Refocusing the need for Early Childhood Theorists through online Continual Professional Development.

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“A child needs the enduring, irrational involvement of one or more adults in care of and in joint activity with that child.
In short, somebody has to be crazy about that kid”

(Urie Bronfenbrenner)

Bronfenbrenner’s quote is where it all began….

Early years has had one of the most challenging times in the past 6 weeks from Covid19. It has not been easy for all of us. But one positive outcome which has happened from this, is that of giving us time, time to reflect and time to think. I am not saying we have been sitting doing nothing, on the contrary. But, many of us have had some time at home to do things we may not have had while working.

So it leads me to why I have written this article. As Early Years professionals, we don’t always get the time to reflect, engage in active reflection and think about why we do what we do? It is about getting the time to be able to do this effectively. However, I was approached by EYMatters (Juls Davies) to look at setting up a Continual Online Conference. It was interesting at the time that many professionals felt that they needed something to keep their focus on the children and the families, and this is where the discussion started. Juls Davies, quickly started asking around the Early Years world on who would like to be a part of offering these sessions as part of a Continual Professional Development opportunity for free. The aim of the conference was to ask professionals, academics, researchers to offer an hour of their time in exchange for their discussion and their current work to be shared online. It took 2 days to get all of this set up, Juls and I worked very quickly engaging with all of the people who wanted to speak but Juls worked tirelessly to get this moving and mobilised as quickly as possible as she knew that there was a need for such a platform. Many approached EYMatters, so much so there were more than we expected. It was powerful, it was moving, that so many of those researchers, consultants, early years professional and practitioners wanted to share their professional knowledge, skills and experiences, many had said “it felt like we were giving something back in a time when so much was being taken away”. Week one began with myself discussing Professional Identity and how the Early Years Academy could support this, Mr Gary Coffey discussing See Me, Hear Me! A Voice for Every Child, Dr Tanya Richardson discussing Speech and Language Beyond the Classroom and Philippa Thompson discussing The Hidden Voice: Parental Experience of Child Anaphylaxis in Early Childhood Education and Care. https://www.eymatters.co.uk/online-conference/

But something else came out of this, something which we knew would be helpful for colleagues who are at home, who have been furloughed or who are on a rota for working as key workers. A sense of community had started to build up, many engaging in zoom sessions, virtual discussions, social media activities, which has given positive messages from practitioners to do more of these online conference clips. So one night during the #EYMatters twitter chat hosted by Juls Davies, which happens every Thursday night at 8pm, we asked our colleagues what else they would like to cover in the online conference? There was a huge desire from Early Years and Education colleagues for someone to discuss Early Childhood Theorists. So that is what we did. I thought about who we could use to discuss these, and I thought why don’t I do them with someone rather than doing it on my own. It wasn’t a hard decision to ask a colleague of mine, Debbie Garvey who is an Early Years expert, consultant, trainer and author. I knew that the connection we had made online and at the BrewEd Early Years supported the discussions over some of the Early Childhood Theorists, in particular Bronfenbrenner would help us come together and produce something to enhance the online conference offer. Debbie said yes and at first we thought about doing the slides with a voice over, but we wanted to do something different, and thought about what if we did the sessions like an online discussion? We wanted to be different and we thought about a discussion, where Debbie would but in ask questions and vice versa, basically like we were sitting in the living room discussing it. And, this is what we now have, Debbie Garvey and me producing an online interactive discussion exploring an Early Childhood Theorist over the next 6 weeks for professionals and practitioners who want to engage with the discussion further. We have already discussed Urie Bornfenbrenner in week 1 and Dr Bavolek (Nurturing) in week 2. Week 1 has had over 4000 views so far which shows how it has been received positively by many professionals who are engaging in the free CPD online conference.

