Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Developmental Fossils-Unearthing the Artefacts of Early Childhood Education: The Reification of 'Child Development'

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Developmental Fossils-Unearthing the Artefacts of Early Childhood Education: The Reification of 'Child Development'

Article excerpt


Contemporary early childhood education in many English-speaking countries foregrounds the importance of educators' 'Child Development' knowledge. In particular, most Australian students and graduates of early childhood education programs would have focused at some stage on children's ages and the expected 'developmental milestones'. This knowledge is fundamental to the professional knowledge needed for early childhood educators to work effectively in the field. This knowledge shapes the thinking about what is the expected development of children from birth to eight years. However, consider the following two quotations:

   Once [Polynesian] babies could walk, mothers released
   them into the care of 3- to 4-year-old siblings, who
   played nearby, checking periodically on the young ones
   (Rogoff, 2003, p.123, drawing upon Martini and
   Kirkpatrick, 1992).

   In contrast to the preferred age of 7 to 10 years for
   child caregivers in many countries, middle-class
   European American families seldom use baby-sitters
   younger than 12 years old (Rogoff, 2003, p. 123).

The first quotation sits outside of the linear developmental pattern characteristic of health and education developmental charts and quality assurance documents in Australia (Fleer & Kennedy, 2001). The latter sits more comfortably within what would be expected behaviour based upon general 'Child Development' knowledge. These two quotations draw our attention to the need to not just think about diversity across cultural communities but also reconsider the basis upon which we as professionals make judgements. Expectations which have been normed against particular cultural communities may not reflect the diversity of cultural groups which make up our culturally and linguistically diverse Australian community.

In drawing upon sociocultural theory and sociohistorical research we seek to problematise the term 'Child Development'. General sociocultural (Anning, Cullen & Fleer, 2004) and postmodern (see Alloway, 1999; Dahlberg, Moss & Pence, 1999; MacNaughton, 1995) critiques of early childhood education have helped to illuminate the assumptions underpinning many practices. In light of this, we also believe it is important to provide a concrete way forward in thinking about development. Although it is not the intention of this paper to 'do away' with development, it is our professional responsibility to find possible directions to move the field forward. As such, we invite responses to this paper and hope that a fruitful dialogue can be entered into within the Australian Journal of Early Childhood (AJEC).


   There is a conception of education which professes to
   be based upon the idea of development. But it takes
   back with one hand what it proffers with the other.
   Development is conceived not as continuous growing,
   but as the unfolding of latent powers toward a definite
   goal The goal is conceived of as completion, perfection.
   Life at any stage short of attainment of this goal is
   merely an unfolding toward it (Dewey, 1916, p. 56).

The legacy of a traditional view on development, as outlined above by Dewey back in 1916, is still commonplace within the field of early childhood education. Just as Dewey had been critical, Vygotsky was similarly critical of this view of development for the mind:

   ... an enormous mosaic of mental life development
   comprised of separate piece of experience, a grandiose
   atomistic picture of the dismembered human mind
   (Vygotsky, 1997, p. 4).

What both scholars have in common is a social orientation to development and to learning. Both put forward different ways of thinking about development:

   ... the educational process is one of continual
   reorganising, reconstructing, transforming (Dewey,
   1916, p. 50),

   ... Vygotsky posed internalization of interpersonal
   processes as being the substrate of development
   (Glick, 1997, p. … 
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.