Early years

The first years of your child's education – from birth to the start of primary school - are often called the 'early years'.

As a parent, you are your child's first educator. You can make a positive difference to your child's learning by supporting and encouraging them, and by making learning an enjoyable experience. Your support plays a vital role at all stages of your child's education.

This page contains links to information and resources about your child's learning at their early learning and childcare (ELC*) setting and their transition to primary school, as well as links to ideas and suggestions on how you can support their learning at home.

For more specific and individualised information about your child or their learning, you should contact your early learning and childcare setting or school.

*ELC is a generic term used to cover the full range of early learning and childcare provision, examples include nursery schools, primary schools with a nursery class, family centres and childminders.


Development in the early years

Babies’ brains develop very quickly during their first three years.

Their brain during this time is very open to everything that they see, hear, smell, taste and touch.

Babies react well to your facial expressions and to the sound of your voice. They respond to physical contact like hugs and being close to you. Babies like to listen to singing and stories. These are all important experiences that babies need to help them develop their brain.

The Science of Human Connection, the website of Suzanne Zeedyk, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology at Dundee University, provides more useful information for parents on early brain development.


Your child's care and education

There are many benefits to your child attending an early learning and childcare (ELC) setting, such as a nursery, playgroup or childminder. Find out more about these benefits, as well as the free childcare you may be entitled to and how to claim it, on the Scottish Government’s Early learning and childcare website.

The early learning and childcare setting or school that your child attends will be able to provide specific information related to your child. ELCs and schools are inspected on a regular basis and the inspection reports are available on the Education Scotland website.

Staff are well trained and approved, with full-disclosure. Their aim is to allow your child to learn and develop skills in a safe environment that will promote his/her health and wellbeing. Staff may work closely in partnership with other health professionals such as health visitors to support parents. This could be for important routines like sleep, toileting, eating or providing information on oral health.

Several national documents and approaches exist to support staff in ensuring that your child receives high quality early learning and childcare. These include:

  • the national practice guidance for the early years, Realising the Ambition: Being Me
  • Curriculum for Excellence (Scotland's 3-18 curriculum) - from age 3 until early primary school your child will be working at the early level of Curriculum for Excellence

Parentzone Scotland's Learning in Scotland section has further information on learning in the early years and on Curriculum for Excellence.

'Getting it right for every child' (GIRFEC) is an approach that applies to every child in Scotland. GIRFEC will ensure that all services aimed at children and young people work together in a consistent and co-ordinated way to help your child grow, develop and reach their full potential. Read more about GIRFEC.


Transition to ELC or school

Transitions are the moves that children and young people make from stage to stage. Staff at your child’s early learning and childcare setting and school will work with you to ensure that transitions go smoothly. In the early years, the main transitions that your child will likely experience are:

The early learning and childcare setting and school work closely together to provide a seamless progression to Primary 1. They will work with you to develop a shared understanding of your child’s developmental and educational needs. Staff will use statements called ‘Experiences and Outcomes’ from Curriculum for Excellence to describe your child's learning and progress.

If your child is still 4 years old on the date they are due to start primary school, you can defer your child's entry to primary school by a year.

If your child is deferring entry to school for a year, you can:

  • automatically get an extra year of early learning and childcare funding if their 5th birthday is on or between 1 January and the end of February
  • apply to your local council and request an extra year of early learning and childcare funding if their 5th birthday is after the beginning of the autumn term, in August, and before 1 January. Your local council will decide if your child will get an extra year of funding. Even if your child is not granted an additional year of early learning and childcare funding, you are still entitled to defer their entry to school for a year.

Visit your local council’s website to find out more information about this in your area. More information on children’s birthdays, primary school deferral, and the early learning and childcare funded provision (which may be available in a deferred year) can be found on the MyGov website.

Please speak to your child's early learning and childcare setting or school if you have any questions or concerns.

If your child is due to move on to school shortly, you may be interested in the following areas on Parentzone Scotland:


Additional support needs

All children and young people need support to help them learn. Some children require support that is in addition to, or different from, children or young people of the same age to ensure they benefit from education.

If your child has a additional support need, the school and ELC will plan together with you, and other appropriate agencies (for example health, social work), to meet your child's learning and support needs. Planning is particularly important at transition points, for example when starting at ELC or moving to primary school. It is important that planning for these transitions is started early.

Related links

Early learning and childcare in a Nutshell – This leaflet from the National Parent Forum of Scotland gives an overview of the options available to parents and information about funding.

Information on the Baby Box gift for every baby due on or after 15 August 2017.

General information from Parenting across Scotland for parents with children in early years education, including dads and parents with learning difficulties.