Unfolding a loving pedagogy

I wonder why you began working with young children? For me, it was because of my connection and ability to bond with them. From an early age, I seemed to be a magnet for younger children, I remember looking after them during coffee time at church and my first job as a young teen was babysitting. I clearly remember my first-night babysitting because the parents of our charges were having dinner with my parents up the road, and my friend and I had been asked to look after their children to enable them to go out. There were four children all under about 5 and the youngest was a tiny baby - I remember holding him and feeling really honoured that their parents trusted me with their children. I enjoyed playing games with them all until their two-year-old decided to have a tantrum instead of going to bed and then I remember sitting behind their sofa with her at one point. I don’t know what I said or did, but I remember enjoying their company and thinking it was great because I was also earning some pocket money! 

I’m still really passionate about young children today – I love their company and can’t stop myself looking into a pram and cooing at every baby I see. Meaningful connections are full of love and, with this in mind, I’m really excited to share that my new book is now available, it’s called “Developing a Loving Pedagogy: How Love Fits with Professional Practice”. I strongly believe that if educators love the children in their care and understand how they prefer to be loved, they will better understand how to relate to them and will do so more appropriately, which in turn will enable the children to learn more effectively. I have written my book to encourage educators to adopt a loving pedagogy so that it underpins all policy and practice within their setting.  

Defining love

The Collins Online Dictionary defines the verb ‘to love’ as involving more than just emotions, “You say that you love someone when their happiness is very important to you, so that you behave in a kind and caring way towards them” (Collins Online Dictionary, 2020).  So to love someone includes action – it is not a passive emotion, but an active set of behaviours. 

Love and loving are not words that we always use in relation to early childhood settings. They might be viewed as inappropriate or out-of-bounds in some way because of their connotations with sexual intimacy. Part of the problem lies within the English language where we use the same word to express our love for our family, our children, our friends, our lovers and even our food! In other languages and cultures there are a wealth of words that mean these different aspects of love. 

The ancient Greeks had many different words to describe love, for example, agápe, éros, philía, philautia, storgē, xenia, ludus and pragma. It is helpful to unpick some of these different terms when thinking about our settings. Agápe, philia, storgē, xenia and, to a certain extent, pragma are all types of love which may be relevant to us as educators. They describe different aspects of how we might love the children in our care and have been explored in the table.


Holding in mind

The phrase that I have found most useful when defining what love means within settings is ‘holding children in mind’ (Read, 2014). This reminds me how important it is for us as educators to be attuned, respond sensitively to children and hold them and their individual circumstances in mind. In practice, it’s the little things that make the different, for example, asking about their recent visit to their grandparent’s house or noticing the dragon on their T-shirt.  

Ways that we can be attuned and hold children in mind include:

  • Supporting the child in the moment, responding sensitively
  • Observing and noticing things they are interested in
  • Genuinely listening and acting upon what we hear
  • Co-constructing ideas during play
  • Being fascinated by what our children are doing and wanting to find out more
  • Considering the 100 languages of children
  • Using a mosaic approach to better understand our children
  • Interacting sensitively, with our focus on the child, not our agenda
  • Planning interventions for particular children
  • Providing specific resources based on our knowledge of the children
  • Working out our children’s love languages (see The Language of Love Parenta article)
  • Adopting a loving pedagogy

Actively listening to children

When we hold children in mind we are actively listening to them, which helps us to truly appreciate what children want and need, plan for this and support them appropriately. Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNICEF, 1989) explains that children have the right to have their views taken seriously, particularly in all matters affecting them. Many educators endeavour to give their children a voice, however, occasionally we can be so used to hearing our children’s voices that we forget to actively listen to them. 

When we are actively listening we are able to not only tune into any words or sounds, but also to respond sensitively to the child’s body language and way of being. In this way, we are attempting to better understand our children. There are various ways we can demonstrate that we value the children we work with and actively listen to them. For example:

  • Try to see the world from their perspective
  • Listen to their words
  • Notice their behaviour and actions
  • Interpret their facial expressions and body language
  • Act upon things that they say
  • Take their views into consideration
  • Plan with their interests and fascinations in mind
  • Include them in the conversation
  • Never talk to other adults over their head
  • Get down to their level
  • Mirror their actions or body language
  • Comment or provide a commentary about what they are doing
  • Observe them whilst playing alongside
  • Act as a co-player when invited to join their play

Meaningful connections with children need to be full of love: we must keep in mind that we need to actively listen to them; and be aware of their needs and interests at all times. This sums up what I consider a loving pedagogy to be about: a caring ethos and approach which underpins our practice; and allows the children to remain central to all we do.


About the author:

Tamsin Grimmer is an experienced early years consultant, author and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and loving. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children. 

Tamsin has written four books –  

"Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children, School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning", "Calling All Superheroes: Supporting and Developing Superhero Play in the Early Years" and "Developing a Loving Pedagogy in the Early Years: How Love Fits with Professional Practice". She is currently working on her next two, "Supporting Behaviour and Emotionsand Self-Regulation in Early Childhood". 

You can connect to Tamsin via Twitter @tamsingrimmer, her facebook page, earlyyearsconsultancy,  website www.tamsingrimmer.com or email tamsingrimmer@hotmail.co.uk

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