In 1989, all of our thinking became more focused when we linked up with the anti-bias movement and met Louise Derman-Sparks at a conference in London.
Her book, ‘The Anti-Bias Curriculum – Tools for Empowering Young Children’ was the catalyst for the Early Childhood Project, proving that education really is instrumental in bringing about change.
In the book Louise states that:
“Young children are aware that color, language, gender and physical ability are connected to privilege and power. Racism and sexism have a profound influence on children’s developing sense of self and others. This book can be used to help young children develop anti-bias attitudes, learn to think critically, and speak up when they believe something is unfair.”
The term anti-bias is used to denote an active approach to challenging prejudice, stereotyping, bias and the “isms”, working both with young children and with their parents and carers.
We chose anti-bias as it strives to present all possible sides whilst a multi-cultural approach can get trapped as tokenistic, stereotypical and perpetuating a tourist approach to culture.
The anti-bias curriculum, recognised both the formal curriculum which is the resources and educational content, and the hidden curriculum which encompasses all the values passed on by teachers and educators and the culture in the pre-school.
Since the Toy Library began, we have carefully chosen books, games, toys, dolls puppets and other resources which reflect children and adults positively, upholding the anti-bias ethos.
To further our anti-bias work, we set up our Gender Issues Group in 1991 for those interested to meet and discuss gender issues in children’s lives. Our Top Ten Gender Issues Books in 1998 became a very influential book list in county and city libraries. The gender group continues as the Jill and Jack Group.
In 1994 we set up our Men Who Care support group for men working with and caring for young children. It came about when we supported a young male student who had been physically thrown out from his National Nursery Examination Board course nursery placements, just because he was a male in a nursery. He was totally isolated and had no one to support him. This led to us setting up a local group for dads and male workers, which met locally. We offered one to one telephone support and a regular newsletter.
After an interview appeared in Nursery World we were swamped with requests from men across the country telling us about the prejudice and discrimination they faced in the workplace as dads and carers when using services for families and children. We would also like to point out that Early Childhood Project first applied for a male worker in 1992…
We continue to maintain the importance of men in the lives of children and have links with The Fatherhood Institute and the local network supporting working with fathers. The Early Childhood Project had a key role in pushing for dads groups to open across the city which is now happening.
In 1991, hundreds of sudanese families, fled to Brighton and Hove as refugees. In response we set up the Sudanese Women and Children Group which took us into areas of work we could not have expected. We trained parents in early years practice and supported the Arabic speaking play workers in the crèche, a first for the city!
We worked with women and midwives to extend knowledge and understanding about female genital mutilation, which led to universal training for midwives across the city.
We initiated lots of ground breaking dual language work with SEAL, the service for speakers of English as an additional language, now EMAS, (Ethnic Minority Achievement Service) and we trained early years workers across the city to help break barriers and extend their inclusive practice.
Brighton Borough Council set up its Refugee Support Unit as a direct result of our action during this period.
MOSAIC, which now exists to empower Black, Asian and Mixed parentage families to combat racism and to support the development of positive cultural and racial identity, was founded by the Early Childhood Project to initially support the parents of mixed parentage children who had approached the Project seeking support. MOSAIC became an independent group two years later.
The Early Childhood Project became trailblazers once again when Clair Barnard and Judy Simon became founding Directors of Brighton & Hove Central Sure Start programme and were very pleased when Sure Start mainstreamed taking some of our ground breaking methods of work and ideas with it. We also helped pilot the Common Assessment Framework and we still represent the needs of families who are “hard to reach” at conferences, workshops, committees and meetings across the city.
Children’s Centre and Brighthelm
In 1998 we left the Brighthelm Centre and began to share office space with Brighton and Hove City Council Play Unit. During a period of intense transitioning for the City Council our Toy Library resources and office were moved ten times in seven years as we moved away from the Play Unit and lodged with the City Council’s Community Development Team. Whilst we have been housed with our council colleagues, we have remained an independent charity which gives us the intellectual freedom and constitutional right to maintain our own charitable aims and objectives.
In 2003, the Early Childhood Project took over the old and dilapidated Morley Street Family Centre, caretaking the building whilst the architects drew up the plans for what in 2005 became Tarner Childrens Centre. Our tenure kept the building safe, kept us housed and most importantly, enabled hundreds of adults to continue with their English and numeracy classes.
In May 2009, we raised funds for refurbishment of our room in the children’s centre and this has resulted in our wonderful dedicated Toy Library space alongside the office.