Not only has this provided an opportunity for further learning, it has also provided an opportunity to reflect on the importance of Early Childhood Theorists at this present time, a time when we know as Early Childhood professionals that children’s routines, emotional well-being and social development will now be more heightened and potentially disadvataged during this time. Early Childhood Development Theorists focus on the meanings of how children change and grow over the course of childhood. Why many professionals feel that these theorists are important at the present time is due to them centering on various aspects of development including social, emotional and cognitive growth. The Early Childhood Theorists we are looking at, study aspects of human development, which is providing a rich and varied subject at this present time.

At a time when there is much uncertainty across our sector, one way that these Early Childhood Theorists have changed our current thinking around why we are studying child development has been prevalent in the feedback we are receiving through the reflection forms that each professional submits after they have watched the conference clips. What can we learn from psychological theories of development? If you have ever wondered about what motivates human thought and behaviour, understanding these theories can provide useful insight into individuals and society. This is why reflecting and reviewing Early Childhood Research such as Bronfenbrenner has supported in strengthening this ideology and supporting the child when we get back to opening our early years settings. You can watch the video on Bronfenbrenner here: https://www.eymatters.co.uk/online-conference/the-theorists/

Child development that occurs from birth to adulthood has been largely ignored throughout much of history. Children were simply viewed as small versions of adults and were paid little or no attention to many advances in cognitive abilities, language usage and physical growth which occurs in Early Childhood. Early Childhood Theorists work and recognising the importance of child development which started to emerge in the early 20thcentury but it tended to focus on abnormal behaviour rather than the development of the child as a whole. Eventually, researchers became increasingly interested in other topics including typical child development as well as the influences on development.

What the online conference has done is produce CPD certificates to professionals that have watched and engaged within the reflective tool produced by me and EYMatters (Juls Davis). What this has shown, by reading the reflective feedback is how much all the Early Years professionals are enjoying the sessions and one aspect of this is how Debbie and I are talking like we are having a brew in the sitting room while discussing it, like it’s a natural chat. A positive outcome on why it is important to study how children grow, learn and change has given an insight into more than what we have learnt on our courses, but a sense of why we are doing things in a certain way. There is a positive understanding of child development from our professionals which is coming through the reflective tools provided and are fully appreciating the cognitive, emotional, physical and educational growth of the child and how this can be applied. It is important to recognise that there are many child development theories that have been proposed by theorists and researchers. However, more recent theories outline the developmental stages of children and identify the milestones which may occur.

What Juls, Debbie and I have tried to do is bring the theory alive with each Early Childhood Theorist depicting this through a contemporary discussion. We have also incorporated the work of Professional Love researched and demonstrated by Dr Jools Page into our discussion on Creating a Nurturing Environment in the Early Years Setting: https://www.eymatters.co.uk/online-conference/the-theorists/. We felt that some of the past theorists really had a place for us all to reflect and bring back to the forefront of our current practice. I felt that if we didn’t do it now, when would be a good time to do it?

We feel that we have offered something different when it comes to continual professional development. Not only have we gained interest from across the United Kingdom, we also have many professionals engaging and taking part from China, United Arab Emirates and some states of America. We have also seen many Early Years students, teacher training students and other professionals engaging with the conference. We are immensely proud to give up our time, continue to offer a unique experience through interacting with our audience and would like to thank every single one of the presenters. I do hope that I have been able to explain why these online platforms can enhance your child centred practice and even though they are free, it doesn’t mean that the quality has been lost, on the contrary, I feel that each and every one of the presenters has given it their all. If you haven’t already watched the online conference, then head to the www.eymatters.co.uk. It is free and you get a certificate for engaging in the process. A huge thank you needs to go to Juls Davies for giving up her time to produce such powerful, child centred content which has a place during these uncertain times.

Here is the list of theorists we are covering up to week 3, which has been chosen by you via twitter and the reflective process. If you would like to a certain theorist discussed then please do give your suggestions by tweeting us @EYMatters @AaronEarlyYears @Stoneg8training.

Week 1 – Urie Bronfenbrenner

Week 2 – Dr Bavolek

Week 3 – Friedrich Frobel

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