Do you crave a career which guarantees you’ll smile every single day? With flexible hours, that you can fit around your schedule? If the answer is yes, and you also have a passion for helping children to learn and grow, then you might well be interested in a career as an early years practitioner. Sometimes known as nursery nurses, early years practitioners play a vital role in the first few years of a child’s life, helping them to develop socially, emotionally, and mentally. An ideal role for those who are young at heart (and have plenty of stamina!) early years workers also need to be calm, kind, and patient. In this article, we’ll run through exactly what this career involves, what the benefits are, how much you might earn, and how to achieve it.
What is an early years practitioner?
Early years practitioners are specialists who look after the educational, social, and emotional needs of children up to the age of five, which means that they play a vital role in helping them to become ready for school – a tricky transition period for any child.
You might be working in a school, a nursery, or a day care environment, but wherever you work, your duties will largely be the same:
- You’ll work closely with other childcare professionals to create a safe, supportive environment for young children to learn and play, and adhere to all safeguarding guidelines.
- You’ll help children to develop their numeracy, literacy, and language skills, while working closely with parents to make sure that you can support a child if they’re struggling in any of these areas.
- You’ll monitor children’s progress, while keeping detailed records to share with parents and colleagues.
- You’ll come up with fun and imaginative activities to keep children entertained throughout the day, and help them to develop their independence with carrying out simple tasks, like getting dressed or feeding themselves.
- When taking care of very young children and babies, you’ll need to change nappies and attend to their personal care, as well as help them settle down for naptime.
What are the benefits of becoming an early years practitioner?
It's a flexible job, and you won't need to work 9-5
As we touched on earlier, working hours within early years education are often flexible. This is because you’re working around parents’ schedules. Also, a high proportion of practitioners choose to work part-time. This makes sense; many childcare professionals also have young children and families, and so seek jobs that allow them the freedom to take care of their own responsibilities while earning a wage. Nurseries and day care environments often operate around different ‘shifts’ – parents are able to choose the hours they’d like their children to be taken care of, be it morning, afternoon, or a full day. So, as an early years practitioner, it’s easy for you to choose to work only mornings or afternoons without causing any disruption to the children in your care.
No two days are the same
If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ll know that things can get a little dull and predictable. With a childcare role, however, there’s no danger of that! Although you’ll know what activities you’ll be doing on any given day because you’ll have planned them, all childcare environments involve a lot of ‘free play’ time, to let children express themselves and let their imagination run wild with paints, crafts, sand and water, and dressing up. One minute you might find yourself dressed up as a princess having a tea party, and the next you might be Iron Man building an enormous tower of blocks alongside the Hulk! That’s one of the great things about working in childcare – no one will judge you, no matter how silly you get! Also, you’ll get to experiment with different activities and games, to see how the children respond to them. If you read about a great new learning activity that really gets the kids engaged, you’ll be able to try it out. Although routine and stability are key for young children, it’s also important to introduce plenty of variety, so that things don’t get boring. And there’s always new books to read and new games to play, which keeps things interesting for them, and for you!
It's incredibly rewarding
It’s well established that early childhood experiences shape a person’s life in adulthood. That means the people that a child is close to have a great responsibility, but also a huge privilege; as an early years practitioner, you get to be one of the few trusted adults that takes care of a child’s needs, and makes them feel secure and happy. As our early years tutor, Faye Hall, says, “It is an amazing feeling to know that you’re making a positive impact on the children’s learning and development, as well as creating a strong foundation for their future.” And, as we briefly touched on earlier, you’ll be playing a key role in making sure that children are ready to enter full-time schooling after they turn four. There’s no underestimating what a huge step this is for a child, as it can be very emotionally difficult. It’s incredibly rewarding, therefore, to see a child you’ve taken care of become fully confident and excited for their new adventure, because you’ve helped provide such a positive experience of the classroom environment. Lastly, it’s incredibly personally rewarding helping young children learn new skills. Even if it’s something as simple as zipping up their coat, the look of sheer delight on their face when they finally master it is something to be truly cherished.
You'll always be in demand
While other jobs will eventually become obsolete due to advances in technology, early years practitioners will always be in demand; parents will never stop wanting friendly, calm, and patient early years professionals to help their children grow and learn. And, according to recent research, childcare and early education is booming; the funding available to parents has increased under the Universal Credit and Tax-Free Childcare Scheme, which means that the amount of free early education hours has doubled. All of this means one thing for anyone hoping to enter a career as an early years practitioner: job stability. Additionally, because jobs are so plentiful, you’ll have more freedom to choose where you’d like to work, and find an employer willing to meet your personal needs. Lastly, unlike many jobs, once you’re qualified, you’ll also have the freedom to work anywhere in the UK.
There's plenty of opportunity for career progression
The career opportunities within the early years environment are plentiful, and diverse. Some people choose to begin their working journey as an unqualified early years worker, to get an idea of whether childcare is right for them. From there, they might choose to qualify as an early years practitioner, before moving into a more specialist role such as Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO), if you find that you work well with children who have additional learning needs. Alternatively, you might choose to become a senior practitioner, or even study for a teaching qualification. Of course, all of these roles come with increased pay, as well as increased responsibility. Occasionally, your workplace might even pay for you to train to reach the next level. Take a look at this useful career progression map.
It's a challenge
Sure, working with children can be difficult, but any job that doesn’t provide personal challenges is dull. All early years workers need to be able to respond quickly to situations, and be prepared for emergencies. You’ll need to stay calm and patient, even when things get frustrating, and you’ll need to have great problem-solving skills; what works for one child, might not work for the next. Lastly, you’ll need to be able to work with children who have additional needs, such as autism and ADHD, which can sometimes be difficult; you’ll need to understand the world from their perspective, and find ways to help them learn that work for both of you.
How much do early years practitioners earn?
If you begin your career as a nursery worker, and you work full time, you might expect to begin on a salary of £14,000 per year. However, once you qualify as an early years practitioner, your salary will likely be around £19,000. Once you pursue early years practitioner qualifications, your salary will likely be around £19,000. However, from there, if you choose to move on to an early years senior practitioner role, you might earn around £28,000, rising to £32,000 as you take on more responsibility. As you can see, there’s plenty of opportunity within the early years environment to increase your earnings as you gain new skills and qualifications.
How to become an early years practitioner
If you love the sound of everything you’ve heard so far and you’re considering becoming an early years practitioner, then you’ll first need to apply for a position such as ‘nursery assistant’, under the observation of qualified staff. This will give you an idea of whether you enjoy working in an early years environment, and will also mean you have staff members who can assess your abilities whilst you complete further training. From here, you can either choose a qualification such as the Level 2 Diploma for the Early Years Practitioner, or move straight to a qualification such as the Level 3 Diploma for the Early Years Workforce. Both will qualify you to work as an early years practitioner, however, if you undertake the level three qualification, you’ll hold a more senior role. Although there are no entry requirements for either of these courses, if you don’t currently hold GCSE maths and English qualifications (or an equivalent, such as functional skills) you won’t be able to work as a level three early years educator, so this is something to consider when you choose your qualification pathway. As part of your qualification, the senior members of your team will assess your ability to complete certain tasks, and check that you have all the skills necessary for the job.