When education cares

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Young children do not separate 'care' from 'learning' and neither should we, says Professor Cathy Nutbrown


A few years ago, I led a small project to find out what young
children thought of their early years settings. Practitioners in 18
settings worked with me to ask the children they worked with for their

The children talked about playing both indoors and outdoors. They talked about the many aspects of nature that they encountered while they played outside, including: bugs, snails, frogs, caterpillars, bees, worms, trees, flowers, clouds, snow, ice, water, the sun and mud. Inside, most of the children seemed to like the bricks, the home corner, dressing up, computers and stories.

Within all of these, the children told us about their imaginings. They spoke of 'real' and 'pretend', they spoke of their magic powers, invisible tiny fairies, far-away castles, world-saving superheroes and noisy dogs. Their imaginations seemed almost limitless as they conjured up fantastic possibilities in their play.

As they played they solved problems, comforted unhappy children, invented 'machines', negotiated rules and adapted equipment to serve their needs. They explained about the importance of co-operating, being friends and having adults play with them.

The children talked warmly about their adults and gave many reasons why they liked them: she's kind... she does cooking... she's magic... she gives the best cuddles... she's funny... he does drilling... I like her hair... she teaches us things... she plays football. The children conveyed a picture of engaged, interested and versatile women and men who supported emotional and physical needs, and involved themselves actively in children's learning and development.

Young children do not separate out 'care' from 'learning' and neither should we. The best education that young children can receive is that which involves 'tuned-in' involvement with other children and with expert practitioners who understand their needs and capabilities 'in the round', and know how best to support their development and learning.

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