Themes and Debates in Early Childhood


Edited by: Mary Wild & Alison Street

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    Mary Wild is a Principal Lecturer in Child Development and Education, and has previously led the Early Childhood Studies degree at Oxford Brookes University. She teaches across a range of courses for practitioners and professionals in Early Years, including the MA Childhood Studies. Mary is a qualified teacher with experience in both the primary and Early Years sectors. Her research interests include: early childhood literacy; children's thinking; professional development within the Early Years workforce; and parenting. Mary is a member of the British Psychological Society and the British Educational Research Association (BERA). She is a member of the Strategy Group of the Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network, which brings together course leaders of the ECS degrees from across the UK.

    Alison Street has spent 30 years in community music education, focusing on day-to-day musicality in families with young children. She composed and compiled all musical materials for the PEEP (Parents Early Education Partnership) Learning Together programme, which supports parents with their children's early learning. Her doctoral research (2006) explored singing in mother-infant interactions and mothers’ perceptions of their roles. Project management and research include: Music One-to-One with parents with children under two; Musical Babies with practitioners in urban settings; and Time to Play (2008–9) in creative play with Muslim families. She works as a consultant and associate lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and on the Masters Programme in Early Childhood music, which is accredited by Birmingham City University. She is co-author, with Linda Bance, of Voiceplay (2006), published by Oxford University Press.

    Catharine Gilson is a Senior Lecturer in Early Years at Oxford Brookes University. She is Subject Coordinator for the Early Childhood Studies degree and teaches across a range of courses in the Early Years strand of the PGCE, the Foundation Degree in Early Years and the BA in primary teacher education. She has previously worked as a teacher and as a local authority Early Years advisory teacher. Her current doctoral studies are focused on the professional development of teachers and practitioners within the Early Years.

    Ingram Lloyd has worked as Programme Manager for Early Years Professional Status and as a Senior Lecturer in the Early Childhood Studies department at Oxford Brookes University. She is a qualified teacher and has worked mainly with 3–8 year-old children in the maintained and independent sectors, latterly as a head teacher. She trained at the Froebel Institute, Roehampton, and has an MA in education. Her specialism is outdoor play, risk taking and how the associated issues of outdoor play and risk taking affect the views of children, parents and staff alike.

    Helena Mitchell is Head of the School of Education at Oxford Brookes University, one of the largest education departments in the country. Between 2000 and 2008, Helena was involved in the development of a range of courses focused on early years at Oxford Brookes University, liaising with the local authority on these developments. She also led on the establishment of the Early Childhood Studies degree at Oxford Brookes in 2000. Prior to working at Oxford Brookes, she worked as a teacher and deputy head teacher of a large nursery and infants’ school in inner London. Her research work has focused on Early Years topics, including early literacy, student employability, and also workforce development especially for Early Years practitioners. She is a member of the British Educational Research Association (BERA) and the Strategy Group of the Early Childhood Studies Degrees Network, which brings together course leaders of the ECS degrees from across the UK.

    Nick Swarbrick works as a Programme Lead in the School of Education, Oxford Brookes University, with responsibility for Early Childhood Studies and the Early Years Foundation Degree. His teaching centres on modules on Play and Pedagogy, Outdoor Learning in the Early Years, and Children's Spirituality. He also teaches on the Primary PGCE. Before joining Oxford Brookes, he was head teacher of a nursery school in Oxford. Nick's current research interests focus on young children's literature and the outdoors.

    Rachel Friedman and Carolyn Silberfield also contributed to an earlier edition of this book (first published in 2007 by Learning Matters), originally entitled Early Childhood Studies Reflective Reader.


    Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher and author will gladly receive any information enabling them to rectify any error or omission in subsequent editions.

