CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN EARLY CHILDHOOD STUDIES
CONTEMPORARY ISSUES IN EARLY CHILDHOOD STUDIES
When we look at a child, we remember the way we were. Children are the future, that’s why we must teach them well, in home and in school. Children are fragile, that’s why we must protect and nurture them, and yet, we must give them respect for their own capacity to make decisions. This study is composed of four questions that reflect the different aspects of childhood, in school, in home, and in the field of healthcare.
Question/Objective 1: Recent evidence suggests that adults who are empathetic and sensitive to children’s emotional well-being are more effective educators. Discuss and critically analyze this statement in relation to your knowledge of emotional literacy.
Childhood is a critical and delicate phase of human life. Children are generally easily influenced, and whatever they learn at such stage would greatly affect their life when they grew up. It is not enough that parents, guardians, relatives and friends teach the children the values and social lessons, but it is also necessary that they are provided good academic knowledge in school, which brings us to one critical question: What makes a good teacher?
Research shows that four basic characteristics expected from a good teacher are knowledge of subject area, sound teaching and communications skills, a passion for teaching, and a love of children (“What makes a…” n.d.). The four characteristics constitutes a general view but we emphasize “love of children” because the focus of our essay is basically on building teacher-children relationship rather than on the teacher’s professional mastery of the instructions and methods. It doesn’t mean that skills are not important, only that a teacher can utilize his/her skills better if the teacher can “connect” with the children through being empathetic and sensitive to student’s needs. went as far as saying that “My intuitive judgment is now supported by comprehensive research that declares the characteristic most often found in successful teachers is empathy” (2004). In his article “Can you describe a good teacher?”, listed good teaching qualities which are mostly related to teacher-student rapport like empathy, a sense of mission, communication, appreciation and listening ( 2004). In line with this idea, Keith Dewar agreed that empathy and accessibility are the most consistently mentioned as major elements of good teaching (n.d.).Teacher accessibility can be addressed easily by organizing schedules, communication provisions, etc., but empathy is something that might require more effort to understand, achieve, and apply.
Empathy is a complex and broad subject, but fortunately, it is well documented, especially in relation to teaching. Basically, empathy is defined as a feeling of concern and understanding for another's situation or feelings, also a state of total identification with another's situation, condition, and thoughts. It is also defined as the ability to accept and appreciate the differences between people, in behavior, in preferences, and capabilities. It may be illustrated by the idiom “to place your self in other’s shoes”, and yet, the empathetic person should retain objectivity and identity. Empathy doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to feel the same in order to relate, in fact, you should understand about the magnitude of the feeling but maintain a clear feeling/thought in order to be able to react or give advice soundly. Empathy is directly linked with effective professional functioning and helping behavior (1989). Studies prove that empathy helps teachers in their difficult work (Morgan 1983). To be considered empathetic, teachers should be able to know and understand what their students are feeling, whether students express it or not. It is therefore clear that there are two important characteristics which serves as prerequisite to empathy: SENSITIVITY and EMOTIONAL LITERACY.
Sensitivity enables the teacher to interpret the actions of her students to evaluate the way they are feeling. Sometimes children have difficulty explaining or expressing how they feel. As an example, most kids (usually toddlers) resort to biting or hair pulling when they cant express their emotion, when they don’t know how to say “That is mine, please give it back” or “excuse me”, or “sorry”. An empathetic teacher would know that there might be a reason for every child’s behavior, pinpoint that reason, and develop the best way to address it. There are more corrective options available to teachers who are sensitive to pupil’s feelings, in contrary to teachers who know nothing about what the children need, who sees irregular action as plain mischievousness, and regards punishment or tolerance as the only corrective measure. Being sensitive to what students really need is the best way of developing an effective teaching method. Teaching structure may be standardized for all school levels, but it is also important that teachers customize the teaching techniques depending on the nature of her students. It is a case to case basis. The only way that a teacher can develop a method best suited for his/her particular class and particular situation, is by being sensitive, and ultimately, being empathetic. We see here that the need for teacher’s sensitivity came from the children’s inability to express their thoughts and emotion, either due to shyness or due to lack of emotional literacy. For the teacher as well, emotional literacy is important, in fact, it goes hand in hand with sensitivity.
