We asked the early childhood consultant, researcher and author
“Are we doing everything we can to develop the full potential of the children in our care?”

How often do we question why we chose to become a childcare practitioner?

Working with young children is the most amazing profession, full of rewards and surprises. But early childhood development is a highly complex business, with the decisions we make impacting young lives in every way. With more important achievements than perhaps those that are measured, for example, in a monthly appraisal or detailed in the EYFS.

As a childcare practitioner, you make a huge difference to the children in your care. Moulding young minds, developing bodies and shaping personalities. Nurturing children in ways that are more complex and longer lasting than can possibly be reflected in early childhood development stages. Official qualifications barely scratch the surface of everything you do on a day-to-day basis, and you can find yourself managing far more than you are given credit for.

We need to peel back the layers and look at best practice – but how?

To think about “best practice” we need to start by going back to basics and revisiting what early childhood development is really all about. Not in terms of what children should be doing, but why our actions have such a profound impact as you influence every aspect of a child’s development, self-esteem and well-being.

Create reflective practice

We need to look at the importance of play in early years development and its long-term impact on a child’s entire body. We need to understand why early communication and language is so important. And the impact of physical development in early childhood on children’s minds and developing skills.

Nurture secure children

We need to look at emotional development in early childhood and the purpose this serves. Understanding how emotional intelligence develops as you help children think and feel without negative consequences, as they learn to manage their own emotions, before looking at how this influences a child’s behaviour and how you can support this process.

Nurture happy children

We need to explore well-being as we consider how a child’s confidence establishes. Looking at how the opportunities, engagements and interactions we offer to children help them develop a sense of personal power, self-esteem and resilience. Supporting children as they develop their social skills, realising the impact this has on the person they become.

Nurture learning children

And we need to look at the difference between learning and education and the influence this has on engagement. Now and into the future. We need to explore the foundations of literacy and numeracy, but by understanding how these are rooted in the intrinsic benefits of play and the impact these experiences have when learning becomes more complex in the years to come, refocusing attention on what learning in the early years should be all about.

Do you think that trained staff are happy staff?

Only when training focuses on the deeply holistic needs of an infant, rather than boxes we need to tick can it be effective. We all do better when we understand what is expected of us and the reasons we are doing them. Telling staff to go into the garden may result in disgruntled staff complaining about transitions, resources or the weather. Trained staff, familiar with the impact of outdoor play on everything from social skills to the development of muscles deep within the eye, will be keen to offer these opportunities to their children.

We do then need to become a community of early years practitioners, childminders, teachers and carers who are refocusing early years practice back where our children need it to be; nurturing the full potential of every unique child.

How easy is it for setting managers to allow their staff time out of ratio to train?

However great training may be, it will never result in any realised impact unless it is mindful of the realities of working in the early years profession, where time, spare staff and large budgets are simply not common place. Online training, especially after we have all become more tech-savvy, is now common place. But without a community of learners, this can feel isolating. And unless it can fit to your unique needs and those of your children, it is unlikely to have direct impact on the experiences of your children.

The best form of training needs to be available when and where you can attend it. It needs to involve interaction, discussion and debate. And it needs to support you as you reflect on your own practice, celebrating the nurturing care you are already offering, while considering the changes you can make to offer a lifetime of difference to your children.

It can be a vicious circle of not allowing staff to train, but then they can become demotivated and leave the sector – what are your thoughts?

So much is expected of childcare practitioners. And rightly so, the job we do is too important to become complacent. But it is not about constantly reinventing our practice to keep up with the latest trend. Children have been growing and developing in much the same way for millennia. It is the world around them that is changing and not always for the better.

If we want to keep our staff motivated (and in the profession), they need to learn the importance of the little things they automatically do, recognising their instincts and remembering why they joined the profession in the first place. They need to understand the changes that make all the difference to children’s outcomes, mindful of the experiences each child has had and the realities they are living in. As well as being celebrated for the unique views and abilities they can offer. It is only when we invest in our people that they will recognise the value we place in them. And only once they can understand the qualities they have to offer can they see the impact they are having and this profession can finally be recognised and valued for the tremendous investment it offers in all our futures. Making it a sector people want to remain in.

If prospective parents knew a setting (or its practitioners) was accredited in being a Nurturing Childhoods Practitioner, then surely that would increase awareness and kudos?

The Nurturing Childhoods Practitioner is all about developing the full potential of every child and what parent doesn’t want that? But unlike many other programmes that your parents have little understanding of, Nurturing Childhoods also offers talks and materials for your families so that they too can join the deeply impactful journey you are on.

The poster you display will show your commitment to knowing what it means to a child to feel secure, with understood emotions and behaviours. Showing the importance you recognise in a child’s well-being, happiness and friends. As well as how your routines, environment and actions recognise how they are experienced by a child. Establishing your setting full of nurturing practice as the placement of choice.

About the author:

As Founder of Nurturing Childhoods, Dr Kathryn Peckham is a passionate advocate for children’s access to rich and meaningful experiences throughout their foundational early years. Delivering online courses, training and seminars, she works with families and settings to identify and celebrate the impact of effective childhood experiences as preparation for all of life’s learning. An active campaigner for children, she consults on projects, conducts research for government bodies and contributes to papers launched in parliament. Through her consultancy and research she guides local councils, practitioners, teachers and parents all over the world in enhancing children’s experiences through the experiences they offer. A highly acclaimed author and member of parliamentary groups, Kathryn also teaches a Masters at the Centre for Research in Early Years.

Get in contact with Kathryn by emailing info@kathrynpeckham.co.uk

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