Original Research Paper
Brooke’s Day: One Child’s Experience in an Early Childcare and Education Centre in New Zealand
By Cynthia Margaret Prince
Eastern Institute of Technology, Napier
Prince, C. M. (2012). Brooke’s day: One child’s experience in an early childcare and education centre in New Zealand. NZ Research in Early Childhood Education Journal, 15, 120-131. Retrieved from http://www.childforum.com/research/2012-nzrece-journal-articles/889-childs-experience-early-childcare-education-centre-new-zealand.html
What is a child’s everyday experience of attending a fulltime early childhood education and care centre? This case study focuses upon one child’s experience within a centre in New Zealand and proposes that meaningful learning can occur when a child attends an early childcare programme. The methods used to gather data were videotaping, an observation of the child over the duration of one day, photo-elicitation and a semi-structured interview. Aspects of process, play, programme, environment, and interactions were examined. The rights of the child were examined and meaningful links were made with the national curriculum Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996). A socio-cultural approach provided the theoretical underpinning of the overall analysis. The findings provide a unique glimpse into one child’s daily experience in a childcare setting. Through centre examples it highlights a child’s rights to education and care and illustrates the principles of Te Whāriki in action through the learning experiences offered at the centre.
Key words: Childcare, child experience, curriculum, learning, child rights.
In examining one child’s experience of a childcare setting the question of children’s rights is paramount. Of this issue Te One (2009) outlines: “...three different types of rights, Protection rights, which are rights that protect children; Provision rights that ensure children are provided for; and Participation rights that assure children’s participation in all areas that concern them” (Te One, 2010, p. 18). In contrast, Smith (2007), places emphasis on children’s competency and lived experience as social agents. In her view the existence of many differing childhoods is also significant (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2009). Dalberg, Moss, and Pence (2006) argue that: “Children have a recognised and independent place in society, with their own rights as individual human beings and full members of society” (p. 49).
Research on the co-construction of knowledge began with Vygotsky’s ideas about socially constructed learning between adults and children. MacNaughton and Williams (2009) argue that co-construction as a teaching strategy “...refers to staff and children forming meaning and building knowledge about the world with each other” (p. 228). This emphasis on co-constructing meaning and knowledge between staff and children is supported by Palincsar (1998) and elucidated by Jordan (2009). She argues that: “Studying meaning requires teachers and children to make sense of the world, interpreting and understanding activities and observations as they interact with each other” (p. 43). An example of this occurs when children engage with the world and have their own ideas and theories. These can be extended (or challenged) through social interactions with others.
Another important socio-cultural concept is inter-subjectivity. Anning (2009) defines it thus: “...intersubjectivity refers to shared meanings that are co-constructed as participants engage in collaborative activity” (p. 84). In an early childhood sense inter-subjectivity is viewed as the interaction between children and their teachers who involve them in the socio-cultural life of the centre and highlight shared meanings and behaviours. Therefore, in terms of the focus of this research study, co-construction of knowledge (Jordan, 2009; MacNaughton & Williams, 2009; Palincsar, 1998) and inter-subjectivity (Anning, 2009) were significant concepts to consider. As theoretical underpinnings of the research they serve to enhance the shared meanings about the centre environment and learning experiences contributed by the child, other children, and the teachers.
Early childhood curriculum
Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996) is the national early childhood curriculum framework. It is comprised of four principles; Empowerment, Holistic Development, Family and Community, and Relationships. Five strands, Wellbeing, Belonging, Contribution, Communication, and Exploration support the principles. Relevant goals under each strand outline the environment a child should experience within an early childhood centre if the five strands are to be met. Reflective questions are included in the curriculum document to encourage teachers to change and improve their practice (Ministry of Education, 1996).
