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New framework for Early Childhood Practitioners developed from WELS research

Three small children playing together outdoors in a nursery playground

Dr Natalie Canning, Senior Lecturer at the School of Education, Childhood, Youth and Sport (EYCS) and Co-Director of The Open University’s Children’s Research Centre launches the Empowerment Framework, a new tool for childhood practitioners to analyse children’s play and activities. 

Together with Interactive Learning Diary and based on Dr Canning’s research into Early Childhood contexts, the tool supports the understanding of child development through an empowerment focus. 

Dr Canning says, “Nurturing children’s empowerment will allow them to believe in themselves, have confidence to voice their opinions, try new ideas and positively engage with the world around them.” 

Why empowerment?

Previous research into empowerment in early childhood is limited and mostly relates to the empowerment of early childhood educators. In addition, previous literature relating to children’s play does not link to empowerment and instead associates play with terminology such as ‘confidence’ or ‘choice’. 

According to Dr Canning, empowerment in children’s play isnot one single action, event or circumstance. It is concerned with examining individual choices and decisions based on social interactions, emotional responses and environmental influences within situated boundaries and resources.” 

Her research identifies participation, voice and ownership as the three main components contributing to young children’s experiences of empowerment. 

The Empowerment Framework 

Using these three components, the Empowerment Framework encourages facilitators to ask questions when observing play. Rather than resorting to a tick box exercise detailing ‘what’ children are doing, practitioners are asked ‘how’ children are playing by answering questions such as, ‘where is the child positioning themselves with the play?’, ‘how is the child in control of play?’ and ‘how is the child expressing their views?’ 

Observing children’s play via the framework allows practitioners to recognise the personal, social and emotional development of children in environments where they are able to make choices and decisions. The framework provides a holistic view of child development, changing the way children are observed, which gives opportunities to reflect on practice and lead to new ways of working. The framework takes a positive approach, focusing on what children can do and gives greater opportunities for children to have empowering experiences. 

Dr Canning added, “In considering the challenges of celebrating empowerment in play it is not only about placing children at the centre of the process, but the way in which young children are viewed as experts in their own play. 

I just want children to have choices, be confident to make those choices and be able to change their mind if they want to.” 

A free webinar is being held on 17 January to launch the framework. 

More information about the framework can be found on the Rights in Play website. 

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