Category Archives: Re-thinking Childhood

Open School Doors Project

Mary-Rose Puttick, a PhD student and Graduate Research and Teaching Assistant  for CSPACE, discusses the Open School Doors project. This initiative aims to reduce disparities in learning outcomes for migrant children, and offers support to help these young people succeed in challenging circumstances. 

Project aim

The 2-year (2017-19) Erasmus-funded Open School Doors project spans 5 EU contexts (UK, Germany, Greece, Austria and Trans-European) with the overall aim of reducing disparities in learning outcomes for migrant children, particularly those from refugee, asylum seeker, and Eastern-European Roma backgrounds who have settled in the UK or another EU country in the last 10 years. The focus on new migrants supports the project in addressing the transient population which is increasingly characteristic of EU schools. Open School Doors seeks to inspire and motivate teachers and school managers in cooperating with new migrant parents as well as creating constructive and sustainable partnerships.

Open School Doors Logo

A training framework is currently being developed by the UK team here at BCU to train teachers and head teachers. The framework launches an innovative participatory-action based approach using online tools to address diverse aspects of what we have termed ‘school-languaging’ in a sensitive, positive, and goal-oriented way, including: features of cultural diversity; teacher reflections on their own positionality in the communication process including challenging their own racialized positions as well as pre-conceptions and stereotypes; exploring digital communication / social networking tools to engage with migrant parents; devising action-plans to stimulate parents’ motivation based on localised school contexts; and exploring postcolonial theorist Bhabha’s (1994) notion of ‘third-spaces’, in the case of this project as a neutral space of communication between school and parents.

Data collection

Our UK data collection so far has included focus groups with teaching and management staff at six primary and secondary schools across Birmingham and one focus group with migrant parents.  These six schools are all ‘Schools of Sanctuary’ which is part of the national City of Sanctuary movement and Barbara Forbes from Birmingham Schools of Sanctuary is assisting the BCU team on the project to identify schools which are already taking active steps to make their schools places of sanctuary and welcome for all children and parents. Our data analysis from the six schools, alongside that from the other EU countries, will be used to inform the training framework which will then be rolled out to 50 schools across the 5 project partners.

UK research findings

Our initial research findings indicate what we refer to as a ‘crisis in teacher education’ with teachers coming to the limits of their expertise in teaching children with English as an Additional Language (EAL) and in their communication with EAL parents, many of whom are unfamiliar with the principles of the UK education system and have had little experience themselves of formal education. Teachers report feeling unequipped to deal with trauma and high levels of transiency whilst they continue to face pressures of national assessment and lack of external funding and support.

Parent motivations and interactions work well where focus is placed on building transferable capitals of parents as well as where parents have developed self-help groups.  Some of the parents I interviewed have been asylum seekers for several years, still waiting for a decision regarding their residency status, they described their life as like an ‘open prison’ due to the fact they are unable to access paid employment and have restricted access to educational provision in adult, further and higher education contexts. In this regard parents at one school said the community provision the school had provided for parents gave them a purpose in their lives as they were able to use their skills to support other newly arrived parents. One successful project this school has established is a cooking-based social enterprise called ‘Flavours of Winson Green’. This social enterprise is now in high demand with the parents who run it travelling all over the UK to facilitate cooking experience evenings.

Open School Doors - cooking 1 Open School Doors - cooking 2

BCU hosts EU partners’ visit.

Earlier this month BCU hosted the second meeting of the Open School Doors team, involving an evening in which we got to experience the ‘Flavours of Winson Green’. This was a great success as we were taught how to cook two dishes, a Somalian curry and a Pakistani curry, and then enjoyed the food together and heard the migration stories of the women who run the social enterprise.

Overall it was a very memorable experience and the staff from one of the other primary schools who joined us for the evening have since decided that they will work in partnership with the migrant parents in their school to set up a similar enterprise.

