Memorandum from the British Association
for Early Childhood Education (EY 84)
1. Every baby is unique. Although dependent
on adults for virtually everything at first, each one is already
an individual in his or her own right, and should be respected
2. Parents and carers are the experts on
the particular babies they care for because they know them intimately
through listening and observing their preferences. They are their
first and enduring educators. Close adults can interpret what
babies and very young children are trying to communicate. Young
children's sense of security depends on adults who can accept
their changing moods, and show that they are affectionate and
reasonably consistent. Effective communication is often non-verbal.
Given sensitive support as they face new experiences in the world,
young children can be enabled to develop confidence and express
their natural curiosity.
3. As well as responding sympathetically
to very young children, and showing reciprocity in their interactions,
adults also communicate actively. When they imitate and extend
vocal and turn taking games, they start to establish patterns
of vocalisation and speech which are the early stages of conversation.
They also help to reassure children that although they may disappear,
they will return. They contribute to young children's developing
conceptual understanding by offering or reinforcing patterns of
behaviour in an enjoyable way. Young children learn a great deal
from imitation, and the examples given by adults are very influential.
Social interaction with other children, especially siblings, is
also a rich source of learning.
4. Looking at life from a baby's point of
view helps adults to realise the vast range of learning that takes
place in the earliest months and years. It underlines the fact
that babies cry for a reason and that their behaviour has its
own logicthey are not being naughty. Young children who
have been helped through periods of distress in their first year
are less likely to cry later as they have gained confidence and
learned that, given help, they can deal with difficulties. This
is a constructive pattern for all aspects of development, where
young children learn about their family life, language and culture
in a meaningful, supportive social context.
5. Improvements in their physical coordination
over the first few months enable babies to take increasing control
of their environment. They have a need to explore actively, and
to experience artefacts and activities at first hand. This kind
of experimentation does more than introduce them to the characteristics
of materials and objects; it enables them to experience cause
and effect, to test emerging hypotheses and to develop concepts
through a wide range of relevant activity. It is the grounding
for future mathematicians, linguists, designers, scientists and
artists as well as athletes.
6. Providing a rich environment and allowing
babies to take the lead enables them to learn about the effect
their actions can have, and nourishes their growing sense of themselves.
The development of language is one of the miracles of infancy.
The complexity and subtlety of children's learning, and the speed
with which they become confident communicators, is remarkable.
It starts at birth, through experimentation with sound. Rhythmic
activity and song reinforce growing communication skills, and
are the beginnings of literacy as well as verbal communication,
and contribute to physical, mathematical, and creative development
as well as social and emotional growth. Errors should not be seen
as mistakes, but as part of learning indicating the children's
ability to experiment and draw conclusions for themselves. They
are often a sign of progress.
7. Play, alone or with others, is a fundamental
means of helping young children to learn, develop and grow. It
is essential that young children have access to space which allows
them to follow through their own ideas actively, and are given
time to consolidate their learning. Routine is helpful, but should
not be oppressive. Consistency combined with flexibility will
enable children to accept the needs of others while developing
in their own ways.
8. It is important to recognise the widely
varying rates of development shown by individual children, while
remaining sensitive to delays or disabilities which might cause
concern. Equal opportunities principles should always be applied.
9. Young children benefit from being involved
in domestic routines and social occasions as well as play. All
should be able to spend their time in a safe and attractive environment,
with access to out of doors in all weathers. High ratios of adults
to children are needed, and continuity of care should be assured
in any group setting. Nutrition, hygiene and arrangements for
sleeping must be carefully considered. High standards for group
care should be set nationally, and consistently monitored.
10. As Mary Jane Drummond has commented,
adults working with very young children need to help them to think
for themselves and to care for others. This requires particular
skills, including insight, self-discipline, patience and the ability
to engage genuinely in young children's concerns. The expertise
shown by many adults is frequently underestimated, because they
enable events to flow smoothly by following the children's interests
and anticipating their needs. Involvement with young children,
whether in the family, with a childminder or in a group setting,
has low status. It is nevertheless rewarding to those who can
appreciate the remarkable developments which occur in the early
months and years of life, and who appreciate their importance
for the future.
11. Most homes and settings contain plenty
of stimulus and challenge for children, and we can trust most
environments to be good enough. In general, adults can tune in
well to young children. There is no evidence that efforts to accelerate
learning through direct teaching or concentrated training programmes
bring significant long-term effects, and there are dangers that
downward pressure is counter-productive.
12. As a society, however, we do need to
be vigilant in countering the effects of poverty and other forms
of disadvantage which can reduce children's achievements and life
chances. Initiatives such as Sure Start are a welcome recognition
of the importance of the earliest years. The emphasis on families
and on flexible combined working across services is helpful. Consultation
within communities as to their own perceived priorities is crucial.
13. Jane Healy, an American expert gave
some pointers for good practice, based on her view of what is
known from brain research, at the Parenting Forum conference held
in April 2000. This is a summary of her advice.
Help children to feel safe. They need:
Unconditional love, expressed through
plenty of smiles and hugs;
Reasonably consistent limits, rules
and routines, with some quiet times;
Latitude and encouragement for exploration
Allow children the freedom to explore and make
"good" mistakes for learning
Encourage children to be in charge of their
own learning. The growing brain searches out what it needs at
different stages. The human brain does not need "jump starting",
it is ready for development and is impelled to do what it needs
to do at any given time.
Give children the tool for successlanguage.
Talking helps to build connections in the brain.
Give children time for learning.
Listen to children, and observe them. Pay attention
to what they are really asking. We should not be so eager to tell
The British Association for Early Childhood Education