Children are people – thoughts on preparing children for life
Tuesday 17th December
This blog entry was written by David Wright, Owner, Paintpots Nursery.
What if our policy makers could recall their own experiences during the first few months of their lives? What if they could go back to the awe and wonder of their first encounters with the beauty of the natural world around them and the joy and delight of encountering the richness of relationships for the first time? What if they were able to remember the depth and the warmth of the intimate nurture they received from their primary carers? Would policy for families, parents, children’s services and Early Years care and education have a higher national priority, I wonder? What would characterise the tone and vocabulary of debate, policy and statutory documents? Could we ever see the emergence of a compassionate, non-partisan politics that advocates above all things for love, empathy, kindness and well-being?
Sometimes, it appears that those who determine and prioritise so called outcomes for our youngest children, have suffered complete amnesia with regard to their own early years’ experience, or maybe they have inured themselves to traumatic memories of their own childhood? Why else would it be considered appropriate to reduce children to their data representation and to rank them according to a narrow set of test scores? Why else would we, as a society, tolerate lack of funding, child poverty and abuse amongst other adverse childhood experiences and the attendant increase in mental health problems we are seeing at ever younger ages?
As we consider the current consultation on proposed changes to the statutory framework for the early years foundation stage (EYFS) which closes at 11:45pm on 31 January 2020, I believe it is helpful to consider all that is good about the current framework, how it views the child at the centre of our services and its principles that guide our values about and attitudes towards what it means to be human. Surely this is fundamental? Unless we have a clear image of our children and what we want for them – our wishes and hopes, how can we review any framework that appertains to their welfare and development?
Here are my considerations of this question –
Do we see our youngest children as empty vessels, without intelligence or agency? Are they homogeneous units of learning ready to be filled with the requisite cultural capital (got that one out of the way!) and a data bank of knowledge and skills, n.b, demonstrably lodged in their long-term memory, that turns them out at the end of our education system, prepared to make an effective contribution to the economy?
Or is our image of our children that of parents / carers, deeply invested in them as individuals, recognising all that is of value within them from the moment they are born? Do we see them as equally entitled to their rights, to have a voice and agency? Are we as teachers captivated by them to the point that connection and relationship transcend any system? Do we love them for who they are and who they might become? Can we see each little person as an incredible cosmos of potentiality which we have the privilege to discover, foster and share in?
What do want for these children? High test scores? Maybe. High Expectation? Certainly, but more than anything else, I would suggest we want them to be happy and fulfilled at each stage of their lives. In other words, we shouldn’t see pre-school as preparation for school, which leads to preparation for SATS, which in turn is preparation for GCSEs etc. Children are people now.
For me, over and above knowledge, skills and the characteristics of effective learning, it is dispositions – the things it is difficult to quantify, that matter the most – Kindness, Empathy, Compassion, Optimism, Sense of Fun, Sense of Wonder, Spiritual Understanding, Imagination, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Curiosity, Problem Solving, Perseverance, Self-Motivation, Persistence, Reflection, Sociability / Co-operation / Collaboration, Attention / Concentration, Anger Management, Self Esteem, Emotional Intelligence, Ability to Defer Gratification, Contentment, Resilience, Independence, Risk Taking….
And in particular – Self-Regulation which is a strong predictor of academic achievement.
I would encourage all of us to respond to the consultation and to do so holding in mind the unique and capable child and the primacy of human connection and relationships. How does the EYFS support and encourage development of these dispositions? In the world these children will inherit, we know that knowledge will not be enough to solve its problems – climate change, pollution, hunger, inequality, terrorism, racial tensions. The jobs of tomorrow do not yet exist. Jean Piaget said, “”Are we forming children who are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try to develop creative and innovative minds, capable of discovery from the preschool age on, throughout life?” Our children will need more than what is already known to equip them for their future. We need a curriculum and a pedagogy that bring hope, optimism and aspiration. We owe it to this generation to get it right for them.
Visit Paint Pot Nurseries here www.paintpotsnursery.co.uk/ and make sure to read their blog section.