As part of the next stage of Open School Doors we will share further inspiring examples such as the ‘Flavours’ project from primary and secondary across the UK and other EU countries with the aim of encouraging schools to become places of welcome, inclusion, and hospitality where schools work in collaboration with migrant parents and the local community.

Promoting children’s well-being, right to make choices and engage in playful activities in restricted environments through music and singing

Dr. Carolyn Blackburn, Senior Research Fellow at CSPACE, is currently leading a project funded by Froebel Trust (January 2017 – May 2018) to look at the Singing Medicine at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. In this post, she shares some updates from her findings:

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Arts, Health and Wellbeing and Fancourt (2017) highlight a wide range of possible ways in which the arts can support health and wellbeing of individuals, communities and societies in the context of contemporary models of health.  This includes helping with specific identified conditions as well as promoting well-being, healthy behaviours and social engagement.  Included in the broad definition of arts are signing and musical activities as well as performing arts such dance, drama, juggling and visual art such as painting and drawing.  Associated with the concept of social prescribing (which seeks to address health and wellbeing from a holistic perspective using a range of non-clinical interventions), participatory arts projects are growing in number in the UK (APPG on Arts, Health and Wellbeing 2017).

More and more people now appreciate that arts and culture can play a valuable part in helping tackle some of the most challenging social and health conditions. Active participation in the visual and performing arts, music and dance can help people facing a lonely old age, depression or mental illness; it can help maintain levels of independence and curiosity and, let’s not forget, it can bring great joy and so improve the quality of life for those engaged“. (Lord Bichard of Nailsworth, 2016 cited in APPG on Arts, Health and Wellbeing, 2017b: 47)

In relation to the benefits of participating in music and singing in health settings, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (2017) revealed that:

Participatory arts in children’s hospitals provide a pleasurable diversion from the anxiety of treatment and the boredom of long waiting times.”

In terms of children’s rights to engage in playful activities and make choices, the United Conventions on the Rights of the Child Article 31 states that Every child has the right to relax, play and take part in a wide range of cultural and artistic activities and Article 12 states that every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This right applies at all times, for example during immigration proceedings, housing decisions or the child’s day-to-day home life.

Given the evidence reported above, I have been working on a timely project which focuses one aspect of music and singing in healthcare settings; the benefits of musical games for children with a range of conditions at a Birmingham Children’s Hospital (BCH) in terms of their right to makes choices, engage in playful activities and their overall wellbeing with Ex Cathedra’s Singing Medicine service.

The project has been running since January 2017, and data collection involves interviews with parents and health professionals as well as non-participant researcher observations of singing medicine sessions carried out by myself.

Themes that arose from interviews included:

  • The important characteristics of the Singing Medicine Vocal Tutors;
  • Contribution to children’s emotions;
  • Contribution to child/family experiences of hospital;
  • Contribution to children’s development and learning (including neurodevelopment);
  • Spiritual and moral dimensions;
  • Contribution to medical care (including contribution to the wellbeing of health professionals);
  • Contextual aspects of the service; and
  • Contribution to family life, patterns and structures.
Participants commented that:
“Enables children to take a positive memory away from hospital, rather than remembering only that they had blood samples taken, they might also remember the pleasant experience from the Singing Medicine people”
“Some of the children have unpleasant, intrusive and painful medical interventions for example haemodialysis – the Singing Medicine programme is something they choose rather than something they have to do or have to have done to them”

The potential contribution to children’s neurodevelopment is an important finding since it was mentioned by participants that neurodevelopment is an aspect of healthcare provision often omitted due to the understandable need to focus on acute care and patient survival and recovery.

From observations there was evidence of:

  • Choices for children;
  • Following children’s lead;
  • Facilitating medical care;
  • Building memorable moments for families; and
  • Focussing on children’s holistic development.

These findings demonstrate the benefit of participating in the service for children, their family members and health professionals supporting them. The findings can be considered in light of significant evidence from the APPGAHW on the benefits of the arts more broadly and singing and music specifically in health settings, and also in light of the United Conventions on the Rights of the Child.