    Chapter 1
    Extract 1

    The Marmot Review (2010) Fair Society, Healthy Lives. Strategic Review of Health Inequalities Section 2.6.1 Early Years and Health Status, pp60-2

    Extract 2

    Vandenbroeck, M., in European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 17(2), June 2009: pp165-7

    Chapter 2
    Extract 1

    Alderson, P. (2008) (2nd edition) Young Children's Rights: Exploring beliefs, principles and practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

    Extract 2

    Freeman, M. (1993) Laws, Conventions and Rights. Children and Society, 7(1): pp37-48 and articles 3 and 12 of the UNCRC (wording of original version)

    Chapter 3
    Extract 1

    Clough, P. and Nutbrown, C. (2005) Inclusion and development in the Early Years: Making inclusion conventional? Child Care in Practice, 11(2): pp99-102

    Extract 2

    Siraj-Blatchford, I. (2010) Diversity, inclusion and learning in the Early Years, chapter 11 in G. Pugh, and B. Duffy (eds) Contemporary Issues in the Early Years (5th edition) pp153-4. London: Sage

    Chapter 4
    Extract 1

    Vygotsky, L.S. (2004) Imagination and creativity in childhood. Journal of Russian and East European Psychology, 42(1): pp11-12

    Extract 2

    Rogoff, B. Mistry, J. Göncü, and Mosier, C. (1993) Guided participation in cultural activity by toddlers and caregivers. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development serial nos 236, 58(7): pp5-6

    Chapter 5
    Extract 1

    Bruce, T. (1991) Free-flow play and its features, in Time to Play in Early Childhood Education. London: Hodder and Stoughton, pp59-60

    Extract 2

    Rogers, S. (2010) Powerful pedagogies and playful resistance, in L. Brooker and S. Edwards (eds) Engaging Play. Maidenhead: Open University Press, p161

    Chapter 6
    Extract 1

    Gerhardt, S. (2004) Why Love Matters. How affection shapes a baby's brain. London: Routledge, pp214-217

    Extract 2

    New, R., Mardell, B. and Robinson, D. (2005) Early childhood education as risky business: Going beyond what's ‘Safe’ to discovering what's possible. Early Childhood Research and Practice, 7(2) Fall: pp1-15

    Chapter 7
    Extract 1

    Edward C. Melhuish, Phan, M.B., Sylva, K., Sammons, P., Siraj-Blatchford, I. and Taggart, B. (2008) Effects of the home learning environment and preschool center experience upon literacy and numeracy development in early primary school. Journal of Social Issues, 64(1): pp108-9

    Extract 2

    Brooker, L. (2010) Constructing the triangle of care: Power and professionalism in practitioner/parent relationships. British Journal of Educational Studies, 58(2): p183, p184

    Chapter 8
    Extract 1

    Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (2006) Starting Strong II, pp166-7. OECD Publishing

    Extract 2

    Moss, P. (2007) Structures, understandings and discourses: Possibilities for re-envisioning the early childhood worker. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 7(1), 2006: pp31-4

    Chapter 9
    Extract 1

    Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp252-3

    Extract 2

    Glenny, G. and Roaf, C. (2008) Multiprofessional Communication: Making Systems Work for Children, pp95-7. Maidenhead: Open University Press


    In 1999 as we were about to enter the twenty-first century, Professor Tina Bruce, who has spent many years exploring early childhood as a parent, teacher and researcher (see Extract 1, Chapter 5 of this book for Bruce's definition of play) wrote about her own memories of early education and her fondly remembered favourite teachers.

    These teachers … seemed to create a feeling of calm, an anchored feeling, a settled feeling in a group which felt like a real community, and yet they seemed to do this in order to jolt you and make you rethink or think anew in quantum leaps. It was exciting to learn with them. You had a sense you would never be the same again, and you weren't! … These were not quick fix, get there early, get good outcomes, good SATS results, League Table teachers. These were help-you-to-be-long-term-forever-learner kinds of teacher.

    (Bruce, 1999, p36)

    Now, more than ever, all adults working with young children need to be that kind of teacher. (This holds good whether or not you have, or aspire to, qualified teacher status - all Early Years practitioners are involved in teaching young children through the positive relationships and enabling environments they provide.) Several years into the century, research and practice have confirmed John Holt's (1964) claim that since we cannot know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.

    This is a book which recognises both the powerful learning capacities of young children and the need for practitioners to see themselves as learners too - to be like the inspiring women that Bruce praises and thanks for her own lifelong interest in learning. These were the sort of practitioners who listened to the voice of the child because they valued those children and knew that, as Gussin Paley (2004:8) says, It is in the development of their themes and characters and plots that children explain their thinking and enable us to wonder who we might become as their teachers.

