Quality early education has lifelong value!
“Quality early education has a significant positive impact on children’s lifelong chances.” Experts, leaders, managers, politicians, and members of the royal family all seem to be pitching in to this debate. Collectively there is a swell of the opinion of ways to mitigate the long-term negative effects Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) in childhood have on people’s life chances.
Adults who experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in early childhood are: 4.9 times more likely to have memory impairment, 4.7 times more likely to have depression, 2.3 times more likely to get cancer and 2.1 times more likely to have a cardiovascular disease. ACEs can also have a behavioural impact, leading to increased risk of illicit drug use, suicidal ideation, violence perpetration and school absenteeism.
Taken from The British Medical Journal
Some of us will have suffered lasting effects of ACE’s ourselves and undoubtedly, we will be working with families who are facing their own challenging experiences, for example, those working but still in poverty, parents who may be struggling with addiction, families living through a breakdown, those fleeing domestic violence, or dealing with issues around mental health and wellbeing or facing potential homelessness to name but a few.
Recent research in the British medical journal is suggesting so much more about the impact the experience we have from conception to the age of five has on, “shaping our developing brain”. The research makes repeated recommendations about how crucial it is for ALL children to access positive physical, emotional, and cognitive development during this period. In early years, we understand early childhood as an important learning and teaching phase and through our reflective pedagogy, we are finding more ways to lay firm foundations, create the building blocks, and acquire the tools to provide opportunities that could mitigate some of the negative impact of ACES, thus arming our 0-5’s with resilience and the skills to put them on the best trajectory towards them achieving their full potential. To do this well, it is vital that we offer children access to a broad curriculum, deeply grounded in their interests and that takes account of where they are in their worlds, what they already know, have experienced, and can do.
It is so important for us to build on children’s passions and interests in a meaningful way. Every child's learning journey and the curriculum opportunities they are offered alongside their prior experiences will all take them on their own unique path. Spending quality time alongside young children, we become aware of their built-in drive to learn, powered by their fascinations. Attempting to teach young children without acknowledging their interests, passions, preoccupations, and their prior experiences, leads to missed opportunities for valuable learning. Emotional response to learning is crucial in determining how we feel about learning and impacts on our future motivation and self-esteem. When we see learning as something which is fun and useful to us, we tend to be more engaged in the process. By acknowledging and weaving children’s interests into the curriculum, we help them feel valued as individuals and as learners who are experts in their own life experiences, thus fostering a potential lifelong love of learning.
‘Interests’ are subjects, ideas, things, topics and events which fascinate and are fun and interesting, they are about hands-on learning experiences in which children and adults work together to further explore the interest and express their own theories and understanding that stimulate the curiosity of the child and that prepare them for what comes (childhood101.com. Christie Burnet) next.
Christie Burnet, childhood101.com
Our very youngest children express their interests too. For example, a young baby or toddler learning to roll, or crawl, or walk, or jump as their current interest, they are determined to master the new skill, and they practise, practise, practise. We (often spontaneously) build into the curriculum this sequenced learning and formulation of experiences to encourage the mastery of this new skill. We support and cheer on their efforts to jump, we jump with them, we sing and jump to make jumping fun. This is a form of emergent curriculum – taking what the child is interested in and learning about and making it interesting and engaging for them to learn it. For a slightly older child, they might be obsessed with a particular toy or book that provides that springboard for further learning. Children have interests, as we all know, in all manner of things, from snails or superheroes, to the more obscure (try creating an interesting curriculum about rubbish trucks or dead insects), to those stimulated by TV or film, Jo Jo and Gran Gran or Frozen.
In order to support children’s interests and use them as a vehicle to help deliver the curriculum we need to work with parents and carers and consider:
- what makes the child smile and laugh?
- what gets and keeps their attention?
- what gets them excited?
- what are their favourite things to do?
- what do they work hard at doing?
- what “brings out their best”?
- what gets them to try new things?
- what do they choose to do most often?
- what do they know and can do already?
