Amazingly, almost a month has gone by since the Earlyarts UnConference and we’re absolutely thrilled with the quality of experiences everyone has reported having, and the discussions that are coming out of this, all very different. Reading through the feedback, it struck me that the range of people’s experiences was very diverse. It’s not just that we all come from different sectors in this network, or that we are a mixed community of both freelancers and organisations, with different approaches and structures, but with common values. It’s more to do with the fact that the very nature of working with young children can be subjective, i.e. our expectations of what we, and they, can achieve is often seen through the filtered perspective of what we ourselves have experienced in our own lives, right up to the present day.
Most of us are in this work because we are passionate about making a difference for children, and are open to receive the difference they can also make in our lives. Through observing, documenting, reflecting on and learning from children, we find that their insights, observations, enquiries and challenges can have an enormous influence on how we see ourselves, not only as professionals but also as human beings.
This surely has to impact on how we develop our practice – we don’t come to children as professionals, although of course we bring our professional judgements, skills and knowledge. In young children’s eyes, we come to them as people who care, who look after them, keep them safe and know how to help them make things happen. And it’s this humanness, our friendship and the quality of our care, that models and shapes so much of what children come to understand as important attributes in those early years.
So, knowing what the quality of that care should look like, is an extremely important discussion to have. I have talked before of the evidence base we now have showing how high quality creative learning environments can stimulate a blooming of synaptic growth in babies’ brains, creating the right conditions for neural pathways to form in the brain. These pathways create connections and complex relationships between individual pieces of knowledge, that enable children to form a context around their knowledge, to make sense out of life.
In the Earlyarts network, we want to focus more on the quality of care in relation to the creative learning environment. We want to know if we can help children to engage more deeply in their learning by enabling them to be, think, do, understand and communicate creatively. This means finding the right conditions to help children find things that are meaningful for them, so that they can strive for, reach and constantly stretch their potential.
The ‘right’ conditions are usually a combination of suitable skills, knowledge, relationships, environment, resources and, crucially, people, in order to not only fulfill a child’s needs and interests, but also to really extend them.
On Friday, I was delighted to speak at the National Literacy Trusts’ Talk To Your Baby conference on the many different ways in which we can help babies to communicate. To me the options are clear; we should focus everything on creating the best environments that nurture strong, positive relationships between babies and their carers. Strong attachment leads to confident and expressive communicators who are not afraid to respond negatively or positively to their carers and can build more truthful relationships based on the trust that they are valued and their ideas and opinions are taken seriously.
At the UnConference, we saw several examples of how strong communication bonds are being developed using different arts or cultural approaches, including story building, movement, singing, sculpting, photography, clay, and so forth. These are the backbone of many early years settings, and some work closely with professional artists (in all art forms) to develop more expertise and ideas around these areas. It is clear to many of us that these creative approaches are making a difference in settings right across the country and we would like to gather more evidence of this within the network so that this impact can be made more visible to funders and decision makers in the future. Please let us know about your examples of where specific creative approaches have had a measurable impact on young children, especially around their communications.
In the hunt for quality, Estelle Morris asked us if we were prepared to be the Guardians of Creativity and Rebels with a Smile, in light of the current climate. If we agree that we are, and that high quality arts and cultural experiences are needed in order to help develop children’s (and adults’) core skills and relationships, then our next question is about how we make this happen. How do we find that quality and pin it down?
We asked some of our lovely UnConference contributors and delegates what they thought – watch this space over the next week as we publish their responses. In the meantime, we would love to hear from you – Is quality important when it comes to young children’s creativity? Please do let us have your comments below.