As I was wishing everyone a Happy New Year earlier this month, I asked my friends about what they wanted for their children’s future. Lots of interesting responses came back to do with happiness, security, confidence and bicycle skills! Some responses turned in to New Year’s Resolutions, wanting to spend more time helping their children to read / draw / sing / play an instrument / become calmer / more settled / nurture friendships, etc.
For these friends, loving their children is a given – an unspoken corner stone of their lives. So it came as a bit of a surprise when they turned the question on me and I responded by saying that I want to love my children more so that they can give, and experience, more love from the world in the future.
Dr Jools Page, who is the Director MA in Early Childhood Education at Sheffield University, has written and talked extensively about the notion of 'professional love'. Dr Page’s research focuses on attachment relationships between babies and their key adults in group care settings and the rights of babies and young children under three. The research examines the complex issues of ‘love’ and ‘care’ in day care provision, informing Dr Page’s developing theory on ‘professional love’ in early childhood education and care.
This chimes closely with what we at Earlyarts consider to be a healthy, creative learning environment for young children. Our values provide the corner stone of our love and respect for young children, on which we build the environments and skills that can hopefully meet their complex needs. In all of this, what's important is how we enable our early years educators to feel more free to offer that love, and model ways of loving, with their children - especially if they haven't experienced loving role models for themselves.
So, I would say, Earlyarts vision for all our children’s futures is that we support early educators enough to be able to have an even deeper, more loving and long-lasting impact on their children’s lives. It’s an ambitious statement bearing in mind the challenges of the current climate. So how do we achieve this?
Dr Page’s research explores the biggest challenge, that love is rarely discussed within our culture – there are too many tricky issues associated with loving children that have caused enough fear within early educators to silence the more healthy discussions that could and should be had. In some eastern cultures, there is a recognition of the many different forms of love and a higher value placed on love as an act of giving rather than of duty. I can see the benefits if we articulated this more with our own children, in terms of the friendships, security, happiness and confidence that we want them all to have.
However, we are met with huge challenges from living in a very western culture that we need to overcome;
- Adults are not particularly comfortable to discuss love in relation to each other, never mind in relation to their children.
- The values of love are often determined by more material means.
- It’s hard to articulate your love for your children (professionally or personally) when the word is so loaded with guilt for what you haven't done but feel you should have done.
- The professionalisation of the early years sector, the EYFS curriculum and our highly regulated care provision means that several emotionally intelligent based concepts, including love and creativity, have been paired down, or even left out, of the daily expression of early education and care.
- It's hard to quantify and measure the quality of love, friendship and care.
- It also means we're talking about needing a whole culture change here, which feels like too big a thing for us to initiate as a sector, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about it and give it much greater exposure.
My own feeling is that we need to strip away some of the obstacles to loving young children that have been established through policy, including the early learning goals if and when these become too much of a focal point. Rather, we should work from a basis of taking seriously our responsibility to give as much love as we possibly can to every child. Not just because it is their right, and our duty to protect them, but because they are born into an unequal world and we need to give them the best possible start, and the most resilience to tackle this as they grow up.
This is not always easy - it might mean looking inwards at our own ability to love and deciding to do something about the personal obstacles that prevent us from doing so. I would encourage you to take these courageous steps because, when we get this right, our children will flourish naturally. They will still need our guidance and teaching to develop specific skills and areas of learning, but at least we will have dealt with 'first things first' (as Steven Covey describes in his fantastic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) by fulfilling their core needs on which to build their brains and bodies.
There’s lots of well researched evidence behind this from Daniel Goleman (who developed a model of emotional intelligence based on the ability to love and empathise), Maslow (who's Hierarchy of Needs showed the need for love coming after the need for basic food, warmth and shelter and resulted inn self esteem and self-actualisation), Urie Bronfenbrenner, (who's model showing the influences on a child's development included the family first and foremost, followed by the school and community), John Dewey (who was a pioneer in progressive education based on a strong belief in the power and equality of human nature), Jerome Bruner (who studied what motivated children to learn more meaningfully and coined the term 'scaffolding' still widely used in EYs teaching practice today) and Barbara Rogoff (who focuses on the aspects of different cultures that either engage or disengage early learners, and how learning is enhanced through collaborative, caring partnerships between adult and child). Some of these authors' books are really seminal pieces.
However, to achieve this, we need to first get it right within ourselves as adults and carers, and this is where Earlyarts can provide support.
What do you want for your children’s future, and how can we help you to achieve this?
Please share your thoughts on our linked In forum, Nurturing Children's Creativity.
Author Ruth Churchill Dower is the Director of Earlyarts