Visiting the local café for a snack, to sit and chat and watch the world go by is just one way that staff at Queensborough Community Nursery in Bayswater, west London approach ‘cultural capital’.
Cultural capital, as defined in the Ofsted framework, is the ‘essential knowledge that children need to prepare them for future success’. By developing this capital, the Government aims to increase the life chances of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
For nurseries, this means broadening children’s experiences, developing their language so they can engage in these experiences and cultivating the dispositions needed to acquire cultural capital. At Queensborough, socialising with the community is an important part of achieving that, as is recognising children’s own cultural capital.
‘Who doesn’t enjoy sitting back and enjoying a snack outside a café on a summer’s day?’ asks nursery manager Jean Hudson. ‘The children can interact in a calm and social manner, talk about the menu and what they can see, such as the hanging baskets on the buildings. Holding conversations among each other is a skill that needs to be practised. They get to speak to the people in the cafe and are also exposed to handling money.’
Although the nursery, part of the London Early Years Foundation (LEYF), is situated in a deprived area, there is a diverse local community that the staff and children frequently venture into and use as a rich resource that has cultural relevance to the children. Through visiting shops to buy ingredients for cooking activities or reading books in the local library, the nursery hopes to give the children the necessary dispositions to face future learning situations with confidence.
‘Children bring their own cultural capital with them and it’s our role to be in tune with this and to enrich and extend it – see their actions and then add to them by bringing in their parents or something from your own culture,’ says Ms Hudson.
‘We take cultural capital to be everything that the child experiences, so teachers need to be passionate to step up to this. However, in our setting, we have chosen to focus strongly on language because we were finding that children were lacking in this area.
‘Research shows that having strong language skills is what enables a child to succeed, and it’s been found that children from disadvantaged backgrounds have language that is not as expressive. It is much more directional and instructional. Our focus is on giving children the opportunities, both in the nursery and our community, to develop a more diverse language so that they can be more creative with words.’
FOCUS ON LANGUAGE
Staff encourage children, many of whom have different home languages, to acquire new words through a curriculum that focuses on planning around children’s ongoing interests and enquiries. During regular cooking sessions, with bread being a favourite, they will discuss the textures of the food (‘soft’ or ‘grainy’), their actions (‘squash’, ‘squeeze’, ‘pull’ and ‘pummel’) and the changes in the ingredients.
‘We don’t keep our language “small” at nursery. Instead of using words like “big”, we talk about “ginormous” or “gigantic”,’ she says.
‘Rather than putting out the regular Lego for the children every day to ensure that the children play quietly, we think about what resources we provide that can create interest or “wow”.
‘Provocations, such as herbs and spices and allowing children to investigate them, add to them and mix with them, provide opportunities for new enquiries. Bringing enquiry into the children’s play enhances their vocabulary.’
Staff aim to encourage children to think things through and believe that building vocabulary supports them to be analytical. ‘We also give them the opportunity to ask their own big questions,’ says Ms Hudson. ‘There are often a lot of questions that children have but they can’t express themselves, so we give them the tools to do this. Rich language brings to bear their imagination and their thoughts and teaches them to be creative.’
READING AND THINKING
Instead of children being passive listeners during story times, LEYF follows a dialogic reading approach which gives them a more active role. They are encouraged to talk about the story, ask and answer questions. Research indicates that this approach supports children to use more words, speak in longer sentences and have more expressive language skills.
The nursery also uses the Helicopter Stories approach, with children telling their own stories and teachers scribing them verbatim. This encourages the children to express their ideas while also developing their imagination and experiencing the power of words as their stories come alive.
‘We’re not just reading stories or looking at books and seeing pretty pictures, we’re discussing the text and holding drama activities around the stories, which brings another level of excitement,’ says Ms Hudson.
‘Extending language doesn’t just happen in the nursery but is encouraged in the home too, particularly by sharing story bags with props related to a book with parents. One child slept with his Gruffalo story bag because it was so precious to him.’
FUNDS OF KNOWLEDGE
Staff value what children already know – their funds of knowledge – and aim to build on them by providing learning experiences that relate to the children’s social worlds. They try to understand more about the children’s cultural backgrounds, such as listening to a child singing a song in Mandarin to the tune of ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ and asking their parent about it.
‘The children have their own strengths from their backgrounds and we often see them acting these out through their play, for example when role-playing in the home corner, you’ll see children make food differently,’ says Ms Hudson.
‘One child showed how her mother tapped the spice container in a certain way, rather than just pour it, and we could see that it was an important part of her culture that her mother had shared with her.
‘One mother is Japanese and very good at origami, so we’ve invited her in, other parents will cook a dish or read with the children. It benefits the children but also helps the whole family to feel that their experiences and interests are valued.’
Staff from other countries also share their cultures with the children, such as songs in different languages and drumming. One teacher, who originates from Sudan, fascinated the children by demonstrating ululation after it was heard during the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s wedding celebrations.
‘We want children to see that they are not all the same but that we can celebrate difference in a positive way by acknowledging and appreciating other people’s cultures,’ says Ms Hudson.
Staff are seeing the impact of introducing the children to new and exciting experiences and words. ‘The parents have commented how they are sharing new words at home and these are becoming part of their vocabulary,’ says Ms Hudson.
‘A dad recently told us with great glee that their child who recently left us for big school had been a narrator in the school play. It thrilled me to learn that in her first term of school she had the confidence and self-esteem to do that and was obviously more than ready for the challenges of school.’
‘HE’S BEHIND YOU!’
Children, parents and staff went to the theatre together in January to watch a pantomime of Treasure Island. The trip built on the children’s interest in books and acting out stories while exposing them to an exciting new experience, with few of the families being familiar with the slap-stick format of pantomimes. It gave the children a new experience which they have continued to return to and add to in the following months.
‘The children found it lots of fun and it created a real buzz,’ says Ms Hudson. ‘They joined in with the drama and repartee of pantomimes, such as shouting, “He’s behind you”, and booing the baddies. There has been a lot of pirate talk in the nursery since, especially among the boys. Even now they are talking about pirates dragging people off to walk the plank and the dialogue in their role play was “The Teacher will walk the plank and the shark will eat her”, so it’s an experience that has really stayed with them.’
- FURTHER READING
- ‘An essential guide to… cultural capital’ by Dr Jo Basford
- ‘All about… dialogic reading’ by Joan Kiely
- Brooker L (2015) ‘Cultural Capital in the Preschool Years: Can the state “compensate” for the family?’ in Alenen L, Brooker L and Mayall B Childhood with Bourdieu. Palgrave McMillan
- Gonzalez N, Moll LC and Amanti C (2005) Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities and classrooms. Routledge
- Stewart N (2011) How Children Learn: The characteristics of effective learning. BAECE