Assignment 3: Tracing and Responding to Contemporary Issues in ECE

Assignment 3: Tracing and Responding to Contemporary Issues in ECE

Assignment 3: Tracing and Responding to Contemporary Issues in ECE

Due at end of module 12, following Tuesday at midnight, August 8  (no late submissions)

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Over the past 11 weeks, you have been introduced to a number of ECE issues that have evolved historically and still affect ECE today. For this final assignment, you are asked to choose  ONE or TWO related spiralling issues, trace its history, explain how it affects present-day ECE and speculate or envision how they might be addressed or attended to in the future.


Use the knowledge you have acquired through this course and search for additional resources about the issue(s) you chose (such as peer-reviewed journal articles, reliable online resources, and book chapters – use a minimum 8 resources, at least 5 resources that have not been assigned as readings in this course) to analyze and explain how the issue that you chose was shaped (or influenced) by the historical development of ECE in North America, provide examples of how it spiralled to affect current ECE, and share your vision for the future with regard to the issue that you chose.


Your paper 8 -10 pages paper (1.5 minimum spacing, APA 7th edition reference style) will have three sections and they will explain: 1. how the issue evolved historically; 2. the present effects of the issue; 3. your vision for the future in terms of responding to the issue you chose. Each one of these sections needs to be supported by relevant scholarly resources and grounded in your learning from this course.


Below is a list of the Spiralling Issues discussed in the course. Note that you can choose two related issues for this assignment. For example, Spiralling Issue #6: ECE as a Gendered Field and Spiralling and Issue #7: Missing voices of teachers are closely related; and so are Spiralling Issue #2: Challenging stereotypical deficit images of childhood and Spiralling  Issue #4: Problematizing child-as-nature.


Spiralling Issue #1: Early childhood education has historically developed due to external, often economic, interests

Spiralling Issue #2: Challenging stereotypical deficit images of childhood

Spiralling Issue #3: Effects on ECE from a colonial era

Spiralling Issue #4: Problematizing child-as-nature

Spiralling Issue #6: ECE as a gendered field

Spiralling Issue #7: Missing voices of teachers

Spiralling Issue #8: Ethical considerations for doing research with children

Spiralling Issue #9: The dominance of developmental approaches in ECE practice: Continuing the debate

Spiralling Issue #10: The challenge of transporting ECE approaches from other cultures and places

Spiralling Issue #11: Is it time to reconceptualize childcare?

How’s Analytify going, impressed?





Some ideas, introduction and outline of each Spiealling Issue. And references for the paper, other supporting scholar resources can be added on top of the ones I provided.


Engaging with Spiralling Issue #1:

Early childhood education has historically developed due to external, often economic, interests


In the chapter you are assigned to read this week, Prochner and Nawrotzki (2019) show that even when ECE professionals traditionally defended children’s interests, throughout the history of ECE, children’s interests have typically become subservient to the interests of the wider public (see page 21). In addition, ECE has historically developed along social class lines, with enriched preschool programs for middle- and upper-class children and remedial programs for children from so-called poor families. The legacy of this phenomenon has important implications for current practice.


Prochner and Nawrotzki’s (2019) chapter that showed how ECE has developed through external influences (e.g., World War II, mass immigration) that left an impression on you. Consider responding to one or two of the following questions as you reflect upon this.


  • Why have these examples left an impression on you?
  • What did you learn from it?
  • Is it relevant to your understanding of present day early education childhood?
  • How might what you have learned this week tie into future topics in the course?


Engaging with Spiralling Issue #2:

Challenging stereotypical deficit images of childhood


We are constantly confronted with competing discourses of what childhood is as we are surrounded by beliefs and representations of childhoods in social media, newspapers, magazines, television, and advertising. As Sorin (2005) explained in her article, historical constructs of childhood still work their ways into current perceptions about children. The purpose of studying the multiple constructs of children is not to simply identify the constructions as “bad” or “good,” “adequate” or “inadequate.” Rather, studying the multiple constructions of childhood helps us become aware of how childhood has been stereotyped and can guide us against reductionist accounts of childhood (Woodhead, 2009).



Engaging with Spiralling Issue #3:

Effects on ECE from a colonial era


The conventional view of children as educationally malleable and morally deficient has been a fertile ground for colonial education as cultural decimation. In their book, Empire, Education and Indigenous Childhoods: Nineteenth-Century Missionary Infant Schools in Three British Colonies, May, Kaur, and Prochner (2016) elucidate how the approach to infant education that began in England became the pedagogical foundation for colonial education in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Indigenous ECE scholars Sarah de Leeuw and Margo Greenwood (2016) explain that “infant schools were the places where education, through various cultural products upon which pedagogic ideals rested, was put to work in the instruction and disciplining of those Othered children into what colonial subjects believed to be righteous social imperatives” and “Indigenous peoples were those Others” (p. xvii). Assignment 3: Tracing and Responding to Contemporary Issues in ECE


