Author Archives: Upstart

Is Love Really That Scary?

Scary 2

by Jane Malcolm

white-male-1856187_640I was scrolling through my twitter feed when I came across a headline in a Scottish newspaper which said “the gym with treadmills for toddlers”. The article was about a new gym, opened to combat obesity in young children. There followed a video, which horrified me, of one child of around three years old in boxing gloves hitting a punch bag and another two-year-old child stumbling upon a treadmill. All the equipment was brightly coloured and scaled down to toddler size but all I could think was: “What happened to just running around playing?”.

It reminded me of a conversation with Sue Palmer following a screening of the film “Resilience”. We were discussing the lack references to play and love (‘love’ is my pet subject as it I am studying ‘love in Early Learning and Care’ as my PhD research study) in the list of interventions to support children and adults with ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). We got into a long discussion about how we, as a consumer society, have made things very complicated. Love and play are essential to healthy child development and they don’t cost anything!

Obviously I am not naïve – not every child has a life where love and play come easily – but creating colourful gyms for toddlers to exercise in (never mind the ethical questions around child development) sets the bar well out of the reach of many families. How did we get to this stage? Is making your two year-old child stumble on a treadmill either loving or playful?

HeartMy research in part considers why early years professionals find it hard to use the word ‘love’ to describe what we do. Participants in my study group used a whole host of different words to say ‘love’ without actually saying it. There was concern over child protection but mostly it came down to adhering to policies and procedures set out nationally around what they were ‘allowed to do’ and the way these are interpreted at a local level. One participant sadly said ‘Yeah, you are not allowed to give them a full hug, you are only allowed to do one arm’. Which brings me to the subject of touch. Through my data collection period I spoke to many practitioners who said they had been told off for hugging, or having physical contact with a child, with the reason being it is against the policies.

Part of the aim of my study is to help the Lead Practitioner become comfortable with the concept of loving the children as part of their professional identity. There have been other studies (Page, 2011, 2016; Cousins, 2015) which have supported practitioners to deliver ‘professional love’. However, if the Lead Practitioners are reluctant to support staff because of policy then the practitioners will be reluctant to deliver loving care. I challenged my participants with the words ‘intimacy’ and ‘passion’, and initially they were reluctant to say that the care they provided was intimate or passionate. But after careful examination of the actual meanings of these words – as opposed to the meaning that we have come to associate them with (i.e. sexual or romantic relations) they began to realise that intimate and passionate care were actually part of the care that they provided for children.

mother-2605132_640So back to touch. I came across an article which was wonderfully entitled “Please touch the children: appropriate touch in the primary classroom” (Owen and Gillentine, 2010) which identified the two aspects of our dilemma about touching children, the first being we know children need to be touched – it is a natural part of human interaction but at the same time we are worried about the dangers relating to children being touched. This worry is valid, and we should all be vigilant about the concerns around child protection. However, if we want child protection procedures to be anything less than counter-productive, they should not inhibit what is natural human interaction. (Byrne, 2016).

In my mind, touch is part of love. The many words my participants used to describe how they demonstrate love, such as compassion, nurturing, care and sensitivity, are all components of love –  as is touch.

There is a lovely quote in the film ‘Resilience’ which I noted down and have also mentioned in my own blog ( The quote states: ‘Naming the scary thing makes us feel safer’. We are generally as a nation people who like to stick to the rules, because it makes us feel safe; we know the rules are there to protect people. Love is scary, it is hugely emotive, difficult to describe, can cause huge emotional upset, but love isn’t the reason for child protection issues. If children experience real love then they build resilience towards times when they are presented with situations that are not loving.  They know what love is.

Lead Professionals need to embrace love as part of their professional identity and develop ways of managing love-led practice rather than ‘telling staff off’ because they are breaking the rules. And finally as to the rules themselves, I challenge policy makers and guideline developers to include love in their documents – not the components of love, but actually use the word love. Make it acceptable for staff to love the children in their care. Let’s name the scary word – Love!

Jane Malcolm is studying for a PhD at the University of Edinburgh


Byrne, John (2016) Love in Social Care: Necessary Pre-Requisite of Blurring of Boundaries. Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care. 15 (3) 152 – 157.

Cousins, Sarah Bernadette (2015). Practitioners’ constructs of love in the context of early childhood. Education and Care: A Narrative Enquiry. Doctorial Thesis. School of Education. University of Sheffield.

Cousins, Sarah Bernadette (2015). Practitioners’ Constructions of Love in Early Years Care and Education. Paper for TACTYC Conference.

Owen, P and Gillentine, J (2011). Please touch the children: Appropriate touch in the Primary Classroom. Early Child Development and Care. 181 (6): 857 – 868

Page, Dr Jools (2016). Role of ‘Professional Love’ in Early Years Settings studied by University of Sheffield Researchers. Available online at  Accessed 17/3/17.

Page, J (2011). Professional Love in Early Years Settings: A Report of the Summary of Findings. The University of Sheffield.

Assessment – yes!  Standardised tests – no!

cropped children 3

Upstart launches our ‘Play Not Tests at P1’ campaign on 23rd April. But please don’t think that means we’re opposed to assessment. As all early years practitioners know, assessment is an essential part of the job. What we’re objecting to is the use of national standardised tests of literacy and numeracy skills at far too early a stage in children’s education – and we’ll publish our many reasons on launch day.

The most appropriate type of assessment for children during the kindergarten stage is informed professional observation. At Upstart’s first ever training day on 9th April, Anna Ephgrave discussed the use of the Leuven Scale for assessing children’s levels of involvement in learning. She has kindly sent us this summary, illustrated with pictures from her presentation.


by Anna Ephgrave

Level 5 involvementProfessor Ferre Laevers has developed descriptors for various Levels of involvement as a way to measure the extent to which a child is ‘engaged’, ‘focused’, ‘learning’.

There are descriptors for five different levels of involvement and these can be used as a simple, objective way of measuring the engagement of an individual, group or class.  Level 5 (with concentration, creativity, energy and persistence) indicates that the deepest learning is taking place at that moment, whereas Level 1 indicates minimal learning.

