Well-being in early childhood education

Volume 4 Number 2 - October 2015

Editoral

The pursuit of happiness and subjective well-being in everyday life has been and continues to be a strongly held desire of human beings. This view has been articulated in philosophical history from Aristotle to John Stuart Mill, and more recently, it has gained increasing attention in social sciences and humanities from psychology through to sociology and education (Helliwell & Putnam, 2004). Current global, political, social and environmental developments further emphasise the importance of considering people’s well-being on national and international levels. The current conflicts in Syria and the Middle East through war and terror have started a refugee movement that affects many countries around the globe. Besides the important question of how the political situation in the Middle East and other parts of the world can be stabilised and people’s wellbeing can be restored in areas currently torn apart by conflict, many countries have opened their doors and are supporting refugee families and children. An important question in relation to children’s well-being, therefore, is posed by Olivia Paul in this current issue: Olivia asks what we can do to support children with a refugee background in early childhood settings in New Zealand and elsewhere.

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Practitioner Researcher

In recent years, the main form of assessment being used in early childhood education is formative assessment. Often referred to as ‘assessment for learning,’ formative assessment assesses children within the context of their everyday learning experiences, and understandings gained are used as the basis for future teaching and learning (Broadfoot, 2007; Hargreaves, 2007). In early childhood education (ECE) in Aotearoa/New Zealand, meaningful assessment may be happening when teachers assess children’s significant learning experiences and develop possible future learning experiences with children, parents, families/whānau and other teachers.

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In this article, I consider the issue of success in practicum within early childhood initial teacher education (ITE). I discuss findings from a doctoral research project that enquires into what counts as success for student teachers and their associates on practicum, illustrating the discussion with data from three associate teacher/student teacher dyads. Themes of success, culture, language, practice, and time are linked to concerns about equity within the structure and assessment of practicum within ITE. I suggest that many New Zealand ITE providers do not provide programmes that offer practicum flexibility to suit individual student needs in order to encourage success. Rather, all students are expected to achieve within the same set standard length of time. I further suggest that the assessment of practicum does not take into account the student and associate individual senses of success within practicum. Instead, assessment relies solely upon externally-imposed summative assessment criteria. A variety of alternatives are briefly explored.

This review of the literature on refugee background learners (RBLs) has been prompted by the recent crisis in Syria, and seeks to highlight important issues relevant to the successful transition of RBLs and their families into a new culture and learning environment. It includes a brief overview of the present situation in Syria and how the New Zealand Government has pledged to help by increasing the annual quota of refugees to accommodate Syrians currently displaced by civil war. The aim of this article is to distil from available literature the most significant factors affecting the successful transition of RBLs and their families into a new culture and learning environment. With a particular focus on the Aotearoa/New Zealand early childhood education (ECE) context, suggestions to facilitate the inclusion of RBLs within ECE will be made.

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There is an increasing number of families from diverse cultural backgrounds living within New Zealand, leading to a range of cultural backgrounds being represented by children within early childhood centres. In order to support a child's cultural identity and sense of belonging, within the centre teachers need to have the skills to effectively support the child's cultural background. This can be a challenge as it is easy to turn to tokenistic and cultural stereotypes as the only means of supporting cultural groups (Chan, 2009). This article reviews findings from literature concerning critical multiculturalism and how teachers can utilise this pedagogy to support the diverse cultural needs of children. This article will explore what critical multiculturalism is, the importance of partnerships for effective critical multiculturalism and how this supports children's learning and development. Through this understanding teachers are able to work towards a more inclusive and culturally supportive environment.

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When asked ‘what is Māori well-being?’, my immediate reaction aligns to the Whānau Ora Taskforce (2009) which defaults to the collective perspective of whānau ora where Māori well-being recognises the state of the whānau (family) and in so doing also recognises the toi-ora (well-being) of the individuals that make up each whānau. With this in mind, we must recognise that only the individuals that make up the whānau can honestly determine their whānau ora (Lawson-Te Aho, 2010; Whānau Ora Taskforce, 2009; Metge, 1995), but this does not exclude non-whānau members from gaining insights into the well-being of both the individuals and subsequently their whānau (Workplace Wellbeing, 2001). Lawson-Te Aho (2010) believes that “[t]he mental, emotional, physical and spiritual state is shaped, maintained and contained in context of whānau relationships” (p. 11). This places great emphasis on the social domain of relationships and offers insights as to how we as parents and family member can learn about our whānau, and therein our whānau ora.

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In Tonga, our language is the essence of our culture and identity, and as a Tongan born educator, I see it as very important to teach Tongan children about the cultural value of being Tongan supporting their wellbeing. Although my two children, Falenilupe and ‘Elimeleki, were born here in New Zealand, I believe the foundation of culture, language and values from a Tongan perspective is what contributes to the richness of their wellbeing. It is the weaving of family, respect, language, church, and education that forms my wellbeing. What follows is my personal narrative of selected childhood experiences to illustrate how wellbeing for Tongan children is shaped in daily life.

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Special Edition

Trust is vital for individuals to flourish and have a sense of well- being in their community. A trusting society allows people to feel safe, communicate with each other and engage with those who are different to themselves without feeling fearful. In this article, I employ an Aristotelian framework in order to identify trust as a virtue and I defend the need to cultivate trust in children. I discuss the case study of Buranda State School in Queensland, Australia, as an instance of successful school reform that reinstates trust in an educational setting. Buranda makes use of the community of inquiry (CoI) pedagogy practiced by advocates of philosophy for children (P4C). Educators may create a safe space in the classroom by using the CoI and giving children the chance to voice their ideas and build upon, as well as question, those of others in a democratic and respectful manner. Through this pragmatic dialogue, trust may be established, along with a sense of belonging that supports well-being in the classroom as well as in life.

