Right now, we have an opportunity to trailblaze an inclusive dialogue through Early Years practices, allowing all conversations to be at the centre of inclusive practice and change the way we think. Why not start that journey now?
Many of you know that we have a new Non-Statutory Guidance for the Early Years. This is the Birth to Five Matters, written by the sector for the sector. I had the pleasure of chairing the Inclusion and Diversity working group for the guidance and what a guidance it has become. I am immensely proud to have played a small part of putting this guidance together, but on the fact that it now discusses inequalities directly within our society, calling it out and highlighting anti oppressive practice, including LGBTQ, Sexual Orientation and Racism is a CROWNING MOMENT. I am writing this from my position on why I feel that the guidance such as the Birth to Five Matters has really listened to the workforce, but also fundamentally has thought about the Unique Child in all the sections of the guidance, the child centred approach and their positionality in the world of Early Childhood Education and Care.
The Unique child, what is it and why do we brand it around so much? Well, it is what it says on the tin ‘The Unique Child’, most of us have heard it, but do we truly embody it? My definition of the Unique Child is:
“Every child is a unique child, one which learns continuously and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured.” (Bradbury, 2021)
For us as Early Educators, we need to fundamentally know what it means for our practice, but also the fact that it relies heavily on us knowing what being child centred means and fundamentally supporting the child as a unique and individual person. Children continuously mature in all aspects of development, at their own pace and all of them do this in their own individual ways. The inclusion of the Unique Child means that the child and the community that they come from is valued, which means that they are not discriminated against. By supporting the Unique Child, you are able to support the child’s resilience which then supports their well-being and child which is able to flourish and reach their full potential. The holistic child development abilities of a child’s uniqueness is an integral part of children’s emotional, social, environmental and spiritual health. We owe it to our children to support this.
This leads me onto my idea of how the concept of the Unique Child is changing and adapting and how we need to recognise this further when it comes to LGBTQ representation in the Early Years. With the Birth to Five Matters Guidance (2021) and the LGBT+ Early Years publication (2021) and the website, we are starting to look at what we are doing to represent those children and their voices when they are from a same sex family unit, or even teaching children about LGBT+ people within our society on representing them. So let’s look at what the Birth to Five Matters Non-Statutory Guidance (2021) states:
Attitudes toward gender and sexual orientation can limit children and create inequality.
During the early years a child’s attitudes and dispositions are continually being shaped. Children are influenced by their environments and the adults around them in ways which often affect children’s own ideas about themselves. In terms of gender and sexual orientation, young children can develop stereotypical ideas about how they should be and who they should become which can limit their potential. It is important that practitioners do not shy away from these conversations and instead challenge the effects of prejudice and discrimination. Children’s resources and books should avoid stereotypical depictions of people on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.
A child may also be part of a family which is LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, plus other variations). Early years settings have an opportunity to prevent prejudices from occurring by ensuring that these children and their families feel welcome and valued. In practice, this means that settings should ensure that their environments are welcoming and supportive and actively celebrate the value of diversity. Ultimately, supporting children to embrace and celebrate differences between them, their families and others is a crucial part of doing equalities work and fostering inclusive practice.
So from an early age, research tells us that if we create an environment that excludes children and their families on gender or sexual orientation then we know that this can limit children’s ability to thrive and create a setting and society which embodies an ideology of inequality. We can bring in Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological model here, or even the research from Harvard University on the journey of the Brain Architecture – Brain Hero.
My own opinion here is why are we doing what we do in the first place. Surely it is to love every child in our care. If that is the case why do we need to insist on pedagogy and practices around oppression. Grimmer (2021) discusses how we develop a loving pedagogy and for me it has to start with this position so we can question our power balance. Deciding for the children and families on our own values and beliefs. Is this our job to do? By doing this surely we are by virtue not encompassing every child within our setting, by not being open to discussing the needs of every ‘unique child’.
(Adapted from Grimmer,T. (2021) Developing a Loving Pedagogy in the Early Years. How Love Fits with Professional Practice. Routledge. London
The way children understand practices towards diversity are made up of the things that surround them in their daily lives – they build their understanding around the things they are told and exposed to (environmental factors). That’s why Early Years professionals play a key role in children and families perception of diversity and differences. From their actions to their teaching and curriculum, they are giving children a representation of diversity.
The same applies if they avoid certain topics – that has a massive impact on a child’s perception of diversity, too. Topics that are ‘irrelevant’ or ‘inappropriate’ to address with children, such as social justice issues that oppress the lives of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans individuals which are not part of the discussions. This is not about sex but rather a discussion that these people exist and how diverse our society is. How can diversity truly be discussed if we are silencing these topics altogether? We also need to be mindful that we are the experts when it comes to child development, so it is important to teach age appropriate representation, but there is always room for learning together with other colleagues and parents/carers.
We need to break down the myth that issues affecting the lives of sexual minorities have no bearing or relevance to the lives of heterosexuals and this is why it is imperative to allow LGBT+ children and families to have a voice, be seen and heard within a national early years sector endorsed Early Years Guidance.
The Unique Child
Well above is what we need to do to make the Unique Child stand out within our practices. It isn’t just a saying which we brand around and think, oh yes, we do so much around the Unique Child. We need to practice it, not just state it for lip service. So for me, looking at family structures, for example, same sex parents, this is how I would look through the eyes of the Unique Child:
- Reflection – reflection is key here. As an Early Childhood Professional we can make the changes. But, to make those changes we firstly need to look at our own position, our values and truly question what am I doing here if I cannot fundamentally support the uniqueness of that child. Starting that journey is an important one. Continual Learning, asking questions and not being afraid to learn is a start.
- Allowing children and their families of an LGBT+ to know that they matter within your setting?
- Instilling values of uniqueness and acceptance of all children, families and colleagues is key.
- Staying silent is not enough – Ignoring and thinking that it will go away is not enough. We have to do what is right for our children – If you believe in the fundamental right of the The Unique Child, then you need to advocate for their voice and allow them to be represented.
- In order to promote and value diversity, you need to consider ways of sharing and celebrating children’s lived experiences, sensitive to the children’s differing circumstances and ensuring that practices are inclusive of all children.
If we truly want our children to grow and succeed in life, then we need to make sure that every child has a voice, a seat at the table and that we are supporting the narrative around the Unique Child. Let’s celebrate that uniqueness and not silence it or engage in silencing it.
Birth to Five Matters Non Statutory Guidance for the Early Years (2021) www.birthto5matters.org
Bradbury, A. (2021) Practitioners Guide to the Voice of the Child. www.earlyyearsreviews.co.uk
Harvard University – Centre on the Developing Child. Brain Hero (2011) https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/brain-hero/ [Accessed on 1/4/2021]