It is very obvious that all children can learn, but not all children learn in the same way, at the same time or at the same rate - learning is an individual process and therefore not every child will be learning in the same way or at the same rate. To help children learn it is very important to meet children’s diverse learning needs which can lead to more effective and efficient learning. Meeting a child’s diverse learning needs means identifying needs, developing individual goals and objectives for a child, selecting or designing appropriate supports and services, and then choosing the best learning setting. Combining and evaluating these things based upon your individual child will allow you to create a individual and more efficient learning process for that child.
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As a practitioner, you have a responsibility to your key children to provide appropriate activities for the age and stage of development of each child to help them develop further in all areas; growth, development and learning. Each child needs individualised care and this is what the EY strives to achieve with the focus on ‘A Unique Child’. With all those unique children in your key group, you have to take into consideration that when you conduct an adult-led activity you may have set an overall aim for the activity, yet each child will not respond to the activity in the same way and will need an individual outcome and therefore, it is important to think about, plan for, and interact with the individual, as well as the group as a whole. You have to consider the range of children’s styles, social interactions and personalities:
- Some are quiet; others are noisy
- Some like to spend time by themselves; others are the life of the party
- Some are shy; others are outgoing
- Some are active; others are reserved
- Some enter into new situations easily; others like to stand back and watch
There also other things to take into consideration, for example, cultural and language backgrounds, life experiences, temperament, interests, skills and talents that can all influence how a child learns. Due to all these possible contributing factors, all practitioners should use a process called differentiation which means that activities, planning, resources and environments should be adapted to suit the individual needs of a child and allow them to participate and gain the most from each experience.
Once you have taken the child’s unique needs into consideration and applied this to your planning and how you conduct your activities, you will see how each child will benefit in their learning. The benefit of meeting a child’s individual needs means that each child will gain the most from each activity and therefore are more likely to learn and develop at a more efficient rate based upon their needs. The amount a child will learn and gain from an activity will be affected by what the activity has been based upon; it has been advised that practitioners should follow a cycle of planning, observation and assessment. Children often learn and develop best when they are doing something that they enjoy, so if you observe them doing this, assess their skills and capabilities, you can then plan what’s best next for that child. This process will benefit that individual child, as the next activity planned for them will be something they enjoy participating in, are capable of achieving and are therefore more likely to learn more from that activity. Staff should place observation, planning and assessment at the heart of their practice and this process should be seen as a continuous cycle in supporting babies and young children’s development. Once you incorporate this cycle into your daily planning as a key worker, you will quickly see the benefits in your key children.
An essential part of your responsibility for meeting children’s individual needs will require all children to be treated fairly and equally and to make sure there is no discriminatory practice happening. When anti-discriminatory practice is spoken about is important to be aware of three very important terms; Equality, Diversity, Inclusion; equality meaning that everyone is treated equally, diversity is recognising individual’s characteristics and differences and inclusion makes sure that all children can participate fully in their environment. Discrimination is taken very serious within early years setting and many laws and “acts” have been created to protect children from discrimination as a whole, the most famous being ‘The Children Act 1989’ and ‘The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)’. These acts are now used as guidance to make everyone aware that the rights that must be realised for children to develop their full potential, free from hunger, neglect and abuse. It’s a new vision of the child; a vision of a child as an individual and as a member of a family and community, with rights and responsibilities appropriate to their age and stage of development.
In order to provide an inclusive child care setting that celebrates diversity and does not discriminate against children and their families, the setting should ensure that the following things are taken into consideration and applied to all areas of practice:
- Accessibility & equality - parental & children’s activities are accessible to all parents & all children, making sure everyone can equally participate regardless of the capabilities, culture or background.
- Realisation of diversity - activities in the child care setting help children to realise that they are part of a world where people’s backgrounds and experiences are diverse
- Provide positive images – Materials on display in nursery should help overcome stereotyping expectations by displaying all sorts of children from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds
- Celebration - celebrations of multicultural festivals and events should take place in settings regardless of whether children would celebrate them at home. Activities reflect the diversity of background of all of the families represented in the community
- Avoiding stereotyping – Restricting girls from being more adventurous and boisterous and boys from being more sensitive and caring. Stereotyping can restrict possibilities in the future development by limiting expectations
- Make each child feel individual – Appreciating children for who they are and celebrating the characteristics that do make them different
- Treat all children equally but not the same – adapting the way you work with children to suit their needs therefore making sure they have the right opportunities. For example, adapting your activity for two children who are capable of different levels of achievement.
