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National Practice Guidance on Early Learning and Childcare

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Section 3: What makes the difference for children and families?

3.1 The image of the child

The term "image of the child" is often used by practitioners and a high level of value is placed on taking account of the interests of the child, but what does this actually mean in practice?

The European Commission ECEC describes the image of the child as:

"Each child is unique and a competent and active learner whose potential needs to be encouraged and supported. Each child is a curious, capable and intelligent individual. The child is a co-creator of knowledge who needs and wants interaction with other children and adults. As citizens of Europe children have their own rights which include early education and care."[29]

Services for young children need to:

  • Be child-centred, acknowledge children's views and actively involve children in meaningful ways in everyday decisions in the ECEC setting.
  • Offer a nurturing and caring environment.
  • Provide appropriate spaces to play and learn with a range of possibilities for children to develop their present and future potential.
  • Be responsive to children's changeable interests and demands.

We know that most young children already come to ELCC settings as active, experienced learners with a natural curiosity. From the beginning, they are a person and a unique individual. At the earliest stage they are interested in themselves and their immediate environment. At times, some other children come to settings upset, vulnerable, from a difficult home environment, or have specific learning needs.

When young children come to an ELCC setting they need a happy environment where children and adults are actively engaged with frequent smiles and laughter. The environment should be rich in opportunities to acquire language and encourage communication, inquiry learning and be involved in exciting experiences which at the same time are calm, comforting and responsive. They need the warmth of positive adult to child interaction. This includes adults who provide appropriate physical affection and who comfort children when they are upset.

3.2 Case Study: Ross

Ross, aged 41/2, lives with his mum, younger brother aged 3 and new born sister. He last saw his biological dad when he was a baby. Ross has recently started at the local primary school nursery after many false starts at other nurseries in the area. His attendance is giving cause for concern as is the fact that lots of adults, unknown to staff are dropping him off in the morning, because it is alleged that mum spends a lot of the day in bed. Observing the interaction between Ross and some of the adults who bring him to nursery, staff note that he very rarely acknowledges their departure.

When in nursery Ross presents as a lonely child, who is often observed rocking back and forth, incessantly hitting the side of his leg. It has been noticed by staff that there is one particular member of staff who he follows around when she enters the playroom and constantly seeks her time and reassurance. Unfortunately the member of staff is not always able to give Ross the attention he wants from her. When other children approach him he tends to become aggressive and lash out at them. He seems to prefer his own company and can often be found moving from area to area and away from the other children.

Mum, who occasionally collects him in the afternoon, never asks staff how his day has been and generally seems uninterested in him. The staff watch as he runs to keep up with mum when she leaves the building. Mum does not look back to ensure that he is safe and close by.

  • What do you think are the main concerns with Ross' situation?
  • Which of his needs are not currently being met?
  • What could the staff do in the short term to alleviate some of these concerns?
  • What help do you think mum herself needs and how can this be supported?

Putting the guidance into practice

  • What do you see as the characteristics of high quality ELCC in your own particular setting? To what extent does it vary for children 0-3 and children aged 3 to starting school?
  • What changes can you make tomorrow, next week and next month to improve the quality of children's experiences in your setting?
  • How will you know that the changes you have made will have had a positive impact?
  • How well does your setting allow children to make choices and provide them with well thought out experiences and opportunities through play to develop their learning? How could this be improved?
  • Have you been in a situation where children seem disengaged with learning, appear unhappy or are more careless than you would expect? Why do you think this happens?

3.3 Involvement of the family

The role of parents and carers remain central to their children's learning journey and must therefore be valued and involved in all aspects of ELCC. The home is the first and most important place for children to grow and develop, and parents and carers are responsible for their child's wellbeing, health and development. We know that the outcomes for children are much better if the family is involved in all aspects of ELCC. To make this involvement a reality, the Act encourages services to be developed in partnership with families to offer flexibility. In particular, initial prioritisation of two year olds with a parent on certain qualifying benefits provides an opportunity for the local authority to identify opportunities for work related activity and family support.

Family learning is one example and a powerful method of engagement and learning. This process helps some families to challenge educational disadvantage, promote socio-economic resilience and foster positive attitudes towards life-long learning. This contributes directly to the National Parenting Strategy's[30] purpose to value, equip, and support parents to be the best they can be so that they in turn can give their children the best start in life. For many adults, a family learning course can be the first step to taking up further adult learning and training opportunities or employment. For children, this can have an impact on attainment and their own individual learning journey.

3.3.1 Case Study: Family Learning

Partnership working was fundamental to the success of the Lighthouse Keeper, a joint nursery to primary transition project in east Edinburgh. A key element of the project was to encourage genuine partnership that respects parents' knowledge of their children. The project aimed to create a high quality interactive and creative learning experience for families and in doing so, raise attainment by supporting families to become more fully engaged in their children's learning.

Families engaged in a series of enjoyable challenges developed around the children's book, The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch, by Ronda and David Armitage. The project offered different learning possibilities and was used both in nursery and primary 1.

The project was fully supported by the Family Learning Worker for the area. As a result the project has shown the following benefits.

  • There was an increase in parental engagement in both library attendance and school activities.
  • Parents' confidence has increased to read with their children.
  • Families were more aware of positive health and wellbeing through healthy eating experiences.
  • Children further developed their listening skills and understanding of the storyline which encouraged them to read more.

The success of this particular approach to partnership working and engaging parents led to a positive impact on children's learning and a better understanding of the benefits of a family learning together.

Putting the guidance into practice

  • What do you do in your setting to ensure that families are involved in ELCC for their child? Is it good enough? What needs to change?
  • What opportunities are there to really support families and create better partnerships?
  • What do you do to support parents who don't always respond to groups or don't seem to want to be involved?
  • How can you further engage parents, and in particular, fathers, in your particular situation?
  • Have you thought about using help from colleagues in the community? If so, what are the possibilities?
  • What would you like to see happen in your setting that would make a difference to families and children?
  • How could you involve families who do not have English as their first language?

Find out more:

Family learning: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/earlyyearsmatters/t/genericcontent_tcm4754207.asp?id=presentationcategory\|Early%20Years%20Matters\|ES%20EY%20Matters%20Issues\|Issue%204

Learning at home: http://playtalkread.org