There are many ways in which these levels of involvement can be used:-

Individual children

We start with the assumption that all children want to be engaged, i.e. they want to be at level 5.  In a superb setting, if a child is not becoming engaged, then the descriptors can be used to monitor a child throughout a day or a week at regular intervals in order to uncover patterns or preferences.  Always bear in mind with such a child that there might be external factors causing emotional well-being to be affected and remember that a child with poor emotional well-being is not able to become deeply engaged.  However, such monitoring can be a powerful way to see which sessions or events do engage a child and which clearly do not.  Starting with the assumption that they do want to be engaged, it is then possible to see which types of session are ‘working’ for the particular child.

Groups or class

The same descriptors can be used to consider group or whole class sessions.  Again, assuming that we are aiming to deliver practice that will see most children at level 4 or 5, we can quickly start to see which sessions or events are appropriate and productive, in terms of engagement/involvement (and therefore progress).  For example, if we are delivering an input on the carpet, then we should have the level descriptors in mind.

McCredie 06-04-2018 Upstart-460When the children start to fidget and become distracted, this tells us that the session has become unproductive.  It does not tell us that the children are ‘naughty’ or that ‘they can’t concentrate’ or that ‘they have ADHD’. It tells us that what we are offering is not engaging and therefore is not supporting synapse formation and learning.  Once we accept this, it is clear that group sessions for babies are rarely appropriate.  Equally, carpet sessions that are longer than a few minutes are not appropriate for 3-year-olds. Assembly for Reception children is not going to deliver engagement and nor are lengthy phonic sessions for any age child.

I’d also urge practitioners to use these levels to measure the effectiveness of focused tasks, snack time, circle time etc. In all these cases, the level of involvement is often very low, the adults and children can become quite stressed and the learning is minimal. It is, then, a very useful tool for practitioners to use as a way of assessing and then arguing for change.


Two level 5sThe levels can also be used to see which areas of an environment are ‘working’.  Which areas are delivering good levels of involvement and which are not?  This is an on-going process, particularly with some age groups as their interests and stage of development can change dramatically over the course of a few months.  However, some areas are always engaging and others are rarely so.  Also, it will help practitioners see which areas are rarely, if ever, used.  Such areas obviously need to be changed as they are essentially a ‘wasted space’.


Small worldI would recommend using the levels as a way of assessing the effectiveness of resources.  Whether there is a huge budget or not, it is best to have mainly resources which are open-ended and can therefore be used in many different ways.  For example, for small world play, rather than having a pirate ship, a dolls house, a castle, a rocket, a caravan, a farm and a car park for the children to use, there is far more potential for engagement with wooden blocks, lego, pieces of fabric, paper and pens etc.  In this way, the children can create their own rocket, car park, castle etc.

So how do we achieve the best levels of involvement?

Everything in my life experiences – personal, voluntary, professional and academic – has led me to conclude that, once they feel secure, children become most deeply engaged when they have autonomy – when they are able to choose what to do.

What is more, nothing in my life has ever demonstrated that this is not true.  This applies to a new born baby, a toddler, a vulnerable foster child, a child on the autistic spectrum, a child without any English, a year one child, a child with a ‘gifted’ label or a child with additional needs.

Another Level 5The best levels of involvement, (leading to the best progress), are achieved when children’s well-being is high and we then let them choose what to do.  This has become known as ‘free-flow play’, ‘child-initiated play’, ‘choosing time’, ‘explore and learn time’, ‘continuous provision’, etc.  But, let’s be clear – within agreed boundaries –  I am talking about children playing where they want, with whatever they choose, for as long as they want, in whatever way they want.

This sounds simple, but if every child in a setting is to be able to play as they choose then there are several things that need to be in place to support this:-

  • A prioritisation of well-being above all else, recognising that high well-being is critical in order for a child to feel secure, which in turn will allow them to become involved.
  • Consistent boundaries, expectations and routines (within which each child can then relax and have the freedom that they need in order to learn effectively).
  • An enabling environment (which is organised to meet the ever-changing needs and interests of each unique child).
  • Skilful, empathic adults interacting appropriately to form warm relationships and to support each child in a way that respects them, preserves their autonomy and offers genuine interest and fascination.
  • Manageable systems of assessment and record keeping (to satisfy any statutory requirements, without impeding the progress of the children, and while maintaining the sanity of the staff).

Go to the childrenEach of these aspects of our work is critical if the play is to be successful and productive.  What is not necessary are any written forward plans. If the children have genuine choice, if it is genuinely child-initiated play, then we do not know what the children will choose to do and we cannot, therefore, pre-plan the activities or the learning outcomes. Trust that deep level involvement indicates learning, learning which might not be easy to measure, but will have life-long impact on the child.

The Leuven Scale for Involvement1) Low Activity
Activity at this level can be simple, stereotypic, repetitive and passive. The child is absent and displays no energy. There is an absence of cognitive demand. The child characteristically may stare into space. N.B. This may be a sign of inner concentration.2) A Frequently Interrupted Activity
The child is engaged in an activity but half of the observed period includes moments of non-activity, in which the child is not concentrating and is staring into space. There may be frequent interruptions in the child’s concentration, but his/her Involvement is not enough to return to the activity.3) Mainly Continuous Activity
The child is busy at an activity but it is at a routine level and the real signals for Involvement are missing. There is some progress but energy is lacking and concentration is at a routine level. The child can be easily distracted.4) Continuous Activity with Intense Moments
The child’s activity has intense moments during which activities at Level 3 can come to have special meaning. Level 4 is reserved for the kind of activity seen in those intense moments, and can be deduced from the ‘Involvement signals’. This level of activity is resumed after interruptions. Stimuli, from the surrounding environment, however attractive cannot seduce the child away from the activity.5) Sustained Intense Activity
The child shows continuous and intense activity revealing the greatest Involvement. In the observed period not all the signals for Involvement need be there, but the essential ones must be present: concentration, creativity, energy and persistence. This intensity must be present for almost all the observation period.

Anna Ephgrave is a highly experienced teacher of children between 3 and 6. Her practical, developmentally-appropriate approach to pedagogy has inspired several best-selling books, including ‘The Nursery Year in Action’, ‘The Reception Year in Action’ and ‘Year 1 in Action’.

Campaign for ‘PLAY NOT TESTS’ in P1 – and how you can help!

Upstart Launch, April 2016

Upstart Launch, April 2016

When we were planning the Upstart Scotland campaign back in 2015, we had high hopes that the Scottish government would soon take notice of our arguments and evidence. After all, countries like Finland and Canada, where they have kindergarten stages until children are six or seven, have been doing really well in terms of children’s health, well-being and education.  On the other hand, countries like England and the USA – where tests and targets rule and early years education has become increasingly ‘schoolified’ – have failed to flourish educationally or in terms of health and well-being.