Then we need to think of ways where the interest can be supported and developed (with the children). Adding further ideas as they emerge. Below cites an example of a child in a preschool setting who staff feel may be at risk of falling behind their peers:
Dumbo: This scenario is about a 2-year-old in a pre-school setting, A harder child to reach, you might say, not a child who particularly stands out from the crowd, they’re not loud or overly-talkative. They do not have behavioural challenges. Not one of the children who ask lots of questions or who always wants to give the answers. In fact, a bit of a wanderer. During free play or activity, they wander or flit from activity to activity, engaging for mere moments with the activity or the other children. This is a child the setting have been keeping a keen eye on. According to their professional judgement, the child is not engaging very deeply with the current curriculum offer.
Using the questions above the setting thought about what the child likes to do, what they are passionate about, what they are drawn to, what they talk enthusiastically about, knowing they have very little to go on, they gather some further information from home. They speak to parents, and they tell the setting, the child is ‘madly’ obsessed with the Disney movie, Dumbo.
Light Bulb Moment! Starting small, the setting dedicate a small area of the room to a wooden circus resource and add additional elephants from the zoo animals. They modify one of the elephant figurines to have large ears (made with felt) just like Dumbo. On a nearby shelf, they add a mix of factual books about elephants and the circus, sourced from the settings collection and the library, plus a number of dress-up items representing, acrobats and ringmasters like in the film. The wall displays are temporarily altered to reveal circus-related imagery and include pictures from magazines, some images from the movie, and some photos of children dressed in various outfits. When the child enters the space, they see the spark ignite. The child is instantly animated with the practitioners and with the other children, they spend a lot of time in this area exploring the resources and learning with their practitioners and peers, and quickly come to see themselves as an ‘expert’ of this interest which is so fantastically beneficial to their self-esteem and to their view of themselves as a learner. Imagine the scene where this child enthusiastically jumps for joy as the ringmaster of their circus, surrounded by other children each playing their role in what appears a beautiful pantomime re-enacting their interpretation of Dumbo.
The above clearly illustrates the ideas of Loris Malaguzzi (1920–1994), pioneer of the Regio Emilia approach, where he emphasised the importance of reciprocal relationships. He often used the metaphor of a table tennis game to illustrate meaningful interaction with children:
The game is taking place between two people, you and the child/children (or a child and child). The ball can be batted first by either of you, but in the case of our Dumbo fan, the setting went first, discovering the child’s interest and passions. The next move was key. By intervening at the right speed with the right thinking the setting got the learning game started by piquing the child’s interest. This, in turn, encouraged the child to bat more ideas, thinking and conversation back to setting. They listen to what the child is saying, doing or thinking, and pose questions or suggest activity to extend the child’s thinking then, “Bop!” they bat it back again. If they can keep the game going, it's very likely that these exchanges will lead to deeper levels of learning from and a teaching context that highly motivates the child based on what you know needs to be taught.
'Once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors and inventors, once they are helped to discover the pleasures of inquiry, their motivation and interest explode.
Impact on children when we utilise their fascinations and interests:
- when I can follow my interests and adults support me (and are interested as well), this makes me feel good. Then I feel confident, secure and happy. I trust people and make good relationships with them
- when I follow my interests, I can make connections in my learning and express them. I can build them up with other children and adults. I can sustain my thinking and conversation and share with those around me
- I am learning about the world around me and how to cope in many situations. You are helping to shape my brain and towards my lifelong goals
To find out more about every child having a right to the rich, interwoven learning opportunities that is vital for their development and key to extending their potential, pedagogy in early years reflecting children’s voices, and about why our call to action must be that the voices of children and the language of pedagogy becoming core to training and practice, why not come to our National Early Years Conference in March. One of our keynote speakers, June O’Sullivan will inspire us on the next step in our journey of getting it right for every young child we work with.
Children’s Interests and Fascinations. Published online by childhood101.com. Christie Burnett - 13 September 21
Introduction: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) – Implications and Challenges Published online by Cambridge University Press: 07 June 2019
Early Years Pioneers - Loris Malaguzzi, what were the Reggio Emilia co-founder’s achievements and what is his legacy? Published online by Nursery world: 17 February 2020
Adversity in childhood is linked to mental and physical health throughout life. C Nelson. Published by BMJ online: 28 October 2020.