Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Sharing the Lived Experiences of Children

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Sharing the Lived Experiences of Children

Article excerpt

Theoretical perspectives

Early childhood education is currently undergoing change and renewal in both national and international contexts. Cross-cultural and post-modern perspectives shared through increased globalisation and collaborative research have challenged many long-held assumptions about the child and childhood within early childhood pedagogies. The educational experiences of Reggio Emilia, Italy (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1998) and Scandinavia (Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 1999) and increased familiarity with the socio-constructivist perspectives of Vygotsky (1978) have resulted in greater awareness of the importance of the socio-cultural context in early childhood education. Contemporary images of children, increasing recognition of children's learning in home and community contexts, and current approaches to planning prompt us to consider flexible approaches to documentation.

Images of children

The contemporary image of the young child as strong, capable and able to make meaning from diverse experiences challenges simplistic assumptions about children and the adult's role in teaching and learning. As Malaguzzi commented in relation to children:

They are autonomously capable of making meaning from their daily life experiences through mental acts involving planning, and co-ordination of ideas, and abstraction. Remember, meanings are never static, univocal, or final; they are always generative of other meanings. The central act of adults, therefore, is to activate, especially indirectly, the meaning making competencies of children as a basis of all learning. They must try to capture the right moments, and then find the right approaches, for bringing together, into a fruitful dialogue, their meanings and interpretations, with those of the children (1998, p.81).

Discussions within the reconceptualising childhood movement (Bloch, 1992; Cannella, 1997) have also contributed to rethinking images of the child and childhood. The traditional focus on developmental discourses has been significantly challenged with greater awareness of the significance of socio-cultural contexts. Simplistic assumptions regarding the 'universal child' constructed within age/stage-based developmental theory no longer adequately reflect the reality faced by early childhood educators working within culturally and linguistically diverse Australian communities. As Silin (1995) argued, the belief that child development universally describes children actually denies the multiple realities of children's lives. Dahlberg, Moss and Pence also offered this challenge:

From our postmodern perspective, there is no such thing as 'the child' or 'childhood', an essential being and state waiting to be discovered, defined and realized ... Instead, there are many children and many childhoods, each constructed by our 'understandings of childhood and what children are and should be' (1998, p.43).

Block (1997) suggested that the socio-cultural appearance of childhood must be understood as a construction of contemporary adult society and therefore subject to critique and evaluation and able to be reinvented. The recognition that our understandings of childhood are the product of our own time and place suggests that uncontested conceptions of childhood should be the subject of discussion and analysis. Such analysis can contribute to the increased recognition of childhood as a unique and legitimate period within the lifespan of human development, rather than as preparation for what will come next within the schooling system.

The celebration of childhood for its unique richness can promote greater recognition of all that each child brings to the learning community and increased awareness of the importance of creativity, play, learning processes and positive dispositions towards learning rather than a focus on specific skills and content. Similarly, the notion of 'generativity' suggests that early childhood educators recognise their work with children as an investment in the childhood experience of future generations. …

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