Asmt 4

Option A: Personal Philosophy

Using the course readings as a guide, write a 8-10-page paper (including References) stating your theoretically grounded personal philosophical approach to early childhood education and care. Provide specific examples to illustrate how you as might apply your philosophy to practice as an early year’s educator, leader or advocate. The work must be grounded in the course content and include direct connections and reference to the course readings and related literature that you have independently researched. Please ensure that your thoughts are organized, concise and employ Times New Roman font, size 12, double spacing with American Psychological Association (APA 7th edition) formatting.

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Option B: Literature Review

Choose a topic covered in this course that is of particular interest to you. Research and choose a selection of academic writing on your chosen topic (for example, 3-4 journal articles). Write a 8-10-page literature review (including References) that is grounded in your chosen topic and that includes: 

· A brief summary of each chosen reading (connecting the readings by topics and authors, and linking one sub-topic to the next);

· A final summary that synthesizes all the research messages, and;

· A short concluding section that offers your own, grounded perspectives on the topic.

In this paper, pay direct attention to the concise and sequential presentation of the material while also ensuring that writing is in Times New Roman font, size 12, double spacing with American Psychological Association (APA 7th) formatting. Please ensure that you add three main headers (Introduction, Literature Review and Conclusions) and a Reference list with citations matching your references.

For Options A or B

· Check with the instructor regarding the topic/books or references proposed

· Please ensure that your thoughts are organized clearly and concisely

· Employ Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri font, size 12, double spacing, first line indent for paragraphsand hanging indents for references following American Psychological Association (APA 7th) formatting

· UBC Library has REFWORKS for all students for free ( to an external site.

) – do make use of this excellent database for your references!

V o l u m e 3 3 N u m b e r 2 J u n e 2 0 0 8 33

Outdoor play
Does avoiding the risks reduce the benefits?

helen little
shirley Wyver
Institute of Early Childhood, Macquarie University

AlthOuGh thE tErM ‘risk-tAkiNG’ often has negative connotations, the reality is
that the willingness to engage in some risky activities provides opportunities to learn
new skills, try new behaviours and ultimately reach our potential. Challenge and risk,
in particular during outdoor play, allows children to test the limits of their physical,
intellectual and social development. This paper examines the current status of outdoor
play in urbanised, Western societies such as Australia and provides a critical analysis
of the literature to present an argument for the inclusion of positive risk-taking
experiences in children’s outdoor play, principally in the context of early childhood
education. The increasingly restrictive regulation of early childhood services is
considered in terms of the impact of risk avoidance in outdoor play for children’s optimal
growth and development. Finally, a model of possible developmental outcomes resulting
from the minimisation of risk-taking in early childhood contexts is proposed.

WithiN thE EArlY ChilDhOOD field, play has
long been acknowledged as an important context
for children’s learning and development. Play is a
significant aspect of their lives, reflecting their social
and cultural contexts. Consequently, changes within
these contexts impact on both the nature and quality
of children’s play experiences.

This paper aims to examine outdoor play in the light of
social and environmental factors that have impacted on
children’s play experiences, particularly in urban Western
culture. It provides a review of the literature since 1990,
drawing on findings from a range of disciplines. It is argued
that stimulating and challenging experiences involving
physical risk are an important and necessary aspect of
children’s healthy growth and development; yet social,
institutional and educational factors apply implicit and explicit
pressure on early childhood staff to eliminate or minimise
experiences involving physical risk. The reviewed literature
was accessed through electronic databases (EBSCO, OVID,
Science Direct) and includes empirical research and other
scholarly sources such as practitioner viewpoints to provide
a comprehensive discussion of the relevant issues. The
significant role of early childhood education settings and
practitioners in supporting opportunities for well-managed
risks in the context of stimulating and challenging outdoor
play provision is considered.

Value of play

There has been considerable research documenting the
vital role of play in fostering optimal growth, learning and
development across all domains—physical, cognitive,
social, emotional—throughout childhood (Fisher, 1992;
Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002; Stine, 1997). Play provides
a vehicle for children to both develop and demonstrate
knowledge, skills, concepts and dispositions (Dempsey
& Frost 1993; Isenberg & Quisenberry, 2002).

Play provides a non-threatening context for children to
learn about their world and gain skills necessary for
adult life (Bjorklund, 1997; Bruner, 1972). Through their
interactions with the environment during play, children
gain control and ultimately mastery over their bodies with
the development of a range of manipulative and motor
skills. They learn new skills and concepts, discover the
world, and learn about themselves and others through
their interactions in a variety of social situations. Play also
facilitates language development, creative thinking and
problem-solving, and helps children deal with complex
and competing emotions (Dempsey & Frost 1993; Wyver
& Spence, 1999; Zeece & Graul, 1993).

Furthermore, children today are growing up in an era
of increasing emphasis on academic achievement and
the significance of the early years for learning. Recent

A u s t r a l i a n J o u r n a l o f E a r l y C h i l d h o o d34

contributions from brain research have provided much
support for the early years as a period for optimising
learning across all areas. Children’s early experiences
and interactions, including those during play, affect
the way the brain develops and helps shape its
structures (Shore, 1997). Within this research there
is an acknowledgment of the importance of play as
a ‘scaffold for development, a vehicle for increasing
neural structures, and a means by which all children
practice skills they will need in later life’ (Isenberg &
Quisenberry, 2002, p. 33).

Play has traditionally been the foundation of good
practice in early childhood education. While current
practice makes no distinction between play and other
experiences that foster children’s learning, open-ended
child-directed play opportunities in a rich environment
are still seen as a very important and integral part of
early childhood education practice (Stonehouse, 2001).

The significance of play as an essential part of every child’s
life has also been acknowledged by the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 31 supports
a child’s right to rest and leisure, and to participate in play
and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the
child (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights, 1990). Yet recent decades have seen
a steady decline in children’s opportunities for play, and
particularly outdoor play (Rivkin, 1995).

Pellegrini and Bjorklund (2004) argue that, while the
lifestyle of most Western middle-class children offers
safety, it also involves large amounts of time in formal
schooling, structured play activities and television
viewing, all of which lead to changes in the amount and
quality of play children engage in. Although Pellegrini
and Bjorklund argue that these changes may have
subtle impacts on children’s development, it is equally
plausible that the changes are profound and negative—
if not for all children, at least for some subgroups.

Current status of outdoor play

In a constantly evolving world, social and environmental
factors have greatly impacted on children’s opportunities
for outdoor play. Where once children may have spent
time playing in the street—riding bicycles, playing
chasing games and ball games or enjoying other
outdoor pastimes—increased traffic has made these
areas and play opportunities off-limits for children as the
dangers are far too great. Children are now confined
to backyards or local parks for relatively safe places
to play. Yet even these are changing. With growing
populations, the increased demand for housing in many
areas, particularly urban areas, is eroding children’s play
spaces. Housing blocks are becoming smaller and high-
density housing is becoming more prevalent. Combined
with decreased opportunities for parents to spend time

supervising and participating in their children’s play
because of increased work commitments, this situation
has resulted in greatly reduced prospects for children’s
engagement in outdoor play (Children’s Play Council,
2002; Rivkin, 1995).

Added to this, decreased outdoor play experiences
have been attributed to parental fears for their children’s
safety. A UK survey found that, while 91 per cent of
the adults questioned recognised the importance of
outdoor play, 60 per cent stated they were concerned
about the safety of their children when playing in
public places (McNeish & Roberts, 1995, cited in
Valentine & McKendrick, 1997). As a result, parents
place greater restrictions on children’s independent
activities. Their fears have contributed to a developing
trend towards overprotective parenting, whereby the
world is seen as an inherently dangerous place from
which children need to be sheltered (National Playing
Fields Association, Children’s Play Council & Playlink,
2000; Furedi, 2001). This concern for safety exists on
a number of levels, including issues related to safety
resulting from increased traffic and ‘stranger danger’
(Valentine & McKendrick, 1997) as well as those related
to injury sustained through the use of playground and
other equipment (bicycles, skateboards etc.). It is this
latter aspect that is of most relevance for this paper.

Parents have always been concerned for their children’s
safety and wellbeing, but an exaggeration of the risks
involved in many common childhood pursuits has
resulted in children being denied the opportunity to
engage in many worthwhile activities that facilitate
their learning and development (Furedi, 2001). Furedi
believes this perception of risk as something bad that
needs to be avoided is a recent phenomenon, whereas
once ‘taking risks was seen as a challenging aspect
of children’s lives’ (Furedi, 2001, p. 25). Risky play
activities are usually those that involve high levels of
physical activity, and Pellegrini and Smith (1998) argue
that parents are often ambivalent about their children’s
engagement in such activities. Potentially, it may not
be difficult to persuade parents to curtail children’s
pursuit of the more physical and risky aspects of play.
In reality, however, risk is a complex issue, one which
requires a consideration of the task, the risks involved,
the likelihood of success or failure in terms of one’s
abilities, and the severity of any negative outcomes
compared to the positive outcomes. What is important
is how these experiences are scaffolded to allow for the
gradual transfer of risk management to children. Through
exposure to carefully managed risks, children learn
sound judgement in assessing risks themselves, hence
building confidence, resilience and self-belief—qualities
that are important for their eventual independence
(Children’s Play Council, 2004).

Furthermore, a growing culture of litigation has resulted

V o l u m e 3 3 N u m b e r 2 J u n e 2 0 0 8 35

in the removal of playground equipment from many
public places and an increasing fear amongst non-
parental carers and educators that they will be held
liable for any injury (even minor) suffered by a child
while in their care (Children’s Play Council, 2004;
Department for Culture Media and Sport [DMCS], 2004;
New, Mardell & Robinson, 2005; Shepherd, 2004). New
et al. (2005) suggest that such concerns are seriously
impacting on early childhood educators’ capacity to
provide many worthwhile experiences that foster
children’s development and learning. ‘Whether out of
fears that children will actually come to serious harm
or, more likely, to avoid accusations of irresponsibility,
teachers now maintain constant supervision over
children’s activities even as they discourage or avoid
potentially “unsafe” activities’ (New et al., 2005, p. 4).
The problems with this response to safety and fear
of litigation are that physical play opportunities for
children become so sterile and unstimulating that
children may actually place themselves at greater risk
of injury as they seek to inject some excitement back
into the activity (DCMS, 2004). Such a response also
denies children the opportunity to learn about risk and
how to manage it in the real world of the communities
they live in (Shepherd, 2004). Furthermore, children
who conform and adopt more sedentary approaches
to play may be exposed to the more sinister risks of
chronic illness associated with reduced activity levels.
Experimental evidence with preschoolers (Smith &
Hagan, 1980) and children in the early school years
(Pellegrini & Davis, 1993) demonstrates that children
who have been deprived of physical activity for short
periods will, when given the opportunity, engage in
physical play that is much more intense and sustained.
This deprivation effect was found to be more profound
for boys than for girls and suggests that risk reduction
strategies that restrict physical play are likely to have a
direct impact on the quality of play.

Children naturally seek challenge and, despite the adult
concerns, engage in risk-taking as they expand their
world view, develop an understanding of themselves
and others, and endeavour to gain competency in
a vast range of skills (Children’s Play Council, 2004;
Stephenson, 2003). The significance of risk-taking in
fostering children’s learning and development in the
context of outdoor play experiences is further examined
in the following literature review.

learning and development in outdoor play

The outdoors, whether it be the natural environment
or playgrounds specifically designed for children, is the
ideal context to encourage children to be themselves,
to explore, to experiment, to move and make the most
of the opportunities offered in a less-restricted manner
(Henniger, 1994; Rivkin, 1995; Zeece & Graul, 1993). The

outdoors presents obvious opportunities to move and
be active, and for children to discover and engage with
the natural environment, as well as the chance for open-
ended activities such as sand and water play, construction
and pretend play. Furthermore, the openness and space
afforded by outdoor environments can provide a relatively
unrestricted and spontaneous context for facilitating peer
interactions (Frost, Shin & Jacobs, 1998).

While much of the learning that occurs during outdoor
play also occurs in other contexts, the space afforded
outdoors allows children to engage in more active
physical play than indoors (Stephenson, 1998, 2002).
Outdoor play provides opportunities for children to learn
and gain competence in a vast range of motor skills.
This is particularly important during the early childhood
years, a period hallmarked by significant development
across all domains. Outdoor play provides occasions for
children to develop and refine basic locomotor skills,
including walking, running, jumping, climbing, hopping,
skipping, sliding and tricycling; manipulative skills such
as throwing, catching, kicking, striking and bouncing;
and stability abilities including bending, stretching,
swinging, twisting and beam-walking (Gallahue, 1993;
Poest, Williams, Witt & Attwood, 1990). Children
need the space for active, spontaneous movement as
they consolidate and gain mastery over this range of
fundamental movement skills (Bilton, 2002; Gallahue,
1993), and it cannot be assumed that this space is
available in their home environment. As noted earlier,
there is a significant trend towards high-density living.

Movement is a central aspect of young children’s
lives and learning that impacts on all facets of their
development. As children grow, their capacity to interact
with and make sense of their environment is closely
linked to their developing movement capabilities.
Movement is the means through which children learn
about themselves and the world as well as the way
they gain greater competence and confidence (Bilton,
2002; Gallahue, 1993). Children not only experience
the joy of moving but also gain physical competence
and confidence that promotes a life-long participation
in physical activity and hence the enjoyment of the
benefits of an active healthy lifestyle (Hihiko, 2004).
This latter aspect is perhaps particularly pertinent in
considerations of obesity prevention. Fundamental
movement skills provide the foundation for the more
specialised skills used in games, sports, dance,
gymnastics and a range of other outdoor education and
recreation activities that children may become involved
in later in their lives (Gallahue & Ozmun, 1995; Hihiko,
2004). Research indicates that low skill level and low
movement competence are associated with reduced
physical activity and represent a major barrier to
children’s participation in sport (Hands & Martin, 2003).
Bouffard, Watkinson, Thompson, Dunn and Romanow
(1996, cited in Hands & Martin, 2003, p. 47–48) found that

A u s t r a l i a n J o u r n a l o f E a r l y C h i l d h o o d36

children with low motor competence were ‘vigorously
active less often, played less on large playground
equipment and spent less time interacting socially with
their peers’.

Thus not only is the acquisition of movement skills
important for children’s learning, but lack of confidence
and competence in performing these skills can be
detrimental for their social and emotional wellbeing.
Children who have low fundamental skill ability often
experience frustration when participating in sport or
dance activities, as they are unable to cope with the
complex combinations of movements. The inability
to fully participate in such activities can lead to lower
self-esteem, a tendency to have fewer friends, and
health problems in later life as a result of physical
inactivity (Hands & Martin, 2003; Poest, Williams, Witt
& Atwood, 1990). In addition, low skill ability and lack
of confidence can place children at greater risk of injury
(Sutterby & Frost, 2002). The above provides evidence
that reductions in physical play in order to minimise risk
actually presents children with longer-term and more
intractable risk exposure.

It is clear then that, in the preschool years, children benefit
from and indeed seek out opportunities for physical
outdoor play. Stephenson (1998) describes three types
of physical play that preschool children typically engage
in outdoors. First is play which might be described as
coaching, whereby children seek teachers’ assistance to
either learn specific physical skills or attempt a particular
physical activity. The second type of play combines
aspects of physical play and dramatic play—physical
activity incorporated with role-playing in dramatic play
episodes. Chasing games, such as ‘What’s the time, Mr
Wolf?’, are also included in this category. The third type of
play relates to the children’s obvious desire to physically
challenge themselves and extend their skills by ‘riding …
the bikes very fast, climbing around the outside of the fort,
running across the challenge course, swinging very high,
dangling off the edge of the fixed slide and dropping to the
ground’ (Stephenson, 1998, p. 127). Stephenson notes
that the children appeared acutely aware of their own
skill level and competence, and the aim of this type of
play was to test their own limits and display their physical
skills. At times they were focused on the task at hand
while at others they sought to display their skills, imploring
others, particularly the adults, to look at them. From these
examples, it is apparent that the children were engaging
in risk-taking behaviour as they endeavoured to learn new
skills and gain mastery over their motor abilities.

risk-taking in outdoor physical play

‘Outdoor play provides open-ended, dynamic, varied
opportunities which are unpredictable and at times risky.
However, the risks and challenges of being outdoors
provide rich opportunities for learning, problem-solving

and developing social competence’ (Greenfield, 2004,
p. 1). Children need the freedom to take risks in play
because it allows them to continually test the limits of
their physical, intellectual and emotional development
(Tranter, 2005).

Preschool children, in particular, enjoy seeking challenge
and testing their motor skills (Stephenson, 2003; Taylor
& Morris, 1996; Walsh, 1993). As Stephenson’s (1998)
observations of children’s play suggest, risk-taking is
an important and necessary part of outdoor physical
play. As Stine (1997, p. 29) asserts, ‘by taking risks, by
facing a challenge, we learn about our competence and
our limitations. Trying to exist in a world without some
measure of risk is not only impossible but inhibits our
lives and the child’s need for challenge’.

Henniger (1994) believes that the provision of healthy
risk-taking opportunities is a vital component of
quality outdoor play. Risky play opportunities introduce
excitement and challenge for children to test their skills
and try new activities. They gain mastery and a sense
of accomplishment, thus further encouraging them to
face new challenges. Furthermore, risk-taking has been
found to be positively related to self-confidence and
creative ability (Goodyear-Smith & Laidlaw, 1999).

Children’s physical risk-taking during outdoor play also has
implications for learning in other contexts. Stephenson
(1998) noted how teachers commented that children
who were confident physical risk-takers in the outdoor
environment were more likely to take risks during indoor
activities. In effect, they had developed what might be
termed a risk-taking disposition whereby they sought or
accepted challenges in both environments. Risk-taking
in both contexts is important for children’s learning and
development, but adult response varies remarkably.
The development of a risk-taking disposition in some
contexts is viewed as a positive attribute associated
with persistence in the face of difficulty and uncertainty.
This persistence has been described by Carr (1997, p. 10,
cited in Stephenson, 2003, p. 41) as ‘engaging with
uncertainty, being prepared to be wrong, risking making
a mistake—going on to learn’. However, where parents
and teachers accept and even encourage children to take
risks and challenge themselves mentally, physical risk is
more often seen as something negative and dangerous
and to be avoided.

The literature evaluated thus far has focused on the
benefits of providing opportunities for challenge and
hence risk. However, the discussion is not complete
without a consideration of the outcomes if children are
not given such opportunities. First, insufficient challenge
and novelty in the playground can lead to inappropriate
risk-taking as children seek thrills in a fearless manner
(Greenfield, 2003). This has links with sensation-seeking
as highlighted in the literature relating to risk-taking and
unintentional injury (see DiLillo, Potts & Himes, 1998;

V o l u m e 3 3 N u m b e r 2 J u n e 2 0 0 8 37

Kafry, 1982; Potts, Martinez & Dedmon, 1995), as well
as risk-compensation behaviour whereby individuals
are thought to engage in greater risky behaviour when
safety measures are applied to an activity (Pless &
Magdalinos, 2006). Second, children are more likely to
develop responsible attitudes toward risk if they have
experience dealing with risky situations (Barker, 2004).
If adults deny children opportunities for worthwhile,
positive risks, they also prevent children from developing
the decision-making skills necessary to make accurate
risk judgements. Children need to learn to take
calculated risks. This is difficult for children as their skill
level and growth are dynamic, unlike adults where these
factors are relatively stable. Finally, Goodyear-Smith and
Laidlaw (1999) argue that parents want their children
to be resilient, persistent, to develop problem-solving
skills and physical competence. They want them to be
confident and to be creative, independent thinkers; to
make appropriate decisions and take responsibility for
their own actions, not only in the physical environment
but across all aspects of their lives. From this it could
be argued that children need to engage in managed
risk-taking if these qualities are to be encouraged and

implications for early childhood education

The provision of opportunities for risk-taking in children’s
outdoor play does not mean that safety is ignored. Rather it
means that parents and teachers need to be acutely aware
of the hazards and take all necessary steps to ensure that
the environment is safe (Henniger, 1994), and to have
adequate staff ratios to support physical play (Lam, 2005).
Even within the injury prevention and playground safety
field there is an acknowledgement of the importance of
risk-taking during play. Mitchell, Cavanagh and Eager (2006,
p. 122) argue that ‘children should have opportunities to
explore and experiment in an environment that provides a
degree of managed risk’, because ultimately, no matter how
safe the play environment, it will fail in meeting its objective
if it is not attractive and exciting for children. Unfortunately,
the term risk-taking is usually interpreted with negative
connotations, with risk and hazard often being seen as
synonymous (Lupton & Tulloch, 2002). Greenfield (2003),
however, believes a distinction should be drawn between
these two terms; hazard is something the child does not
see, whereas risk relates to the child’s uncertainty about
being able to achieve the desired outcome, requiring a
choice whether to take the risk or not. Adults can mostly
see the hazards and endeavour to eliminate them. The
way is then clear for children to face the challenge and
accept the risk should they choose to do so. This also
involves providing adequate supervision and support and
being aware of those aspects of the child’s behaviour that
might contribute to serious injury, especially as a result of
inappropriate use of playground equipment.

Risk needs to be considered within a much broader
context. Tranter (2005) suggests that, when the risks
are considered against the benefits of letting children play
freely, the risks might include traffic danger, injury from
play equipment, injuries sustained from environmental
hazards such as broken glass or syringes, bullying
from older children and stranger danger. The benefits,
on the other hand, include fun, cognitive, emotional,
social and physical development, independence and
autonomy. In contrast, Tranter argues that not allowing
children to play freely and explore their environment
has a single benefit (safety) outweighed by multiple
risks—compromised development, decreased physical
exercise, increased obesity, limited spontaneous play
opportunities, lack of road sense in later years, and loss
of a sense of place and enjoyment.

Furthermore, what constitutes a negative or unwarranted
risk is very much subject to cultural interpretation (New
et al., 2005). Activities that many in Westernised urban
Australian culture might consider as inappropriate and
unwarranted risks are quite different from those of
many Indigenous Australians who view play as a survival
mechanism within which risk-taking is seen as an
important learning process, and thus acceptable in the
presence of adults and in accordance with predetermined
rules (Johns, 1999). These differences in attitudes towards
risk exist in other cultures as well, notably some of the
European and Scandinavian countries. In particular, New
et al. (2005, p. 3) refer to practices in Reggio Emilia, Italy,
which reflect teachers’ belief in children’s right to engage
in activities that test their developing motor and critical
thinking skills, adding that ‘children generally know when
they’ve gone far enough; they are careful because they
don’t want to get hurt’. The belief in the benefits to be
gained from participation in a wide range of physically
challenging (and perhaps risky) activities greatly outweighs
any concerns about potential litigation (New et al., 2005).
Similarly, in countries such as Norway where valuing the
natural environment is part of the culture (Fjortoft & Sageie,
2000), many early childhood settings provide children with
a vast array of experiences such as hiking, climbing trees
and water activities in natural outdoor environments. Such
practices might be considered unnecessarily risky in a
Westernised Australian context. Yet these experiences
provide children with a much deeper understanding of
their environment and of reality, as well as promoting
development in all areas, particularly motor fitness and
motor ability (Fjortoft, 2001; Fjortoft & Sageie, 2000), in a
far more interesting, stimulating and pleasurable context.

Greenfield (2003) believes that early childhood centres
are well-placed to provide children with positive risk-
taking opportunities that are not available to them in
other contexts. An environment free from hazard is
necessary to ensure that children can satisfy their
natural curiosity and desire for novelty and challenge,
and take risks without compromising their safety. This

A u s t r a l i a n J o u r n a l o f E a r l y C h i l d h o o d38

does not mean removing all the risks, but rather finding
the balance between those that foster learning and
those that can result in serious injury, and ensuring
appropriate supervision. It also means that the impact
of the outdoor environment on play should be monitored
closely. Current safety requirements operating within
the children’s services regulations rely on passive
strategies aimed at making the environment safer,
independent of the behaviour of those using it (Little,
2006). Often in early childhood, play is considered to
be a characteristic of the child rather than a relationship
between a child and their environment. Close attention
to the quality and quantity of play, especially physical
play, is one way of determining whether an appropriate
balance has been achieved. Such monitoring requires
a high level of practitioner skill; there are significant
developmental and individual variations in play that
need to be understood before assessments of play
quality and quantity can be made. The national Quality
Improvement and Accreditation System (QIAS) (National
Childcare Accreditation Council, 2005) asserts that staff
‘should have the skills to assess risk potential, based on
their knowledge of each child’ (p. 84), allowing them to
intervene to prevent harm when necessary while also
fostering ‘each child’s developing independence and
competence by supporting the child in some activities
that the child perceives as risk taking’ (p. 84).

The notion of finding the balance is central if children
are to have the opportunity to experience some risk in
their lives. This balance can be achieved when adults
respond sensitively to individual patterns of behaviour;
to accept and promote children’s ability to appraise and
manage risks, as well as their desire for challenge and
excitement in their play (DCMS, 2004; NCAC, 2005).

Yet, despite the benefits of providing challenging
physical play experiences that present children with
the opportunity to engage in some forms of risk-taking,
legislation and regulations in the early childhood sector
are becoming increasingly restrictive and prescriptive with
an overemphasis on risk management. These constraints
limit early childhood professionals’ capacity to use their
knowledge and experience to inform their practice (Fenech,
Sumsion & Goodfellow, 2006), resulting in the feeling
that they are no longer able to provide children with rich
and challenging play environments (Shepherd, 2004). The
recent study by Fenech et al. (2006) reveals that, while
early childhood teachers acknowledge the Regulations
and QIAS provide support for their practice, at times their
decision-making was adversely affected. In particular, the
overemphasis on risk within the Regulations was viewed
as detrimental to children’s learning and wellbeing, with
teachers making comments such as ‘I think we have to
provide a cotton wool environment’, ‘All the equipment
has become so supersafe that the children don’t have any

Figure 1. Possible pathways from the five main factors that lead to risk minimisation in early childhood play contexts

High child-
staff ratios


of benefits of

Poor outdoor

Fear of

of risk-

taking play

Reduction in
for child
chosen risk

Reduction in
physical play

to develop
skills in risk

Increase in
unsafe risk-

Change in
quality of
physical play

Reduction in

evaluation of
risk situations


Fewer benefits
from physical

motor skills

Risk of chronic
illness associated
with low levels
of activity

Figure 1. Possible pathways from the five main factors that lead to risk minimisation in early childhood
play contexts

V o l u m e 3 3 N u m b e r 2 J u n e 2 0 0 8 39

risk-taking activities’, and ‘we are so restricted by things
like safety … all of the time that it really restricts your
pedagogy’ (Fenech et al., 2006, p. 55). If children are to
continue to have access to and benefit from a wide range
of stimulating and challenging outdoor play experiences,
then a reconsideration of attitudes and approaches to
policy and practice in the early childhood education sector
is necessary.

Figure 1 shows pathways from the five main factors
that lead to minimisation of risk-taking in early childhood
contexts through to some of the developmental outcomes.
These pathways are supported by the literature reviewed
in this paper. It should be noted that these pathways have
been described on the basis of available evidence, and it
is likely that a much more complex picture will emerge
as researchers investigate more aspects of risk-taking in
early childhood settings. It should also be noted that, when
applied in practice, these pathways need to take account of
other factors in children’s lives that may make them more
vulnerable or resilient when engaged in early childhood
contexts in which there is significant risk minimisation (e.g.
child temperament, home environment).


Changing social and environmental contexts in recent
decades have impacted on children’s prospects for
outdoor play. Decreased spaces for physical play
combined with changing attitudes towards the risks
involved in some physical activities has brought
about changes in the quality of children’s outdoor play
experiences. Practitioners and researchers from diverse
disciplines are beginning to recognise the negative
impact such changes are having for children’s optimal
growth and development. This concern has led to
movement towards creating child-friendly communities
(Karsten & van Vliet, 2006; Tranter, 2005) and a call for
play providers to acknowledge children’s desire and need
for taking risks in their play by providing stimulating and
challenging environments that allow children to explore,
develop and master their abilities. The goal should be
to find ways of managing risk rather than seeking to
eliminate it. Supporting children’s physical play should
be the utmost consideration.

Thus, while safety issues need to be addressed,
avoiding all risk is not the solution, as doing so limits
children’s participation in worthwhile experiences that
promote their optimal health and development. On the
contrary, failure to provide children with stimulating and
challenging experiences through which they can engage
in positive risk-taking exposes them to different risks that
compromise their health and development. The ultimate
aim for parents, teachers and other play providers should
be to provide outdoor play environments where the risks
of serious injury are reduced, but creativity, challenge
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Neuroscience, Early Childhood Education and Play: We are Doing
it Right!

Stephen Rushton

Published online: 12 February 2011

� Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Abstract This editorial examines neuroscience and its

impact on the field of education. Starting with a narrative

between two young children, the author intertwines

research with basic principles of learning, using the inter-

action between two 4-year-olds to illustrate the precepts.

The four principles are: (1) the brain is uniquely organized;

(2) the brain is continually growing; (3) a ‘‘brain-compat-

ible’’ classroom enables connection of learning to positive

emotions; and (4) children’s brains need to be immersed in

real-life, hands-on, and meaningful learning experiences.

The editorial concludes with an illustration of how the

brain works while two children are playing at the small

animal center in their classroom.

Keywords Neuroscience � Play � Early childhood
education � Four principles

The Power of Emotions

Returning from our weekly Kindergarten swimming les-

sons, Alexandra was in a hurry to get to the classroom and

have her snack before launching into her hour of free

exploration. On her way, she passed a group of boys

enjoying their snack. They were engrossed in a deep con-

versation about dinosaurs. Alexandra’s backpack inad-

vertently knocked over Michael’s glass-lined thermos

container, a relic from the past. The inside shattered when

it hit the ground. Alexandra turned pale, became speech-

less, and was afraid to move. You could see the excitement

drain out of her. Michael, on the other hand, looked

fascinated as he held up the thermos and a trickling sound

rattled inside, somewhat akin to a modern-day rain-stick.

I watched Alexandra’s face turn red, consumed with

some internal sense of guilt. Nothing was said between the

two. A moment etched in time. Should I intervene? What

would I say? I stood motionless, waiting. Decisively,

Alexandra ran to the paint center, grabbed a long, thin

brush, dipped it in the black paint and started methodically

painting. She began at the top right corner and slowly,

deliberately, painted the paper one precise stroke at a time.

Until the once-white paper was covered in black paint.

Then she took a deep breath and let it all out as she gazed

toward her emotions displayed on the paper. A smile slowly

spread across her face. Placing the paint brush back in its

container, she sprang back into life, headed over to the

house center and started playing as though nothing had


(Junior Kindergarten, Ontario, Canada).


Many years have passed since I taught Kindergarten. And

yet the memory of watching Alexander’s shock at breaking

Michael’s thermos and the subsequent release of her

emotions through the painting etched a vivid memory

within my own neuro-pathways.

I often share this story with my pre-service students and

early childhood teachers, for a variety of reasons. Primar-

ily, it models part of the neuroscience of learning and how

fear can be aroused once the amygdala has been activated.

Alexandra saw the thermos fall and heard the glass interior

shatter. The sound waves and visual stimulation made their

way to her ears and eyes, and then deep into her brain to

Alexandra’s thalamus. The waves had been converted into

S. Rushton (&)
University of South Florida, Sarasota, FL 34243, USA



Early Childhood Educ J (2011) 39:89–94

DOI 10.1007/s10643-011-0447-z

an electro-chemical reaction, and at the thalamus, decisions

were made as to where to send the impulse next (Sylwester

2010). They headed to the parts of the brain that process

particular information; in this case, the occipital and tem-

poral lobes. There, through an exchange of chemicals in the

synaptic space between neurons, memories and informa-

tion were formed. At the same time that the thalamus sent

the incoming stimuli to the appropriate parts of the brain, it

sent the same signal to Alexandra’s amygdala, right next


This organ is critical as it sorts for danger in the envi-

ronment without consulting with the rational processes of

the frontal lobes (Rushton and Juola-Rushton in press;

Whalen and Phelps 2009). In Alexandra’s case, she saw the

thermos fall and heard the glass break, froze for a few

seconds, and turned a shade of red. A series of reactions

had taken place, and a release of neurotransmitters and

hormones had aroused her nervous system. Once her

frontal lobe caught up, Alexandra knew instinctively what

to do in order to release her anxieties. Through color and

movement of the brush, Alexandra relieved herself of what

could have been an overwhelming rupture of emotion.

A second reason I share this story with my teachers in

training is that this brief interchange between Michael and

Alexandra illustrates an important philosophy in early

childhood education: It is essential that we allow

young children to make their own decisions and choices.

Alexandra needed to integrate her emotional, physical, and

mental processes on her own terms. Giving her the freedom

to choose her next step was critical. She had an internal

sense of what she would need to do and decided that

painting a canvas black would help. Incidentally, all of

Alexandra’s paintings prior to this were of bright rainbows,

colorful homes, and her family.

I believe this narrative also helps to depict an important

aspect, and perhaps even a growing concern, for early

childhood educators. As teachers, we make hundreds of

decisions daily. Knowing when to step in, take over, wait,

model, and lead is a balancing act that requires much skill.

How much freedom do we give? When do we intervene in

the course of a child’s learning? And now standardized

testing has made its way down to 1st-grade classrooms. As

a result, Kindergarten classes become the training grounds

for success in 1st grade, and not necessarily a place where

children can explore, grow, and learn at their own pace.

What is our role as educators in this new world of stan-

dardized education? This editorial will review and address

some of these important questions from the perspective of

brain-based education and a constructivist lens.

We live in uncertain times. Once again, the field of early

childhood education balances between two contrasting

educational and political perspectives. On the one hand, we

have educators such as Otto Weininger, professor emeritus

in the Early Childhood Education Department at OISE/UT,

whose now-eloquent expression—‘‘You can’t make chil-

dren grow faster by pushing them, just as you can’t make

flowers grow faster by pulling them’’—depicts the essence

of a constructivist’s philosophical belief that young children

need to unfold at their own developmental pace. Con-

structivism is practiced by those early childhood educators

who subscribe to the tenets of developmentally appropri-

ate practices (Bredekamp and Copple 1987; Copple and

Bredekamp 2010), brain-based research (Rushton et al.

2009; Sylwester 2010), and multiple intelligences (Gardner


Juxtaposed to constructivism as a way of teaching our

young are educators who believe in a more traditional,

teacher-led approach to education. Many of these educators

are guided by the political pressure for standardized testing.

Accountability and setting measurable standards are fast

becoming just as synonymous with early childhood as the

concept of developmentally appropriate practices (Schiller

and Willis 2008). An emotional dissonance is rising in

early childhood educators as they balance the two. Funding

is directly linked to testing, and in some states this begins

as early as pre-Kindergarten (Golan et al. 2008). This new

wave has been emerging in our educational arena for nearly

a decade. It is driving the belief that all children need to be

on the same page at the same time. Beginning with the

1983 report A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educa-

tional Reform (National Commission on Excellence in

Education 1983) to various Commission Reports during the

1990s, to the most influential initiative, the No Child Left

Behind Act of 2001, early childhood educators have been

contending with political pressure and struggling to bal-

ance assessment with best practices (Rushton and Juola-

Rushton 2008).

Indeed, today’s children certainly face a world that is

unique, fast-paced, and accelerating at a level that never

existed before. Information on the Internet is in competi-

tion with, and in many cases outperforming, classroom

instruction, not only in terms of the availability of infor-

mation but the exponential rate at which it changes. Young

children’s exposure to playing games and picking up

misinformation via the Internet is a novel concept in the

world of teaching, one that needs addressing. When com-

pared to a teacher, the artificial world created by interac-

tive, high-definition video games such as Xboxes, Wiis,

and PS3s can be far more enticing. Wolfe (2007) states that

every 2 years, approximately half of what we know could

be obsolete, which begs the questions, what are we

teaching, and why?

Clearly, times changed when the industrial age shifted to

the information era. Our way of thinking and the neuro-

pathways of our young are also changing (Diamond and

Hopson 1999). It has become clear that educators need not

90 Early Childhood Educ J (2011) 39:89–94


only to help children to do well in school but also—and

more importantly—to help children survive in a world we

ourselves cannot truly comprehend, see, or even imagine

(Wolfe 2007). It is our task as early childhood educators to

help today’s children learn to analyze, synthesize, and

clarify information, not simply recite facts and figures from

the past. Never before in the history of early childhood

education in the U.S. has this truth been so realized as we

move into a new political era. We are in a time of

embracing and understanding the heart of the whole child.