History of Early Childhood Programs for Indigenous Children (Triggering Content Alert)

The history of early childhood programs for Indigenous children in Canada is marked with colonial policies of segregation and assimilation. In 1880, the Canadian government established residential schools to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture (Historica Canada), the last residential school was closed in 1996. Indigenous children as young as five were removed from their families and communities, isolated and deprived of their tradition and culture, separated from their siblings, and forbidden to speak their first language. The schools were administered by the churches and the living conditions were harsh. The content of the teaching was mostly religion and practical skills. According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, at least 3,200 Indigenous children died in overcrowded residential schools (See reportsLinks to an external site.). To learn more about the history of the residential schools visit: UBC Indigenous Foundations and the Canadian EncyclopediaLinks to an external site..  Links to an external site.




Writing about ECE programs for Indigenous children in Canada, Prochner (2004) makes a clear link between the Infant School Movement in Europe to the justification of sending young Indigenous children to residential schools. He claims that from the early nineteenth-century colonial administrators used the rhetoric of the infant school, which reflected an extreme environmentalist position, to argue “that Indigenous children merely needed proper instruction in order to be remade as Europeans” (p. 10).


Greenwood, de Leeuw, and Fraser (2007) describe a troubling history of ECE Programs for Indigenous children in Canada; a history that began with educational protocols designed with the goal of assimilating Aboriginal children. They argue for the right of Indigenous people “to design and implement programs that foster the unique identity of children through the inclusion and direct implementation of Indigenous knowledges” with specially trained educators and teachings that “reflect the community and nation so that children are socialized into their heritage and ancestry.”


Current state of Indigenous early childhood development in Canada

To learn more about the current Indigenous early childhood programs and recommendations for future directions and action review: Indigenous Early Childhood Development in Canada: Current State of Knowledge and Future Directions Links to an external site. by Halseth and Greenwood (2019).



Engage in Spiralling Issue #4:

Problematizing child-as-nature


As you have learned in this Module, Rousseau’s educational theory still influences pedagogical practices in ECE in multiple ways. For example, tropes such as following the child’s lead and centring education on the child rather than on curriculum topics can be attributed to Rousseau. In our current ECE milieu, however, it may be the rise in outdoor ECE programs and spending more time in nature where Rousseau’s legacy lies.


Since Rousseau’s publication of Emile, young children and nature have existed as tightly entangled concepts As we will see in the next module, the conceptual relationship between child and nature was solidified by Froebel, the inventor of kindergarten. The German word “kindergarten” means children’s garden and it conjures a romantic image of a garden where innocent children grow and develop according to a natural, biological blueprint (Duhn, 2012). Due to this Romantic legacy, until recent years early childhood theorists and educators have shied away from critical engagement with the conflation of child-as-nature and its underlying assumption that there is a division between culture and nature. However, as global issues related to environmental damage and climate crises have risen, an increasing number of ECE scholars began to question, problematize or unsettle, the image of the child as nature and its assumed/desired separateness from culture (Duhn, 2012; Pacini-Ketchabaw & Taylor, 2015; Phillips, 2014; Nxumalo, 2015).


These scholars are concerned with the nature/culture dualism that Rousseau evoked for a number of reasons. Writing about Rousseau’s legacy, Peckover (2012) explains that “historically, humanity has viewed Nature as something outside of itself” (p. 91). The danger in this vision of nature is that nature can be viewed as a resource to be manipulated for the benefit of humans. Taylor (2011), in an article you are asked to read for this module, warns that an approach that supports sheltering children from the realities of our world (i.e., from societal and ecological issues) limits young children’s experiences and opportunities for meaning-making. Peckover (2012) argues that education can provide children with a vision of nature that is not separated from humanity or culture. This view corresponds to Indigenous perspectives on land as teacher, where language and culture are seen as closely interrelated with land and not as separate from it (see -Learning from the land: Indigenous land based pedagogy and decolonization).



Engaging with Spiralling Issue #6:

ECE as a Gendered Field: Feminism or Materialism?


The leadership of women in the kindergarten movement needs to be taken into consideration within the socio-political norms of the time when early education was seen as “a logical extension of the traditional interests of women – children, the poor, and the sick” (Mayfield, 2001, p. 182) and when feminist movements “based their claims to equality on gender difference, and attributed to women a distinctive capacity for nurture, compassion and cooperation” (Allen, 2006, p. 175).


While this module highlighted the leadership and professional roles the kindergarten movement created for women, a lingering (or spiralling) issue from this era has been perpetuating the assumption put forth by Froebel’s contention that women are best suited for the role of an early childhood educator due to their “maternal nature.” The latter can be (and has been) heavily critiqued as stereotyping and essentializing women’s identity.




