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Early Years Learning Resources

Check out our guidance and tips for developing your Early Years skills as a Squirrel leader

What should you be doing for young people as a Squirrel leader?

Watch the video for further information on how as Squirrel leaders you can run a great meeting.

To watch in full screen, double click the video

Reflect on how the team do the following things for their young people:

  • Keep them safe
  • Get to know their needs
  • Run fun activities
  • Plan challenging sessions

Keep your young people safe

As Squirrel Leaders you should keep your young people safe.

Create a safe environment. Support them to try new and challenging things whilst feeling accepted and comfortable. Watch the video about working with this age group.

To watch in full screen, double click the video

This could be a young person’s first experience of being part of a group away from their family. They might not understand rules and routines so be patient, consistent and keep things simple. 

Start by setting expectations for turn taking, sharing, walking, talking, listening, and sitting. Once you've made these clear, you'll only need to remind them of the rules and routines.

Here are some more tips:

  • Use a code of conduct to set out rules: make it more visual to allow for young people who can’t read yet.

  • Never skip your opening or closing routine – if an activity is overrunning at the end of a session, end it so as not to run out of time and skip the closing routine. 

  • Instead of demanding that younger children follow rules, make personal contact (a touch, eye contact) to reassure and redirect them if they are acting out - this age group react better to positive guidance instead of being told off.

  • Involve young people, especially older ones, in creating rules and routines. For example, if the group is too loud, ask “Is everyone being nice and quiet or very loud?” When they respond, ask them “What’s wrong with being too loud?” They’ll feel empowered and it will increase their self-confidence.

  • Embed routines throughout the session – for example, you could always use songs when you want to go from tidy up time to home time.

  • Give young people jobs such as tidiness inspectors (with funny glasses or hats) to empower them to maintain rules themselves.

  • Involve parents – explain to them that it’s important they encourage their child to follow rules and take part in routines.   

  • Buddy up younger young people with older ones so that one acts as a role model for the other.

Deep Dive

Further information on rules and routines can be found below:

Scouting is for all. Your team must ensure that every young person feels psychologically safe. They should feel accepted and supported to be themselves.
Young people come from a range of different backgrounds. Even at a young age, when asked about their families they might feel that they have to justify or defend them. This can make them feel different and, as they grow older, make them afraid to talk about their families.
Here are some tips on being inclusive and making sure all young people feel accepted:

Celebrate difference

Use an 'all about me' activity and positively comment on individual differences. Show pictures and tell stories which refer to a range of family types. Reinforce the message that every family is unique but what makes a family is the same: love. Comment positively on similarities and differences throughout your sessions.

Create a welcoming environment

Keep a diverse range of dolls, stories and costumes for young people to play with. Positively comment on all choices that they make on their own. What if a boy chooses pink to paint with and another teases him? In front of them both, comment positively on the choice. Model your acceptance to other young people.

Use inclusive language

This is not an easy thing to be mindful of but it is important that you don't use biased language. For example, consider using terms like ‘the grownups’ or ‘the adults’ at the end of the session. Using ‘mummies and daddies’ reinforces a message that a young person must always have a mum or a dad.

Challenge stereotypes

Stereotypes affect young people's choices and aspirations. They affect the subjects they choose and the careers they aspire to. Choose content that doesn’t conform to traditional stereotypes. For example, stories with male nurses or female firefighters. Positively comment on non-stereotypical attributes of characters in stories. For example, 'The princess is so brave!'

Deep Dive

Further information on creating an inclusive setting can be found below:

Four and five year olds have a lot of energy. They could become very excited and seem out of control. Rather than try and stop them, it’s important to make sure they do this safely.

There is more risk when changing from one part of the meeting to another. For example, at the beginning of a session, young people may rush to enter the venue. Similarly, when going indoors or outdoors, young people may get flustered or tired carrying things in, leading them to get in each other’s ways and fall over.

In addition, when running a more challenging activity such as an assault course, there's a risk of young people getting into accidents.

It’s really important that you engage helpers and young leaders as much as you can. Assign parents/helpers to monitor smaller groups of young people, whilst a leader-in-charge can monitor the larger group and react when needed. 