Research to Support Early Childhood Educators’

Approach to Teaching

Research during the past decade provides a clear road map of

how best to accomplish the difficult task of balancing

assessment (Jones et al. 2007) to standardized out-

comes (Drew et al. 2008) with best practices (Copple and

Bredekamp 2010). With the exciting convergence of studies

from the fields of neuroscience (Diamond and Hopson 1999;

Friederici 2006; Nelson et al. 2006; Sylwester 2010) and

cognitive psychology (Gardner 1993), educators (Bergen

and Coscia 2001; Gallagher 2005; Rushton et al. 2009; and

Rushton and Juola-Rushton in press) are now making

important links to help early childhood educators stay true to

their training and knowledge about hands-on, developmen-

tally appropriate experiences that allow young children to

learn best.

In their paper titled Shaping the learning environment:

Connecting developmentally appropriate practices to brain

research, Rushton and Larkin (2001) connected nine of the

12 DAP position statements as outlined in Bredekamp and

Copple’s (1987) initial paper to nine brain-based principles

gathered from the literature in the field. Our intent was to

help teachers connect the importance of developing strong

curricular components that immerse children’s experiences

in real-life situations, allowing the child’s natural curiosity

to develop. At that time, we had hoped to draw parallels

between how the cognitive processes of the brain work and

the ties to early childhood. Fortunately, many teachers of

young children are working toward developing the brain’s

natural way of learning when they listen and interact with

the child. The opening narrative illustrates how the child’s

emotional, intellectual and physical domains naturally

integrate by providing room for their own self-discovery.

Many teachers are becoming knowledgeable about the

neurosciences, are well versed in DAP, and create engag-

ing, meaningful experiences for their children to explore,

assess, and learn. It is through these exciting yet compli-

cated times that early childhood educators can deepen their

educational pedagogy without childhood needs being


Similarly, positive, stimulating environments where

young children are free to select their own learning help to

reduce stress in the classroom and allow for great flexibility

and creativity. Millions of neuro-pathways are readily

forming and connecting within the child’s brain. These

connections will support children throughout their entire

lives. In addition, the use of play as a form of learning,

when left open-ended, is congruent with individual dif-

ferences. Each brain’s structure is designed to process

information uniquely, much like Michael and Alexandria

taught us in the opening vignette. Playful learning allows

for individual differences and mastery to occur.

Finally, the child’s ‘mirror neurons’ reflect their external

world. Research (Iacoboni et al. 2005) suggests that a

positive, enthusiastic teacher sends signals to the child’s

mirror neurons, which, in turn, can impact how they

receive the learning objectives being delivered. How we

present not only ourselves, but also the phenomenal jour-

ney of learning, is critical to the child’s emotional devel-

opment. It would be amazing if we could support children

in such an open, engaging environment that they don’t

want to leave when the school day ends.

In 2007, Pat Wolfe, an educational consultant and expert

on brain research, suggested that the bridge between the field

of neuroscience research and education is not the job of

neuroscientists, but instead, that of educators. It is easy to

become overwhelmed with the language that is often asso-

ciated with neuroscience. Such neurological terms as

occipital and parietal lobes, amygdala, thalamus, neurons,

dendrites, neurotransmitters, etc., may be difficult to put into

the context of a Kindergarten classroom. The idea that a

connection exists between the firing of an electro-bio-

chemical synaptic reaction taking place between neurons in a

4-year-old’s brain, which may release neurotransmitters

such as dopamine or serotonin, and the child’s ability to stay

focused and learn is a stretch for most of us. Comfortable

with the terminology or not, it is our responsibility as early

childhood educators to understand that every child each

school year represents a virtual explosion of dendritic

growth. We are so fortunate to be in a profession where we

can create learning opportunities to best support young

children’s development and their biological wiring, so let’s

start there.

Brain Principles

Leslie Hart (1983, p. 21) states, ‘‘Anyone who does not

have a thorough, holistic grasp of the brain’s architecture,

purposes, and main ways of operating is as far behind the

times as an automobile designer without a full under-

standing of engines.’’ With this in mind, here are the four

basic principles of brain-based learning and applications, to

Early Childhood Educ J (2011) 39:89–94 91


help you get to know ‘the engines’ you mold each day. It is

our belief that many ECEs are already skilled and armed

with the knowledge of what best practices are. It is also our

belief that any developmentally appropriate program

focuses on the ‘whole child’; that is, it comes from a stance

of how can we best touch the mental, emotional, social, and

physical life of the young child. As such, it is already

involved in practices that are brain-compatible and reflects

the four principles that follow.

Principle Number One

Every brain is uniquely organized. It’s easy to focus on the

children in your class who are the most persistent. We all

know the old adage, ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease.’

Remember, each child’s brain thinks, feels and learns differ-

ently. By providing skills-leveled materials, those students

who are below, average, and above can not only celebrate

successes, but also maximize their development to venture on

to more complex tasks. For example, when reviewing the

objective of a child’s becoming secure in their alphabet

awareness, we would require a variety of materials to support

this goal. We would stock the writing area with various

materials, based on the students’ developmental needs, such as

sandpaper letters for finger tracing, sand trays for letter

scrolling, paints, brushes, and jumbo pencils for scribing.

Principle Number Two

The brain is continually growing, changing and adapting to

the environment. Intelligence is not fixed at birth but

fluctuates throughout life, depending upon the stimulation

of the environment, hormonal levels and other chemical

reactions taking place throughout the body. The fact that

children today spend more time in school than with their

primary caregivers requires educators to be far more dili-

gent about the environments they are creating. During the

first 5 years of a child’s life, billions of neurons are being

connected, depending upon the stimulus of the environ-

ment (Miller and Cummings 2007). Each day we greet our

students with a warm welcome, encourage them as indi-

viduals, provide personal challenges, involve them in the

development of the classroom environment, and support

individual differences. Educators are aware of the changes

that take place in children from day to day, month to

month. Many of these changes are biologically driven and

unique from child to child. Our job is to notice, accept, and

modify the curriculum to each student.

Principle Number Three

A ‘brain-compatible’ classroom enables connection of

learning to positive emotions. The most naturalistic way for

this to occur is by allowing students to make relevant

decisions and choices about their learning. I am not sug-

gesting we give full rein and see what happens. Instead, our

curriculum objectives are set as a target and our preparation

to meet these targets requires thought and understanding of

each child’s strength and weaknesses. Ultimately, it is the

students who guide the learning and we, the facilitators,

course-correct along the way. Given that each child’s brain

is unique and varying levels of individuality exist, it takes a

special educator to not want to force each child into a lock-

step curriculum. Different levels of neurochemicals create

different emotions. Too much of one chemical, or too little,

(say, either dopamine or serotonin) will impact the child’s

mood and therefore their ability to want to learn or simply


The Fourth Brain Principle

Children’s brains need to be immersed in real life, hands-

on, and meaningful learning experiences that are inter-

twined with a commonality and require some form of

problem-solving. Visiting early childhood classrooms and

seeing the children interacting with their world is an

exciting endeavor. When we approach the classroom

environments, the teachers who continue with a small

group as if no one is there, lost in the exploration of shapes

with straight or curved edges, speak volumes. Equally

communicative are, the children who question or invite us

into their learning adventures, talking us through it the

whole way. These are the developments of critical thinking

that reach the core of dendritic growth.

Either you recognize yourself within some of these simple

principles provided above, or you now have a definitive

direction for your teaching. We realize that there is a lot to the

brain lingo (dendrites, synapses, neurons, etc.). We encour-

age you to stretch yourself a bit and actually see if you can get

inside the heads of your students.

Brief Overview of the Brain’s Mechanism

In short, each experience a young child has typically

involves one or more of their senses. As the child interacts

with the environment, various stimuli enter the body via

the five senses. These experiences are then converted into

electrical/chemical impulses that travel, via nerves impul-

ses, to the thalamus – an almond-shaped organ in the center

of the brain. This important organ assigns the incoming

stimuli to one of the four lobes (occipital, temporal, pari-

etal and pre-frontal) or the motor cortex part of the brain

for further processing.

For instance, imagine two children who are playing with

different toy animals and are classifying them into types

92 Early Childhood Educ J (2011) 39:89–94


(wild, farm, pets). Both children are using numerous por-

tions of their brains at once, all very similar, yet different

neuro-pathways are used in different sequence to get to the

same result. To begin with, picture the two students sub-

dividing the animals into ‘farm animals,’ ‘predatory ani-

mals’ and ‘house pets’. Light rays enter the eyes’ pupils,

convert to an electro-chemical impulse behind the retina,

and follow neurons to the thalamus, which sends the signal

to the occipital lobe’s millions of cells, each one designed

for a specific task. Some cells help determine the different

shapes of the animals, others the various colors, and some

help sort the varying shades of a particular color. As the

children pick up the different animals and classify them

according to texture (say, the difference between wood and

plastic), their fingers connect with the material. The nerves

from their finger-tips send a similar electro-chemical

message to the nerves within the hand. This travels up the

arm to the spinal column and again to the thalamus. The

signal is then sent directly to the motor cortex located

midline center of the brain, which allows the child to place

the animal in one pile or another. As the child decides in

which pile to place the animal, the pre-frontal lobe is also

activated, as this is the decision-making center of the brain.

The pre-fontal lobe is also considered the executive center

of the brain, and as children grow into adults, this portion

of the brain develops further, allowing sound judgments to

be made.

Although this is a highly simplified explanation of how

the brain works, it is clear that the process is both natural

and complicated. Let’s review the function of some of the

terms used above.

Table 1 Overview of brain terminology



Used by neurons to signal to each other and to

non-neuronal cells

Thalamus The information messenger between the cortex,

brain stem, and other cortical structures.

Contributions include perception, timing and


Occipital lobe The primary visual area of the brain. Two

important pathways of information that

originate in the occipital lobes are the dorsal

and ventral streams. The dorsal stream is what

projects to the parietal lobes and then

processes the location of the object. One of the

functions of the ventral stream is to then

process what that object was

Temporal lobe Functions include perception, face recognition,

memory acquisition, understanding language,

and emotional reactions

Parietal lobe Integrates information from the ventral visual

pathways and dorsal visual pathways, thus

allowing us to coordinate our movement in

response to the object in the environment

Table 1 continued

Pre-frontal lobe Processes ‘‘higher’’ brain functions. A part of the

executive system that refers to our ability to

plan, reason, and make judgments. Also

important contributor to the assessment and

control of appropriate social behaviors due to

involvement in personality and emotion

Motor cortex Generates the neural impulses controlling the

execution of movement

Retina Light-sensitive tissue lining the inner surface of

the eye

Nerves Provide the pathway for the electro-chemical

impulses that are transmitted along axons

Spinal column Also known as the vertebral column, backbone

or spine. It houses and protects the spinal cord

in its spinal canal

To find more information about the parts of the brain,

you can go to, or check out the interactive

applications via Apple’s iTunes.


Thirty years ago few educators would have predicted that

many schools in 4th and 5th grade would send their chil-

dren home with Apple laptops to complete homework, or

that most schools would have computer laptop trolleys that

are shared between two classes. Children are exposed to

stimulations, sounds, sights that often blur reality. Modern

games are often more intense than real life and certainly

have a way of stimulating the opiate receptors of the brain

‘‘Michael, Michael are you there?’’ Mom yells upstairs,

knowing her child has been classified as ADHD at school

yet can’t seem to pull himself away from the video game

hour after hour at home. Today’s early childhood educators

need to be genuine, engaging, intentional, and aware of

what is affecting their students.

Young children’s brains are expanding at an incredible

rate. Miller and Cummings (2007) estimate that by the time

a child reaches the age of 5, more than 100 billion neurons

have made connections within the cerebral cortex (the grey

matter of the brain). In truth, many of these neurons, if not

used, die out, as neurons are initially overproduced so the

child can be supported to navigate through life. Learning

one of the 3,000 languages that are present (Nevills and

Wolfe 2009) and making decisions about when to crawl,

stand, walk, and talk are both developmental and connected

to the neurons in the brain, making strong healthy con-

nections. The stronger the connections between neurons,

the strong and faster the reaction will be in recalling

information (Gallagher 2005). It’s exciting to be part of the

Early Childhood Educ J (2011) 39:89–94 93


intense growth in a young child’s brain. Early childhood

educators literally have the ability to help shape a child’s



Bergen, D., & Coscia, J. (2001). Brain research and childhood
education: Implications for educators. Olney, MD: Association
for Childhood Education International.

Bredekamp S., & Copple, C. (Eds.). (1987). Developmentally
appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving
children from birth through age 8 (Exp. ed.). Washington, DC:

Copple, C., and Bredekamp, S. (Eds.). (2010). Developmentally
appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving
children from birth through age 8, (Exp. 3rd ed.). Washington,

Diamond, M., & Hopson, J. (1999). Magic trees of the mind: How to
nurture your child’s intelligence, creativity, and healthy emo-
tions from birth through adolescence. New York, NY: Penguin

Drew, W., Christie, J., Johnson, J., Meckley, A., & Nell, M. (2008).

Constructive play: A value-added strategy for meeting early

learning standards. Young Children, 63(4), 38–44.
Friederici, A. D. (2006). The neural basis of language development

and its impairment. Neuron, 52I, 108–120.
Gallagher, K. (2005). Brain research and early childhood develop-

ment: A primer for developmentally appropriate practice. Young
Children, 60(4), 12–20.

Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligences: The theory in practice.
New York, NY: Basic Books.

Golan, S., Petersen, D., & Spiker, D. (2008). Kindergarten assessment
process planning report: SRI project 18631. Menlo Park, CA:
SRI International.

Hart, L. (1983). Human brain and human learning. New York, NY:

Iacoboni, M., Molnar-Szakacs, I., Gallese, V., Buccino, G., Mazziotta,

J. C., & Rizzolatti, G. (2005). Grasping the intentions of others

with one’s own mirror neuron system. PLoS Biology, 3(3), e79.
Jones, P., Ataya, R., & Carr, J. (Eds.). (2007). A pig don’t get fatter

the more you weigh it: Balancing assessment for the classroom.
New York, NY: Teachers College.

Miller, B., & Cummings, J. (Eds.). (2007). The human frontal lobes.
New York, NY: Guilford.

National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). A nation at
risk: The imperative of educational reform. East Lansing, MI:
National Center for Research on Teacher Learning. (ERIC

Document Reproduction Service No. SP 027 831).

Nelson, C. A., de Haan, M., & Thomas, K. M. (2006). Neural bases of

cognitive development. In W. Damon, R. Lerner, D. Kuhn, &

R. Siegler (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (Vol. 2).
Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley.

Nevills, A., & Wolfe, P. (2009). Building the reading brain preK-3.

Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Rushton, S., & Juola-Rushton, A. (2008). Classroom learning

environment, brain research and the no child left behind

initiative: 6 years later. Early Childhood Education Journal,
36(1), 89–92.

Rushton, S., Juola-Rushton, A., & Larkin, E. (2009). Neuroscience,

play and early childhood education: Connections, implications

and assessment. Early Childhood Education Journal, 37(5),

Rushton, S., & Larkin, E. (2001). Shaping the learning environment:

Connecting developmentally appropriate practices to brain

research. Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(1), 25–33.
Schiller, P., & Willis, C. (2008). Using brain-based teaching strategies

to create supportive early childhood environments that address

learning standards. Young Children, 63(4), 52–55.
Sylwester, R. (2010). A child’s brain: The need for nurture. Thousand

Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Whalen, P., & Phelps, E. (Eds.). (2009). The human amygdala. New
York, NY: Guilford.

Wolfe, P. (2007). Mind, memory and learning; Translating brain
research to classroom practices. Napa Valley: CA.

94 Early Childhood Educ J (2011) 39:89–94


  • Neuroscience, Early Childhood Education and Play: We are Doing it Right!
  • Abstract
    The Power of Emotions
    Research to Support Early Childhood Educators’ Approach to Teaching
    Brain Principles
    Principle Number One
    Principle Number Two
    Principle Number Three
    The Fourth Brain Principle
    Brief Overview of the Brain’s Mechanism

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Volume 5, Number 1, © JSSE 2006 ISSN 1618-5293

Lothar Krappmann

The Rights of the Child as a Challenge to Human Rights

Often human rights education of children does not include children’s
rights. Children get the impression that human rights are rights of adults
and are mainly violated in faraway regions of the world. The United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) ratified by almost all states
has clarified that human rights are valid for children as well, that they have
a right to be educated about these rights and to claim these children’s
human rights. This step has opened a new approach to children’s human
rights education, because rights of children belong to the social reality
which children experience and, therefore, are not only theoretically learned,
but can also be actively implemented. The article argues that the active
exercise of their rights challenges children’s evolving capacities and
promotes their insight in children’s and human rights.

Human rights, human rights education, child, rights of the child, children’s
rights, Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child

1 Human Rights Education in the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights (1948)

Education about human rights is indissolubly connected with the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights that was proclaimed by the General Assembly
of the United Nations in 1948. Firstly, all members of the human family
should know which rights they irreversibly enjoy, so that in case of
violations they can complain and claim their rights. And secondly, they
should know these human rights, because these rights form the basis upon
which human beings have to become active in order to strive for full
implementation of these rights everywhere where they are not observed,
and to assist others, who are deprived of their human rights.

For these reasons, human rights education as such is one of the rights
enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 26 (2)
demands that education, amongst other goals, shall be directed “to the
strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It
shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations,


Volume 5, Number 1, © JSSE 2006 ISSN 1618-5293

racial and religious groups”. Since the Declaration of Human Rights was
adopted, there was consent that serious efforts must be made to make
these rights known to everybody. There was consent as well, that children
must be a target of prior importance, when knowledge of and insight in
human rights shall be spread.

It took some time, however, until it was understood that more than
thorough information of adults and younger persons was needed.
Eventually the United Nation’s Decade of Human Rights Education 1995 to
2004 massively contributed to reinforce the insight that mere information
is not enough. It was underscored that human rights education has to be

an essential component of the education process of the young person.1

Thus, states were required to integrate human rights education into the
curriculum of all schools. Consequently, those, who are responsible for the
quality of education were urged to make sure that teachers are qualified to
generate full understanding of these rights by children.

However, often the misunderstanding remained that the human rights
about which children have to be enlightened, were regarded as rights
enjoyed by adults and not, or at least not to the same extent, by children.
Likewise, often the impression emerged that in western European states
like Germany human rights are not a relevant issue in the context where
children learn about these rights, but only in distant and disadvantaged
regions of the world. Therefore, concerned pedagogues were looking for
ways to make human rights an intrinsic concern of children. The objective
of this paper is to present arguments stressing that children’s human rights
education should start with child rights, their violations and
implementation in the daily lives of children.

2 Human rights Education and the Convention on the Rights
of the Child (1989)

With regard to children’s human rights education it was of high importance
that the United Nations prepared an international treaty that should make
clear once and for all that human rights are not only the rights of adults but
also the rights of human beings who have not yet reached adulthood. This
clarification was given by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

adopted by the United Nation in 1989 and ratified by almost all states2 (see

The main intention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was not the
promotion of human rights education. Implicitly, however, this convention
affects human rights education in many ways. The dominant aim of this and
other human rights instruments was the objective to specifically point out
which requirements the Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains
with regard to certain issues and groups of human beings, e.g. for the
abolition of torture or the elimination of racial discrimination. In line with
these intentions a working group established in the International Year of
the Child 1979 prepared this convention specifying the human rights of

children.3 Education as well as human rights education is a significant


Volume 5, Number 1, © JSSE 2006 ISSN 1618-5293

component of the rights enshrined in this convention. Article 28, 1 (a)
obliges state parties to the Convention to provide primary education
compulsory and available free to all children, and Article 29, 1 (b) stipulate
that the education of the child shall be directed to the development of
respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. For this reason, the
adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child gives remarkable
support to activities promoting human rights education.

Another aspect is furthermore essential. These additional treaties impose
obligations on the states acceding to these human rights conventions that
were not yet operational under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
since this Declaration was an appeal – a powerful appeal, but a declaration
without a monitoring mechanism or an instrument of sanctioning
contraventions. The human rights treaties put up a reporting obligation, a
dialogue of a monitoring committee with the State Parties about their
report, a concluding comment of the monitoring committee, and the
obligation of the State Party of giving an account on measures carried out in

order to better implement human rights.4 State parties to the CRC have to
submit a report every five years. The report has to include a section on
children’s human rights education and hence strengthens the discussion on
problems of human rights education.

In fact, the issue of human rights education is always addressed when state
party reports are considered by the Committee on the Rights of the Child
monitoring the implementation of the Convention. Often the debates of the
Committee with Governments result in recommendations, which are
contained in the Concluding Observations published after the meetings.
Such recommendations may refer to strengthening human rights education
in general, to explicitly include children’s rights in the curriculum, or to
focus on intolerance, discrimination, or xenophobia, if such behaviours
emerge in the country and among children (see the treaty body database:

3 Children’s Rights Education as a Door to Human Rights

The CRC and human rights education are interwoven in two ways. Firstly,
the Convention explicitly reaffirms human rights education as a right of the
child. As mentioned, article 29 of the Convention states: “The State Parties
agree that the education of the child shall be directed to… (b) The
development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and
for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations”.

Secondly, there is an even more intrinsic relation between the CRC and
human rights education. Although the CRC explains, that children are full
holders of human rights, it has to be taken into account that the child as a
human being under 18 is characterized by evolving capacities as e.g. stated
in Article 5.. Also the Article 29 of the Convention referring to education
pays attention to the child’s development. Terms are used like
“development … to the fullest potential” (Art. 29, 1(a)), “development of


Volume 5, Number 1, © JSSE 2006 ISSN 1618-5293

respect” for rights and principles (Art. 29, 1(b)), and “preparation … for
responsible life” (Art. 29, 1(d)). These evolving capacities and progressive
developments have to be considered, when children’s rights of protection,
promotion, and participation are specified. Just these evolving capacities,
however, are the central focus of educational activities. Above all, capacities
evolve, because teachers as well as other educators and tutors
systematically promote the evolving capacities of the child.

Teachers and other adults may educate the child in a way that conveys the
message to the child that he or she is still unable to fully enjoy the rights
guaranteed by the Convention. This would not be an attitude that
corresponds with the message of the Convention, since the Convention
underlines that also the child whose capacities are still evolving, is a full
holder of rights. Education aims at the promotion of the competencies and
motivations required for the implementation of human rights, but does it in
a spirit of human rights that must already be present in the process of

It is important that human and children’s rights are recognized as priority
aims of education by the school administration, curriculum experts,
teachers and others who are involved in children’s education, as well as by
children themselves. Article 42 of the Convention obliges State Parties to
make the rights of children widely known in their country by appropriate
and active means, to adults and children alike. This article as well is a
cornerstone of children’s human rights education.

In order to sum up: The CRC clarifies that human rights are not rights that
are relevant for adults only or for disadvantaged people living outside the
reality of children; they are rights of children here and now. Therefore,
human rights education can start with the children and their authentic
experience of being right holders themselves.

4 The Deficit Model of Education as an Obstacle

There are many indications that, contrary to these reflections, human rights
education mostly does not start with paying attention to children and their

rights.5 Children’s rights are the starting point of human rights education
neither in school nor in any other institution that may have the good
intention to promote children’s human rights education as e.g. day-care
centres for children of school age, that often offer activities complementing
the educational aims of school. For instance, I usually ask my students in
university seminars in Berlin (German) what they have learned in school
about children’s rights. The students typically respond that they got some,
and sometimes very good, information about human rights in general but

almost never had heard a single word about children’s rights and the CRC.6

One may recognize an underlying model of education in this kind of human
rights education in most of our schools: They prepare for adult life and
consider childhood and adolescence as a transitory period which children
have to outgrow. Attention is not paid to the constructive experiences
within this period of life but rather to distracting aspects of children’s out-


Volume 5, Number 1, © JSSE 2006 ISSN 1618-5293

of-school life that are regarded as endangering developmental and
educational progress. Only in recent years a group of scholars has
emphasized that childhood and adolescence are phases of life that should
not primarily be judged by comparison with adulthood, because this
comparison emphasizes what children are not yet able to do, and degrades
the activities and achievements of children (James, Prout 1997; Qvortrup et
al. 1994; Woodhead, Montgomery 2003).

When the view of the child as a human being “not yet being adult” prevails,
childhood and adolescence are distinguished from later life mainly by
deficits. It is overlooked that children live in the present, generate their
views on problems, and construct competent solutions. Only when children
have opportunities to be deeply involved in what they are concerned about
now, they will discover the advantages and setbacks of their ways to deal
with problems, which they achieve on the base of their evolving capacities.
On the base of their own experience they may look for better solutions as
demonstrated by the research of developmental psychologists on socio-
moral development (Kohlberg, Candee 1984; Oser, Althof 2001). These
researchers demonstrated that in general it is ineffective to pass on well-
grounded solutions of intricate moral problems to children or adolescents.
As they are lacking the theoretical background and the experiences from
which these solutions are derived, they cannot intrinsically adopt the
solution. Solutions that children can imaginatively use, will emerge only,
when teachers arrange processes in which children are encouraged to
proceed on the base of their own understanding and experience (Lansdown

Education that is based on such a deficit view on childhood, disregards the
incentives for understanding and insight contained in the daily experience
of children in family, school, day-care, and playground, and, therefore,
misses the inspirations and motivations inherent in children’s own
activities, experimentations, and search for solutions. Children’s human
rights education could benefit from such a concrete approach. Human
rights education based on children’s everyday experience would help to
step by step find a way to the more abstract aspects of human rights issues
and to the universal dimensions of human rights.

5 Resistance to Recognize Children’s Rights

Apparently there is remarkable resistance to acknowledging that children
have rights in the proper sense of the concept. The Committee monitoring
the implementation of the CRC knows from numerous reports and
dialogues with State Parties, that large sectors of many societies all over the
world still are marked by traditional patterns of life and customary laws
according to which children are not full human beings. “One should see
children, but not hear them”. In some communities they are regarded as the
property of their fathers, who may even determine their death, if they
violate the honourable reputation of the family by their behaviours. In
Europe children are corporally punished and publicly humiliated. Often a
welfare-oriented attitude towards children may be present, but a rights-


Volume 5, Number 1, © JSSE 2006 ISSN 1618-5293

based attitude is rare.

Many traditions of educating children underscore parental rights and
responsibilities. References to children’s rights often excite indignation and
the query, which obligations children have. This does not mean that
relationships between parents and children are bad as many surveys
confirm. Yet parents often react defensively when children’s rights are
debated, because they understand the demand as a kind of mistrust and
are threatened by the idea that this relationship could be transformed into
a rights oriented association. Thus, parents often are not strong allies when
the child rights perspective shall be strengthened.

Resistance to a full acceptance of children as right holders is also observed
in many schools. Many conceptions of school were characterized by an
asymmetric relationship between the teacher who was considered to be the
responsible person, and the ignorant child. To this day schools have a
tendency to view children as dependent, inexperienced, and undisciplined
who are in need of clear order and authoritative guidance. When teachers
ask students to state their view, students often regard this as a mere
educational trick rather than a genuine interest in the students’ perspective.
Studies conducted on the formal structures of students’ participation in the
administration of schools, the arrangement of learning and instruction, and
the organization of extra-curricular activities demonstrates that a majority
of students complain that the impact of their proposals is low (Fatke,
Niklowitz 2003 [Children and Youth Survey on Participation in Switzerland
(CHIPS)]; Lansdown 2001). Not many schools are truly child-rights oriented

Many teachers in Germany, when asked about children’s rights, most
probably will state that their schools have fairly well implemented all rights
of children, their well-being and development. They are not aware of issues
that would it make advisable or necessary to scrutinize violations of
children’s rights in their schools apart from regrettable events that
fortunately hardly ever occur. Teachers may even add that in children’s daily
lives there are no predictable conditions or events that could serve as an
‘opener’ for introducing human rights. Thus, according to the judgement of
many teachers, an attempt to start human rights education by addressing
children’s rights in school or elsewhere in their daily lives has no special

Of course, this attitude does not represent the opinion of all teachers.
Anyhow, it is interesting to note that a large German project named
“Learning and living democracy” (, comprising
some hundred schools and an impressive variety of activities promoting
citizenship education, has not developed a module focusing on child’s
rights education.

The extent of this resistance is surprising since one strong motif of
establishing a school system for all in many countries was to raise children
as active citizens as we are reminded by Howe and Cowell (2005). The
authors argue that children’s rights education is an outstanding pathway to
empower children as active citizens. They make clear that children’s rights
education should encompass not only the dissemination of knowledge
about rights. It also has to promote children’s capacities to defend these
rights if they are violated. Many children observe such violations in school


Volume 5, Number 1, © JSSE 2006 ISSN 1618-5293

and public life, and these violations could be used as a starting point of

6 Child Rights Issues in Children’s Daily Lives and Schools

Contrary to the opinion of many teachers quite a number of issues in
children’s lives at school are related to the rights of children as stipulated
by the Convention. Here is a selection of issues, which are frequently
mentioned by German children and in the literature (Hammarberg 1998;
Hodgkin, Newell 2002):

Respect for the views of the child (Article 12): It was already indicated that
many children are dissatisfied with given opportunities to express their own
views in classroom and school. Children address, however, not only the
formal structures of children’s participation through a speaker of the
classroom or a council of elected representatives. They also wish to be
more involved with regard to the rules of life in school, classroom, and
playground. Many children complain, because they do not feel individually
respected, in particular when they have difficulties to meet requirements of
school and learning because of hindrances, which are outside of their
responsibility. Improvements should be deliberated jointly with the

School discipline (Article 28 (2)): Corporal punishment is forbidden by law
in the schools of every industrialized country (except the USA and outback
regions of Australia; see: and But even in Sweden the first Children’s
Ombudsman, Louise Sylvander, stated: “This ban has not ended all forms of
violence to children” (see: Additionally, quite a number
of teachers administer discipline with other means that are not consistent
with human dignity as well. They ridicule, humiliate, or otherwise maltreat
children in front of the classroom. The consequences are negative not only
for the child blamed who may be demotivated and in the long run may
loose interest in learning and school. Also other children may be afraid that
this treatment can also happen to them. It is advisable that teachers
negotiate with the children of their classroom in which ways discipline can
be maintained without negatively affecting the social climate and the joy of

Violence among children (Article 19): In many schools the classroom is a
place at which children are bullied or mobbed by other children. The
unacceptable reasons sometimes are that these children belong to a group
that is discriminated against also outside the classroom; in other cases
these children deviate from norms which opinion leaders in the classroom
claim to be appropriate for life style, clothing, or youth-cultural activities.
Since it is almost impossible to prevent such behaviours by an order of the
teacher or the head of the school, a joint action plan of children and
teachers has to be elaborated in order to eliminate such behaviours.

Right to privacy (Article 16): This article demands that the child’s privacy is
protected in all situations including educational institutions that are


Volume 5, Number 1, © JSSE 2006 ISSN 1618-5293

particularly in danger to violate this right, because they are closely
supervising children’s development and learning. Although teachers,
caregivers, and other educators must have an active interest in children’s
progress and problems, they have to respect the right of the child to have
privacy. It is well known that already young children have their secrets and
feel deeply hurt, when these secrets are revealed. Even more the school-age
child must be sure that communications, private thoughts and feelings, or
emotionally significant occurrences are strictly kept undisclosed in
classroom and school. Since in the classroom children’s behavioural
patterns, views, preferences, and feelings are so easily observable, schools
need a culture of respect to every child’s right to privacy also in the case of
behaviours considered to be strange and problematic. Protection of
personal data has to be an important issue in schools.

Non-discrimination (Article 2): This article obliges State Parties to guarantee
that every child enjoys the rights of the Convention without any kind of
discrimination, which means, “irrespective of … race, colour, sex, language,
religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic, or social origin,
property, disability, birth or other status”. In view of the heterogeneity of
the children in German classrooms, permanent challenges exist to integrate
all children into a jointly learning, cooperating classroom. Not only the
administration of school has to care for appropriate support in order to
improve these children’s school achievement, but also a social climate has
to be generated that facilitates the integration of children from vulnerable
groups into daily activities and routines of the classroom. This goal can be
achieved only if the children of a classroom understand what article 2 of the
Convention asks them both to do and to refrain from. The endeavours of
establishing good cooperation among all members of the classroom are a
valuable lesson with regard to the goal of developing “the spirit of
understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among
all peoples, ethnic, national, and religious groups and persons of
indigenous origin” as asked for by article 29 (1), of the CRC.

This list of child’s rights issues in school and classroom could be easily
continued. Because of the holistic nature of human rights, every issue
enables an approach to the whole range of child and human rights
problems. Every issue conveys the message that human and children’s
rights are not a matter of adults or foreign politics but the essence of
everyday lives of human beings regardless of their age. For this reason, the
Committee on the Rights of the Child stated in a General Comment on the
aims of education that children should not only get information on human
rights, but also “learn about human rights by seeing human rights
standards implemented in practice” (Committee on the Rights of the Child
2001). Among these fields of practice the Committee asks to pay special
attention to school, besides the home of the child and the community.

7 The Consideration of Children’s Evolving Capacities

A programme of human rights education based on children’s endeavour to


Volume 5, Number 1, © JSSE 2006 ISSN 1618-5293

fully implement their rights incites the objection that children themselves
do not have the capacities needed for the full exercise of their rights. Those
who oppose this approach to human rights education say that information
given to children about human rights can be adjusted to the development
of their cognitive capacities and experience. Children’s attempts to actively
implement their rights, however, cannot be easily harmonized with the
state of their development as they become involved in real conflicts, which
nobody is able to keep under control.

This consideration is not only raised by people, whose attitude to children
is over-protective. Also the Convention several times points to the fact that
children and their capacities are evolving. Children need direction and
guidance as maintained in articles 5 and 14 of the Convention. These
articles oblige State Parties to respect the responsibilities of parents in this
regard. It is the parents’ duty to support their children in so far as they
themselves still are unable to exercise their rights. However, when the
Convention addresses the obligation of parents, it is underscored that
parents should give direction and guidance “in a manner consistent with the
evolving capacities of the child”. This formulation does not justify
restricting children’s activities, but emphasizes that direction and guidance
have to be limited by the progress of children’s capacities. Evolved
capacities make possible that children themselves exercise their rights. In
the same sense article 18 declares that parents’ responsibility for the
upbringing and development of their child has to be based on the best
interests of the child, i.e. on the child’s interest to exercise his or her rights.

Often this hint at evolving capacities is interpreted to the contrary. There
are educators who have a tendency to conclude from the progressing
evolution of capacities that children should not be confronted with
problems that challenge their capacities too early. In fact it is not easy to
refute the argument of these protective caregivers that the child does not
yet have a clear view of many problems and their implications. Therefore,
they define the child as a young human being in need of education rather
than as a right holder. Of course, these educators know that children have
to be prepared for the time of formally recognized adulthood when they
have to exercise rights on their own. Thus, they create opportunities in
order to train children, but they are always concerned that domains of
training are well protected. Students’ councils in schools often are a
battlefield of risk protection and full participation.

The age for the full exercise of rights – 18 years – is a compromise. Many
arguments justifying that children need direction and guidance can be
raised with regard to adults beyond the age of 18 as well, because also they
often lack knowledge and experience. This observation demonstrates that a
fixed age for the enjoyment of rights often does not do justice to the
developmental progress; some children are capable of exercising rights on
their own already at a young age, others are capable only later and may not
be competent enough to fully exercise their rights, when they have reached
formal adulthood. This consideration, however, does not yet hit the core of
the problem. Even if the age of maturation would be established as 25 or
even 30, quite a number of people beyond that age would not have
acquired the competencies to exercise their rights. The solution is not
another age limit, but the insight that human beings, whether young or old,
at least in some situations, are lacking information, capacities, or


Volume 5, Number 1, © JSSE 2006 ISSN 1618-5293

experience needed to come to the most productive implementation of
rights under prevailing conditions.

We have to conclude that the problem of the child, who is a right holder on
the one side and a human being in need of support on the other side, is not
only a problem of the child but also a problem of every human being.
Without any doubt, there are differences between adults and children
because capacities are evolving, and, as a rule of thumb, adults will
understand problems of human rights implementation better than children.
Still, adults as well as children are dependent upon a mixture of acquired
capacities and mutual support, when they exercise their rights. In this
regard, the child is not a fully prepared human being, but is a complete
human being, and the same is true of the adult. Or: The “condition
humaine” of the child is the “condition humaine” of the adult (Meilrieu
2002). Children and adults have to develop their knowledge, competencies,
and motivation, and both are dependent on shared expertise, joined
efforts, and mutual assistance.

For this reason, the consideration of the child as a human being with
evolving capacities reveals an essential aspect of human rights education in
general. Human rights education cannot suppose that young or old people
just learn their lessons on human rights and afterwards are well prepared to
implement human rights. Human beings always need to be integrated in a
network of exchange and common efforts in order to compensate for the
incomplete state of their ever-evolving capacities and always limited
experience. Children make clear what concerns human beings in general.
Thus, an individualistic misunderstanding of human rights seems to be
avoided more easily, when children and their rights explicitly are included
in all efforts to strengthen human rights education.

