Childhood, as a general notion, seems to be obvious: it is the journey in life when you are a child. Everyone's childhood is unique and society has differing sets of ideas about what children are like, what they should be like and how adults should treat them. A traditional view of childhood (Alwin 1990), as cited by Waller (2005), is that children are central to the family unit where they create affectionate bonds with their parents and become fixed with and adopt parent's values and attitudes. Waller (2005) p61
The concept of childhood appears to change shape as society evolves and lifestyles alter and this is confirmed by Walkerdine's modern belief that childhood is "mobile and shifting". His definition of childhood, as discussed by Waller (2005), is that "children experience many different and varied childhoods." Waller. T, An Introduction to Early Childhood (2005) p56
The differences children experience make up their identity, make them unique and can include factors of race, disability, social class, religion, gender and/or background, affecting the child's individual identity and can influence their development and progression through life.
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A varied combination creates the legal identity of children at birth in terms of name, gender, nationality and their position in their family unit in relation to their parents and other close family members. Children will then add to this legal identity and create their own personal identity as they develop, grow and experience life through adulthood and beyond. Their personal identity will form and change through their experiences of home background, (including attitudes and values), social economic status, educational achievement, religion and gender choices, employment status, personal struggles and achievements as they encompass life. Waller (2005) p56
In addition, children's development of personal identity is learned through being accepted by others and by being accepted for their individuality will create a state of emotional wellbeing,
positive self-esteem and positive self-identity. They may however, because of prejudice of their gender, social class, disability or race issues, feel they are inadequate and less worthy than other children.
Walkerdine's mobile and shifting view of childhood can be seen as being normal for many children and this is explained by Waller who cites Penn (2005) and others, in their explanation of a normal child being a:
"curious mix of statistical averages and historically specific value judgements. The most striking aspect of the 'normal' child is how abnormal he or she is, since there is no such person in reality and never has been. The advantage of defining normality is that it is a device that enables those in control or in charge to define, classify and treat those who do not fit in."
Legislation has been put in place to ensure that all children fit in with the best opportunities for them to reach their full potential and the most significant device that enables children to fit in is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In 1989, it was decided that children needed rights that protected and supported them and this convention lays down 54 articles that spell out the basic human rights children are entitled to in terms of protection, provision and participation and cover all factors of their multidimensional identity such as disability, race, gender, social class, sex and religion.
This Convention enables children to be recognised and respected for their own interests, points of view and most importantly their personal identity and helps them to be included in everything that matters to them regardless of their individual needs and backgrounds. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child gives children a voice in making sure they are listened to, included and treated fairly. (Friedman. R, 2007) Early Years in Early Childhood Studies
This relates to article 12 of the UNCRC where it states "children and families are valued and respected at all levels in our society and have the right to have their voices sought, heard and acted upon by all those who support them and who provide services to help them". In addition, this article is part of the vision of the Early Years Framework, working towards giving children the best possible start in life.
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Early Years Framework is statutory guidelines for everyone working in early years and lays out the steps everyone, including national and local governments, must take to ensure children receive the same outcomes and opportunities. This framework works towards equality and inclusion because it helps to identify children who are at risk of not achieving and takes action to prevent these risks occurring. Some of their actions include moving children out of any dangers they have already fallen into, breaking cycles of poverty, inequality and poor outcomes throughout early years and have a focus on empowering children, families and their wider communities and helping these groups "to secure futures for themselves". Scottish Government (2008) p4
This framework works together with other policies including Curriculum for Excellence, Equally Well and Skills for Scotland in addressing the factors of poverty, which can add to the risk of poorer outcomes for children. According to Bennett and Moss, children living in poverty are likely to be more disadvantaged in terms of "health, socio-emotional development, educational attainment, school attendance, family stability and employment opportunities". Bennett, J et al, Working with Diversity, Children in Scotland (2010) (p4)
Poverty can have a huge effect on children and their self-esteem because an environment of poor or no income may see their basic needs not being met appropriately and because of this children may underachieve at school. Living in poverty can also influence a child's sense of identity because of the stigma and stereotyping of poor people. This can lead to a child lacking in self-esteem because of the way they are viewed and/or treated and they may feel inadequate and useless. Children who have higher self-esteem will feel worthy, significant, feel good about themselves and create a positive sense of identity enabling them to know where they want to go in life and try to break the cycle of poverty.
