Aaron Bradbury explains why nurture needs to be at the heart of our practice with LGBT families.

You all know that the Early Years is the fundamental starting block of the education system. This is mirrored in the Birth to Five Matters Non-Statutory guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage (2021) which states “… reflect recent research, to meet the needs of  practitioners, respond to current issues in society, to meet the needs of children today and to lay a strong foundation for their futures”.  (p6).

Bradbury (2022) explores that research and tells us that ‘nurturing an emotional relationship is the primary function needed for  intellectual and social growth.’ Building on the work of Bowlby and Ainsworth (1978), more recent researchers and academics such as Conkbayir (2017), Goswami (2006) and Zeedyk (2013) are using science to help us explore the development of the human brain during its earliest years.

It’s with this in mind that I explore why nurture is for every child, regardless of who they are or which family structure they come from. The reason I want us to focus on nurturing through our teaching practice, is because our systems and our processes, by no fault of our own, exclude children and their families just because they are ‘different.’ What I mean is they don’t fit into the ‘social norm.’ This has huge impacts on both the child’s position within their journey – now and into the future. There is emotional trauma that plays out knowing you are different and not being represented within those places of play, not being able to demonstrate that freedom and joy.

Nurture and representation

The importance of representation within the Early Years is a subject of continual discussion, and framing this through nurture is something I am trying to do more of, as so many professionals hear ‘LGBT’ and seem to either not engage, switch off, or think that it is somehow deviant of discussion with children. So, taking a step back, framing it through science and the impact that nurture has, seemed to support reasoning and not resonate with the moral panic of LGBT in education and Early Years that we see through social and mainstream media.

Nurturing is not alien to us; many of us do it without realising. To begin this process of nurturing, we need to see children as individuals, not clump them all together. Children quickly notice whether their environment and their teachers/practitioners represent them or not. They do take everything in. Championing the voice of every child is crucial for learning and development. Imagine, the child within your setting or classroom knows that they are not being heard, noticed, or even given the chance to express their culture and  identity. Development plays a big part here. It promotes relationships – and our role as educators is to provide those capabilities to promote further interests, and an individualised curriculum which then develops the child’s self-awareness and confidence.

For all children, nurture engages the child within the human community in ways that support them to define who they are, what they can become, and why they are important to others (Bornstein, 2002; Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). This can be seen in the words of  Bronfenbrenner (1994): “… in order to develop normally, a child requires progressively more complex joint activity with one or more adults who have an irrational emotional relationship with the child. Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid. That’s number one. First, last, and always.”

The words of Bronfenbrenner need to be etched into our minds. We may fundamentally believe that we treat every child as unique, but it is time for us to truly reflect and ask ourselves if we really do.

We need to look at the reasoning behind our own actions within our role, and continually look at nurturing as a whole ethos for change, where children are celebrated by staff, other children, parents and carers. Valuing the voice of the child and truly advocating for uniqueness in all that we do.

How do you make those changes to support the child?

Within your setting or learning spaces, it is important to make every effort to make your environment as welcoming and nurturing as it can be. Using diverse imagery, books, posters and play equipment that visually represent all children and families is a good start – but it’s not the end. I fundamentally believe that all this needs to be age and developmentally appropriate. There are lots of resources and guidance already out there to help you to become a more supportive setting for all children and families.

As an educator, making sure that you engage with the wider community is crucial. This allows you to become outward facing, learn from the community and better understand the life experiences of your children.

Reflect on how you can develop nurturing approaches in your practice and consider the following:

  • Child development as a concept needs to be at the forefront of your practice. Knowledge of this is what gives us the credibility to advocate for all children.
  • Being up to date with current trends, contemporary concepts, including the science of learning, nurturing, and building those relationships is important.
  • Value your expertise as an educator, but also value how the practice you offer has been developed through research-informed practice.
  • Think about the environment. To what extent do you adopt a nurturing positive approach to child development? Begin to change to an ethos to support a positive approach to learning.
  • You know your children best, so develop a whole approach within your classrooms and settings that promotes every child and how they can be successful in life, by supporting them to become resilient intelligent human beings.

We may not knowingly treat children differently (this may be an unconscious bias) but many children and families do feel that they are being treated differently. It is not up to me to tell you how to change; it is your job to want to change for the benefit of the child. I know that no matter what, the child standing in front of you every day truly matters. We wouldn’t do what we do if the children didn’t matter. So why the reluctance to make a stand for our most oppressed in society or even engage with LGBT discussions?

Let’s not go with the hype of policy and political discourses. Let’s do what we know best and give every child the best possible start in life through a nurtured and loving early years curriculum.

References

  1. Ainsworth, M.D.S., (1978). The Bowlby-Ainsworth attachment theory. Behavioural and brain sciences, 1(3), pp.436-438.
  2. Bornstein, M.H. (2012). Handbook of Parenting. New York. NY Psychology Press.
  3. Birth to Five Matters (2021) Non-Statutory Guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage. Early Years Coalition.
  4. Bradbury, A. (2022) Nurturing in the Early Years – What the science tells us? Early Education Journal. Volume 96. Pp7-9. ISSN 0960-281X
  5. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994). Ecological models of human development. In Husen, T. &, Postlethwaite, T. (Eds.), International encyclopedia of education (2nd Ed., vol. 3, 1643-1647). Oxford, United Kingdom: Pergamon Press.
  6. Conkbayir, M., (2017) Early childhood and neuroscience: theory, research, and implications for practice. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.
  7. Goswami, U. (2006) ‘Neuroscience and education: from research to practice?’ Journal of Nature Review Neuroscience 7, 5, 406–411
  8. Shonkoff, J.P. and Phillips, D.A. (eds) (2000) From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development. Washington, DC: National Academy Press
  9. Zeedyk, S. (2013) Sabre Tooth Tigers and Teddy Bears: The Connected Baby Guide to Understanding Attachment. Dundee: Suzanne Zeedyk Ltd.

Author

  • Aaron Bradbury

    Aaron is a principal lecturer fo early years and childhood (learning and development, psychology, special educational needs and inclusion) at Nottingham Trent University. Aaron is the chair of the LGBTQ+ Early Years Working Group and advocates for representation in the early years.
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