To extend human rights education to children and their rights does not
only demand that other problems are dealt with – problems that belong to
the social reality of children. It does not only require that methods be
applied which respect to children’s ways of thinking and learning.
Children’s learning and practice of their rights also teaches a lesson that
should be heard by human rights activists and pedagogues. The lesson tells
us that we need each other. When we implement human rights. With regard
to this insight, children’s active involvement in their rights can generate a
strong fundament for powerful human rights education in general.

1The intensified emphasis on human rights education has stimulated quite
a number of materials, programmes, and publications. An overview is given
in the database on human rights education (

2In 2005 only Somalia because of lacking international representation and
the United States because of fundamental objections against what they
regarded as a disbalance of parents’ and children’s rights did not accede to
the Convention.

3 Predecessors of the Convention were the Declaration of the Rights of the
Child adopted by the United Nations in 1959 and the Declaration of the


Volume 5, Number 1, © JSSE 2006 ISSN 1618-5293

Rights of the Child adopted by the League of Nations in 1924.

4One may argue that also the United Nations’ human rights treaties do not
establish institutions provided with a mandate to sanction State Parties
when they violate rights that they are obliged to respect as a result of their
accession to the treaty. However, their monitoring procedures create a
forum where the implementation of the respective rights is investigated and
publicly discussed. The observations stated at these meetings often had
impact on internal policy and international cooperation.

5Also the recommended Handbook Compass – A Manual on Human Rights
Education with Young People (2002) makes children and their rights not a
primary focus of the educational concept elaborated in this volume.

6Since no worldwide systematic study on the content of human rights
education and the ways, in which this education is carried out, is available, I
mainly refer to my two-year experience as a member of the Committee on
the Rights of the Child and my involvement in child rights activities in


Convention on the Rights of the Child
download 20.04.2011.

Committee on the Rights of the Child. 2001. General Comment No. 1: Art.
29 (1). The Aims of Education. CRC/GC/2001/1. Geneva: United Nations

Directorate of Youth and Sport of the Council of Europe. 2002. Compass – A
Manual on Human Rights Education with Young People. Strasbourg.

Fatke, Reinhard; Niklowitz, Matthias. 2003. Den Kindern eine Stimme geben
– Partizipation von Kindern und Jugendlichen in der Schweiz. Zürich.

Hammarberg, Thomas. 1998. A School for Children with Rights – The
Significance of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child for
Modern Education Policy. Florence.

Hodgkin, Rachel; Newell, Peter. 2002. Implementation Handbook on the
Rights of the Child. New York.

Howe, R. Brian; Covell, Katherine. 2005. Empowering Children – Children’s
Rights Education as a Pathway to Citizenship. Toronto.

James, Allison; Prout, Alan, eds. 1997. Constructing and Reconstructing
Childhood. London.

Kohlberg, Lawrence; Candee, D. 1984. The Relationship of Moral Judgement
to Moral Action. In: Kohlberg, Lawrence. Essays on Moral Development. San
Francisco, 498-581.

Lansdown, Gerison. 2001. Promoting Children’s Participation in Democratic
Decision Making. Florence.

Lansdown, Gerison. 2005. The Evolving Capacities of the Child. Florence.

Meirieu, Philippe. 2002. Le pedagogue et les droits de l’enfant – Histoire
d’un malentandu?. Genève.


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Oser, Fritz; Althof, Wolfgang. 2001. Moralische Selbstbestimmung [Moral
Self-Determination]. Stuttgart.

Qvortrup, Jens. 1994. Childhood Matters – An Introduction. In: Qvortrup,
Jens; Bardy, Marjatta; Sgritta, Giovanni; Wintersberger, Helmut, eds.
Childhood Matters – Social Theory, Practice and Politics. Adlershot, UK.

Woodhead, Martin; Montgomery, Heather. eds. 2003. Understanding
Childhood – An Intedisciplinary Approach. London.


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Early Years

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Realizing children’s right to participation in early
childhood settings: some critical issues in a
Norwegian context

Berit Bae

To cite this article: Berit Bae (2010) Realizing children’s right to participation in early childhood
settings: some critical issues in a Norwegian context, Early Years, 30:3, 205-218, DOI:

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Early Years
Vol. 30, No. 3, October 2010, 205–218

ISSN 0957-5146 print/ISSN 1472-4421 online
© 2010 TACTYC
DOI: 10.1080/09575146.2010.506598

Realizing children’s right to participation in early childhood
settings: some critical issues in a Norwegian context

Berit Bae*

Department of Teacher Education and International Studies, Oslo University College,
Oslo, Norway
Taylor and FrancisCEYE_A_506598.sgm10.1080/09575146.2010.506598Early Years0957-5146 (print)/1472-4421 (online)Original Article2010Taylor & Francis303000000October

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has during recent decades
influenced professionals and policy-makers in Norway as well as in other
countries, resulting in changes in documents regulating early childhood
institutions. Little is known, however, about the way this right is understood and
realized in everyday practice. How is the concept of participation understood by
professionals in the field? What issues emerge as problematic in everyday practice?
Combining findings from an evaluation study and research from early childhood
institutions, it is possible to unravel three problem areas. They are described under
these headings: (a) Interpreting participation with a bias towards individualism? (b)
Play and playful interaction – an integral part of children’s right to participation?
(c) Are the youngest children ‘mature’ enough? The article is rounded off by
pointing to the need to pay critical attention both to what is happening on policy
levels, and to theoretical perspectives influencing the professionals in the field.

Keywords: children’s participation; early childhood education; play; implementing
rights; UNCRC


Children’s right to participation in early childhood institutions originates from UN
documents based on humanistic principles that all human beings – regardless of age,
race, gender or ability – should be treated with respect and dignity on their own
premises. The various articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
(UNCRC) are aligned to a view of children where they are conceived not as objects
to be formed, but as human subjects with their own intentions, interests, relational
needs and capacities. These conventions have during the last decade influenced
professionals and policy-makers in Norway as well as in other countries, resulting in
changes in legal documents regarding early childhood institutions. Hence, when the
Norwegian parliament (Stortinget) revised the Kindergarten Act in 2006, a new
section was included which clearly reflects Article 12 in the UN Convention:

Section 3. Children’s right to participate.

Children in kindergartens will have the right to express their views on the day-to-day
activities of the kindergarten.

Children will regularly be given the opportunity to take an active part in planning and
assessing the activities of the kindergarten.


206 B. Bae

The children’s views will be given due weight according to their age and maturity.
(Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research 2006)

We know little, however, about the way this right is understood and realized in every-
day practice. For instance: How is the concept of participation understood by profes-
sionals in the field? What issues emerge as problematic in everyday practice? Based
on research from Norway and other Nordic countries, this article will explore these
and related questions.

Children’s right to participation is a complex matter, and there are many factors
that influence how such rights are realized in practice. The aim of this article is not to
give an exhaustive overview or detailed description of a wide range of relevant
research; my intention is rather to shed light on some problems, raise questions and
stimulate discussion. The studies referred to build on various forms of qualitative
research, for instance interviews, participant observation, video documentation,
ethnographic investigations and document analyses, or a combination of these. It is
therefore neither possible to draw definite conclusions as to how statistically represen-
tative the emerging problems are for the field as a whole, nor possible to conclude how
the problems vary with structural or demographic factors.

The article starts with some general comments regarding the interpretation of the
UNCRC, and some theoretical views on children’s participation, before presenting a
few facts about the context of early childhood education and care in Norway. The
legislative changes are recent, and empirical research focusing on children’s partici-
pation is scarce. By relating the principles in the UNCRC to findings from an evalua-
tion study and other research from early childhood institutions it is possible to unravel
some problematic issues. I present them here under three headings: (a) Interpreting
participation with a bias towards individualism? (b) Play and playful interaction – an
integral part of children’s right to participation? (c) Are the youngest children
‘mature’ enough? The article will be rounded off by a discussion of the need to pay
critical attention both to what is happening on policy levels, and to theoretical perspec-
tives influencing the professionals in the field.


Interpretation of the UNCRC

The articles in the UNCRC are formulated in general ways and have to be ‘translated’
and contextualized to be meaningfully realized in early childhood practice. I share the
concerns of Burgess (2006) and others (e.g. Penn 2009), who emphasize that the
UNCRC has to be interpreted again and again, taking different societal, temporal,
local and, I would add, age-related aspects, into consideration.

Two documents from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child are important
sources regarding how to interpret and implement children’s rights in early childhood.
These are General Comment no. 7 from 2006: Implementing child rights in early
childhood (CRC/C/GC/7/rev1), and General Comment no. 12 from 2009: The right of
the child to be heard (CRC/C/GC/12). In both documents the committee argues a posi-
tive agenda for early childhood building on: ‘A shift away from traditional beliefs that
regard early childhood mainly as a period for the socialization of the immature human
being towards mature adult status is required. The Convention requires that children,
including the very youngest children, be respected as persons in their own right’
(CRC/C/GC/7/rev1, p. 3).

Early Years 207

Following up on this view, it is emphasized that young children are able to ‘make
choices and communicate their feelings, ideas, and wishes in numerous ways, long
before they are able to communicate through the conventions of spoken or written
language’ (ibid., p. 7). Young children’s ability to express themselves in many
‘languages’ is a point which is emphasized also in the General Comment from 2009,
illustrated in the following citation: ‘Consequently, full implementation of Article 12
requires recognition of, and respect for, non-verbal forms of communication including
play, body language, facial expressions, and drawing and painting, through which
very young children demonstrate understanding, choices and preferences’ (CRC/C/
GC/12, p. 9).

These UN documents can be said to convey a relational understanding of chil-
dren’s right to participation in emphasizing that young children are sensitive towards
their interpersonal surroundings, and that the quality of interactional processes will
create premises for their participation. ‘To achieve the right of participation requires
adults to adopt a child-centred attitude, listening to young children and respecting their
dignity and their individual points of view. It also requires adults to show patience and
creativity by adapting their expectations to a young child’s interests, levels of under-
standing and preferred ways of communicating’ (CRC/C/GC/7/rev1, p. 7).

In addition to a relational approach the documents also argue a holistic or broad
understanding of the different provisions in the UNCRC. This means balancing differ-
ent rights so that they function in the best interests of the child. The right to participa-
tion cannot be understood in isolation from other articles. It is emphasized that the
connection with some articles is more relevant than others. ‘Article 12, as a general
principle, is linked to the other general principles of the Convention, such as Article 2
(the right to non-discrimination), Article 6 (the right to life, survival and development)
and, in particular, is interdependent with Article 3 (primary consideration of the best
interests of the child). The article is also closely linked with the articles related to civil
rights and freedoms, particularly Article 13 (the right to freedom of expression) and
Article 17 (the right to information)’ (CRC/C/GC/12, p. 17).

In line with the general comments above, several researchers argue a holistic and
relational understanding of children’s participation (Smith 2007; Kjørholt 2008a, b;
Woodhead 2008, 163; Mannion 2010). These researchers point to the interdepen-
dence and reciprocity in relationships between adults and children, and argue that
such a stance challenges familiar ways of thinking about adult–child relationships
and demands new role expectations for professionals who take care of children.
Kjørholt (2008) is concerned with counteracting individualistic practices, and she
argues a relational understanding which emphasizes that children are both competent
and vulnerable and dependent. Her point is that a practice in the best interests of the
child has to take this into consideration. Mannion (2010) suggests a reframing of
children’s participation as a spatial and relational process, and builds on ideas which
emphasize that participatory processes should have outcomes for children as well as
adults, creating adults as a co-learners and co-interpreters. Woodhead’s views reso-
nate with these, when he argues that the UN Convention does not only change the
status of children, but that ‘respecting the rights of young children changes the way
we think about ourselves!’(Woodhead 2008, 63).1

Trying to implement a holistic and relational understanding of children’s right to
participation in early childhood institutions means, among other things, that the staff
are challenged to reflect on their own roles and to question views of relations and of
children which they might otherwise take for granted.

208 B. Bae

Some factors regarding the early childhood context in Norway

In order to contextualize this discussion it is useful to keep in mind that Norway, along
with the other Nordic countries (Iceland, Denmark, Finland and Sweden), emphasizes
a pedagogy grounded in a social pedagogical approach (Bennett 2008), foregrounding
the idea that children’s play should be an integral component of early childhood
education seen as part of an education for democracy (Wagner and Einarsdottir 2006).

The official term for early childhood institutions in Norway is ‘barnehager’
(directly translated as kindergartens), and this term covers many different organiza-
tional arrangements for children aged one to five. The field is regulated by a
Kindergarten Act passed by the Norwegian Parliament (Stortinget). A central require-
ment here is that one kindergarten and each group of children must be led by a profes-
sional teacher with a Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, who together
with two kindergarten assistants is responsible for the educational content. The qual-
ification requirement of a BA in early childhood education also applies to teachers
working with the youngest children below three years of age. In this respect Norway
differs from many other European countries, where the care for the youngest children
is under the responsibility of the health authorities and the staff have a health-related

It is also worth noting that recent surveys show that more than one-third of the
children in Norwegian kindergartens are between one and three years of age. This
means that a considerable proportion of the children attending kindergartens are indi-
viduals who express themselves not so much through verbal language, but primarily
through various bodily cues and forms of non-verbal communication.

A common denominator for all Norwegian kindergartens (both public and private)
is that they are obliged to work according to the national curriculum guidelines
codified in a document called The Framework Plan for the Content and Tasks of
Kindergartens (Framework Plan). This is a relatively short document outlining the
general principles on which all institutions should base their work. At the local level
each kindergarten must develop its own pedagogical plan for the year, indicating how
it pursues main areas in the national guidelines.

In the section of the Framework plan where children’s right to participation is dealt
with, their participation is described in connection with relationships with other
people. It is underlined that children are part of a community along with being indi-
viduals entitled to their own opinions. The following citation might illustrate this:
‘Children must both experience a sense of belonging and community, and feel that
they can exert self-determination and express their own intentions. Children must be
encouraged to put themselves in the position of showing consideration towards other
people’ (Framework Plan, p. 8). This view conveys a both–and attitude, in the sense
that children are seen both as group/community members, but also as individuals with
a right to their own voice.

The role of the adults is emphasized in another paragraph which states that ‘Staff
must listen to and attempt to interpret their body language, and must be observant in
relation to their actions, aesthetic expressions and eventually their verbal communi-
cations. Kindergartens must allow for the different perspectives of different children,
and must respect their intentions and realms of experience. Children’s right to free-
dom of expression will be ensured, and their participation must be integrated in
work on the content of kindergartens’ (Framework Plan, p. 9). These statements
imply that the national guidelines convey a relational and holistic interpretation of

Early Years 209

children’s participation, while at the same time taking into consideration that many
of the children are very young and express themselves through body or non-verbal

Following the changes in legislation and policy documents like the Framework
Plan, there have been several government initiatives directed at creating more knowl-
edge and a higher level of consciousness on matters relating to children’s right to
participation. These efforts included the publication and distribution of a booklet
discussing child participation, an implementation strategy where child participation
was one of four prioritized areas, and the initiation of a national research programme
for early childhood education where research on children’s participation is an impor-
tant area. These central initiatives, which have been followed up at various levels,
illustrate that children’s participation has been high on the official agenda in the field
of early childhood education in Norway in recent years. Against this background it is
relevant to ask what we know about how these intentions are being understood and
followed up by various practitioners in the field.

Problematic issues in realizing children’s right to participation
in everyday practice

To shed light on how the policy intentions have been followed up, the article takes as
a point of departure an evaluation study that the Norwegian Department of Education
and Research initiated in 2009. The aim of the evaluation was to explore how the
changes in the Kindergarten Act and Framework Plan had been implemented through-
out Norway. In this study information was collected through various methods, using
document analyses, questionnaires, interviews with both individual and groups, with
people in different positions across the country, including leaders at regional and local
levels, parents, teachers and other practitioners, and children (Østrem et al., 2009).
Relevant findings from this study will be discussed in relation to other research in the
field in order to highlight the critical issues.

Interpreting participation2 with a bias towards individualism?

A meaningful interpretation of the formulations in the Kindergarten Act and the
Framework Plan is that children have a right to experience that their expressions and
points of view are taken seriously and have an impact in their everyday life, even
though their intentions cannot always be followed up in action (Bae 2006).

An important premise influencing how this is realized – and which was explored
in the evaluation study – is how practitioners and other professionals understand the
concept of participation. The researchers found that a dominating tendency amongst
staff is to focus on individual children and understand participation in terms of self-
determination and individual choice (Østrem et al. 2009, 196). Compared with the
formulations in the Kindergarten Act and the Framework Plan this is a somewhat
skewed interpretation, emphasizing individualistic rather than relational and coopera-
tive aspects. But the findings vary, and it is pointed out that the kindergarten assistants
(who make up two-thirds of the staff) tend to perceive children’s participation in a
more simplistic way than the teachers, who are more likely to problematize what the
concept actually means. These discrepancies in views amongst practitioners might
illustrate why the leaders of early childhood centres claim that working with chil-
dren’s participation is exacting in practice (ibid., 49). At the same time the evaluation

210 B. Bae

study also points to a few centres that seem to work more thoroughly with processes
of participation, suggesting that they view this issue in a broader perspective.

The understanding of children’s participation as individual freedom to choose
might be illustrated by a practical routine called ‘Children’s Meeting’, which is
described in Seland’s (2009) ethnographic study of one large kindergarten in Norway.
The Children’s Meeting is arranged once a day at 9 a.m., with the purpose of letting
the children choose in which activity room they want to spend the next one and a half
hours. The reason given for children having to continue with the activity for a specific
period of time is that they have to learn to concentrate (Seland 2009, 240), a legiti-
mization which is also mentioned by staff in the evaluation study (Østrem el al. 2009,
127). When the teacher announces the different activity rooms (drama, mathematics
etc.) to the group of approximately 40 children (aged 3–5), they raise their hand to
mark their preference. Each room has a limit to how many children can be there, so
when the quota is full, the children have to choose another activity.

Seland (2009) discusses problems connected with this routine, such as that chil-
dren are separated from friends they want to be with, or that those who are very active
and articulate get their choice fulfilled more often than others, and that some children
are bored with the activity before the allotted time is up. Similar problems are also
described in an Icelandic study focusing on a routine called ‘Choosing time’ (valg-
stund), where Bjarnadottir (2004) shows how the children’s opportunities to play with
friends narrow as the routine is carried out.

Such practical routines oriented towards individualistic modes of being might
not be surprising considering how neo-liberalistic discourses/new management
theory tend to govern discourses regarding early childhood education (Kjørholt and
Tingstad 2007; Kjørholt 2008a; Seland 2009). Kjørholt and Tingstad’s (2007,181–
82) analyses of Norwegian documents concerning ‘development work’ in the ECE
sector show how neo-liberalistic discourse – including individual freedom to choose
– are used to legitimize structural changes in the size and organization of kindergar-
tens. Amongst the problems reported by the staff in connection with these changes –
made legitimate by referring to children’s freedom of choice – are that it becomes
more difficult to establish a cohesive group and for children to develop stable
friendships. This suggests that an understanding of participation focusing on indi-
vidual freedom to choose, and isolating children’s participation from other impor-
tant rights, may undermine what is in the best interest of the child, such as acting
and expressing his/her views in cooperation with peers. Consequently, such views
do not match the holistic interpretation argued by the UN Committee, nor the
formulations in the national Framework Plan that children should experience both
feelings of community and belonging along with being respected for expressing
their own intentions.

Play and playful interaction3 – an integral part of children’s right to participation?

As mentioned earlier, a holistic interpretation of children’s right to be heard must be
connected with other rights, amongst them their right to freedom of expression
(art13) and the right to play and leisure (art31). Many researchers have argued that
play provides ample opportunities for active agency and self-expression. Along with
others (Jans 2004; Smith 2007; Alderson 2008; Kjørholt 2008b), I think that Articles
13 and 31 should be taken into consideration when trying to realize children’s right
to participation.

Early Years 211

To strengthen the argument that children’s participation and play/playful interac-
tion must be connected, it is useful to focus on the formulations in Article 13:

1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include free-
dom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of fron-
tiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media
of the child’s choice. (UNCRC)

These formulations have to be ‘translated’ into an ECE context with children aged one
to five years, so that freedom of expression becomes meaningful in relation to the
communicational modes of young children. Based on theoretical views and empirical
findings, and with reference to the formulation ‘or through any other media of the
child’s choice’, it could be argued that playful (inter)action is a medium children often
choose to express themselves freely (Bae 2006).

From this perspective it becomes important to explore how staff in early childhood
institutions conceive play and its role in connection with children’s participatory
rights. The position of play was one of the themes the researchers in the evaluation
study explored. When staff in kindergartens are interviewed regarding the position of
play in their pedagogic work, the evaluation study depicts variations. Only a few
teachers say they now give more attention and priority to play, as a result of the fact
that children are granted rights to express views in everyday activities (Østrem et al.
2009, 156). But on the whole and summing up the findings, play comes out as a theme
which is not often mentioned either by the staff in general, or by the administrative
leaders (ibid., 159).

The lack of explicit focus on play made the researchers ask whether early child-
hood professionals tend to take the subject of play for granted, in the sense that they
feel that play is integrated into their work and does not need special concern. Or
maybe the increasing focus on learning has come to overshadow play? And how does
this finding compare with the children’s views on the matter?

In the evaluation study the children were interviewed regarding the position of
play, and they say that the reason they are in kindergarten is to play and to be with
friends (Østrem et al. 2009, 188). This view is supported by another Norwegian study
where children’s views on different activities in kindergarten were explored. Here
play and playing with friends come out as what is most important to them (Søbstad
2004). Interviews with Swedish kindergarten children (aged five years) point in the
same direction. To them play is evaluated as the activity where they feel they have
most influence (Sheridan and Pramling Samuelsson 2001). In contrast to adults who
often view play as instrumental for something else – for instance social, emotional,
cognitive development – children themselves say that they play to have fun and for
the sake of playing (Søbstad 2004). From the children’s point of view, then, play and
playful interactions might be considered a potent field for practising one’s right to
participation and freedom of expression.

Other Nordic studies based on observation of everyday activities in early childhood
centres provide further insights and nuances to the point just made, describing how
children challenge social norms and adults’ powers of definitions through playful
activities and interactions. Children are observed to spontaneously adopt playful forms
of expressions at mealtimes, for instance by starting to play with things on the table
(Bae 2004, 2009), or to use humour as a means of defying adults’ norms (Hildershavn
1999). They might also start to play with the clothes when dressing/undressing in an
effort to challenge the demands of the adult (Bjerke 2002), and when they get bored

212 B. Bae

in teacher-instructed activities, they start to use a certain material, e.g. Lego™, in play-
ful and unexpected ways not approved of by the teacher (Seland 2009). In situations
when the children meet barriers and are prohibited from playing in certain places or
with certain friends, they try to get round the rules in imaginative and playful ways
(Markstrøm and Hallden 2008). These studies thus illustrate how children exercise
their right to participate and freedom of expression through playful interactions with
adults and peers.

At the same time other studies indicate that play does not necessarily allow all
children equal agency or freedom of expression, and that some children use power
strategies in play to exclude some and include others (Løfdahl and Hagglund 2006).
With subtle communicative signals or through negotiations over roles some children
emerge as forceful and expressive subjects on their own behalf, defining the premises
of the play, whilst other children seem to be cast in weaker positions. Such power
struggles suggest that children differ when it comes to how expressive they are when
defending their rights to participate and express their views through playful modes.

Besides showing how kindergarten children exercise their right to participation
through playful behaviour with peers and adults, research findings also indicate that
the staff might not be aware of children’s playful (inter)actions as a space for freedom
of expression. In her study ‘The well-regulated freedom’, Tullgren (2004) analyses
how staff in an early childhood institution interfere and try to control play processes
if they dislike the content or the play roles children take. One could ask whether such
regulations involve threats to children’s right to freedom of expression and to partici-
pating on their own terms, or whether such actions imply that the staff take their adult
role for granted. Threats to children’s freedom of expression may also be involved in
structured learning activities; for instance, during mathematical activities the teacher
may not approve of children using their own imagination and playing with the blocks
in ways not planned by the teacher (Seland 2009).

Even though individual resources for participation may be unevenly distributed
among children and they might be disturbed by adults’ interferences and sanctions,
these studies give empirical support to the argument that play and playful interactions
contain rich possibilities for children to express their views in everyday playful inter-
actions. At the same time they point to the possibilities of reducing children’s right
to freedom of expression, in environments where their playful interactions are not
recognized and seen in connection with their rights to participation. Recent research
findings, then, illustrating the participatory potential of children’s play and playful
interaction, defy the lack of attention to play exposed by staff and administrators who
are responsible for children’s daily environments.

Are the youngest children ‘mature’ enough?

The general comments from the UN Committee on Child Rights emphasize that even
very young children are to ‘be respected as persons in their own right’ (cf. earlier).
This is a view that might challenge traditional images of children, and opinions
regarding the positions of the youngest children in early childhood centres. How, then,
are the youngest children (1–3 years) given attention when administrators and kinder-
garten staff are interviewed as part of the evaluation study?

When leaders in different positions within the field are interviewed on how they
understand participation, one central finding is that there is little mention of or explicit
reference to the youngest children in their care (Østrem et al. 2009). Along with this,

Early Years 213

interviews with staff who envisage participation primarily in terms of self-determina-
tion and individual choice show that they find it difficult to see how this is to be prac-
tised with the youngest children (ibid., 133). Both these positions might reflect a lack
of knowledge that the youngest children are entitled to express their views, and that
they do this through channels other than verbal language, and in other ways than
routines focused on individual choice. However, the evaluation study also describes a
few exceptions, that is teachers who say that they have become more conscious of the
youngest children’s modes of communication, and that they view their participation
in terms of a bodily perspective (ibid., 134).

Lack of attention to the participatory rights of the youngest is also found amongst
kindergarten staff taking part in developmental work. Some state that the issue of
participation is not so relevant for the youngest children because they are too imma-
ture (Sandvik 2007). Others hold that the theme of participation is something the staff
take more seriously when the children get older (Labahå 2007). This contrasts with
requirements in legal documents and principles described in the Framework Plan.
Could it be that the staff are dominated by traditional views and role expectations and/
or that they interpret the last phrase in section 3, ‘according to age and maturity’, in a
derogatory way? If such views are representative, and taking into consideration that
more than one-third of children in Norwegian kindergartens are between one and three
years of age, they suggest that many of the youngest children’s rights to participation
are not taken seriously.

When reviewing Norwegian research focusing on interactions and everyday activ-
ities in kindergartens, the impression that the youngest children are too immature to
express their views is not supported. Such studies illustrate how children between one
and three years of age express their intentions and have an impact on both peers and
adults. Løkken’s (2000) video-based investigations portray how toddlers use a variety
of bodily and non-verbal signals of communication to establish norms, take part in
repetitive joyful games, and develop rituals for greeting each other in the morning.
Dimensions of friendships amongst children under three years of age are explored by
Greve (2009); she describes how they try to understand each other’s intentions, and
learn care and respect as well as getting acquainted with the complexities of friendship

This is in line with other video-based research, which documents how the youngest
children are very keen and serious observers of other people’s actions and interactions
(Sandvik 2000), and that these close observations might be a first step to participation.
They are seen to express themselves by imitating actions of people around them in skil-
ful ways, and Johannesen (2002) ventures to ask whether imitation can be considered
part of our forgotten language. By imitating friends and peers in playful interactions,
they are able to join in ongoing play activities and thereby contribute to their own
participation in activities which are important to them (Johannesen and Sandvik 2008).

Ødegård’s (2005) ethnographic research on conversations between children and
adults at mealtimes points to how children using one or two words give voice to
emotional experiences and create stories in collaboration with supportive adults. This
research also documents how a two-year-old boy, by being persistent and pursuing his
intentions, manages to influence the content of kindergarten activities. Instead of
following up her pre-planned curriculum, the teacher switches focus to the theme that
the boy is preoccupied with, a story about a pirate (Ødegard 2006).

In an ongoing network project, researchers collaborating with practitioners
explore the meaning of realizing participatory rights for the youngest children in

214 B. Bae

kindergarten ( On the assumption that such rights chal-
lenge traditional professional roles, and also to contest individualistic interpretations
of participation, the sub-projects intend to shed light on how relational qualities create
premises for children’s participation. Sandvik (2009), building on a reciprocal under-
standing, problematizes how listening might function, and shows how children have a
capacity to listen to adults, a perspective often neglected. She also illustrates how a
two-year-old, in collaboration with listening adults, manages to make himself under-
stood by using a combination of non-verbal cues, and thereby has an impact on his

Other researchers within the network project are exploring the meaning of impro-
visation in adult–child relationships (Myrstad and Sverdrup 2009). Improvisation
challenges a prescriptive didactic perspective, where the teachers’ pre-planned
programme to a large extent defines the space of the children’s participation. When
the staff use the perspective of improvisation as a guiding principle and tool for
reflecting on daily routines and learning activities, this contributes to the children
influencing the processes as well as the content of learning activities. This integration
of children’s participation within learning processes is in line with the principles in the
Framework Plan (cf. earlier), and it has positive outcomes for both children and adults,
as documented in the evaluation study (Østrem et al. 2009, 130).

Concluding comments

Taking Norway as a point of departure we have seen that children’s right to participa-
tion is high on the agenda in official documents, research and implementation strate-
gies. Parallel with this, research from early childhood institutions documents how
children between one and five years of age have capacities to express themselves and
have an impact on matters that are important in their everyday life. Contrary to what
some may think if trapped in traditional views of children, the youngest children do
not appear to be too ‘immature’ to express their views or too young to influence their
everyday lives. By meeting adults who are willing to challenge their own thinking and
to interpret children’s rights in local settings, children might have experiences in
kindergarten that contribute to a sense of participating on one’s own terms from very
early on in life.

Being high on the educational policy agenda is, as this article shows, no guarantee
for the realization of participatory rights close to the perspectives of children. Isolating
children’s participation from other concerns might result in routines that narrow down
and reify participation to a one-sided understanding with a focus on self-determination
and individual choice. Such individualistic interpretations challenge a relational
understanding, which is emphasized in both international and national policy docu-
ments. Even though there are exceptions, results from the evaluation study indicate
that a holistic and relational understanding of participation is lacking amongst practi-
tioners in the field. The realization of children’s participatory rights will then be
skewed in ways that are not in line with official documents. With this kind of
mismatch between practice and policy documents children’s rights to express their
views are at risk.

One source of risk may be that professionals responsible for implementing the
rights are influenced by reductionist views and lack knowledge which does justice to
children’s capabilities and modes of communication. They might be stuck in old roles
and take their own adult status and thinking for granted. Practitioners may also lack

Early Years 215

awareness of the many ‘languages’ of children and the importance of play in connec-
tion with children’s right to freedom of expression. We have seen that teachers tend
to have a more complex view of children’s participation than assistants. Taking into
consideration that two-thirds of the staff in Norwegian kindergartens are assistants,
this might create problems in implementing a holistic understanding of participatory

Another risk is that administrative leaders at various levels lack the relevant
educational background to give priority to efforts that strengthen the process quality
of the kindergartens. The quality of processes between children and adults creates
premises for the realization of a relational and holistic understanding of participation.
Professionals in the field might also be governed by neo-liberal or new management
discourses which reduce children’s participation to tokenistic routines regulated from
an adult perspective. Along with these factors other initiatives from the central
government, like testing the children, might be time consuming and run counter to
developing good process quality, and in this way limit the realization of children’s
participatory rights.

There is also a risk that professionals responsible for educating teachers and staff
are locked in theoretical perspectives which do not enable or support children’s
participation. Considering the lack of attention to play and increasing pressure on
learning outcomes, a renewed focus and theoretical reconstruction of play seem to
be needed.4 This is needed both to enhance children’s participatory rights, and also
to contest an instrumental use of play for the sake of learning. It is important to keep
children’s perspective on play in mind: they play for the sake of playing. Speaking
metaphorically one could say that children visit play and playful interactions as
power plants or transformers which furnish them with joy and vitality! Not recog-
nizing this might result in tampering with children’s most vital life processes. From
my point of view, reconstructing the position of play involves understanding that
playful actions and interactions are closely aligned to children’s right to freedom of

The need for a critical discussion regarding dominant theoretical discourses has
been argued from diverse vantage points. Some argue that a sociocultural perspective
will enhance children’s participation in local contexts (Fleer 2005; Smith 2007;
Nyland 2009). Other researchers maintain that in order to support professionals in
contesting dominant theoretical and political positions, there is a need to reconceptu-
alize the field of early childhood education, drawing on critical theories, postmodern
ideas and poststructural positions (Canella 2002; Dahlberg and Moss 2005; Lenz
Taguchi 2007).5

I follow Moss (2007), who argues for a ‘Meeting across the paradigmatic
divide’ within the field of early childhood education. Instead of isolating oneself
within segregated theoretical islands excluding one’s opponents and/or looking
negatively at others who work with different perspectives and methods, it seems
more fruitful to venture into dialogue and be challenged by people and ideas that
seem foreign. This might liberate mental energy and enhance collaboration, which
is needed to deal with some of the structural constraints (pressures on static
measures of quality, testing of children etc.) that threaten to narrow the space for
participation on the part of both the children and the adults working with them.
Critical discussion regarding the issues highlighted in this article might be a
step towards a more complex and humanistic understanding of what goes in early
childhood education.

216 B. Bae

1. See also Woodhead 2008b for a discussion of the implications of the UN Convention on

the Rights of the Child in Early Childhood.
2. The Norwegian word used as a heading is ‘medvirkning’, where the prefix med (with)

refers to something that is expressed together with somebody else, and the last part of the
word (virkning) accentuates the aspect of impact.

3. I use the terms play and playful interaction to refer to play as a delineated activity
defined by the children, but also to spontaneous playful acts which they initiate in all
kinds of situations.

4. In a recently published book (Brooker, L., and S. Edwards, eds. 2010. Engaging play.
Maidenhead: Open University Press), many of the articles offer new perspectives on play.

5. The international journal Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood is a journal with a
strong voice in this direction.

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Comment�No.�7 on Children’s Rights, International Journal of Early Years Education, 15:2,
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International Journal of Early Years Education
Vol. 15, No. 2, June 2007, pp. 161–170

ISSN 0966-9760 (print)/ISSN 1469-8463 (online)/07/020161–10
© 2007 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/09669760701288716

Early childhood professionals and
children’s rights: tensions and
possibilities around the United Nations
General Comment No. 7 on Children’s

Glenda Mac Naughtona, Patrick Hughesb* and Kylie Smitha
aUniversity of Melbourne, Australia; bDeakin University, Australia
Taylor and FrancisCIEY_A_228775.sgm10.1080/09669760701288716International Journal of Early Years Education0966-9760 (print)/1469-8463 (online)Original Article2007Taylor & Francis152000000June

Young children’s views are heard rarely in public debates and are often subordinated to adults’
views. This article examines how early childhood staff could support and enhance young children’s
participation in public decision making. We argue that when early childhood staff use their exper-
tise in young children’s physical, social and cognitive development to facilitate consultations with
young children, they are likely to reinforce the view that young children are unable to form and
express their own views. Whatever their intentions, this weakens the notion of children’s rights and
undermines young children’s participation in public decision making. In contrast, when staff use
their expertise in child development to collaborate with young children, new social structures can
emerge in which everyone’s voice is heard. This approach reaffirms staff’s status as experts, but
redefines their expertise. Instead of being experts acting on behalf of children, staff become equita-
ble collaborators with children, advancing citizenship for all.


Children are rarely regarded as citizens with a right to participate in civic life.
Instead, adults generally develop laws, policies and practices (e.g. those concerning
the funding and management of education, health and welfare services) for and on
behalf of children, arguing that children’s innocence and immaturity renders them
incapable of taking decisions for and about themselves (see Cohen, 2005). However,
there is a growing belief that children have a right to be involved in decisions that

* Corresponding author. School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University,
Geelong 3217, Australia. Email:

162 G. Mac Naughton et al.

affect them and that they can and should participate in public debate and policy
formation (see, for example, Christensen & James, 2000; Children’s Rights Alliance
and the National Youth Council of Ireland, 2001; Stafford et al., 2003; Hill et al.,
2004; Franklin & Sloper, 2005). That belief owes much to the 1989 United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which made children’s rights—
including the right to have a voice in decisions about them—legally binding in the
same way as other (adult) human rights (United Nations, 1989). In November
2005, the UNCRC was given new force when the United Nations Committee on the
Rights of the Child published General Comment No. 7, Implementing child rights in
early childhood. Two recent developments in the international early childhood field
have reinforced the ideas in the UNCRC and in General Comment No. 7: the appear-
ance of a new model of young children as ‘social actors’; and an increasing interest
by government agencies in creating and sustaining child-centred policies and
practices. In this article, we describe those two developments and show how they
reinforce the arguments for children’s rights in the UNCRC and in General Comment
No. 7. We explore why traditional early childhood expertise can prevent early child-
hood professionals from supporting children’s rights; and we conclude by suggesting
that early childhood professionals who wish to support children’s rights should
reaffirm their status as experts, but redefine their expertise.