Myself and several of the Vocal Tutors from Ex Cathedra presented a workshop at the Annual Health Research Conference at BCU ‘Creative Caring’ in January of this year. The session was well received by colleagues in Health and suggestion was made to embedded the research findings within many of programmes in Nursing. The project’s approach to research with the Vocal Tutors (rather than no them) was commented.

In February, I will also presenting at the BECERA annual conference ‘Creativity and Critical Thinking in the Early Years’.

This project will finish in May 2018. A final project report will become available later in the Spring.

There is a current petition for ‘Singing on Prescription’ to be adopted by the NHS. please sign if you have time.

References:

  • APPG on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (2017a) Policy Briefing   Arts Engagement and Wellbeing July 2017 [Online http://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/appg-inquiry/ accessed 11.12.17]
  • All-Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing (2017b) Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing [Online http://www.artshealthandwellbeing.org.uk/ accessed 12.12.17]
  • Fancourt, D. (2017) Arts in Health, Designing and Researching Interventions. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Carolyn

Carolyn has worked in childcare and education for nearly 20 years mainly in primary education and early years.  She has established a reputation for supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities. She led a number of national and international projects investigating children, family and education. Her recent work include include a project about young children’s musical interactions called Communicative Musicality and an international project that seeks to explore relationship-based early intervention services for young children with complex needs in collaboration with the world-leading Champion Centre.

Carolyn is particularly interested in interdisciplinary research and the ways in which researchers from diverse disciplines can seek a shared understanding of child and family work so that a richer, more diverse research culture can be envisioned. Carolyn believes that when professionals work together and communicate well with each other children and families benefit.

Following Carolyn’s work on ResearchGate.

Parenting in the digital age – what age should children have a smartphone?

In this second post of the series on ‘Parenting in the digital age’, Dr. Jane O’Connor continues  to explore the relationship between children’s rights and digital technology.  

Young people and mobile phones

I recently had the following conversation with my soon to be 7 year old son that I think will sound familiar to many parents with children of a similar age:
‘Mum can I have a smartphone for my birthday?’
‘No’
‘Why not?’
‘Because you’re too young.’
‘When can I have one?’
‘When you’re older,’
‘How old?’
‘Oh I don’t know, twelve, maybe ten.’
‘That’s ages away.’
‘Well you are not allowed to have one until you are ten…it’s the law.’

It isn’t the law of course, but I’m beginning to wish it was.

Limiting our children’s access to digital technology is beginning to feel more and more akin to King Canute trying desperately to hold back the waves, and the ubiquitous presence of smartphones in ever younger hands makes it increasingly difficult to justify resisting the trend. On average, children are getting their first smartphones around age 10, according to the research firm Influence Central, down from age 12 in 2012. According to a recent survey of parents by Internet Matters the vast majority of children aged 8 to 11 in Britain now own a smartphone, with Newcastle and Nottingham having the very highest rates of ownership in this age group at 90.5% and 90% respectively. Many schools now ban smartphones from lessons and playgrounds, but the issue is still a pertinent one for parents to navigate, weighing up the pros and cons of the peace of mind of being able to be in constant contact with their children, with the attention grabbing and potentially disturbing diversions of the phone. The following quote from the US based Common Sense media website summarises why the decision to give your child a phone is not to be taken lightly and deserves careful thought:

when you hand your children cell phones, you’re giving them powerful communication and media-production tools. They can create text, images, and videos that can be widely distributed and uploaded to websites instantly. Parents really need to consider whether their kids are ready to use their phones responsibly and respectfully’.

Perhaps it is not about the age of the child after all, but about the kind of child they are and how they want to use their phone? I know my son just wants to play games on it, and so feel no compunction about delaying the acquisition of yet another screen based distraction, but clearly ownership is becoming the norm for children not much older than he is now. As well as protecting children, as parents we also surely have a responsibility to try and ensure that our children are not left out and are socially included. Furthermore, is it not hypocritical in the extreme for adults to use smartphones for ever increasing amounts of time and reasons and yet not want children to emulate that behaviour?

