Fostering cultural capital in early childhood

This month, in our ongoing collaboration with Edge Hill University curated by ALICIA BLANCO-BAYO, Early Years Lecturer and WTEY Programme Leader at the University’s Faculty of Education, we’re delighted to hear from LAURA BALDWIN, who has recently completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Working and Teaching in the Early Years, graduating from Edge Hill University in July 2021.

Cultural capital is the essential knowledge and skills that children need to be ready for future success (OFSTED, 2019), and it is something that is accumulated over time. Definitions may consider it a valuable resource, providing a gateway to children’s current and future academic, social and economic success, as well as encompassing and reflecting upon the principle of the unique child (DfE, 2017; 2021). How practitioners foster this is what makes a difference to the lives of young children, but what falls under the category of essential knowledge? What types are deemed to be most important and of greatest value to young children? Research by Saunston (2019) suggests all forms of cultural capital should be woven through the curriculum, as it is about having the ability to learn about things that are situated outside general daily experiences. Thomson (2019) goes on to discuss that cultural capital is a government

initiative, intending to reduce inequalities that exist within the social world. Typically, those facing these are families from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are likely to benefit the most from the acquirement of cultural capital. Greater investment is therefore made in providing equal opportunities for children’s learning and development. Policy makers consider investments like this to have strong effects on a child’s sense of belonging, reading literacy and occupational aspirations (Tramonte and Willms, 2010), yielding the best results in terms of future academic success. However, efforts to promote cultural capital may be useless, without initial

transmission of cultural capital among family members. One is therefore unable to acquire sufficient cultural capital unless it is inherited from family members first (Kisida, Greene and Bowen, 2014). This assumes cultural capital is passed from one generation to the next, more so within privileged families, than those from more disadvantaged backgrounds. Research has also explored how disadvantaged children can develop their cultural capital, with the support of sources external to the family. If we, as Early Years practitioners invest time and effort, working in partnership with parents, carers and families, we can help prevent those children from losing out on the social and academic benefits. Whilst undertaking volunteer work in an educational setting, I came across

many children who lacked the ability, resources and support to develop cultural capital. This was a result of the socially and economically disadvantaged area in which they lived. Effective collaborative working with the families ensured the availability of quality learning opportunities and experiences, which contributed to a child’s ability to “get on in life” or their “social status” (McTavish). It is extremely important to acknowledge the skills and knowledge a child

has previously acquired before entering an educational setting. Skilled and knowledgeable practitioners will be able to take this into account, when planning and implementing engaging and enjoyable experiences for children to extend their learning. Here, learning may deepen further, through which the knowledge and skills described as cultural capital can be acquired. As practitioners we can develop the ability to enhance the cultural capital of all children and families, if we just provide learning that is considered to be both ambitious and aspirational.


Science outside - using the outside space (legitimately)!

In her regular column this month, STEMtastic! founder KIRSTY BERTENSHAW offers some ideas to help you take advantage of a spell of nice weather.

Clear sunny days tempt us all outside, and there are plenty of legitimate science activities that require the outside space around our school buildings.

Variation Variation in leaves is fun and easy to explore at almost any key stage, from younger students collecting examples of different leaf types to those learning how to take accurate measurements with rulers. Variation investigations include a lot of scientific skills such as accurate measurements, repeat measurements, calculating a mean, disregarding anomalous results, and plotting graphs of results.

Sampling using quadrats This practical technique is difficult to teach practically and thoroughly due to time constraints and weather issues, or even a lack of resources, but it is a really valuable technique to learn, and often appears in GCSE exam questions too. Random sampling and transects are both important techniques, and both can usually be tested in school grounds. Teachers may have to ‘plant’ a species to investigate with paper and wooden sticks if the school field has been recently mowed. Belt transects can investigate the distribution of species between the hedge and the middle of the field, or near a roadway and the middle of the field.

Growing plants in different conditions Plants can be grown from seed, or small plants planted from seedlings and then given different conditions to live in. Water can be controlled by opening a clear large plastic bottle, removing the neck end. Place holes into the side of the bottle to allow air flow but keep the bottom of the bottle as a solid piece. Place the bottle upside down over the plant and push into the ground to shelter the plant from rain but allow access to carbon dioxide and oxygen. This makes water the limiting factor. Another plant can be watered regularly but have a plastic bottle cut open and placed over it without air holes, to see what effect limiting the carbon dioxide has on the plant. Another plant can have limited light in a similar way, by using a plastic bottle with air holes but painted black to limit the amount of sunlight available to the plant. If seeds are grown in distilled water instead of soil, even minerals can be controlled and used as limiting factors.

Physics Outside experiments are not just useful for biology. Instead of a Leslie cube demonstration that students can’t gather closely round due to social distancing, students can set up their own colour based experiments outside using sunlight as source of heat energy over a set time. Black paper, white paper (matt) and laminated black and white paper (shiny) can be laid out on the ground and the temperatures measured over several minutes. Infra-red thermometers work best – if these aren’t available, the temperature under the paper could be measured instead.

STEM solar cookers For a good STEM experiment and practical activity, students could use card and foil to design solar cookers. These are a good way of cooking without the need to burn fuel, necessary in many areas of the world where resources are scares but sunlight plentiful. This is an activity that demonstrates the need for cross curricular knowledge.

Kirsty is the founder of STEMtastic, an education consultancy with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths

June 2021

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