I am delighted to have been asked by Kate to put some thoughts together as part of Early Years Wellbeing Week. I have decided to write about something which is currently a much discussed subject in Early Years and in the wider education arena and which I personally have strong feelings about – children being ready for school and for the learning that going to school involves in this day and age. When they make the transition to school, children’s emotional worlds can be dramatically affected and therefore we need to pay particular attention to their emotional well-being as they reach this milestone in their lives – in fact, I would say that unless we get the emotional environment right for children and ensure their emotional well-being, the learning planned for them in school is unlikely to progress smoothly. My colleague Gaynor Rice and I recently wrote a book called Ready, Steady, Starting School and one of the areas we highlighted as being a crucial pre-requisite to learning, particularly when children are starting school, is emotional well-being.
Mentalhealth.org.uk say that “the emotional wellbeing of children is just as important as their physical health. Good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults.”
Here is what we say about emotional well-being in our book:
“We all know that when our emotional well-being is high, we can take on whatever life throws our way, but when our well-being is low our rational thinking often fails us and we can’t take information on board, make decisions or indeed even be bothered to focus on anything other than the fact we don’t feel so good. Of course, it is no different for children. Emotional well-being is dramatically affected by the people around us and how they think about us and respond to us. It is essential that we take care to ensure children’s emotional well-being is nurtured and promoted in order that they can take advantage of all the opportunities we offer them when they are with us and as they start school.”
Key protective factors, which ensure children’s well-being in the learning environment, have been identified which are:
security, which includes feeling physically and emotionally safe
significance which is perceived by feeling special to someone and
connection which is achieved through being and feeling accepted.
Children need an emotionally supportive environment where tuned in adults understand and nurture their emotional development and where adults consider what causes different behaviour and how to respond sensitively and constructively. The practice of each child having a key worker will clearly be very important here and the protective factors, of course, link back to being understood and responded to as an individual, especially in the important time leading up to starting school.
As practitioners working with young children it is important that we take time on a regular basis to pause for reflection on our practice to ensure we are staying in tune with children’s natural development and learning processes. This is particularly important where children’s well-being is concerned, enabling us to nurture and support this key area.
The following questions from our book could be used as a focus for personal reflection, during supervision meetings or as part of staff development.
How good is your understanding of the process of emotional development – are there areas you need to investigate?
What are the key issues for you around nurturing emotional well-being in your setting?
Are there any areas you would like to think about and perhaps make changes?
I am independent early years and adult learning consultant and author, now semi-retired. I am also a proud parent and grandparent. I have worked with colleagues from schools, nurseries, pre-schools, children’s centres and the home setting, focussing on developmentally appropriate practice and equality of opportunity – for me the cornerstones of early years practice. I have co-written a book about risky play and another about starting school. I am particularly interested in the links between early experiences of learning and the profound effect they can have on emotional well-being and achievement both in school and in adult life. Talk to me on Twitter @annegladstone
Book available at: https://www.yellow-door.net/products/ready-steady-starting-school/