our experienced and valued team we offer extensive training to help them grow, thrive and build a career for life.

Our research report has provided initial evidence that a bespoke wellbeing curriculum can support practitioner knowledge, improve teaching skills and children’s learning, as well as have a measurable impact on children’s engagement, self-regulation and wellbeing levels. More information on Bright Beginnings and its impact can be found in our executive summary, which can be downloaded here.

Our findings were also well received during a presentation to the British Early Childhood Education Research Association’s annual conference at the end of January. The virtual conference covered Early Childhood Education and Ecological Sustainability and we specifically discussed “improving

practitioner knowledge and teaching and children’s engagement and self-regulation through a wellbeing curriculum”, sharing insights into our Bright Beginnings curriculum and its impact.

Using the evidence attained, the next steps to be undertaken by Bright Horizons’ early childhood team include:

  • Strengthen the consistency and embedding of the curriculum across all nursery settings throughout the UK
  • Continue to develop practitioner confidence in implementing the curriculum through bespoke training
  • Gather parental perspectives of on the impact of Bright Beginnings following a period of lockdown to fully understand the broader context of the curriculum and to begin to discover its impact on the home learning environment in order to strengthen partnership with parents
  • Developing new environments for all children, including helping babies to make a smooth transition from home to nursery following long periods at home during the pandemic.

The findings provide a case for further research and the second phase is due to commence in 2022, where we will look at the impact of a specific programme of emotional wellbeing, embedded in the Bright Beginnings curriculum, on teachers’ knowledge and practice in supporting children’s personal, social and emotional development in our nurseries.

We’re very much looking forward to a brighter future. Bright Horizons is a place to thrive.