The aims of Upstart are:
- to establish a statutory play-based ‘kindergarten stage’ for Scottish children – based on well-established developmental principles and similar to the systems in Nordic countries – with a recognisably different ethos from primary schooling
- to stress the importance, for long-term mental health and well-being, of ensuring that between the ages of three and seven children are free from the pressure of the formal school system and educational target-setting
- to raise awareness of the role of early years education in ‘levelling the educational playing field’, by providing all children with secure foundations for school-based and lifelong learning
- to argue the case for play (particularly outdoor play and contact with the natural world) as an inborn human instinct, vital to children’s physical, emotional, social and cognitive development, and seriously lacking in the lives of many 21st century children
- to highlight the importance of supporting children’s social, emotional and spoken language development in the early years, as the basis for successful later learning of the three Rs and educational achievement in general
- to draw attention to the extremely early school starting age in UK countries (as opposed to the rest of the world), and the growing evidence of a connection between ‘schoolification’ of early years education the widening achievement gap between rich and poor in the USA and UK
- to highlight the need for a well-qualified, highly-respected early years workforce with a common understanding of the principles of child development and the importance of ‘attunement’ (the capacity to ‘tune into’ young children’s needs and emotions) in anyone working with the under-sevens.
A kindergarten approach to early years education involves a sensitive (age-appropriate) balance of child-directed play and teacher-led activities to support aspects of development that underpin life-long learning and achievement:
- physical coordination and balance, physical confidence, the ability to focus attention and control behaviour
- emotional strengths, including resilience, self-confidence, a can-do attitude and the patience to pursue long-term aims, rather than immediate rewards
- social competence, such as getting along with peers, conflict resolution, working collaboratively in a group and communication skills
- cognitive capacities, such as the use of language to explore and express ideas, curiosity and problem-solving skills, visual-spatial skills and experience-based understanding of basic mathematical concepts.