Here are some more tips:

  • Risks associated with the venue will be largely fixed from week to week and your team should be briefed on these. You could record them on a printed risk assessment, check them every week and initial the form.

  • Risks associated with the planned activities should be assessed before the meeting.

  • These risks will vary depending on the needs of your young people.

  • Make sure the whole team and parents are involved in assessing risks. Parents should be made aware of their responsibilities such as closing doors/gates behind them and not letting strangers into the building; and also encouraged to report any potential hazards to the team.

  • Make sure everybody in the team is familiar with risks typically associated with this age group – e.g. slips, trips and falls. 

  • Make sure parents have completed emergency contact details and medical forms. Regularly communicate with parents so that they know what is coming up in the next session to flag any unknown risks. 

  • If you’re planning more challenging activities, arrange to have a higher number of adults present.

Deep Dive

Further information on assessing risks can be found below:

The Early Years Foundation Stage sets out four principles for early years providers to follow: 

  • Children learn and develop best in an enabling environment

  • Children are unique, learn constantly and can become resilient, capable, confident and self-assured.

  • Children learn and develop best in different ways and at different rates

  • Children learn strength and independence from positive relationships.

Safeguarding is everybody’s responsibility and everyone should act to respond to any concerns about the welfare of a child. Everyone in the team should have a copy of the Yellow Card, which:

  • sets out a code of behaviour for all Adults in Scouting

  • provides guidelines on what to do if a young person tells you they are being abused

  • gives guidelines on what to do if you are concerned about the welfare of a young person

If you have any concerns about a young person's welfare, contact the Scout Support Centre on 0345 300 1818 or

Deep Dive

Further information on safeguarding in Early Years can be found below:

Reflect on your learning with a short quiz. There is no pass or fail and you can take it as many times as you like. This is a chance for you to reflect on what you've learnt. 

The best way to learn is by asking others how they've approached things and trying them out for yourself. There's no one size fits all at Scouts.

Here are some common discussion questions on keeping your young people safe to post in your local group:

  • What's the best way to reward young people at this age when they behave well?
  • How can you manage other young people making fun of each other's families?
  • How are the safety risks different for this age group from Beavers or Cubs?

Get to know your young people

As Squirrel leaders you should get to know your young people.

Understand their needs. What can you expect from this age group? How can you get to know them and their families? Watch the video and find more information below.

To watch in full screen, double click the video

It's really important for you to have a good relationship with  parents and carers. Here are some tips for building positive relationships with families:

Talk to them as often as you can

Give them as much information as possible about what’s going on and what events are coming up. You can use a communication tool like WhatsApp or Online Scout Manager (OSM).

Ask them to take part in making decisions

Invite parents and carers to take part in decisions which affect the whole section. For example, what trips should you carry out? Give them the information they need, listen to their views and let them know what you've decided.

Tackle any language barriers

What if you can’t speak somebody's native language or they can't speak yours? Look for someone in the community who can act as a translator. Language can be a difficult barrier to overcome. It will mean a lot to families that you’re doing whatever you can to connect with them.

Learn their names

Find out what they want you to call them. Take the time to learn how to pronounce their names correctly. Calling someone by the wrong name can seem rude, even if it's done accidentally.

Try not to make assumptions

Be careful not to make assumptions about families' lifestyles. For example, don’t assume somebody is, or isn’t, married or even that they're married to a man or woman. Ask open-ended questions to get the information you need.

Invite parents to share their skills, culture or traditions

When a young person joins, ask their parent or carer to complete a form to find out their skills or interests. Why not try and plan your sessions using this information?

Thank them for their involvement

Thank parents and carers for all the ways they’re helping. Let them know the impact they're having on their young people. Suggest ways they can get involved and support learning at home. Why not share home learning tips through your communication tool? For example, let them know the songs you're singing in your sessions and suggest they sing them at home.

​Take time to understand additional needs

You can use the parent/carer framework to talk to families about children with additional needs. Try not to make any assumptions about the best type of support for a young person. Each young person is unique and has specific needs, which their parent can advise on. If possible, ask your Manager or other Leaders for advice on challenging conversations.

