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Being Energised by the Early Years

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It’s time to invest in the creative power of our babies and toddlers.

children and their mothers attend a music session
Photo from Spark Arts

A sector in crisis

Babies and toddlers have been affected by the past few years’ seismic societal changes as much as the rest of us, but they’re rarely the focus of the conversation.

We know that the early years sector itself is in crisis. We’re seeing increasing numbers of settings closing, staff shortages and ongoing retention issues due to overall neglect, misunderstanding and low pay.

Research published earlier this year by the Early Years Alliance found that 24% of early years settings believe they were likely or very likely close within the next 12 months.

Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance, said. ‘Years of sustained underfunding combined with a worsening staffing crisis and limitations on space means that many providers simply won’t be able to increase places to meet the surge in demand….’.

To add to this, research published in November 2023 by the Early Years Alliance found that 81% of those working in the early years sector had experienced stress due to work-related issues during the last month with Ofsted inspections, sector-specific government policy and pay listed as the most common causes. And over a third (35%) were considering leaving the sector due to stress and mental health difficulties.

The government's plan to expand funded childcare for working parents "will not work" unless the amount paid to providers is right, MPs have warned…….Underfunding had left the sector "straining to provide" enough places for children, the Education Committee report found.

Government response to these challenges continues to focus on provision of care for young children rather than quality of education. Many in sector feel the solutions on offer are inadequate.

Creative education deprioritised

Creative education in the early years has been deprioritised within policy and resource. 0-5s were excluded from the National Plan for Music Education in its first ten years, and although now included, receive no extra resource. We must ask ourselves how are children’s creative ambitions or wellbeing being accounted for? 

Funding for creativity in the early years is more important than ever, yet our research into 31 major funders found that whilst 75% advertised specific young people-focused initiatives, only two had specific priorities for the early years, and not one had a dedicated early years fund open.

We believe that babies and toddlers are skilled and creative individuals with a huge amount to contribute. They should have the right to influence the organisations and activities they are involved in.

Investment in Early Years is a matter of equity and inclusion, which is why we’ve continued to prioritise and invest in early years creativity over the last 25 years and why we have launched the Energiser Fund – our first dedicated early years creativity fund.

The unmet needs of modern childhoods

Technology is an everyday part of children’s lives, yet it’s rarely a creative teaching aid. The creative activities on offer to early years children don’t always reflect the cultural diversity and range of art forms and genres that make up the modern creative world that they engage with, at home and in their day to day lives.

The music we see 18-25s engaging with and creating has changed dramatically over the last 25 years but under 5s are still offered a diet of nursery rhymes. Why hasn’t the repertoire expanded in the same way? 

In a world full of tech, possibility, cultural diversity, an ever-expanding range of creative genres and styles and constant change, don’t young children deserve more than just nursery rhymes and standardised tests?

Reasons to be cheerful?

There is a dedicated early years workforce, who deserve more attention, time, and money but their resourceful and continued belief in babies and toddlers continues to inspire. We see that in the projects that we fund at Youth Music and across the early years and creative workforces we meet. In carrying out research for our new early years fund, we met practitioners from across the country doing amazing work under challenging circumstances. 

Curious … creative … resilient … determined … authentic … tenacious … spirited … articulate … amazing … underestimated … excitement for life … so many ‘firsts'...

How consultees for the Energiser Fund described working with under 5s.

Radical listening

a baby
Photo from The Arts Development Service CIC - Babigloo Music for Babies

As we work to shape a better future for babies and toddlers, we shouldn’t forget the greatest untapped resource that we have – the skills, creativity and voices of babies and toddlers.

At Youth Music, we believe that all young people should be able to influence how an organisation or project is run, and that nobody’s too young to have their voice heard. We recognise that children have rights, as members of society under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Including the right to be heard and the right to freedom of expression. Work with them is at its best when it’s child-led, not top-down.

We know there is resistance to the idea of consulting with young children, but they communicate in many ways, not just using their ‘voice’. Consultation and co-design with babies and toddlers is diverse, exciting and energising. We believe by being open to, listening and acting on the ‘voices’ of babies and children, we can do and offer better for them.


We know we’ve still got lots to learn. That’s why we want our new Energiser Fund to help us explore and develop our terminology, practice, and understanding in this area, and fund forward-thinking work that centres children.

We’re building a learning community and a communications and advocacy strategy around the fund so we can bring people together to share, collaborate and influence. Watch this space.

Place babies and toddlers at the heart of what you do, and you invest in a future that benefits and supports us all.

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Youth Music Energiser Fund

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