This essay will discuss the new theories of Childhood Studies, possible benefits to teachers
and children and how it relates to New Zealand early childhood practice. Let’s begin by
looking briefly at what childhood studies entails.
Childhood studies is a relatively new field of study that seeks to move away from the outdated
theory of seeing children with a ‘social construction’ lens, where a child is a product of a
particular set of culturally specific norms, to a ‘social constructivist’ lens, which focuses on
the child as an individual and how they interact with their own environment. Not as passive
learners, but people, with agency, who contribute to their own development (Clark, R. 2010).
Childhood studies draw from different fields of study, e.g., psychology, education, health,
anthropology, law, and sociology, and looks at children using a Bronfenbrenner model.
Bronfenbrenner saw a child as being within society, within the bounds of first, it’s family and
setting, or the micro system. Then of its mesosystem, or the connections between the family
and setting. Then of its community, or exosystem, where the microsystem function. Then in
the macrosystem, or greater societal makeup of a child’s particular place of origin. Then lastly
the cronosystem, or particular time in which a child lives, and the historic and societal factors
of that time, that influence children (Clark, R. 2010).
Because childhood studies look at childhood from a wider viewpoint, it allows children to be
seen as functioning individuals within many different societal norms. It highlights problems
with older theories of development e.g. Piaget’s stages of development (Claiborne, L., &
Drewery, W. 2010) Piaget’s stages define children within a narrow beam, with expectations
clearly defined. But in reality, using theories in Childhood Studies, you find children with
vastly different competencies depending on their societal context. E.g. a three year old New
Zealand child will be mostly dependant, protected and facing nothing more challenging than
kindergarten and play, whereas a three year old child from the Congo or the South American
jungle is likely actively participating in serious household chores and contributing to family
survival, undertaking tasks that a New Zealand parent would balk at (Berk, L. 2009).
An interesting crossover is Steiner kindergarten’s practice of teaching children through
participating in everyday life skills. e.g., food preparation, cleaning, gardening, and useful
technological crafts like sewing and weaving (Oldfield, L. 2012), in a typically Western
European setting of a teacher led service.
The discourse that underpins modern European views of ‘normal’ childhoods being
vulnerable and needing to be protected (Clark, 2010), run into problems in the new theories of
childhood studies. When you look at children as competent individuals and give them agency,
empower them and give them room to develop beyond normal expectation, children often
preform well beyond ‘normal’ capabilities. Looking at children through a Childhood Studies
focus forces teachers and researchers to reassess their philosophies and expectations of
children (Clark, 2010).
Although teachers can use normative guides for approximate development, it is too difficult to
paint an exact measure of ‘normal’ and fit all children within that expectation (Clark, 2010).
Average and ideal competency is relative to societal influences, and even in a small countries
like New Zealand, cultural differences in Pacific, Maaori and European cultures provide
stunning examples of different levels of competency, agency and expectation in children.
For example, a strong focus on tuakana/teina relationships in Maaori whanau, or the
expectation of a larger role in siblings caring for...