What is Cultural Capital in the Early Years?

Heather talks about cultural capital in line with EYFS

One of the key aims of the September 2019 Education Inspection Framework was a focus on how settings are using their curriculum to enhance experiences and learning through the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). This revised approach to the curriculum (what educators teach) included the term ‘Cultural Capital’ which is defined in the Ofsted Early Years Inspection Handbook, 2019, as:


‘The essential knowledge that children need to be educated citizens……. Cultural capital is the essential knowledge that children need to prepare them for their future success. It is about giving children the best possible start to their early education…. The curriculum should be used to enhance the experience and opportunity available to children, particularly the most disadvantaged…… some children arrive at an early years setting with different experiences from others, in their learning and play. What a setting does through the EYFS curriculum and interactions with educators potentially makes all the difference to children. It is the role of the setting to help children experience the awe and wonder of the world in which they live, through the seven areas of learning.’


Cultural Capital also sits within the Government’s intention to reduce social inequalities of which education is seen as being instrumental in realising this ambition. Cultural Capital is all about providing children with experiences and opportunities to help them progress and achieve success. It is about giving them everything they need for what comes next in their learning and development.


But what does this mean?


The term cultural capital is not new. It is a complex sociology theory by Bourdieu (1977), which involves the study of society, including relationships, social interactions, and culture. It is important to recognise that everyone has cultural capital – that is – knowledge, skills, and behaviours, and that these accumulate over time through many different experiences and opportunities. Cultural capital is understood to contribute to ‘getting on in life’ or ‘social status,’ i.e., being able to perform well in school, knowing how to talk in different social groups or societies, accessing higher education and being successful in work or a career. Through bestowing ‘education capital’ on children and families whose backgrounds are deemed disadvantaged there is a view this will increase their life chances – effectively creating a more equal playing field.



Valuing the cultures of children and families.


One of the four guiding principles of the Early Years is the Unique Child: ‘Every Child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured’ (EYFS, 2021).


At Beech Tree Childcare we are aware that children come to us having had different early life experiences than others based on their own personal circumstances. When children first enter Beech Tree Childcare, they bring with them their own unique cultural capital. Through conversations with parents/carers we get to know about the child’s experiences and interests, using these as a starting point to promote learning and development. Every child and family who joins our setting will have their own knowledge and experiences that will link to their culture and wider family. This might include languages, beliefs, traditions, cultural and family heritage, interests, travel, and work. Research shows that when children and families’ cultures are valued, both the child’s experience of learning and progress can benefit.

We are continually observing the children in their play to understand what every child needs and wants. As early years educators, we have a fundamental responsibility to understand what funds of knowledge children are bringing to their learning. Funds of knowledge are a cultural resource that we can use to help children make sense of their world. By providing learning experiences that relate to a child’s own unique social worlds, then we can respond meaningfully to their ongoing interests and inquiries. We use these opportunities to help expand their vocabulary, as well as encourage the development of their characteristics of effective learning. We learn about their current experiences and can then prompt them with new activities, understanding the things that excite, inspire, and motivate them to see and experience awe and wonder.


Some questions we ask ourselves are:

  • What opportunities have the children experienced?
  • Are there any areas that need further development?
  • What opportunities do we provide to cater to the children’s interests and needs?
  • How do we capture the children’s interests and develop new opportunities and activities for the children?
  • How do we decide what the children in our setting need to learn?
  • How do we encourage children to explore the world around them?
  • What do we do to promote exploration, awe, and wonder?

We build relationships with families to better understand the funds of knowledge that children are bringing with them. We do this through parent/carer partnership, family open mornings, coffee mornings, focus forms, open honest dialogue, and community events. We also make links with other settings, schools, and businesses in our community, and by inviting visitors into our setting.

Cultural capital cannot be separated from the home learning environment. Every home has cultural capital and diversity is celebrated. Howard Gardner (developmental phycologist) sums up cultural capital and cultural entitlement with the beautiful phrase that every child has a spark within them, and it is our responsibility, as adults, to ignite that spark. Our team of educators are trained to bring awe and wonder into children’s daily lives by using creativity and imagination. Through extending language, the arts and crafts, music, singing, poetry, drama, film making, food, visitors, science, role play…….; all daily activities with which a stretch and a twist can open a new world for the children. All the time teaching the seven areas of learning through the characteristics of effective learning.


At Beech Tree Childcare understanding a child’s cultural capital is central to our curriculum and pedagogy. Our team of educators are always learning and as part of their continuous development are given the opportunities for professional days within other settings. They will be spending some days over the summer at a nursery set within an area of high deprivation to continue to build their understanding and knowledge of others’ cultural capital and the skills they can learn to support the children at Beech Tree Childcare.

We are located at:

Beech Tree Childcare

Roundstone Lane (within the grounds of Worthing Rugby Club)


West Sussex

BN16 4AX


Opening Hours:

Mon-Fri 07:30-18:30


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