By Dixie Mitchell
As we observe National Child Day, November 20th, 2014, it is always good to reflect upon where we have been with regard to inclusion in the early years and where we are now. Reflecting in general upon quality inclusive Early Learning and Child Care always makes me, as a mom, grandmother and educator ask the questions, “Have we done enough to support young children in a way that values their early contributions to society? Have we done enough to support families in a way that values their contributions to society while working, training and extending their education? What do communities need to do in order to value the very foundation that early childhood provides - a time when many children begin to find out what real participation is in any community and to explore ways of being and having a friend?” The early years are a time when foundations for developing inclusion principles and philosophies as an ordinary part of life can begin.
Every child wants mastery, belongingness, independence, friendships and love. Every family wants these things for their children. However, some children spend each day doing without – without success, without belongingness, without independence and without friends. They are labeled, shunned, bullied, and yes, even exploited. Our children are caught many times over in a world that exploits their value and ruins their self-worth and self-confidence, because they cannot fully participate at every level within their community. Accessible, inclusive and quality prior-to-school environments are still not readily available in some communities throughout Canada.
Canada signed on to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and in 2010, it was ratified. The full document looks at environments and how we can change them in order to promote, protect and ensure the rights of people with a disability. It is about environments with true equality. In signing the Convention, we as Canadians, became obligated to ensure the rights of children; the value of children and to respect the evolving capacities of all children. We committed to preserving the identities of ALL children in order that they can grow with positive self-identities and self-confidence.
The early years are the years to begin ensuring our obligation; ensuring that all children are valued and recognized for who they are, not what they are. It is a time to show that inclusion in the early years needs to be visible in order that all children count - that all children are seen as valuable contributors, because they can and do have contributions to offer.
In order to secure a “world of value,” it will take further changes in creating inclusive cultures and the development of more Early Years policy; more Early Childhood training for our Early Learning and Child Care staff; more accessible quality inclusive places for children in both prior-to-school environments and in school, and a deep understanding that we, as adults, should not be expecting children to, “bend to the community,” but that, “communities need to bend to the child.” In other words, we need not expect children to fit into our adult world, but need to look at the expectations that children can have for themselves if only given time to lead in the dance of learning. Developing effective teaching and learning for all helps children to contribute their gifts.
Early Learning and Child Care has become a time of both care and learning. As Early Childhood educators, we are obligated by Canada’s signature on the Convention to understand our role in standing up for children and their rights; in supporting each and every child to his fullest potential; and in ensuring that inclusion in the early years is fully visible within our communities throughout this great nation. Sitting back thinking that it is someone else’s job will not cut it. Saying, “What can I do to advocate for all children and their families?” and telling anyone who will listen why we are proud to work in the Early Years sector is a great beginning. Understanding that inclusion is relationship-based - that it takes everyone in a community to support the idea that there is both learning and care in prior-to-school environments - that makes for a worthy foundation for children when entering school. Understanding that children forming relationships with other children and learning to empathize and be sympathetic at early ages brings new hope to the future. Understanding the value of and in children brings hope to children all across Canada.
In celebrating National Child Day, make your first promise – that every day will be a National Child Day, that all children will be celebrated for what they bring to us and for what we learn from them. Promise to recognize and remember why individualization is vitally essential and to recognize that relationship-based inclusion begins in the early years.