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Refocussing on the ‘Unique Child’ in early years education

date March 21, 2023Dr Sue Allingham


The EYFS Statutory Framework in England gives us four Overarching Principles, the first of which is The Unique Child.  This is an interesting concept – how does this actually manifest itself?  What does being ‘unique’ mean and what does it look like?  How often is the child seen as an individual?  How do we know? Why does it matter?

What does being ‘unique’ mean and what does it look like? 

In a piece entitled Your Image of the Child: Where Teaching Begins, Loris Malaguzzi writes –

The environment you construct around you and the children also reflects this image you have about the child. There’s a difference between the environment that you are able to build based on a preconceived image of the child and the environment that you can build that is based on the child you see in front of you — the relationship you build with the child, the games you play.

This is a powerful statement, and I have deliberately highlighted ‘preconceived image’.  A few years ago I was visiting a school where a very profound thing was said to me by a child.  In response to me saying, ‘Look, lots of little people’ when I saw the line of children coming back from lunch, he looked up at me and said ‘We aren’t little people, we are children’.  This was a real penny drop moment for me as the boy was quite right.  Children are so often othered, and this is particularly the case for the youngest.  Unfortunately it is all too easy to overlook that children have agency, ideas, opinions, thoughts, views, worries, fears – the list is endless.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child enshrines this thinking –

Article 12 (respect for the views of the child)

Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously. This right applies at all times, for example during immigration proceedings, housing decisions or the child’s day-to-day home life.

Article 13 (freedom of expression)

Every child must be free to express their thoughts and opinions and to access all kinds of information, as long as it is within the law.

Article 29 (goals of education)

Education must develop every child’s personality, talents and abilities to the full. It must encourage the child’s respect for human rights, as well as respect for their parents, their own and other cultures, and the environment.


young children

What factors do we need to consider?  There is a great deal to reflect on here, and it involves everyone who forms part of the Early Childhood environment – both emotionally and physically.  And it is important that we do, as it is easy to overlook the unique child.  In this way it is useful to use these three questions as a reflective framework –

  • What?
  • Why?
  • How?

And then apply them to the core elements of our work.  For example –

  • People
    • This means everybody we work with, or who has an impact on our work, particularly the children and families
  • Places
    • This means the environment around our setting, and where the children live.  It is also about our places and the affect they have on us
  • Practice
    • There are so many influences on our practice now.  Social media and popular websites have a great deal to answer for these days
  • Provision
    • This is a similar point to the last one, as there are so many companies and people that want to tell us what is best for our children
  • Pedagogy
    • This is at the heart of the matter.  A pedagogical approach is one that is well informed and based on authenticity – the art of what we do that is informed by the children

The unique child is the centre of the process.  Or should be.

Don’t miss Dr Sue’s live #KinderlyWebinar on this important topic coming up on 5th April.  Click HERE to book.


Sue Alingham webinar

About the author

Dr Sue Allingham headshot

Dr Sue Allingham started her career as a teacher and an Early Years Lead before becoming a Local Authority Early Years Adviser. Moving into research, Sue gained an MA then a Doctorate, both in Early Childhood Education. She is now an Independent Consultant, Author and Trainer, with publications on Transitions in the Early Years and Emotional Literacy in the Early Years.