Add to this that the Early Level of Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence fully supports a play-based approach in P1. Although the principles of the Early Level hadn’t been turned into practice in most Scottish schools by 2015, there were glimmers of hope that this might soon happen.  We’d seen some great practice in early years settings around the country (including outdoor nurseries) and it seemed the perfect time to support a move towards this type of practice in the first couple of years of primary schooling.

Nicola TestsSo we were utterly stunned in September that year, when Scotland’s First Minister suddenly announced the introduction of a testing regime, starting at P1. The decision had been made without consultation with educational authorities and – since the First Minister staked her reputation on the success of this educational policy – there seemed little chance of reversing it.  We at Upstart understand and sympathise with the Scottish government’s deep concern about the poverty-related attainment gap but our attempts to explain to them why tests aren’t the answer have been ignored.

Over the last couple of years, there has, as we’d hoped, been a terrific upsurge of interest around the country in play-based pedagogy in P1 and P2 and many primary teachers are at last realising the power of the Early Level and Building the Curriculum 2 for raising attainment and improving children’s well-being.  So we’ve watched with growing concern as the government continued to develop their national assessment regime for introduction this school year.

Last month, many P1s sat the tests for the first time.  As is clear from this report from the Times Educational Supplement Scotland, they have not been a success.  Another TES report on the same day about a similar situation in England, where ‘baseline testing’ is again to be introduced (despite two failed attempts), points out that there are serious ethical questions around testing children at such an early age.

It’s therefore deeply ironic that, four days after those newspaper reports, the ScottishJS in the National government held a meeting about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).  In an article in The National , John Swinney stated that the Scottish Government was determined to do everything possible to ‘prevent adverse experiences in the first place, and where they do happen, to reduce their negative impact.’  Upstart Scotland has been hugely supportive of the ACEs  movement, not least because there is international evidence that a too-early start on formal learning is itself an ACE.  We therefore wrote immediately to Mr Swinney offering to provide the evidence: a shortened version of our letter was published in The National.

On Monday 23rd April, we’ll be publishing a document outlining this evidence and many other reasons why Scotland’s under-sevens need PLAY NOT TESTS.  We’re inviting Mr Swinney and other politicians along to the launch of the document in Edinburgh that evening and earnestly hope they’ll come and listen.

Once we know how many spaces we have left at the launch, we’ll advertise them on Eventbrite and hope lots of Upstart supporters can come along too. We simply can’t sit back and watch Scotland follow England and the USA along a policy route that’s damaging the well-being and educational chances of vast numbers of children.


Once the campaign has started, we’ll need your help to keep it going.  Here’s how to get involved:

Distribute our leaflets

LeafletWe’ve had 10,000 PLAY NOT TESTS leaflets printed to help parents and other members of the public understand what the campaign is all about.  Can you help us distribute these?

  1. Send an SAE (C4 envelope – the size to take an A4 sheet) with three second class stamps to: Kate Pass, 3f2, 23 Bruntsfield Gardens, Edinburgh, EH10 4DX. We’ll return it with filled with leaflets for handing out from 23rd April onwards.
  1. Anyone who would like to collect leaflets from one of the following centres, please email:

Glasgow:  Tam Baillie

Edinburgh: Kate Pass

Aberdeen:  Claire Livingstone

Inverness: Yvonne Fraser

Ayrshire and Inverclyde: Chris Orr



3. If you’re in a part of the country that isn’t covered in this list and would be prepared to act as a distributor, please let us know at

When you get your leaflets, please don’t start handing them out until after the launch (it could damage our chances of good media coverage)!

Circulate the evidence

We’ll publish the document written for launch of PLAY NOT TESTS on the web on April 23rd and send out a link via Facebook and Twitter and a Newsletter special edition.  Please help it to reach as many people as possible through social media and, if you have personal contact with politicians, community leaders or opinion formers, please email them the link direct.

Help our wee film go viral!

technology-3038005_1920To follow up the launch, a film-maker is creating a one-and-a-half minute animated film for us, summarising the main points of the campaign, and we hope it will be ready for release on 1st June.  We’ll send out the link then via our Newsletter, Facebook page and Twitter.  Please pass it on – this is the sort of info-film that should go viral!

Attend or stage an event

We’re hoping to spread the word about the campaign at events around the country in the coming months.  Details of what’s currently on offer can be found in the Newsletter and we’ll also advertise them via Facebook (Upstart Scotland) and Twitter (@UpstartScot).

Anyone who’d be able to provide a venue and help in organising an event to publicise the PLAY NOT TESTS IN P1 campaign, please contact us at

Tell parents they can opt out

child doing sumsPlease let parents know they have the right to opt out – all they have to do is write to the school stating that they wish to withdraw their children from the tests. We shall be publicising this at the start of the new school year but please get the word out now so the information snowball begins to roll!  If enough parents opt out, the tests will be even more statistically invalid and therefore even more pointless.


Ideas welcome

If you have any more ideas for our PLAY NOT TESTS IN P1 campaign, please let us know via .

The Silence of the Weans


This blog first appeared in Gaelic in Naidheachdan:AAA, February 2018

Silent SpringSixty years ago, people walking in American country lanes noticed the birds had stopped singing. Their concern led to a book, Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, explaining how crop-spraying of DDT killed wildlife and wrecked the local ecology. As well as securing a ban on dangerous pesticides, publicity around Silent Spring brought the environmental movement to public attention.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that, over the last couple of decades, another sound has disappeared from our daily environment? When was the last time you heard the shouts, squeals and laughter of young children as they ran, jumped, climbed, built dens, made mixtures and played ‘Let’s Pretend’ in their local neighbourhood?

Upstart Scotland is a campaign aimed at focusing public attention on serious changes in the nature of childhood that are already having dangerous repercussions. The most significant of these changes is the decline of outdoor free play.

auto-736794_640There isn’t one simple reason that children don’t play out any more. The build-up of road traffic, break-down of local communities and changes in parents’ working patterns are all implicated, as are the ready availability of indoor sedentary entertainment and a generally more fearful climate (probably related to occasional horrifying media stories about abduction).

