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This year the EC-MENz Summit was held in Dunedin and organised by the men from that chapter. EC-MENz is a national network for men in early childhood education in New Zealand.

There were a number of speakers during the day and I share a few of my notes from this Summit that I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

Kerri Maclennan – Sports Otago Active movement Advisor

Kerri spoke about the benefits of movement and how it enhances a child's development. She elaborated on recent brain research around the value of movement and how it reinforces learning. Movement is a child's first language and positive early experiences pave the way for lifelong learning.

Movement helps to build brain pathways and the nervous system. She talked about school readiness in preschool children and how the development of gross and fine motor skills prepare children to focus, sit still, and follow letters systematically from left to right.

The speaker spoke about 'On your Marks' which is a skills programme in Dunedin on fundamental movement skills (FMS) of which the benefits are resilience, problem solving, stimulating brain growth, memory, and increased motivation.

Nicola Atwool – Associate Professor Sociology, Gender, and Social Wok at University of Otago

Nicola covered topics in relation to early intervention and resilience and what men have to offer in regards to these areas of a child's development. She began by talking about 'The White Paper', a new approach to reducing abuse and neglect which was a community based approach of early intervention to reduce the flow to CYF. The proposal was to change the contact system and have one phone line to take any level of concern. They will have the capacity to refer the issue to any specific service.

The implications on the ECE sector are quite significant. They include:

  • Increasing Maori and Pasifika enrollment.

  • Beneficiaries are required to ensure that children attend.

  • ECE identified as part of the 'Workforce for Children'.

  • Critical role in identification of vulnerable children.

  • Development of education providers as community hub.

The challenge is knowing what to do when we are concerned about children. A few factors that make children vulnerable are:

  • Compromised parenting

  • Poor parental mental health

  • Inter-generational patterns – where parents were brought up in broken family structures

  • Lack of secure attachment

  • Exposure to violence

  • Living in hardship

Not all children have low outcomes. Research shows that children are resilient as resilience develops in the face of hardship. The speaker went on to talk about resilience, stress, attachment, and brain development. What came to the fore for me was the emphasis on self regulation which the speaker described as the single most important factor that is built through early attachment.

The speaker suggested that attachment patterns become entrenched when the internal working models formed in the early years are reinforced by experiences beyond home. She suggested benefits for children as:

  • Positive role models

  • Access to the other gender

  • Men bring a different outlook for children through their interactions

  • Important that children raised in the context of family violence have access to positive make role models

Relationships are the key to change.

Helen Collins – from Play and Learn

Helen presented a talk on the outdoors and voiced concern over children having a disconnection from nature. She is inspired by the Forest Schools in Scandinavia and said that children must have opportunity for risk taking, which is essential for learning and that too many restrictions take away those learning moments.

She spoke about the outdoors offering a rich sensory stimulation as well as benefits for motor skills and brain development. Children also develop a sense of responsibility to care for the environment through collecting their own rubbish, planting and gardening, and looking after the bush.

Research has shown us that only 54% of preschoolers are sufficiently active. Higher levels of physical activity leads to less body fat later on in adolescence and there is a clear link between physical activity, health, and behaviour. Frequent outdoor play greatly influences outdoor activity as a recreation in later life.

Helen May – Insights from images concerning ECE: Its politics, its past and its pedagogy

Helen May needs no introduction and she based her entire presentation around images of children that she likes to collect. Many of these images were a collection from the Dunedin Kindergarten Association archives and showed the changing outdoor environment in early childhood environments from the 1920's to the present day.

She showed an image of a boy at a carpentry table titled, 'Thinking about a curriculum matter' and referred to exploration and following children's interests through a story of a Belgian person looking to put his child in a day care in New Zealand. Helen said that the Belgian was amazed at what children were allowed to do in terms of risk taking and that they would never be allowed to play with risky tools in Belgium. There was also an image of a child using risky tools and one of Futuba Kindergarten in Japan where a child had climbed very high up a tree and no one seemed concerned at all, and one in Germany where children are allowed to build a house.

Images from the 1920's and 30's hardly had an outdoor area at all. Apparently the first jungle gym was built in 1939. In the 1950's it got a little more interesting with sandpits and bicycles. The 1970's archive images were in colour and showed children on a roof, climbing trees, and painting windows. Images from 2010 were a lot more sterile in general but some did show children with opportunities for challenging play.

In essence, Helen made us reflect on:

  • Where are we heading on these issues in New Zealand?

  • How do we avoid plastic playground standardisation?

  • How can we encourage taking risks, exuberant play, and 'real' environments?

I found this a very interesting presentation.

Dr Sandhya Ramrakha – Childhood self control: Impact on health and crime

The speaker spoke about the Longitudinal Study conducted at the University of Otago on self control and a US program called 'Head Start'. The Dunedin Study involved children born in 1972/3 and self control was measured in the early years. This was done through direct observation from parents, teachers, and self reports. This predicted adult outcomes and showed that those in the lowest self control in early years had the highest health problems in later years. This was also evident with wealth and crime measures with the same result based on low self control in early years.

The implications of increasing self control will have long term cost benefits and the best time to benefit self control is in ECE and schools. Self control is a skill that you need to learn.

Donna Smith - St Hilda's Collegiate

Donna spoke about approaches and apps touse with pre-schoolers and the benefits of embracing technology within education. She mentioned that not much research has been done on technology in ECE.

The speakers offered tips on using technology with children and suggested some apps. She showed us some flash cards on her iPad, a book creator, mathematics, and a garage band.

Storypark came into discussion and how it is being used in a number of centres to document children's learning.

Tom Campbell – Two Left Feet Dance Studio

Tom's session was fun and we danced to his moves and music. He suggested different dance moves and programmes that we can use with children to make it fun for them. These included animals moving to music and what we could do during a mat time to include learning as well.

It was an enjoyable summit with an interesting line up of speakers.