What is early childhood studies? There’s more to it than you might think. Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, Dr Sally Hester, sat down with us to answer the question. She also reveals her fascinations, teaching and research in early childhood and how you, as a student on one of our early childhood studies courses, will be able to explore similar themes. Let’s hear more from Sally.
What is early childhood studies?
Early childhood studies involves the study of childhood from birth to 7 years of age. Sociology, psychology, social policy and education studies are at the heart of our early childhood studies degree. Although we offer you the chance to go on placements in settings to gain first-hand experience, it’s not just about learning how to teach. It’s fundamentally about understanding the ‘why’ of all aspects of young children’s lives: how it is informed by policy and law, how it is influenced by historical and social contexts, why certain choices are made for and about children and how those choices impact them. In England we seem more concerned with what children will become rather than what their lives are like in the present. This difference explains the kind of policies that are in place and the kinds of education and care we provide. We want you to leave us with a critical understanding of such things so that you can be an advocate for change.
“It’s fundamentally about understanding the ‘why’ of all aspects of young children’s lives: how it is informed by policy and law, how it is influenced by historical and social contexts, why certain choices are made for and about children and how those choices impact them.”Dr Sally Hester
What is early childhood education itself for?
This question has preoccupied me ever since I began working in early childhood studies at Edge Hill University. To answer it, I have been studying early childhood education policy and practice in the UK and around the world for the past ten years. One important answer
though is that it’s for young children themselves and should give them the best possible experience in an environment which is child-centred
rather than focused only on readiness for school. If you pursue a degree in early childhood studies in our department, you will take modules which will show you how this is possible.
Which areas of early childhood studies are you currently researching?
My current research is focused on two things. One concerns issues around sex and relationship education in the early years. This is a thorny problem because it’s mandatory that all children over the age of four years must be taught some type of sex and relationship education. The other aspect of my research is focused on possibilities for change in early childhood education and care in this country. My continued connection to Back to the Garden Nursery, who I’ve been working with for the past couple of years, has enabled me to carry out some staff training for them as well as developing research on what is known as ‘slow pedagogy,’ which we hope will influence policy in the UK as well as informing the nursery’s own practice – and my teaching.
How does your research and outside involvement inform your teaching?
As an active researcher, I bring my up to date knowledge and sheer enthusiasm for my field to my teaching content. It has also allowed me to meet a lot of early years specialists who now visit to deliver guest lectures on modules such as Early Years Specialism in second year. These include nurture group leaders, baby yoga teachers and early years autism specialists to name just a few.
How can students get involved and explore similar themes on their degree at Edge Hill University?
There are several modules which allow you to get involved in the kinds of debates I am engaging with in my research. The core first-year module Early Years Pedagogy considers, in detail, issues around how early years education and care can be more child centred and incorporate ‘slow pedagogy’ . There are also many optional modules such as Children’s Cultural Worlds which help develop your reflective skills and encourage an ability to tune into children’s lives rather than focusing only on adult oriented outcomes.
What makes early childhood studies at Edge Hill University unique?
I think the fact that the department is so research active makes the degree unique because lecturers are able to offer a range of modules, such as Critical Autism Studies, Children, Food and Sustainability and Representations of Childhood an Popular Culture which are based around their own research interests, meaning that what they are teaching is at the cutting edge of this exciting multi-disciplinary subject. The lecturers’ enthusiasm as a result of this is clear and inspiring to students.
What are your top tips for those thinking about studying early childhood studies at Edge Hill?
My top tips would be to put your all into the courses you are currently studying. If you can, and haven’t already, try to get a bit of workplace experience in an area that interests you. Finally, read the news and pick out items about children, children’s education and social policy which relates to childhood and families.
March 23, 2023