The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
proclaims children’s right to enjoy leisure, recreation, and cultural activities; their
right to enjoy and to practise their own culture, religion, and language without fear
of persecution or discrimination; and their right to privacy, protection and auton-
omy. The United Nations General Assembly endorsed the UNCRC unanimously
on 20 November 1989; and on 26 January 1990, 61 governments signed it. Several
Articles in the UNCRC deal specifically with children’s rights to be consulted and
heard in matters affecting them:

● the right to express their views on all matters affecting them and for their views to
be taken seriously (Article 12);

● the right to freedom of expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart
information and ideas of all kinds through any media they choose (Article 13);

● the right to education that promotes children’s emotional, intellectual and physi-
cal development; that fosters awareness and understanding of parents’ roles and
of the importance of cultural identity, language and values; and that prepares chil-
dren for a responsible life in society (Article 29). (See Ackroyd & Pilkingham,
1999; Coady, 2000; Fortin, 2003; Reimer, 2003.)

The UNCRC raised the profile of children’s rights significantly. For instance, it
underpinned UNICEF’s 1996 ‘Child Friendly Cities Initiative’ (CFCI), in which
children appear as active citizens who can participate in local government decision
making as partners with ‘adult facilitators’—such as early childhood professionals.

Early childhood professionals and children’s rights 163

The UNCRC also underpinned the European Convention on Human Rights and
Fundamental Freedom, which gave children the same rights as adults (Fortin,
2003). However, the UNCRC fails to recognize children as active citizens and, in
particular, it fails to recognize or value the voices of children under five years of
age (see, for example, Lansdown, 2005), even though the United Nations defines a
child as ‘every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law
applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier’ (Article 1, UNCRC). We have
found no evidence in the international early childhood literature that either the
UNCRC or the CFCI has had any significant effect on early childhood curricula or
programs; only rarely do children appear in early childhood research literature as
citizens (Cambell & Smith, 2001); and generally the early childhood field has
shown limited interest in involving children in curriculum development (Roche,
1999; Stasiulis, 2002; Gonick & Hladki, 2005; Mac Naughton & Smith, 2005;
Mayall, 2006). In Australia, there is no mention of the UNCRC or the CFCI in
the state-based early childhood curricula (e.g. South Australian Curriculum Stan-
dards and Accountability Framework, 2005; the New South Wales Curriculum
Framework for Children’s Services: The Practice of Relationships, 2004; and the
Tasmanian Essential Learning Framework 2, 2003).

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child addressed this issue by
releasing (in November 2005) its General Comment No. 7, Implementing child rights in
early childhood. The General Comment begins by stating that:

the Committee wishes to encourage recognition that young children are holders of all
rights enshrined in the Convention (UNCRC) and that early childhood is a critical
period for the realization of these rights. The Committee’s working definition of ‘early
childhood’ is all young children: at birth and throughout infancy; during the preschool
years; as well as during the transition to school. (Office of the High Commissioner for
Human Rights (OHCHR), 2005, p. 1)

In particular, General Comment No. 7 emphasizes that young children’s right to
express their views and feelings should be recognized in ‘the development of policies
and services, including through research and consultations’ (OHCHR, 2005, p. 7);
and it stresses that these rights apply to all children, irrespective of their age:

The Committee wishes to emphasize that article 12 (of the UNCRC) applies both to
younger and to older children. As holders of rights, even the youngest children are enti-
tled to express their views … (Ibid.)

Two recent developments make the UNCRC and General Comment No. 7 especially
significant to early childhood professionals: the appearance in the international early
childhood literature of a new model of young children as ‘social actors’; and the
increasing interest by government agencies in several countries in creating and
sustaining child-centred policies and practices. In the remainder of this article, we
describe these two developments in detail and show how they reinforce the argu-
ments in the UNCRC and General Comment No. 7 in favour of children’s rights; we
show how traditional early childhood expertise can prevent early childhood profes-
sionals from supporting children’s rights; and we suggest that early childhood

164 G. Mac Naughton et al.

professionals who wish to support children’s rights should reaffirm their status as
experts, but redefine their expertise.

General Comment No. 7: linking a new model of young children with
governments’ new interest in young children’s views

The publication of General Comment No. 7 coincided with the emergence of a new
model of young children as ‘social actors’ who can shape their identities, who can
create and communicate valid views about the social world and who have the right to
participate in it, acting with adults to develop new policies and practices. Indeed,
General Comment No. 7 notes from the beginning the emergence of this new model:

The Committee notes the growing body of theory and research which confirms that
young children are best understood as social actors whose survival, well-being and
development are dependent on and built around close relationships … Respect for the
young child’s agency—as a participant in family, community and society—is frequently
overlooked, or rejected as inappropriate on the grounds of age and immaturity.
(OHCHR, 2005, pp. 4, 6)

The new understanding of children as social actors emerged in different forms from
within diverse disciplines, including sociology, developmental psychology and
anthropology; and from within the consumer movement—in recognition of children
as service users and recipients (Fajerman, 2001). It is in stark contrast to dominant
mainstream models, which present young children as passive, weak and depen-
dent—too innocent and/or immature to participate meaningfully in discussions and
decisions that affect them. The ‘social actor’ model is the result of a growing body of
early childhood research that challenges dominant, mainstream models in two ways.
First, researchers have shown that young children can make valid meanings about
the world and their place in it. In particular, researchers have found that young
children have definite views on what makes some environments more attractive or
‘child-friendly’ than others; and they can talk cogently about curriculum and play-
ground design, as well as about subjects as diverse as migration (Candy & Butter-
worth, 1998), literacy (Martello, 1999), social networks (Corrie & Leito, 1999),
‘race’ and gender equity (Mac Naughton, 2001a, b, c) and peace (Campbell et al.,
2000). Second, researchers have found that young children know the world in differ-
ent (not inferior) ways to adults and that children’s insights and perspectives on the
world can improve adults’ understandings of children’s experiences (Corsaro, 1997;
Cannella, 1998; Alderson, 1999, 2000; Clarke, 2000; Mac Naughton, 2000; Wood-
head & Faulkner, 2000). Researchers have found that young children can tell adults
much about their daily lives and about what makes them feel that their needs and
opinions are valued (see, for example, Clark, 2000; O’Kane, 2000; Mac Naughton
et al., 2003, 2004; Allan & L’Anson, 2004).

The new model of children as social actors complements and reinforces govern-
ments’ increasing recognition that children are competent citizens whose views should
be sought and enacted in legislation, policy and practice (see, for example, Children’s
Rights Alliance and the National Youth Council of Ireland, 2001; Children and Young

Early childhood professionals and children’s rights 165

People’s Unit, 2004). For instance, increasing numbers of governments are creating
equivalents of a Children’s Commissioner or Ombudsman; and in England the
government has distributed formal guidance to departments on children’s participa-
tion (Dahlberg & Moss, 2005). In Australia, children’s voices are beginning to be
heard in legal and governmental proceedings. For example, Queensland’s Department
of Justice and Attorney-General gives children the right to have a say in decisions
previously made for and on their behalf through its Children’s Services Tribunal
(CST), one of whose members is a child (Department of Justice and Attorney-
General, 2005). The state governments of New South Wales and of Tasmania have
each created a Children’s Commissioner’s Office. In Victoria, each local council has
to prepare a Children’s Plan that states how it will serve young children’s needs; and
many councils have consulted young children while preparing their Children’s Plans.

In Australia, several state, territory and municipal governments are beginning to
consult young children as part of developing policies and practices that are ‘child
friendly’ and, sometimes, child centred. The authors have worked with several such
governments, including (Mac Naughton, Smith & Lawrence, 2003; Mac Naughton,
Barnes & Dally, 2004; Mac Naughton et al., 2005; Mac Naughton & Smith, 2006).
Staff in those governments have reported that their attempts to develop child-
centred practices that embody children’s perspectives have been constrained consis-
tently in three ways. First, their colleagues have been incredulous that it is possible
to have meaningful consultations with young children. Second, government staff
responsible for developing child-centred practices have felt insufficiently confident
or competent to ask questions that young children would be able and willing to
answer and to interpret children’s responses correctly. Third, the staff reported that
even if they could overcome the previous two constraints, they have had insufficient
time and resources to undertake meaningful consultations. These staff believed that
easy access to mentors (i.e. people within their organization and within the broader
community with expertise in child-centred practice) would assist them to consult
young children meaningfully and to develop child-centred practices in their day-to-
day work. More specifically, staff wanted training in research-based, child-centred
practice; they wanted such training to be provided by people with expertise in young
children’s physical, social and cognitive capacity to express their views and desires;
and they wanted such training to take diverse forms, including discussion groups,
workshops, conferences and websites.

Re-thinking early childhood expertise in the light of General Comment No. 7

Requests by government staff for support from experts in the early childhood field
are likely to increase as the belief that children have a right to participate in civic life
grows and as General Comment No. 7 becomes known more widely. Early childhood
professionals could respond by acting in one or more of the following three roles:

1. Translator. Here, early childhood professionals use their expertise and experi-
ence to ‘translate’ what they believe children say (in a variety of media) in a

166 G. Mac Naughton et al.

consultation exercise. The ‘translator’ provides a simple conduit for communi-
cation between children and adults. The role assumes that young children
communicate—at least sometimes—in ways that are comprehensible only to
adults with the appropriate expertise and experience.

2. Intermediary. An early childhood professional who adopts this role collaborates
actively with researchers who lack expertise and experience in the early child-
hood field. The ‘intermediary’ uses her/his knowledge of developmental theories
and models to delineate specific children’s communicative and cognitive capa-
bilities. The role assumes that children’s thoughts and feelings are comprehensi-
ble only to adults with the appropriate expertise and experience.

3. Advocate. Advocacy on behalf of children relies on expertise and experience to a
greater or lesser extent. For example, some staff might believe that their exper-
tise and experience enables them to know what is good for children, so they
speak on children’s behalf without consulting them; others might feel that their
expertise and experience equips them uniquely with the skills to ask children
what they want, to understand their responses and to communicate those
responses to other adults. The role assumes that adults with the appropriate
expertise and experience can express young children’s ideas, opinions and
emotions more effectively than the children can.

Each of these three roles could attract well-intentioned, liberal-minded early child-
hood professionals who believe that young children’s views should be heard in public
decision making and who believe also that their expertise and experience enables
them to facilitate consultations with young children. However, each role, in its way,
allows early childhood professionals to determine which children’s voices are heard,
how they are heard and what they say. Both the ‘translator’ and the ‘intermediary’
believe that children have limited communicative competence; that this restricts
their ability to express their views successfully in the adult world; and that early
childhood professionals can facilitate communication that otherwise could not
happen or, at best, could happen less effectively. The ‘advocate’ believes that chil-
dren cannot express their views successfully in an adult world that ignores or
dismisses them; and that early childhood professionals can ensure that children’s
views are heard, even if their voices are not. Thus, early childhood professionals who
adopt those roles end up repeating or reinforcing authoritarian relationships between
adults and young children, despite their good intentions and liberal beliefs.

The key to this puzzle lies in the assumptions underlying the roles. Each role
assumes that early childhood professionals possess objective knowledge about indi-
vidual children’s development, derived from scientific research. Such science-based
‘truth’ about children precludes contestation and places the early childhood expert
beyond challenge—by adults and, of course, by children. Consequently, early child-
hood professionals who define themselves in terms of their expertise in individual
children’s development will respond to calls for children’s voices to be heard in
public debates by asking ‘How can we best use our expertise in child development to
act as children’s translators, intermediaries or advocates?’ Their question reiterates

Early childhood professionals and children’s rights 167

their status as experts and reaffirms their authority-based relationships with young
children, effectively undermining attempts to regard young children as citizens.

Early childhood professionals who create such a circle of authority resemble what
Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) called ‘traditional intellectuals’ (see Hoare &
Nowell-Smith, 1971; Boggs, 1976; Showstack Sassoon, 1980). Gramsci argued that
an intellectual is someone who undertakes cultural, social and educational activities
that either sustain or challenge particular worldviews or paradigms. He distinguished
between two broad categories of intellectual: ‘traditional’ intellectuals, who support
political and social stability; and ‘organic’ intellectuals, who support political and
social change. Gramsci believed that traditional intellectuals regard themselves as
part of a tradition of disinterested expertise that stands apart from social and politi-
cal change; but they are neither objective nor impartial, because they sustain and
reinforce one particular worldview or paradigm at the expense of others. In contrast,
organic intellectuals believe that knowledge is never neutral and independent,
because it is always and inevitably associated with the interests of a particular social
group. Consequently, they consciously and overtly challenge ‘accepted wisdom’ or
‘common sense’ by asking new questions of the world and introducing new ways to
think about it; and they put their knowledge and expertise at the service of a
(generally excluded or oppressed) social group, to give it a sense of itself.

From Gramsci’s perspective, the early childhood field’s traditional intellectuals
are those who choose to sustain and reinforce developmental psychology rather
than—and at the expense of—alternative paradigms. They cannot claim that devel-
opmental psychology is objective, uncontested knowledge, because it is riven by a
tension between a model of the child as an individual and a conviction that knowl-
edge about that child enables early childhood professionals to know what’s best for
children in general. In contrast, early childhood’s organic intellectuals see their
knowledge of children, teaching and learning not as neutral and independent but as
historically and culturally specific and, thus, open to interpretation, criticism and
reconstruction by and with others. Gramsci thought about intellectuals in terms of
the history of whole societies, so his perspective cannot be reduced simply to the
daily practice of early childhood professionals. However, he argued that expertise is
always associated with the balance of power and influence in a particular society,
and his argument can help early childhood staff to reflect critically on their assump-
tions about children’s participation in decision making. As we have seen, early child-
hood’s traditional intellectuals might respond to calls to include young children in
decisions affecting them by asking ‘How can we best use our expertise in child
development to act as children’s translators, intermediaries or advocates?’, which
implicitly reinforces current authoritarian relationships between adults and children.
In contrast, staff acting as organic intellectuals might ask ‘How can we use our
expertise in child development to collaborate with young children to build new social
structures in which everyone’s voice is heard?’ Their question opens new relation-
ships with young children because it poses their professional expertise as both the
starting point of collaboration and its continuing product. Their question puts into
practice the arguments of General Comment No. 7 on young children’s rights,

168 G. Mac Naughton et al.

because it reaffirms their status as experts, but redefines their expertise as equitable,
collaborative adult–child relationships. If staff reconceptualize themselves as organic
intellectuals, children’s involvement in public life becomes an issue around which
staff can give the early childhood community a new sense of itself as both a site of
social and political change and an agent of that change. In doing so, they change
from experts acting on behalf of children to collaborators with children in advancing
citizenship for all.


The authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments,
especially one reviewer, who made detailed comments that were critical yet supportive.


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F a i r D e a l i n g ( S h o r t E x c e r p t )

Reading: Linking Play and Relationship (in Ch. 4. Relationships) (excerpt) (Authentic Childhood: Experiencing
Reggio Emilia in the Classroom)

Author: Fraser, Susan

Editor: N/A

Publisher: Nelson Publication Date: 2006 Pages: 87-89

Course: ECED 400 93Q 2022S1-2 Introduction to Early Childhood Education and Care
Course Code: 93Q Term: 2022S1-2

Department: ECED

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Linking Play and Relationship
For the last one hundred years, since the Froebelian kindergartens were estab­
lished in North America, play has been given the central position philosophi­
cally in most early childhood education programs. The key question for early
childhood educators in implementing the Reggio Emilia approach is this: If we
are to place relationship at the centre of the curriculum, how will this affect our
belief in the importance of play? Loris Malaguzzi said, “We should not forget

NEL C H A P T E R 4 Relationships 87

the relevant role of make-believe play. This type of symbolic play is pervasive
in young children’s experience and has an important role in the social devel­
opment of intelligence, development of the skills needed for reciprocity
among children, the potential for children to persist in activity and conversa­
tion together, and development of the ability to create symbols” (1993, 12).
Children in the preschools in Reggio Emilia spend much of their time engaged
in play, but the teachers in Reggio Emilia do not focus their attention on the
children’s play, as do educators in many other programs.

In preschools where play is the central philosophical perspective, teachers
spend much of their time and energy on creating environments that foster play.
Then, when children become fully engaged in play, the teachers tend to with­
draw and observe. Therefore, the teacher is more of a facilitator than a partici­
pator with the children in the play. For instance, the teachers at the Sexsmith
Multicultural Preschool, described above, observed that the children used the
cooking theme most frequently in their play in the dramatic play area. The
teachers then used this theme as the foundation for building the content of the
program. The children, as they prepared the food for the restaurant, wrote the
menu, took orders and served the food to their parents, developed their social
and literacy skills, learned new concepts, and developed their vocabulary.

The teachers at the Sexsmith school developed the theme of cooking food
from different ethnic groups over six months; in this sense, the project was
similar to those carried out in Reggio Emilia because the topic was explored
in depth for a long period of time. However, the project differed in the way
the teachers used their observations of the children’s play, then took the lead
in developing the project further. Unlike the teachers in Reggio Emilia, who
work collaboratively with the children in developing a project, the teachers at
Sexsmith Multicultural Preschool took control of the direction the project
would follow. They proceeded to organize the children’s cooking activities,
decide on the menu, and transform the classroom into a restaurant. If the
children had had more say in the project, for instance, the menu may have
offered a wider choice of cultural foods than celery sticks stuffed with cream
cheese or peanut butter (Fraser 1992). The educators in Reggio Emilia use their
observations and conversations with the children as an entry point into the
process of developing a project further. They then work together with the chil­
dren throughout this process. The emphasis is on relationship and reci­
procity, and the outcome of the project emerges as it unfolds.

Baerbel Jaeckel, the teacher at the Quadra Island Preschool, describes in a
survey in April 1998 how her perspective changed as she began to implement
the Reggio Emilia approach and as relationship became more of a guiding
principle in the program:

88 A U T H E N T I C C H I L D H O O D NEL

There is a wish, a desire, an interest to connect, to establish o r rather point o u t webs
o f connection, o f interrelationships— o f widening circles, i.e., what a child draws can be
related to an earlier event, a b ook, an experience, etc.— and it becomes more than an
individual act. it can be related … to another child on that particular subject o r situa­
tion— thus establishing a n d / o r co n firm in g a contact, a relationship, a com m on interest
among the ‘children. A lw ays, o r at least often, there Is a sense o f wanting to bring
things— ideas … and people into con text— with previous events, other suggestions,
etc.— so that there is a lin k, a connection not only between ideas, information, etc., but
also a connection between people; i.e., a child who usually may not relate to another
child on an interpersonal level will find a bridge to that child via a similar th o u gh t o r
by problem solving. Earlier in the year E was often quite solitary; when I related another
child’s interest and remarks about the rainbows (created by the crystals], this interest
became a bridge that linked her to another child. If this is done for and with the child
quite frequently, then isolation can be opened up.

I just generally look for more collaboration— the so-called teachership steps in to the
background; when I feel really connected, I am just part o f what is happening. Some par­
ents need a lo t o f affirm ing o f their qualities as co-creators.

These reflections illustrate the change in perspective as a teacher, in imple­
menting the Reggio Emilia approach, changes from viewing the curriculum as
external to the daily experiences in the classroom to viewing it as internal—as
an integral part of being and connecting to others. The program content then,
is derived from the dynamic interaction of adults and children with one another
and with the environment. It emerges spontaneously out of the relationships in
the environment, and, thus, it is always fresh and interesting. “Expect the unex­
pected” is how Loris Malaguzzi described this way of experiencing curriculum.

The educators in Reggio Emilia perceive play as an important medium for
fostering relationships, for as children interact in the play group they are
given many opportunities to develop their social and cognitive skills. In
Reggio Emilia children are given plenty of tim e to play, but the focus seems
to be on the relationship between adults and children as they participate
together in the co-construction of knowledge. Reggio Emilia educators also
acknowledge play as one of the hundred languages used by children in sym­
bolic development.

NEL C H A P T E R 4 Relationships 89




Sue Elliott and Julie Davis

Climate change and sustainability are issues of global significance. While other education sectors have
implemented education for sustainability for many years, the early childhood sector has been slow to take up
this challenge. This position paper poses the question: Why has this sector been so slow to engage with
sustainability? Explanations are proposed based on a review of research literature and the authors’ long
engagement in seeking to bring early childhood education and education for sustainability together. The
imperative is for the early childhood sector to engage in education for sustainability without delay and to ‘get
active’ for a sustainable future.

Les changements climatiques et le développement durable sont chargés d´une signification globale. Alors que
d´autres secteurs de l´éducation se sont impliqués dans l’éducation au développement durable depuis
plusieurs années, celui réservé à la petite enfance a tardé à relever le défi. La question que pose cet article
est: Pourquoi ce secteur a pris tant de temps à s´engager vis-à-vis le développement durable? Des
explications sont proposées sur la base d’une revue de la recherche et de l’engagement des auteurs qui
tentent de réunir l´éducation de la petite enfance et l´éducation pour le développement durable. Il est impératif
que le secteur de la petite enfance s´engage dans l´éducation pour le développement durable sans délai et
qu’il demeure alerte dans le futur.

El cambio climático y la sustentabilidad son cuestiones de importancia global. Mientras que otros sectores
educativos han implementado la educación para la sustentabilidad hace muchos años, el sector de la
temprana infancia ha sido lento en asumir este desafío. Este trabajo plantea la siguiente cuestión: ¿Por qué
este sector sido tan lento para comprometerse con la sustentabilidad? Las explicaciones que se proponen
han sido basadas en un estudio de investigación literaria y el largo compromiso del autor buscando unir la
educación de la temprana infancia con la educación para la sustentabilidad. El imperativo es que el sector de
la temprana infancia se comprometa con la educación para la sustentabilidad sin más demora y se plantee
activamente por un futuro sustentable.

Keywords: Sustainability, early childhood education, education for sustainability, environmental

66 International Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 41, No. 2, 2009

National and international media events, reports and conferences such as Al
Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006), the Stern Review of the economics of climate
change (2006), the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(2006; 2007), the Garnaut Climate Change Review (Commonwealth
Government of Australia, 2008) and most recently, the United Nations Climate
Change Conference in Poznań, Poland (December, 2008) have heightened
awareness of how humans are over-stretching the Earth’s life support systems.
As has been reported in relation to the findings of the 2007 United Nations
Global Environment Outlook 4 Report, “Humanity is changing Earth’s climate
so fast and devouring resources so voraciously that it is poised to bequeath a
ravaged planet to future generations” (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Oct
2007). Global warming is not just about the state of the natural environment; it
is increasingly recognised as having significant health, security, economic and
social justice dimensions.

The long term health and survival of human populations and the health of
global natural systems are closely entwined. The need for fundamental changes
in how we live has become impossible to ignore. Education has a key role and all
sectors – including early childhood education – must be a part of re-imagining
and transforming current unsustainable patterns of living. The year 2005 marked
the beginning of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable
Development (2005-2014), but it is unlikely that many early childhood educators
have heard of this significant initiative. Yet, there is possibly no greater global
concern impacting on the lives of young children – with ramifications for both
present and future generations – than the state of the environment and the
equitable and sustainable use of its resources.

It is generally recognised that education has a major role in aiding societies to
make the transition to sustainable ways of living. Furthermore, there is evidence
– over thirty years – of educational sectors including schools, universities,
technical colleges and community education, making concerted efforts to raise
awareness of, and seeking to implement environmental/ sustainability education.
For example, Australia, at both national and state levels, has committed to a
Sustainable Schools initiative, mirroring other ‘whole school’ approaches
underway around the world such as Europe’s Eco-schools, the Green School
Project in China, Enviroschools in New Zealand and the Foundation for
Environmental Education’s (FEE) Eco-schools, the largest internationally
coordinated effort with members in 48 countries (Henderson & Tilbury, 2004).
This same period has seen the rise of a vigorous international research
community around environmental/ sustainability education, parallelling the
theorising and debates that have emerged over the past few decades in the

Sue Elliott and Julie Davis 67

educational field more generally. Yet, a scan of contemporary research journals
in early childhood education finds little reference to environmental and
sustainability issues, their impacts on young children or how early childhood
education might contribute to changing unsustainable ways of living (Davis,

Perhaps this omission is because the benefits of living in a globalised,
technologised material world have so colonised our thinking and acting that we
cannot see the harm; or perhaps the issues are just so overwhelming that early
childhood educators feel they are powerless to ‘make a difference’. Perhaps, we
have become ‘hard wired’ to respond only to the most imminent threats rather
than the long term, cumulative ones; or perhaps we educators educate for
sustainability’ and, therefore, the matter is being taken care of? Whatever the
reasons for the lack of interest in sustainability issues, we are already ‘doing
environmental’ clearly some members of the early childhood field who do
recognise that the early years are a pivotal period when understandings of
sustainability and the ethics of living sustainability are constructed (UNESCO,

The term ‘environmental education’ emerged in the 1960s and was defined by
the Tbilisi Declaration in 1977 as a comprehensive lifelong education that should
be responsive to a rapidly changing world. ‘It should prepare the individual for
life through an understanding of the major problems of the contemporary world,
and the provision of skills and attributes needed to play a productive role
towards improving life and protecting the environment with due regard to
ethical values’ (UNESCO, 1978: 1). In practice, environmental education has
tended to focus on ‘green’ issues such as nature conservation and the promotion
of human connections with the natural environment. However, a reexamination
of the Declaration suggests that its original intention does, in fact, align with the
intentions of the newly emerging ‘education for sustainability’ – seen as replacing
‘environmental education’. In effect, the recent change in terminology from
Environmental Education to Education for Sustainability (EfS) attempts to
redress the perceived ‘greenness’ of environmental education and to focus more
explicitly on the pedagogies of humans as agents of change.

While there is no ‘right’ definition or way of practising EfS, the prevailing
orientation in Australia emerges out of critical theory. Critical theory provides a
basis for investigating power relationships and the marginalisation of some social
groups (Freire, 1972; Habermas, 1971). Traditionally, these social groups include
those excluded by gender, class and race. As it relates to education for
sustainability, marginalised groups also include children and future generations as

68 International Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 41, No. 2, 2009

well as non-human species, places, and even natural elements, such as water, soil
and air. Critical theory also assists in understanding how education systems have
played their part in this marginalisation (Stevenson, 2007). In other words,
challenging the status quo in education is a fundamental tenet of EfS. As Orr, a
leading advocate of education for sustainability has commented: “The crisis [of
sustainability] cannot be solved by the same kind of education that has helped
create the problems” (1992: 83). Over a decade later, UNESCO Director
General Koichior Matsuura reiterated that ‘education will have to change so that
it addresses the social, economic, cultural and environmental problems that we
face in the 21st century’ (Australian National Commission for UNESCO, 2005:
2). Essentially, then, EfS is education with a transformative agenda – it is about
creating change towards more sustainable ways of living, even though we may
not yet know what these changes will look like. It has both humanistic and
ecological values including: living within ecological limits, action-oriented for
social change, participation and democratic decision-making, and equity as an
intergenerational value or goal (UNESCO, 2005).

In Australia, two important initiatives that provide pedagogical support
for the implementation of EfS are the UNESCO Decade of Education for
Sustainable Development (2005-2014) and the National Environmental
Education Statement for Schools in Australia (2005). These related documents
provide curriculum principles and strategies that imply a pedagogical advantage
in early childhood education with respect to the implementation of EfS. The
National Environmental Education Statement for Schools (2005), for example,
suggests experiential learning, values clarification, creative thinking, problem
solving, story telling and inquiry learning as important in EfS, while the
UNESCO Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005) document
cites the following key education principles as pivotal: interdisciplinary and
holistic, values-driven, critical thinking and problem solving, multi method,
participatory decision making, applicability, and locally relevant. Both sets of
characteristics clearly align with early childhood pedagogy (Arthur et al, 2008)
and suggest that what is required is a deeper understanding of the links between
the pedagogies of EfS and early childhood pedagogies.

Drawing on these similarities, a description of Early Childhood Education
for Sustainability (ECEfS) is proposed. We claim that ECEfS is an empowering
approach to education underpinned by both humanistic and ecological values
that promotes change towards sustainable learning communities. Consequently,
ECEfS seeks to empower children and adults to change their ways of thinking,
being and acting in order to minimise environmental impacts and to enhance
environmentally and socially sustainable practices within early childhood settings
and into homes and the wider community.

Nevertheless, despite these similarities the early childhood sector has been
slow to engage with EfS. This makes our question ‘Why?’ very pertinent. In our
reflections on both early childhood education and EfS, it is not so much about

Sue Elliott and Julie Davis 69

radically changing what early educators do, but understanding that there are
strong reasons why it is important that sustainability be urgently addressed in
and through early childhood education.

As noted earlier, recent international reviews of early childhood EE/EfS have
shown that the early childhood education field has been slow to engage with
thinking and practice around sustainability issues, despite uptake by other
educational sectors. In Australia’s only national review of early childhood
environmental education (the New South Wales Environmental Protection
Agency’s 2003 report ‘Patches of Green’), which was conducted before the term
‘education for sustainability’ became more common but focussed on EE within
a socio-political educational framework, green patches were described as
‘exemplary individuals, organisations and centres that shared a passion and
commitment to the importance of early childhood environmental education’
(NSW EPA, 2003: 1). These green patches were localised, disconnected, had
limited support, resources or research, and were rarely acknowledged within
either the environmental education or the early childhood fields. Later, in 2006,
Elliott reported on a growing number of initiatives at local and state levels and
the emergence of some interest from both early childhood and environmental
organisations at the national level via their professional associations. However,
this growing interest and engagement is yet to be constructively supported by
state and federal governments – seen as central to widespread systemic uptake.
Thus, mobilisation of the sector continues to be ad hoc. In order to further
confirm the low level of interest in ECEfS Davis (forthcoming) surveyed a set of
Australian and international research journals in EfS and ECE looking for
research at their intersection. The results simply confirmed that there has been
very little research related to ECEfS or early childhood environmental education
– in sharp contrast to other sectors of education that have developed over

In seeking to understand why the field of early childhood education has
been slow to engage with the challenges of sustainability both nationally and
internationally, the authors propose the following explanations:

There is a long history of children learning through play both in and with nature
outdoors and this is deeply embedded in early childhood education. Educational
theorists such as Froebel and Dewey espoused the virtues of learning outdoors
in natural settings for children. Froebel (1782 – 1852), often regarded as the
father of the kindergarten movement, identified analogies between the work of
educators and gardeners, describing kindergartens as ‘gardens for children’ where

70 International Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 41, No. 2, 2009

close contact with nature was foundational to children’s education and children
were nurtured akin to plants. Later, Dewey (1859, 1952) lamenting the impact of
the industrial revolution on children, suggested that a school surrounded by
natural environments was to be encouraged. Rivkin (1998) summarises thus
“good schooling for Dewey was dependent on the outdoor world, because that
is where life occurs” (p. 200).

While play in nature outdoors in early childhood education persists, this
tradition is being eroded. For example, particularly in Western countries, there
are perceptions that ‘real learning’ takes place indoors. There are concerns about
safety outdoors and flow-on litigation and new learning technologies offer
attractive alternatives that militate against experiential learning in natural outdoor
playspaces (Furedi, 2001; Gill, 2007; Louv, 2005; Malone, 2008; Palmer, 2006).
Internationally, there have been urgent calls for the traditions of play outdoors in
nature to be reinvigorated (Elliott, 2008; Gill, 2007; Lester & Maudsley, 2006;
Louv, 2005; Palmer, 2006; Wilson, 2008). However, there are also concerns that
these may be too late for children already being reared in ‘safe’, often synthetic
playspaces that are devoid of direct nature experiences. The possibility of adults
and children embracing EfS in such unsustainable playspaces appears remote.

Further, where ‘play in nature’ traditions do remain, educators may
succumb to the notion that EfS is only about venturing outdoors to play, and
nothing more. Case studies of natural playspace development in early childhood
services (Elliott Ed, 2008) have revealed that while the learning focus, at first
glance, may seem to relate only to connections with ‘plants, rocks and logs’,
underlying themes of sustainability abound in the collaborative processes of
natural playspace development. In these case studies, children, parents and
educators explored values, problem solved, engaged in participatory decision
making, and developed a sense of place and local relevance. These are strategies
and principles closely aligned with those previously noted (National
Environmental Education Statement for Schools in Australia, 2005; UNESCO,
2005). These themes have the potential to be further expanded, and made even
more explicit, by educators who are aware of and concerned about sustainability
issues. However, the opportunities are easily overlooked. A view of play in
nature outdoors as being sufficient to address the challenges of sustainability is
inadequate (Chawla, 2006; Elliott, 2008). As Davis (1998) has stated “… thinking
about the environment is just not expansive enough to embrace the broad range
of ecological and social concerns that we are facing” (p. 120).

The next explanation for the slow uptake of EfS in EC is based on two
misconceptions that, in our experience, frequently come to the fore when
engaging with early childhood educators, environmental educators and the wider
community. Environmental education or EfS is often perceived as comprising

Sue Elliott and Julie Davis 71

abstract concepts beyond the cognitive grasp of a developmentally-defined
Piagetian pre-operational child, aged 2-7 years (Berndt, 1997). For example, how
can a four-year-old construct an understanding of the greenhouse effect, climate
change or a hole in the ozone layer when such concepts are not readily
observable and cannot be experienced first hand? How can a child possibly
engage with these burdensome issues? Such questioning reveals two

The first relates to conceptions of learners and learning. There is no
recognition, for example, that daily experience with the air we breathe and the
water we drink might underpin later learning of abstract environmental concepts
– in other words, young children do have foundational experiences with
environmental/sustainability concepts. This misconception also proffers the idea
that education for sustainability prioritises conceptual knowledge over values and
skills such as problem solving, creativity and collaboration. This is an
erroneously narrow view of EfS as being simply about the acquisition of
knowledge about environmental topics. We suggest that this is founded on
outdated transmissive modes of learning which do not reflect current
pedagogical thinking. Further, this misconception is not aligned with current
socio-cultural perspectives of children as capable and competent learners (Arthur
et al, 2008; Edwards, Gandini & Foreman, 1998). Indeed, researchers such as
Palmer and Suggate (2004) have been able to demonstrate that even 4 year olds
are capable of thinking about complex environmental issues and topics.

A second misconception derives from images of the young child as
innocent, vulnerable and immature. Childhood is seen by many as a transition
period, the time prior to adulthood and therefore, less valued. From this
perspective, it could be argued that the health woes of the planet are topics that
are just too dire to be presented to young children deemed incapable of acting to
protect it. Sobel (1996) asserts that a ‘doom and gloom’ approach that focuses
on environmental issues may be counter-productive and lead to ‘ecophobia’ – a
fear of environmental tragedies and alienation from nature (Sobel, 1996: 5). In
contrast, however, there are now documented examples of ECEfS as a positive,
transformative and empowering process (Davis, Gibson, Pratt, Eglington &
Rowntree, 2005; Davis & Elliott, 2003; Elliott, in press; Vaealiki & Mackey,
2008; Young, 2007). In these examples, critical and transformative theories are
foundational, and gradual change and collective action are the hallmarks of the
approaches being taken by early childhood communities that have embraced
EfS. With appropriate pedagogies, young children have been shown to be
significant players in the changes needed for creating sustainable futures. Adults
can encourage children to be ‘problem seekers, problem solvers and action
takers in their own environments’ (Davis, 2007 on line). ECEfS can be viewed,
then, as an antidote to doom and gloom with the potential to empower in
support of repairing and healing the planet.

72 International Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 41, No. 2, 2009


Contemporary early childhood researchers, predominantly the poststructuralists,
have been instrumental in shifting the paradigms in early childhood education in
order to effect theoretical and pedagogical change (Cannella, 1997; Dahlberg,
Moss & Pence, 1999; Mac Naughton, 2000). Indeed, Woodhead (2006) attributes
social constructionist, post modernist and poststructuralist perspectives as being
influential in liberating early childhood from narrow conceptualisation’s of what
is ‘natural, normal and necessary’ (p. 21). As a result, there have been significant
changes over the past decade or so, with respect to how issues such as gender,
class, culture and ability equities are constructed and ‘taught’ in early childhood
settings (Arthur et al, 2008; Dau, 2003; Mac Naughton, 2003). Intergenerational
equity – a central concern of those working in the field of education for
sustainability – is a concept that proposes that each successive generation should
live sustainably, so that future generations might experience a similar quality of
life to that of past generations. This is a temporally-located equity founded on
the sharing of the planet’s resources, not only with future human generations,
but also with non-human species. It is apparent, though, that the thinkers and
researchers who have been at the forefront of reconceptualising early childhood
education have ignored intergenerational and inter-species equity as discussions
about these equities are virtually non-existent in this newer early childhood
literature. Hence, we postulate two ‘blind spots’ (Wagner, 1993:16) that we
attribute to an (unreconstructed) underlying human-centred or anthropocentric

Blind Spot 1: Nature is silent and silenced
First, poststructuralist perspectives privilege humans and human meanings
through a focus on language. What is not conscientised or conveyed through
language seemingly has little relevance. Methodologically, text and the
deconstruction of text reveal meanings and relationships that place humans at
centre-stage. Such a placement denies agency to the biosphere. Nature is
invisible, does not have a voice, and does not provide a text for deconstruction
of power relations between humans and nature. Only conscientising humans can
create texts. As a result, non-human species and natural elements are
automatically and fundamentally ‘silenced’ from conceptualisations that rely on
voice and text for authenticity. Yet, the biosphere does exist, and impacts on
human life and constructions of meaning, in profound ways on a daily, – even
moment by moment, basis. Acknowledgment of the agency of the biosphere and
the way humans interact with, and feel, the biosphere is fundamental to
intergenerational equity. In summary, Berry (1988: 240) states:

The natural world is subject as well as object. The natural world is the maternal
source of our being as earthlings and life-giving nourishment of our physical,
emotional, aesthetic, moral and religious existence. The natural world is the

Sue Elliott and Julie Davis 73

larger sacred community to which we belong. To be alienated from this
community is to become destitute in all that makes us human. To damage this
community is to diminish our own existence.