The historian and mythographer Marina Warner takes a broader view of the futility of trying to keep childhood and adulthood separate by restricting children’s access to the adult world. In her essay ‘Little angels little devils: keeping childhood innocent’ she argues that:

Children aren’t separate from adults…they can’t live innocent lives on behalf of adults…Children are our copy in little…in affluent cities of the West, they’ll wail for expensive trainers with the right label like their friends.'(1994: p48)

And today, clearly, they’ll wail for their own smartphones.

This desire to hold on to childhood innocence seems to be at the heart of parental concerns around children owing smartphones, but is that innocence, as Warner claims, simply a myth?

Young person and mobile phone

Related links and publications
https://www.commonsensemedia.org
http://influence-central.com/
https://www.internetmatters.org/
Warner, M (1994) Managing monsters – The Reith Lectures. London: Vintage.

Jane O’Connor

Dr Jane O’Connor is a Reader in Childhood Studies at Birmingham City University and is currently leading ‘Technobabies’, an international research project exploring parents’ perspectives on the use of touchscreen digital devices by 0-3 year olds. Jane started her professional life as a primary school teacher and moved into research due to her interests in constructions of childhood and children’s relationship with the media. Jane’s research interests include children and technology and children and celebrity.

Research Snapshot: Communicative musicality – sounds rhythms and pulses in music and language

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Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Research Fellow in Early Childhood Studies, and Ian Axtell, Subject Leader for Music Education, Centre for Research in Education.

Findings

Participants in this study appeared to recognise the value and importance of children’s spontaneous musical activities and to encourage it describing the benefit for children’s holistic development and the role of music in attachment and bonding. However, they also appear to have identified benefits for children in attending organised, structured musical activities both within the home, but more substantially outside the home.

Recommendations
  • It is recommended that parents and carers are offered guidance and advice about the importance of acknowledging and valuing young children’s spontaneous musical activities in the home. It is a matter of concern that parents might lack confidence to instigate and encourage young children’s musical activities in the home;
  • It is recommended that an online database of trialled and validated musical resources be made available for parents and carers to use in the home;
  • It is recommended that this study is extended to include particular groups of children and families such as minority ethnic groups and children with disabilities;
  • It is recommended that a study to explore young children’s musical activities in early years settings be conducted to explore the understanding and practices of early childhood practitioners given the importance of young children’s spontaneous musical activities in their overall and holistic development as noted from the literature review in this report.

 

Download the full report here: communicative-musicality-report-130987955021412745

Research Snapshot: Eddie Hulbert

Eddie’s research is on Family Learning Birmingham, an initiative which aims to provide guidance for parents or carers who are either unemployed, on benefits or have very few qualifications by providing a way for families to learn together.

Research Snapshot: Shannon Ludgate

PhD student Shannon Ludgate of the School of Education talks about her research on children’s use of touchscreen technology. Shannon describes her research and what she hopes to achieve during the course of her PhD.

Report from International Society on Early Intervention: Children’s Rights and Early Intervention, Aula Magnum Auditorium, Stockholm 8-10 June 2016

Written by Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Research Fellow in Early Childhood Studies, HELS carolyn@blackbu5

The International Society on Early Intervention holds a major conference very three to four years. This years’ conference focused on the rights of all children to develop to their full potential and to participate without barriers in all aspects of society Encouraging and supporting the inclusion of children with developmental delays and disabilities in natural environments, including family settings, child care, and preschool programs, is at the core of maximizing children’s rights. Indeed, the concept of full participation is consistent with two United Nations treaties that address these rights: Convention on the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The conference was dedicated to Ulf Janson who dedicated, devoted much of his professional life to promoting the rights of young children with disabilities, understanding the nature of social inclusion, and advocating for the full inclusion of all children and their families and Franz Peterander, Ph.D. Professor, Ludwig-Maximilians University reminded us of his commitment to ECI.