    This book is written by authors who believe in learning power both for students and those already in practice. It is informed by passion and commitment to children's entitlements to have the best provision whatever their personal or family circumstances. The writers have high expectations both for children and for student and practitioner readers. They also continue to wonder about their own practice as a community of university teachers and researchers. This is not, therefore, a quick read providing a collection of top tips. There are plenty of other books like that and they have their place, but this book goes beyond them into fundamental issues that inform and shape practice. Nonetheless it is easy to read because the authors use clear accessible language, but it is designed to provoke thought and it takes time to respond to the challenges presented.

    The authors’ mission is to engage the reader, whether student or practitioner, in exploring a range of issues which inform and shape Early Years pedagogy. Effective pedagogy rests on an understanding of both how children develop and learn, and the practices through which practitioners can support and extend that learning. Developing effective pedagogy therefore requires deep understanding about children and where they are in their lifelong learning journey, as well as willingness to be self-critical and aware of one's own impact. This in turn depends on the recognition that everyone's practice is rooted in their values, beliefs and knowledge and supported by theory and experience as well as the social and cultural context in which they work. Being a good Early Years practitioner requires self-knowledge and the ability to de-centre and stand in others’ shoes. In other words, being an effective practitioner can be complex and demanding. It can also, of course, be life affirming and wonderful and it is in the small everyday interactions in settings that we see all facets of theory in action.

    What Early Years practitioners do is intensely practical and may seem unrelated to theory when it's happening. But we all have beliefs and values that inform everyday practice. An example might be the way we praise children. Most, if not all, Early Years practitioners believe that praise is important in motivating children and recognising achievement, but have you thought about how and what you praise?

    Let's look at an everyday example. A child is standing beside her picture looking pleased. Practitioner A smiles and says Good girl, I love your picture. This may sound supportive but think again about the hidden message the child may be hearing after the glow of recognition has worn off. Maybe it's I am a good person when you love what I do.

    Practitioner B takes a different approach. She smiles and says You really thought about the colours you used; which part of the picture do you like best? Again the child will get a glow from being praised but the underlying message she is hearing is My thought process is valued and I can evaluate the finished result. In other words, she has control and her motivation can come from within, rather than being dependent on external rewards.

    Such small everyday interactions are where learning happens for children and where they begin to become lifelong learners. They need and deserve adults who have really thought about the questions that Mary Wild and Alison Street pose in the Introduction: Why do I believe what I believe? and Why do I do what I do? Otherwise they get practitioners who are minding rather than teaching, boring rather than inspiring. Tina Bruce's teachers were not fettered by routine and they were inspiring because they were learners themselves who saw the children and themselves as part of a community. They were in love with learning and understood that the way to get children to be good learners was to share that love. In order to do that of course you have to see yourself as a thinker. As Lilian Katz says: If teachers want their young pupils to have robust dispositions to investigate, hypothesize, experiment, conjecture and so forth, they might consider making their own such intellectual dispositions more visible to the children (Katz 1995, p65).

    This book helps to guide the reader into some fruitful avenues for thought. It provides some readings to provoke ideas and then unpacks possibilities for further thought and action while leaving plenty of routes for further exploration and discovery. The key themes which recur throughout the book and link the sections together are:

    • identities;
    • learning and well-being;
    • professionalism.

    The first section on identities really unpacks some of the taken-for-granted language of inclusion and exclusion. It may also feel very personal, as we all have personal and professional identities which are shaped by our own experience. There are no easy answers to some of the questions raised, but in relation to young children this section reminded me of the wise words of Maria Robinson (2003):

    In order for professionals to work effectively with babies, young children and their parents, their first duty is to recognise themselves for who they are, what they believe and why. The emotions we see in infants and young children do not only belong to them, they belong to us. We have all been helpless infants, we all carry with us our history including that of being parented and therefore, consciously or unconsciously, we know what children are going through.

    The second theme of learning is, of course, tied up with identity. Who we are and who we might become as a learner inform our reactions to other people and the environment. The second section of the book explores how our habits of mind are formed as our brains develop and we come to understand ourselves as learners. The role of adults in this process is key. It is through the active intervention, guidance and support of a skilled adult that children make the most progress in their learning. As this section illustrates, this does not mean pushing children too far or too fast, but instead meeting children where they are emotionally and intellectually, showing them the next open door, and helping them to walk through it. It means providing secure attachment relationships and being a partner with children, enjoying with them the power of their play and exploration, and the thrill of finding out what they can do.