Thus, like most theoretical paradigms, poststructuralist thinking ignores the
biosphere and reinforces anthropocentricism, blinding adherents to alternative
perspectives that arise from a biocentric worldview or ontology that does not
place humans centre stage, but rather promotes the intrinsic value of all life, now
and into the future.

Blind Spot 2: Human/nature relationships are complex rather than dichotomous
Second, dichotomies such as male and female, or rich and poor that reveal
human power relations are fundamental to poststructuralist research. The
human/nature dichotomy is another ‘blind spot’ that highlights an underlying
anthropocentric ontology. The two challenges inherent in this dichotomy are the
diverse contextually driven human/nature power relations that are possible, and
the absence of nature’s voice in the dichotomy. To illustrate the first, events such
as Hurricane Katrina and the Indonesian tsunami, as depicted in Al Gore’s An
Inconvenient Truth, show that humans cannot control nature. Indeed, humans can
experience extreme disempowerment in relation to some natural events. Yet in
other human/nature interactions – such as irrigation, mining and clear felling –
nature is perceived as an untamed resource that humans must control and
conquer in order to survive, a position of empowerment for humans. Hence, a
dichotomous view of human/nature relations does not represent the real
complexity of human/nature relationships. To think in terms of a human/nature
dichotomy is anathema to ecologists and environmentalists who view the world
as a complex web of self-regulating systems where humans are part of nature not
its master. Based on these ‘blind spots’, we contend that a poststructuralist
theoretical perspective that has informed early childhood research in recent years
cannot adequately provide the philosophical and research framework needed to
support a paradigm shift towards education for sustainability. The challenge is to
create a unique theoretical space underpinned by biocentric ontology to progress
thinking, research and the uptake of ECEfS.

Fortunately, theoretical support for EfS research can be drawn from
contemporary systems theorists including Bateson, Maturana and Capra who
have provided significant input into bridging the academic silos between the
study of biological systems and the study of social systems to forge what is
known as systems theory. According to Capra (2005:4) ‘living sustainably means
recognising that we are an inseparable part of the web of life, of human and non-
human communities, and that enhancing the dignity and sustainability of any one
of them will enhance all others’. Systems theory incorporates notions of stability,
adaptability and co-evolution. Capra (1999) also adds that, at critical points of
instability, new structures and relationships may creatively emerge. Stern (2006)
and Gore (2006) would conclude that we are on the cusp of a critical point of
instability right now! In accepting the value of systems theory, one leaves behind

74 International Journal of Early Childhood, Vol. 41, No. 2, 2009

reductionist and dichotomous approaches and embraces the notion that the sum
of the whole is more than just the sum of the parts. There is no room for
dichotomies and relationships of power in systems theory. Human relationships
are researched, then, as one part of the complex social and ecological systems in
the biosphere, not as the central set of relationships. Systems theory, we assert,
offers a new theoretical space for ECEfS thinking and research. It offers the
potential to redefine relationships between people and nature, and between
children, educators and parents. These are fundamental relationships needed to
drive transformative change in early childhood learning communities.

In this paper we have sought to impress upon readers the urgency surrounding
global environmental issues and the need for early childhood educators to ‘get
on board’ in helping to address these major concerns. We have also sought to
overcome the rhetoric around EfS and to explain why we think the early
childhood sector has been slow to engage with EfS when some other
educational sectors have been engaged for decades. Further, we have highlighted
the transformative potential of EfS in early childhood communities and for
ECEfS research to be informed by critical theory and systems theory. As each
successive public report on the state of the planet creates a more dire global
picture – with severe potential impacts on children and future generations – we
have no hesitation in affirming the imperative for early childhood educators to
engage with EfS. The time for stalling has passed.

Sue Elliott lectures at RMIT Unversity. She is a doctoral candidate at the
University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia and aspects of this article
are based on her EdD research.

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Sue Elliott and Julie Davis 77

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Correspondence about this paper should be addressed to:
Ms Sue Elliott

Portfolio of Design and Social Context
School of Education

PO Box 71,
Vic. 3083

Dr Julie M. Davis
School of Early Childhood

Kelvin Grove Campus,



JANUARY 2020 33 Vol. 45 No. 1


Ethics of Care in Practice: An Observational Study of
Interactions and Power Relations between Children and

Educators in Urban Ontario Early Childhood Settings
Rachel Langford and Brooke Richardson

Rachel Langford is a professor in the school of early childhood studies at Ryerson University. She is the principal investigator of an
SSHRC-awarded project that seeks to theorize and frame a robust and coherent integration of care, ethics of care, and care work into
Canadian childcare advocacy, policy, and practice. She is a co-editor of an edited volume, Caring for Children: Social Movements and
Public Policy in Canada (UBC Press), and the editor of an anthology, Theorizing Feminist Ethics of Care in Early Childhood Practice:
Possibilities and Dangers (Bloomsbury Academic Press).
Brooke Richardson is a postdoctoral fellow in the department of sociology at Brock University. She is currently working on an SSHRC-
funded project examining the increasing privatization of childcare in Canada and editing a forthcoming anthology, Mothering on the
Edge: A Critical Examination of Mothering within the Child Protection System (Demeter Press).

Dominant discourses around care and care workers
in Canadian early childhood programs conceptualizes
care as instrumental1 and carried out by women with a
“natural” propensity for the work. The idea that care is
“natural” to women (increasingly, poor and racialized
women) has undermined, and continues to undermine,
its social and economic value while situating it as immune
to change. At the same time, dominant conceptualizations
of care work in early childhood programs are relegated to
outcome-based activities and interactions instrumentally
addressing children’s immediate physical and social
needs. These discourses and understandings contribute
to care’s taken-for-granted nature, with care often taking
place in the private sphere, and systematic devaluation
in the formal market economy (Daley, 2012). Ironically,
“care is so fundamental to our capacity to live together
that we simply cannot see its significance and it becomes
possible to ignore it” (Barnes, 2012, p.3).

The marginalization/occlusion of care work is particularly
poignant in early childhood education (ECE), where the
contemporary trend in most Western, English-speaking
nations (e.g., Canada, the US, the UK, Australia, and
New Zealand) has been to separate care and education

policy and provision. One problematic consequence has been the inferior positioning of care relative to education
in early childhood programs. The widespread belief that care work carried out in ECE programs comes “naturally”
to women legitimizes its subordination and glosses over the inherent complex, messy, contextual, and emotional
nature of working with young children. Instead, the primary path to professionalization in the field has been
to focus on technocratic, standardized teaching and “learning” discourses distancing the profession from care
(Langford, 2019).

This article explores observations of care
practices in interactions between early
childhood educators and children in two
urban early childhood settings in Ontario.
Analysis of these care practices is informed by
a feminist ethics of care. Findings show that
the care actions of educators were more often
instrumental in nature, often incomplete, and/
or interrupted. Children’s experience with and
perspectives on their care were not taken into
consideration. Structural factors such as staffing
levels appeared to interfere significantly with
the possibility of care as conceptualized from a
feminist ethics of care framework. Practice and
policy implications for the absence and presence
of an ethics of care in Canadian early childhood
settings are discussed.

Key Words: care; ethics of care; early childhood
education; observation study

JANUARY 2020 34 Vol. 45 No. 1


From an ethics of care perspective, the ability to navigate and respond to the complexities of care is precisely what
makes work in early childhood settings both challenging and valuable. Joan Tronto’s (2013) articulation of the
four phases of care are helpful in identifying the complex processes of caring well for others through an ethics
of care lens. These phases are: caring about (discerning a need), caring for (accepting responsibility), caregiving
(the practice of giving care), and care-receiving (response from person receiving care). It is important to highlight
the final phase, which requires active participation, acknowledgment, or feedback from the person receiving the
care. This phase of care positions children as simultaneously dependent and agentic whereby the unequal power
relationships between children and educators become a focal point of care practice. Drawing on Tronto (2013, p.
21), we see these care practices nested within other caring practices that create complex care interrelationships
within (un)caring institutions and democracies.

We are not alone in attempting to reposition care as central to children’s and educators’ experiences of early
childhood programs. Other scholars have attempted to bridge the care/education divide through proposing new
terms in which “care” and “education” are more closely linked. Examples include “educare” (Löefdahl & Folke-
Fichtelius, 2015; Van Laere & Vanbenbroeck, 2016), “care-full pedagogy” (Luff & Kanyal, 2015), and “relational
pedagogy” (Papatheodorou, 2009). In contrast, while noting that care is an important concept for its “ethical
nature,” Peter Moss (2017) maintains “we should not encourage a view that ‘care’ is of exclusive or even particular
relevance to young children by including it in the term we use to describe the field” (p. 13). On this basis, Moss
prefers the term “early childhood education.”

We agree with Moss that care is inherent in all education. However, we maintain it is particularly relevant to
early childhood programs for two reasons. First, we argue that a denial of young children’s particular need for
care (extended to include their bodies, emotions, and minds) reduces children to a negative view of dependency
(Gilson, 2014). We do not regard children’s need for care as a limitation or deficit. As Erinn Gilson states, “the
valorization of independence and self-sufficiency [in Western contexts] both reduces care to a means to an end
(that of independence) rather than a value in itself and renders dependence incompatible with dignity” (2014, p.
9). We view needing care as a normal aspect of the human condition, necessary for human flourishing and well-
being (Sevenhuijsen, 1998). On this basis, we see the early childhood setting as a site of “inevitable dependence
and inextricable interdependence” (Kittay, 2015, p. 57) whereby ethical care practices are central to the work of
early childhood educators.

However, we resist the idea that children are passive, helpless recipients of care. On the contrary, we assert that
when power relations are acknowledged and explored within the context of care relations, and as an ethics of
care insists, children are then placed in a greater position of competency. Mediated also by context, children can
become active participants in their own (and others’) care. We agree with Virginia Held (2006) that care relations
are always embedded in social and historical contexts of power, which have profound effects on how care needs
are interpreted and responded to by caregivers (p. 46). Without an appreciation of an ethics of care, one effect is
that care receivers, which includes children, are denied participation in their own care as competent social agents.
Therefore, an ethics of care in early childhood education requires more complex understandings of children’s
needs and more complex educator responses to them, and the presence and absence of children’s responses to the
care given.

Second, when we do not give particular relevancy to care in early childhood education, we deny the chronic
exploitation of early childhood educators whose work is grounded in care. Advanced industrialized societies have
only recently created a class-based system of care in which care work (once done by women now in the workforce)
is carried out by poor, racialized, and female early childhood educators (Tronto, 2013). Because of overarching

JANUARY 2020 35 Vol. 45 No. 1


exploitative conditions, the ability of early childhood educators (henceforth educators) to engage in ethical caring
relations is compromised. Their work is taken for granted and made invisible amid market mechanisms that
overtly deny the value of their work. Thus, the power relations occurring within early childhood settings are
complicated: it is not only the power relations between children (whose participation in care relations is often
involuntary) and educators that are important to critique but also the power relations between the educators
and those responsible for constructing the class-based system of care. In this way, educators are simultaneously
powerful in their interactions with children but powerless in the context of a care economy that sidelines the value
of care work. From our perspective, it is therefore important to name, critically research, and analyze care and care
work in early childhood settings from an ethics of care framework.

The purpose of our observational study was to identify and describe the complexities of care with attention to how
power relations play out in care practices in early childhood programs. An ethics of care orientation, specifically
Tronto’s (2013) identification of the process-oriented phases of caring, provides the tools to do this. Through
our observations, we attempt to give real substance to care as a relational and ethical practice and to appreciate,
document, and communicate the complexities of care relations beyond a “naturalized,” gendered discourse.
Applying a feminist ethics of care analysis to our observations of care practices seeks to name the exploitative and
oppressive conditions under which care relations and care work currently operate in early childhood settings. In
this way, the seemingly impermeable wall of “naturalized” care can begin to be dismantled.

Theoretical framework: Feminist ethics of care
Ethics of care is feminist in its history and orientation, arising out of a validation of women’s moral experiences
with caring for others (Held, 2006). Ethics of care critically analyzes the existing discourses, politics, and state
systems whereby care work is allocated to women and racialized groups (Tronto, 2013). As Marian Barnes, Tula
Brannelly, Lizzie Ward, and Nicki Ward write,

The critical feminist political position in which care ethics is based makes it more than a set of
characteristics for the pursuit of good; it is a broad set of theories for the pursuit of justice that require
actions within political and institutional systems as well as within interpersonal caring relationships.
(2015, p. 12)

We assert that an ethics of care is still a contemporary and valuable framework because care remains so central to
people’s lives. As Tronto (2015) notes, care is at the core of power and politics: “Care is always infused with power.
And this makes care deeply political” (p. 9). We maintain that there is something profound and political about
how children and educators experience care (or not) in ordinary encounters, all day, every day. These experiences
are the crux of children’s and educators’ well-being. Our study is, therefore, decidedly humanist. The ethics of
care, with its focus on the complex processes of care and power as a practice and its insights into the systematic
devaluing of care at a societal and political level, provides one means to identify and assert the value of caring well
in early childhood settings.

Care ethics begin with the claim that “relations of interdependence and dependence are a fundamental feature of
our existence” (Robinson, 2011, p. 4). Within these social relations, Maurice Hamington (2015) describes caring
as “a series of actions, some large and explicit actions and some small and subtle actions that inform the quality
of a relationship [over time], thus making it caring” (p. 280). In other words, care is revealed only through social
relations (Randall, 2018). Hamington further distinguishes between care as virtue and care as action to emphasize
that care is a concrete practice or activity experienced physically, emotionally, and/or intellectually by both a
caregiver and care receiver. This means that while holding caring values is necessary, such values are insufficient

JANUARY 2020 36 Vol. 45 No. 1


for care as a practice, because it is through action that we know and realize caring (Hamington, 2015, p. 689).
Nel Noddings (2015) also makes a distinction between what she calls caregiving and caring for, maintaining that
“caregiving is an important element in care ethics, but, as a set of activities or occupations, it can be done with or
without caring” (p. 73). We also offer a clarification: It may seem as if our focus is on two distinct categories, the
caregiver and the care receiver. However, we see people, including children, always engaged in an “infinite spiral of
relationships” (Kittay, 2001, quoted in Barnes, Brannelly, Ward, & Ward, 2015, p. 16) as both givers and receivers
of care in multiple contexts.

To practice care as conceptualized here is to decide to act in a caring way in response to the needs of another,
recognizing inherent power imbalances and the broader context in which the practice is embedded. To act with
care is therefore an ethical decision, involving critical reflection on the caring action (Dahlberg & Moss, 2005).
Critical reflection involves an evaluation or judgment about whether the processes of care ethics are present or
absent. These processes are dynamic, contextual, nuanced, complex, and qualitatively different from one interaction
to another (Engster & Hamington, 2015). As Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, Fikile Nxumalo, Laurie Kocher, Enid
Elliot, and Alejandra Sanchez (2015) state, an ethics of care calls for more than just a technical code of ethics; it
“calls for total engagement of heart, mind, and spirit in intensely relational encounters” (p. 173).

Although the processes of care often overlap in messy ways, Tronto (2013) begins the relational encounter with the
caring person “caring about” another’s needs. The caring educator then enters a caring interaction, noticing and
attending to expressed needs. Entangled in this recognition is a sense of responsibility, an openness to personal
disruption, particular caring values and motives, an other-directed disposition or attitude, the imagination that
the care can have an effect, and sensitivity to the particular context of children’s needs, ideas, interests, goals, and
concerns (Hamington, 2015; Held, 2006; Pettersen, 2012). At this point, knowledge of children’s expressed needs
may be partial, thus open to communication and negotiation in the giving of care. An ethics of care embraces the
unknown and unpredictability of human relations. The deliberation involved in recognizing need is both affective
and intellectual, with emotions, thought, and competencies all contributing to the giving of care (Collins, 2015).

In moving from recognition of children’s needs to action in meeting needs, the carer must have the competence
to act. Careful listening to children’s needs, ideas, interests, concerns, and goals communicated in multiple ways
without judging, classifying, or fitting them to match preconceptions of the child is paramount (Noddings, 2013).
The meaning of children’s needs is jointly constructed between educators and children and remains provisional.
Choosing dialogical and inquiring communication, rather than monological communication, with children
signals to children that they are active participants in their care (Pacini-Ketchabaw et al., 2015). Working through
what children want often requires time, negotiation of misunderstandings, flexibility, and adjustment. These
complexities indicate that the giving of care, infused with ethical decision making, is much more than a technical
skill of providing instrumental care. Care in this sense is not a means to an end but rather a value in itself and the
ways in which human relations deepen and flourish (Gilson, 2014).

Tronto’s final phase of care involves the perspectives of the caregiver and the care receiver on the caring encounter.
Including the perspectives of the care receiver is necessary if we are to understand care to be relational. Noddings
(2002) states that ethics of care:

asks after the effects on recipients of our care. It demands to know whether relations of care have in
fact been established, maintained, or enhanced and, by extension, it counsels us to consider effects
on the whole webs or network of care. (p. 30)

In other words, care is completed when we know more about how children feel and experience their care and

JANUARY 2020 37 Vol. 45 No. 1


respond to it in varying ways. Moments of completion may involve multiple modes of communication such as
bodies, language, and emotions. Talking with children about their care may require more dialogue and inquiry,
with room for fluidity and change in the educator’s response to a child’s response to care. Children’s responses
inform future caring interactions and relationships between educators and children.

Integral to the processes of care is an acknowledgment that care relations are asymmetrical in terms of need
and ability to exercise power (Held 2006). Therefore, the care of young children requires an ethics to highlight
the unequal relations between educators, who typically hold power, and children, who do not. The more power
exercised by the educator in caregiving—in Nodding’s sense and often evident in paternalism and teacher
direction—the more likely it is that the possibility for ethical care will be diminished. However, educators cannot
separate themselves from embodied and subjective experiences of their social locations and the inequities in the
political and policy contexts in which their care is practised. Therefore, educators need to critically reflect on their
subject positions, their power and lack of power, and their strengths and limitations in caring interactions.


The study involved non-participant observation of care practices in a naturalistic setting: preschool rooms in
two different childcare centres. Nonparticipant observation is used in research situations in which the observer
is not involved in the activities being observed (Liu & Maitlis, 2010). In conducting the observations, we aimed
to identify and explore the complexities of care. We brought to the observations our own experiences with caring
for others and being cared for and our reading of ethics of care literature. The two selected childcare centres are
part of multiservice agencies with unionized staff. Each preschool room could have up to 24 children with a
staff-children ratio of one to eight. Observations by two researchers (one principal investigator and one research
assistant) were conducted in the selected preschool rooms on the same morning each week from approximately
8:30 to 10:30 for four weeks. It was anticipated that observing a preschool room multiple times in two different
sites would deepen an understanding of the complexities of care practices. Once all observations were concluded
in one centre, a second set of observations commenced at the second centre. Prior to conducting the observations,
research consent was obtained from educators, parents, and children. Children were asked if we could write down
(the observation tools were shown along with a picture of where the observers would sit) “what they did with their
teacher.” Children provided a yes or no answer. When possible, we discussed our interest in the challenges of care
and care work in the early childhood education field with the educators prior to conducting the observations. All
the educators consented to being observed; only children who both consented and had parents who consented
were observed. As will be described later, some educators were the sole adult in the program room for most of the
observation period; other educators came into the room sporadically to assist with transitions.

One objection to these observations may be that they are narrowly focused on a human dyad and do not capture
all the possibilities of care in an early childhood program. However, we argue that interactions between educators
and children matter. They matter to educators who hold caring values in relation to children and they matter to
children who directly experience the presence or absence of caring encounters. At the same time, we agree with
Tronto’s (2013) rejection of a dyadic understanding of care because, as Tronto argues, care transcends the personal
into the policy and political realms. In concrete terms, educators’ caring practices at the interpersonal level can be
significantly constrained when early childhood policies and politics do not take care seriously.

In order for the researchers to be open to the complexities and challenges of caring well in an early childhood
program, templates or observational coding sheets were not used. However, we wondered if, in our analyses

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of the observations, we would discern processes associated with care ethics such as attentiveness, compassion,
responsiveness, sensitivity to contextual variations, and dialogical communication between educators and
children. We were also interested in how the observations might illustrate the completion of care, Tronto’s (2013)
final phase of caring that embraces children as active participants in their care. The observers were trained to write
by hand independent, detailed, and objective running records on all spontaneous or planned (in the case of group
time) interactions between the educators and children. The fundamental premise behind all the observations—
whether they were concerned with children’s bodies, emotions, or minds—was that every interaction had the
potential to be caring. In focusing on an interaction, we sought to reveal the relation between individuals and,
within that relation, the nature of the care. The observation notes captured the following: the beginning and end
of an interaction, how the educators and children talked and behaved together, contours of talk (intonation), and
emotional states and body behaviour (e.g., facial expressions and eye gaze).

Immediately upon completing each observation session, the two observers met, compared points of similarities
and differences in field notes, discussed these points in relation to an understanding of care ethics, and wrote
additional analytic memos. Our aim was to produce thick descriptions of care practices. We acknowledge the
limitations of our methodological approach. We were not able to adequately explore educators’ perspectives on
their care decisions and interactions with children or children’s perspectives on their care. We were thus limited
to interpreting care practices, and responses to them, at the time of the interaction. We also recognize that our
observations, conducted in only two early childhood centres, are not necessarily a comprehensive reflection of
care practices in all Canadian early childhood settings. We were explicit in approaching these two centres in that
they both had unionized staff and administrative support from larger organizations. In this way, we hoped these
centres would be positioned as well as possible (within a fundamentally market system) to encourage ethical care


Three themes emerged from an analysis of the observation data. First, the care interactions observed between
the educators and children can be described as instrumental. Second, the interactions the educators had with the
children were frequently interrupted and therefore brief. When lengthier interactions appeared possible, they were
disrupted when the educators needed to direct their attention elsewhere. Third, the children’s participation in the
interactions was typically limited. Each of these findings, supported with concrete examples from the observations,
will be described and discussed below. In reporting on our findings, we are aware that we are both interpreting
and evaluating the practices of the observed educators in relation to an ethics of care. We faced a difficult, ethical
dilemma as to whether publishing our findings would be helpful for early childhood educators and the sector more
broadly because, as the findings reveal, for the most part, we did not see the practice of ethical care. Our intention
is to always honour the work of early childhood educators, who we trust are doing the best they can with little
structural supports. In the end, we felt that it is important to describe the care we found in our observations and
to assert that structural factors and the devaluation of care rather than the personal limitations of the educators
shaped the nature of the care given. As Selma Sevenhuijsen (1998, p. 151) remarks, “how we can care depends to a
great extent on how we give shape to our society.” Conversely, the priorities of societies dictate the possibilities for
caring relations in everyday settings.

Instrumental caregiving

Many observed interactions involved educators assisting children with dressing, toileting, eating, cleaning up,
self-regulating, sharing, resolving conflicts with other children, and choosing activities. The actions of educators
in these interactions can be described as instrumental in that the action of assistance was the means by which the

JANUARY 2020 39 Vol. 45 No. 1


interaction was completed. The examples below illustrate this instrumentality in which the children’s independence
is the end goal.

A child has sand in her boots and expresses her frustration. The educator crouches down, asks, “Where
are your shoes?” and then says, “Sit down. I’ll help you.” The educator helps the child dump out the
sand and put her boots back on. The educator says, “Ask mommy to bring shoes—it’s too hot for boots.”

The educator hugs and then directs a child to the washroom. She says, “Dad says you are going pee
and poo in the toilet. No more diapers. Can you try going to the bathroom now?” The child runs away
from the bathroom. Later the educator tells the child, “Superheroes don’t use diapers. Superheroes
go to the toilet.”

Two children want to play with the same toy. The educator addresses one child, saying, “You need to
talk to [other child].” The child says, “I need it.” The educator responds, “It’s not ‘I need it.’ You need
to wait your turn.”

Interactions in which the educators and children came together for songs and stories accelerated instrumental
management of the children’s behaviour. The children were required to “keep hands to themselves,” “sit down,”
“keep their eyes on me,” and “listen.” In other interactions, the children’s interests were first acknowledged and
then managed. For example, an educator tied blankets on some children and said, “We have supermen.” She
immediately added: “[child’s name] walking feet or maybe we need to take the cape away.”

Many interactions involved educators assisting children with conflicts as in the following examples:

Two children have a conflict over a toy. An educator asks, “Sharing is what?” Another child says,
“Caring.” The educator repeats, “Sharing is caring.” The children share and the educator asks one of
them to say, “Thank you.” The child adds, “We’re sharing!” The educator says, “Good job.”

A child tells an educator that another child is not sharing, saying, “He has too many.” The educator and
the child approach the child with the toy. The educator crouches and says, “You can share with your
friends. There are three sets.” The children share and briefly build a tower together.

One practice—intentionally limiting the amount of materials—increased the number of interactions in which
the educator was drawn into conflicts between children. For example, an educator introduced one activity: “My
friends, I am going to bring only three squeeze bottles. We are going to share.” All interactions thereafter involved
managing turn taking. When one child wanted to join the activity and have a squeeze bottle, the educator said,
“When [another child’s name] is finished, you can have a turn.” The child left and did not return to the activity.

Program activities set out on tables also tended to be instrumental, with educators soliciting children’s cognitive
knowledge of colours, sizes, and letters. In one preschool room, most activities required the children to colour or
paint, cut paper, and glue or tape things together (stickers, sand, pipe cleaners, and Popsicle sticks). The educators
tended to sit at the tables to assist the children and ask questions. The following example characterizes most
program activities:

At the art table, children are painting small paper plates yellow. They glue pre-cut black stripes on
them. The educator sings the “bumble bee song.” Later the educator says to a child, “I love your bee.
That’s [another child’s] bee. What does the bee say? Tomorrow we can add eyes, wings, and mouth.”
The child says, “Yes.”

One program activity offered the possibility of more sustained educator–child interactions focused on the
children’s needs, interests, and ideas. A basket of books, with one book about princesses, prompted children to

JANUARY 2020 40 Vol. 45 No. 1


ask for crowns, which the educator began to make with construction paper and tape. Many children joined in the
crown making—boys, too, because “crowns are not just for girls.” Children gathered up small triangles cut out of
the crowns by the educator for other uses. Other children fetched sheets of paper to cut or rip up to make smaller
pieces. However, when the educator left the activity, the children followed, and a clean-up process commenced.

Drawing on these observation examples, the instrumentality of educator responses to children’s needs illustrates
Nodding’s (2015) description of caregiving activities, contrasted with caring informed by the processes of care
ethics. Certainly, educators made decisions to respond to children’s needs and acted accordingly. However, the
brevity of educator-child interactions showed limited opportunities for educators to engage in the complexities
of caring, such as listening, inquiry, negotiation, flexibility, and adjustment (Hamington, 2015). The absence of
these complexities reinforced the instrumentality of the interactions as discrete exchanges of assistance between
an educator and child. The messiness and complexities of care processes—their overlap and interweaving—were
not evident in these discrete exchanges. Therefore, the observations indicate that in thinking about care practices
in early childhood settings, the focus must not only be on what care is (the caregiving) but also on how the care is
given and completed (the caring).

Instrumental caregiving was particularly evident in educator interventions in children’s conflicts. For example, the
children were directed by the educators to follow classroom rules to get what they wanted. In invoking abstract
rules and a technical skill (giving rules), little ethical understanding of the children’s conflicts was required. Indeed,
several observations indicate that educators misunderstood and mismatched rules with a situation because they
did not (or could not) take the time to understand the conflict from the children’s perspectives. That said, in some
situations observed, instrumental care in the children’s conflicts may have been necessary in the short term for the
children’s safety. However, ethical caring can follow instrumental caregiving when educators and children work
together on resolving the situation that provoked the safety concern.

Similarly, observed program activities can be characterized as instrumental caregiving designed to meet and assess
preschool children’s developmental skills and needs. The observation data shows that the simplicity of the program
activities did not provide opportunities for more complex processes of ethical care, such as responsiveness to the
children’s ideas and goals, dialogical communication, and creativity. In addition, educators’ decisions to limit the
amount of materials to promote sharing (and caring) exacerbated children’s disengagement in activities and/or
increased conflicts between children. This pedagogical choice then required more instrumental caregiving from
the educators to manage disengaged children and conflicts between children. Together, these findings suggest that
there is an association between the complexity of a pedagogical activity and the depth of ethical care possible.

Care interrupted

We observed a higher-than-expected ratio of children to educators. In Ontario, a provision in the Child Care and
Early Years Act 2014 allows for reduced ratios when children are arriving, leaving, or during the rest period. For
programs that run for six hours or more in a day, a staff/child ratio may be reduced to two thirds of the required
ratio for up to 90 minutes after the program starts each day. Consequently, in the two preschool rooms observed,
from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., a single educator could be with up to 18 children. With this number of children, the
educators were observed simply trying to stay afloat and maintain the safety of the children. Observation notes
from one particular morning (see below) show an educator moving from area to area every couple of minutes,
the children flitting from activity to activity, and the room getting messier and messier, which then required the
educator to devote more time to cleaning up.

In the block area and with hammers and cardboard tubing, an educator briefly plays with a child whose

JANUARY 2020 41 Vol. 45 No. 1


arrival has been difficult. The educator leaves to clean up the dramatic play area. The child calls out to
the educator from the block area, showing her two hammers. The educator says, “That’s my hammer.
I will come in five minutes. I am coming back. Save my hammer.” The educator continues to clean up
the dramatic play area. She returns to the block area and briefly plays with the child and the hammers.
Later, when the child follows another child shaking the hammer, the educator says, “I understand that
you want to play with [child’s name], but she’s not going to want to play with you if you do that.” The
educator gets a book to read with the child. Other children join the book reading.

Another episode shows how the educator’s capacity to sustain caring interactions was interrupted by other

The educator and several children are at the art table with some paper and trays. The educator asks,
“What are you making? A rolling pin?” Some children roll up the paper. The educator asks, “What do
you need to put it together?” The children say, “Tape.” The educator puts on music, and then leaves the
art table to deal with an issue. The children do not have the tape. They put trays on their heads. The
educator says, “I don’t think you are ready for tape.” Later, the educator gives the tape to the children.

Observations of the children’s behaviour revealed that the constant interruptions in their interactions with
educators affected them. Some children repeatedly tried to get the educator’s attention but, absorbed in managing
other problems, the educator often missed the children’s calls. On occasion, an educator multitasked, responding
to a child’s call from a distance while continuing to do something else. In some cases during the observation
period (approximately two hours), certain children did not experience any interactions with an educator. In other
interactions, the educator’s recognition of children’s needs was disjointed.

A child calls to an educator from the art table, “I made this sword.” The educator asks, “You made it?
How did you make it?” The educator suddenly turns to help with a conflict. The child does not respond
to the questions. Later, the educator and the child pretend to talk on the phone with each other about
going to the supermarket. Later, the educator asks the child, “What should we put on the art table?”
The child says, “Pipe cleaners,” but does not continue with the activity.

As observers, we were deeply concerned about the educators’ struggles to be responsive to the children. We could
see that the educators had caring values and sought to be caring. However, structural factors clearly constrained
their care practices. In particular, insufficient staffing levels meant that the educators scrambled to respond to
the children’s needs and to provide adequate time for meaningful and deeper caring actions. Our observations
poignantly show that when structural supports are not in place, the potential for caring is diminished. Barnes
(2012) captures how even in the best of times ethical care is difficult to practice:

[Ethical care] requires not only an emotional and ethical sensibility, but the capacity to understand
different personal, economic, social, and cultural contexts; to read particular responses to acts of care;
and to draw from diverse sources and types of knowledge to make good judgments with others about
the right things to do in situations that may be messy, confused, and changing. And this has to be done
in situations where there may be conflicts between caregivers and receivers, and between different
caregivers; where paid care workers may feel unsupported or that they are operating in a policy context
that does not reflect the values of care (p.172).

Care incomplete

Our observation notes reveal it was most difficult to ascertain children’s participation in interactions with educators.
After the first week of observations, we carefully watched for verbal and other modes of communication that
could, at least partially, indicate what the caregiving or caring meant to children. Some examples show children’s

JANUARY 2020 42 Vol. 45 No. 1


satisfaction with an educator’s response to their needs. An educator comforted a crying child and said, “You know
that I made a ball [from playdough]. You try it.” The child stopped crying and made their own playdough ball. On
other occasions, particularly with more verbal children, educators recognized a child’s need, interest, or goal, and
the child acknowledged this recognition. For example, when an educator began to clean up the art area, a child
told her that she had not done the art activity. The educator suggested the child could set up the activity in the
afternoon. The child replied, “OK.”

However, our observations of interactions between the children and educators, from playing with hammers to
donning superhero capes, illustrate an overall denial of children’s experiences of “care.” The observation data
points to three reasons for children’s lack of participation in their own care. First, the instrumental nature of the
caregiving did not leave any room for children’s responses, as the following example shows:

Two children run into each other. One child explains what happened to an educator. The educator says,
“You do not hit your friend. If your friend falls, you help pick them up. Superheroes, do they help people
or hurt people? You need to help; otherwise you are not a friend.” The educator takes the superhero
scarf away from the child. The child hugs a stuffed animal and walks away. The other child continues
to play.

Children were not asked if, for example, solutions to conflicts or problems helped and/or satisfied them. Sometimes
in a conflict an educator would instruct a child to say sorry to another child, but the children’s responses (saying
sorry) were not spontaneous.

Second, the brevity of educator-child interactions did not allow any time for the children to respond to the
caregiving. Many educator-child interactions were interrupted by something else happening in the room, as in
this example:

An educator says to a child, “Do you want to paint? What colour do you want?” The child looks at the
paint and points to yellow. The educator suddenly notices another child running with a stroller, and
says, “Careful! Do you need a baby for your stroller?” and does not see the first child pointing to a
colour. The child says, “I want yellow.” The educator walks to another area.

Finally, our observation data suggests that the instrumental goals of the educators’ responses to needs discouraged
children from talking about how they felt about the care given. Particularly when staff-child ratios were high, the
goal was to return the children to a state of safety and positive feelings. Taking time to discuss with the children their
perspectives on the care received would have been contrary to this goal. For example, in one observed interaction
(during group time), a lesson in children’s safety was prioritized over exploration of emotions:

An educator reads a book about “being mad.” The children show their “mad faces.” At the end of the
story the main character says, “He might wait to run away until tomorrow [now that he isn’t so mad].”
The educator states, “It’s not safe to run away from mommy and daddy.” The children say, “No.” The
story ended.

The prioritizing of safety and suppression of negative emotions were also evident when children expressed strong
emotions and resisted educators’ instrumental caregiving, as in this example:

A child repeatedly hits another child with a phone. While tending to the hurt child, the educator says,
“Last chance” to the other child, who responds, “I’m not going to talk to the teacher anymore. _____
is rude and I don’t want to talk to her anymore.” The educator asks the child, “Do you want me to talk
to Mommy?” The child spits at the educator, who says, “All done. Excuse me!” The child starts to cry.
The educator tells her, “It’s OK to be upset, but it’s not OK to hit your friends.” Later the educator asks

JANUARY 2020 43 Vol. 45 No. 1


the child why she hits her friends and tells her she cannot spit on a teacher’s face. The educator asks
the child if she understands. When the child does not respond, the educator asks her to say, “Yes,
[educator’s name].”

On many levels, this last example underscores the difficulties the educators and children experienced with caring
ethically in contexts that were frequently not conducive to supporting care relations. The educators appeared to
have a clear expectation of what the children needed—or should need—lacking the time to negotiate with them
what they themselves perceived they needed. Working in difficult conditions, the educators appeared to expect the
children to receive “care” passively with little resistance or questioning of the “caring” interaction. In this way, the
children were rarely able to complete their care, having little opportunity to acknowledge how, or even if, they had
experienced care. In denying the children the opportunity to be active agents in their own care, the competency of
both the children and the educators was undermined. It could also be argued that the educators were denied the
opportunity to engage in caring practices consistent with their values as educators. It is unarguably very difficult
to complete care encounters when simultaneously attending to multiple other (often urgent) demands. Thus, the
educators did not experience care themselves, which denied them the structural conditions necessary to care well.