Emotional literacy is described as the ability to label emotions accurately, which may be the emotion of others and especially yourself. Talking about the known emotion without being overly emotional or without denial are also forms of emotional literacy. The statement “I feel like….” does not show emotional literacy while the statement “I feel very angry” does. In actual practice, the effectiveness of emotional literacy in promoting good teaching environment was shown by Gallions Primary in Newham, where an emotional literacy training program was implemented for both teachers and students (Neustatter 2003). Prior to the program, all the teachers want to quit, but after completion of the program, there had been considerable improvement in teacher-student relationship and student learning performance.
In one section of United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) website, over 500 children from around the world contributed their opinion on what they want from a good teacher. Most of the submitted reactions share the same theme: teachers should be a best friend, teaching not with the mind alone but with the heart as well (UNICEF 2001). It just shows that children want a teacher who “knows” them well, who makes them feel comfortable. They want an empathetic teacher. Who are we to argue? Children know best. It is, after all, for their welfare that we are concerned with good teaching concepts.
Question/Objective 2: Critically evaluate the principles and practice of the Reggio Emilia approach to education and compare with current mainstream schooling in UK.
“I think children constantly teach teachers — by exposing their inner selves. Because children are so pure — and so honest, and so simple”
We usually teach our children to listen to us, but it rarely occurred to us that sometimes we may have to listen to the children, and actually learn something. That is basically the essence of the Reggio Emilia approach in teaching. Let the children shape the lesson plan, adapt the teaching method according to what structure they dictate, and give them freedom to express their selves. Of course, the children would not literally direct and give instructions on how they want to be taught, but by providing them with an environment conducive to exploration of ideas and interacting with classmates, teachers will have a general idea of the full extent of the children’s skills and interest, which would in turn, give more feedback on the best way to proceed.
The “” approach was founded by at Reggio Emilia, a city in northern Italy in 1963. The approach was conceived as a supplement for municipal led education and child-care programs serving children under six years of age. The founding preschool was hailed by Newsweek (1991) magazine as one of the best in the world. Psychologist, educators and researchers also agree that indeed, it is the best illustration of the highest quality of early education the world had ever seen ( 2001, 1999). In fact, thousands of educators, politicians and interested tourist have joined study tours in the primary school to see the renowned accomplishment of the system. An exhibit called “The hundred languages children” featuring the children’s works has toured the world, garnering global acclaim (2005). Today, the Reggio approach has already been adopted in UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, and many other countries. Even the revised version of DAP (developmentally appropriate practices) guidelines developed by NAECY () reflects examples taken from the Reggio approach
The approach was based on the following principles: emergent curriculum, project work, representational development, collaboration, teachers as researchers, documentation, and environment (2004). Let us discuss each one. An emergent curriculum is one that builds upon the interests shown by the children. It was explained by (1996) as a curriculum that is not child centered or teacher directed, but rather, one that is child originated and teacher framed. Topics of studies were taken from children’s talks and interests. The children, after all, are not passive recipients of teacher-generated knowledge, but active constructors of knowledge they get from experience and interaction.
Inclusion of Project works, which may last for a few weeks or continue throughout the whole school year, is also s major feature of the system. The project works are also “emergent”, or based on the perceived skills and interest that arise within the children’s group. Representational development is enhanced by using the graphic arts as a tool, a symbolic language which the children prefer to use to express their ideas and understanding of the project work. Viewing concepts in different representation like art, print, drama, construction, shadow play, music, and puppetry, has been proven to enhance the way children understand their experiences. These representations came to be known as “hundred languages of children” based on a poem by Malaguzzi which said "the child has a hundred languages, and a hundred hundred hundred more" (Malaguzzi 1993). The group work in the projects also promotes collaboration, which is very essential in advance cognitive development of the children. Group work encourage children to compare, critique, dialogue, negotiate, problem solve, and hypothesize, thus promoting a sense of self uniqueness as well as group membership.