But the reason we should be concerned about this loss is simple. children-403583_640Active outdoor play is a biological necessity for long-term physical and mental health. As play has declined, we’ve seen more and more cases of childhood obesity, Vitamin D deficiency and other physical conditions with alarming long-term implications for the National Health Service.

Perhaps even more alarming is the increase in mental health problems among children and young people – now reaching crisis point in Scotland.  An article in the November 2017 edition of the medical journal The Lancet pointed out the links between this swelling tide and the decline of outdoor free play.

The reason it’s taken so long to recognise this emergency is that – from an adult perspective –  play doesn’t seem anywhere near as important as education.  We see it as just kids messing about.  And how can what wee ones do when left to their own devices be of any significance? Yet the evidence now emerging from neuroscience and evolutionary biology suggests that play actually has immense significance, not only for health and well-being, but for educational success.

annie-spratt-365641In fact, play is children’s inborn learning drive – it’s how evolution designed them to develop human capacities they’ll need to flourish throughout life.  ‘Messing about’ in the great outdoors develops children’s powers of creativity, adaptability and problem-solving; it’s also how they hone their social skills of communication and collaboration with their peers; and it’s essential for the development of personal qualities like perseverance, self-control and the emotional resilience they need for long-term mental health and well-being.

These qualities and capacities can’t be taught – either by teachers at school or computers at home – they have to develop in each individual child’s body and brain, in the holistic way decreed by evolution over countless millennia. And learning through play is particularly important in the first seven or so years, when children are establishing the neural networks that influence the whole of their lives.

Upstart Scotland’s message is that – like their counterparts throughout human history – 21st century children still need time and space to learn through play, as often as possible outdoors and in nature. Now that it’s practically impossible for most parents to ensure young children get enough outdoor play, we should learn from other countries who are weathering the 21st century cultural storm better than Scotland.

Upstart coverThis is why we’re campaigning for a Nordic-style kindergarten stage for children between the ages of three and seven. Our aim is to alert the Scottish public and our politicians to

  • neuroscientific evidence about play’s vital importance for health, well-being and educational success, especially in the early years (0-8)
  • educational evidence that an early start on formal schooling brings no long-term advantage, but in some children causes social and emotional problems that last lifelong
  • international evidence that countries with a later school starting age (and kindergarten care/education till children are six or seven) consistently score higher than the UK in the PISA charts for literacy, numeracy and science.

Only 12% of nations worldwide start school before the age of six – and all but two are former members of the British Empire! Scotland’s school starting age was decided by the Westminster parliament in the 1860s, when politicians wanted children off the streets as early as possible so their mothers could work in the factories.  It was also convenient that the sooner children started school, the sooner they could finish, and go to work in the factories themselves.

There’s never been any educational justification for this early start.  Indeed, every authority on early education – including Froebel, Montessori, Steiner and Malaguzzi – and the great developmental psychologists, Piaget and Vygotsky, maintained that children need play-based learning till the age of seven.

siarhei-plashchynski-362979We managed to get away with it for over a hundred years, because children still played out around the edges of the school day, at weekends and during school holidays.  Four-, five- and six-year-olds would be out with their pals in the local streets, fields or wild places, making up for all that wasted time in the classroom!

But now that free play is in such serious decline, we can’t afford to go on rushing children into formal education at such an early age.  It’s time to stop aping England’s ‘schoolification’ of early childhood and look north to European countries with a long tradition of kindergarten. As well as doing better than us educationally, their children (and adults) have higher levels of health and well-being.

We may not be able to bring the joyful sound of children playing back to all of Scotland’s streets.  But by introducing a ring-fenced kindergarten stage. we can ensure that our youngest citizens have the best possible chance of flourishing in the future.

Sue Palmer, Chair of Upstart Scotland

Upstart and Children’s Rights

Cropped rights

The most fundamental right of every child is the right to a childhood. And, throughout human history, the two most important ingredients of a healthy childhood have always been LOVE and PLAY.

These days, in a competitive consumer culture, we’re encouraged to confuse both these ingredients with shopping. Marketers convey the same messages to children and their parents day after day:family-2923690_1280

‘If you love someone, you buy them lots of stuff.’

‘Play is something you buy in the shops.’

So nowadays parents are obliged to work long hours to keep their families fed, housed and provided with 21st century substitutes for time and attention.  And children spend less and less time engaging in the active, creative, self-directed outdoor play that leads to long-term health and well-being. Instead, they spend many hours a day engaged in sedentary screen-based activity. Scottish children are now among the least active in the world and a steadily increasing number suffer from mental health problems or low levels of well-being.

Upstart coverScotland can’t turn back the clock and transform the world economy, but we can ensure that our country provides the best possible environment and experiences for its children, especially during the most critical developmental stage of childhood – the Early Years.  That’s what Upstart Scotland is all about. We want all adults working with the under-sevens to care for every child as a unique individual whose physical, social and emotional development is more important than an early start on the three Rs.

We also want everyone who works with the under-sevens to be trained in the play-based pedagogy that research shows work best with this age group. In a wealthy western nation, every young child being cared for outside their home should have the right to person-centred care and play-based learning.

Last month, Together (the Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) asked public bodies to announce their Rights Resolutions for 2018, so Upstart listed our resolutions for the coming year:

Rights Resolution 1: To draw political and public attention to the ‘the Early Years’ (defined by the United Nations as pre-birth to eight years) as a hugely important develop-

'I'm visiting my cousin in Sweden. He gets to learn through PLAY in his kindergarten.'

‘I’m visiting my cousin in Sweden. He gets to learn through PLAY in his kindergarten.’

mental stage in children’s lives – a stage which isn’t over at 4/5 just because that’s when UK countries traditionally start school!

Rights Resolution 2: To convince politicians to introduce a rights-focused, relationship-centred, play-based kindergarten stage (3-7 years) thus giving all Scottish children the best possible chance of lifelong heath/well-being and educational success.

Rights Resolution 3: To challenge the political ‘silo effect’ by collaborating with Scottish organisations in Education, Early Years, Health, Children’s Rights, the Arts and others towards establishing a coherent Early Years policy from pre-birth to age eight.

Rights Resolution 4: To convince politicians that a later start to formal schooling is the best way to ensure a level educational playing field – and far more likely to reduce the ‘attainment gap’ than national testing of four- and five-year-olds.

PISA 2016Rights Resolution 5: To work together with other national organisations to ensure that all under-sevens have frequent opportunities to play in and connect with nature. Environmental sustainability depends on emotional connections with the natural world, forged in childhood.