1A tribute to Professor Ulf Janson from Franz Peterander

In this conference, early intervention was proposed as a basic right of all vulnerable children, and was explored from many perspectives. Issues related to access, equity, quality, and accountability were considered to be paramount. Strengthening families, training professional personnel, promoting social-emotional development, conducting reliable, valid, and culturally appropriate assessments, exploring issues related to institutional care and deinstitutionalization, examining the impact, prevention, and treatment of trauma, abuse, and neglect, testing and evaluating new strategies and techniques to promote a child’s development to the fullest, and developing approaches to enhance social inclusion were among the topics included. The development and evaluation of policies in individual countries or regions within countries to ensure that early intervention is among the rights of young children provided an important context.

2

Children and young people from Adolf Fredick’s Music School opened the conference with an assertion that ‘Children Rule the World’

The conference opened with an inspirational and moving performance from Adolf Fredrik’s Music School Youth Chorus. Following this, there were opening addresses from Anders Gustavsson, Ph.D. Professor, Stockholm University, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, Ph.D, President, Stockholm University and Mike Guralnick. During his address Mike announced Barry Carpenter’s recent award of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition to his service to the field of Special Education Needs. Barry is an Independent Education Consultant from the UK and Carolyn has worked with Barry on research projects and publications.

The conference proceeded with plenary and parallel sessions focussed on a wide range of topics that were provided by and for 600 delegates from 55 countries. In addition delegates were invited to a wine and canapés at the Stockholm Town Hall where Nobel Peace Prizes are awarded.

3

Mike Guralnick described the conference as a landmark event in early intervention

Mike Guralnick, Chair of ISEI, described the conference as a landmark event in Early Intervention, stressing that there is currently a humanitarian crisis for vulnerable children. He explained that we need a systems based approach to services which must be coordinated within a team and work with parents. There needs to be universal agreement that every child has a right to early intervention.

4

Professor Ăkesson talked about growing up in Sweden

Professor Eva Björck Åkesson talked about an ecological transactional model and a biopsychosocial perspective which was focused on the preschool as an environment for participation, interaction, and development in the context of early intervention in Sweden. She explained that engagement and togetherness needs to be further researched and we need to be solution oriented, as there are many challenges to overcome in the field of early intervention.

Dr. Emily Baron Vargas talked about Building Sustainable National Systems for Early Childhood Intervention from her work at the RISE Institute that assists nations to develop strategic plans, systems, and programs for early childhood intervention (ECI) and hosts the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Task Force of the Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities.

Dr. Pia Rebello Britto (Global Chief and Senior Advisor, Early Childhood Development, UNICEF, New York) urged us to take Early Childhood Interventions into the sustainable development era. She argued that all children need good nutrition, stimulation and safety and protection in order to thrive. However, significant numbers of children around the world do not experience these basic human rights, which leads to unmet human potential. It is the role of the early childhood intervention community to change this. She challenged us to mobilise resources and raise the profile of this with policy makers.

6Dr. Pia Britto argued that all children need good nutrition, stimulation and safety and protection in order to thrive

There were a series of Master Lectures provided by international speakers on a wide range of EI subjects. A number of members of Eurlyaid attended and presented at the conference.

I presented two parallel sessions on a) Young children’s use of private speech in early years settings from my PhD findings and b) Applying relational pedagogy and professional love to early childhood intervention services

5

Carolyn Blackburn presenting findings from her Churchill Fellowship

The full programme for the conference can be found here https://depts.washington.edu/isei/ISEI_Program.pdf. The next conference will be held in Sydney in 2019.

