Changing perspectives on early childhood: theory, research and policy

Woodhead, Martin (2006). Changing perspectives on early childhood: theory, research and policy. International Journal of Equity and Innovation in Early Childhood, 4(2) pp. 1–43.



Early childhood policies and practices are shaped by competing images and discourses of the young child. This paper reviews four core perspectives that have been most influential.

1. A developmental perspective emphasizes regularities in young children’s physical and psychosocial growth during early childhood, as well as their dependencies and vulnerabilities during this formative, phase of their lives.

2. A political and economic perspective is informed by developmental principles, translated into social and educational interventions, and underpinned by economic models of human capital.

3. A social and cultural perspective draws attention to respects in which early childhood is a constructed status and to the diversities of ways it is understood and practised, for, with and by young children, with implications for how goals, models and standards are defined, and by whom.

4. A human rights perspective reframes conventional approaches to theory, research policy and practice in ways that fully respect young children’s dignity, their entitlements and their capacities to contribute to their own development and to the development of services.

For each of these overarching perspectives, the paper outlines a cluster of specific theoretical, research and policy themes, summarizes major areas of controversy, and identifies a range of alternative visions for early childhood.

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