    The emphasis in education has moved away from giving information and towards supporting learning skills - what Guy Claxton has called building learning power. Learning to learn has been identified as crucial for personal success and participation as citizens in an inclusive society (Education Council of the European Union, 2006) and many projects all over the world are focusing on the learner as a whole person.

    And, despite all this ongoing interest and activity, we have too many children whose capacities to be citizens of the twenty-first century are being wasted like Emily's, a 15-year-old GCSE student.

    I guess I could call myself smart. I mean I can usually get good grades. Sometimes I worry though that I'm not equipped to achieve what I want, that I'm just a tape recorder repeating back what I've heard. I worry that once I'm out of school and people don't keep handing me information with questions … I'll be lost.

    (Claxton, 2004, p1)

    As Claxton puts it, Emily sees herself as ready for a life of tests, but not the tests of life. Emily appears to have no sense of agency as a learner and to be sadly aware of her learned helplessness - what Carol Dweck (2006) calls a fixed mindset. The dangers of concentrating on short-term fixes at the expense of deep learning have been amply demonstrated by one of the strongest sources of evidence we have about the long-lasting effects of how we are encouraged to learn when we are young - the High Scope Perry Pre-School evaluations. The heart of the High Scope approach is social constructivist (see section 2, Chapter 4), supporting children to plan, carry out and review their own learning, motivated by their own ideas and interests and supported by skilled practitioners as appropriate. The original High Scope project has been the subject of a rigorous longitudinal study following children who took part in the programme until they were over 40 years old. One strand of the research compared children who had been in the project with those who attended ‘direct instruction’ (behaviourist/formal, practitioner-led) pre-schools.

    Children who had attended direct instruction settings showed early achievement gains in English and maths, but as the children got older that advantage disappeared and the balance shifted. By the age of 15 children from the direct instruction group were half as likely to read books, twice as likely to have committed ‘delinquent acts’ and were far more likely to be socially and emotionally troubled than children from High Scope and traditional nursery schools. By the age of 23, the direct instruction group were almost four times more likely to have been arrested and had almost eight times the rate of emotional impairments. They were about half as likely to have graduated from college.

    When, at age 40, the High Scope group were compared with children who did not go to any pre-school provision it was found that they exhibited less anti-social and criminal behaviour and were less likely to be drug users. They were far more likely to be doing voluntary work in the community, have stable marriages and higher earnings. It is significant that these High Scope children were all born in poverty and had been identified as at risk of academic failure. In other words, social disadvantage does not have to be a life sentence - good quality Early Years settings can make a difference, particularly if they work in partnership with parents.

    Both High Scope in the US and the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education (EPPE) in the UK focused on children in provision for 3 to 4 year olds. Other studies have linked babies’ persistence at various ages with parenting style and toddler outcomes. For example, one study compared babies’ persistence at 6 and 14 months with their mothers’ ‘teaching style’ They found that mothers who provide access to stimulating objects, are sensitive and responsive to children's emotions and support children's behaviours just above their current level, may foster both persistent behaviour and advanced cognitive development in the future. They suggest that practitioners should work with at-risk children and families to develop strategies that support the development of persistence as early as possible (Banerjee and Tamis-LeMonda, 2007).

    These findings are supported by some recent research (McClelland et al., 2012) which interestingly compares the long-term effects of early persistence with the long-term effects of reading and maths ability. The study followed 430 children from pre-school age to adulthood. Contrary to researchers’ expectations, they found that maths and reading ability did not have a significant effect on whether or not students gained a university degree. But those who could concentrate and persist at the age of four were almost 50 per cent more likely to have completed a degree course by the age of 25.