Research Snapshot: Early care and education experiences of young children born prematurely

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Dr Carolyn Blackburn, Research Fellow, Early Childhood Studies & Dr Merryl Harvey, Reader in Nursing

Aim of research

This study aims to explore the early care and education experiences of children born prematurely through reports from parents. Research questions include:

  1. What are the early social experiences of young children born prematurely (as reported by parents)?
  2. What are parents’ memories of their children’s developmental milestones?
  3. Where children are attending early years settings, what are parents experiences of this, were there any difficulties/problems in finding suitable childcare provision?
  4. What advice/support do early years workers need to support children born prematurely and their families?

Read more here: http://www.bcu.ac.uk/research/stories/born-early

Rethinking Childhood Cluster: Dr. Susan Foster-Cohen

Dr. Susan Foster-Cohen is the Director of the Champion Centre and Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Canterbury. She is engaged in active research into the outcomes of parent-partnership interventions at the Centre. She has also been a member of a research team at the University of Canterbury exploring the long-term outcomes of prematurity, with a particular focus on communication and language development. She has held academic positions in universities in the UK, USA, France and New Zealand and has published widely on language development in both pure and applied journals and books. Susan joined us in a joint venture between the Rethinking Childhood Cluster and the Family Health Cluster on the 6th June to talk about:

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Bio-psycho-social consequences of premature birth: family and professional partnerships in early intervention

The short, medium and long-term impacts of premature birth on the infant, the mother, the family and their educational and social communities are the active subjects of research in a number of academic fields. Such research is revealing trends and likelihoods of developmental, educational, mental health and social consequences of prematurity that can, and must, be addressed in early intervention. Particularly difficult, however, is predicting which children will have which, or any, lasting consequences of their prematurity. This presents a challenge for health, education and social welfare practitioners to translate the research evidence into the best support for each child, the families that raise them, and the teachers that educate them. Susan’s talk reviewed the bio-psycho-social consequences of premature birth and then describde the multi-disciplinary support provided to children born prematurely, their families and their teachers at The Champion Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand. It focused on the challenges encountered in assessment, monitoring, and intervention; and the importance of developing families as ‘advocates for life’ for their children.

Approximately 50 – 60 delegates attended from across the country and from diverse disciplines including collaborative partners from BLISS charity and Birmingham Children’s Hospital. Positive feedback from delegates included comments such as:

“Thank you for organising this excellent event.  So much useful information for teaching and for my book. Also useful networking, I do hope that Barbara and I move our research idea forward. Thank you also for the delicious lunch.” (an HE Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood)

“Thank you for inviting us to the talk yesterday it was really fascinating. It was also fantastic to hear about the amazing programme Susan runs in New Zealand, I thought it really complemented some of the things Bliss believes in like having the family at the centre of the babies care.” (A charity Research Manager)

As a practising independent midwife, I found the event very illuminating. I will be using the knowledge gained (and revisited) in my work; especially in the postnatal period.

I focus on ‘growing and birthing healthy babies’. In this timely space, I place a large emphasis on supporting mothers (and their partners) to realise the critical importance of the antenatal period, enjoying good diet, exercise, and managing positive energies etc.

I look forward to the video and sharing this with my team. (a Mimosa Midwife)

What an excellent event, ands such a wonderful presentation I was like many in the audience bowled over and learnt such a lot.. Id be very happy to get involved in any future/potential research with BCU , around this field (health practitioner from Birmingham Children’s Hospital)

 

Dr. Foster-Cohen said of her visit to the UK:

“A true highlight of my trip was my visit to Birmingham City University and the chance to present my research work in prematurity and the model of professional service delivery for premature infants at the Champion Centre.

I was very impressed with the wide range of professional backgrounds in the audience that attended the lecture and extend my thanks to Dr. Carolyn Blackburn, my host, for promoting the importance of the path that premature infants take from the prenatal stage through early childhood. The questions at the lecture and the discussion afterwards over lunch made it clear that there is considerable intelligent interest in the needs of young children at BCU and a genuine contribution that I can make to the courses and training that it offers.

Dr. Blackburn’s visit to the Champion Centre on her Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship last year has opened up significant opportunities for collaborative research between us and I look forward to building on this first exchange of visits in the future.”