Deep Dive

 More information on building relationships with families can be found below:
The more young people are involved in shaping their Scouting experiences, the better!
Ask them about their likes and dislikes and show them that you are using these to shape the sessions. They'll feel more comfortable and open up to you naturally.
  • Use activities which allow young people to talk about their likes and dislikes such as Show and Tell
  • Use activities in which they can talk about their feelings. For example, use a welcome activity where each young person chooses a face sticker which represents their mood.
  • Review activities right after you finish them. You can ask them to hold up a happy face if they enjoyed the activity or a sad face if they didn't. Why not ask them to stand on one side of the room if they liked it or the other side of the room if they didn’t? If you ask at the end of the session, young people might forget what they did.
  • When organising an event, ask young people what they would like to see or what they think would be at that type of event. For example, "We are going to have a Pirate themed night, what do you think there will be to do? What do pirates eat?” Try to have these discussions in small groups to encourage discussion and support for those who might be shy.                                               
Be patient with young people who are shy.
  • Try to give them some more attention during activities to notice if they are enjoying them or not.
  • You can also speak to their parents about what they enjoy doing at home. 
  • Try to involve parents or carers to ask them questions to check if they liked an activity.

Deep Dive

More information on getting to know young people can be found below: 
Young people learn and develop at different stages. The following are only guidelines on what you might expect a four or five year old to be able to do.
Remember that each young person is unique. It's important to be aware of developmental ages and stages. It's equally important to get to know individual needs and characteristics.

Feelings and behaviour

At four and five, young people are exploring and learning to express their emotions.
If they feel comfortable, they generally like to be around people. They might want to please and be like their peers. Imaginary friends could be important too. 
They are likely to be more helpful, but sometimes they might still be demanding. By five years, they’ll probably have more control over their behaviour and fewer tantrums.


Young people of four and five years of age know more about opposites than we may think – for example, high/low. They know the names of letters and numbers out of order, and can count to ten. They might remember their own address and know the difference between left and right.


Language develops a lot at four and five years. More confident young people love telling stories and having conversations. They might also tell you how they feel, talk about their ideas, ask lots of questions and say words that rhyme.
Adults and other young people will generally be able to understand what a four year old is saying. Generally, they can build sentences with five or more words at a time.
By five years old a young person's language is clearer and their sentences will be more complex, often with up to nine words.

Daily life

Generally, this age group can dress themselves. They can also probably use a fork, spoon and sometimes a knife – for example, to spread butter on bread. They should be able to go to the toilet independently.
They should be able to copy a triangle, circle, square, and other shapes; and draw a person with a body. They will need support with more crafty activities.

Deep Dive

Further information on the ages and stages of development can be found below: 
Young people this age learn through interacting with people and things around them. Sitting still for too long can actually disrupt their development.
Focus on the young person exploring and not the outcome. What if a young person paints with all the colours and produces an ugly brown shape on their page? Congratulate them! By letting them be creative and make decisions, you've supported them in the best way possible. Allow young people to try anything and everything, as long as they are safe.
To support their learning, build time into your sessions to do these things:
  • Encourage them to explore. Show your own interest in discovering new things by saying things like “Wow, what’s that?"

  • Support them to do things, without taking over or directing them.

  • Positively comment when they achieve something. Encourage them to talk about their achievements with other young people.

  • Support them to make their own decisions by asking questions like “Which colour do you want to use?".

  • Model being curious and show that you don’t always know, are sometimes puzzled, and can think and find out.

  • Always encourage their efforts and ideas so that they feel safe taking risks with new ideas.

  • Describing their actions aloud helps young people to think and control what they do. This is called self-talk. You should model this behaviour by talking aloud while you are doing something.

  • Talk with them about what they are doing, how they plan to do it, what worked well and what they would change next time.

Reflect on your learning with a short quiz. There is no pass or fail and you can take it as many times as you like. This is a chance for you to reflect on what you've learnt.

Here you'll find discussion questions on this topic. There's no one size fits all at Scouts. The best way to learn is by asking others how they've approached things and trying them out for yourself.

Here are some common discussion questions on 'getting to know your young people' to post in your local group:

  • How do you get young people involved in a meeting who won’t leave their parents side?
  • How do you support the young people who do not want to take part in the opening and closing routines?

Run games and activities

As Squirrel leaders you should run games and activities.

Run activities which allow young people to have fun and keep them engaged. Watch the video and find more information below.

To watch in full screen, double click the video

Get young people's attention with verbal, visual, and physical cues.

1. Use attention grabbers

Things like: “1-2-3 Eyes on Me” (while pointing at your eyes) or “Hands on top. Everybody Stop!” (while placing your hands on your head) are a way to get young people’s attention.

2. Be playful

Get attention with a dramatic voice, by putting on a funny hat, or playing a clapping game. You could also try holding up a secret hand sign for young people to copy or rolling a ball to them to keep them alert.

3. Be open and welcoming

Use young people’s names to get their attention. Engage them with facial expressions, such as smiling and making eye contact. Use warm body language – for example, don’t fold your arms.

4. Be patient

Give young people time to process your requests for attention. For example, remember that afternoons are low energy times for many young people and it may take longer to process attention-getting techniques.

5. Be aware of temperament

Some young people can be easily distracted or more impulsive. Speak clearly and calmly and use physical cues like gentle touches to keep them focused. Other young people are more reflective and may need a five-minute warning before they can change activity.

6. Think about learning styles

Notice which attention-getting techniques work best for different learning styles. For visual learners, try raising your hand. For auditory learners, sing a song to start cleanup. For tactile learners, pass a stuffed animal around the circle.

Deep Dive

More information on getting attention can be found below:

Read about more attention-grabbing techniques

The quickest way to lose young people's focus is by giving instructions they don’t understand.

Here are some tips on the best way to instruct 4 and 5 year olds:

  • Be clear and concise -  instructions should be short and to the point. The fewer words the better. A good guide is one word per year of life. For example, you can tell a five-year-old to "go get your shoes on". The instruction shouldn't have any vague words – for example, “Get the red-ish paper”.

  • Give one instruction at a time -  when you give more than one, this age group may forget, not understand, or feel overwhelmed. If your activity has two parts - for example, going outside to light a bonfire and then toasting marshmallows - separate the instructions into two parts.

  • Be realistic - give instructions that you know they can follow. This will become easier to sense as you interact more with this age group.

  • Be positive - Let them know what you want them to do rather than not to do. If you only refer to the negative behavior - for example, "don't run" you still leave many other options open (skipping, hopping, etc.). Telling the young person what you want them to do – e.g. "walk, please." – doesn’t allow for other options.

Deep Dive

More information on giving instructions can be found below:

Following instructions in early years - research and tips

If you notice young people seem uninterested in an activity, you should change it. 
Some reasons young people this age may become uninterested in an activity:
  • it's too long

  • it's too difficult

  • it's the end of the session and they're tired

  • it's the end of a bad weather week and they've had few chances to go outside and use their energy.
Don't panic if they lose focus. If this happens, try and use a filler game. If they can't focus on a game, you can let them run around under the supervision of an adult.
Signs that they are not focused on an activity or game are:
  • fidgeting in their seats

  • getting up, running around and yelling

  • more confident young people will tell you they're bored
If you think young people aren't enjoying the activity, use a filler activity. 
Filler activities are short, five or ten-minute games which can be used as energy boosters. Have a look at the Deep Dive section for a list of activities you can use in your meetings.

Deep Dive

More information on adapting activities can be found below:

Here are some filler activity ideas

Involving parents or carers in activities is useful. With more adults supporting activities, Squirrel leaders can focus on monitoring the whole group. 
But it can be challenging. What if parents or carers start to do everything for their child? What if this means their child doesn't engage with other young people?
There is no one way of involving parents or carers. Be patient and open to trying different things. What works for one group of parents or carers, might not work for another. 
In the beginning, young people will probably not want to leave their parents or carers. It's important you are consistent in encouraging them to be independent. For the first few weeks you can say things like "How about this once (parent or carer) comes and helps?"
Here are some tips from leaders which have proven successful:
  • Make it clear that this is the young person's space. Adults can support young people, but shouldn't do things for them.
  • Can you arrange the room so that there is a space for parents or carers at the back? You can then ask young people to invite parents or carers to get involved in specific activities. These could be designated 'zones' - that is, 'parent's zone' and an 'activity zone'
  • Set expectations by giving out separate 'how you can help' guidance for parents or carers, helpers and leaders.
  • If you've asked parents or carers to sit at the back, try not to ignore them. At the end of the activity, ask young people "Do you want to take it to show (parent/carer)?
  • If parents or carers are involved in an activity, give young people tasks to promote their independence. For example, ask them to get the materials they need on their own. 
  • If a parent or carer has helped their child a lot, try and nudge young people to take ownership. For example, say "Oh, wow looks like (parent or carer) helped a lot with that. Do you want to paint it now? What colour are you going to choose?"
Do you think a child is getting a different experience in Scouting because of their parent or carer? Talk to the parent or carer about it. You could guide them to the Early Years learning resources on the website. Give them the opportunity to learn the best way to support their child's development. 

Reflect on your learning with a short quiz. There is no pass or fail and you can take it as many times as you like. This is a chance for you to reflect on what you've learnt. 

The best way to learn is by asking others how they've approached things and trying them out for yourself. There's a no one size fits all at The Scouts.

Here are some common discussion questions on running games and activities to post in your local group:

  • What's been the most successful way of involving parents or carers in activities?
  • Some young people just don't like having their parents or carers sign up as helpers and giving attention to other young people. But I need more helpers. What can I do?
  • How have you involved other young people in young running games and activities? Can they give instructions to each other?

Plan challenging sessions

As Squirrel Leaders you should plan challenging sessions.

Plan sessions for young people which challenge them and meet their developmental needs. Watch the video and find more information below.

To watch in full screen, double click the video

At this age you can’t expect young people to organise a full session but they can do things like teach others in the group how to play a new game or sing a new song they have recently learnt. Involving young people in planning is crucial for their development.

  • Give them some responsibility: for example, give them tasks to do like helping a leader to set up or demonstrate an activity.

  • Review your plans with young people: at the end of the meeting line them up and say “If you really enjoyed today’s activities stand here, if you thought they were OK stand here and if you didn’t enjoy them stand here”. You could then ask them simple questions like what was the best part or what could be done better next time

  • Tell young people when you’ve listened to them and planned something you know they’ll like by saying things like “We’re doing this because you asked for it”

Ask helpers to support you to review activities with young people. Some young people who are more shy may not shout out their answers, but may be more comfortable talking about what they liked or didn’t like in smaller groups.

Deep Dive

More information on involving young people in planning can be found below:

Here are some more tips on involving young people in planning

You should use a balance of adult- and child-led activities in your sessions. 

Adult-led activities

Adult-led is where the adult plans, organises and shows or tells the children what they need to do. For example, a board game or a musical game such as the ‘Hokey Cokey’
This approach is good for higher-risk activities. Young people carry out activities that otherwise they would not be able to manage. It also supports young people to learn new skills and concepts. For example, when playing a board game with an adult. Finally, this approach promotes language development as adults model language for young people. 

Child-led activities

Child-led is when young people are free to choose resources and toys and decide what to do with them. Adults can join in, but must do what the child tells them to.
This approach supports emotional development because young people make their own choices. It also fosters creativity as they have to develop their own ideas of how to play. Finally, child-led activities allow young people to practice their social skills. They might squabble at times, but most children from three years can work things out themselves. Learning to take turns and co-operate helps young people's social skills.
Focus on the process of exploration and forget about the outcome. What if a young person paints with all the colours and produces an ugly brown shape on their page? Congratulate them! By letting them be creative and make decisions, you've supported them in the best way possible. You've let them express themselves, which is incredibly important for their development.
Here are some more tips:
  • How to build a child-led approach into an activity from the Programme Planning tool? Put the materials out and let young people adapt it as they want to.
  • Try to incorporate child-led play before the session starts. Young people will arrive at different times. Put out a mat with toys and other resources and let them play with no instructions.
What if you notice a parent or carer insisting on doing everything for their child? Speak to them. Tell them about the importance of child-led activities and the impact it will have.


Using songs presents opportunities for young people to learn and develop in the prime areas of Communication and Language, Physical Development and Personal, Social and Emotional Development.