Nuttall and Edwards (2007) suggest that “Te Whāriki …draws from socio-cultural and ecological understandings about the open nature of children’s interactions with the world and everything they encounter in it” (p. 4). As a curriculum document it is based on the following espoused aspirations for children: “To grow up as competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body, and spirit, secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to society” (p. 9). Te One (2006) argues that this curriculum statement suggests children have citizenship rights. If so what do these rights look like? Do they focus on the children’s future economic contribution to a democracy or do they value a child’s present daily contribution within the early childhood curriculum? These questions highlight the controversial nature of children’s rights. Curriculum as it applies to Te Whāriki (Ministry of Education, 1996) is explained as: “… the sum total of the experiences, activities, and events, whether direct or indirect, which occur within an environment designed to foster children’s learning and development” (p. 10). Therefore, both the aspirations for children and the term curriculum, as outlined above, are very relevant to this research study. Moreover, if we truly believe that children are: “competent and confident learners and communicators” (p. 9) then the aim of this research study to capture one child’s experiences within an early childhood setting is acceptable.
The question investigated in this study was what is one child’s everyday experience when attending a fulltime early childhood education and care centre?
The centre was chosen as the researcher, a middle class, pākehā, academic, had conducted previous research there and had an on-going relationship. Sunny Days Education and Childcare Centre is located opposite a primary school in a suburban area of a provincial city in the North Island of New Zealand. It is a full day education and care centre, open five days a week from 7.45am- 5.15pm. It is licensed for 45 children 2-5 years.
Brooke, the child of focus, was selected on advice from Cheryl the centre supervisor. Brooke met the criteria of attending fulltime while her parents worked. Another consideration was she displayed levels of confidence suitable for taking part in the research
Seven teachers and one Group Special Education Support Worker took part in the research and were the staff on the roster the day of the filming. The staff were either qualified with a Diploma of Teaching (ECE) or were studying to gain a qualification.
This study took an intrinsic case study approach. According to Stake (2000) a case study is rooted in qualitative research and is a choice of what is to be studied (Yin, 1989). A case study, Yin argues, happens in a real life setting and relies on triangulation of evidence from multiple sources (in this research study, video recording, semi-structured interview, and focus child researcher observations). An intrinsic case study is conducted to gain a better understanding of the case (Stake, 2000).
a) Focus child observations
The focus child observation method was chosen as it concentrated on the child’s observable behaviour within the centre environment. This method was complementary to the video footage. The format of the observation schedule allowed for the researcher to record the time events occurred, as well as linking the observation to relevant theories and concepts.
b) Video recording
Heath and Hindmarsh (2002, cited in Prosser & Loxley, 2008) suggest that for those interested in the interactions within a chosen environment, video recording captures the ‘situated’ actions of the setting. Flewitt (2006) also argues that video recording can provide insights into children’s communication not previously examined in early childhood education. Aarsand and Forsberg (2010) used video recording in an ethnographic study of Swedish family life. They argue that video recording is a material discursive practice and can impact on a child’s corporeal privacy. Sparrman and Lindgren (2010) suggest that videotaping to gain a child’s experience can create a fine line between documentation and surveillance. However, taking cognisance of these latter perspectives it was still considered that video recording was the most appropriate medium to capture Brooke’s everyday experience in a centre. The filming was undertaken by a student cameraman in the video production unit of a tertiary institution.
c) Respondent generated visual data
As a visual researcher the dilemma is how the research is conducted (Wagner, 2001). The video recording concentrated on Brooke’s lived experiences in her childcare centre environment interacting with familiar children and teachers. Although I was known to the child I did not intrude on the events being filmed. Instead I used an unobtrusive observation technique to record Brooke’s learning experiences. This was a deliberate strategy on my part aimed to privilege the child’s experience and to create a more equitable power relationship between the child and myself. Moreover, Brooke was filmed by a cameraman familiar to her and the children at the centre. He had previously created a video of the children’s play that was shown at a parent evening. However, a note of caution must be offered here that despite the efforts at empowerment, responsibility for the research undertaken is ultimately the researcher’s (Prosser & Loxley, 2008).
d) Photo elicitation
Photo elicitation is a respondent generated data technique employed in qualitative research. It uses photos (including video images) to gain a response from participants of what they are seeing of the experiences recorded (Johnson & Weller, 2001). Elicitation was used in this research study to interpret the video recorded events. Furthermore, it empowered the child to evoke her personal memory of events as opposed to an entirely researcher perspective.
e) Semi-structured interviews
A semi-structured interview (Robinson & Lai, 2006) was used in conjunction with Brooke’s response to photo elicitation. It was conducted by Cheryl, the centre supervisor, who was familiar with Brooke, as well as the content of the video recording. The interview consisted of a selection of questions. Three questions inform this research. The purpose of the semi-structured interview was to gain an overview of Brooke’s experience in the centre.