Resolution 5

Upstart Scotland will work to achieve these aims this throughout 2018 and beyond.  Many thousands of Scots already support our campaign and we hope this year to convince many thousands more that rights-focused, relationship-centred, play-based care and education is the right of every 21st century three- to seven-year-old child.

Rules, rules, rules and we’re not allowed to skip


Despite the breadth of research on the educational transition of young children, there has been little evidence in Scotland of this knowledge impacting on everyday practice.  The overall contention emerging from the literature is that some children positively embrace the experience, while others face challenges and risk failure and regression.

Unique life journeys involve differences from individual experiences: children construct and elaborate their knowledge. The views of children can (and do) add nuance to our understanding of how power impacts on their transition experience and I found children’s accounts of discipline strategies used by the schools insightful. The following excerpt comes from William (5 years) who had recently begun primary 1 and started the interview by stating that he was ‘bad’:

Me:        What is bad…I mean what makes someone bad?        

William: Not sure.  I didn’t know when I started [school].

Me:        What happens when children are ‘bad’?lonely-604086_640

William: They get punished.

Me:        What does that mean?

William: It means they get whacked [actions hitting his hand] something like that, I can’t remember.

Me:        Have you ever been there when any child of the children have been punished?

William: They have to switch classes. ‘Cos once they have done that once, you can’t change classes you have to move out.

Me:        Can you tell me why children are punished – because they don’t do their writing properly [referring to something said earlier]?

William: And…and…em because, because if you don’t do it neatly you don’t get to go into a different class like…like…like…if you do that ten or 20 times you have to stay in class up to next year [said with emphasis] for the rest of the year.

Me:        Did the teacher say that to you?

William: We just knew…and once she told me…well I was quite naughty…now I am this naughty [opens his thumb and forefinger to show a little gap].

Me:         I find it hard to believe you were naughty.  I don’t think of you as naughty [I knew William from his time in an early years setting].

William: Well that’s because you don’t know me now…I was littler then…and I never thought this is what I would grow up as.

boy-1867332_640William talked of being ‘scared…very scared…’ Clearly, the school system had failed to instil a love of learning, self-expression and pride in this young person – merely succeeding in making sure that he conforms and continues to conform.  What is mindless conformity worth at the expense of intellect, confidence and sociability?

In my study, I argue that the problems experienced by William and other children are related to Scotland’s very early school starting age (4/5 years, as opposed to 6/7 in most of the world).  Children do not all develop at the same pace and I argue that, at this comparatively early stage in development, they would benefit from a pedagogical approach based on unhurried, guided participation, without undue pressure to achieve a pre-specified level of knowledge or proficiency at a given age.

However, my study showed that children were instead expected to become acquiescent, adjusting to coercive practices used in the school institution. Although my findings also showed that some children found ways to creatively resist organisation, most were keen to obey the rules of the school.

Unfortunately, this resulted in some children whom I had known to be very independent in the early years setting becoming reliant and dependent on the teacher’s direction.   I do not mean to set up a false dichotomy here, between independence and dependence, as children can be somewhere in between those two constructs; however, the children seemed now to find themselves unable to perform outside the structure.  That is, children who would have previously made self-animated choices, such as putting their coat on when they went outside at break time, or deciding when to eat, no longer had a choice: they subsequently put on their coats on under the direction of the teacher.

The classroom, then, became a microcosm of coercive social control.  Children very quickly learnedboy-2026310_640 the role of a school child, who followed the rules and learned how knowledge circulates and functions.  The individual interests of the child were often sacrificed in favour of controlling behaviours. My study therefore suggests that due in part to our early school starting age – social inequality and imbalances of power are at the heart of school life.

When the children arrived at school they were tested and grouped according to the results of the testing.  Thus school life appeared to mimic individualistic and nationalistic competition in the global economy.  My study therefore contends that the curriculum has been misinterpreted, inasmuch as there is no room in the school testing system for adults to appreciate that children learn in different ways, or for testing that values diversity between children.

Thus, when these very young children arrive at school they are treated as neutral, fixed entities that are to be ‘institutionalised’ in the broadest sense. The aims of schooling appear to be to prepare children for market competition. The individual capacities of children are under-explored in this industrialised system.  The complex notions of school testing, grouping and target-setting become transparent through exposure: as the Swedish educationist Gunilla Dahlberg recently said, we now ‘put a tremendous effort into taming, predicting, preparing, supervising and evaluating learning’.

The beginning of school life is therefore marked by stratagems and tactics that aim to establish and sustain a classification and ordering of children who already ‘fit’ – to a greater or lesser extent – into the school curriculum. It’s likely that the recent introduction of national standardised testing in Primary 1 will intensify this process.

We have to ask what might be the long-term consequences (for children, the education system and society as a whole) of allowing creativity and individual approaches to be overshadowed by discourses of accountability and economic competitiveness – especially at an age when most of the world’s children can still look forward to one or two more years of unhurried, play-based learning.

Dr Lynn McNair’s doctoral thesis ‘Rules, rules, rules and we’re not allowed to skip’ is an ethnographic study of five-year-old children’s perceptions of starting school, showing how both children and their parents are affected by an ethos based on control.


A book about ECEC that will win hearts and minds

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I read lots of books about Early Childhood Education and Care. Some are informative but dull. Some are interesting, even enjoyable. Occasionally there’s one I really love. But the book I read today is in a class of its own. I want to buy a copy for every single Upstart supporter. No, for everybody in Scotland who works with children. And for every Scottish politician so they’ll understand what it’s all about. And everyone in the media so they’ll understand too…

Unfortunately, it costs £23.99 so the best I can do is hijack this month’s blog and tell you about it. Then perhaps you can persuade someone to put it in your Christmas stocking. Or you could submit a request form at the library. Or, if you’re in the Central Belt, I’m starting a lending list for my copy so get your name down now.

First of all, it’s an extremely readable book – I devoured it between breakfast and book-1760998_640teatime.  But it’s also academically faultless and brimming with erudite references, which isn’t surprising since it started life as a doctoral thesis.  Indeed, that’s how I first heard about it – a friend mentioned that Cathy Nutbrown, eminent early years expert and professor of education, told him it was the best doctoral thesis she’s ever read.

