Friends indeed

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For young children, friendships help them to blossom in nursery and can encourage them in their later transition to school


Michael Pettavel, head teacher, Brougham Street Childcare and Nursery School, Skipton

I have spent the last couple of weeks reading the reports of the children heading off to primary school in September. It is always one of my favourite jobs, albeit tinged with sadness that we can’t keep them in nursery for another year. The change from when children start to when they leave is huge, and my heart leaps when thinking of how those who struggled to separate from their parents are now so independent and active. I see opportunities stretched out in front of them like an unrestricted landscape, open and full of promise.

What is it that makes the difference? Is it simply developmental maturity, or perhaps the ethos of the nursery? What I do know is that most children come alive in the context of their relationships. The slow burn of friendship allows secure independence, and those who were originally anxious and nervous begin to blossom. So is friendship the fertiliser of learning?

I also know that you can’t ‘make’ friendships happen, no matter how much you believe that one child will be ‘good’ for another (the opposite is also true here). Friendship is mutable and chosen; as adults we can present the opportunities, but it is the child who makes the commitment.

Professor Ferre Laevers describes a child whose well-being is high as ‘like a fish in water’, and like fish we are often more comfortable in a shoal. Friendship teaches us about empathy, responsibility, tolerance and allows us to test our limits, while throwing in a fair amount of natural consequence for our actions. For many children their relationships are the precursor to school being a place they can belong and succeed.

On the new Baseline and pilot Early Learning Goals, what worries me is there is no warmth, they seem very cold and dispassionate. I’m not trying to be fluffy about the importance of learning, but we are talking about very young children here. The centrality of relationships in the life of young children (whose previous experience is inevitably limited by their age) appears to be missing a significant aspect of what is described in the goals as ‘at the expected level of development’.

I will leave you with a quote that has been attributed to Albert Einstein: ‘Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.’

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