Ethical approval to conduct the research was given by the Eastern Institute of Technology’s Ethics Committee. It was explained to the participants that the research would involve filming one child’s day at the centre. Advice was sought as to a suitable focus child and Brooke, (a girl, 4 years 6 months) was selected. Her parents gave informed consent (Brooke gave her assent) for her to be involved and gave written permission for her name to be used. This also applied to the centre (Sunny Days) who agreed to be identified. A confidentiality agreement was signed by the cameraman. Informed consent was gained from the participants during a researcher visit to the centre. An explanation of the research, information sheets, and consent forms were distributed to the teachers and to a Group Special Education Support Worker. The right to opt in or out of the research was also discussed.
Table 1 below outlines how Brooke’s learning experiences over one day at the centre were found to be linked with the strands and goals of Te Whāriki.
Brooke’s learning experiences
In Table 1, Brooke’s experiences are recorded under the strands Wellbeing, Belonging, Contribution, Communication, Exploration, and associated goals. The criteria used to link Brooke’s experiences with the strands and goals were the researcher’s subjective judgements based on knowledge of Te Whāriki.
A number of socio-cultural events such as meal-times, mat-times, rest-times and interactions occurred. Meal-times offered learning opportunities for hand washing routines, karakia (prayer), and social interaction about healthy food. Mat-times extended Brooke and the other children as they co-constructed knowledge through the literacy experiences offered (story books, songs, and rhymes). Rest-times gave rhythm to a child’s day, offering a quiet time for those who attend long hours, such as Brooke.
Table 1: Brooke’s experiences and how they linked to Te Whāriki
Home Centre link
Equitable opportunities without discrimination
Non Verbal Communication
Play is Valued
Children have a place
Affirmed as individuals
Gaining control over their bodies
Comfortable with routines
Learn alongside others
Symbols and stories of the culture
Expressive and Creative
Interactions occurred between Brooke, her teachers, the other children, and her special friend, S, and these resulted in meaningful curriculum experiences. Brooke’s cognitive development, recall and problem solving were probably enhanced through the learning experiences of the computer, books, puzzles, and the Connect 4 game. At the time of the filming a child initiated an interest in dramatic play involving hairstyles and make-up. To support this dramatic play a kit of make-up and hairdressing equipment was made available to the children. The special relationship Brooke and the children have with their teacher (Paula) allowed them to invite her into their play as a model. Brooke took the lead and made the decision on what make-up to use, and the hair style. The teacher and children have inter-subjectivity about the process, and the real life dramatic play that results. Brooke also made sand angels, and played Duck Duck Goose with familiar teachers. Inter-subjectivity was evident in the birthday celebration for the teacher (Paula) at mat time. There was a birthday cake with candles, kisses, a present and a card. Moreover, the children were able to sing happy birthday to her in te reo Māori and English. Brooke and her friend’s involvement in the core curriculum areas of domestic play, hopscotch, and riding bikes gave further evidence of the meaning making characteristic of inter-subjectivity. All of these learning experiences were offered daily at the centre.
Brooke’s response to the video
Brooke was shown the video recording with Cheryl (the supervisor) and asked to comment. She was incredibly shy to begin with and overawed, and was understandably reluctant to share her views, even with prompting from Cheryl. As the video recording continued, she ‘warmed up’ and this resulted in her perception coming through (accompanied by lots of giggling and laughter). The latter was epitomised when Cheryl asked if she liked watching the video about herself. Brooke responded: “I laughed when it was Paula’s birthday. Me and S gave her a present and the card was with it.”
She was able to articulate what was important to her about her learning experiences. The importance of a child’s perceptions was also outlined in research by Wiltz and Klein (2000) who sought to capture children’s perceptions on quality in an early childhood setting.
This occurred after Brooke had viewed the video recording and had made comment. A selection of questions was asked and three are recorded here.
Question one: What do you like best about coming to Sunny Days?
Brooke: Playing with S and my friends
Question Two: What did you enjoy doing with S?
Brooke: Playing in the sandpit and climbing upside down on the bars. That’s what we always do sometimes. S has one at her home and we play on it when I go there
Question Three: Do you like books?
