21st December 2020 All Posts Guest Blog

Navigating Our Way Through the Early Years

June O'sullivan LEYF Nurseries

June O’Sullivan MBE and CEO of the London Early Years Foundation lifts the lid on all the sector’s hot topics in her enlightening NEW book – The A-Z of Early Years. Find out what she has to say:

I wanted to write a book that would be enjoyed by the range of people who are interested in the Early Years and who might share their expertise with the 76% of the population who, according to the recent research by The Royal Foundation, know nothing about what happens to our youngest citizens. 

However, as CEO of a pretty large charitable social enterprise, I know just how busy staff are, so I thought it would be much more useful if I wrote short, pithy chapters examining the key contested issues that worries us all. I sought the advice of my son who works in publishing and he suggested I write it using the alphabet as that is a popular formula and gives enough scope to touch the many issues that impact on Early Years. I also thought that by adding useful links, twitter handles and good books, I could lead people deeper into each subject.

Many people do not realise just how political Early Years is and how working with small children is the litmus test of society. We are so accepting of our low status that we don’t realise just how powerful the contribution we make to society by nurturing and educating small children. If that surprises you, then read some of the many reports, nationally and internationally which share the same message. Early Years matters, and it certainly matters to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Read the chapters on Cultural Capital, Obesity and Unfairness for more on that. 

As a member of London’s Child Obesity Taskforce which was established as part of the Mayor’s commitment to address child obesity, it is not surprising that I wrote a chapter about this very subject. Not only is obesity a public health crisis here in the UK, it costs the NHS billions of pounds and is an independent risk factor for more severe illness and death from COVID-19.

Many of us who come to work in the Early Years are not always the healthiest role models and so we need to look at how we respond to fixing this complex issue which is ultimately fixable. Training the chefs is key to this, especially if they can be the nutritional and culinary advocate for children and give staff and parents permission to love good, nutritious food and enjoy the experience of cooking and eating at nursery and at home. 

The book features other pertinent issues that I have already written a great deal about such as: 

D for Dads and the impact they have on their children’s lives. 

G for Gardening and how beneficial it is for children to connect with nature and enjoy the great outdoors. Their visible delight is a joy to behold. 

L for Leadership – essential to the success of any setting.  I have developed a model of leadership that covers the complexity of our role, from pedagogical management to leading the community and I hope to write more on pedagogical leadership and the power of social leadership in 2021. 

The chapters beginning with P were hardest because there are so many areas of interest that begin with P: People, Pedagogy, Play, Poverty…I had to think of how I could include them so I put Joy before Play and set Poverty into Unfairness and wove People into Leadership.  I had to be able to write about pedagogy, the means by which we lead children to learn. I also put K in there as we must build Kindness into our pedagogy because it is essential in how we lead and how it impacts on staff wellbeing. It’s also how children develop a positive sense of self, empathy and resilience so they realise they are part of a wider community inside and outside the nursery setting.  

The chapters beginning with V for Venture Capitalist really had me thinking about whether the market should shape the sector, but the alternative of relying only on state-run nurseries seemed equally unstable. Perhaps, the Social Enterprise model is the best of both worlds, using the profit approach to drive social impact as central to the model itself. Whatever, we do our children’s future depends on adults who can protect their childhood and that is better guaranteed with a national strategy that lays out a careful and well researched plan to articulate what we mean by modern childhood. According to Sir Al Aynsley-Green, who kindly wrote the foreword, our responsibility as a society is to create a nation of educated, creative, happy and resilient children with the life skills to become parents and productive adults, and for those who can’t through disability or disadvantage, we need to support them to achieve their best potential.

The final chapter was timely.  I submitted the book to the publishers on 30th March 2020, seven days after lockdown and entitled the last chapter Zoom Zoom to the Moon focusing on creativity (C was also a letter that could have had many chapters). Who could have imagined that Zoom would have very different meaning within a month! 

I hope the book offers a taster to the wide variety of subjects Early Years colleagues need to be informed about if they are to do their duty by the children.  The journey from Apprentice to X Factor is an exciting one if you are prepared to read widely, think deeply and reflect honestly. It’s great writing books, journals, blogs or anything because it sets off a book chase and you end up reading widely. The pile by my bed has got higher and my spend on Post-it Notes has increased because I use them to mark out interesting comments and ideas. I hope you will fill this book with your own Post-its. 

Please share your thoughts, I am really interested to hear more about your favourite chapters and more importantly, new ideas to change the status quo so that we finally move Early Years into the mainstream public conversation where it belongs.

A-Z of Early Years

The A-Z of Early Years by June O’Sullivan is priced £19.99 (paperback) and available via Sage. The book is also available as an e-book and in hardback.

Other links which may interest you:

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About the Author

Campaign and Content Manager at Connect Childcare