Unfortunately, the title isn’t exactly enticing: Autoethnography and Early Childhood Education and Care won’t set the heather alight. And no, I didn’t know the meaning of ‘autoethnography’  either. However, it turns out to be a kind of academically-informed reflection on one’s own experiences. So the heart of the book is a sequence of beautifully written autobiographical fragments about working with young children. We meet angry little Lola; tragically silent Ruby; Darren the wild boy, labelled violent at the age of two; Rashid, who’s chasing sunbeams one minute and rushed off to hospital the next; Rachel the struggling reader, and Marcus – a poor wee soul who struggles with almost everything.

Teachers and EY practitioners meet children like these every day and – like author boy-2095859_640Elizabeth Henderson – have the enormous privilege of sharing moments of joy and wonder with them. But there’s also the possibility that the strength of relationships forged through such moments can lead to professional confusion or personal pain.

As every Upstarter knows, relationships are at the heart of education – especially early childhood education. And relationships involve people, made of flesh, blood and emotions. The education and care of young children involves a great deal of emotional investment on behalf of practitioners, often within contexts that are far from supportive. It’s an aspect of the educational process that doesn’t tend to feature in policy documents or newspaper reports about educational standards. And when it appears in academic writing, the embodied emotional experience of the people concerned (both adults and children) is usually buried under jargon, theoretical discourse, notes and references.

I have to admit that, as I read the Introduction, I feared that might be the case with this book. But as soon as Elizabeth began her narrative, I understood why Professor Nutbrown provided this endorsement:‘… the strength of a text lies in its ability to effect change.  This book will change its readers, it will speak to hearts, and change minds.’

Upstart is all about winning hearts and minds. We need books like this to help us make the case for a coherent approach to education and care of the under-sevens.

blog bookAnyway, reading it has certainly changed me. It’s provided a wealth of heart-and-mind-winning insights into the meaning of ‘reflective practice’. And Elizabeth’s profoundly thoughtful, academically-informed reflections on the vocabulary of everyday life in an early years setting (words like ‘listening’, ‘the outdoor environment’, ‘attunement’ and ‘disability’) have also deepened my admiration for the many brilliant practitioners I meet – and my frustration that so few politicians, media pundits and members of the general public actually ‘get’ what ECEC is all about.

Although the title of the book is unlikely to attract attention, the subtitle ‘Narrating the Heart of Practice’ gives a hint of its power. Do try to get hold of a copy – and point other people towards it.

Sue Palmer

Autoethnography in Early Childhood Education and Care: Narrating the Heart of the Practice by Elizabeth Henderson is published by Routledge at £23.99

Elizabeth Henderson has worked in education for more than thirty years in a variety of settings, both in the state and voluntary sector, from nursery through to university.  Elizabeth currently works for a local authority in Scotland, providing support and advice for those working in the early years sector.  (She’s also an Upstart supporter!)

Declutter the emotional environment!


The best designed physical environment, with carefully selected loose parts displayed in the most Reggio of baskets are not worth that much if the emotional environment isn’t right. To me, the emotional environment of a setting can be most simply judged by a few criteria: do the children feel safe, secure, respected and like they belong there? Do the adults feel relaxed, confident in their role, and able to have the presence of mind to interact meaningfully and mindfully with the children? Perhaps most importantly, are the children and adults alike happy to be there?

Just as we might move a shelf to different wall, add or take away some resources, or rearrange other physical objects in our rooms to better fit the needs of the children and our overall aims as educators, we also should be open to new approaches and techniques that help improve the emotional environment. As a team, and individually, this requires us to be honest, reflect and at times be willing to try new things in our practice.

hamster-wheel-1014036_640There are a lot of things that needlessly stress adults and “clutter” up the emotional environments of many settings but this article will only focus on one topic, the daily schedule. Yes, young children thrive on routine and familiarity but I’ve worked in too many places that treat the daily schedule as a cruel and impatient taskmaster.

Over-scheduled and hurried days

If the schedule on the wall states “10:15: Outside Play Time”, many adults rush the children through getting ready as if it were a once-a-day train that we might miss!  Not only does nobody involved enjoy this stress, we miss out on opportunities for younger children to increasingly learn to get on jackets, shoes or water-proofs themselves. Instead of investing the time for children to increasingly learn to handle these tasks independently, “doing it for them” because it’s faster ensures we will always be burdened with these tasks.

When I’ve worked in situations like this, my patience went way down, my stress way up and I know the quality of my interactions with the children suffered quite a bit. I would go home every day feeling miserable and upset with myself because I knew I wasn’t giving these children what they needed. I couldn’t keep up with the pace demanded by this setting and nobody benefited. I’ve noticed a sort of an unspoken sense of pride amongst some practitioners: look how quickly and efficiently I can get the kids through lunch, or ready to go outside or anything else. While I appreciate working with organised and capable coworkers, I am not sure speed and efficiency should be valued over the quality of our interactions.

Parents (who might know much about early childhood development) might like the look of a timetable with 30-45 minute intervals titled things like Literacy or Work Time, thinking this is what will get their children ready for school, but these sorts of schedules do not allow children enough time to truly get engaged in anything.

Time and space to play

Many days children need time to suss out their play options before getting into something truly engaging.  A rule of thumb I agree with says children need at the very least an hour of free play at a time to truly get into some engaging play and to see it through to a satisfying end. Settings I admire (like Discovery Early Learning Center in the USA) have changed their environment, schedule and approach over time as they’ve learned to trust in following the pace of the children. These days they simply let the children play all day.  The pictures from their Facebook page show children absolutely brimming with engagement, curiosity, well-being, persistence, confidence and everything else a quality early years setting should strive for.

Some adults can be tactful about it, others more bossy but one of the worst parts parts of clock-933311_640transitions is the fact adults have to interrupt children in the middle of their play. On an episode of the podcast “That Early Childhood Nerd,” Heather Bernt, an American consultant says we “teach children not get engaged by our interruptions.”  Her guest, Tiffany Pearsall, asks if you only had 15-30 minutes to engage in something you enjoy as an adult – knitting, reading, cooking a nice meal etc. – would you really get into it, much less bother at all? I’d add to this:  How would you react if you were happily in the middle of perfecting a new recipe and someone told you it was time to put your kitchen tools away before you were truly finished? Many interruptions are unavoidable given the realities of group-based education and care but I do think we should give children’s play the same respect we would as the favourite hobby of any adult.