Brooke: I like Santa Claus books as we do have one here. Oh yes I like my profile book. I like looking at photos of me. [Profile books are an assessment tool]
Brooke’s responses to the interview questions highlight socio-cultural theory, including the concepts of co-construction of knowledge, and inter-subjectivity. For instance, in question one when asked what she likes best about Sunny Days, socialising with her friend S and other children was paramount. One of Brooke’s favourite learning experiences at the centre was playing with her friend S (and others) in the domestic play area. Brooke’s social and cognitive development was supported when the two girls, co-constructed knowledge together about their dramatic play.
Co-construction of knowledge was obvious in question two when Brooke discussed the different techniques she and her friend S used on the climbing bars both at the centre and at the home of S. When Brooke hangs her head down the two girls co-construct knowledge about swinging and Brooke’s assertion “that’s what we always do sometimes results.”
Inter-subjectivity about the culture of the childcare centre is highlighted in question three. An example of this occurred at the end of the day when most children had left. Brooke requested a special book reading time with one of the teachers. The centre culture meant that at the end of the day a child has the opportunity for personal interaction with one teacher. This one on one time allowed Brooke to co-construct meaning and build knowledge about the contents of the book with her teacher. Furthermore, her profile book records Brooke’s learning and enculturation into the centre. Children of Brooke’s age are ego-centric, according to Piaget and Inhelder (1969), and this was apparent in her answer about enjoying viewing her profile book “because I like looking at photos of me.”
The significance of this research study is that by recording the learning experiences that happen for a child it offers a window into Brooke’s everyday world at the centre. There is a perception in society that learning begins when a child goes to school and does not happen at home or in other settings such as an early childhood centre. The Competent Children Project (a longitudinal study) suggests that in early childhood education children learn social skills such as communication, perseverance, and curiosity (Wylie, 1998). These skills, encouraged by teachers in early childhood education settings, can strengthen a child’s desire to learn. Allowing Brooke to respond to her experience by viewing the video and expressing her views, validates the methods used (video recording, photo elicitation, semi-structured interviews) to gain an insight into the experiences of a child in centre setting.
Brooke’s learning was socio-cultural in nature and this was evident through the analysis of her experiences in relation to the Te Whāriki curriculum strands and goals. Brooke’s well-being was nurtured through a healthy and safe centre environment. Her familiarity with the routines of the centre and through interactions with others in the environment, made her realise she belonged as a valued member of her learning community. Brooke’s creative contribution was expressed through the arts, familiar songs and rhymes and dramatic play. Her communication (both verbal and non-verbal) in te reo Māori (for singing Happy Birthday) and English allowed her to express herself through literacy experiences and her interactions with others. Finally, through active exploration she learnt that her play was valued by others. She demonstrated control over her body through the challenges of her outdoor play. Furthermore, her thinking and reasoning through cognitive pursuits, likely supported her theories of the natural, physical, social, and material worlds.
This study provides insight into the learning experiences of one child in a childcare centre programme. It highlighted the importance of considering children’s rights and the account of events experienced by Brooke verified this proposition. This research study shows how the principles of Empowerment, Holistic Development, Family and Community, and Relationships as outlined in Te Whāriki may relate to a child’s experiences in childcare (Ministry of Education, 1996). Brooke was empowered through photo elicitation and a semi-structured interview to clearly express her experience of attending Sunny Days. Her perspective was captured, and offered a unique glimpse into her world. Her holistic development was nurtured through the variety of learning experiences and the education, care and supervision offered by professional staff. Family and community were represented through Brooke’s parents and her friend S who linked the socio-cultural learning in the home with that of Sunny Days. The principle of relationships was encapsulated in Brooke’s close relationships with her teachers, the other children, and her special friend S. Therefore, all four principles worked together to provide Brooke with an experience in an early childhood setting that was enjoyable and meaningful for her.
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About the Author
Dr Cynthia Prince is a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Education at the Eastern Institute of Education in Hawke’s Bay. She has 30 years experience in early childhood education as a practitioner and academic. Her research interests are in environmental and sustainability education. This was the focus of a Master’s degree and Doctorate gained from Massey University. Cynthia has had her environmental work published internationality as a book in Germany and in a European early childhood research journal.
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