Staff members must challenge their own views and beliefs and not portray any prejudices to the children, as the way in which adults treat children and behave can have a huge influence on them. Children should be encouraged to identify their own unique characteristics and those that are similar to other children. This will help them to feel comfortable within their own skin and value their own individual characteristics. They will also feel more positive about their own culture and background, gaining emotional well-being. This is also good practice in promoting diversity, as children will be more accepting of others who are different to them. Diversity should also be promoted throughout the nursery environment, so children should play with different toys from different cultures, they should celebrate a range of festivals and cultural celebrations within their setting and their also should be a range of photos and displays to help promote and celebrate diversity. It is highly important for staff to constantly promote diversity so that children are comfortable within their own skin, can celebrate their cultural background but also not be prejudice against others.
It is essential that practitioners are aware of promoting children’s physical and emotional well-being. The emotional health of children and young people is increasingly recognised as being highly important to the wellbeing and future prospects of individuals. Children and young people’s emotional health is a cornerstone of all the Every Child Matters outcomes. Children who are emotionally healthy achieve more, participate more fully with their peers and community, engage in less risky behaviour and cope better with the adversities they may face from time to time. Emotional health in childhood has important implications for health and social outcomes in adult life (Mental Health Foundation. 1999. Bright Futures. London: Mental Health Foundation). The development of emotional health starts before a child is born, and the first two years of life are a critical period for laying the foundations for emotional health throughout childhood and into adult life. Emotional health is nurtured primarily in the home, but we know that practitioners and services can and do make a difference.
To help promote the health and well-being of all children, acts have been written so that everyone can focus on the importance of what is best for each unique child. “The Children Act 1989” was written to help promote empowerment for children, making sure that they are involved in decisions that can affect themselves. The main points of “The Children Act 1989” relevant to working in early years are:
- The well-being of the child is of paramount importance - children should be safe and secure within a setting and this should be a feeling shared with parents. When children feel safe and secure it is more likely that they will feel more happy and have a better emotional; well-being.
- Children should have their own race, culture, language and religion valued and respected – this can be explored through the celebration of diversity and individuality.
- Children's feelings and opinions should be listened to – making them feel like they are important and special, linking in them to feel secure and safe.
- Provision should be made to meet the individual needs of children and their families – communication between staff and parents to ensure all child’s needs and interests are catered for therefore a child can get the best care available allowing them good emotional and physical well-being.
Keeping children safe is essential in promoting a child’s physical well-being and once a child feels safe within their environment, they will feel more secure and confident to go and explore independently. Practitioners can promote well-being within settings by giving children the opportunity to make their own choices and decisions. Giving them these opportunities allows children to develop self-confidence and awareness, as well as learning to manage feelings and behaviour. The EYFS ‘A Unique Child’ promotes children as independent learners; this can begin from an early age as young as babies, exploring news things using their senses and as they become older, children can be given the opportunity to learn about keeping themselves safe. Practitioners can empower children, giving them choices and encouraging them to make decisions. This should include when children decide that they do not wish to participate in activities. This opportunity to say ‘no’ will empower a child and enable them to become a confident individual. This is important for their personal confidence and emotional well-being. Promoting independence and decision making from an early age and continuing this throughout childhood will contribute to a young person and adult who is confident, independent and assertive.
As practitioners we have to be aware that all children are different and unique and this cannot be overlooked. If we do not take this into consideration it can have a large impact on not only the learning and development achieved by the child, but also their emotional and physical well-being. The EYFS theme ‘A Unique Child’ with the individual child at the heart of curriculum and planning, is a key part of all early years settings, therefore benefiting the value of each child. Whilst considering each child as an individual, we not only take into consideration their needs but the ideas of anti-discriminatory practice, helping their emotional and physical well-being.
Department of Education and Early Childhood Development
UNICEF – Convention on the rights of the child
The National Strategies of Early Years
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