For Families and Carers : Early Years

Children playing with blocks. Photo copyright lauren shear.

This is a brief introduction – please see Further information below for more detailed resources

Babies and very young children


Education for babies and very young children does not have to mean any kind of formal setting or provision. For children this age, engaging them in activities and enabling them to take a full part in family life is the best start you can give them. You may find it helpful to look at the section on Growing Up for information about your child’s development. The Early Support booklet is also an excellent source of ideas – see Further information below.

As your baby gets a little older, you may want to explore more structured learning opportunities. This could be a home learning service such as Portage. A trained worker will visit you at home and work with you and your child on play based learning activities. You will be involved in choosing which activities are most important to work on.

Some local Down’s syndrome support groups also run developmental sessions for babies and young children. Contact your local group to find out what they do.

Early education age 2-5


Most children with Down’s syndrome attend mainstream early years settings with their typically developing peers. This gives them the opportunity to develop social relationships and learn new skills in an inclusive environment.

All children are entitled to 15 hours a week free early education from the age of 3. Some children are eligible from age 2; this includes children with special educational needs or disabilities. To find out more about early education and childcare, contact your local Family Information Service.

Getting help in nursery or preschool


There is no hard and fast rule about how much extra help your child will need at nursery. Some children with Down’s syndrome manage well within what the nursery generally provides; others may need some one-to-one support. The nursery should be working very closely with parents, as they know their child best. It is also helpful for the nursery to get advice from other professionals such as a speech and language therapist or educational psychologist. The local authority may also have early years advisory staff for special educational needs, for example an early years inclusion officer or area SENCO (special needs co-ordinator) covering a cluster of early years settings. The DSA has produced several early years resources and also provides training on supporting early development. See Further information below.

If your child needs more help than the nursery can provide from their own resources, you should consider asking for a statutory education, health and care assessment which may lead to an Education Health and Care Plan. If you haven’t done so before, we suggest you start the process at least a year before your child starts school. For more information, go to our pages on SEN and the law

Starting school


It’s important to plan early so that your child can have a smooth transition to primary school. Most children with Down’s syndrome attend their local mainstream primary school along with their brothers and sisters. However some parents of children who have Down’s syndrome and more complex needs prefer them to go to a special school. The school admissions process is different for children with statements of special educational needs or Education Health and Care Plans – see our SEN and the law pages for more information

For information about support in primary school, go to the Primary school section

Further help and information


From the DSA
The information team at the DSA is happy to answer your education related queries. Please call the helpline on 0333 1212 300 or email info@downs-syndrome.org.uk 

Including pupils with Down’s syndrome – Early years – practical advice for early years settings

Celebrating Success – early years – some examples of good practice in inclusion

Early support – Down’s syndrome – The DSA has co-written this comprehensive guide from the Early Support project

DSA training – The DSA Access Project provides a range of training options for families and schools
From other organisations
Portage early education

Family information services – Local information on childcare and early years provision

Information, Advice and Support Services Network (IASS) – this has links to your local information, advice and support service for special educational needs and disability. This was previously called Parent Partnership