In Ailwood’s (2008) article that you are asked to read for this week, she powerfully argues that while the rise of the kindergarten movement was linked to social and political movements that promoted the welfare of women and children, and indeed challenged women to take up new roles in society, this era may have “trapped” women in socially constructed gender norms that make teaching in the early years an obvious choice for women. Hoskins and Smedley (2016) explain that gendered norms and gender discourses have “encouraged women to position themselves as valuing certain characteristics” (e.g., ‘a sense of self as helper rather than leader, as warm rather than ambitious, as emotional rather than rational’) (p. 211). This critique raises important questions about how the early childhood educator might be conceived beyond the stereotypical image of what Ailwood (2008) calls “maternalism.”

Additionally, Moss (2006) argues that if the underlying assumption is that early childhood educator’s practice is based on “natural instincts” then the consequence of such thinking is that extensive training for teachers of young children is hardly necessary. In Canada, over 96% of persons working in ECE are women and the educational requirements, as well as salary, are well below those of teachers working in the formal school system. For example, persons who work with children under 5 in a preschool or childcare settings require a college-level diploma while teachers who teach children five and up in the public school system are required to have a university degree and an additional teaching training program at a university level. Assignment 3: Tracing and Responding to Contemporary Issues in ECE

Engaging with Spiralling Issue #7:

The Missing Voices of Early Childhood Educators


Despite the fact that the nursery school movement was developed by highly inventive educators (mostly women), the voices of educators as creative contributors to ECE pedagogy are often missing from historical (and even present) accounts. In her book Women educators in the progressive era, Anne Durst (2010) argues that while many educators know of John Dewey’s contributions to education, little focus has been brought to the women who helped develop the progressive pedagogies that are influential to this day.

Engaging with Spiralling Issue #8:

Ethical Considerations for Doing Research with Children


As you could discern from the content pages and media resources, the scientific study of children, which began as a means to find answers to questions about human nature, or as Varga (2011) said, as “a desire to know everything about children,” is not without criticism. Scholarly critique has mounted with regard to the desirability of thinking of the child as an object of study (Varga, 2011). Whether it is in Gesell’s observation domeLinks to an external site. (as seen in the video), or even in the lab schools as described above, adults hold the power to interpret the meaning of children’s behaviours, words, and actions often with little input from the child. In recent years, this “unequal relationship between the observing expert and the observed child,” as well as the “non-negotiable transfer of knowledge about the subject to the investigator” (Varga, 2011, p. 2) has been challenged as new theories and methods afforded a view of children as rights bearers and as valued research participants. The reading by Koch (2021) this week aims at introducing you to contemporary approaches to the study of children, where the relation between the adult (researcher) and the child is critically explored.

  • Think about the influence of developmental theory on your thinking about young children, who they are, and what their potential is. Can you come up with some examples of how thinking about young children through the developmental approach either limited or expanded your view about the child/children?
  • the ethical issues that are involved in considering children as objects of scientific study? What alternative approaches to the study of children do you see as ethical?



Engaging in Spiralling Issue #9:

The dominance of developmental approaches: Continuing the dialogue.


After browsing through the latest version of Developmentally Appropriate Practice and reading the chapter Repositioning Developmentalism by Kilderry (2015). Think about how you reconcile the critique of the developmental theory (e.g., universalism, lack of attention to power and colonial history) with common beliefs about child development and its relationship to curriculum, learning, and teaching in ECE.

  • “Reposition – what theories are used in your setting to observe and plan learning experiences for young children? How can children be re/positioned as ‘children with capabilities’?
  • Reframe – what theories other than those offered by child development can be used to view children’s achievements?
  • Engage learners – how can you recognize the varied and diverse ways in which children learn? What are the many ways this can be represented?
  • Empower – how can practice encompass a view where children are viewed as rights holders, able to express their views and to have their opinions heard and acted upon? What do you need to change to enable children to be positioned this way?
  • Critical reflection – in what ways can practitioners critically reflect on practice, and devise equitable and ethical ways of working with young children?” (p. 8)

Engaging with Spiralling Issue #10:

The Challenges of Transporting ECE Approaches from other Cultures and Places


Transporting ECE theory and pedagogy across continents is not a new practice. Pestalozzi, Froebel, and Owen are some of the examples we discussed of European influences on ECE in North America. However, transporting ECE approaches from other places and cultures into our local contexts (including our context’s histories, geographies, socio-political and ecological issues) is not without challenges. The notion of place-based education and the importance of creating an ECE curriculum that is relevant to the local land, its ecology and history are becoming a “hot” topic in early childhood research, policy and practice (Nxumalo, 2019). For example, browse through the British Columbia Early Learning FrameworkLinks to an external site. (2019) and pay attention to the centrality of the concept of place and how the Framework invites educators (and children) to make connections with place, community, and Indigenous knowledges to create early childhood education that is unique to British Columbia.


