"It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so ..."
Part of the JABADAO Podcast #Episode1 for those of you who would rather read than listen ...
Let’s start with a question about equality and fairness. It’s a question about the milestones we use at the heart of everything.
Let Mark Twain introduce this one.
"It’s not what you know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so."
We have a set of milestones that are the holy grail. We measure everything against them. Plus - and this gets trickier - a set of what I’m going to call Acceptable Physical Behaviours, with capital letters, that act as a hidden undertow. These are largely unspoken norms, things that are taken for granted as the way children need to be in their bodies.
The milestones have essentially come down to us from the work of psychologists and paediatricians working in the USA in the 1920s. In 1928, based on 12,000 recordings, Arnold Gesell outlined a developmental schedule for babies from 3 to 30 months old. The children in those first studies belonged to families of ‘favourable socio-economic status, often with professional, skilled fathers in the NE of the USA.’
At the same time, psychologist Nancy Bayley began a project that would lead to the Scale of Infant Development. It’s widely used across the world - now in it's fourth incarnation it is the basis of the milestones which frame the EYFS. It tracked 60 babies born to relatively affluent families in Berkeley, California. The children were white, raised in English-speaking homes and were of above average socio-economic status.
You might see a theme building here.
When I trained, I was told that the milestones are what all children do the world over - regardless of culture. But I’m not sure that’s true. This set of milestones is born within one cultural perspective.
Now this is where it gets interesting. In 2010, the World Health Organization did a study designed to broaden research on motor development across the world - and they included people from Ghana, India, Norway, Oman and America in the study.
But they used the Bayley’s motor scale to underpin the study, which meant white, affluent American babies were the standard of comparison.
There have been updates, using children from a wider variety of backgrounds, and they conclude that the original list, the original map, still holds good. But we know - increasingly we know - that babies develop differently, depending on the values around them. Across the world culture - values - changes the way children develop. And certainly, the way they move … which in turn affects who they become.
Are the eyes which create the value system around physical development in the UK, in the EYFS, white Western and middle class eyes? Do the milestones frame an essentially white, western and middle class take on how physical development happens? We treat the list of milestones as if it is as a universal truth. But it’s a created list, a chosen list, rigorously developed of course through masses of careful thoughtful work by great researchers. No question. But that doesn’t get away from the fact that it is a chosen list - and it creates what we see and what we value. So these are very important choices. And who does the choosing matters.
The milestones are not a list of all developmental patterns. There are plenty more that haven’t made it on to the list. For instance we see crawling - and we think of it as a really big and important milestone. But there’s little sideways reach that babies do, when they’re lying on their belly, that is every bit as important for creating the foundations for future movement. We don’t have a name for it and we simply don’t see it.
There’s a lot of movement that babies and children do that's in the territory of wriggles and jiggles and fidgeting that is also really important. (At JABADAO we call this sensation driven-movement.) This isn't movement that is directed towards achieving a particular motor task, but, instead, it boosts a child’s sensory systems. It’s about creating body awareness from the inside. And these don’t get their own milestones.
But milestones don’t have to be just motor achievements. They could be sensory capacities as well. Different - but no less important.
Let’s be clear.
It’s not that rolling over, pushing up, sitting, walking and running aren’t important. They absolutely are. But there’s some other things that might be important too. Some things that children are busy getting on with, but which go under the adult radar. Things that happen under our noses, over and over, but because they aren’t on the list they are invisible.
When we teach courses here at JAB we introduce practitioners to a much wider range of developmental movement patterns; and so often they say "O I see that all the time I just didn't know it was important".
Wouldn’t it be interesting to think more widely about that list of milestones - from a wide cultural perspective. To have different eyes identifying what goes on the list. Wide thinking about how bodies become ...
We're hearing from people who are interested in getting involved - from across the world.
And we'll create some possibilities for conversation.
If you'd like to get involved - or you know people who are further down this line than us - let us know. We so ready to question and learn ..