Changing the Conversation on Early Childhood: New Report Released
Communicating is complex. Often what we say is different from what is understood.
To understand how we can communicate effectively, we need to understand culture. Cultivating Nature: Mapping the Gaps Between Expert and Public Understanding of Early Development in Australia investigates cultural models in Australia around early childhood development and learning. Cultural models are shared patterns of thinking that are used to interpret, organise and make meaning about a given topic.
Cultivating Nature has been released by CoLab as a key plank of its Core Story, helping us understand the challenges we’re up against when communicating on early childhood development and learning. The report, completed by US think tank the FrameWorks Institute, explores public thinking across the six topic areas of the Core Story for Early Childhood Development and Learning;
The foundational importance of the early years
‘Early’ = really early (including pregnancy)
Context matters: children's environments shape development; and poverty, disadvantage, and inequity are important dimensions of context
Parenting as a skill that requires support
Social emotional development/child mental health
The science of play.
The report maps the terrain of public thinking about early development to understand how public thinking overlaps with and differs from the thinking of experts in this area. By identifying these patterns in public thinking, the report highlights the challenges for communicators looking to translate the expert understanding of early development.
The report found some of these ways of thinking to be productive, such as the way the public understands the significance of play to children’s development.
Play helps people understand the role of children in their own development. The trial and error cultural model helps people think about the role of parents and caregivers in productive ways, and how interactions support development.
But there are pieces of the puzzle missing from public thinking, such as the role of parents and environments in facilitating play, as well as an understanding of which skills develop through play.
Some of these ways of thinking are deeply unproductive.
The public frequently views children’s worlds as fundamentally distinct from the world of adults. They see childhood as an idealised world that should be ‘unpolluted’ from the stresses and complexities of adult life - a child’s focus should be fun and happiness. This thinking inhibits understanding of the experience of stress in early childhood and creates resistance to interventions in early childhood. This idealised world model of childhood relies on a belief of a natural process that prevents people from understanding how environments affect development.
The public see language as a prerequisite for a child to start experiencing emotions and mental states. People struggle to engage with the concept of mental health in the early years, especially in infancy. This leads people to think that mental health and emotional development requires basic language abilities. This thinking inhibits the understanding of emotional experiences of infants and young children, making it hard for people to see the early years as an important window of mental and emotional development.
This map of cultural understandings provides communicators with a critical resource, allowing them to avoid activating unproductive ways of thinking, build understanding of key concepts, and frame messages in ways that effectively communicate ideas.
The next phase of the research agenda is dedicated to designing and testing metaphors and frames to address the primary targets identified in the Mapping the Gaps Report. The Core Story for Early Childhood Development and Learning Toolkit, to support the communication practices of organisations in Australia, will be released in 2020.