Critical Issues in Early Childhood Education

By Nicola Yelland | Go to book overview

7

Freedom to choose:
Examining children's experiences in
choice time

Sharon Ryan

Providing multiple opportunities for children to make choices is considered an essential element of high quality early childhood programs. By freeing the curriculum from teacher authority, early childhood educators believe that they are assisting all children to become independent problem solvers and skillful social negotiators. This chapter explores the liberatory assumptions underpinning children's choice making in the early childhood curriculum through the lens of poststructural social theory. Drawing on the findings of a qualitative case study of an urban kindergarten classroom, the stories of two children are examined for the ways they exercise, negotiate, and contest gendered power relations as they play with others in choice time. Presentation of these findings illustrates the different discourses that children enact through their play and how some of these discourses limit children's agency and identities as learners in the classroom. Implications for classroom practice and research are discussed.

Child-centered education based on developmental principles has long been advocated as the best and most equitable approach to teaching young children. This approach is evidenced for example, in the field's endorsement of the Guidelines for Developmentally Appropriate Practice (Bredekamp and Copple, 1997) as its consensus definition of high quality early education and in a variety of other early childhood curricula including High/Scope, and Reggio Emilia. In a child-centered education, the curriculum begins with the needs and interests of the child and responds to the unique characteristics of childhood. Teachers use their knowledge of how children develop to structure learning experiences that facilitate children's learning through play and discovery. Children, therefore, are viewed as active learners who require freedom from adult authority to explore ideas independently and make sense of their world (Sharp and Green, 1975; Burman, 1994). As a consequence of having some input and choice over their learning, it is believed that young children become independent and competent learners who are able to think and act in socially responsible ways (Sharp and Green, 1975; Walkerdine, 1984; Davies, 1993).

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