I would make love and laughter statutory. I would stop “preparing” children, getting them ready for compliance and an inexorable future in an inflexible one-size fits-all curriculum, instead I would see them supported and encouraged to live in the moment and focus on the excitement, awe and wonder of being 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 years old. I would believe adults when they say they have built a sound, trusting and respectful relationship with the children they share their lives with and that they know their personality, interests and capabilities. I would advocate for fun, silliness and exploration over attainment. I would support discovery over teaching, being over doing, whilst recognising that children don’t know what they don’t know. I would value compassion, kindness, empathy, resilience, courage, humility and spontaneity – all immeasurable qualities. I would elevate imagination as the highest form of creativity. I would celebrate all of these for every child.
There would be no norms, levels, goals or tests, written or otherwise. I would define children by who they are not what they do or do not yet do.
I would educate our society about the vital importance of getting it right in our “formative” years rather than trying to fix things further down the line. I would ensure this translates into policy (not rhetoric), real funding, proper wages and status for early years practitioners. I would invert the education pyramid with focus, funding and training moved from tertiary to early years education.
I would build and sustain a culture of safeguarding, not just reliant on point-in-time checks, a culture where there is common agreement on acceptable behaviours and empowerment to challenge variance from them. I would create open-door environments, where children are safe to play, parents are welcome at any time and staff are protected from false allegations and where men in particular are not viewed with suspicion.
I would ensure inclusion is not containment, compromise or second best. All children have the right to have their individual needs met but there is a cost to the provision of one to one care and a limit to the availability of appropriately skilled and experienced staff to deliver it.
I would bin any form of checklists relating to diversity and equal opportunities. These are about understanding, acceptance and respect, recognizing and celebrating difference, seeing each individual – child and adult, as unique and valued, not a few posters on the wall and a couple of dolls with different skin tones.
I would look for understanding that two year olds are not three year olds and cannot just be added into existing provision as an expedient with no extra funding, to satisfy a promise to the electorate with minimal supply side strategy or support.
I would seek acknowledgement that involvement with children and building partnership with their carers can sometimes bring huge challenges, unmatched expectations, parenting and social issues, which can be stressful and require additional energy and emotional engagement from those on the front line. I would ensure that support is available to them.
I would make sure that all agencies work together for the benefit of individual children, sharing information in a mutually respectful and professionally supportive team regardless of the organisational structures.
I would make learning and play environments as safe as necessary not as safe as possible. Every day should be an adventure in a place that allows some excitement, risk and danger – why isn’t it ok to walk up the slide, if no one is coming down it?
I would challenge the applicability of interactive white boards to the under 5s – when there are perfectly good sticks available as an alternative.
I would make routines subservient to relationships, maybe not stopping what we are engrossed in because the clock tells us to.
I would stop writing things down as evidence for others.
Maybe in all these suggestions there are possibilities for change within the system?
Maybe we just need to stand up for what stirs us, for what is right for children, challenging injustice and wrong thinking?