Are we in danger of losing the child in childhood? The notion that there is something of value in being a child seems to have fallen out of favour to a certain extent. Young children are spoken about increasingly as commodities to “invest” in for future payoffs. Some parents express enormous anxiety about their child’s future and seem to be curating their child’s life experiences in a way that would look quite unnatural and joyless to previous generations.
Being a Child
There is an odd paradox that early childhood is both safe and stressful. On the one hand, for most children, the early years are safer than they have ever been. Children have fewer fatal accidents and devastating diseases. We do not send children down coal mines or into chimneys to work. Of course, poverty, stress and trauma still exist, and some of these problems affect very large numbers of children, but generally speaking many of the big ‘killers’ of childhood have been vanquished.
On the other hand, 21st-century society poses many challenges for children too. Technology can challenge children’s safety, and there are new and troubling stresses. Globally we have an increasing number of children with mental health and behavioural issues.
Being permitted to be “little” is of critical importance because children’s life expectancies are longer and their social-emotional capabilities are more robust when they have a chance to learn through play and through deep relationships; when their developing brains are given the chance to grow in a nurturing, language-rich, and relatively unhurried environment. It is clearer now more than ever before that young children are not simply mini-adults.
Quality education requires quality relationships; caring teachers who understand child development. They know, and are attuned to, the children in their care. This is far more important than many of the measures of quality we use today, such as class size, physical environments, or a specific curriculum.
Rich and open-ended conversation is critical. Children need time in the day to experience warm, empathic oral language, to converse with each other, to tell a rambling story to an adult or to listen to high-quality literature. Quality teaching staff know both the broad parameters of child development (“This is what a 7-year-old looks like”) and know their children as individuals (“This is what this child is like”).
Quality teachers are intentional about everything they do. They carefully consider classroom routines, the physical environment, the timetable and the types of materials they make available for children to explore and manipulate. These teachers do an extraordinary amount of observation and reflection.
Perhaps society is in danger of losing the child in childhood. But at Yateley Manor the child is very much central to everything we do. A skim through our FaceBook page demonstrates the rich array of opportunities for children. We take as a starting point that children are fully capable of learning and refuse to deviate from this position.