‘Play is the highest form of research’

Posted on 21st Apr 2022 in School News, Prep Schools Guide, Nursery, Preschool

The benefits of attending preschool, by Danielle Armstrong, Early Years Teacher at Bridgewater School, Worsley.

As an Early Years teacher, I am a huge advocate of young children attending preschool and formal nursery settings. I believe that doing so allows children to develop in various ways, both earlier and more successfully than they would if they only began their journey through education from compulsory school age. There is a lot of research around this subject that serves to back up these thoughts and shows the many benefits of beginning education at an early age.

Melhuish, Gardner and Morris (2017) reported that the use of formal early childcare settings was linked to more prosocial behaviour, better verbal ability and better behavioural self-regulation. This is something that we see first-hand in our setting. Bridgewater School is a 3-18 school and many pupils begin their journey in Kindergarten and continue right through to Sixth Form. We are able to see their growth and development right the way through their education and celebrate their successes throughout.

Preschool settings have a plethora of opportunities, designed to develop and support children to progress in all ‘Areas of Learning’. Many of these activities, in addition to resources, are not available in more informal or childminder settings. Children who attend preschools settle into routines quickly and are able to enjoy and benefit from the slight formality of structure. I find that the children in our care thrive on the security of the routine of our day. They settle into it quickly and soon learn that we are part of a whole school environment.

During the first national lockdown in 2020, children were unable to attend their preschool settings. This has had a noticeable effect on key skills for young children, especially with regards to their communication and social skills. Although subsequent lockdowns saw nursery and preschool settings reopening to all children, and not just those that were deemed to be vulnerable or the children of keyworkers, many parents chose to keep their children at home. As more normality returns, class sizes in preschools are rising and are closer now to ‘pre-Covid’ levels. Many of these children are coming into settings having never been exposed to the language and opportunities that they would otherwise have had. As a result of this, a stronger emphasis has been placed upon the importance of Communication and Language (C&L) as well as Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED) within the Early Years Framework.

When Covid-19 hit and lockdowns were implemented, children’s worlds became considerably smaller. They were contained to their homes and gardens, many only saw their extended families over Zoom, they missed out on important and integral interactions with their peers and they were unable to engage in normal life experiences. Sadly, this has had a detrimental effect on the confidence and emotional stability of young children. A recent study, by Davis, Hendry, Gliga and McGillion (2021), found that children who did attend nursery and preschool during the pandemic displayed a greater growth in receptive vocabulary and executive function.It is imperative that we, as Early Years practitioners, work hard in order to repair the damage that lockdown and the pandemic has had upon the children who missed out on early opportunities. We must support children as they separate from their parents and carers, guide them as they begin to interact with their peers and encourage them to talk and listen.

As we know, the early years of a child’s life are crucial to their development. The experiences that they have and the neurological pathways that are created during this time, are the same pathways that they will use for a variety of tasks throughout their whole lives. Preschools are essential to ensure that children are ‘school ready’ and have had the chance to create a solid foundation. This has been seen to have a knock on effect throughout their education, both primary and secondary, as well as having an impact upon employment and income in their adult lives. The Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education Project (EPPSE) showed that children who attended preschools had better educational and social outcomes at the end of Key Stage 1, at the end of primary school and at the end of secondary school (Sylva et al, 2004). It was reported that this was particularly true when children had attended preschool at an early age and in settings with highly qualified staff (Sylva et al. 2004). There has been additional research that suggests that children who attended preschool would go on to experience financial benefits in terms of higher estimated earnings (Goodman & Sianesi 2005; Taggert et al., 2005)

Government funding schemes have allowed more children to attend preschools and nurseries where they are able to benefit from the rich and stimulating environments that these settings provide. This, in turn, means that more children in the country are being given the best start in life and are being encouraged and supported to develop across all ‘Areas of Learning’, in particular, in C&L and PSED. They have the advantage of being scaffolded by highly trained early years practitioners who know how to encourage children to meet their full potential. This is something that we continually strive to do here at Bridgewater School.

Hopefully, as we begin to look towards putting the turbulent events of the last couple of years behind us, we can concentrate on ensuring that the current and future generations continue to have full and enriched experiences throughout their crucial early years.


Davies, C., Hendry, A., Gibson, S. P., Gliga, T., McGillion, M., & Gonzalez-Gomez, N. (2021). Early childhood education and care (ECEC) during COVID-19 boosts growth in language and executive function. Infant and Child Development, 30(4), e2241.

Goodman, A., & Sianesi, B. (2005). Early Education and Children’s Outcomes: How Long Do the Impacts Last? Fiscal Studies, 26, 513-548.

Melhuish, E., Gardiner, J. & Morris, S. (DfE) (2017). Study of Early Education and Development (SEED): Impact Study on Early Education Use and Child Outcomes up to Age Three. DFE-RR706. London: DfE.

Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggart, B. (2004b), The Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) Project: Final report. London: SureStart DfES Publications Ref SSu/FR/2004/01

This article appears in the 2022 edition of John Catt's Preparatory Schools, which you can view here: