Positive Relationships

Developing a loving pedagogy in early years – How it boosts development

  • Developing a loving pedagogy in early years – How it boosts development

Tamsin Gimmer writes about how developing a loving pedagogy in Early Years can enhance our interactions with children and benefit their personal, social and emotional development…

Lifting both arms, Lyra looks her key person in the eye. The adult responds by gently lifting her and giving her a cuddle. At 18 months old Lyra can’t fully articulate her needs, wants and feelings through words. However, by using a series of non-verbal cues, she can make them known to a loving and attuned educator. 

Children of all ages are usually able to make themselves understood with or without words. It’s our role as an educator to tune into children and actively listen to them. This, in turn, helps them to develop emotionally and socially.

Early childhood educators can and do make a difference to children’s lives. This is by keeping the unique child and their family central to provision. It’s also by being inclusive and considering the wellbeing of their children, and by loving them.

Developing a loving pedagogy in Early Years

What’s love got to do with teaching, you might ask. I strongly believe that children have a right to be loved and to feel loved within early childhood.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs reminds us of the importance of helping children feel safe and secure, as well as the importance of having a sense of belonging.

It also speaks of love. Children need to feel loved so that they may thrive. If children feel loved, they will feel safe and secure. They’ll be more able to progress within our schools and settings. 

Generally speaking, it is accepted that loving others is not just about having a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. It also involves a certain etiquette or behaviour.

Parents demonstrate love to their children in many different ways. That might be telling them they love them, to:

● cuddling them

● protecting them

● feeding them

● nurturing them

● wanting the very best for them

It could be argued that our role as teacher or EYFS provider is identical in this aspect. After all, we are in loco parentis. We want the very best for our children. We want them to achieve their potential, and we seek to meet their needs physically, mentally and emotionally.

The language of love

When developing a loving pedagogy in Early Years, we’re combining the caring aspects of our role with an approach to working with children that underpins all aspects of our provision.

Part of this is listening to young children, genuinely consulting them, ascertaining their views and offering them agency.

I believe even very young children should have a say in life events and decisions made on their behalf, which links with article 12 of the UNCRC.

Children need to know they have a voice and that using it will result in action. As educators our role is to enable children to believe they are worth listening to and to advocate for young people if they need it. 

To facilitate this, we need to build genuine relationships with families and children and keep in mind the individual needs of the child.

We can then use the information garnered from this close relationship to adjust our provision. An example of this could be used when organising our learning environment, ensuring that it promotes independence so that children can access resources without needing an adult to help.

We can also build in learning opportunities which link with children’s interests and fascinations, helping children to feel heard, valued and empowered, whilst also developing those all-important social and emotional skills.

Depth of feeling

Many educators choose not to use the word ‘love’ and instead opt for words which are partly synonymous, like ‘care’ or ‘attachment’. However, none of the alternatives capture the depth of feeling and the broad nature of love.

Therefore, I believe it is important to use the word itself. Using the term ‘loving pedagogy’ when describing our ethos helps to embed love, placing it securely at the centre of our practice, while the use of ‘pedagogy’ helps to highlight the professional nature of our role as educator. 

Developing a loving pedagogy is not always something that will be plain sailing. In fact, it can lead us into some tricky and difficult waters.

As Page explores in her work around ‘professional love’, parents may not want us to ‘love’ their children or may have additional concerns relating to child protection and safeguarding.

The words ‘love’ and ‘loving’ can have sexual connotations in the English language which can lead to misunderstanding if we use these words.

However, despite safeguarding being our highest priority, we shouldn’t let any fears or child protection concerns prevent us from adopting a loving pedagogy.

Here comes the science

Research tells us that when we feel loved, our brain releases a number of ‘feel good’ chemicals and ‘happy’ hormones, such as oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.

● Oxytocin helps to reduce the stress hormone cortisol

● Dopamine acts as the brain’s reward system

● Serotonin is a mood stabiliser, contributing to our wellbeing and happiness

● Endorphins are natural painkillers which help to relieve stress and block pain

Research confirms that a nurturing touch has significant impact on the developing brain and is vital to child development. If we openly discuss appropriate touch and are clear in our policies about what a loving environment looks like in our school or setting, while also following safeguarding guidelines, then we can stand firm on our loving pedagogy, knowing that research backs up our view.

The pandemic has altered our lives forever. We know that many children have missed out on vital social and communication opportunities over the past few years.

Covid-19 has exacerbated several pre-existing problems, such as increased technology use, social isolation and poverty. Adopting a loving pedagogy is a great way of enhancing our interactions with children and empowering them. If ever there was a time when children needed more love, it’s now.

6 ways to enhance your interactions with children

1 Effectively promote secure attachments through building up close relationships with your children.
2 Physically get down to their level, try to see the world from their perspective and use warm and affectionate body language, gestures and eye contact.
3 Tune into what they say. When possible, act upon this and take their views into consideration, responding sensitively and with empathy.
4 Notice their behaviour and actions, facial expressions and body language. Mirror their actions or body language and comment or provide a running commentary. 
5 Observe them while playing alongside and act as a co-player when invited to join their play. Resist the urge to take over, however.
6 Show genuine interest in children and their activities, and plan sessions with their preferences and fascinations in mind.

Tamsin Grimmer is a consultant and trainer. She is the author of Developing a Loving Pedagogy in the Early Years.