In the approach, the teacher acts as researcher. They must be constantly adapting and readjusting their view of the children and learning through improving their listening and observation skills. As a researcher, the teachers are viewed as co-learners, discovering ideas alongside the children. The teacher also takes the task of documentation, which means that the progress and work of the children are fully documented/recorded by the teacher to provide a way for the children to express, revisit, and construct and reconstruct their feelings, ideas and understandings. Implementation of this principle involves taking notes, photographs of ongoing activities and making tape recordings of children discussions, remarks, and play (1993). The physical learning environment is very essential in the Reggio Emilia approach, in fact, it is called a “third teacher” (998). The Reggio approach ensures that there are common spaces available to all children, children’s works are displayed prominently, and aesthetic beauty is maintained in the class rooms to show the children that they are respected.
The fact that the R had been considered unique and special means that everyone else was using the traditional method of teaching at the time. The predominant structure of early education in UK is not based on “emergent curriculum”, but rather, on a pre-established standard curriculum implemented throughout schools in the whole country. However, the success of the approach ensured that other countries, including UK, are already adapting the method. More than 100 early childhood educators from the UK visited in April 1999 to visit infant–toddler centers and preschools; attend lectures from leading educationalists in Reggio; participate in workshops run by Reggio staff; and take the opportunity to talk with some staff and parents. ( 2001). Coventry Evening News reported about the Primary school, where the Reggio Emilia approach had been adopted and is making a lot of progress (2001). It is left to be seen if this approach can be implemented globally, but implementation of the approach in UK and other major countries signal the first steps of the journey.
Question/Objective 3: The changing concepts of children must include the development of the notion of 'childhood', ways in which children live have changed over time, changing perceptions/attitudes to children and development of children rights from the above researches. From your reading and research review the ways in which perceptions of childhood have changed.
When we refer to dictionaries and other references, childhood would often be defined as simply the period from birth to puberty, and yet the definition fails to unravel the more important connotations of the concept. The history of childhood is a controversial subject. In the late 1960s, serious historical investigation began to be conducted in this area. There were basically two contrasting camps of opinion in the concept of childhood: the progressive approach and the continuity approach. The history of childhood is elusive. Parents of the past left no records of how they reared their children, and few children wrote about heir story. It is therefore not surprising that experts were divided in their interpretation of the small evidences that remain, and that they were debating over major issues: whether children were loved and wanted in the past, how their parents view them, and what kind of treatment are children receiving then.
, one of the pioneers in the study of childhood history, believes that family life and childhood in the past paints a very dark image. He even wrote that the history of childhood can be considered as a nightmare from which that we were just beginning to be awakened, because as one goes further back into history, the more one will see a lower level of childcare and higher probability of children being abandoned, beaten, killed, terrorized, and abused sexually (1976). But he and another author who produced early works about the subject, were both of the same opinion that the way children were treated by parents and society had considerably improved though the centuries. They are both of the “progressive” approach. The findings of the progressive approach indicate that previously, childhood was not perceived as a state different to adulthood prior to sixteenth century. “The Reader’s companion to American History” even reported that children during the colonial period were viewed as beings who must adopt adult behavior and take adult responsibilities as early as possible, illustrated by the way that children were being dressed as adults by age seven or eight, and by ten were already working as laborers or servant with other families (1991).
More support for the progressive approach was provided by works of regarding the family and family relationships in the early modern period. His influential work is “The Family, Sex, and Marriage in England 1500-1800”. To reinforce the theory of “progressive” approach, the focus of writing was on the evolution of the family from the “open lineage” structure featuring oppressed and formal family relationships to the “domesticated nuclear family” featuring affective individualism (1990). From the preceding theories, the argument is that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, awareness of childhood as a distinct and separate state from adulthood started to predominate. During those periods, society began to appreciate the fact that children were not “small adults”, that they have a significantly lower maturity level and thus they need love, caring and protection. based this observation on a change in the way children were portrayed in paintings. Children in paintings during the middle ages were formal, serious and lacking childish characteristics. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, children in paintings assume childish appearance, and were portrayed as playing and amusing their selves in childish activities. It was also noted that toys, and literatures intended for children increased during these periods. These were regarded by as proof of emerging appreciation of the concept of childhood. However, we should take note that it may be inconclusive and weak evidence because it is possible that only the painting style had changed and not the reality of which the paintings were based. The former style could be oriented toward a formal presentation of the subject, posed in a strict manner, while the latter style of painting may have included informal settings where the subjects were portrayed doing everyday tasks. The proliferation toys and literature may be viewed as simple improvement of manufacturing and marketing strategies, since it could be possible that parents also tell their children stories or make them homemade toys.