In our study, we observed many, among hundreds, of ordinary moments in early childhood settings in which
educators and children interacted. We were not interested in applying any technocratic approaches or developmental
theory vis-à-vis, for instance, behaviour guidance strategies to understand these educator-children interactions.
We wanted to go beyond the assumption that care is implicit in the work of early childhood educators. From
an ethics of care perspective, care is understood as a set of valuable processes within complex power relations,
rather than a means to an end in which the caregiver exercises power over the care receiver. We considered how
care relations represented responsiveness from both the caregiver and care receiver, sensitivity to context, and
emotions as motivating ethical resources (Engster & Hamington, 2015). From our perspective, all interactions in
all activities, whether they involved removing sand or a painting, have the potential for ethical care. It is not the
activities in the early childhood setting per se that are significant for an ethics of care and create meaning (or not)
for those involved, but rather the processes involved in human interactions.

Our study indicates that an ethics of care was typically absent in observed interactions. Rather, interactions were
instrumental in nature and the children passively received and/or rejected the care. Because instrumental care
is a dominant way of understanding care across Western, English-speaking nations, it is fair to ask whether the
instrumental care we observed is common in Canadian early childhood settings. Our observations offer insights
into how children experience such instrumental interactions with educators and also the practical challenges for
educators who hold caring values but struggle to provide ethical care experiences with children (and for themselves)
amid constantly competing priorities.

It became apparent during our observations that the educators experienced frustration in their interactions with the
children, particularly when the children did not receive “care” as the educators had intended. While the educators
communicated caring values in interactions with the researchers, there appeared to be a sense of alienation from
these values in their interactions with the children. Simply put, the educators were not able to practise the caring
values they held within the sociopolitical context of their practice. While we recognize that the educators have some
agency to be caring in conducting acts of caregiving, the number of children in need of care at any one time made it
near impossible for this to consistently occur. There was simply no time or space to receive a child into their “centre
of being” (Noddings, 2015, p. 77) and respond in thoughtful, open, and compassionate ways given the simultaneous
competing needs of several other children in the room. This may lead an educator to feel incompetent, unable to

JANUARY 2020 44 Vol. 45 No. 1


adequately engage with the children and the complexities of care. It is further possible that the educator’s feelings
of powerlessness may lead to a greater assertion of power over the children through instrumental interactions. The
powerlessness of the educator is heightened by the oppressive socioeconomic conditions under which educators
attempt to practise ethical care. Therefore, we cannot hold educators solely responsible for the outcomes of our
observations. Indeed, we seek to avoid making educators personally responsible for the problems in ECEC. The
state of care in early childhood programs is a systemic problem in need of a systemic solution.

Our observations raise questions about not only the ethical nature of care in practice, but also the necessity of
situating care practices within a sociopolitical context. Barnes, Brannelly, Ward, and Ward (2015) argue that
“Recent years have witnessed multiple evidences of the failures of neoliberalism” (p. 7). The observed absence of
an ethics of care in early childhood settings is one such failure. While neoliberalism purports that work can be
made more “efficient” (i.e., raising staff-child ratios during certain times), this logic simply does not apply to the
practice of good care. As stated by Tronto (2003), “little in caring can be enhanced by being forced in a time/space
compression” (p. 123). Therefore, the structural inequities at the sociopolitical level have concrete consequences
for the care experiences of children and educators in early childhood settings. On a very basic level, there needs
to be a sufficient number of educators to address the constant, changing, complex needs of children. Similarly,
there needs to be space for educators to feel supported, valued, and heard by those who create and produce the
structures and policies that undermine their caring practices. In Eva Kittay’s (2015) care-based conception of
justice, those who care for others in the human condition of inevitable dependency and interdependence must
be protected from “exploitation and deprivation of resources and opportunities” so that they can care well (p. 63).

The question therefore becomes: Is there an alternative? It seems that educators and children alike want more
care in their interactions with each other. Furthermore, to address power imbalances in care relations, children’s
participation in their own care is ethically significant. At a political level, Tronto’s (2013) vision of a caring
democracy is helpful in that it seeks to position care as the central organizing feature of society. If this were the case,
institutions and structures would encourage the systematic support of care ethics in early childhood practice. Even
within the existing neoliberal political climate, however, we argue that educators can collectively begin to resist
the unrelenting neoliberal drive for technocratic instrumental caregiving in early childhood settings. It is possible
that, in care relations between educators and children, complexity, difference, and an openness to uncertainty,
unpredictability, and wonder are encouraged and embraced, even within difficult working conditions (Moss, 2017,
p 20).

At the same time, if we value care relations and understand the purpose of care differently, some of the structural
barriers to caring ethically can begin to be addressed. For example, staffing could be reconfigured in a way more
conducive to an ethics of care. While we acknowledge that the number of educators may be limited (although
they should not be) by economic resources (and the sociopolitical climate), it may be possible to create greater
cohesiveness and collective responsibility for each other within a centre through bridging existing group / room
divisions. Full-time educators could be systematically encouraged to engage with all the children in a centre
(rather than only their group/room), thus fostering stable, continuous care relations in circumstances where
more educators are needed. In addition, in contrast to the observed sporadic delivery of instrumental care by
less familiar early childhood educators, educators could engage full-time (or at least consistently) with the same
children. This would support the conditions necessary for meaningful, ethical care work. Similarly, it is possible to
address the systemic isolation of educators through both acknowledging this isolation and engaging in democratic
conversations around the complexities of caring well. When we have the space and time to critically engage with
care ethics and identify the barriers to it, we move toward realizing a vision and practice of caring well in early
childhood settings. Moreover, when educators are valued discursively and materially as attentive, responsible,

JANUARY 2020 45 Vol. 45 No. 1


competent, and responsive citizens, we will begin to build a democracy that is truly caring (Tronto, 2015).

We wish to acknowledge Jacqueline White for her involvement in the project, particularly her ability to push
our thinking regarding what caring relations mean and look like on a practice level. We also thank anonymous
reviewers who helped us think through ways to communicate our findings. A Social Sciences and Humanities
Research Council of Canada grant supported the research described in the article.

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1. We prefer the term “instrumental” over the more commonly used term “custodial.” From our perspective, instrumental care more

clearly communicates that this care is a means to an immediate predetermined end.

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F a i r D e a l i n g ( S h o r t E x c e r p t )

Reading: Ch. 3. Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky: Connections with Malaguzzi and the Reggio Approach (Next Steps
Toward Teaching the Reggio Way: Accepting the Challenge to Change)

Author: Rankin, Baji

Editor: Hendrick, Joanne

Publisher: Pearson/Merrill/Prentice Hall Publication Date: 2004 Pages:



Course: ECED 400 93Q 2022S1-2 Introduction to Early Childhood Education and Care
Course Code: 93Q Term: 2022S1-2

Department: ECED

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Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky
Connections with Malaguzzi and

the Reggio Emilia Approach

Baji Rankin
Professional Development and Training Specialist, La Madrugada Early

Head Start Program, Office of Child Development, Albuquerque,
New Mexico


28 Chapter 3

Dewey, Piaget, and Vygotsky were powerful figures in education and psy­
chology in their lifetimes and all three continue to have strong influences
on early childhood education in the U nited States, in Reggio Emilia, and
throughout the world. While these three theorists lived in different eras

and worked in very different social contexts, the work o f each is still a rich source for
our thinking and educational systems today.

In this chapter, I present several key points about the lives and theories of these
three men. I point out similarities and differences in some o f the current debate and
reflection about their work today, and I examine the im pact o f these theorists upon
theory and practice in Reggio Emilia. I also look at how Loris Malaguzzi and other
Reggio educators, while generating their own ideas and practices, put the principles
o f these three men into practice in an educational setting more fully, in my view, than
any o f the three were able to do in their lifetimes.

I will examine only some aspects of the theories and experiences o f these men: the
role o f collaboration and the co-construction o f knowledge, the interdependence o f in­

dividual and social learning, and the role o f cul­
ture in understanding this interdependence.

John Dewey (1859 -1952) Dewey, Piaget, and Vygotsky agree that the in-
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) dividual child is active in constructing his
Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) o r ^ ¡nteueciuai an{j socjal development;
Loris Malaguzzi (1920 1994) Malaguzzi also emphasizes each child’s active

______________________________ role in development.
By looking at the role o f culture in the

learning process, we can better understand a m ajor difference between Piaget on the one
hand, and Dewey, Vygotsky, and Malaguzzi’s educational choices, on the other. Piaget
kept his focus on the individual child, specifically the child’s internal, or endogenous,
cognitive development. Vygotsky, Dewey, and Malaguzzi, on the other hand, while rec­
ognizing the active role o f the child, also gave emphasis to the active role o f the envi­
ronm ent and culture in influencing and leading this development— a view that has
become im portant in the Reggio Emilia Approach. As Cole and Wertsch (2001) point
out in relation to Piaget and Vygotsky, it is no t so much that Piaget’s ideas conflict with
those of the other three; rather, Piaget had a different focus.

JOHN DEWEY (1 8 5 9 -1 9 5 2 )

Dewey was born in Burlington, Vermont, about the time o f the U.S. Civil War. His ca­
reer focused primarily on teaching philosophy and theories o f education at the uni­
versity and college levels. For eight years, from 1896 to 1904, he directed the Dewey
Laboratory School at the University o f Chicago. Valuable experiences took place there
(Mayhew & Edwards, 1936) that we can learn from today.

Dewey viewed learning as “a continuing reconstruction o f experience” (1959a,
p. 27). Education, for Dewey, was a process of “continual reorganizing, reconstruct­
ing, transform ing” (1966, p. 50). D istinct from traditional education in which teach­

Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky 29

ing is conceived as a “pouring in” (1966, p. 38) and learning as “passive absorption”
(1966, p. 38), Dewey saw education as being active and constructive. This kind o f ed­
ucation has a social direction through “a joint activity” (1966, p. 39) w ithin which
people consciously refer to each other’s use o f materials, tools, ideas, capacities, and

Dewey saw children as active, in fact, “intensely active” (1959b, p. 54). The ques­
tion for educators, Dewey said, is how to take hold o f the child’s activities and give
them direction. “The law for presenting and treating m aterial is the law im plicit
within the child’s own nature” (1959a, p. 28). The content o f a school curriculum is
best when it grows out of children’s social life.

“I believe, therefore, that the true center o f correlation on the school subjects is
not science, nor literature, nor history, nor geography, b u t the child’s own social ac­
tivities” (1959a, p. 25).

Dewey pointed out that children’s interests and activities are places to begin, bu t
by themselves, children’s focus tends to scatter. Teachers have an im portant role in
“leading o u t” these spontaneous experiences “into an expanding world o f subject-
matter, a subject m atter o f facts or inform ation and ideas” (1969, p. 87). Teachers can
do this, Dewey said, only when they view teaching and learning as a continuous
process o f reconstruction of experience.

Reggio educators acknowledge that they have taken ideas and principles from
Dewey and interpreted them in particular ways. For example, project work in Reg­
gio resembles the process that Dewey advocated. Reggio teachers start w ith th e in ­
terests and questions of the children and then w ork closely with them to bo th follow
and guide the children to support the investigation. N um erous projects in Reggio—
on shoes, shadows, sun, shopping, etc.— dem onstrate th a t when children are su p ­
ported in a topic o f high interest, they are deeply m otivated to study a whole variety
o f subject matter.

JEAN PIAQET (1896-1980)

Jean Piaget was born in Switzerland in 1896 to an intellectual family; his father was a
professor o f medieval literature. T hroughout his career, Piaget w orked at several dis­
tinguished universities studying a wide variety o f subjects, including biology, psy­
chology, sociology, history o f science and scientific thinking, and genetic and
experimental psychology. His research in developm ental psychology and the nature
o f knowledge had one unique goal: finding out how knowledge grows. His influence
on early education in the United States has been profound, inspiring teachers and
teacher educators for decades. His work, for example, was a backbone of the first and
second editions o f Developmentally Appropriate Practice (DAP) (Bredekamp, 1987;
Bredekamp & Copple, 1997), encouraging teachers to:

□ observe what children are exploring and understanding,

□ find ways for children to be active learners, and

30 Chapter 3

□ value active education as a way to prom ote children’s cognitive devel­

Piaget, like Dewey, believed in education as reconstruction. Two “fundam ental
elements o f scientific education,” Piaget said, were:

□ the genuine “activity” of the students, who will be required to recon­
struct, or in part rediscover, the facts to be learned, and

□ above all, individual experience in experim entation. . . . (1973, p. 34).

Piaget emphasized the use o f “active m ethods which give broad scope to the
spontaneous research o f the child o r adolescent” (1973, p. 15), noting th at every
child needs to “reconstruct” or “rediscover” his o r her ow n tru th using activities of
interest. Reggio educators and Piaget have confidence th a t children construct ideas
for themselves.

Piaget’s attention to an active child and to active m ethods was similar to Dewey
and Reggio educators. However, Piaget’s attention to the developm ent o f intellectual
structures was different. Piaget found and focused on internal, invariant, sequential,
and hierarchical stages o f intellectual developm ent that all children go through.
Piaget recognized the im portance of the social setting in which developm ent and
learning take place and valued the social relations w ithin which an individual child is
able to decenter from an egocentric view and grow. However, Piaget’s focus remained
on the internal development o f cognition.

Reggio educators disagree w ith Piaget’s view o f invariant, sequential stages; they
do not find that all children go through the sam e stages (Malaguzzi, 1998). Reggio ed­
ucators, however, do appreciate Piaget’s finding that errors, mistakes, and conflicting
points of view— which naturally take place in a social setting— are experiences that
stimulate children’s growth.

Piaget did not focus on the social mechanism s o f cognitive developm ent or the
role that culture plays in the learning process. Lev Vygotsky, however, did. While the
value of Dewey’s and Piaget’s work has been widely acknowledged by U.S. educators
for some time, the contributions o f Vygotsky are only now coming into prominence.

LEV VYQOTSKY (1896-1934)

Born in a small city in Russia in 1896, Vygotsky was an avid and prom ising student.
Despite his Jewish background, which limited his chances for a university education,
he won a place at the university and was a very successful student, moving to Moscow
and bringing new ideas to the intellectual conversation there. Vygotsky’s dynamic
ideas, in fact, became the center o f turbulent debates in the field of Russian psychol­
ogy and his influence was considerable for a short period o f time, despite strong pres­
sure from the behaviorist psychologists.

Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky 31

Vygotsky faced tremendous resistance from the theories o f culturally dom inant
behaviorist psychology and education then cham pioned by Pavlov and others, who
m aintained that learning depends on positive and negative reinforcem ent from the
environm ent. Instead, Vygotsky proposed that learning was a dynam ic process that
involved an exchange between an active individual and an active environm ent. Vy­
gotsky was a creative thinker, able to understand different, seemingly contradictory
points o f view and bring to light ways in which these apparently divergent views were
unified. Vygotsky did not pay attention only to social o r only to individual processes.
Rather he viewed them as being dynamic and interdependent, constituting “a unity o f
the social and the personal” (Vygotsky, 1998, p. 190), a relationship he term ed “the so­
cial situation o f development” (p. 198).

Vygotsky studied how the cultural and historical situation leads and guides the
active child. This was in contrast to the behaviorists who gave m ajor im portance to
the environm ent alone, and it was also in contrast to Piaget, who focused prim arily
on the individual’s internal development. Vygotsky recognized the active and creative
role o f individuals. He saw that the child, as a p art o f the social situation, actively ex­
periences and internalizes the environment, makes m eaning o f it, and influences the
environm ent, just as the social situation influences the child.

Vygotsky’s unified view of the way social an d individual grow th are intertw ined
gave rise to his idea of a creative area where learning happens m ost easily. Vygotsky
nam ed this area the Zone o f Proximal Development (ZPD) and defined it as the area
between the level o f independent capabilities an d the level o f potential developm ent
o f an individual (1978). W hen functioning in the ZPD w ith su p p o rt from adults or
m ore skilled peers, a child is able to act beyond her/his independent level o f func­
tioning. Vygotsky argued and demonstrated th a t this m ore advanced functioning can
best be strengthened when teachers pay attention to and use th e p rio r knowledge and
beliefs o f children as the foundation on which to invite m ore advanced abilities.

Reggio educators value Vygotsky’s view, which “legitimates broad interventions
by teachers” (Malaguzzi, 1998, p. 84). At the same tim e, Malaguzzi recognized the am ­
biguity o f this situation when he pointed o u t th a t teachers giving “com petency to
som eone who does not have it” (Malaguzzi, p. 83) could easily encourage traditional
teaching. Work within the ZPD is effective, Malaguzzi said, when the gap is small be­
tween what “the child is about to see and what th e adult already sees” (p. 84) and when
“the child’s expectations and dispositions create an expectation and readiness to make
the jum p” (p. 84). In this social situation,

. . . the adult can and m ust loan to the children his judgement and knowledge. But it is
a loan with a condition, namely, that the child will repay, (p. 84)

Reggio educators recognize that much o f their approach is in tune w ith Vygot­
sky’s thinking. Malaguzzi expressed his affinity w ith Vygotsky in this way:

For our part, Vygotsky’s approach is in tune with the way we see the dilemma of
teaching and learning and the ecological way one can reach knowledge.” (1998, p. 84)

3 2 Chapter 3

Reggio educators use children’s p rio r knowledge as a place to start projects. They
m onitor children’s thinking throughout a project and use children’s ongoing ques­
tions and theories to indicate what direction projects should take as they develop.

Following Vygotsky’s untim ely death at age 38, his work was repudiated and ig­
nored until the political situation shifted in Russia in the 1950s. Now his ideas are gen­
erating interest once again throughout many parts o f the world. While Vygotsky left
his work unfinished regarding implications for teaching (M ahn, in press), interest in
analyzing those implications is now increasing.

As word spread (City o f Reggio Emilia, 1987; Edwards, Gandini, 8r Forman,
1993; New, 1990) about the exciting things th at were happening in the Reggio Emilia
schools o f young children, interest in them extended throughout the world. Many
people wondered how these remarkable schools had come into being and who could
have inspired such a transform ation. The answer to these questions begins with one
man: Loris Malaguzzi.


In spring 1945, immediately after World War II, groups o f people in and around Reg­
gio Emilia began to build schools for young children. Citizens of Reggio wanted
schools in which they could participate. The schools in Reggio started out as com ­
m unity-run, teacher-directed schools: The teachers decided what children should
learn. With one teacher and 30 to 35 children for each classroom o f young children,
and with teachers having been taught as children and trained as adults in instruction-
oriented teaching, the initial approach was traditional.

However, with Malaguzzi’s strong leadership, virtually as their director for 25
years starting in 1963, the schools began to change. Malaguzzi worked interdepend-
ently with many others and was able to build a strong core o f teachers and educa­
tional leaders who learned from him and who could engage and argue w ith him . He
worked with other progressive educators in Italy, traveled to other countries to study,
and brought new ideas back to Reggio. He challenged teachers to try out these unfa­
miliar ideas to see what did and did not work with children. He prom oted strong di­
alogue am ong teachers about these new ideas as he also participated powerfully in
this exploration.

Malaguzzi’s emphasis was on how theory and new ideas could be generative and
useful in the teachers’ work w ith children, as well as how their work with children
could influence and shape theory and develop m ore new ideas. This dynamic, inter­
active view o f theory and practice is similar to Vygotsky’s dynamic thinking.

Here are some o f the new ideas that Malaguzzi brought to the schools over time:

□ co-teaching, where two teachers w ith equal responsibility worked
together in one classroom— unheard o f in Italy at that time;

Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky 33

□ making sure there was time and support for teachers to com m uni­
cate— and to learn to communicate— w ith each other;

□ ensuring th at each school had an atelierista, a person train ed in the vi­
sual arts to work with teachers, children, and parents and to provide a
different way of viewing children;

□ giving the arts a new meaning and putting them at a central place in
the life o f the school;

o ‘ docum enting children’s work as a way of com m unicating to families
and the com m unity what was taking place in the schools; and

□ viewing the school as a social system, where the whole system m ust be
understood— not just the parts— and where one p art affects the
whole system.

Malaguzzi provided strong leadership in prom oting these ideas, an d at the same
time he was com m itted to people talking about and learning from their own experi­
ence. Carlina Rinaldi, a leader o f the Reggio schools, points ou t th at this is tru e for
children and for adults;

It is our belief that all knowledge emerges in the process of self and social
construction.. . . Children, in (urn, do not just passively endure their experience, but
also become active agents in their own socialization and knowledge building with
peers. Their action can be understood as more than responses to the social
environment; they can also be considered as mental constructions developed by the
child through social interaction. Obviously, there is a strong cause and effect
relationship between social and cognitive development, a sort o f spiral which is
sustained by cognitive conflict that modifies both the cognitive and social system.
(Rinaldi, 1998, p. 115)

Malaguzzi and Reggio educators have built their educational experience on an
understanding o f the dynamic relationship between individual and social processes
for both adults and children. Their term, “self and social constructivism,” expresses
this idea as well as their practices and their articulated theories.


Documenting children’s work to make it visible to the school and com m unity is one ex­
ample of teachers in Reggio collaborating with children. By observing and docum ent­
ing children’s activities, Reggio teachers have found creative ways to build their
sensitivity to children’s zones o f proximal development. Teachers often video- or au­
diotape the children’s conversations and comments so they can study the thinking and
theories o f the children with other teachers at a later time. In this way, they are able to

34 Chapter 3

stay close to children’s thinking and fine-tune their responses to the particular questions
and interests o f the children. This has proven to be an effective way to extend both teach­
ers’ and children’s questions and thinking about the project topic.

Time for this collaborative com m unication is structurally built into the schools
o f Reggio. For example, as they developed co-teaching in each classroom, they also
built time into the paid workday for teachers to reflect w ith each other. Reggio edu­
cators provide strong leadership that encourages teachers and families to express their
subjective views. Over the years the adults have developed the capacity for dialogue
and reflection am ong themselves which has enabled both children and adults to grow
in their capacity to learn and change.

Malaguzzi provided insight in how this works when he wrote:

Relationship is the primary connecting dimension of our system, however
understood not merely as a warm, protective envelope, but rather as a dynamic
conjunction o f forces and elements interacting toward a common purpose. The
strength of our system lies in the ways we make explicit and then intensify the
necessary conditions for relations and interaction. We seek to support those social
exchanges that better ensure the flow of expectations, conflicts, cooperation, choices,
and the explicit unfolding o f programs tied to the cognitive, affective and expressive
realms. (Malaguzzi, 1998, p. 68)

This shows up in Reggio practice in how teachers are encouraged to speak with each
other about their work. Malaguzzi describes what can happen when teachers talk
deeply with each other:

It is well known how we all proceed as if we had one or more theories. The same
happens for teachers. Whether they know it or n ot they think and act according to
personal theories. The point is how those personal theories are connected with the
education o f children; with relationships within the school and with the organization
of work. In general, when colleagues work closely together and share common
problems, this facilitates the alignment o f behaviors and a modification of personal
theories. We have always tried to encourage this. (Malaguzzi, 1998, p. 86)


There is m uch in com m on am ong Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and Malaguzzi. All con­
sider children to be active, expressive, social, curious, able to grow, and able to learn
how to learn. They all believe that education is best when children are active.

Dewey. Both Dewey and Reggio educators see an intrinsic connection between sub­
ject m atter and the life experiences o f children. They both value children’s direct ex­
periences and see th at learning is m ost effective when it grows o u t o f the children’s
spontaneous activities. Learning takes place best when it is a social process in which
educators follow the children’s lead, take cues from children’s social life, and rem ain
open to new directions. At the same time, both Dewey and Reggio educators believe

Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky 35

that teachers have an im portant role in guiding an d channeling children’s activities.
As Malaguzzi pointed out,

Once children are helped to perceive themselves as authors or inventors, once they are
helped to discover the pleasure and the flavor in inquiry, their motivation and interest
explode. (1998, p. 67)

Piaget. Reggio educators use the elements o f Piaget’s views that work for them . For
example, Reggio educators value Piaget’s perspective on the im portance o f children’s
cognitive conflict, seeing internal conflict as a way that individual children grow. In
small group work, Reggio educators value exchange o f different points o f view am ong
children. This provides motivation for internal reconstruction that takes place with
individual children, pushing children to build higher-order and m ore coherent u n ­
derstandings, as Piaget demonstrated. Error also plays a central role in the theory and
practice o f Reggio. Error and conflict are seen as ways o f m oving forward. This is dif­
ferent from the way they are seen in traditional education.

Vygotsky. Reggio educators deeply value the interconnections and inseparability of
individual and social processes, as did Vygotsky. In an interview with this author in Reg­
gio Emilia in 1990, Malaguzzi pointed out that “it’s not so m uch that we need to think
of a child who develops himself by himself but rather o f a child who develops himself
interacting and developing with others” (Rankin, in press). This view of the child grow­
ing within a group context has gained the attention o f U.S. educators as well and is now
contributing to a growing interest in Vygotsky’s work in the United States.

Final Notes. Learning from Reggio is not about doing something that comes from a
distant, foreign world. Rather, learning from Reggio means learning from re-elaborating
philosophies that are known and studied in the United States. Those theories, while fa­
miliar, have been in part transformed by the experience in Reggio. There, educators have
observed children spending their days in rich and supportive educational settings and,
with Malaguzzi’s leadership, have transformed the theories to become more open to the
creative lives o f children in classrooms. Learning from Reggio also means U.S. educators
learning about ourselves as educators and learning how to go deeper within each person
and within each community and each culture in understanding ourselves, young chil­
dren and families, and how to work together.

Malaguzzi was deeply a theoretician who thought critically and creatively. T he­
ory, in his view, was most useful when it served practice (Malaguzzi, 1992). Malaguzzi
dedicated his life to developing dynamic and useful theory and to improving the prac­
tice o f the schools of young children in Reggio Emilia. His im m odest goal o f chang­
ing the culture of childhood began in Reggio with colleagues in one small city, and
this work continues as the Reggio Approach makes an im pact on many people and
program s throughout the world.

This chapter is necessarily incomplete, a work in progress, as 1 refer to other peo­
ple’s work and thinking that is also in process. I invite the readers to continue to study
and learn about these growing understandings as well. We continue to have much to learn
from and about the ideas and principles expressed by these im portant people.

F a i r D e a l i n g ( S h o r t E x c e r p t )

Reading: The Child’s Environment – The Where (in Ch. 2. Children, Environments, Programs and
Practitioners) (Foundations of Early Childhood Education: Learning Environments and Childcare in Canada)

Author: Dietze, Beverlie

Editor: N/A

Publisher: Prentice Hall Publication Date: 2006 Pages: 42-46 (excerpt)

Course: ECED 400 93Q 2022S1-2 Introduction to Early Childhood Education and Care
Course Code: 93Q Term: 2022S1-2

Department: ECED

Copyright Statement of Responsibility
This copy was made pursuant to the Fair Dealing Requirements for UBC Faculty and Staff, which may be found at The copy may only be used for the purpose of research, private
study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire or parody. If the copy is used for the purpose of review,
criticism or news reporting, the source and the name of the author must be mentioned. The use of this copy for any
other purpose may require the permission of the copyright owner.

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42 Chapter 2

The Child’s Environment-The Where
Children’s environments are the where of early childhood, with the home being the
first physical and socio-cultural environment to which children are exposed and
within which they interact. Children’s physical environments are thought to have
important effects on their behaviour. Bandura’s model of learning and develop­
ment (1986, 1998, 2000) suggests that children’s learning is influenced by the sig­
nificant people in their worlds and by the environments that are created for them
to grow and learn in. Bandura indicates that each of these factors operates interac­
tively, meaning that children’s environments can influence their behaviour, or role
models can influence their behaviour, and vice versa. In fact, children’s environ­
ments are often described as their third teacher (Morrison, 2003). Through
perception, children process knowledge and learn new skills. Children are active
perceivers. They are motivated to discover, explore, and wonder. They examine
information, extract information, and differentiate objects within their environ­
ment (Read, Sugawara, 8c Brandt, 1999). Recent studies that examine the relation­
ship between children’s development and their environmental space are almost
non-existent (Read, Sugawara, & Brandt, 1999), although Nash (1997) indicates
that the experiences within children’s environments affect the neural connections
that are formed early in life. We draw upon Havinghurst and Neugarten’s (1967)
seminal work to introduce the relationship of a child’s life space to development.
We also present the ecological model created by Urie Bronfenbrenner (1967) to
illustrate how children’s families and communities influence development.

Children, Environments, Programs, and Practitioners 43

As shown in Figure 2.3, Havinghurst and Neugarten (1967) describe the
home-environmental determinants of children’s behaviour as children’s “life
space.” Life space involves three elements:

1. Physical space.
2. The objects in that space.
3. The people in that space.

To understand children’s behaviour and needs, we examine these three elements.

Physical Space Children’s physical life space is where they live and know their
way around. The range of the physical space increases with the age of the child. For
example, a 3-year-old is usually limited to the home and surrounding outdoor
space. A 6-year-old’s space expands to the street nearest the home and probably to
the streets leading to school. A 12-year-old is familiar with the area around the
home, and the physical life space may also be expanded to include stores, parks,
recreational centres, and gathering places within the neighbourhood. Children’s
physical life space expands as their interests broaden and as experiences take them,
physically or otherwise, away from the home setting or community.

Figure 2.3 Life Space

44 Chapter 2

The physical space is where children develop their minds as well as their bod­
ies— i.e., learning about and developing physical exercises, such as walking, run­
ning, throwing, and jumping. And within this space, children take risks and try
new things that they have not seen or tried before. Often, the physical space allows
children to develop an appreciation of privacy and freedom from parents and oth­
ers living in the home. Children learn about physical independence as they take
responsibility for their own movements and actions.

Objects within Life Space The second element of children’s life space is the
objects contained within that space. As children become older, the objects become
more complex and are usually products of social living. Children learn to use the
objects within the life space in ways that are defined by role models and society.
Children’s interactions with people and objects become more complex and varied
with age and life experience. As children increase their ability to manipulate vari­
ous objects, such as food utensils, clothes, and toys, they develop a sense of per­
sonal power and self-confidence.

Ecological theory.
Bronfenbrenner’s envi­
ronmental-system theory
of development. This the­
ory emphasizes the role
of social context through
the five environmental
systems: microsystem,
mesosystem, exosystem,
macrosystem, and

People within Life Space The third element that influences children’s life
spaces are the people who interact within the space. These people may be real or
imaginary and may or may not live in the home, depending on the exposure chil­
dren have to others in the home or in the community. The people in children’s lives
create the psychological and social life spaces in which children live. As children
expand their interactions with family members, relatives, neighbours, early child­
hood practitioners, teachers, employers, storekeepers, etc., they form relationships
that support them in meeting their needs in increasingly effective ways.

Positive life space provides children with the means to increase their levels of
self-confidence. The degree of restraint or freedom placed upon children’s life
spaces varies from one family to another and affects how children use their life
spaces. The social relationships children experience in the family setting determine
the degree of freedom they perceive in the social world. Not all children have exact­
ly the same life space or use the space in the same way. Life space and opportuni­
ties to interact within it impact learning and development.

Havinghurst and Neugarten (1967) identify the need to examine physical
space, objects, and people within life space. Urie Bronfenbrenner (1967) developed
an influential theory of human development known as ecological theory. He pro­
poses that there are many environmental influences and systems that contribute to
children’s overall development. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model, as shown in
Figure 2.4, is made up of five major systems.

M icrosystem . This is the setting in which children live, including the home,
school, and neighbourhood. It is in this system that the most direct interactions
with social agents occur— such as parents, peers, and early childhood practition­
ers. These interactions and relationships, because they occur during children’s
early years, significantly impact children’s development.

Children, Environments, Programs, and Practitioners 45

Figure 2.4 Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model o f H um an Development

Mesosystem. The mesosystem surrounds the microsystem and involves the
interactions and relationships or connections among the social agents. For exam­
ple, the interactions and relationships between the parents and the early childhood
practitioner positively or in some cases negatively impact children’s development.
If the parents and early childhood practitioner discuss children’s strengths and
needs and develop strategies to support one another in strengthening the areas of
need, then the children benefit. Conversely, without a collective strategy children
may not have as many opportunities or experiences to support areas requiring fur­
ther development.

Exosystem. This system refers to experiences or influences from other social set­
tings that impact development. Mass media, government, local services, or the
parents’ worksites would be considered influential. For example, many provincial
governments have set new standards for playground apparatus in early learning
and child care centres. As a result, many of the climbing experiences that provided
children with challenges and physical-development enhancement have been elim­
inated from play areas, impacting children’s physical development, wellness, and
the confidence that develops with safe risk opportunities.

46 Chapter 2

Macrosystem. This system involves the beliefs and ideologies of family, commu­
nity, and country culture. For example, if a child moves from Japan to rural New
Brunswick, where she and her family are not only the sole Japanese family but also
the only family with a different ancestry, mother tongue, and customs, such a move
would significantly impact that child’s development.

Chronosystem. This refers to the patterning of environmental events, transitions
over the life course, and the time since the events (Santrock, 2002). For example,
in studying the effects of inactivity on children, researchers have found that the
negative health effects can become evident at as early as 8 years of age. There are
now high numbers of children suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, and
low self-esteem. The more overweight children become, the more their social,
emotional, cognitive, and physical development are negatively affected.

Although meeting children’s early childhood interests and needs does not ensure
a happy and successful life, meeting those needs can prepare children to learn inde­
pendently, to build self-confidence, and to take the calculated risks required to grow
and develop and to become contributing members of our community.

F a i r D e a l i n g ( S h o r t E x c e r p t )

Reading: The Roots of Early Childhood Services (in Ch. 1. Exploring the Foundations of Early Learning and Child
Care) (Foundations of Early Childhood Education: Learning Environments and Childcare in Canada)

Author: Dietze, Beverlie

Editor: N/A

Publisher: Prentice Hall Publication Date: 2006 Pages: 9-14

Course: ECED 400 93Q 2022S1-2 Introduction to Early Childhood Education and Care
Course Code: 93Q Term: 2022S1-2

Department: ECED

Copyright Statement of Responsibility
This copy was made pursuant to the Fair Dealing Requirements for UBC Faculty and Staff, which may be found at The copy may only be used for the purpose of research, private
study, criticism, review, news reporting, education, satire or parody. If the copy is used for the purpose of review,
criticism or news reporting, the source and the name of the author must be mentioned. The use of this copy for any
other purpose may require the permission of the copyright owner.

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Exploring the Foundations o f Early Learning and Child Care 9

The Roots of Early C hildho od Services
Students frequently ask why it is important to explore the roots of early childhood
services and how historical perspectives impact current practices (see Figure 1.1).
Exploring those roots is essential because the historical perspective gives practi­
tioners insight into the beliefs, ideals, and concepts impacting current practices.
Exploring previous practices and determining which ones, according to our belief
system, are appropriate to use in a given situation leads to “new knowledge.”

This new knowledge, combined with a practitioner’s own beliefs, influences
standards of practice. For example, Montessori, Froebel, and Waldorf each deter­
mined that young children benefit from outdoor play. Why would this be impor­
tant? Each of these theorists recognized that outdoor play provides children with
rich learning experiences about nature and the environment while contributing to
physical development. Children who have hands-on experiences with our natural
environment develop a respect for living things and a curiosity about how things
grow and why our environment is important. At the same time, children are learn­
ing to move their bodies, develop balance, and strengthen their kinesthetic aware­
ness. As obesity increases among children, and as we try to support children in
learning about their environment, there is a renewed interest in early childhood
practitioners’ increasing the amount o f outdoor play and the options for children
to explore and discover (Crossley & Dietze, 2004).

Examining the roots of early learning and child care helps practitioners
understand how the field has developed over time. Equally important is gaining
an understanding of how and why current standards of practice have evolved.
Examining theories provides early childhood student practitioners with a struc­
ture to understand how learning occurs; a tool to examine, evaluate, and predict
children’s learning needs based on identified benchmarks; and a reference point to

Early childhood edu­
cator. A term u sed to
describe in d iv id uals w ho
w ork w ith children a n d
h o ld a p o st-sec o n d a ry
E C E credential.

Early childhood prac­
titioner. In dividu als w ho
have com pleted early
ch ild hood stu dies in a col­
lege certificate, dip lo m a,
or university degree p r o ­
gram , a n d w ho p articip ate
in co n tin u ous learn in g
ab o u t y ou n g children.