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This narrative-based article asks how we, as early childhood educators and advocates for children’s rights and participation, can rethink early childhood experiences and resituate discourses on children’s well-being to better encompass their agency and to acknowledge their rights to participation. The aim is to explore how social progress goes beyond policies of protection and provision of children, families, and early childhood programs to include a nuanced interpretation of child well-being. Drawing from personal experiences and several research projects, primarily in the US, we ask what it might mean to evaluate programs and plan professional development activities for early years teachers and caregivers based on our understanding of children’s well-being. We conclude with ways to re-envision policy, programming, and practice and to put our reconceptualizations into action, especially as influenced by New Zealand early years policy.

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This article engages with the notion of well-being in two ways: it explores how well-being is constructed and used in the two New Zealand national curriculum documents, Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Mātauranga Mō nga Mokopuna o Aotearoa/Early Childhood Curriculum (Ministry of Education [MoE], 1996) and the New Zealand Curriculum for English-medium Teaching and Learning in Years 1-13 (MoE, 2007); and how well-being is considered more broadly in the field of education and in relation to historical, philosophical traditions. This article aims not to make claims and statements about the role of well-being in (early childhood) education, but to encourage the reader to consider the importance of students’ well-being for educational theory and practice and to reflect on one’s own practice and role as educator to this end.

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“E ai ki tā te Māori he atua tonu kei roto i te mokopuna ina whānau mai ana ia ki tēnei ao” (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 35). This quote is from the New Zealand Ministry of Education’s early childhood curriculum policy statement, Te Whāriki: He Whāriki Matauranga mo ngā Mokopuna o Aotearoa/Early Childhood Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 1996). It speaks of the godliness or spiritual essence each child inherits from their ancestors when they are born (Early Childhood Development, 1999; Reedy, 2003). From a traditional Māori perspective, not only is the child endowed with spiritual potential or a divine spirit, but the world the child is born into is also endowed with spiritual influences.

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This article considers the effects that the beliefs and understandings of giftedness, held by teachers and by those in wider society, have on the well-being of gifted young children within ECE services in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Young gifted children in ECE services make up a heterogeneous population of individuals with many diverse abilities. Societal and culturally constructed perceptions of giftedness held by teachers and significant adults can affect the self-concept of gifted individuals from an early age. Gifted children, like all children in the early years, learn in an interdependent environment and their social/emotional well-being is reliant on the attitudes and understanding of those around them. Feelings of well-being can be promoted through the trust that the gifted child and his or her whānau (family) have in their relationships with educators who have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the characteristics and the complexity of learning for gifted and talented children. This understanding is hindered by discrepancies in provision of information for teachers of young gifted children. Knowledge about the characteristics of giftedness can support gifted children’s learning through the dispositional learning framework. The well-being of gifted young children in the early years would be enhanced if all teachers and related professionals were trained in gifted education at the pre-service level. Further support at the governmental level for gifted education in the early years is needed for early childhood teachers.

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Book Reviews

As the title suggests, this book is an introduction to the care and education of young children, set in an English context. In four parts it covers a number of topics, all very relevant to the New Zealand context, from conception and the developing foetus to creative approaches to teaching and learning. Strongly supported by research, the book is clearly organised, highlighting key ideas, providing reflective activities, case studies, and useful websites, and suggesting further readings. Each topic has an introduction which gives an overview of the contents of the chapters featured within that topic. The chapters are designed to promote learning in clearly identified areas with clear links to the recent supporting research.

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Inequality: A New Zealand Crisis provides the reader with valuable insights into the causes and consequences of increasing inequality in New Zealand. It draws on a range of contributors, including journalists, policy advisors, economists, and academics, all of whom share a combined concern for growing income disparities within New Zealand society. The reasons for this disquiet are apparent in statistics which show that the gap between the rich and the poor in New Zealand has grown at a faster rate than in any other developed country, dispensing any myth that New Zealand is an egalitarian society. It adds much needed comment on the unequal opportunities afforded New Zealanders and is a must read for anyone concerned with social justice.

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Twelve Thousand Hours, edited by Vicki Carpenter and Sue Osborne, presents a wide range of perspectives on current issues around education and poverty in Aotearoa New Zealand. With past election and recent media attention highlighting the levels and impacts of poverty in our society, this timely publication captures the relationship between poverty and educational institutions and the shortfalls that exist in our educational policies. Carpenter and Osborne (2014) in their introduction chapter emphasise that there is a direct and strongly negative relationship between poverty and educational underachievement. “These are our problems; no other country shares our history, Treaty obligations, mix of people, ethnic diversity, and wealth of space, fresh air and opportunities. We need to find our solutions, and we feel that is best done largely from within” (Carpenter & Osborne, 2014, p. 13-14). This strong message serves as a reminder to practitioners and policymakers that more needs to be done in order to improve this appalling situation and the responsibility lies with all working in the educational sector here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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Contributors

Beth Blue Swadener, Andrea Delaune, Dr Laura D’Olimpio, Maxine Dyer, Heleine Feki, Sonya Gaches, Dr Shirley Harris, Kaye Kara, Ra Keelan, Rebecca Kendall, Sara Murray, Anna Niles, Lacey Peters, Louise Tapper, Christoph Teschers, Trish Thomas

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