24 January 2020
By The Early Years and Childcare Service

Cultural Capital in early years

"Every child has a spark inside them and it is our responsibility to ignite that spark."

Theorist Howard Gardner sums up cultural capital and cultural entitlement with this beautiful phrase.

There has been much written and discussed on the term ‘Cultural Capital’ since it was included in the new September 2019 Ofsted Education Inspection Framework.

But what does it mean and what does it look like in practice?

Theorist Pierre Bourdieu described it as how an individual is defined by their own particular assets, background and social class. This may include individual tastes, mannerisms, material belongings, hobbies, levels of education to name but a few. For our young children this may include their family make up and extended family, how many siblings they have or whether they live in the country or a city. There may be key cultural factors that differ greatly from a rural setting in the North of England, as opposed to an urban setting in London.

As we already know, each of our minded children are unique and when we plan their next steps we acknowledge their individuality and their interests. During our interactions with children we should always be aiming to inspire, energise and help children to experience the ‘awe and wonder’ of the world. Giving our children learning experiences through all forms of teaching ensures that our children are prepared for future success so that they are ‘educated citizens’.

Cultural Capital in early years is entwined in all the areas of Learning and Development that are part of our everyday practice. The accumulation of capital begins as soon as a child is born. The greater the investment we can make towards a child’s learning and development, the more likely they are to be ready for the next stage. It is the role of the setting to help the children experience the awe and wonder of the world in which they live, through all areas of learning.

Consider the following reflective questions and comments to help you demonstrate that Cultural Capital is at the heart of your childcare practice:

  • What do you know about your children when they start at your setting? Did they have a normal birth, do they have siblings, are both parents based at home?
  • Were they born in the UK, do they speak other languages at home, do they have family members abroad?
  • What is their home setting like, could you consider a visit at home to be part of your settling process for new children?
  • Do the children have a garden at home, do they see flowers or vegetables growing?
  • How do you work in partnership with your parents to ensure that you have an excellent working knowledge of your minded child’s home life?
  • How do you help all children build the confidence and communication skills that they need to speak up for themselves and to grasp the opportunities that await them?

Where children bring knowledge of other cultures, and the ability to speak other languages, this is a form of cultural capital that merits acknowledgement and celebration. For instance, inviting family members in to tell stories in other community languages is a great way to support family involvement.

In considering how we can offer children further opportunities to enhance their Cultural Capital it is important to not do this as a ‘tokenistic’ approach. We must always remember that cultural capital is not a list of cultural activities to be ticked off – an approach that would neither deepen children’s understanding nor strengthen their language. It must be a child-centred approach that builds on each child’s individuality and uniqueness. Childminders are uniquely placed to be able to embrace cultural capital in their daily routines and activities. For example, do your children have experience of going to local buildings such as the library, museum or park? There are many activities that can be spread over several days to enable children to fully appreciate the experience. Could you consider any of the following:

Using your local post box to post a card, letter, picture, photo that the children have made to a family member.

Choosing a recipe idea together by looking at books or the internet, then going to the shop with pictures of the ingredients to buy them using ‘real money’ not a debit card!

Taking a slow walk in the local area and encouraging children to look for different objects – this could be anything from road signs to conkers to forms of transport or different buildings.

When planning trips and outings do you always consider how all ages can take part fully in the activities? How can children in buggies still be involved, motivated and challenged? What can they see, what can they learn from their environment?

As quoted by Hodding Carter, “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children, one is roots, the other is wings”

Childminders offer such a flexible and varied service that Cultural Capital is most likely already at the heart of much of your practice – even if you haven’t realised it!
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Bourdieu, Pierre. "The Forms of Capital" (1985), Handbook of Theory of Research for the Sociology of Education (1986) pp. 46–58

Hodding Carter. “Where main street meets the river”. (1953)

Howard Gardner - The importance of cultural capital