Early Years Framework understands the stresses parents and families face and how this can impact on children's development. They work to make sure children receive the best experiences and outcomes in their earliest years and set the foundations for their journey into adult life and beyond. Helping families to break the cycle of poverty will also enable them to shift their social class and this can help to determine better futures. Scottish Government (2008) p4
This policy and other specific legislation ensures children all have the same opportunities in order for them to have a good quality of life in early childhood. Children have a right to be part of their community setting and develop their own individual identity but the legislation can only be effective if adults adhere to the guidelines laid down. Adults should promote themselves as positive role models regarding prejudice and discrimination towards identity differences. Siraj-Blatchford, I (2000) p3
Children notice identity differences in other people in terms of skin colour, disabilities and language and other relevant differences, and will not view these differences as wrong or worthless but the reactions and answers children receive from adults when questioning about these differences will determine whether or not children learn negative attitudes about prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination. Lindon J (1998) (p78)
Some adult opinions and views about differences, prejudice and discrimination in society in the areas of disability, race, religion, gender issues and social class, have been passed down from generation to generation and this led to labelling, stereotyping and discrimination of people never being challenged. This was caused by our ignorance, but as society has evolved, our attitudes towards these issues have changed to a more positive view.
This positive view will make a difference to the development of children's own attitudes to prejudice and stereotyping.
Stereotyping means having a general opinion of a class of people that is fixed, for example, views in the past about boys and girls related to their behaviours, talents or weaknesses. It was assumed that girls would under- achieve in education compared to boys and further education for girls was disputed because it was thought this would be a waste as "they would only get married".
Stereotyping occurred as a result of making judgements about people and in the case of gender, women they were judged as being less intelligent than men. Lindon, J (1998) p33
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Lindon believes that this sexist view created prejudice and discrimination against women during the 1950s and 1960s and states that The Sex Discrimination Acts 1975 and 1986 made it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of their sex.
Children should not think they are good at certain things just because they were born a girl or boy, they need to feel valued and develop a positive identity whatever they do or whoever they are.
In our Early Years settings, practitioners should be aware of equal opportunities towards gender roles and aim for both boys and girls to reach positive outcomes and this involves considering comparisons of how boys and girls are treated and what activities and resources are made available for both sexes and how they are encouraged to use them. This would include making sure resources and experiences are not seen as being just for boys or just for girls.
For example, outdoor play of physical activities like climbing, playing on bicycles or football opportunities should be available to both girls and boys. In addition, if boys want play with the cooker, washing machine or ironing board in the home corner then they should not be discouraged from doing so.
Children have the right to choose where they want to play and learn and the potential challenge for practitioners is to allow such play and enable children to develop confidence in their own abilities, create a feeling of self-worth and most importantly, a positive feeling about their own identity.
"Through adult role modelling, the use of drama and story, and through positive intervention, both girls and boys can gently be challenged and powerfully supported as they come to an understanding of who they want to be". Smidt, S.(2007 A guide to Early Years Practice, p148
Excluding children from resources on the basis on their gender can be seen as discrimination and means treating them in a different way because they are part of a particular group. In addition, this exclusion contradicts Standard 5, Quality of Experience, and one of the main principles of Choice, as laid down within the National Care Standards and prevents equality and diversity within practice.
Other discriminations relating to a child's personal identity can include the views that all disabled people are helpless. Up until the 1980s, the medical world used to label children with disabilities because they were not following expected patterns of development and the condition of the child became the focus of attention and not the children themselves. This resulted in the ordinary or basic needs of the child being disregarded and the medical world regarded the child as lacking in abilities with the focus then becoming what the child could not do rather than what they were able to do. Disability was then seen as a problem meaning disabled individuals had to adapt to fit into society and were discriminated against. This negative judgement prevented us from considering disabled people as individuals and look at what they could not do rather than what they are able to do and by lifting the stereotype and discrimination, we can place a child with additional support needs at the centre of their provision.
