Nurseries (like schools and colleges) are under a legal duty to play a part in the government’s strategy for tackling extremism. This may seem over the top for a setting whose children are all under five. It’s true that we need to train our staff to notice, and report, any concerns about radicalisation of colleagues (or indeed parents), however unlikely this may be. But the main focus is on helping children to develop the values which will help them to avoid being drawn towards intolerance and extremism in later life. Parents are obviously key to this, but a good nursery can contribute by working effectively in partnership.
In its guidance for early years providers, the government sets out four ‘fundamental British values’: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance. We in turn have given guidance to our staff about the ways in which we already embed these values into our everyday practice. Let’s look at how.
Within the early years, this is about making decisions together and focuses on children’s self-confidence and self-awareness. We encourage children to express their views and we want them to understand that their views count. This will teach them to value each other’s opinions and talk about their feelings.
With older children, there may be many occasions to encourage the sharing of views and even voting on (appropriate) matters that affect them. Even the youngest children can be provided with activities that involve turn taking, sharing and collaboration, which will help to develop their minds and allow them to understand why decisions are made.
Rule of law
This is about understanding and sticking to rules. We help children to understand their own and others’ behaviours and to tell right from wrong. It can be hard to teach children generalised rules, but consistency and fairness will help to lay the foundations.
A good way to help children understand rules is to involve them where possible, in the process of creating the rules (e.g. over tidying up or sharing). We also try to promote table manners and encourage saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.
Children’s freedom is, of course, not unlimited: safety and the need to respect others come first.
We aim to encourage children to develop a positive sense of themselves by giving them opportunities to build self-knowledge, self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. This can be done by allowing them to take risks in a controlled way.
We make time to have discussions with children about their feelings about situations such as moving to big school. These discussions allow them to explore the language of feelings, to express themselves and to understand that other children have different opinions.
Mutual respect and tolerance
We aim to provide an environment that is inclusive and which respects and values different faiths, cultures, races and opinions. We actively try to challenge racial or gender stereotypes. And we encourage children to experience a wide range of traditions, celebrations and cooking (not neglecting British ones!) involving parents and grandparents wherever possible.
To help promote mutual respect, it is important to focus on behaviour such as sharing, listening, taking turns to speak and respecting others’ opinions. We encourage the building of friendships too.
We invite all our parents and staff to let us know what they think and to suggest ways in which we can work effectively together.
Alison and Ross Midgley