Minimising transitions

If you are currently in a setting with an over-scheduled day, consider minimising the transitions and chopped up parts of the day. If some transitions are truly unavoidable, is it always the end of the world if you get off-schedule a bit some days? Do you worry what your co-workers will think if you can’t herd the kids to the next thing like they do? If so, is it possible to talk to them about it? If you’re worried you won’t get good observations in a certain area of development, could you bring something specific into provision? Or perhaps get some mentorship on how to further see all of the learning inherent in children’s play? If you are lucky enough to be in a setting that values long stretches of play time, are there still any “sticking points” in the day that might be worth discussing with your team?  

Young children’s brains are in a distinct and sensitive stage. What education should look bubble girllike for them should not be confused with getting them to sit still because that will be expected of them in a few years. “Learning time” is every single second of the day they are with us.  Young children’s brains don’t stop growing when they are getting jackets on to go outside, fighting over toys, having runny noses, getting their nappy changed, eating meals, or falling down and skinning knees. These aren’t parts of the day to impatiently rush through so we can get to the part of the schedule where we think we put our “teacher hats” on.  Rather, these seemingly insignificant parts of the day really are valuable opportunities for connection, learning and growth.

Over-scheduled and hurried days do not give children the time and space they require to engage, persist, experiment, think critically or deeply engage in their play. When we streamline the daily schedule and minimise the transitions, we can use our patience and energy for more meaningful and mindful interactions instead of burning through it quickly trying to keep a group of young children in line and on schedule.

Should our job be ‘herding cats’?

Our daily schedules shouldn’t just be randomly thrown together or “what we’ve always done.”  In my opinion, schedules should include long stretches of free play time (with constant access to outside), minimal transitions and move at the pace of the children. More than anything else though, schedules should best serve the actual, specific needs of the actual, specific children in our settings. This means they will change as the children grow, leave or as new children join us. Serving the best needs of the children also means they are sustainable and not needlessly stressful for the adults. Figuring this all out will take observation reflection, discussion and the freedom for educators to experiment.

cats-2009175_640A lot of us like to joke our job is like “herding cats,” but when are we going to realise that cats aren’t meant to be herded? Just like a spring cleaning and decluttering of a room, if something in the schedule is not helping the relationships and emotional environment of a setting maybe it needs to be changed or even chucked out!

David Cahn has worked in Early Years since 2007 in the US, Australia and currently as an educator in a Children’s Centre in Leeds, England.  He blogs at and offers workshops for Early Years settings on Adults Rediscovering and Respecting Play.  He can be contacted through facebook or twitter.

This blog was originally published in the Early Years Collective E-Zine, Issue 1.

But my five-year-old IS ready for school…


‘Our daughter’s bored to tears at nursery. She needs a new challenge.’


‘My wee boy’s already reading and writing and I don’t want him held back.’


‘Our five-year-old can’t wait to start school….’

Political interest in closing the attainment gap means that Upstart Scotland spends lots of time explaining why play-based learning helps children who find it difficult to settle in school. But there are many reasons why delaying formal education for another year or two would benefit all children, including those who are apparently ‘ready’.  In fact, there are so many reasons that, when I’m arguing the case with the mums and dads who reckon their children are ready, it’s hard to know where to start.

Sometimes I weigh straight in with the Longevity Project – a long-term study of middle-class children described as ‘intelligent and good learners’.  It went on for eighty years, becoming the world’s longest longitudinal study of human health and well-being.  One of its findings (completely unexpected by the researchers) was that an early start on formal education was connected with ‘less overall educational attainment and poorer mid-life adjustment’ than a later start. Since the mid-life issues impacted on both physical and mental health, early-starters also tended to die younger than their peers.

When the project’s findings were published in 2012, Howard Friedman, the chief researcher, wrote:

‘I’m very glad that I did not push to have my own children start formal schooling at too young an age, even though they were early readers. Most children under age six need lots of time to play, and to develop social skills, and to learn to control their impulses.  An over-emphasis on formal classroom instruction – that is, studies instead of buddies, or “staying in” instead of “playing out” – can have serious effects that might not be apparent until years later.’

Since it’s pretty obvious that active outdoor play during the early years is good for children’s long-term physical health, another regular starting point for my Upstart arguments is the huge change in children’s lifestyles over recent decades. In traffic-clogged urban environments, it’s very difficult for parents to get their offspring outdoors and active, especially now that indoor sedentary entertainment is so readily available. A Nordic-style kindergarten stage would help reinstate outdoor play (as often as possible in green places) at the heart of 21st century childhood.

child-sitting-1816400_640But physical health is only half of the problem. Scotland is currently experiencing an explosion of mental health problems among children and young people – and anxiety, depression, eating disorders and self-harm are increasingly common across the social classes. On the other hand, the Nordic nations – whose young people are exposed to the same social pressures as our own – have an excellent record for childhood well-being.

Nordic kindergartens are based on well-established principles about child development, meaning that no child is pressurised to perform tasks beyond his or her personal developmental level. This also, of course, means that no child is ‘held back’.  So I’m always delighted to reassure anxious parents that, in a high-quality kindergarten, early readers and writers would be encouraged and supported at their own level, just as they would in a loving family home.

But we now know that – in terms of both long-term well-being and educational success – the ability to read and write is less important during the early years (which actually extend to the age of eight in both UN and Scottish policy documents) than the development of self-regulation skills, emotional resilience and a love of learning. There’s now a mountain of research showing that these qualities are best developed through a combination of active, self-directed play and sensitive adult support.

‘Self-regulation skills’ is a shorthand term for children’s autonomous control of their physical, social and emotional behaviour. As active outdoor play has declined, more children – including some academically able children – exhibit ‘challenging behaviour’ during the primary years. Behavioural issues also cause problems for ‘non-challenging’ children, not least because teachers have to spend so much time and energy dealing with the challengers.

traffic-lights-514932_640But in countries with an early school starting age,  there are other knock-on effects. Many P1 teachers now feel the need to use ‘behaviour management strategies’ to deal with the increasing number of children who can’t settle in the classroom. The traffic light system, for instance, involves a naming-and-shaming chart: all children start the day on green but their name may be moved up to orange or – horror of horrors! – red if they misbehave. I’ve heard many stories of well-behaved, high-achieving P1s who live in terror of inadvertently putting a foot wrong and moving up the colours. The chances of this happening are, of course, minimal … but the children’s anxiety is no less real. And fearful anxiety isn’t a good starting point for an educational career.