The introduction of The Education Act 1981 and The Children Act 1989 required local authorities to identify and assess then provide appropriate services for disabled children. Society now concentrates on what the child can do as an individual and allows the child to be put at the centre of their provision and be valued regardless of their abilities, increasing their confidence, self-esteem, self-worth and individual identity. Hickman, C. et al as cited by Waller, T. (2005) p32
The Disability Discrimination Act now says that if a child encounters barriers, society must now find a solution and make resources available to allow the child to be included. This act now ensures that the child is in an environment of equal opportunities and inclusion where diversity is welcomed and where the environment has to adapt to allow the child to fit in. Scottish Government (2009)
During my time in placement, I discovered how an area within the nursery setting had been developed and adapted to support and promote equality and inclusion. Observation 3
After discussions with my mentor I discovered that the nursery had worked alongside the child's parents, local authority, and others to assess, plan and develop this area for this child and this working partnership falls within the guidelines of both "Getting it right for every child" and the "Child at the Centre" documents.
Both documents recognise children's rights as laid down by the UNCRC and help children and their families to gain a positive difference in their lives. These documents also benefit practitioners by providing guidance on why putting the child at the centre will mean "getting it right" for children as unique individuals.
I used the "Getting it right for every child" guidance to offer support and a solution for a child participating in a physical activity. By providing the support required he was able to overcome physical inequalities and allowed him to participate fully in this activity. This support also enabled him to be at the heart of "Getting it right for every child" and in particular an effective contributor who was able to included. Observation 1
The Child at the Centre document helps practitioners to self-evaluate the service they provide for children and includes indicators which guide them in their professional reflection of the quality of learning provided. The guidance help practitioners self-evaluate in their planning and intervention of improvements to the learning experiences for children. For example, one of the quality indicators is "2.1 Children's Experiences" and relates to "the extent to which children are motivated and actively involved in their own learning". Within this section of the policy there are statements which state: " almost all our children are making good progress and achieving well" and "our children are treated with equality, fairness and respect" and these statements help to reflect on good practice and guide practitioners in their provision. Scottish Government p22.23
I had a discussion with my nursery mentor surrounding a young child whose English was not her first language and discovered that, according to my mentor, the child did not speak very much English. However, during my observation (observation 2) I discovered that this young child could in fact speak English quite confidently. This situation highlights the importance of the appropriate and efficient use of self-evaluation and policies like Child at the Centre to ensure all children are within an environment of equality and inclusion.
In modern day Scotland there are many children who are bilingual and according to Smidt. S (2007), and perhaps confirmed by my discussion in nursery, are offered a curriculum that is restricted and does not meet their needs. Good practices will include and involve these children and their families in all aspects of their learning environment and actively celebrate their different cultures and in the process enable bilingual children to develop self-esteem, self-worth and a positive self-identity. Smidt, S (2007)
Language is a crucial factor in terms of social class and a study by Bernstein, B. as cited by Smidt, S. (2007) highlighted the rate of underachievement of working class children. He explains that working class children were at a disadvantage in education because the language used within educational establishments is on a different level of understanding to the type of language used by working class people. Practitioners should use language to talk about things that have real meaning in the lives of children and show respect for the children and their use of language. Smidt, S. (2007)
Discrimination against children from working class families may happen because they are judged as being unsuccessful because they come from "the local council estate", "a single-parent family" or "parents are unemployed". If attitudes to stereotypical comments like this continue to prevail, then discrimination of social class will carry on and our children will continue to underachieve, impacting on their wellbeing, life chances and achievements. Smidt, S. (2007)
The Equality Bill 2010 highlights the importance of tackling discrimination and inequalities in our society. It brings together all pieces of legislation regarding disability, race, gender, social class, sex and religion in order to protect a child's multidimensional identity and to ensure our society narrows the gap between inequalities and helps to secure equality and inclusion for all young children.