Inspiring Early Years across the UK: a reflection on the May 2022 National Conference

Cathy Nutbrown, President of Early Education

The twelve sessions of the May Annual National Conference 2022 left me reflecting on a strong thread which I felt wove, in different ways, through every contribution. I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts here.

Slowing down is very important, slowing down and being patient. These are necessary conditions for high quality play, where children are trusted to make their own play using the space, time and open-ended materials that practitioners have provided. When play and children’s capacity for play is properly respected as central to children’s living and learning, it can look messy and chaotic. It’s not always easy to know what is happening as children move things, build, talk together, change their minds, try something else – and that is why the patience of skilled practitioners, and of parents, is so important. 

It is also why play pedagogy must be fully understood by inspectors of schools and preschools; understanding that what is happening in play is not always immediately apparent, but what can be seen are the ways children are involved; cooperating, challenging, problem-solving, talking, moving, testing and re-creating. Considerations around play point to a need to be patient, to trust, and to allow children to develop their own play in the company of tuned-in adults who observe, and sensitively engage with children as part of the flow of play.

Such patience applies to working intergenerationally, to the initial training of early years students, to work with the very youngest children, to work with parents. Students, parents, practitioners, older generations and the youngest children all – in their different ways – need time to be, to interact and to think. Time and patience are important in recognising the uniqueness of every child, and resisting the rush to ensure that children meet particular targets at a given point, even though this is often counter-productive. 

Many difficulties can be eased if we just slow a little. Play pedagogy requires patience, holistic development requires patience, gardening with children requires patience. We all need to appreciate the benefits in work with children, of slowing down, of being patient, of resisting the rush, of breathing, and of supporting development and thinking.   There are times when some children need extra help, and there are many ways to do this sensitively, and patiently. In this era of “catching up” we need to remember that catching up for something missed, can be a slow process, not a quick fix.

So, at the end of our conference I was left with the feeling that patience is crucial, for young children’s learning and for their practitioners. Perhaps we all need to slow down a little and be patient – except of course, for demanding policies which put an end to poverty, disadvantage and discrimination – there is no space for patience there.  Some things, of course, require the most urgent action.

Access to the recordings from the conference is available for £10 (members)/£20 (non-members). To register, please email us

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