Based on what you have learned from the B.C. Early Learning Framework and your study of the approaches from Europe (Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia), share your thoughts on the complexity of “importing” ECE educational theories and methods from other cultures and places. What are your views on creating an ECE program that is unique to particular places, such as British Columbia?




Engaging in Spiralling Issue #11:

Is it time to reconceptualize childcare?


n its 2021 budget, Canada’s federal government made a commitment to creating Canada-wide early learning and child care systemLinks to an external site.. This announcement is considered a historic landmark for childcare advocates because the history of childcare, and especially the history of childcare as it relates to social policy, has been “a story littered with disappointment” (Pasolli, 2021, n.p.). With Canada’s childcare initiative, we may have been given a unique opportunity to “mend” the childcare issues of the past and reconceptualize what childcare might be in the future beyond ‘a service for working mothers.’


After reading Prochner’s (2000) and Motapanyane and McFarlane’s (2019) chapters, and browsing the website: Caring About Care, you are invited to contribute how you envision future childcare in Canada. How would you respond to the survey questions above (Should childcare be publicly funded? What would be the purpose of childcare? What should be the focus of the childcare program?)

Engaging in Spiralling Issue #12:

The Past and Present Encounter the Future


As you have seen throughout this course, ECE as a distinctive field of theory, research, policy and practice is always in transformation (think about the spiral metaphor). As we have entered the 21st century, new (or sometimes old and unresolved) local and global issues and movements have surfaced and they undoubtedly will affect the future of ECE, because they impact future generations of children, families and communities. These changes raise new questions for ECE. For example,


How might ECE change in the face of severe ecological damage and climate crisis?

How might ECE become an active participant in anti-racism and anti-colonial movements?

How can we move towards a more just and inclusive ECE? and How might ECE contribute to a more just and inclusive world?

How might we think about ECE with the Seven Generations principle









Issue #1

  • Prochner, L., & Nawrotzki, K. (2019). The origins of the current era of early childhood care and education. In C. P. Brown, M. Benson McMullen, N. File (Eds.) The Wiley Handbook of Early Childhood Care and Education, (pp. 7-27). Wiley Blackwell. (Library Online Course Reserves


Issue #2

  • Gittins, Diana (2015). The historical construction of childhood, in M. J. Kehily (Ed.), An introduction to childhood studies (Second edition), 35-49. Berkshire: England. Open University Press. (Library Course Reserves – Note: Gittins has a chapter in Kehily’s book that is available in the Library Online Course Reserves. You can download Gittins’ chapter as a PDF or read online).
  • Sorin, R. (2005). Changing_images_of_childhood_Reconceptualising_ear (1).pdf Actions. International Journal of Transitions in Childhood, (1), 12-21.
  • Greenwood, M. (2006). Children are a gift to us: Aboriginal-specific early childhood programs and services in Canada. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 29(1), 12 -28. (Library Course Reserve).


Issue #3

  • De Leeuw, S. (2009). ‘If anything is to be done with the Indian, we must catch him very young’: colonial constructions of Aboriginal children and the geographies of Indian residential schooling in British Columbia, Canada. Children’s Geographies, 7(2), 123-140. doi: 10.1080/14733280902798837 (Library Course Reserve)
  • Prochner, Larry (2000). A history of early education and child care in Canada, 1820-1966. ( 11 – 22 until the paragraph about Private Kindergartens). In L. Prochner & N. Howe (Eds.) Early childhood care and education on Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press. (Library Course Reserve)


Issue #4

  • MacDonald, M., Rudkowski, M., & Schärer, J. H. (2013). Lingering Discourses: Jean Jacque Rousseau’s 18th-century images of mothers, fathers, and children. Journal of Childhood Studies,38(1), 21-28. (Free access journal).
  • Taylor, A. (2011). Reconceptualizing the ‘nature’ of childhood. Childhood, 18(4), 420-433. Links to an external site.(Library Online Course Reserves)


Issue #6

  • Ailwood, J. (2008). Mothers, teachers, maternalism and early childhood education and care: Some historical connections. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 8(2), 157-165. (The article can be accessed on the Contemporary Issues in Early Childhoodwebsite or here – Links to an external site.
  • Swiniarski, L. (2016). Elizabeth Peabody (1804–94): Implementing Froebel’s play-based learning. In , Jarvis, L., Swiniarski & W., Holland (Eds.), Early Years Pioneers in Context(pp. 48-64). Routledge.(LOCR)
  • Swiniarski, L. (2016). Susan Blow (1843–1916): Funding kindergartens and training professionals for American kindergartens in public education. In , Jarvis, L., Swiniarski & W., Holland (Eds.), Early Years Pioneers in Context(pp. 65-78). Routledge. (LOCR) Assignment 3: Tracing and Responding to Contemporary Issues in ECE


Issue #7

  • Wisneski, D. B. (2012). “Silent voices of knowing.” In Nancy File, Jennifer J. Mueller, & Debora Basler Wisneski (Eds.), Curriculum in early childhood education: Re-examined, rediscovered, renewed (pp. 3-13). Routledge. (LOCR)
  • Hauser, Mary E. (2006). Learning from children: The life and legacy of Caroline Pratt. Peter Lang Publishing Inc. Read Chapter Six, Defining and enacting
a radical educational philosophy (pp. 79-88). (LOCR)


Issue #8

  • Varga, D. (1997). Constructing the child. James Lorimer & Company, Ltd, Publishers. Canada: Toronto. Read Chapter Three: Constructing the new child (pp. 39-65). (LOCR)
  • Koch, A., B. (2021). Children as participants in research. Playful interactions and negotiation of researcher–child relationships, Early Years, 41(4), 381-395, DOI: 10.1080/09575146.2019.1581730 (LOCR)


Issue #9

  • Kilderry, A. (2014).  Repositioning Developmentalism. In M. Reed & R. Walker (Eds.). A critical companion to early childhood. (pp. 116-126)Sage. (LOCR).


Issue #10

  • Aljabreen, H. (2020). Montessori, Waldorf, and Reggio Emilia: A comparative analysis of alternative models of early childhood education. International Journal of Early Childhood, 52(3), 337-353. DOI: 1007/s13158-020-00277-1 Links to an external site.


Issue #11

  • Prochner, L. (2000). A history of early education and child care in Canada, 1820-1966. ( 39 – 63). In L. Prochner & N. Howe (Eds.) Early childhood care and education on Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press. (LOCR)
  • Motapanyane, M., & McFarlane, A. (2019). Childcare as a public and common good: A Canadian perspective. In Zufferey, F. Buchanan(Eds.) Intersections of Mothering (pp. 57-74). Routledge. (LOCR)
  • Browse the website: Caring About Care. Links to an external site. Focus your attention on the section titled: Shattering Myths and choose at least two of the four myths that are being debunked about care.

Sage Academic Books
A Critical Companion to Early Childhood
For the most optimal reading experience we recommend using our website. A
free-to-view version of this content is available here, which includes an easy to
navigate and search entry, and may also include videos, embedded datasets,
downloadable datasets, interactive questions, audio content and downloadable
tables and resources.
Author: Anna Kilderry
Pub. Date: 2019
Product: Sage Academic Books
Disciplines: Education, Early Childhood Education, Early Childhood Education (general), Early Childhood
Studies, Early Childhood Teacher Resources
Access Date: July 24, 2023
Publishing Company: SAGE Publications, Inc.
City: 55 City Road
Online ISBN: 9781526473899
© 2019 SAGE Publications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Repositioning Developmentalism
Anna Kilderry
Chapter Overview
This chapter looks at the notion of the ‘developing child’. It commences with a discussion about critical
thinking and questioning. Next, it provides an overview of what child development and developmentalism are in the ECEC context, and it critiques the way developmentalism is relied upon to inform
practice in ECEC. In the final section readers are introduced to the concept of postdevelopmentalism
(Blaise, 2005; Edwards, 2009) and how a postdevelopmental framework (Nolan and Kilderry, 2010)
can reposition developmentalism.
The ‘developing child’ is a notion that is very familiar with those who work in Early Childhood Education and
Care (ECEC). The notion of the developing child in ECEC stems from child development theory. What we
know as child development theory in ECEC draws from theories generated by Rousseau, Montessori, Erikson, Freud, Gesell, Vygotsky, Bruner, and in particular theories developed by Piaget (Cannella, 1997; MacNaughton, 2003; Grieshaber, 2008; Berk, 2012). Child development theories operate as a significant source
of knowledge guiding ECEC practice in the UK (Walkerdine, 1998; Walsh et al., 2010), Australia and New
Zealand (Farquhar and Fleer, 2007; Edwards, 2009) and the USA (Lubeck, 1996, 1998a, 1998b; Graue,
2008). Child development theory has had a century-long domination shaping ECEC curriculum frameworks
and pedagogy in westernised countries (Bloch, 1992; Zimiles, 2000; Krieg, 2010). Due to its prominence guiding ECEC practice in an Australian pre-school context (children birth to five years), I maintain that child development theory requires some critique before applying it to practice (Kilderry, 2012). The reason being so that
we can better understand how child development theories shape and guide practice, and to provide space for
other theories and perspectives to emerge. Viewing the child as ‘developing’ and by default, ‘not-yet-develSage
© Michael Reed and Rosie Walker 2015
Sage Academic Books
Page 2 of 14 A Critical Companion to Early Childhood
oped’, affects the way adults interact with children, children’s disposition as learners, and children’s emerging
identity. The process of critique enables us to better understand how theory operates, and it provides intellectual space for us to consider other possibilities for practice.
Critical Thinking and Questioning
Critical thinking and questioning are helpful processes as they enable us to ask critical questions about theories and practices we know so well, and this can give rise to uncovering issues that may not have come to our
attention unless our common-sense understandings are challenged. Each author in this book has a slightly
different approach to being critical, whether thinking and questioning critically, or practising critically. Critical
theory (Marcuse 1964; Adorno, 1973; Adorno and Horkheimer, 1979) is used in this chapter, to question the
‘status quo’ or the way things are usually done and who is advantaged or disadvantaged by this. In the ECEC
context, it pertains to everyday theories that lie beneath our practice decisions. In addition to using critical
theory as a form of critique, this chapter draws on poststructural notions to consider what possibilities lie beyond a particular way of thinking and practising. Assignment 3: Tracing and Responding to Contemporary Issues in ECE
Child Development
What we know as child development theory in ECEC stems from various theorists (for example Rousseau,
Montessori, Erikson, Freud, Gesell, Piaget, Vygotsky and Bruner). These diverse theories have come together to form what is recognised as child development in ECEC (Cannella, 1997; MacNaughton, 2003;
Grieshaber, 2008; Berk, 2012). Child development operates as a sub-discipline of developmental psychology
(Edwards and Fleer, 2003). Developmental psychology is concerned with psychological and biological
changes that take place as humans progress through different stages of physical and cognitive growth and
development (Muir, 1999). It includes changes that occur across the life span and are affected by the specific
context. Child development is concerned with the development of children, including their biological, social,
emotional and cognitive growth through the life cycle (Berk, 2012). Early work within child development was
undertaken by Gesell (1950), who followed laws and sequences of maturation. Within this perspective, a developmental view involves an:
© Michael Reed and Rosie Walker 2015
Sage Academic Books
Page 3 of 14 A Critical Companion to Early Childhood
examiner who is truly imbued with a developmental point of view [and] is keenly sensitive to the past
history of the child, and looks upon the psychological examination, not as a series of proving tests,
but as a device or stage for evoking the ways in which this particular child characteristically meets
life situations. (Gesell, 1950: 18)
Child development is a key concept in this chapter and is recognisable in ECEC through two main underlying
principles: (i) children develop in individual ways and (ii) children’s development can be categorised into emotional, social, physical and cognitive domains (Bowman and Stott, 1994). These two principles assist practitioners in understanding children’s learning and behaviour and inform their work with young children (Bowman
and Stott, 1994).
In this chapter I have used the term developmentalism to encompass theories and social practices that stem
from child development theory and are applied to ECEC. Developmentalism in ECEC is a set of ideas and
practices that are particular to the sector and have unique meanings associated with them, largely shaped
by Piaget (1953, 1959), Gesell (1950), Vygotsky (1987) and Erikson (1950). In many contexts, being educated as an ECEC practitioner, one is immersed in ‘developmentalism’, and learns about how children develop
through various stages, and how important child development theory is for practice. In some contexts, developmentalism informs how children are observed, how learning experiences are planned, the type of curriculum content introduced, and it shapes pedagogy. Illustrating such a point, ‘developmentally appropriate
practice’ (DAP) (Bredekamp, 1987; Bredekamp and Copple, 1997; Copple and Bredekamp, 2009) in the USA
has been described as the ‘field’s signature pedagogy’ (Ryan and Goffin, 2008: 386). DAP is one example
of how dominant developmentalism can be in ECEC. In practice, DAP is where practitioners assess children
in terms of developmental domains (physical, cognitive, social and emotional) and plan learning experiences
accordingly (Copple and Bredekamp, 2009). Furthermore, by using the DAP approach, the type of educational experiences offered to children depends on the developmental ability of individual children (Farquhar and
Fleer, 2007; Graue, 2008). In curricular terms, the task of ECEC practitioners in DAP is to match curricular
content in the form of activities to the child’s developmental level and introduce more complex materials and
learning when the child is deemed to have the cognitive ability for mastery (Elkind, 1989). This can limit the
repertoire of educational experiences offered for children if educators are to gauge and match children’s deSage
© Michael Reed and Rosie Walker 2015
Sage Academic Books
Page 4 of 14 A Critical Companion to Early Childhood
velopmental abilities. Knowledge and practices stemming from child development theories are unique to the
way developmentalism has been constructed in ECEC. Social practices stemming from developmentalism,
