Diversity in Early Years   1 comment

Those who know me well –  those who have worked with me, and certainly those who had me as their Children Come First Network Coordinator, or their quality assurance assessor or indeed as their NVQ tutor or assessor will know that I have a bit of a thing about diversity and equality.

I have written before about my first graded inspection when I returned to childminding in 2010 and the comments made by my inspector about equality in my setting – and my response. And I shall return to that later in this blog.

Over the last couple of years I have been so caught up in my volunteering and my campaigning against what I consider to be inappropriate Government policy, that I have not really had much time to focus on writing  blogs  about everyday practice and important issues such as diversity and equality. However, in the fostering side of my life I have indeed been reflecting on this and writing about it through the completion of the Fostering Standards; and I have also been reflecting on  and including equality and diversity within the assignments for my degree. So although not in the public domain, I have not pushed the matter of  diversity and equality to the back of my mind, it still very at the front of my mind and very much part of my reflective practice.

Therefore I was very interested to read an article in Nursery World written by my friend and colleague Laura Henry. In the article Laura suggests that we could all do more to embrace diversity in all areas of Early Years from employment of staff, to resources and pedagogical approaches, to Trustees and Board Members – in fact to everything.

If you have not read the article, you can do so by CLICKING HERE

So do I agree with Laura?

Yes I do.

I think that there is a lot of tokenism and sometimes people are scared of saying or doing anything for fear of getting it wrong or being criticised.

Take employment sometimes being Black or being a man or Gay or disabled (or anything else under the ‘equality’ banner ) can get you extra Brownie points in an interview  because people want to ‘tick the equality box’, they want to show that they actively support diversity. However if  the person most suited to the job does not get the job, is that right?  No, of course it is not, BUT if you do not get a cross range of people applying for the job in the first place, how can you pick the best person for the job and ensure a diverse staff team?

It all goes back much further than the stage of applying for a job.

It goes all the way back to Early Years,  to how people feel about themselves and others.

I believe that until people stop thinking that they need to provide evidence that they value diversity and that they see people as people first not as as part of a list of equality descriptors then we will not have a fair society where every person is treated with equal concern – which is of course not the same as equally.

In all areas of Early Years many people think they value diversity, think they are proactive in ensuring they do not discriminate – but unintentionally they do.

Take policies – how many still have a long list of people they claim they do not discriminate against?

In my opinion, just having a list is discrimination to both those described in the list and those that are not described. Why do people feel they need this every growing long list? Just by having a list means you label some and exclude others, really if you say you don’t discriminate , you should by default ensure everyone has equal opportunities to succeed and to be included – no matter what the difference is to yourself.

And by ‘yourself’ I mean each and every person – after all we all have our own unique individual needs and are own unique way of doing things. It should be as simple as that – everyone’s needs should be met, everyone should be valued for who they are, everyone should be supported to meet their own potential – and this applies to both children and adults.

We should adapt things, we should have the resources needed, we should have a ‘can do attitude’, we should not make excuses, we should not hide behind policies that mask what we really think and do.

As an example let’s look at me!

I am an above average sized person, I need sturdy furniture to sit on; I cannot sit still for very long, so I need to move around / have regular short breaks, I am of average height so I need help to access things on high shelves.

And that is just me as I am. Before we add in the fact that I am diabetic and I am dyslexic.

The two last points would most likely make it to a list, the first three most likely would not. The one that impacts on me most, is the need to have short breaks followed by being dyslexic. If my need for short breaks is not met, there is no point meeting my need as a dyslexic – as without the short breaks I will be unable to sit still or to concentrate.

The best thing to do, to meet my needs, is to ask me – not to have a list that will include some aspects but not others.

I don’t get what all the fuss is about – in Early Years we say ‘Start with the child’, actually we should say ‘Start with the person’ as we would then be truly inclusive and enable every person to have their individual needs met.

Part of the problem is a lot of people focus on the big things and don’t really get what diversity is about.

In my opinion diversity (and therefore equality) is about the everyday things – it actually is about similarities and differences – in everything. Noticing, talking about, accepting, not being fearful of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing.

So a doll is a doll – some maybe black, some brown, some a funny colour that is accepted as white, some will be boys, some girls, some open to imagination and a boy one day, a girl the next. Some will have hair, some won’t, some will be life size, some will be small world sized- but all are dolls.

Same with the fruit at snack time – some will be orange, some red, some green, some yellow, some have skin you can eat, some you can’t, some grow in this country, some don’t.

Then there are  animals in the playsets – and the crayons, and the cars – you are getting the picture?

In life there are so many things that are similar in some ways, but different in other ways. As Early Years ‘people’ we need to ensure that children can spot the similarities and the differences, to acknowledge those differences but not to be afraid to ask questions, to gain knowledge – and most importantly to not be afraid of things which are different including themselves and their peers.

We must ensure the children understand that different people may look different (but we are all people), may dress different (but we all wear clothes of some sort), may eat different thing (but we all eat), may live in different houses (but we all live somewhere), may need different things to help them live their lives (but we all need things to help us) and so on.

Of course many in Early Years do all of this already BUT what the children observe adults do and say,  is sometimes not the same message – it is in fact the opposite. They see discrimination, they notice that others are not always valued.

Children learn from everything, the intended learning and the unintended.

Until we get it right in Early Years with the children, diversity will not just ‘happen’.

Stop thinking that these things can happen because we have a policy or because we appoint people who actually were not the best person, just to tick a box. Stop thinking that we can’t do anything because of where we live, or because of a limited budget, or any of the other easy to say excuse.

We can change things but we need to value everyone as a unique person, we need to value differences, we need to have a ‘can do’ attitude.

We need to pay heed to everything we say and do.

To finish I will return to my experience of my first graded inspection.

It was near the end of the inspection, and the inspector said something on the lines of ‘Penny, I can see you have lots of lovely equality resources, but I have not seen you use them or include diversity in anyway’.

I replied on the lines of ‘ Oh really? Did you not hear the story I read?’

‘Well, yes of course said the inspector, it was lovely, the children self selected props to use – but the story was about a farm’

‘Yes, I replied it was about a farm – but all the animals ate different food, they all spoke in different languages, the all lived in different places’

‘Ah’ said the inspector ‘I see’

I was graded outstanding.

You see start with the little things, build in the ability to observe difference and similarities, reduce fear and increase acceptance of those differences – and children will develop into adults who not only have high self esteem but also value others – even if they are different in some way.

Then, and only then will we be able to see true diversity not only in Early Years, but in society as a whole.

Finally, my husband said to me, ‘Who is this Laura Henry you keep talking about?’ I went to great lengths to explain who Laura is, and what she does’. However, I clearly did not explain well enough and my husband said looking at my computer on social media (with its profile pictures) well which one is Laura ?

This one – I said pointing to Laura’s picture.

‘Oh said my husband – why did you not say she is Black?

Well to be honest, I don’t think of that – it is a difference between myself and Laura but I tend to think of things that we have in common and it was these things we have in common that I had told my husband about because it is those things that connect me and Laura.

Of course I know Laura is Black but to me that is a difference that I do not need to think about or describe; but the fact we both are passionate about children and their well being, the fact that we both blog and write about children, the fact that we are both dyslexic, the fact that we both have members of close family on the autism spectrum – are the important things that we have in common and therefore are the similarities that are important to both of us – and the things we support each other with.




One response to “Diversity in Early Years

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Hi Penny, Thank you for taking the time to write this blog based on my Nursery World opinion piece.
    I strongly believe, it is only when we discuss and share, can we make changes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: