Monday, 4 December 2017

Ontology of Early Childhood

'It is an all the more necessary exercise if we wish to develop a viable science of childhood, which is capable of providing not only interesting descriptions of children’s actual realities but also explanations of why they are so, and what we need to know about them if we want to change them.' (Alanen, 2017)

While reading copious amounts of papers to inform my research design, I have been reminded time and time again that my ontology needs to be absolutely clear in order to create the most appropriate research design. So what is a child’s reality? To explore this concept, I need to go back to the history of how childhood has been socially constructed and how research has delved into the processes of child development. This information will help me to more clearly define my ontology of early childhood.

Constructions of childhood – a timeline

  • In the middle ages children were just seen as an 'adult in waiting' [Aries, 1962] (James & James, 2001)
  • 1600s: Puritan dogma - children were seen as innately evil and needed to be purged from their 'original sin' (Hendrick, 1997)
  • Locke (1632-1704): Argument that children were a blank slate to be shaped by their environment and experiences - focus on becoming rather than being (Uprichard, 2008) (see also Qvortrup, 1994)
  • After WW1, children became 'the future of the nation' and needed to be preserved - rise in welfare state, preventative medicines, interference of the state in family life (Kellett, 2014)
  • UNCRC (1989) Children have rights that need to be upheld provision, protection and participation (Giddens, 1995, adds 'power')
  • 21st century: perceptions of childhood becomes heavily influenced by advertising and media, rise of digital media and loss of outdoor play spaces. (Kehily, 2010)
  • Current construction: agency - the idea that children can operate in a participatory way in their lives, making decisions based on their own views and having a voice.

Child development theories

Piaget (1896-1980) Clearly defined stages of cognitive growth, innate, gradual process of moving from self to others.
  • Sensorimotor - basic senses, all based on what they can see, hear, smell and touch - approx birth-2
  • Preoperational - development based on symbolism, egocentric. Approx age 2-7
  • Concrete - can use inductive reasoning and apply to different situations. Approx age 7-11
  • Formal operations - development of rational thought and construction of identity. Approx teenage years.
Although Piaget’s theories were referred to many times throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, his methods were not completely sound and the findings could not be generalised. Anyone who has worked with young children will know that they do not necessary develop in a linear process and that each child’s course of development is unique to them.

Vygotsky (1896-1934) social constructivist model of child development - zone of proximal development (area between what child can achieve on their own and with the support of an adult). All development starts as an interaction between the child and others, then develops to being an individual process. Vygotsky believed that children had an innate sense of learning, but without the knowledge and support of an adult providing sensitive interactions, they would not necessarily progress. This theory lends itself to the idea of social learning within an appropriately resourced environment.

Malaguzzi (1920-1994) 'It’s necessary that we believe that the child is very intelligent, that the child is strong and beautiful and has very ambitious desires and requests.' Children have 100 languages, ways of communicating. Adults are there to be protagonists and enable children's own thought processes. Similar to the theory of Vygotsky in terms of social and environment, but different in that it moves away from adults being the stronger, more powerful partner in an adult-child interaction, and leads toward children having the power within themselves to learn something, given the appropriate environment.

Bowlby (1969) Attachment theory - children need good attachments to develop socially and emotionally. This theory works alongside – or even surrounding – the theory of social learning. I’ve seen a meme which says you have to do the Maslow before you can do the Blooms! Maslow’s hierarchy of needs basically contains a healthy attachment as the foundation along with basic physical needs, and all learning comes after this.

Bronfenbrenner (1979) The ecology of human development - children are situated within a variety of interlinked contexts which all have an impact on the child's life and development. This theory holds much weight and has previously been also used as a framework for many social science studies. Bronfenbrenner developed it further to include more aspects alongside the context – person characteristics, proximal processes and time. I used this theory to frame my pilot study.

Child development: A UK perspective

In the UK, the Early Years sector is governed by the Department for Education and assessed by Ofsted. The curriculum provides a standard framework for child development, which encompasses several of the theories mentioned above:
'Children are born ready, able and eager to learn. They actively reach out to interact with other people, and in the world around them. Development is not an automatic process, however. It depends on each unique child having opportunities to interact in positive relationships and enabling environments.' (Early Education, 2012)
The following statements from the ‘development matters’ document show the expected development of young children with regard to this particular subject of house moves, which could help to shape my assessment of their experience and understanding.

Personal, social and emotional development
Making relationships: Uses a familiar adult as a secure base from which to explore independently in new environments, e.g. ventures away to play and interact with others, but returns for a cuddle or reassurance if becomes anxious. (16-26 months, p.8) – this relates to attachment theory and how the close relationships a child has with their main caregivers should help to support their resilience throughout a house move of any kind.
Self-confidence and self-awareness: Is more outgoing towards unfamiliar people and more confident in new social situations. (30-50m, p.11) – as they become a little older, they may show resilience throughout a house move due to increased awareness of self.
Managing feelings and behaviour: Can usually adapt behaviour to different events, social situations and changes in routine. (30-50m, p.13) – as previous.

Communication and language
Understanding: Developing understanding of simple concepts (e.g. big/little) (22-36 months, p.17) - moving house is not a simple concept! And… Able to follow a story without pictures or props. (40-60+ months, p.18) - so if we just talk about something that is happening, perhaps they can't envisage it until this age, which is why having stories or props might be helpful.
Speaking: Uses vocabulary focused on objects and people that are of particular importance to them. (30-50 months, p.20) - argument for analysing every word spoken! If children do verbalise their feelings, every word will count.

Reading: Describes main story settings, events and principal characters. (30-50 months, p.29) – this would be relevant if we read stories about moving house together as the child may be able to recall the events and relate them to their own situation.

Shape, space and measures: Understands some talk about immediate past and future, e.g. ‘before’, ‘later’ or ‘soon’. (22-36 months, p.35) – this is highly relevant to a house move because the situation is time bound, with a before and after.

Understanding the world
People and communities: Remembers and talks about significant events in their own experience. (30-50 months, p.38) – this would be a good reason to work with the child to create their own story of moving house and what it meant to them, as it is likely to be a significant event for them.
The world: Enjoys playing with small-world models such as a farm, a garage, or a train track. (22-36 months, p.39) – This is one of the reasons why I wanted to use doll’s house play as one of my support strategies/information gathering exercises.
Technology: Shows an interest in technological toys with knobs or pulleys, or real objects such as cameras or mobile phones. (30-50 months, p.42) – A good reason to use a camera for the children’s own photography.

Expressive arts and design
Exploring and using media and materials: Understands that they can use lines to enclose a space, and then begin to use these shapes to represent objects. (30-50 months, p.44) – This is a good argument for utilising children’s drawings as data.
Being imaginative: Beginning to use representation to communicate, e.g. drawing a line and saying ‘That’s me.’ (22-36 months, p.45) And… Engages in imaginative role-play based on own first-hand experiences. (30-50 months, p.46) – Again, further arguments for the use of drawings and doll’s house role play as part of the methodology.


I couldn’t ever say that I fully understand what reality is for a child. Due to the subjectivity of research with young children, I cannot clearly define my ontology in a scientific way. However, I can summarise! So here’s my attempt to explain my ontology in a short paragraph:

Children’s voices are important and their opinions valid. Children have a right to participate and are able to develop the agency to do so in their own ways. Child development is individual to each child, but influenced by the child’s social world and their environment. Children possess an innate ability to learn. Adults can support this learning in meaningful ways by providing appropriate interactions and resources.


Alanen, L. (2017). Childhood studies and the challenge of ontology. Childhood, 24(2), 147–150.

Aries, P. (1962) Centuries of childhood. London: Cape

Early Education. (2012). Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage, 1–47. Retrieved from

Giddens, A. (1995) Sociology. Oxford: Polity Press

Hendrick (1997) 'Constructions and reconstructions of British childhood: An interpretive survey, 1800 to present', in A. James and A. Prout (eds), Constructing and reconstructing childhood, 2nd edition. Basingstoke: Falmer press

James, A., & James, A. L. (2001). Childhood: Toward a theory of continuity and change. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 575(May), 25–37.

Kehily, M.J. (2010) 'Childhood in crisis? Tracing the contours of crisis and its impact upon contemporary parenting practices', Media culture and society, 32(2): 171-85

Kellett (2014) 'Images of childhood and their influence on research', in Clark, A., Flewitt, R., Hammersley, M. and Robb, M. (eds) Understanding research with children and young people. London: Sage

Uprichard, E. (2008) 'Children as being and becomings: Children, childhood and temporality', Children and society, 22(4): 303-13

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Working with a 'Working Title'

Over the past couple of years I've heard many lecturers and fellow students speak about the 'working title' of their PhD research. Whilst understanding why this might be the case, I felt as though I was quite secure in my title; that it explains what the research is about and wouldn't need changing.

However, over my BLT lunch I just had a moment of clarity where I realised that a) my title is too wordy and b) my focus has actually shifted a little since I first planned the study well over a year ago.

So, previous title was as follows:

'Exploring residential mobility: Learning about how young children experience the transition of moving house and how adults can best support them.'

Arguably, I was correct that it described the study; however, I feel that with my focus being on the support provided throughout the transition, I needed to shift the focus of the title. I also realised that I do not need to include all of the keywords in the title - that's what keywords are for! So 'residential mobility' is out (who actually calls it that on a conversational level, anyway?!). Thus, new title:

'Young children's experiences of support during planned and unplanned house moves.'

Does what it says on the tin, for now. I need to remain open to the possibility that it may need changing again!

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Pilot study results are out!

I have come to the conclusion of my pilot study for this year and have written up a basic outline of the results on my dedicated research website,

This website includes suggested strategies for supporting young children who are due to be moving house. It is by no means exhaustive, but a good start! Please feel free to share the website with others who may appreciate the content.