such as recording developmental observations of children and planning learning experiences based on an
assessment of children’s developmental abilities can potentially restrict practitioners’ pedagogical approach
(Blaise and Nuttall, 2011; Kilderry, 2012). Therefore, this chapter aims to reposition developmentalism and
see what practice can look like when a developmental view is not central to practice.
Critiquing Developmentalism
Critiquing knowledge allows us to question and reframe current ways of thinking about practice and allows us
to ensure that the theories we rely on are fit for purpose. For example, critiquing theory underpinning practice
allows us a space to reconsider ideas, knowledge and associated practices. Theories underpinning ECEC
have been critiqued by numerous people. For example, Cannella critiqued the way the field of ECEC relies
on developmental theories; Burman (2008) deconstructed developmental psychology and the way it frames
thinking; Lubeck (1998a, 1998b) has extensively critiqued DAP; and Blaise and Nuttall (2011) have more recently explained the link between power and pedagogy in ECEC. These theories provide a repertoire of pedagogical approaches outside of the developmental frame.
The intention of critiquing developmentalism is not meant to dismiss child development theories used in ECEC
built up over the years that provide useful insights into children and their learning. Instead, the purpose of
the critique is to see what the educational landscape could look like when developmentalism is repositioned, allowing other perspectives to emerge. Moreover, it has been argued that ‘without multiple forms of critique, our field can only foster dominant perspectives; the field thus functions to silence the voices of diverse others’ (Cannella, 1997: 17).
It must be noted that in some contexts developmentalism is seen as a form of protection against an outcomes based and standards-driven curricula, where expectations of pre-school children are overly academic. The purpose of this critique is not to replace developmental theories and associated practices with a standardsd riven and overly academic curriculum in ECEC, but rather it is an opportunity to revitalise practice through careful consideration of the underpinning theories guiding practice.
Critical theory (Marcuse 1964; Gramsci, 1971; Adorno, 1973; Adorno and Horkheimer, 1979) is used as a
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useful theoretical framework in this chapter as it has the ability to question taken-for-granted understandings
within ECEC. Critical theory can assist with understanding how developmentalism operates in ECEC, bringing awareness to the less obvious ways it positions children and affects practice. Critical theory is one way of uncovering forms of power, for example, who or what is privileged by certain knowledge, and who or what might be disadvantaged. It provides a systematic way of asking critical questions, such as, what or whose knowledge, values and practices are privileged? Such an approach can be applied to other forms of dominant knowledge or theories that require critiquing. Assignment 3: Tracing and Responding to Contemporary Issues in ECE
Table 10.1 has used critical theory to critique developmentalism in ECEC. It illustrates how theory can challenge commonly held assumptions and generates a list of useful critical insights and questions. Each of these
critical questions can be asked in different contexts with different responses generated.
Table 10.1 A Critique of Developmentalism in Early Childhood Education and Care
Using critical theory to critique ECEC
Using critical theory to critique developmentalism
Broad definition
Developmentalism in Early Childhood Education
and Care (ECEC) includes all the ideas and social
practices inspired by child development theories.
Key ideas
Each child is unique and develops individually.
Children develop in predictable ways.
Theory guiding practice
Individual children’s development is categorised
into emotional, social, physical and cognitive domains. Individual children’s development is observed and measured in each developmental domain.
There is a ‘normal development range’ for children. Children have developmental needs and
strengths, assessed by adults.
Adults match activities and learning experiences
to individual children’s developmental abilities.
To better understand how ECEC practice functions.
To consider and challenge who is advantaged and disadvantaged in this situation.
Critical questions
What theories and practices are dominant and privileged in ECEC? Why is
What everyday understandings about
practice are left unchallenged?
How do we view young children? For example, as ‘developing’, as ‘capable’, or
as empowered people with rights? How
does practice look different in each of
these situations?
Who decides what will happen in
To find out how developmentalism might
overshadow and exclude other ways of
thinking about ECEC practice.
Assumptions to challenge
Children are constructed as either ‘developed’ or ‘not-yet developed’ by adults.
Individual children are measured to a ‘normal development’ range, indicating there is
also an ‘abnormal’ range.
The better understanding practitioners have
of child development theory, the better the
educational and development outcomes will
be for children.
Critical questions
Is the categorisation of children being ‘developed’ or ‘not-yet-developed’ a useful way
to view children? Are there more respectful
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Critical theory enables us to disrupt the way developmentalism operates in ECEC, and ask questions such
as, ‘is there such a concept as a normal development age range for children?’ and ‘how is viewing a child as
developing normally useful, or harmful?’ For example, some have argued that a hierarchical categorisation of
children’s maturation both generalises and oversimplifies children’s capabilities and it can orientate practitioners to think about children in deficit terms (Lubeck, 1996, 1998a; Burman, 2008). Analysis and critique such
as this can inspire new ways of thinking and give rise to different sets of practices, practices that were previously not considered. Postdevelopmentalism is another way to reposition developmentalism and generate
new ways of thinking about practice. The next section outlines what postdevelopmentalism is and how it can
be applied in this context.
Postdevelopmentalism (Blaise, 2005; Edwards, 2009; Nolan and Kilderry, 2010), is a term coined to describe
theories and practices located outside of developmentalism, or those relying on child development theories.
Postdevelopmentalism refers to ‘post’ or ‘beyond’ a developmental era, an era in ECEC that has been characterised by practices dominated by developmental theories. To hold a postdevelopmental view, one would
not think about children as ‘developing’, but rather in terms of all of their capabilities as active citizens in democratic society, drawing on a wide range of theories and perspectives. It is not to say that child development theories are not considered at all, but they are not at the forefront of thinking about children and guiding
practice. Postdevelopmentalism draws on poststructural ideas where the concepts of ‘truth, knowledge, power and identity’ are questioned (Appelrouth and Edles, 2012: 611). Poststructuralism itself is not one theory,
but rather an assemblage of ideas stemming from a critique of structuralism by mid-twentieth century French
The better the understanding practitioners have of
child development theory, the more ‘developmentally appropriate’ practice will be. Thus, the better
the educational and development outcomes will
be for children.
Which decisions about their day can
children have input into?
What aspects of the curriculum and
practice are inequitable for some children and families?
How does early childhood policy position
children, practitioners and families?
and equitable ways to view and assess children’s learning?
Who determines what normal (child) development is? In which contexts does ‘normal’
How is the developed/not-yet-development
perspective limiting our view of young children, their abilities and their potential learning?
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theorists such as Foucault, Baudrillard, Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari (Appelrouth and Edles, 2012).


