Jamel Carly Campbell shares some ideas for ensuring an inclusive pedagogy and culture in early years settings…
I’ve always associated how we identify ourselves as the most important factor of community and culture. From the Foundation Stage, we are immersed in experiences that develop our individual knowledge of how our family, culture and community does things.
How they cook and prep food, how they dress, the daily rituals, celebrations, religious beliefs, household structures, games, language, family relationships, music, art, teaching, history….
As we become more aware and our understanding of the world develops, so does our sense of belonging. We then begin to make comparisons with the people we come in contact with: our peers, teachers and even people that cross our paths. For example, a child who is a Rastafarian noticing that an adult has hair that’s in locks, which is associated with the Rasta faith.
Children notice difference and similarities – they are soaking up information, constantly assessing their surroundings, which is shaping their perception of the world. We often associate familiarity with safety and often, children are going into a setting for the first time which is an unfamiliar environment.
When they enter the space, they’re assessing it based on past experiences and what they’re used to – they are trying to make connections. The smells, the music, the environment, the resources and the people are all being assessed. (Is this space safe and can these people be trusted?)
This is why I stress the importance of diversity within in our teaching/early years workforce, the resources we use and literature. Connection and representation matters. Children need to feel a connection to their surroundings, feel proud of who they are and feel acknowledged. Each child is unique and our approach is based on a child-centred pedagogy.
The EYFS principles tell us that positive relationships are warm and loving and foster a sense of belonging. Enabling environments value all people and value learning. They offer stimulating resources and spaces, inside and outside, relevant to all the children’s cultures and communities.
As early years educators, it’s crucial to illustrate that we are familiar with children’s community/culture, and we acknowledge and appreciate what makes them unique. (Not just through annual themes or cultural topics.) Through this approach, positive relationships can be formed and a foundation for learning can be built.
I understand that some settings may only have one particular community attending or they may find it difficult to represent other communities, but it’s just as important to have resources and toys that represent the wider community or invite people into your setting, so your children have those experiences.
So, when they do go out into the wider community, they are familiar with different cultures and communities and they don’t feel as anxious or unsafe, because they are going into an environment that they are aware of.
It’s essential for children to feel that they’re a valid part of the setting and we must ensure that their voices are heard. Create space for them to make contributions and suggestions to the daily planning and activities.
Let’s make our settings a place where representation matters and that includes inclusive policy, practice, pedagogy and culture that supports our children, their families and our teams.
Consider these reflective questions:
Bringing in things from home
Create a space where children can bring things from home and have them displayed.
These objects can represent their culture, community and interests. For example, materials, clothing, books, instruments, and toys.
Try to get out into the local community: visit the market, shops, religious establishments and community spaces.
Talk to children about the purpose of these key locations and give the children space to talk about what these places mean to them.
Allow children to take pictures, draw pictures and create a scrapbook about their experience, which can then be shared within the setting.
Further reading for adults
Supporting Identity, Diversity and Language in the Early Years by Iram Siraj-Blatchford and Priscilla Clarke
Conversations that Make a Difference for Children and Young People by Lisa Cherry
Further reading for children
The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali
The ABC of African & Caribbean Food by Rochelle Watson-Senyah
My Skin, Your Skin: Let’s talk about race, racism and empowerment by Laura Henry-Allain MBE
Hey You! An empowering celebration of growing up Black by Dapo Adeola
Jamel C Campbell is an early years educator, consultant and children’s author.