Top tips for using songs during meetings:

  • Ask your young people what their favourite song is.

  • Use songs for a particular purpose e.g. hello, goodbye song or tidy up song.

  • Sing songs that also involve sounds, this supports young people that are less confident in singing to join in with the sounds.

  • Sing songs slowly so that young people can listen to the words spoken rather than it sounding like jumbled up words.

  • Sing songs that are familiar to children as they need lots of repetition.

  • Communicate with parents or carers the songs you are singing so they can share these with young people at home.

  • Use props such as puppets during the song.

  • Create a song bag so that when young people see someone getting this bag they know it’s song time.

  • Use musical instruments to accompany songs.


Storytelling inspires imaginations and helps language development.

Five top storytelling tips:

  • Make eye contact with young people and have fun and smile.

  • Use gestures as you describe actions using your hands and your whole body.

  • Use repeated words for effect: “He laughed and he laughed and he laughed!” This encourages young people to join in on the third word.

  • Repeat sentences “Is he under here? No. Is he under here? No”. Again young people will join in once they know what to expect.

  • Use different voices for different characters.


Learning through play is one of the key principles of Early Years education.

Here are some different kinds of play you can incorporate into your meetings:

1. Construction Play

Activities such as counting bricks, measuring weight and moving objects make a difference to the way young people think and complete tasks.

2. Role Play

Playing with props, actions and situations young people create stories and scenarios.

3. Creative Play

This involves young people creating things using their bodies and materials, like clay. They can share their feelings, ideas and thoughts by creating things. Creative play helps to satisfy children’s need for self-expression and helps them to develop manual skills.

Deep Dive

Make sure any extra content you use in your sessions is age appropriate. Check the guidelines for recommended ages.
Here are some guidelines on selecting content for 4 and 5 year olds:
  • Choose content that helps build their vocabularies, count, and learn about the world. For example, facts about plants and animals.
  • Choose content with clear lessons about social and emotional skills. For example, being kind to others and waiting one's turn.
  • Include concrete over abstract ideas. This age group learn better from things they can experience, see, and feel.
  • Choose scenarios that are relatable to make it easier for young people to understand.
  • Young people may find characters from other countries or using other languages confusing. Especially if it is an animated show. If you can, point out connections to their world. Also ask questions to check that young people are making sense of what they see.
  • Choose content that supports school-readiness, including social-emotional skills such as self-control.
  • Be careful with content that tries to teach positive lessons using negative examples. For example, a sibling learns to love her new brother after she's shown being mean. Four year olds might find this confusing. It could also have the opposite effect, as young people may focus on the negative.
  • Choose media that shows characters with diverse attributes
  • Point out some of the positive, non-stereotypical attributes of characters. For example, "Wow, the princess is so brave!"
  • Comment positively on interracial interactions in stories or on-screen.  
Young people are all unique and it's difficult to always know if something will scare them. If a young person does become scared, reassure them that they don’t have to take part if they don’t want to. Why not buddy up younger children with older ones so that they feel supported?
Young leaders are good with this age group when they become scared or distressed. Four and five year olds tend to feel comfortable with teenagers.

Deep Dive

More information on selecting challenging and relevant content can be found below:

There is a new section of The Scouts site dedicated to helping volunteers to plan activities.

The programme planning tool aims to make it simpler and faster for leaders to find new, exciting and safe activities

Deep Dive

A link to the Early years programme activities can be found below:

Have a look at programme planning guidelines

Reflect on your learning with a short quiz. There is no pass or fail and you can take it as many times as you like. This is a chance for you to reflect on what you've learnt.

The best way to learn is by asking others how they've approached things and trying them out for yourself. There's no one size fits all at The Scouts.

Here are some common discussion questions on 'planning challenging sessions' to post in your local group:

  • Every young person in my section is very shy. How can I plan according to their needs?
  • What's worked well in adapting activities from the programme planning tool to make them 'child-led'?
  • What songs have you been using in your sessions and where can I find them?

Reflect on your skills with Early Years

Have a look at these scenarios you could come across as part of an early years team. What would you do?

Read these scenarios and choose the best outcome