Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Revisiting Images of the Child in Early Childhood Education: Reflections and Considerations

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Revisiting Images of the Child in Early Childhood Education: Reflections and Considerations

Article excerpt


Discourses of childhood are central to the ways we structure our own and others' sense of place and position (Burman, 1994).

All of us have experienced childhood in one form or another. These experiences, together with cultural artefacts (such as books, movies, rituals, institutions) and our professional resources, inform our understanding of the notion of childhood: what it is, what it means, and what it should be like. The resulting `constructions of childhood' based on these understandings are underpinned by beliefs and ideas--`images of childhood', which form resources on which we draw as both individuals and professionals. Beliefs we hold about children, and the images of childhood on which we draw, affect our understanding and implementation of our role as early childhood professionals in many ways. For example, they underpin our interactions with children, are embedded in our responses to children's ideas and behaviour, and are influential in the choices we make in relation to overall curriculum and pedagogy. They profoundly influence the way we argue our case to politicians, policy-makers, and holders of budgetary purse strings. Yet, until relatively recently, the beliefs and images that contribute to particular constructions of childhood in the field of early childhood have remained largely unexamined and uncontested. They have tended to lurk as self-evident truths, encompassing a set of assumptions about shared values in relation to children and childhood, parents and parenting, education and schooling.

Recently there have been calls to hold our understandings about children and childhood up for re-examination, to reconsider them from multiple perspectives, and to consider how dominant understandings of children and childhood take account of difference, promote or constrain equity and equality, and position the child (Canella, 1997; James & Prout, 1990; Silin, 1995a; Woodrow, 1996; Woodrow & Brennan, forthcoming). These calls have been given added weight by other recent developments in Australia which suggest certain competing constructions of the child struggle for dominance. These events include the development of mandated curriculum for the non-compulsory years, the development of comprehensive assessment regimes in preschool and the first years of school, the moral panic over paedophilia, the increasing `marketisation' in education, as well as the powerful political claims being made by the present Federal Government about the primacy of the family in raising and protecting the interests of the child.

In this context, an interrogation of our constructions of childhood seems to be all the more timely. As Wagg (1996) suggests, any politics of schooling is also a politics of childhood.

This article is a contribution to these calls for the re-examination of underpinning images of childhood. In previous writing, I have explored how public representations of children and childhood found in posters, advertisements, greeting cards, and so on both contribute to and roflect our personal and collective understandings of childhood (Woodrow, 1996, 1997, 1998). In this article I explore some constructions of childhood that are dominant in early childhood education and attempt to render them problematic, particularly in terms of relationships of power between children and adults.

In making hidden assumptions visible and rendering the familiar `strange', I want to signal the problematic nature of some of the largely uncontested `images' of children and childhood. In this way we might better understand how our personal and professional responses might position children, teachers, and the early childhood profession and begin to imagine new images and relationships. In particular, I examine some implications of three dominant constructions of the child that are embedded in a range of social practices associated with early childhood education. The images I have selected to explore are: child as innocent, as threat, and as embryo adult. …

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