Young children's explorations: young children's research?

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As an early years’ teacher, I witnessed children from two years frequently exploring in their early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings and ‘exploration’ is a recognised as research behaviour. However, children are generally barred from the spaces inhabited by academics and policymakers. Formal research dissemination positioning children as the researchers tends to focus on those older than eight years and when children are recognised as researchers, it is usually in the context of enquiry dominated by adult agendas and research design. Excluding young children’s own enquiries from recognition conflicts with ‘new sociology’ perspectives positioning children as competent social actors. A small-scale interpretive study was developed to explore this paradox. Underpinned by BERA’s ethical framework (2004), the study employed critical ethnographic case studies within a constructivist grounded theory approach.To begin, professional researchers reconfirmed ‘exploration’ as one of thirty-nine research behaviours and indicated young children aged 4-8 years and their practitioners as ‘theoretical sampling’. Multi-modal case studies were constructed with children (n=138) and their practitioners (n=18) in three ECEC settings judged ‘Good’ by independent inspectors. This paper addresses questions focused on ‘exploration’, one research behaviour reconfirmed by professional researchers. It asks: Do young children aged 4-8 years in three ECEC settings explore? If so, what are their explorations and what affects them? Do young children’s explorations count as research? Findings indicate that 7-8-year-old children in a predominantly teacher-directed setting were frequently observed ‘off-task’, in pursuance of their own explorations. Notwithstanding this, 7-8-year-old children in a teacher-directed setting explored less than 4-5-year-old children in open framework settings where varied resources, time, space, freedom, stimulation and affirmation from adults were characteristics.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2011
EventBritish Early Childhood Education Research Association (BECERA) Inaugural Conference - Birmingham, UK
Duration: 1 Feb 2011 → …


ConferenceBritish Early Childhood Education Research Association (BECERA) Inaugural Conference
Period1/02/11 → …


  • Play
  • case study
  • children’s perspectives
  • knowledge
  • real world


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