Early childhood servic­
es. P rogram s p ro v id ed for
children in child care set­
tings, hom es, institution s,
recreational facilities, or
other group settings. In
these environm ents, early
ch ildhood p ractition ers
create safe, interesting,
innovative play o p p o rtu ­
nities th at are responsive
to children’s needs, inter­
ests, and abilities, while
su p p o rtin g the n eeds o f

Early childhood. Refers
to the p e rio d fro m b irth
to 8 years o f age.

Child care:
G o vern m ent-regulated
child care offered in cen­
tres a n d fam ily child care
hom es.

Community programs.
N u rsery
sch oo ls/p resch ools a n d
resource p ro g ra m s th at
are regulated b y provin-
cial/territorial govern ­
m ents.

10 Chapter 1

Conversation Cafe
What’s in a name? Should
there be one specific name
used to identify individuals
working with children from J
infancy to 6 years o f age? If
so, what should it he? Why?
Should there be one name
used to identify the field? If
so, what should it be? Is it
best to use a broad name,
such as early learning and
child care, or should a more
focused name be used? Why
or why not?

Roots of Farly Learning
and Child Care Services

Helps in the development
of new knowledge.

Explains how and why current
standards of practice have evolved.

Provides a structure to understand
howlearning occurs.

F ig u re 1.1 Why Exam ine the Roots o f Early Childhood Services?

communicate to others how children develop. These elements eventually influence
how experiences and program content are structured. However, before we discuss
programming we will present 12 selected theorists and their insights into how chil­
dren learn, how early childhood practitioners support children in their develop­
ment, and how the environment impacts the development of children.

The Beginning Roots of Early Childhood Services
Before the 14th century, children made the transition from childhood to adult­
hood by the age of 7 (Mayfield, 2001). Between the 5th and 13th centuries, child­
hood was extremely short, often lasting barely beyond infancy. The only available
education was religious instruction and training for the priesthood at monastery
schools. Children learned survival skills by working side by side with their families
or employers.

During the latter part of the Dark Ages, the policies o f Charlemagne of France
strongly influenced societal direction. He proclaimed that the nobility should
know their letters. At the same time, craft guilds and apprenticeship programs were
being developed and expanded across the country. Learning became important to
society (Gordon 8c Brown, 1989).

In the years of transition from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance in the 14th
century and the Reformation in the 16th century, society evolved from one o f sur­
vival to one of sophistication. Several economic, political, social, and religious

Exploring the Foundations o f Early Learning and Child Care 11

movements began to work together as a way to support the development o f soci­
ety. For example, young boys were provided with opportunities to learn specific
skills from a male adult that prepared those boys to become contributing mem­
bers of society. At the same time, Germany established a school system, leading
other European societies to do the same. As more educational programs were
established, the infant mortality rate declined (Mayfield, 2001), and there was a
pronounced shift in how people viewed children. Societies began to recognize that
children required educational programs early in life, rather than as adults.
Children educated in their early years would be better equipped to help families
improve their position in society. European societies developed an appreciation of
the value of creating specific environments to foster a child’s development
(Mayfield, 2001). Hence, the concept o f early childhood education was born.

The first written documentation referencing early childhood education is
found in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans (Mayfield, 2001). Plato
(c. 428-348 b c e ) and Aristotle (384-322 b c e ) determined that the early years
(prior to formal schooling) had more of an impact on a child’s development than
any other life period. For example, Plato suggested that the early years were criti­
cal for developing healthy bodies and formulating the blueprint for one’s charac­
ter. This belief continues to prevail in early childhood theory even today.

Plato advocated for children to be educated initially by nurses and then by
their parents during the first six years in a home setting. He believed that in the
home environment children could participate in games, stories, music, and litera­
ture, activities essential for the development of interpersonal skills and later aca­
demic skills. He also indicated children 3 to 6 years old required play opportuni­
ties with other children of similar ages under the guidance of adults, such as
nurses. Plato concluded that formal education in a school-like setting was most
appropriate after the age of 6.

Aristotle expanded the discussion on the importance of the early years to
include the relationship between early childhood experiences and lifelong learn­
ing. He, like Plato, suggested children up to the age of 7 should be taught at home
by their mothers and/or nurses. Leaving the care and nurturing of children to
adults other than the parents was unacceptable. Aristotle also made connections
between prenatal development and later development. He suggested that women
exercise and eat a nutritionally balanced diet during pregnancy (Mayfield, 2001).
Aristotle recognized that individual children have different needs and strengths, a
principle that continues to influence many early childhood programs today.

The Modern Roots of Early Childhood Services
Europeans who immigrated to Canada have long influenced Canadian society.
Although many other cultures have made significant contributions to early child­
hood services, because of the European influence on Canadian society overall this
introductory text focuses mainly on European theorists.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there were at least 12 theorists who
contributed fundamentally to the body of literature on early childhood. Each dis­
covered new ideas and new knowledge by concentrating either on how children

12 Chapter 1

develop, how children learn, or how early childhood
services in communities advance child develop­
ment. An introduction to their theories follows in
Table 1.1. We have selected these theorists primarily
because their work continues to impact current
early childhood philosophies and practices. We
present two key points about their contributions to
learning about children, followed by how their work
impacts practices today. This is intended to help you
become familiar with their names and, briefly, their
work. (You will learn more about these theorists in
upcoming chapters and in other courses.) For ease
o f presentation, we have listed the theorists in
chronological order.

The theories of Erik Erikson, Howard Gardner,
Abraham Maslow, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky
contribute to understanding child development.
Their works help us to understand how children
learn and develop. John A. Comenius’s, John
Dewey’s, Friedrich Froebel’s, John Locke’s, Maria
Montessori’s, Johann Pestalozzi’s, and Jean-Jacques
Rousseau’s theories and beliefs help us to under­

stand about how children learn and how people and environments influence learn­
ing. Early childhood practitioners combine their understanding o f how children
develop and how they learn to create optimal learning environments that foster
curiosity and exploration.

Developmentally appropriate programs offer children experiences

Developmentally appropriate programs offer children experiences outdoors.

Exploring the Foundations of Early Learning and Child Care 13

Table 1.1 Historical Contributors and Their Influence on Early Learning and C hild Care

Contributor Key Ideas Impact on Practice

John A. Comenius (1592-1670) • Children should have access to education
and in own language.

• Families, especially mothers, impact

John Locke (1632-1704) • Children are born as blank tablets. • Children require many learning
• Children’s experiences determine who experiences early in life.

they are. • Children learn acceptable societal
behaviours through role modelling.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) • There are natural consequences to • Educational environments need to be
child rearing. homelike, such as family groupings.

• Children have an innate timetable and • Children flourish best in authentic
will develop accordingly. environments.

• Active learning is essential for learning.
• Make reading a core of school


Johann H. Pestalozzi (1746-1827) • Effective education is based on sensory

• Mother is the child’s first and best teacher.

• Family-centred groupings enhance

• Incorporate sensory experiences into

Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852)

John Dewey (1859-1952)

Maria Montessori (1870-1952)

• Child development is an “unfolding”

• Initiated the first kindergarten—i.e.,
“Garden of Children.”

• Children’s interests are more important
than subject content.

• Children learn best when involved in
problem-solving activities with peers
and practitioners.

• Child development occurs in stages.
• Children are interested, receptive, and

successful to certain learning during
these stages, or “sensitive periods.”

• Provide materials that support children
in discovering about specific concepts
both indoors and outdoors.

• Practitioner’s role is to provide “seeds
of ideas” to children.

• Integrated experiences provide children
with a wider scope of learning.

• A child-centred philosophy and
curriculum guides the role of

• Provide progressively more difficult,
self-correcting materials, real-life

• Children benefit from being in
mixed-age groupings.

Abraham Maslow (1890-1970) • Children have basic needs-food, safety/
security; belonging/love; achievement/
prestige; and aesthetic needs.

• Having needs satisfied is essential for
individuals to achieve their fullest potential.

• Children require their basic needs to be
met before they are able to participate
in cognitive learning.

• Practitioners support children in
developing a sense of “belonging” and

14 Chapter 1

continue Table 1.1


Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)

Jean Piaget (1896-1980)

Erik Erikson (1902-1994)

Howard Gardner (1943- )

Impact on PracticeKey Ideas

• Children’s mental, language, and social
development Is enhanced by social

• Children’s learning is magnified when
they interact with positive role models in
their environment.

• Children learn most effectively when
they have active, hands-on involvement
in learning.

• Hands-on experiences are the foundation
for being able to think and learn.

• Cognitive and social development cannot
be separated.

• Children’s personalities develop within
the context of family, society, and culture.

• Children have multiple intelligences.
• Children learn differently.

• Relationships between the early
childhood practitioner and the child
impact children’s engaging in higher-
level learning.

• Co-operative learning enhances

• Children construct knowledge by
interacting with materials and others.

• Provide programs that offer a variety of
manipulative materials that support
problem-solving skills.

• Practitioners provide children with
comfortable environments that trigger
children to explore, play, and discover.

• Environments are rich in language and
social relationships.

• Practitioners provide experiences that
support all nine intelligences.

• Practitioners provide experiences
appealing to all learning styles.

F a i r D e a l i n g ( S h o r t E x c e r p t )

Reading: Ch. 5. Firstschool: A New Vision for Education (School Readiness and the Transition to Kindergarten in
the Era of Accountability)

Author: Ritchie, Sharon; Maxwell, Kelly; Clifford, Richard M.

Editor: Pianta, Robert C.; Cox, Martha J.; Snow, Kyle LaBrie

Publisher: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co. Publication Date: 2007 Pages:



Course: ECED 400 93Q 2022S1-2 Introduction to Early Childhood Education and Care
Course Code: 93Q Term: 2022S1-2

Department: ECED

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F ir s t Sc h o o l

A N ew Vision fo r Education
S h a ro n R itchie, Kelly Maxwell, a n d R ichard M. C liffo rd

ious chapters have addressed the reconcepciialization o f transitions, the increased em-
asis on the early years o f schooling, the move toward alignment, and the rethinking
accountability. This chapter outlines the purpose, rationale, conceptual model, fun­
damentals, and components o f FirstSchool, an innovative, comprehensive plan for the educa­

tion o f children ages 3 -8 years (Bogard, 2003). FirstSchool aspires to promote and support
public school efforts to become more responsive to the needs o f an increasingly younger, more
diverse population o f children. Making a real difference in the lives o f all young children re­
quires rethinking public education in complex and meaningful ways that optimize expertise,
broaden the knowledge base, and challenge any practices that sustain inequity.


Early education in the United States is changing in ways that provide unique opportunities
regarding [he beginning o f school and the potential to influence practice. By the end o f the
20th century, an estimated nearly 1 million children were entering kindergarten prior to the
traditional entry age (Clifford, Early, & Hills, 1999). This num ber equals roughly one fourth
o f all children in this age cohort in the United States. T he time is rapidly approaching that,
for all intents and purposes, school will start a year earlier than it did between the 1980s and
1990s. Currently, 38 states offer prekindergarren services co ar least some 4-year-olds
(Barnett, Hustedt, Robin, & Schulman, 2006), and universal preschool is finding footing
throughout the nation (American Federation o f Teachers, 2002; C om m ittee for Economic
Development, 2002; Council o f C hief State School Officers, 1999; Espinosa, 2002; Foun­
dation for Child Development, 2001; National Education Association, 2003; Trust for Early
Education, n.d.; U.S. Conference o f Mayors, 2004). These programs will likely grow over the
next decade to the point that school for 3- and 4-year-olds will be a viable choice for all fam­
ilies. Before these programs for young children become fully developed and implemented,
the early education establishment must thoughtfully plan with schools and the broader com­
munity to be ready to meet the needs o f young children. D uring this time o f change, there


86 *SHI Ritchie, Maxwell, and Clifford

is a choice o f whether to simply add to the existing organizational structure and practice of
schools or to use this opportunity to reexamine early education in the United Srates (Foun­
dation for Child Development, 2003). T he former option will likely fail to address the full
range o f needs o f these youngest members o f the educational system; decades o f attempts at
school reform have repeatedly demonstrated chat change is difficult once practices are set in
place. Rather, a new vision is needed.

Most children develop substantial oral language skills by age 3, and by the time they
reach third grade, schools expect them to be relatively com petent in written language* Be­
cause success beyond third grade is highly dependent on childrens skills in writing and un­
derstanding written language, children’s early school experiences should ensure that they
have optim al opportunities to become highly com petent readers and writers. Schools typi­
cally increase and aker expectations for children at about age 7 or 8, which underscores the
need to prepare both children and schools for this shift in emphasis.

Language and literacy, however, cannot be the only focus. Teachers o f young children
must also facilitate the development o f critical thinking skills and provide opportunities to
develop knowledge, skills, and concepts in math, science, social studies, creative expression,
and technology. Children must develop physically, socially, and emotionally and become in­
creasingly com petent in practices that will keep them healthy and safe. These are all critical
tasks for childrens early school years.

FirstSchool will provide a new vision for early education. T he evidence regarding quality
practices for young children, publicly funded prekindergarten, and the achievement gap that
continues as children move through school defines both the strength and the challenges in cre­
ating this new vision. T he strength lies in the decades o f research that have provided the field
o f early education with solid information on quality practices for young children
(e.g.,Campbell, Ramey, Pungcllo, Sparling, & Miller-Johnson, 2002; Peisncr-Feinberg ct al.,
2001; Reynolds, Temple, Robertson, & Mann, 2002; Schweinhart, Barnes, & Weikart,1993).
T he similarity in criteria for quality described in position papers for state and national early
learning and performance standards and national standards indicates much agreement about
what constitutes the enriched learning environments, positive teacher-child relationships, and
instructional approaches rhat make learning meaningful for children and support them as they
grow and develop (National Association for the Education o f Young Children, 2005; National
Association o f State Boards o f Education, 1988; National Education Association, 2003; Na­
tional Education Goals Panel, 1998; Scott-Litdc, Kagan, &c Frclow, 2005). This knowledge
provides professionals with rhe foundation for their work and is the source o f their vision:

FirstSchool is a learning com m unity in which development and education o f 3- to
8-year-old children is at the heart o f everything we do. Every child has a right to a successful,
enjoyable, high quality FirstSchool experience that fosters intellectual, physical, emotional, and
social well-being, and optimizes learning and development. In partnership with families and
communities, FirstSchool accepts responsibility for preparing each child for a lifetime o f learn­
ing, in school and beyond. (FirstSchool, n.d.)

T he same field o f research that has demonstrated the importance o f safe, healthy, and
positive environments, stimulating curricula, and a broad range o f instructional practices for
young children has also documented how many children— especially children who live in
poverty and are African American or Latino— do nor get a fair shake. Indeed, they are noc hav­
ing a successful, enjoyable, high-qualicy first school experience (Barbarin, 2002; Brooks-Gunn,

FirstSchool: A New Vision fo r Education HHB 87

Klebanov, & Duncan, 1996; Lee & Burkam, 2002; Smith, Brooks-Gunn, & Klebanov, 1997).
School must grow and change from a place that honors and benefits some children— usually
those who look and act like their teachers and who have access by virtue o f race and socioe­
conomic status to rhe culture o f schooling (Delpit, 1995)— to a place that benefits all. School
must become a place where all children develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence neces­
sary to be active citizens in a diverse, democratic society; where many more children learn how
to read and write by grade 3; where those vulnerable to failure are better received and served;
and where a child’s sense o f wonder, curiosity, and desire ro learn is fostered.

O ne o f the most immediate challenges to rethinking the early school years is in effec­
tively translating knowledge into practice. Studies o f early education practice show the
difficulties in moving from highly successful experimental programs (Campbell et al” 2002;
Schweinhart et al” 1993) to moderate-size (Reynolds et al., 2002) or large-scale implemen­
tation o f programs (Clifford et al.,2005; Pianta et ak, 2005) designed ro serve children and
fam ilies d u rin g the preschool a n d early school periods. W e m ay be able co define quality,
but current practices, regulations, and funding levels are not ensuring high-quality pro­
grams. School days for children, especially minority children and those who live in poverty,
are characterized by low global quality, low levels o f meaningful or reciprocal interactions
between children and teachers, and low levels o f child engagement in meaningful activities
(Clifford et al” 2005; Early et al” 2005). T he need to identify and understand which prac­
tices lead to higher quality experiences for all children and to eliminate disparities presents
a challenge: to consider the multiple, interactive factors that either support or hinder the
translarion o f knowledge into practice (Burchinal & Cryer, 2003).

An additional challenge is found in the poor coordination o f the educational experi­
ences o f young children between the ages o f 3 and 8 years. Ac this time, the differences
between elementary education and early childhood education are far greater than the simi­
larities. For the most part, the systems have different funding streams, disparate pay scales,
incongrucnc education and training, and unrelated national support. Little effort on the part
o f either system facilitates the transition o f children from one to the other (Early, Pianta,
Taylor, & Cox, 2001). This divide berween early childhood programs and elementary edu­
cation separates teacher knowledge and values into different and often conflicting camps. The
challenge is to create an educational system that unites the best practices o f both into a co­
ordinated continuum o f learning and care. Following the recommendations o f Bogard and
Takanishi (2005), FirstSchool will align standards, curricula, and assessment practices across
the early grades to investigate how learning experiences can be systematically organized to
complement and reinforce one another in support o f more positive outcomes for children.


Conceptual models are essential guides for the FirstSchool effort. Comminees concerned with
the multiple components o f quality education are developing guiding principles and establish­
ing their theoretical and empirical basis. The common principles, detailed in the next section,
are fundamental to all components o f FirsrSchool. FirstSchool likely will not rely on a distinctly
new conceptual model but, rather, on the integration and expansion o f existing models to pro­
vide a theoretical road map. W ithin the year, a broad conceptual model o f successful schools
will be developed. This model will include the common principles, as well as those specific to
different aspeers o f FirstSchool and will draw from many areas, including systems change liter-

88 HHB Ritchie, Maxwell, and Clifford

acure, developmental systems theory, sociocultural and cognitive theories, and the concepts o f
constructivism and social justice. This conceptual model is currently emerging.

The FirstSchool planning process itself is guided by theoretical models, especially the
ideas o f Vygotsky (1986) and Dewey (1989). Vygotsky’s ideas on the contribution o f social
interaction co learning have powerful implications for the planning process. A collaborative
process enables the people working together to co-construct contexts in which knowledge
comes from the best available scientific research as well as the wisdom and values o f the mul­
tiple and varied partners. This is an inquiry model一 a way to learn whar orher people
believe and to struggle for com m on understandings to broaden the collective intellect. The
challenge co this work is in establishing trust among people who differ in many elements in
which the power o f status, race, and gender usually dictate outcomes. Breaking this pattern
requires a com m itm ent to moving slowly, reflecting on various practices, listening carefully,
and integrating the ideas o f all partners in a significant and discernible manner.

Deweys work is im portant because it encourages collaborators to operate as members
o f a community, actively pursuing interests in cooperation with others, and simultaneously
cautions against the pitfall o f merely accepting the stacus quo. His work encourages the chal­
lenging o f educational traditions through a dialectical process in which grappling with con­
flicting ideas provides increased access to diverse thoughts. FirstSchools success depends on
the com m itm ent to inclusive practices that embrace and value differences.

T he next section describes ideas that are fundamental to the FirstSchool conceptual
model and that will be evident throughout the planning, implemencacion, and evaluation
o f FirstSchool.


The valuing o f positive relationships, a com m itm ent to dialogue, the use o f innovation and
evidence, the contribution o f context to content, and an unrem itting attention to equity are
fundamental to the work o f FirstSchool.

Positive Relationships

Positive relationships are central to all aspects o f the planning, implementation, and evaluation
o f FirstSchool. For both children and adults, the cognitive and social development that promotes
learning occurs in an interactive context (Pianta & Walsh, 1996; Vygotsky, 1986). FirstSchool is
conscientiously and consistently working to establish positive prosocial environments character­
ized by mutually reciprocated relationships, respect, and cooperative work (Wesley & Buysse,
2001). Developing relationships takes time and attention to become genuine. Com m itm ent to
positive relationships developed through dialogue and attention to equity does not aJIow for
shortcuts or missteps and implies an unwavering faithfulness to this basic premise.

Comm itm ent to Dialogue

“Dialogue implies talk between people. . . . It is a humanizing form, one that challenges and
resists dom ination. T he give and cake makes struggling together for meaning a powerful expe­
rience in self definition and self discovery.” (Ladson-Billings, 1994)

FirstSchool: A New Vision fo r Education H B 89

Dialogue, a vital factor in all FirstSchool phases, is essential to learning and co the development
o f shared values and beliefe. The challenge is to establish relationships, build trust, and design
the infrastructure necessary to support give-and-take conversations among diverse groups o f
people and on various topics throughout each phase o f FirstSchool. This commitment to
dialogue is important not just for adults but also for children. It is easy to say and even believe
that all constituents’ opinions are encouraged and valued, bur it is difficult to generate discus-
sions in which everyone feels adequate and im ponant to the task when the group members vary
in status, age, class, race, and expertise and are governed by a history o f mistrust.

Another potential dilemma is that reform and restructuring efforts are traditionally ini­
tiated by people who believe they already know all o f the answers. N ot having answers implies
disorganization, chaos, and incompetence. O n the contrary, FirstSchool does not (and does
not want to) have all o f the answers at the outset. Instead, it is important to pose questions,
initiate conversations, and listen to a broad range o f people with differing ideas, experiences,
and values. In this increasingly disparate nation, the knowledge and experiences o f people
from different cultures, socioeconomic levels, and geographic regions will provide advantages
for navigating the complexities o f schools and schooling. Diversity o f thought is a vital asset.

Evidence and Innovation

FirstSchool has the opportunity, born o f time and enhanced by partnership, to blend evi­
dence with innovation. T he challenge is to remain grounded in research while thinking
creatively about continuing questions. T h e evidence-based practice approach used by
FirstSchool is a decision-making process that integrates the best available research evidence
with family and professional wisdom and values. At the heart o f this definition, represent­
ing the most dramatic shift from previous thinking, is the notion th at evidence-based prac­
tice is essentially a process requiring practitioners to identify, evaluate, and interpret the
evidence and apply it to solve problems about practice (Buysse & Wesley, in press). The
Journal o f Early Intervention provides guidelines for the use o f innovative practice. It defines
innovative models, programs, techniques, or practices “as those that focus on valued o u t­
comes, are based on sound theory and relevant research, and offer new approaches to ad­
dress effectively challenges faced by the field” (2006). T h e journal defines promising models,
programs, techniques, o r practices as those that have well-formulated and coherent proce­
dures and preliminary evidence dem onstrating potential effectiveness. FirstSchool will con­
tribute to the knowledge base o f 〔he field through the investigation o f m ultiple unanswered
issues. T he evaluation phase will be characterized by research methodology that illustrates
the effects o f difference on success in school and on how specific efforts to address these is­
sues may result in positive change for children.


T he path toward increased equity in educational processes and outcomes is multifaceted. Eq­
uity throughout the planning stage o f FirstSchool means involving a wide range o f people in
decision making; encouraging everyone to participate in the dialogue, addressing any gaps,
and recognizing and questioning assumptions; and, most important, ensuring that each child
receives what he or she needs to be successful. Equity in the implementation o f FirstSchool

90 BHB Ritchie, Maxwell, and Clifford

requires a social justice perspective, paying particular attention to inequalities associated with
race, social class, language, and gender. FirstSchool views social justice as transformative—
founded on the principle chat theory and practice are joined as praxis. Democracy not only
is taught but also lives within the classroom, the school, and the community.

Contribution of Context to Content

FirstSchools work is wide ranging. It is essential to think both locally and nationally,
balancing the specificity o f a model with rhe flexibility o f a framework in w h ich c h ild re n s
FirstSchool experiences are conceived within the broader context o f culture and community.
Local models allow for the recognition and negotiation o f local assets and needs. T he na­
tional framework enables identification o f prim ary components o f success, both in terms o f
process and content, that apply across communities. W orking at both levels simultaneously
emphasizes the importance of context when determ ining which aspects o f FirstSchool are
essential co the programs philosophy and goals and which are contingent on the local com ­

O f course, the local work o f FirstSchool is situational. The core participants have been
highly invested in their work, adequate time and funds have been available, and the pro­
gram has benefited from access ro rhe resources o f a university and a research institute ded­
icated ro quality practices for young children. O th er communities may not have these same
assets. For FirstSchool to be a viable oprion for communities across die nation, its design
must limit the degree to which reforms can be imposed from the outside; such a design
would recognize rhe im portant differences in implementation that are linked to particular
contexts (I)atnow, 2000) as well as the importance o f engaging the com m unity in the work.
Local experiences in the development process o f a FirstSchool model site might be just as
im portant as the content o f the framework itself. FirstSchool will begin piloting aspects o f
FirstSchool in two local districts in 2007. Initial work will include the integration o f
preschool children and families into the local K-5 model and aligning the curriculum, in­
structional practices, and environments between pre-K and kindergarten to prom ote a
sm ooth and appropriate transition (Bogard & Takanishi, 2005). Negotiations are under way
to partner with a local district to build a model facility to be completed in 2010.


T he starting point for FirstSchool is determ ining how to fully integrate preschool into ele­
m entary schools and to rethink early school experience. Planning groups are addressing nine
issues that are critical to moving forward with this agenda. Members o f the planning groups
include parents, teachers o f you ng children both in and out o f public school, administrators
and directors, child care comm unity representatives, teacher educators, researchers, and
other com m unity leaders. A significant challenge o f the current work is to sustain a holistic
view o f FirstSchool. Although separate descriptions o f the nine issues and com m ittee tasks
are described briefly next, many issues will cut across the components. T h e authors o f this
chapter are developing multiple ways to help groups approach similar issues from different
perspectives and to keep participants apprised o f all progress and major decisions. As
FirstSchool evolves, additional groups may be created.

FirstSchool: A New Vision fo r Education ■ ■ ■ 9 1


To make FirstSchool work in the real world, it is essential to determine how to finance a
school chat combines children eligible for funding for public education with large numbers
o f children not eligible for such support. In most states, children below the legal age o f en­
try into kindergarten may not be supported by funds from the state general education fund.
Although many states offer prekindergarten funding for some children, only a handful o f
states have attem pted co make prekindergarten services available to all children. W hen fund­
ing is available, it is often not sufficient to operate a high-quality program that would meet
the standards o f FirscSchool. Additional financial and operational concerns involve financ­
ing the pan o f the program for all children that operates before and after school and during
holidays and vacation periods to accommodate the needs o f working families. T h e business
com m ittee is developing a business plan describing the financial resources available to all
children in the 3 – to 8-year-old range and detailing how chose resources can be used to
support a high-quality program for all children. The first task will be to develop a plan that
is unique co the model site. This plan will form the basis for creation o f a model business
plan that will be made available co state and local agencies across the country working to
create a FirstSchool model.

Coordinated School Health and Wellness

To benefit from education and maintain quality o f life, children, staff, and families in the
FirstSchool com m unity need to be as healthy as possible. FirstSchool will use a national
model o f coordinated school health and wellness that incorporates the com ponents o f fam­
ily, school, and com m unity partnerships; health education and life skills; healthy and safe
environments; health services; nutrition; physical education and activity; social and emo­
tional well-being; and stafT wellness. T h e com m ittee is concerned with health protection,
disease, and injury prevention and health prom otion. T he concerns o f this com m inee will
inform and be informed by designs and plans from many committees: T h e facilities com­
mittee must ensure an environm ent thar promotes health and safety; the families, com m u­
nities, and outreach com m ittee will help determ ine schook* responsibilities (and part o f chat
conversation includes w hat services should be available for families); the curriculum and in­
struction committee will integrate the health, nutrition, and safety practices in daily learn­
ing; and the professional development committee will prepare teachers to be aware o f and
responsive to the health, safety, and mental health concerns o f children and families.

Curriculum and Instruction

FirstSchool is dedicated to the structural, curricular, and pedagogical continuity o f childrens
early education experiences. T he curriculum and instruction committee is developing a frame­
work that builds on local and national work to align standards and curriculum and that attend
to both developmental domains and content areas. Although this area has merited much at­
tention in the last few years, most o f [he work has focused cither on early childhood or
elementary curriculum, with no efforts ro align and coordinate an approach that would span
the 3- to 8-ycar-old period and account for childrens developmental characteristics and abili­
ties (Griffith, 1996; Kagan & Neuman, 1998; National Association o f State Boards o f Edu­

92 M H I Ritchie, Maxwell, and Clifford

cation,1988; National Education Goals Panel, 1998; Pianta & Cox, 1999). T he FirstSchool
framework will outline the learning objectives across the 3- to 8-year-old period and describe
instructional strategies for effectively teaching young children. T he framework is guided by 10
principles. T he first five— all children are capable; children are constructors o f their own
knowledge; teachers, parents, and peers co-construct knowledge and broaden learning; con­
text contributes to content; and positive relationships are central to children’s success― derive
broadly from fundamental assumptions about human nature and social structure. T he last
five— use o f wide-ranging and varied approaches; access to a curriculum that maximizes po­
tential; contribution o f assessment practices to individual growth and progress as well as the
growth o f the classroom community; purposeful and intentional practices; and a commitment
to lifelong learning— derive more narrowly from the particular conditions and concerns o f
early childhood education.


Instead o f focusing on the traditional divisions o f language, culture, and special needs, the di­
versity committee is addressing the diversity o f learners in general. This intentional move away
from a deficit view o f children who are “different” recognizes diversity as the primary descrip­
tor for the current population o f young children. About 45% o f children under 5 are ethnically
or linguistically diverse, and [his trend is expected to grow (U.S. Census Bureau, 2004). Diverse
learners also include young children with developmental disabilities; those at risk for learning,
social, emotional, or behavioral problems; and those with gifts, talents, or exceptional potential.
Most children reflect one or more o f these notions o f diversity. Careful thought in deciding how
best to use Both financial and human resources to ensure equity o f access for all children and
families underlies the committees work to ensure that each child in FirstSchool succeeds.
FirstSchool will advance the fields understanding o f diversity issues in early education such as
bilingual education, early intervention, culturally responsive practices, and inclusion.

Evaluation and Research

Evaluation is an essential com ponent o f FirstSchool. T he prim ary work o f the evaluation
and research com m ittee is to 1) design an evaluation o f the process o f planning and imple­
menting FirstSchool and 2) design an overall evaluation o f the effectiveness o f FirstSchool
in reaching its primary goals. Evaluating [he planning and implementation process will pro­
vide valuable lessons to other communities interested in FirstSchool or PK -3 ideas. This
com m ittee will provide guidance on gathering the scientific data needed to evaluate
FirstSchool, using data in a constructive way to support reflection and change, and con­
ducting research that follows the FirstSchool guiding principles.


School buildings arc generally not designed for young children and their families. Ideally,
FirstSchool would be implemented in a facility designed specifically to serve children
3~8 years old. W hen implementing a local dem onstration site, FirstSchool will design and
oversee the construction o f a state-of-the-art facility for the education and care o f children

FirstSchool: A New Vision fo r Education ■ ■ ■ 93

ages 3 -8 . Fundamentally,the FirsrSchool physical environment will support all aspects o f
childrens development and learning, provide for teachers’ needs and comfort, be accessible
to families and com m unity members, and serve as a research and training facility. Moving
beyond essentials, FirstSchool will use this opportunity to take a fresh, cutting-edge view o f
environments that are welcoming, flexible, environmentally sound, and sustainable and that
demonstrate respect and regard for families, teachers, and children in all derails.

Families, Communities, and Outreach

T he families, communities, and outreach committee has two main goals: 1) to build strong
partnerships with families and other com m unity members, and 2) to communicate effec­
tively about FirstSchool, locally and nationally. This committee will provide leadership to
help engage families and communities in decision making and planning processes that will
lead to stro n g , su sta in ab le rela tio n sh ip s a m o n g schools, fam ilies, and o th ers in th e c o m m u ­
nity. T he committee will explore questions such as “In what ways is education a societal and
shared responsibility, where families and com m unity members along with schools are ac­
countable for the development o f the children in their care?” and “W hat does it mean for
families to be involved in their childrens education?n

Professional Developm ent

Teachers who are well prepared to work more effectively with all children are key to the suc­
cess o f FirstSchool. This requires moving beyond traditional methods o f preparation toward
efforts to understand and appreciate diversity and to broaden teachers’ skills. This requires
professional development focused on developing culturally responsive practitioners with the
ability to recognize multiple ways o f thinking and multiple definitions o f im portant knowl­
edge; support a wide range o f cultural perspectives and practices; and justify using social in­
teraction as the prim ary medium o f instruction (Oakes & U pton, 2003). T he urgency o f
integrating cultural knowledge and competence into all aspects o f teacher preparation is fu­
eled by the disparity between early childhood personnel and the children they teach. Fun­
damental to the long-term success o f FirstSchool is teacher preparation and professional
development that unite best practices o f efementary and early childhood education, pro­
mote interdisciplinary collaboration and com m unication among education professionals
(Early et al., 2006), and align models o f preservice and in-service education. Success in these
areas calls for sweeping changes in teacher education, professional development, curricula,
assessment, and pedagogy.


Effective transirion policies and pracriccs are essential to a successful, coordinated school ex­
perience for children and their families (Ramey & Ramey, 1999). T he transitions com m it­
tee will provide guidance in how best ro support children and families as they move into,
out of, and within FirstSchool. This committee will also consider the effect o f FirstSchool
on larger systems o f services for children and policies that affect transitions at the federal,
state, and local levels. T he conceptual model promotes an approach co transition that views

94 M H I Ritchie, Maxwell, and Clifford

children as adaptable and able to develop and engage maximally, including during times o f
transition; ensures that teachers and family members have the skills and knowledge to sus­
tain children through transitions; and makes sure that structures are in place within the
school organization and in the com m unity that support smooth transitions.

FirstSchoofs most immediate task is to clearly identify which fundamental principles
o f FirstSchool arc not negotiable and which can evolve in the context o f larger education
reform. W ith input from committee members and through processes that include wider seg­
ments o f the population, FirstSchool is making progress toward a more solid, better articu­
lated identity.


Public education in the United States began largely as an educational opportunity for pre­
d o m in a n tly W h ite boys w h o were e n ro lled a t a b o u t age 6 w h e n th e ir fathers m oved from
farm work to industrial and commercial enterprise. Gradually, school expanded to serve
both boys and girls, and the standard num ber o f years o f schooling increased with the in­
clusion o f kindergarten as the beginning point for most children and the notion o f full ac­
cess to school through 12th grade. In the 20th century, schools further expanded to serve
children o f color more equitably and to serve children with disabilities. Previously, both of
these groups had been either denied access to public schools or provided substandard edu­
cational opportunities. By the end o f the 20th century, equal access to public education for
children from about 5 to 18 years o f age was mostly achieved, although scill problematic.

For a variety o f reasons, including those addressed earlier in this chapter, this pattern
o f expansion o f public education has shifted yet again to encompass still younger children.
For all intents and purposes, U.S. public education is moving toward a model in which most
children will begin school at about age 4 and possibly age 3 in the foreseeable future.

This expansion will entail major new financial investments— estimates are in the tens of
billions in yearly operational costs plus many billions in new construction (Barnett & Masse,
2003). Yet, as indicated in this chapter, little has been done to plan for this huge shift in the
work o f public schools. FirstSchool is one effort to fill this void.

The intricacies o f the idea o f FirstSchool merely scratch the surface o f possibility;
FirstSchool is predicated as the ideal place to start. Change is slow, but it is made o f small
and relentless steps. As Margaret Mead said, KNever doubt that a small group o f thought­
ful, com m itted citizens can change the world. Indeed its the only thing that ever has”
(Warner, 1992).

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F a i r D e a l i n g ( S h o r t E x c e r p t )

Reading: Theories That Influence Program Models (in Ch. 4. How Theories Influence Program
Models) (Foundations of Early Childhood Education: Learning Environments and Childcare in Canada)

Author: Dietze, Beverlie

Editor: N/A

Publisher: Prentice Hall Publication Date: 2006 Pages: 97-109 (excerpt)

Course: ECED 400 93Q 2022S1-2 Introduction to Early Childhood Education and Care
Course Code: 93Q Term: 2022S1-2

Department: ECED

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How Theories Influence Program Models 97


We, Margaret and Leo Gandinice, are considering moving from Vancouver to rural
Newfoundland with our 3-year-old twin daughters. One of the deciding factors will
be the types of early learning and child care services available to our family. Our
children have been involved in a Waldorf preschool since they turned 3, and we
love the exposure to music, arts, and drama. We attribute our children’s imagina­
tion and pretend play to their play experiences there. We understand that there
may not be a Waldorf program in rural Newfoundland, but we are hoping to find
a program that is rich in play, staffed by individuals who are willing to help our chil­
dren adjust to rural living and who value some of our cultural traditions.

As a way to help us examine the early learning and child care programs, we
have identified the following as essential to each facility we visit:

1. The program offers equal indoor and outdoor play experiences, where children
are able to participate in outdoor experiences similar to those indoors, as well
as providing active gross-motor play.

