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June O'Sullivan, LEYF CEO

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The importance of Cultural Capital, or how every child deserves a little Water Music more than just now and again.

An invitation to speak at the Early Arts UnConference at the MAC in Birmingham led to my reflecting back on why I started to investigate cultural capital as a core of the LEYF learning approach. This was long before the days of the EYFS, so the raft of information, guidance and research we have since developed was in short supply. However, Europe and New Zealand was a great source of information for me, and I looked there for proof that children would benefit greatly from a culturally enriched environment.  My hypothesis was that creativity was built by being with people who could translate it in many ways.

It all became real for me when we introduced classical music at sleep time, and a little girl with a fairly difficult home life sat bolt upright when she heard the first blasts of Handel’s Water Music, saying “It’s like God’s music”. She was an immediate convert to Handel, and I was an immediate convert to the notion of cultural entitlement.

It is true that most learning happens at home, but a good education can open your eyes and bring new ideas and a new world into that home. Education is part of culture and cannot be divested from it, as culture is transmitted through children. It’s why the home learning environment is a key element of the LEYF social impact model.   I was lucky to get a good convent education, and the nuns (for all their faults and fury) introduced me to Jane Austen, Michelangelo, Stravinsky and Miles Davis. This opened up a whole new world for me which I never would have received at home;   my curiosity then grew and developed, albeit more slowly for genres such as opera and modern art, and more quickly for dance and literature.

So what does a cultural entitlement look like? Howard Gardner summed it up perfectly when he said that every child has a spark inside them, but it’s our responsibility to find what will ignite that spark.

Fun with paints at LEYF's Noah's Ark Community Nursery

I hopefully regaled the Birmingham audience with stories and photos of how to enrich and embed daily activities with a touch of magic. Extended language, arts and crafts, music, singing, poetry, drama, food, outings, galleries, museums, theatre, art exhibitions, science, shopping and eating;  all daily activities with which a stretch and a twist can open a new world for our children. The core impulse for a human mind is to learn and use all kinds of experiences, and then to learn what other people label them. Fostering creativity is fundamentally important, because creativity brings with it the ability to question, make connections, innovate, problem solve, communicate, collaborate and to reflect critically. All of which is vital for all children to be able to play their part in their rapidly changing world.

According to the Henley Report, by the time a child has reached seven years, the minimum level of cultural education they should have experienced through school is to have regularly read books and taken part in storytelling, arts and crafts, singing, music and dance. They should also have visited art galleries, theatre, cinema, museums, libraries and heritage sites. The new EYFS states that expressive arts needs to contribute to children succeeding in the three prime areas. (PSE, CLL and Physical in case you had forgotten!)

Colville Nursery Carnival, 23 August 2012

The importance of having a creative staff who can embellish and fascinate children by using imagination, creativity and all the arts available as part of children’s daily lives is what matters. Research is particularly clear about the importance of language. We know that children who have a grasp of formal language, rather than being restricted to informal language, are at an enormous advantage in the education system. Low level and limited vocabulary and poor management of grammar limits children and reduces their expression of analytical and abstract ideas and arguments. We also know reading is key to helping us transmit content, vocabulary and styles of expression which in turn helps develop linguistic fluency, a fundamental skill and one that is well rewarded in school.  We know that broadening a child’s horizons and experiences, which extend and challenge them, takes them further up their zone of proximal development.  So who are we to limit children by being unable or unwilling to teach and extend their vocabulary, literacy and world view by failing to use the vast array of creative resources, opportunities and teaching methods available to us?  Why should Hannah be deprived of ever hearing “God’s Music”? A learning approach needs to be based on the principles of cultural entitlement, not as a nice thing to do now and then, but as the basis of all that goes on in the nursery.

There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: one is roots, the other is wings.

Hodding Carter

Let me know your thoughts, and how you make cultural capital an every day reality in your setting, in the comment area below.

About June O'Sullivan

An inspiring speaker, author and regular commentator on Early Years, Social Business and Child Poverty, June has been instrumental in achieving a major strategic and cultural shift for the award winning London Early Years Foundation, resulting in increased profile and profitability over the past eight years. As CEO of the UK's leading childcare charity and social enterprise since 2006, June continues to break new ground in the development of LEYF's scalable social business model. She remains a tireless campaigner, looking for new ways to influence policy and make society a better place for all children and families. June is a champion of community-based, multi-generational projects and a great believer in the potential of greater social and cultural capital as a means of delivering long-term social impact. She continues to advise the Government in order to better implement their vision for Early Years. June is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Director of Early arts, Council Member of the Early Intervention Foundation, Chair of Paddington Farm Trust, Founding Member of the Institute for Early Years and was recently voted into the ‘NMT Power 20’ - top 3. June was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours in 2013, for her services to London’s children. June continues to work closely with the Government in order to better implement their vision for Early Years, to improve quality and promote a better understanding of the incredible long-term benefits of play-based Early Years education. June is a published author, with an MA in Primary & Early Childhood Studies and MBA from London South Bank University. Read June’s blog: http://www.leyf.org.uk/blog or An inspiring speaker, author and regular commentator on Early Years, Social Business and Child Poverty, June has been instrumental in achieving a major strategic and cultural shift for the award winning London Early Years Foundation, resulting in increased profile and profitability over the past eight years. As CEO of the UK's leading childcare charity and social enterprise since 2006, June continues to break new ground in the development of LEYF's scalable social business model. She remains a tireless campaigner, looking for new ways to influence policy and make society a better place for all children and families. June is a champion of community-based, multi-generational projects and a great believer in the potential of greater social and cultural capital as a means of delivering long-term social impact. She continues to advise the Government in order to better implement their vision for Early Years. June is also a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Director of Early arts, Council Member of the Early Intervention Foundation, Chair of Paddington Farm Trust, Founding Member of the Institute for Early Years and was recently voted into the ‘NMT Power 20’ - top 3. June was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday honours in 2013, for her services to London’s children. June continues to work closely with the Government in order to better implement their vision for Early Years, to improve quality and promote a better understanding of the incredible long-term benefits of play-based Early Years education. June is a published author, with an MA in Primary & Early Childhood Studies and MBA from London South Bank University. Read June’s blog: www.leyf.org.uk/blog or www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/june-osullivan-mbe/ Follow her on Twitter www.twitter.com/JuneOSullivan Follow her on Twitter www.twitter.com/JuneOSullivan
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