    The big message from all this research and indeed from every chapter of this book, is that what practitioners do in the Early Years matters for life. As individuals we cannot stop children being born into poverty and disadvantage, but our practice can improve their long-term outcomes and support the aspirations of recent UK government policy to intervene early and prevent poor children becoming poor adults (Field and Allen Reports). The formal behaviourist view that all learning is shaped by the teacher (as in the direct instruction pre-schools of the High Scope evaluation) does not have long-term impact on aspects of life which help us sustain our learning, loving and earning power. Concentrating in the Early Years on how children learn by supporting their well-being and learning strategies enables them to be more self-reliant active learners who can exercise control over their own lives. If we concentrate on what rather than how children learn, any short-term gain soon wears off and these children are then left with insufficient emotional and cognitive self-regulation resources to manage their lives successfully. It was the concentration on how we learn that ensured the High Scope children were more likely to go to college, rather than filling them up with knowledge that is soon forgotten.

    The third theme of this book, professionalism, links working with families and with other professionals to learning and identity. It brings the need for open and non-judgemental approaches to the fore and invites the reader to think about what professionalism means to them personally. This is a huge issue when we have such a diverse sector with a range of types of setting and practitioner qualifications. Professional identity in this context is necessarily contested but hugely important. Reading this book will help practitioners to become clearer about what the issues are and where they stand, as well as where they need to do some more reading and thinking - and/or gain some more experience of working with children or other adults. I hope that it will be read by leaders and managers as well as those seeking early childhood studies qualifications. Leadership and management at any level are about learning and development. Settings, and the adults working in them, grow and develop in response to positive relationships and enabling environments - just like the children. It is the responsibility of leaders and managers to provide an ethos where this growth, development and continuous improvement can take place. This book can help them do that.

    Allen,G. (2011) Early Intervention: the next steps, An Independent Report to Her Majesty's Government. London: Cabinet Office, Crown Copyright
    Banerjee,P.N. and Tamis-LeMonda,C.S. (2007) Infants’ persistence and mothers’ teaching as predictors of toddlers’ cognitive development. Infant Behavior and Development, 30 (2007): 479-91
    Bruce,T. (1999) In Praise of Inspired and Inspiring Teachers, in L Abbott and H. Moylett (eds) Early Education Transformed. London: Falmer, pp 33-40
    Claxton,G. (2004) Learning to Learn: A Key Goal in a 21st Century Curriculum, A discussion paper for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, November 2004
    Dweck,C. (2006) Mindset, The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books
    Field,F. (2010) The Foundation Years: Preventing poor children becoming poor adults. The report of the Independent Review on Poverty and Life Chances. London: Cabinet Office, Crown Copyright
    Gussin Paley,V. (2004) A Child's Work. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
    Holt,J. (1964) How Children Fail. London: Penguin
    Katz (1995) Talks with Teachers of young Children. New Jersey. Ablex Publishing Company
    McClelland,M., Acock,C., Piccinin,A., Rhea,S.A. and Stallings,M. (2012) Relations between preschool attention span-persistence and age 25 educational outcomes. Early Childhood Research Quarterly 28
    Robinson,M. (2003) From Birth to One: The year of opportunity. Buckingham: Open University Press
    Schweinhart,L.J. and Weikart,D.P. (1997). Lasting Differences: The HighScope Preschool Curriculum Comparison study through age 23 (Monographs of the HighScope Educational Research Foundation, 12). Ypsilanti, MI: HighScope Press
    Sylva,K., Melhuish,E., Sammons,P., Siraj-Blatchford,I. and Taggart,B. (2012) Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education 3-14 Project (EPPSE 3-14) - Final Report from the Key Stage 3 Phase: Influences on Students’ Development from age 11-14. Department for Education

    Helen Moylett is an independent early years consultant and writer. She has been a junior, infant, nursery and home school liaison teacher, a local authority senior advisory teacher and a senior lecturer in primary and early years education at Manchester Metropolitan University. During this time she was the course leader of the B.A. in Early Childhood Studies and the M.Ed in Early Years Education. In 2000 she left academia to become head of an early years centre. In 2004 she joined the National Strategies. She was on the national steering group for Birth to Three Matters and was centrally involved in developing the Early Years Foundation Stage, as well as many of the National Strategies materials associated with the EYFS. She was also the national lead for the Every Child a Talker programme. Recently she was an expert adviser to the Tickell EYFS review team and co-authored ‘Development Matters’ with Nancy Stewart. Also with Nancy she wrote ‘Understanding the Revised EYFS’. Helen is currently President of the British Association of Early Childhood Education (Early Education) and a Visiting Fellow of Oxford Brookes University.

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