Building on potential

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Professor Cathy Nutbrown considers nurturing the workforce of the future

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Architects, astronauts, doctors and dancers. Sometimes it's important to stop and contemplate the wealth of experience around us. Last week, as I walked across the main concourse of the university, I was struck by the realisation that all around me were young women and men who were planning to take up many different careers. I was surrounded by aspiring engineers, musicians, economists, doctors, architects and biologists. The list goes on, and our alumni include famous scientists, authors, and at least one astronaut. The talent and potential around me made me pause for thought.

Many of those same young people, less than 20 years before, were in early years settings, playing outside, listening to stories, trying things out, asking questions. No one working with them then knew what they might grow up to do, or how their interests might develop.

Yet take any single setting and consider the potential of the children there. It takes versatility and skill to provide for the learning and development needs of such a diverse group - yet those who work with young children must do this every day. As early years practitioners work with a small group playing with clay, or help them to sweep up fallen autumn leaves in the garden, or count the cutlery ready for lunch, or bake biscuits for a party, they are teaching the future. It's not possible to know how the young children in that group will spend their future, and what contribution they might make to society. But it is possible to be acutely aware that a strong and rich early childhood experience will provide something on which each of them can build their lives.

Every parent knows that each child is unique: some are tidy and others messy; some chatty and others quiet; some will eat anything they are offered and others have more particular tastes. These differences are what make each child who they are and their emerging potentials are also part of their uniqueness.

Those who work with children have in their presence the workforce of the future. This is why those who work with young children need to be well trained and appropriately qualified. They need a range of skills, knowledge, understanding and attributes as they offer a unique experience for every child in their setting; and for that they need due recognition.

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