2 . The program is one that offers children a rich play environment rather than one
that is academically focused.

3 . Teachers will accept each of our children as individuals rather than as “twins”
and will accept and appreciate the children’s Kenyan heritage.

4 . Teachers have specialized training in early childhood studies, and the staff-to-
child ratio is acceptable so that our children will receive adequate attention.

5 . The environment promotes the children’s creations rather than commercial

Our findings will help us make a decision about a new environment for our family.

Do you think that Margaret and Leo Gandinice’s expectations are realistic?
Can rural communities compete with urban communities in offering chil­
dren and parents early learning and child care services? What skills and
knowledge will early childhood practitioners in rural communities require to
support the Gandinice’s cultural diversity? What are the Gandinice’s respon­
sibilities to adjusting to moving from an urban com m unity to a rural com ­
munity, where most families have been established for several generations?

As you explore the theorists and program models, you will note that some the­
orists, and some approaches to program planning and implementation, may
conflict with each other or with your beliefs. Reading about the theories and dis­
cussing them with each other helps you define your personal philosophy about
how child’s play and the environment facilitate learning.

T h e o r ie s T h a t In f lu e n c e P r o g r a m M o d e ls
Theories inform practice. A theory refers to a “collection of ideas, concepts, terms
and statements blended to illustrate behavior” (Arce, 2000, p. 9). There are a num ­
ber of theorists and theories that influence early learning and child care programs.

Theory. As identified by
Arce (2000), a theory is a
collection of ideas, con­
cepts, terms, and state­
ments blended to illus­
trate behaviour.

98 Chapter 4

Becoming familiar with the common theoretical perspectives helps you to under­
stand how research is transferred to practice. Exploring theories also assists you in
determining what you believe is best for children, how children learn, what an effec­
tive learning environment is, and what your role is in supporting children in their

As a way to introduce you to the relationship of theorists to program models,
Table 4.1 presents the work of six theorists who advocate a child developmental
model, along with a brief overview of the program model that is most aligned to
that theoretical perspective. Note how some program models draw upon a combi­
nation of theories and how some theorists have influenced the development of
new program models. Think about how each theory guides program models and
how program models support the way in which children’s experiences are imple­
mented. As you examine each of the theories, determine if one best matches your
beliefs about how children learn, or which aspects from each theory best represent
your beliefs.

Tabic 4 .1 Theorists am i Program Model Influences

Theorist and Perspective Program Model Key Influences

John D e w e y

P ro gressive E d u c a tio n
W a ld o r f • C h ild re n le a rn b y d o in g .

• A c tiv itie s p la n n e d a c c o rd in g to c h ild re n ‘s nee ds, in te re sts , a nd
a b ilitie s ; s u p p o rts th e d e v e lo p m e n t o f th e w h o le c h ild .

Jean P ia g e t

C o g n itiv e
C re a tive Play
H ig h /S c o p e

• C h ild re n re q u ire ” h a n d s – o n ” e xp e rie n ce s.
• E n v iro n m e n t set u p w ith in te re s t cen tres.
• E m p ha sis o n c o g n itiv e

d e v e lo p m e n t.

A r n o ld G e se ll

M a tu ra tio n a l
M o n te s s o ri • E xpe rie n ce s b ased o n c h ild ‘s g ro w th p a tte rn s a n d skills.

• C o n tin u o u s a sse ssm e n t.
• C a re fu lly p re p a re d e n v iro n m e n t.

H o w a r d G a rd n e r

M u ltip le In te llig e n c e s
R eggio E m ilia • Each p e rs o n has n in e d iffe re n t in te llig e n c e s .

• E m p ha sis o n in – d e p th e x p lo ra tio n o f to p ic s w h ile c o lla b o ra tin g
w ith le a rn in g -c o m m u n ity m e m b e rs .

S ig m u n d Freud

E rik E rik so n

P s ych o a n a lytica l
P s yc h o d y n a m ic

Bank S tre et • A ll asp ects o f c h ild d e v e lo p m e n t e v id e n t a cross th e c u rric u lu m .
• C u rric u lu m e vo lv e s fr o m th e c h ild .
• Early life e x p e rie n c e s p o s itiv e ly o r n e g a tiv e ly a ffe c t fu tu re

d e v e lo p m e n t.

Lev V y g o t s k y

S o c io -c u ltu ra l T h e o ry
Reggio E m ilia • E m p ha sis o n th e in flu e n c e o f c o m m u n ity a n d c u ltu re , lan g u a g e ,

a n d play.
• C h ild -c e n tre d p ro je c t a p p ro a c h .
• C h ild re n le a rn b y c o n s tru c tin g k n o w le d g e a nd la y e rin g ideas.
• A d u lts s tre tch th e k n o w le d g e base o f c h ild re n .

How Theories Influence Program Models 99

1. P ro g re s siv e -E d u ca tio n T h e o ry
John Dewey’s (1859-1952) progressive movement began as an alternative to John
B. Watson’s (1878-1959) and B. F. Skinner’s (1904-1990) behaviourist theory,
which emphasizes extrinsic motivation through conditioned environments that
use positive reinforcement, punishment, or ignoring the behaviour (Henniger,
2002) (see section on behaviourist theory later). Dewey believed learning and edu­
cation should focus on the child and that learning experiences should integrate
with daily living, preserve social values including culture, and involve interacting
with peers and adults. Dewey also believed that children learn best by doing both
physical and intellectual activities. Activities are planned, therefore, according to
children’s needs, interests, and abilities, and children’s active involvement in the
learning process is essential; children are intrinsically motivated.

Dewey’s influence on how children learn is still evident in programs today.
Integrated curriculum, active learning, project-based learning, child-directed
learning, and group co-operative learning are credited to the progressive-
education movement.

Program M odels Influenced by This Theory
The Waldorf Program Approach. The W aldorf Program approach was devel­
oped by Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925) and influenced by the thinking of John
Dewey. Steiner, like Dewey, believed that curriculum and experiences come from
the children and that knowing children well is essential to planning a learning
environment that supports children’s whole development. Steiner suggested that
an arts-based curriculum supports children’s whole development, and so image,
rhythm, movement, drawing, painting, poetry, and drama are core program com­
ponents. Because of the arts-based experiences, attention to the environmental
aesthetics is necessary. Children’s appreciation of beauty and social environments
promotes and strengthens interactions among children, peers, and adults. The
symbolic conditions, such as stories and poetry, promote culture and influence
children indirectly. When children connect with these attributes in their environ­
ment, their perceptive abilities and self-worth are enhanced. Play experiences
come from children, for this is how they exhibit and build their sense of curiosity
and creativity.

“Contrary to the thinking of many educators, Steiner pointed out that teach­
ers do not provide experiences for students” (Driscoll & Nagel, 2005, p. 152).
Adults provide the conditions, such as the materials, space, schedule, and options,
but the children lead the program design and implementation.

2. C o g n itive D e v e lo p m e n ta l T h eo ry
Jean Piaget (1896-1980) emphasized a constructivist learning environm ent. He
emphasized that children require environments that allow them to be able to cre­
ate their knowledge rather than receive it from teachers. Children build knowledge
by having sequential experiences structured on previous experiences, and they
need to repeat these experiences so that in-depth investigation and exploration

Progressive education.
Coined by John Dewey,
progressive education
methods focus on the
child. The learning experi­
ences are integrated with
daily living, they preserve
social values including
culture, and they are
interactive with peers and

Behaviourist theory.
John B. Watson’s theory
emphasizes that children
learn through behaviour-
modification strategics.
Learning and behaviour
occur through responses
and consequences.

Waldorf Program
approach. This program
approach emphasizes chil­
dren’s whole development.
The program is arts-based,
with a strong focus on
image, rhythm, move­
ment, drawing, painting,
poetry, and drama.

Cognitive developmen­
tal theory. Jean Piaget
fnaintained that children
develop their intelligence
by having interaction with
their physical environ­
ment. Children take new
knowledge and adapt it to
their current knowledge.
Piaget identified four
stages of intellectual devel­
opment: sensorimotor,
preoperational, and con­
crete and formal opera­
Constructivist learn­
ing environment.
Children develop knowl­
edge from the experiences
within the environment.
The early childhood prac­
titioner facilitates or
guides the process of
exploration, wonderment,
and discovery.

100 Chapter 4

leads to discovery. The adults guide or facilitate the process of discovery.
Piaget identified four stages o f intellectual development (Flavell, 1963); each
individual goes through each stage at approximately the same age:

• Sensorimotor intelligence (birth to 18-24 months). Children learn about
their world through sensory experiences and motor activity. The infant’s
sucking on her toy helps her learn through touch about things in her envi­

• Preoperational intelligence (18-24 months to 6-7 years). Children com­
bine sensory experiences and m otor movement with symbolic thinking.
Children are egocentric during this phase, which interferes with their abil­
ity to see things from a perspective other than their own. Children find
teasing is difficult to understand because they generally take things literal­

• Concrete operational intelligence (6-7 years to 12-13 years). Children
begin to think logically and with a more critical perspective. They are now
able to understand conservation— e.g., when given a ball of playdough
they understand that the quantity remains constant whether the ball of
playdough remains in a ball or is flattened.

• Formal operational intelligence (12-13 years through adulthood).
During this phase, abstract and logical thinking develops, which allows
children to engage in scientific investigation.

Creative play. This pro­
gram model encourages
and supports children’s
play that facilitates devel­
opment in six domains:
personal awareness, em o­
tional well-being, cogni­
tion, communication,
socialization, and percep­
tual m otor skills.

Piaget advocated children require learning environments that provide “hands-
on” experiences with a variety of materials and objects to manipulate. For exam­
ple, if children express an interest in the concepts of light and dark, the early child­
hood practitioner would offer many examples of colours that show the progression
of light, lighter, and lightest, or dark, darker, and darkest. There would be options
for children to explore mixing paints to achieve light and dark colours. Piaget also
indicated that learning is a collaborative rather than a solitary experience, rein­
forcing the importance o f learning communities both for children and adults. And
he suggested that activities extend across the program, as this encourages children
to make relationships and connections as they integrate new knowledge. For exam­
ple, if children expressed an interest in crane machinery, an early childhood prac­
titioner might place related books, paper, and writing tools in the block centre. The
books provide them with a reference to the crane machinery. By examining the
pictures, the children might decide to build a crane. They might need some type of
string or wire to construct the crane; they might use the paper and writing tools to
make signs that inform other children that they are entering a construction zone.
Such play incorporates science, literacy, math, and creative arts.

Program Models Influenced by This Theory
The Creative Play Curriculum. One of the newest curriculum approaches doc­
umented, the creative play curriculum was developed and implemented in 1985 at
the University of Tennessee. This play-based, constructivist model “recognizes the

How Theories Influence Program Models 101

importance of the development of creative individuals and the interrelatedness of
developmental areas. The curriculum focuses on encouraging and supporting
children’s play to promote development in six domains: personal awareness, emo­
tional well-being, cognition, communication, socialization, and perceptual motor
skills” (Catron & Allen, 1999, p. 12).

The Cognitively Oriented Curriculum. Known as the High/Scope pro­
gram model theoretical framework, developed by David Weikart, the cognitively
oriented curriculum is grounded in the cognitive-development theory. This con­
structivist approach advocates that children learn best when they have experiences
with people and objects in their environment. Similar to other programs,
High/Scope stresses the development o f the whole child, with an emphasis on cog­
nitive development. Children are active learners through hands-on experiences,
and they are active planners. The early childhood practitioner’s primary role is to
prepare an environment that provides materials and support for children in plan­
ning, experiencing, and reviewing their activities and experiences. This is described
as the “plan, do, and review” process. The practitioners take an active role in asking
questions that lead children to extend thinking and learning opportunities.

There are eight key experiences that are emphasized and that complement and
guide the children’s program (Hohmann & Weikart, 1995):

1. Active listening. Children initiate and carry out their desired tasks in the
environment. Adults encourage children to use materials in a variety of
ways in the environment.

2. Language. Oral and written language is emphasized through discussions
with adults and children.

3. Experiencing and representing. Children are providod with opportunities
to experiment and explore materials through their senses. Music, move­
ment, art, and dramatic play are evident in the program.

4. Classification. Children are encouraged through small and large group
dialogue to examine similarities and differences among objects.

5. Seriation. Children are encouraged to order objects from smallest to largest
based on mathematical principles such as length, weight, and height.

6. Number concepts. Children are exposed to number concepts, such as
“more than” and “less than.”

7. Spatial relationships. Children explore concepts such as up/down,
over/under, in/out, beside/back.

8. Time. Children learn about seasons, past and future events, and sequence
of events.

3. M a tu ra tio n a l T h eo ry
G. Stanley Hall, Robert Havinghurst, and Arnold Gesell are known for their develop­
ment of the maturational theory. Hall (1844-1924) advocated the need to observe and
test large numbers of children as a way to identify the averages or types of behaviours

High/Scope approach.
A constructivist approach
developed by Weikart,
based on Piaget’s cogni­
tive development theory.
Children construct
knowledge through active
learning, which broadens
their cognitive and social

Maturational theory.
The biological process
that some theorists sug­
gest is responsible for
human development.

102 Chapter 4

Montessori Program
approach. Initially devel­
oped for mentally handi­
capped children, Maria
Montessori’s method
requires teachers to con­
duct naturalistic observa­
tions and carefully pre­
pare environments with
experiences that become
more complex and that
are self-correcting.

that are common among children at each age level. Hall’s research led to the documen­
tation of descriptive norms of children at “typical” phases of development.

Gesell (1880-1961) pursued studies on the observation of children. He recorded
the changes observed as children develop, and he developed an array of assessment
tools to determine the developmental patterns in childhood. He focused on 10 gradi­
ents of growth:

1. Motor characteristics: eyes, hands, and bodily activity.
2. Personal hygiene: health, eating patterns, sleeping cycles, elimination, per­

sonal hygiene, stress levels and releases.
3. Emotional expression: emotional expressions and attitudes, crying,

assertive and aggressive processes.
4. Interpersonal relations: mother-child, peer-to-peer, and group play.
5. Fears and dreams: intensity of fears and dreams.
6. Self and sex: gender roles.
7. Play and pastimes: interests, arts, and culture.
8. School life: adjustment to school, interest in learning environment and

9. Ethical understanding: sensitivity to others, response to direction and cor­

rection, ability to respond to praise and reason.
10. Philosophical outlook: beliefs and attitudes about time, space, and death

(Gesell & Ilg, 1949).

Examining a child’s developmental pattern continues to permeate early child­
hood programs today. Early childhood practitioners observe children of the same
age to determine growth patterns and skills. For example, there may be two chil­
dren of the same age in an early learning and child care program. One can ride a
bicycle while the other child does not have sufficient balance to do so. The early
childhood practitioner recognizes this through her observations and then plans a
variety of balancing experiences that would support the child requiring further
balance development. Gradually, the practitioner reintroduces the child to the
bicycle. Programs guided by this perspective strongly advocate that children learn
and develop according to their own internal maturational schedule.

Program M odels Influenced by This Theory
M o n tesso ri P rogram s. The Montessori programs use the principles of the mat­
urational theory. Through observations o f children and research, Montessori
identified that children pass through numerous “sensitive periods” during their
developmental processes to adulthood. “She viewed these periods as genetically
programmed blocks of time when young children are especially eager and able to
master certain tasks” (Henniger, 2002, p. 102). For example, a toddler is interested
in learning to dress herself and practises this skill daily. The adult ensures that the
child has numerous opportunities to practise with materials that promote skills
such as buttoning, unbuttoning, zipping and unzipping.

How Theories Influence Program Models 103

During specific sensitive periods, children would interact with materials
described as work tasks. Children are given the choice of materials that they wish
to explore, and the adult demonstrates the sequential steps to be carried out when
using the new material. Then, the children may use the materials, which focus on
daily living, sensory, academic, or cultural and artistic experiences.

An example of a work task in a Montessori classroom is polishing shoes. On a
child-sized tray, the adult organizes the buffing cloth, the polish, and the shoes.
The adult demonstrates to the children what each cloth is for, how to open the pol­
ish, how to dip the cloth into the polish, how to apply the polish, how to buff the
shoe and to reapply polish. Once the demonstration is complete, children may
pursue the work task independently.

Montessori programs require adults to have specific training in this approach.
An underpinning to this approach is that adults and children exhibit respect for
one another and for their abilities and accomplishments.

W o rk ta sk s. Materials
and experiences offered to
children in Montessori
programs that support
children in learning about
daily living, sensory, aca­
demic, cultural, and artis­
tic domains.

4. Multiple Intelligences Theory
Howard Gardner (born in 1943) has devised the multiple intelligences theory
(Ml theory), using each developmental domain as the baseline. Gardner suggests
that the best way to measure intelligence is by examining how individuals solve
problems and create products within a naturalistic setting rather than from the
results of intelligence tests.

Gardner (1999) describes nine different intelligences within each person:
1. Linguistic intelligence. This refers to the use of language in one’s ability to

read, write, and converse with others.
2. Logical-mathematical intelligence. This refers to one’s logic and ability to

use numbers, understand patterns, and complete mathematical formulas.

M u ltip le in te llig e n c e s
th e o ry . Howard
G ardner’s concept about
the different ways people
interact with the world.
The nine intelligences
include linguistic, logical-
mathematical, musical,
bodily-kinesthetic, spa­
tial, interpersonal, intra-
personal, naturalistic, and


3. Music intelligence. This focuses on the ability to per­
form musically or to create music.

4. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. This refers to the ability to
use one’s body or parts of body for personal expression.

5. Spatial intelligence. This is the ability to create a visual
image of an idea or project and then use that model to
produce the item.

6. Interpersonal intelligence. This refers to the ability to
work well with others, assume leadership roles, and
communicate effectively.

7. Intrapersonal intelligence. This refers to having an
understanding of one’s own strengths and understand­
ing which areas require further development.

8. Naturalistic intelligence. This intelligence is used to dis­
criminate among living things, such as people, plants,
and animals, as well other scientific issues that affect
daily living.

Polishing shoes is an example o f a child learning
practical life skills.

104 Chapter 4

9. Existential intelligence. This intelligence is the ability and proclivity to
think about and ponder questions related to life, death, future, beliefs, and

MI programming requires adults to know about children’s abilities, interests,
and accomplishments within each of the intelligences. Children’s multiple intelli­
gences are influenced by family, culture, and the learning community. The value
placed on each of the intelligences affects the depth and level of development that
children achieve.

As an example, building snowmen uses a variety o f the multiple intelligences
described above. First, an adult reads children a story about snowmen. After hear­
ing the story, some children decide to make snowmen outdoors. They use sticks
ands rocks to decorate the snowmen, they sing “Frosty the Snowman,” and they
dance around the snowmen. Throughout this process, children use aspects of the
MI theory. For example, the children use their verbal skills in the discussion of how
they are going to make the snowmen. They need to use spatial intelligence to think
about the three-dimensional structure; they use bodily-kinesthetic skills when try­
ing to manoeuvre the snowballs in the space available; they use logical-mathemat­
ical intelligence in judging the size of the snowballs needed. And they use musical
intelligence when they sing and dance around the snowmen. The naturalistic intel­
ligence may be triggered days later when the consistency of the snow changes and
the children try to make more snowmen. Through discussion, the children will
learn about how the consistency of snow is influenced by the temperature and
humidity. Early childhood programs using the MI theory to guide children’s learn­
ing have diverse choices o f experiences that focus on each of the nine areas of intel­
ligence. Hands-on experiences help children learn in these different formats.

chodynamic theory.
Erik Erikson’s theory that
children develop cogni­
tively and socially simul­
taneously. There are eight
psychosocial stages of
development: trust versus
mistrust, autonomy versus
shame and doubt, initia­
tive versus guilt, industry
versus inferiority, identity
versus identity confusion,
intimacy versus isolation,
generativity versus stagna­
tion, integrity versus

Program M odels Influenced by This Theory
The Reggio Emilia Program. This philosophy draws upon a number o f theories
for its base. Howard Gardner’s theory o f multiple intelligences is evident in the
principle that the “environment as teacher” influences the organization of space;
relationships; aesthetics; promoting choices and decisions about how to execute
projects; and partnerships among children, adults, and families. As well, this theo­
ry is evident in the principle that learning options support culture, values, and
children’s life experiences. Further discussion on the Reggio Emilia program is out­
lined under Lev Vygotsky’s concept of social construction of knowledge.

5 . P s y c h o a n a ly tic a l/P s y c h o d y n a m ic T h e o ry
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) described child development and behaviour from an
emotional and personality perspective. He indicated that people are influenced by
their early life experiences in fundamental ways that can positively or negatively
affect future development. Early life experiences shape people’s lives and may stay
with them for their entire lives.

Erik Erikson (1902-1994) expanded Freud’s work. He examined child devel­
opment from a personality-development perspective, and, as Figure 4.3 illustrates,

How Theories Influence Program Models 105

he determined eight psychosocial stages of development. Each person must
resolve the identity crisis or task at each stage before she is able to effectively move
to the next phase o f development.

Trust versus m istrust

Infancy (firs t year)

T r u s t v e r s u s m i s t r u s t ( b i r t h t o 1 y e a r ) . I n f a n t s a r e d e p e n d e n t o n a d u l t s t o m e e t t h e i r n e e d s .

W h e n a d u l t s r e s p o n d t o i n f a n t s ’ n e e d s c o n s i s t e n t l y , t r u s t d e v e l o p s . W h e n a d u l t s d o n o t r e s p o n d

c o n s i s t e n t l y , m i s t r u s t d e v e l o p s . A lo v i n g , n u r t u r i n g e n v i r o n m e n t is e s s e n tia l f o r b u i l d i n g t r u s t ;

o t h e r w i s e , a s e n s e o f m i s t r u s t o c c u r s .

A utonom y versus shame and doubt

Infancy (ages 2 -3 )

A u t o n o m y v e r s u s s h a m e a n d d o u b t (a g e s 2 t o 3 ) . T o d d l e r s b e g i n t o te s t t h e i r i n d e p e n d e n c e b y

t r y i n g t o c a r r y o u t ta s k s w i t h o u t a d u l t i n t e r v e n t i o n . T o m a s t e r t h i s , t o d d l e r s r e q u i r e a s u p p o r t ­

ive e n v i r o n m e n t t h a t a llo w s f o r t h e n e w i n d e p e n d e n c e t o b e t r i e d a n d a c c o m p l i s h e d . T o d d l e r s

r e q u i r e a p p r o v a l f r o m a d u l t s o r s h a m e a n d d o u b t d e v e l o p .

Initia tive versus g u ilt

Early childhood (ages 3 -6 )

I n i t i a t i v e v e r s u s g u i l t (a g e s 3 t o 6 ) . P r e s c h o o l c h i l d r e n n o w b e g i n to p l a n a n d i m p l e m e n t a c t i v i ­

tie s a n d a c t i o n s . T h e i r s e n s e o f c u r i o s i t y le a d s t h e m t o d e v e l o p id e a s a n d a c t u a l i z e p la n s .

I n i t i a t i v e is d e v e l o p e d in e n v i r o n m e n t s w h e r e e x p l o r a t i o n is e n c o u r a g e d a n d c h i l d r e n ‘s c u r i o s i t y

is a p p r e c i a t e d . A d u l t s e n s u r e t h e e n v i r o n m e n t is s a f e a n d o f f e r s e c u r it y . I f c h i l d r e n a r e c o n s i s ­

t e n t l y u n a b l e t o a c t u p o n t h e i r c u r i o s i t y o r i f t h e r e s u l t s a r e n e g a t iv e , t h e y w ill d e v e l o p g u i l t a n d
t h e i r s e n s e o f r i s k t a k i n g w ill b e r e d u c e d .

Industry versus in fe rio rity

M iddle and late childhood (ages 6-12)

I n d u s t r y v e r s u s i n f e r i o r i t y (a g e s 6 t o 1 2 ). D u r i n g t h i s p h a s e , c h i l d r e n l e a r n t h e r u l e s a n d e x p e c ­
t a t i o n s o f s o c ie ty . T h e y b e c o m e p r o d u c t i v e m e m b e r s o f s o c ie ty a s t h e y m a s t e r s k ills a n d c o m ­

p l e t e a s s i g n m e n t s . C h i l d r e n w h o g a in s u c c e s s w i t h t h e i r a c a d e m i c p e r f o r m a n c e l e a r n t h a t i n d u s ­

t r y is p o s i t i v e , a n d t h i s is r e f le c te d in t h e i r s e l f – c o n c e p t . T h o s e w h o c o n s i s t e n t l y fa il, h o w e v e r ,

d e v e l o p f e e lin g s o f i n f e r i o r i t y .

Ide ntity versus id e n tity confusion

Adolescent (ages 10-20)

I d e n t i t y v e r s u s i d e n t i t y c o n f u s i o n (a g e s 10 t o 2 0 ) . D u r i n g t h i s p h a s e , c h i l d r e n a n d a d o l e s c e n t s
a r e e x p l o r i n g w h o t h e y a r e , w h a t t h e y a r e a ll a b o u t , a n d w h a t d i r e c t i o n t h e i r liv e s w ill ta k e . T h e y

a r e c o n f r o n t e d w i t h n e w r o le s a n d r o m a n c e . C h i l d r e n w h o a r e g iv e » t h e f r e e d o m t o e x p l o r e

t h e s e n e w r o le s a n d life g a i n a h e a l t h y a t t i t u d e a b o u t w h o t h e y a r e . I f n o t p o s itiv e ly d e f i n e d ,

id e n t i f y c o n f u s i o n p r e v a ils .

Intim acy versus isolation

A dulthood (ages 20-30)

I n t i m a c y v e r s u s i s o l a t i o n ( a g e s 2 0 t o 3 0 ) . D u r i n g t h i s p h a s e i n d i v i d u a l s f o r m i n t i m a t e r e l a t i o n ­
s h i p s w i t h o t h e r s . Y o u n g a d u l t s w h o a r e a b le t o f o r m h e a l t h y f r i e n d s h i p s a n d r e l a t i o n s h i p s w ill

b e a b l e t o a c h i e v e i n tim a c y . T h o s e w h o d o n o t m e e t t h i s s ta g e w ill feel is o l a t e d f r o m s o c ie ty .

G enerativity versus stagnation

(ages 4 0 -50 )

G e n e r a t iv it y v e r s u s s t a g n a t i o n (a g e s 4 0 t o 5 0 ) . D u r i n g t h i s p h a s e in d i v i d u a l s b e g i n t o a s s is t m e m ­

b e r s o f t h e y o u n g e r g e n e r a t i o n in d e v e l o p i n g p r o d u c t i v e lives. T h o s e w h o d o n o t h a v e t h e o p p o r ­

t u n i t y o r d o n o t t a k e t h e o p p o r t u n i t y t o a s s is t t h e n e x t g e n e r a t i o n w ill e x p e r i e n c e s t a g n a t i o n .

Integ rity versus despair

(over 50)

I n t e g r i t y v e r s u s d e s p a i r ( o v e r 5 0 ) . D u r i n g t h i s p h a s e i n d i v i d u a l s r e f le c t o n t h e p a s t a n d o n t h e
s u c c e s s e s o r f a i l u r e s o f t h e i r liv es. F o r t h o s e w h o e x p e r i e n c e c o m f o r t a n d s a t i s f a c t i o n w i t h life,

i n t e g r i t y is a c h i e v e d . F o r t h o s e w h o t h i n k o f t h e i r life a s n e g a t i v e , g l o o m a n d d e s p a i r is fe lt.

Figure 4.3 Erikson’s Lifespan Stages

106 Chapter 4

Bank Street model.
This program model,
based on the work o f Lucy
Mitchell and Barbara
Biber, emphasizes the
need for children to have
learning environments
that support autonomy,
expand knowledge, and
develop self-concept and
interpersonal skills.

Socio-cultural theory.
Lev Vygotsky’s theory
suggests that children’s
mental, social, and lan­
guage development are
influenced by interactions
with other children,
peers, and adults.

Being familiar with each of these stages helps to support children in resolving
the crisis successfully. When a child resolves the crisis or task at each phase, she is
able to see the world in a positive light, which leads to the development o f a healthy
personality, active participation in the environment, and socialization within the
family and community (Erikson, 1968). A child who does not reach a resolution at
each phase requires intervention strategies that are dependent on the child’s needs.

The Program Model Influenced by This Theory
The B a n k Street Model. Originally initiated by Lucy Mitchell and developed fur­
ther by Barbara Biber, the Bank Street program model has the underpinnings of
three theoretical perspectives (Mitchell & David, 1992). Erikson’s psychoanalytic
theory emphasizes the child’s psychological, social, and emotional development.
Piaget’s cognitive-developmental theory guides the intellectual component of the
Bank Street curriculum. And the progressive-education theoretical perspective
guides the social-learning experiences and values associated with active learning.

The Bank Street model emphasizes the need for children to have age-appro­
priate materials. The learning environment is designed to support the following:

• Autonomy. Children are encouraged to explore and manipulate the mate­
rials in the environment, based on their interests.

• Expansion o f knowledge. Children expand their knowledge by cognitively
incorporating and building on previous play experiences.

• Development o f self-concept. The environment and the people in the envi­
ronment promote respect and competence.

• Interpersonal communication. Children are encouraged to manage conflict
and mutually support the interaction among peers and adults.

This child-initiated approach requires the program to evolve from continu­
ously studying children rather than having a planned, prescribed curriculum. The
success of this methodology is dependent on the practitioners’ “knowledge and
ability to recognize and skillfully respond to the individuality of each child and his
or her interests” (Franklin & Biber, 1977, p. 26). The environment is arranged in
learning centres. The practitioners act as role models and coaches in skill develop­
ment and exploration. This model includes aspects of the constructivist principles.

6 . S o c io -c u ltu ra l T h eo ry
Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) emphasized the influence of community and culture on
children’s development, the role of language in developing higher-order thinking,
and the importance of play for social development.

Vygotsky’s theory advocates that play be the focus for both preschool and
primary-grade environments. He suggested that mixed-age groups also have
advantages for children. For example, when children between the ages of 4 and 6
are in the same learning environment, learning is enriched when children obtain
assistance or participate in the more advanced play that evolves when children with
different skill levels become partners in play.

How Theories Influence Program Models 107

Vygotsky identified that children learn by constructing knowledge and layer­
ing ideas through their cultural and social experiences. This requires adults to
stretch the knowledge base of children, described as the zone of proximal devel­
opment, as we mentioned in Chapter 3. Vygotsky (1978) described this as “the dis­
tance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent prob­
lem solving and the level of potential development as determined through
problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable
peers” (p. 86). Children’s play requires a higher functioning level than in other
areas of daily living. Quality play-experiences require children to communicate,
discuss, negotiate, and problem solve collaboratively, thereby enhancing language
development and acquisition.

Program M odels Influenced by This Theory
Reggio E m ilia P ro g ra m m in g A pproach. This program model incorporates
aspects of Lev Vygotsky’s concept of social construction of knowledge. It also
includes Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, Howard Gardner’s theory
of multiple intelligences, and John Dewey’s perspective on progressive education
(Berk & Winsler, 1995). Followers of the Reggio approach emphasize that pro­
gramming needs to focus on “things about children and for children and are only
learned from children” (Edwards, Gandini, & Forman, 1993, pp. 43-44). Culture,
building on community resources, and parental involvement are essential. The
“environment as a teacher” influences children’s daily ideas and experiences, aes­
thetics both indoors and out, choices, and extensive use of project-based learning.
The child-centred curriculum, the spirit of collaboration between adults and chil­
dren in discovery and cognitive stimulation, as well as family involvement, are key
tenets to this approach. The environment is prepared as a
discovery-oriented place of learning (Hcnniger, 2002, p. 82).

The project approach to programming encourages children
to engage in in-depth investigations of topics of interest to both
children and practitioners. Practitioners and children work
together to document children’s learning through a variety of
mediums, such as conversations, photographs, and artwork.

Reggio Emilia practitioners are partners with children and
parents in the program design and implementation process.
Observations and communication with children and parents
provide data for program direction.

Each of the theorists presented above advocates a developmental
approach to early learning and child care programming. Another
theory that deserves mention is known as the behaviourist theory.
John B. Watson (1878-1959) is recognized as being the leader in
the development of this theory, which is based on a behaviour- whm M d m thek play_ ■„ )wJ „
modification method. Learning and behaviour occur through level o f meaning and learning that is important
responses and consequences. The frequency of the preferred to them.

The Behaviourist Theory Approach

108 Chapter 4

Conversation Café
As Canada carves a national
early childhood program ,
do we need a standardized
program? Should we adapt
one program model? If so,
which program model
would best suit C anada’s
multicultural society? Who
decides? If there is one pro­
gram model, is there a need
to study other theorists who
have contributed to early
childhood? W hat is your
opinion? Why?

behaviour is increased when reinforcement is immediately provided. For example, if
an early childhood practitioner is interested in increasing the frequency of a child’s
placing her coat in her locker, then she is rewarded the first time she does so. The
rewards continue until the new behaviour is established. Then, gradually, the rein­
forcement is reduced. Skinner suggested that behaviours are encouraged or eliminat­
ed through conditioned environments, using positive reinforcement, punishment, or
ignoring the behaviour (Kameenui & Darch, 1995). Learning theorists who use this
approach indicate that it is particularly useful for children who have behaviourial
challenges or disabilities (McLean, Wolery, & Bailey, 2004; Berkson, 1993).

From a developmental perspective, this theory does not have a place in early
learning and child care settings because its basic premise limits developmentally
appropriate practices (Henniger, 2002). However, Hendrick and Weissman (2006)
suggest that our interactions with children, such as our smiles or frowns or the
positive and negative attention we give to children, either encourage or discourage
future behaviour, all of which is behaviourist-theory related. They caution that our
behaviours with children require monitoring because “all teachers use [behaviour-
modification] techniques constantly and extensively whether they realize it or not”
(p. 14). Before “blindly condemning such theory, why not become aware of how
often we employ such strategies on an informal basis” (p. 14).

Let’s look at two examples: the first examines how a child is guided using a
behaviour-modification method, while the second explores how a child is guided
using a developmentally appropriate model. Think about early childhoodf pro­
grams that choose to allow a “time-out chair” with children. This method is a form
of behaviour modification. Children are required to sit on a chair for a specific
amount of time and are not allowed to have any contact with others. The thought
is that by removing children from the situation they will think about their behav­
iour and adjust it so as not to be removed from the group. Many suggest that there
are numerous ramifications for children’s self-esteem, with the potential for long-
lasting feelings of humiliation and shame.

Programs advocating developmentally appropriate practices, on the other
hand, take a different tactic. The “time-out chair” is not used. Instead, early child­
hood practitioners concentrate on using positive child-guidance techniques. Using
a kind but firm voice, they would indicate to the child that the behaviour is unac­
ceptable. If the behaviour continues, through observation, the practitioner would
examine the child’s environment to determine trigger patterns for the behaviour.
The level o f stimulation the child is receiving, the child’s interests, and changes to
routine or family situations would be examined. Adjustments to the environment
and play experiences would be made accordingly, until the child regains equil­
ibrium in the environment.

How Theories Influence Program Models 109

L in k in g T h e o r ie s to P r o g r a m m in g
There are common themes among theorists. For example, they all tend to agree
that humans develop in a gradual, sequential pattern and that individuals have
their own timetable for their developmental process. They agree that no two chil­
dren develop in the same way or at the same rate. They highlight play as the foun­
dation for learning, and they indicate that play experiences should be consistent
with children’s interests and developmental stage, and rich in exploration and

Theories provide the research about how children learn. Program models
offer a framework to guide program planning and implementation. As new
research evolves about how children learn, it is advantageous to examine that
research to determine if the new information requires practitioners to adjust their
thoughts and feelings about how children learn. Some early childhood practition­
ers will work in settings with a defined program model, such as Montessori or
High/Scope. Others will seek employment in a program using an eclectic
approach, where practitioners incorporate aspects of a number of theories into
their program design.

A number of theorists and program models influence how play experiences
arc designed and implemented with children. Whichever model you follow, it is
essential that it be based on child development and developmentally appropriate
practice, and that it display an appreciation of diversity and high quality.

Poi nt s to Po n d e r
What are the advantages and the disadvantages of following a specific program
model rather than taking an eclectic approach to programming?


Date: August, 11 2022

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Secondly, my knowledge has shifted to the fact although many people may consider not
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10% Plagiarized

Breastfeeding is important because it boosts children immunity and infants are less likely to be affected or suffer from infections. Milk is important for infants because it
contains elements that support infants’ immunity. Healthy People 2020. Maternal, Infant, and Child Health. ODPHP.

10% Plagiarized

Newborn Nutrition Teaching Presentation x – Course Hero

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10% Plagiarized
Breastfeeding is important because it boosts children immunity and infants are less likely to be affected or suffer from infections. Milk is important for infants because it
contains elements that support infants’ immunity. Healthy People 2020. Maternal, Infant, and Child Health. ODPHP.

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