Early Years - The Importance of Training and Support 

05 November 2021

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Early Years - the organisation for young children, are committed to giving children and young people the best start in life and working towards a shared society that respects diversity. 

Early Years are core funded by the Community Relations Council. 

The Media Initiative for Children (MIFC) Respecting Difference Programme is an intervention programme aimed at improving long term outcomes so that children, practitioners/teachers, parents and communities become more aware of diversity and difference issues and positively change attitudes and behaviours to those who are different. 

A specially commissioned article by CRC through Early Years.

Early Years Practitioners and Teachers

This article will explore the importance of training and support for Early Years Practitioners and Teachers. 

Derman-Sparks (2006) suggests that working with young children around diversity issues is challenging and the starting place for adults is to deepen their awareness of their own identity and feelings about other people. This, she argues, will help us understand some of our discomforts around diversity issues and strengthen our work with children and families.  

Derman-Sparks (1989) sees teachers as having a vital role to play when a child is excluded because of a difference in language, race, appearance, gender, ability level or other factors. She stresses that it is the teacher’s responsibility to intervene with both reassurance to the victim and corrective instruction to those involved. She argues that it is important that teachers feel skilled and confident in implementing an anti-bias curriculum by actively promoting a respecting difference climate and challenging discriminatory behaviour.  

Training and support for practitioners and teachers to implement a respecting difference approach is important. The MIFC Respecting Difference approach includes training that allows practitioners to reflect on their own attitudes, experiences and beliefs as well as helping them to build up skills and confidence for using the MIFC Respecting Difference Programme resources with young children.  

The training encourages self-exploration and open honest and respectful dialogue and provides the opportunity for participants to become familiar with the MIFC programme and explore the Respecting Differences resources in order to use them to their full potential with the children.  


Why the need to work with young children around diversity issues? 

This was highlighted in the ‘Too Young to Notice?’ (Connolly et al, 2002) research.  

This shows that children in Northern Ireland become aware of differences from about the age of two or three and are also beginning to develop preferences for the political symbols and events associated with their own community. By the age of six the research estimates that a third of children in NI are aware of the ethnic divide that exists, and which group they belong to and by this age one in six children are making overtly prejudiced statements about the other group.  

This research stresses the importance of working with children around diversity issues. The early age at which children become aware of difference is supported by other international research.  

Gradually young children begin to figure out how they are alike and how they are different from other people and how they feel about those differences. Derman-Sparks (1989) reiterates the need for an anti-biased curriculum approach to challenge prejudice, stereotyping and bias. She suggests that very young children learn from observing the differences and similarities among people and by absorbing the spoken and unspoken messages about those differences. This, she claims, has a profound influence on their developing sense of self and other.  

The MIFC Respecting Difference Programme provides children with opportunities to explore similarities and differences in a developmentally appropriate way, using age-appropriate resources.  

A multiple intelligence approach underpins the programme. Feelings and emotions are at the heart of the project. The concept of multiple intelligences was explored by Gardner (1993) who considers that learning involves more than one type of intelligence. This was further developed by Goleman (1996) in his book Emotional Intelligence, where he stated that good self-esteem, respect, empathy, values and good communication skills are important in our society.  

The MIFC training is currently being delivered through funding from Community Relations Council, to early years settings across South Belfast, East Belfast and Newry Mourne and Down. For more information, please contact info@early-years.org

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