Table 10.2 provides guidance to how one might go about conducting a critique informed by poststructural notions. It takes the basic tenets of child development theories and practices relied upon in ECEC, and it uses
key concepts from poststructuralism, where ‘truth’, power and knowledge are questioned, to scrutinise developmentalism. Similar to the way critical theory was used to critique developmentalism in Table 10.1, the
aim of Table 10.2 is to show how central child development theories are in practice and if required, reposition developmentalism. Assignment 3: Tracing and Responding to Contemporary Issues in ECE
Table 10.2 Repositioning Developmentalism in Early Childhood Education and Care
Developmentalism A poststructural critique A postdevelopmental framework for
ECEC (adapted from Nolan andKilderry, 2010)
Broad definition
Developmentalism in Early Childhood Education and
Care (ECEC) includes all the ideas and social practices
inspired by child development theories.
Key ideas
Each child is unique and develops individually. Children
develop in predictable ways.
Theory guiding practice
Individual children’s development is categorised into
emotional, social, physical and cognitive domains. Individual children’s development is observed and measured in each developmental domain.
There is a ‘normal development range’ for children. Children have developmental needs and strengths, assessed by adults.
Adults match activities and learning experiences to individual children’s developmental abilities.
The better the understanding practitioners have of child
development theory, the more ‘developmentally appropriate’ practice will be. Thus, the better the educational
and development outcomes will be for children.
Questions power, knowledge and ‘truth’.
Challenges and destabilises traditional assumptions about concepts, identities and
Critical questions
What is (the notion of) the ‘developing
child’? According to whom?
What are the multiple understandings of
the ‘developing child’? What does this
mean for children’s learning?
Do children all pass through the
same developmental stages? Is this a
useful way to view children and their
How do developmental identities
affect children, practitioners and
What multiple roles and identities are posPurpose
To consider other ways to think
about ECEC practice.
Postdevelopmental framework
Practitioners move from the position
of planning for young children in developmental terms and reposition
children in terms of capabilities. Assignment 3: Tracing and Responding to Contemporary Issues in ECE
Children’s learning and growth is
viewed through a range of theoretical lenses – perspectives other than
those offered by developmentalism.
Engaging learners Recognising the
varied and diverse ways in which
children and adults learn.
Children as rights’ holders able to
express their views and to have
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Noticing common characteristics operating in postdevelopmental thinking and practice, Nolan and Kilderry
(2010) named these features with the intention of providing one way to reframe pedagogy in ECEC. The five
characteristics of post-developmental pedagogy are: i) repositioning, ii) reframing, iii) engaging learners, iv)
empowering and v) critical reflection. The five characteristics of postdevelopmental pedagogy are explained
in more detail in column 3, Table 10.2. Each of these characteristics enables early childhood practitioners
to work with children in ways other than those influenced (and sometimes) dominated by developmentalism.
The postdevelopmental framework is not intended to make developmental theories redundant, but rather to
broaden the type of theories ECEC practitioners can draw from and create an awareness of how to critique
dominant theories informing practice.
This chapter has described the concept of developmentalism, and how child development theories can operate as prevailing sources of knowledge in ECEC. It has illustrated how developmentalism in ECEC can be
critiqued and repositioned using critical theory and poststructural concepts. The purpose of critiquing developmentalism in ECEC is to bring awareness to how particular theories might be relied upon in practice, and
how other perspectives and views might be relegated to the sidelines, or even silenced. Through the process
of critique, dominant theories and practices can be illuminated, critiqued and repositioned, with the aim of making practice as inclusive and equitable as possible. Assignment 3: Tracing and Responding to Contemporary Issues in ECE