Due to lack of conclusive proofs, these views were challenged in the early 1980s by and other authors. In the book “Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations 1500-1900”, criticized the theories of . She studied more than four hundred journal and diaries, and concluded that the experiences of childhood were not as bad as suggested and that there were no significant difference in the affection felt or the quality of parental care given to infants within the period 1500 to 1900 (1983). also criticize the “progressive” theory, insisting that parents and society have always been "aware that childhood was different in kind from adulthood" (1994). The proponents of the “continuity” approach pointed out that at those periods, imaginative play were very common among children, showing that despite the lack of commercial toys, parents still see the need of children to play. It was also suggested that even if children were asked to work at early age during those times, it was due to genuine necessity and they were never really given adult work, but easy tasks like sowing, milking cows, fetching water, etc. which required little effort. The continuity approach features less evidences but more refutation of the arguments of “progressive” approach. What can we conclude from this? It is obvious that a lot of things have changed with respect to children but these can be considered as just improvements in technology, in arts, and in language. The external manifestations of parental affection toward children have obviously changed and will continue to change, but it is hard to tell whether these reflect a similar change in the inner feelings felt by parent to children.
Question/Objective: Critically evaluate the principles of ethical issues and ethics in researching children.
Research with and on children within the clinical and environmental fields is essential in order to provide age-specific relevant data regarding efficacy/safety of medical treatments and risk assessment from unintended environmental exposures. However, there are ethical issues that arise from doing these researches. Children, as research subjects, have special needs because of they are vulnerable and have developmental peculiarities. Those involved in children researches must have respect for the individuality and autonomy of children. They must also be aware of children's fears and apprehensions regarding medical procedures. The basic biological difference between adults and children should also be acknowledged. As an example, let us consider the performance of predictive tests conducted during childhood which does not consider the autonomy of the child to make decisions regarding the testing for themselves. For diseases that manifest upon adulthood, the suggestion of American Academy of Pediatrics (2001) and American Society of Human Genetics (1995) is to postpone the testing processes until adulthood or until the subject interested in the testing process demonstrates sufficient maturity to make his/her own decision. Other authors also advocates that molecular genetic testing should be offered only when there are enough available resources to ensure a process of informed consent and/or assent from older children (1983).
Some statistics are alarming, for instance, in the year 2000, there are approximately 75 million children, 45,000 pediatricians in the European Union, but only 12 clinical pediatric pharmacologists (2003). The figures show that there are not enough professional to regulate pharmaceutical use for test in children. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration Modernization Act, and the Best Pharmaceuticals for Children Act, provided pharmaceutical companies a six month patent extension in recognition of adequately conducted pediatric trials. Even the United Nations General Assembly saw the need to consider the rights of the children through approval of the “Convention on the Rights of the Child” (1989), which inevitably links to consideration of medical testing. There are four principles that had been articulated in the declaration. 1. All human rights apply to children without exception 2. All interventions must have the child's best interest as a primary consideration of the highest priority 3. Children have the right to the highest attainable level of health 4. Children have the right to obtain information and the right to respect of their opinion.
It is accepted that research and testing in children is indispensable because indeed, health care for adult is not always applicable to children. Research is important in ensuring that children get medical treatment appropriate for them. To illustrate this, children have been described as "therapeutic orphans" due to the lack of appropriate studies conducted in their age group (1999). What’s important to solve these ethical issues are the establishment of governing bodies to regulate these testing, and formulation of a strict documentation process that involves details of the test as well as documented consent/assent of mature adolescents/guardians.
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