Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Interaction or Interruption? Five Child-Centered Philosophical Perspectives

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Early Childhood

Interaction or Interruption? Five Child-Centered Philosophical Perspectives

Article excerpt


This paper raises the issue of whether and when educators should interact with children in the context of child-centred early childhood education. The dilemma has apparently arisen owing to the juxtaposition of two theories that underpin early childhood education in New Zealand: developmental theory (Piaget, 1951) and the contemporary sociocultural perspective based on the works of Vygotsky (1978). These theories suggest opposing pedagogical practices for educators regarding whether and when to interact with children.

The aim of this post-graduate research project was to investigate educators' beliefs regarding teacher interaction with children. The participant educators were representative of the diverse philosophical perspectives within early childhood education in New Zealand: Steiner, Montessori, Gerber, Playcentre and Reggio Emilia.

Theoretical perspectives

Piaget (1951) and Vygotsky (1978) provide polarised perspectives regarding how children develop and learn. Piaget's emphasis on self-discovery through independent exploration implies that the educators' role is to provide learning opportunities with which the child can interact independently. The implication is that educators may not interact with children who are engaged in play and learning experiences. In contrast, Vygotsky's sociocultural theory (1978) suggests that children actively construct knowledge through interactions with others. It implies that the educator's role is to consistently interact with children to support their learning. Te Whariki (MoE, 1996) appears to support both Piaget's developmental theory and Vygotsky's sociocultural theory. First, Te Wharikii emphasises the importance of responsive and reciprocal relationships, stating that 'children learn through collaboration with adults and peers' (p. 9); however, it goes on to state that children learn through 'individual exploration and reflection' (p. 9). Te Whariki thus potentially creates issues and confusion for educators.

This study suggests that this confusion is nullified when pedagogical practices align with distinct philosophical guidelines.

Five early childhood philosophical approaches

Steiner, Montessori, Gerber, Playcentre and Reggio Emilia are five philosophical perspectives implemented within the New Zealand early childhood sector. Each has components of both developmental and sociocultural theory. These philosophies are now described in relation to developmental and sociocultural theories.

Rudolf Steiner philosophy is closely associated with a child-centred perspective, with the goal of providing children with a basis for developing into free individuals who can fulfil their own unique destiny. The Steiner kindergarten environment is largely experiential, imitative and sensory-based, arranged to allow children the ability to be self-motivated, based on the tenets of choice and discovery (Burman, 1994). Resources in Steiner schools are made of natural materials, and children are encouraged to develop imagination and a natural wonder of the world through independent exploration. Educators are seen as role models for the children, who initiate their own interactions with teachers.

Maria Montessori's philosophy is based on a scientific view of children's' learning (Gutek, 2004). The basis of her child-centred prepared environment is the learning equipment designed to be used in a prescribed manner to enable children to learn a specific concept. The Montessori kindergarten environment is set up to promote independent discovery (Sugrue, 1997). Montessori educators do not interrupt the learning process but play the role of a director who unobtrusively guides children's independent learning (Montessori, 1936).

The Magda Gerber philosophy challenges parents and early childhood educators to consider the nature of respectful interactions with infants and toddlers (Gerber & Johnson, 1998). …

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