Childhood studies is an interdisciplinary area of theory and research comprised of intersecting fields that have evolved since the inception of childhood itself. Despite the pervasiveness of psychological frameworks that predominate early studies of childhood and that continue to dominate within teacher education programs, paradigmatic shifts within childhood studies have opened critical questions about the exclusive social norms, racial privileges, and unequal life chances maintained by the idea of childhood as a biologically determined and universal stage of life. Across a range of perspectives, critical scholarship in childhood studies begins with the idea that childhood is a social and historical construction tied to colonial discourses and ongoing injustices that have material effects on children’s lives. Drawing on the fields of history, sociology, postcolonial studies, psychoanalysis, and educational theory, scholars of childhood show how childhood is inextricably bound to philosophical ideals, political forces, social constructs, and emotional conflicts. In identifying and interrogating the ways that race, class, ability, gender, and sexuality affect and limit meanings of childhood, scholars open new metaphors for rethinking social life, development, belonging, relationality, and existence as such.
Lisa Farley and Debbie Sonu
Self-regulation is a complex, multifaceted concept that can be described as a higher mental process oriented toward children’s (and adults’) metacognitive, motivational, and behaviorally active participation in their own learning. It includes cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional development. It is related to several other higher mental processes, notably executive function, and the two are sometimes confused and even conflated. They are, however, not interchangeable, and it is vital to clarify both what self-regulation is and what it is not. Failure to do so may lead to confusion at practice and policy levels, and ineffective or inappropriate practice, potentially disadvantageous to young children. Self-regulation may be significant in all aspects of development, particularly in early childhood, and efforts to enhance children’s self-regulation may be among the most effective educational interventions. Interest is reflected in developments in the field of assessment, including by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and in government policy in, inter alia, England. Play, particularly pretense, problem-solving, and talk (both private speech and dialogue) are advocated as rich, naturalistic contexts for the development, support, and meaningful assessment of young children’s self-regulation. Some specific approaches to assessment are identified, notably observation and stimulated recall, in the form of reflective dialogues, including the use of video. Decontextualized assessment is suggested as a potentially less effective approach in capturing the full depth and range of young children’s self-regulatory competence.
Karen Ida Dannesboe and Bjørg Kjær
Denmark has a long tradition of public provision of early childhood education and care (ECEC) as part of what is known internationally as the Nordic welfare model. Both traditions and transformations within Danish ECEC are parallel to the establishment and development of this model. The emergence of child-centered pedagogy, so characteristic for Danish ECEC, is part of specific historical processes. Since the 1960s, the ECEC sector has undergone significant expansion and in 2020, most children in Denmark between the ages of 1 and 6 attend an ECEC institution. This expansion has positioned ECEC as a core universal welfare service, including a special focus on preventing injustice and inequality and on taking care of the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Early 21st-century international discourses on learning and early intervention have influenced political reforms and initiatives addressing ECEC institutions and the work of “pedagogues” (the Danish term for ECEC practitioners with a bachelor’s degree in social pedagogy). Since the 1990s, there has been growing political interest in regulating the content of ECEC, resulting in various policies and reforms that have changed the nature of Danish ECEC by introducing new learning agendas. This has been accompanied by an increased focus on the importance of the early years of childhood for outcomes later in life and on the role of parents in this regard. These tendencies are embedded in political initiatives and discourses and shape the conditions for ECEC, perceptions of children and childhood, the legitimacy of the pedagogical profession, the meaning of and emphasis on young children’s learning, the importance of inclusion, and the changing role of parents. These changes in social reforms and pedagogical initiatives interact with national historical processes and international tendencies and agendas at different levels.
Fiona Scott and Jackie Marsh
The study of digital literacies in early childhood (0–8 years) is an emergent and fast-growing area of scholarship. Young children’s communicative practices are today more complex and diverse in scope than ever before, encompassing both “traditional” reading and writing and a growing range of “new” communicative competencies across multiple digital media contexts. Scholars are increasingly interested in children’s literacy practices outside traditional print-based texts, and the theory of multimodality helps them to understand children’s communicative practices in relation to a range of modes, including those present in digital technology. At the same time, the boundaries between what constitutes “digital” and “traditional” literacies are themselves blurred. Multiple academic disciplines have contributed to our understanding of children’s digital literacy practices. Numerous definitions for digital literacy or literacies exist, and scholars have proposed a range of theoretical approaches to the topic. Bill Green’s “3D model” of literacy provides a useful starting point for understanding the different dimensions of children’s digital literacy: operational, cultural, and critical. It is acknowledged that children’s digital literacy practices are specific to particular social and cultural contexts. In particular, scholars have identified important differences between accepted literacy practices in schools and early years’ settings (“school literacies”) and children’s literacy practices in a socioculturally diverse range of home settings (“home literacies”). A growing field of research is explicitly concerned with the unique skills developed at home, as children learn to produce and interpret a range of “new” digital and multimodal texts. At the same time, numerous scholars have suggested that there is still a general lack of progress with regard to early years’ practitioners’ use of technology in the curriculum. Gaps and absences in knowledge still exist, and it will be important for scholars over the coming years to continue research into young children’s digital literacy practices, both in homes and communities and across early years’ settings.