This brings us to the development of emotional resilience, vital for long-term mental health. During the early years, the most significant protective factors for resilience are sensitive adult support and the sorts of ‘safe but challenging’ play-based experiences that develop self-regulation skills. These protective factors also happen to be the developmental underpinnings for ‘intrinsic motivation’ to learn, which is much more productive in the long run than simply trying to please the teacher.

So … if my four- or five-year-old were bored tears at nursery or told me she was ‘dying to start school’, I’d (a) question the quality of education and care at the nursery and (b) wonder whether she might somehow be getting the message that ‘just playing’ is of little value. And if my child were an early reader, I’d be checking that support for his interest in literacy was accompanied by plenty of play-based opportunities to ensure optimal physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.

The years between three and eight years of age are a precious time when all children need time and space to play. Scotland’s extremely early school starting age is an historical anomaly that’s becoming increasingly counter-productive. A dedicated kindergarten stage for three- to seven-year-olds would give every child the best possible chance of success … ‘ready’ or not.

Sue Palmer, literacy specialist and Chair of Upstart Scotland

Ten reasons why national testing at P1 is WRONG!


From this year, Scottish primary schools will be obliged to gather educational data for the government through ‘national assessments’ of P1, P4 and P7 children. This development comes at a time of considerable debate about the efficacy of national testing in general and its potential link to increases in mental health problems among children and young people. Accordingly, in May this year the UK Parliamentary Education Committee recommended significant changes to England’s assessment regime.

Testing at P1 is particularly controversial. The younger children are, the more likely it is that ‘adverse experiences’ will affect their long-term development. Given the body of evidence against national standardised testing at this age (as outlined below), Upstart urges the Scottish government to abandon plans to test children during their first year in school.

1. Standardised ‘baseline’ testing of four- and five-year-olds is not reliable. In 2016, wide variations were found in children’s scores on three baseline tests from accredited test providers (the National Foundation for Educational Research, Durham University’s Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring [CEM] and Early Excellence). An attempt to introduce baseline testing in England was dropped and the Parliamentary Education Committee mentioned above recommended that any measurement in the first year of schooling should be by teacher assessment only.

'School' by David Howard

‘School’ by David Howard

2. Testing can create self-fulfilling prophecies, which are particularly damaging at very beginning of a child’s school career. Four- and five-year-old children are at a stage in development when performance on a test can vary from day to day (see second item in this newspaper report).

3. Throughout the world, the introduction of national testing has resulted in teaching to the test. This leads to a narrowing of the curriculum and uninspiring teaching methods, which are designed to achieve good test results, but do so at the expense of deeper learning. It is particularly detrimental in P1 (see 4, below).

4. There is a wealth of research showing that four- and five-year-old children

ned-2alearn best through play and other holistic learning experiences. Tests, however, require them to focus on specific abstract ideas which often seem pointless to young children and can therefore easily be misunderstood. Time spent on testing and preparing children for tests is therefore highly counterproductive, at a stage in their lives when their lifelong attitude to learning is still developing.

5. Primary 1 is traditionally a ‘settling in’ year for children, when teachers focus on their social and emotional development. Since the transition between nursery/home and school is deeply significant for four- and five-year-olds, it is naturally a stressful experience and children who do not settle easily may become disengaged from learning. This means that their relationship with their teacher is of paramount importance, particularly if they are encountering stress in other aspects of their lives. The quality of this relationship is bound to be affected if the teacher is required to ensure that children attain academic standards specified by the tests and related benchmarks.

6.  Assessment at P1 is being introduced as part of a drive to ‘close the attainment gap between rich and poor’. Although a narrow focus on specific literacy and numeracy skills can undoubtedly raise test scores among disadvantaged children in the short term, research shows that such improvements ‘wash out’ over the course of their primary education. On the other hand, it has been shown that early academic instruction can have other – highly damaging – long-term consequences for disadvantaged children.

7. Due to significant lifestyle changes over recent decades, most children starting school today have had far fewer opportunities for active, self-directed play than in the past (particularly outdoor play). Over the same period, there have been significant increases in mental health problems among children and young people. It is well established that resilience (the ability to cope with stress throughout life) is developed through a combination of play and supportive relationships in the early yearsThe effects of testing on the EY curriculum and the requirement that P1 teachers work towards specific skills-based standards (as opposed to supporting individual development) therefore has implications for many children’s well-being in the future.

8. Testing affects public perceptions about education, not least because of the media coverage it generates. Tests for four- and five-year-olds will intensify the widely-held misconception that children of this age must reach certain standards in literacy and numeracy.  In fact, there is no evidence that an early start on the three Rs is necessary or, indeed, beneficial. Research in New Zealand showed that when literacy skills-teaching began when children were seven, they were as efficient readers by the age of 11 as those who started at five. Indeed, in the vast majority of countries Starting agesworldwide, children do not even start school until they are at least six years old. Until then they go to kindergarten and learn at their own rate, following their own interests through play. When young children learn through play they discover that learning is fun.

9. Tests are not fun. They are not play. And they do not have a place in the lives of four- and five-year-old children. We’ve heard it said that ‘The P1 tests are more like a computer game than a test – children won’t even know they’re being tested!’ But children are not stupid. They can tell when the grown-ups are judging them. They recognise adult priorities. There now is widespread concern among experts in early child development (and other related academic and professional fields) about the long-term effects on health and well-being of an overly-academised, high-pressure childhood.

child doing sums10. The introduction of national testing has been driven by political – not educational – considerations. It is at odds with the play-based pedagogical principles underpinning the Early Level of the Curriculum for Excellence and explained in greater detail in Building the Curriculum 2 (2007).  Unfortunately, the integration of these principles into P1 teaching practice has so far been extremely patchy. Their importance has, however, been confirmed by all recent early years research and, over the last couple of years, there’s been increased commitment among P1 teachers to the introduction of play-based practice. It’s highly unlikely that this welcome development will continue if teachers feel obliged to adapt their practice to ensure children’s success in skills-based tests.

The aim of the Upstart Scotland campaign is to create a ‘ring-fenced kindergarten stage’ for three- to seven-year-old children based on these well-established pedagogical principles. This would ensure that all Scottish children have at least three years during early childhood to reap the developmental benefits of play (as often as possible outdoors and in natural surroundings) while being sensitively supported to learn at their own pace, rather than being judged against arbitrarily-determined academic standards.




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