This week we’ve got a guest post from Holly Swan, a Year 1 Early Childhood Studies and Psychology student. In March she attended the ‘EYFS: Together for 2 Year Olds Conference’ in Hastings and thought it would be valuable to share some of the main messages from the keynote speaker, Lord Professor Robert Winston:
I was really excited about Lord Professor Robert Winston’s talk and became quite star struck when he came into the theatre. The numbers within the theatre had almost doubled in size from earlier in the day, so he attracted quite the crowd! He was quite an unassuming kind looking man, someone you could quite easily imagine as your granddad; very approachable. His technique for delivering his talk struck me as odd at first, as he remained on the level of the stalls, speaking with his headset and remote control whilst walking in and around the seats where we were all sat; all other speakers from the day presented from the stage. He began:
“We are most impressionable between 0-4years; this is why the early years workforce are so important. Hence why I took that god awful train journey down here, because I truly believe you are invaluable to society and our children.”
His talk had many pertinent points, but what I took away from it was the importance of meeting all children’s fundamental needs, like the need for play, music, touch, love and laughter. For instance, he shared the story of premature twins Kyrie and Brielle, born in 1995. Brielle’s health declined rapidly after birth whilst her sister Kyrie thrived and grew in the incubation bay next to her. Many of the medical professionals didn’t know what to do to help Brielle. It was a nurse who by chance decided to lay the twins next to each other in the same bed. Within minutes Kyrie wrapped her arm around Brielle in an embrace and stayed laying this way, touching one other for the duration of their stay in ICU. Miraculously Brielle’s health improved and she survived, demonstrating the power of touch.
Another of Winston’s key points was about children’s need for music. Although it may not seem like an obvious right for children, it’s forms part of the the umbrella of creative expression, exposure and stimulation. Music is valuable for so many different reasons – speech; dexterity; long term, short term and working memory; language development; collaboration; cognition and emotional development. I found it interesting that the term ‘naturally musically gifted’ is a myth; the areas of the brain that change during learning a new instrument or piece of music are the same in everyone. One of his quotations really resonated with me: “What is the difference between our brains and that of Beethoven? Nothing. Absolutely nothing, we are all capable of music.” He also spoke about some of children’s other essential needs, like love – regardless of the level of deprivation, if there is love there can be happiness – and laughter, which has been found to boost the immune system, reduce stress, release endorphins and increase oxygen levels.
However, at this point Winston displayed a harrowing photo which I can still see vividly today. It was of an orphanage in Uganda. In the centre of the photo, sits Robert Winston holding a young girl in his lap. All around him were young children smiling beautifully; some with their faces painted with colours of red and blue. Either side of the children sat two women beaming with pride, cuddling the children who were sat in their laps. To the top right of the photo you could see the front of their home. In the background of the photo, positioned 40/50 yards away from the children was a fenced off plot of land with wooden crosses lined in rows inside; a graveyard. All the children in the orphanage had HIV. Their parents had had HIV and were all gone now. The children all knew that they too would die the same way. Every child in that photo has now passed away and the child sat on Robert Winston’s lap died four months after he visited them; her health visibly deteriorated in comparison to her peers. Despite all of this, they were happy. The women who volunteered there provided the children with unconditional love and filled their days with joyful activities. Death was not a taboo and they spoke about it freely. Winston recalled having a wonderful day there, singing and painting their faces. He shared this photo to display to us that every child has a right to love and happiness, and when given these rights they thrive.
His talk was brilliant, insightful and inspiring, and there was an amazing buzz of comradery and positivity within the audience of early years practitioners there. It really felt like everyone there was valued and appreciated.
Thank you Holly for sharing your reflections on Winston’s talk; it certainly sounds like an inspiring event. In what ways do you aim to meet children’s right to love and happiness? What other fundamental rights do you think they have?