The importance of ‘being and belonging’ to young children
- Publication Date
- Janet Brown
Increasingly, society is recognising what the data is showing us: that the first few years of life have a major impact on how a person’s life plays out.
On 2 March 2022, the RSE will be bringing together a collection of world-class experts to reflect on the significant impact of early childhood experiences on the development and long-term wellbeing of each one of us. In planning this full day conference, we acknowledged it is often the case that adults discuss what is best for children and the logistics of provision, at times forgetting that children carry their own perceptions, opinions and preferences. The programme has been created to move beyond the ‘classroom’, looking at the full extent of a young child’s experience and how they engage with their environment and, importantly, how they learn.
The conference title itself, Being and Belonging, seeks to move the public perception along from early years education and child care to a child-centred view of ensuring a positive, safe and stimulating environment in which to flourish. Even the very youngest children are observant, imaginative and unique in how they interpret and respond to the world around them. They are not just ‘blank slates’ to be ‘written upon’ but are active drivers and participants in their own development and learning. Young children are people that have rights to ‘be’ as they are and to ‘belong’ to a loving and supportive community of care, extending from parents and caregivers to their nursery settings and beyond. We must take our cue from them when it comes to designing the early learning and childcare (ELC) ecosystem that will help shape the rest of their lives.
From the opening video – beautifully produced by outdoor learning centre Stramash – to the themes that define our multiple workshops and plenary sessions, we were always very keen to ensure that the child’s voice would remain front and centre, reminding us of the responsibility we have in ensuring that our choices truly reflect their best interests. Indeed, theorising about abstract policy decisions takes on quite a different quality when you are reminded of the children who will be impacted by those decisions.
We have also deliberately made this conference freely accessible to those working in the sector – including childminders and nursery employees – to ensure the day’s discussions are rooted in real-world experience and practice. We believe this decision speaks for itself in the level of interest that this conference has generated, with over four hundred individuals registered. This echoes the phenomenal response received by another RSE-led early years event which took place on 24 February 2022, Wellbeing for wee ones, which considered the mental health of very young infants. Clearly, there is a strong desire to come together and ensure that ELC in Scotland is on the right path.
Scotland has already made important strides and has recognised the importance of early years education and learning. Our early childcare entitlement is expanding and the level of continued government investment in the sector signals a strong national commitment to treat the early years as a priority. The early years workforce is already doing a range of fabulous and innovative work to deliver the best possible experiences for their children, a selection of which we are delighted to feature in our conference ‘showcase’ session.
Young children are people that have rights to ‘be’ as they are and to ‘belong’ to a loving and supportive community of care, extending from parents and caregivers to their nursery settings and beyond.
But questions, challenges and inequalities remain. The importance of families, parents and carers in any young child’s development is undeniable and while access to ELC continues to improve, there remains the question of the approach we take. Should provision focus on the child or on the child and the social environment in which they live? How do we help support the creation of a caring, learning environment throughout a child’s daily experience? Children want to explore and learn. They must be intellectually stimulated, given the chance to play and discover, afforded the opportunity to socialise with other children both similar to and different from themselves. Increasingly, society is recognising what the data is showing us, which is that the first few years of life have a major impact on how a person’s life plays out. Quite simply, we have no choice but to get it right.
How do we piece together the various parts – from pedagogical approaches to rights-based practice to funding challenges – to build a cohesive and high-quality system that reaches every single child, both nurturing them in the present and preparing them for the future? We are hoping tomorrow’s conversation will begin to answer some of those questions and stimulate further actions that will ensure that Scotland develops the future ELC system its young people deserve – one in which ‘being and belonging’ are truly intrinsic.
Dr Janet Brown FRSE is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh where she is currently Convenor of the RSE’s Education Committee as well as a Fellow of the Institute of Physics. Since retiring from the role of Chief Executive of SQA in 2019, Janet has taken on non-executive roles and has a keen interest in knowledge and skills development across all sectors of education and training.
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