I will be continuing this study from October for a further three years as part of a PhD in Childhood Studies. I hope to update this blog more regularly as I go through the PhD process, giving insights into the highlights and challenges of studying at this level.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Theoretical Frameworks for research

This entry is all about theoretical frameworks. After my PhD funding interview at Sussex (for which I was not successful) I had feedback which outlined where my proposal was lacking – in the framework area. So I’ve spent the past few days searching for whatever I can find on theoretical frameworks, and come to the conclusion that I was in the right place to begin with, using Bronfenbrenner’s latest bioecological systems theory (Bronfenbrenner & Evans, 2000) as a perspective for gathering my data. 

Here is a summary of this framework and how it fits with my study:
- Proximal processes: interactions with family members, peers, caregivers – how these interactions influence the child.
- Person characteristics: Who the child is – their interests, way they communicate, position in the family etc and how this impacts on their response to a house move.
- Context: Consider different contexts for different case studies – basically identifying the reasons for the move and trying to get case which provide a good comparison against context variables.
- Time: Consider the longitudinal aspect of the study – the child will have a different experience before and after the move and their experience will continue to change over time. Retrospective stories will also contribute to this.

Research which uses Bronfenbrenner as their framework: (Anderson, Newman, et al., 2014; Anderson, Leventhal, & Dupéré, 2014; Claudia Coulton, Francisca Richter, Seok Joo Kim, Robert Fischer, 2016; Coley & Kull, 2016; Leventhal & Newman, 2010; Schmitt, Finders, & McClelland, 2014; Schmitt & Lipscomb, 2016)

Following data gathering and analysis, I will then utilise Bandura’s Social learning/cognitive theory (Bandura, Caprara, Barbaranelli, Regalia, & Scabini, 2011) to support the development of support strategies. 

This theory is as follows:
- Observational learning: internal/external/vicarious reinforcement (behaviourist) – with social learning theory a child can potentially identify with any other person (hence the use of story books).
- Mediational processes: attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. These are internal, mental events – we choose whether or not to pay attention in the first place.
- Critical evaluation: Cognitive control over behaviour, interaction between nature and nurture (biology and environment).
- In education: self-efficacy (mastery, vicarious, verbal persuasion, physiological and affective states). Self-regulation, observational learning and reciprocal determination (triadic reciprocal causation)

Research papers that use Bandura as their theoretical framework: (Bamkin, Maynard, & Goulding, 2016; Bandura et al., 2011; Greig, Taylor, & MacKay, 2011; Waid, 2014)

Bandura also cites the work of (Krantz, 1998) in a piece following his article (Bandura, 1998) who both agree that:

---- (Krantz, 1998, p.87)

I’ve decided that I won’t go with using phenomenology as a framework for this project, although it will clearly fall into this category at many points – it would be too complex to try and work with this framework as well. 

It is described as this:
‘Phenomenology, as the word suggests, is the study of phenomena, alternatively appearances. This notion of appearing is, in turn, related to that of experience since things appear in experience. Phenomenology can thus be described as the study of experience and of things as experienced.’ (Smith, 2016, p.1)

It looks as though it would be a good framework to use, but from further reading I can see that ‘Phenomenology offers neither causal explanations nor therapeutic techniques’ (Fuchs, 2007, p.423). This means that by only focusing on the phenomenon of moving house and the child’s experience of it would not give me a big enough picture to help provide reasons for future detrimental effects. Other case studies have considered this framework but not used it (Bamkin et al., 2016).

‘According to Yin (2003) a case study design should be considered when: (a) the focus of the study is to answer “how” and “why” questions; (b) you cannot manipulate the behaviour of those involved in the study; (c) you want to cover contextual conditions because you believe they are relevant to the phenomenon under study; or (d) the boundaries are not clear between the phenomenon and context.’ (Baxter & Jack, 2008, p.545)

‘Case studies are rich, empirical descriptions of particular instances of a phenomenon that are typically based on a variety of data sources (Yin, 1994).’ (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007, p.25)

Anderson, S., Leventhal, T., & Dupéré, V. (2014). Residential mobility and the family context: A developmental approach. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 35(2), 70–78.
Anderson, S., Newman, S., Dupéré, V., Leventhal, T., Newman, S., & Dupéré, V. (2014). Residential Mobility Among Children: A Framework for Child and Family Policy. Cityscape, 16(1), 5–36. Retrieved from
Bamkin, M., Maynard, S., & Goulding, A. (2016). Grounded theory and ethnography combined. Journal of Documentation, 72(2), 214–231.
Bandura, A. (1998). Commentaries: Exploration of fortuitous determinants of life paths. Psychological Enquiry, 9(2), 95–115.
Bandura, A., Caprara, G. V., Barbaranelli, C., Regalia, C., & Scabini, E. (2011). Impact of family efficacy beliefs on quality of family functioning and satisfaction with family life. Applied Psychology, 60(3), 421–448.
Baxter, P., & Jack, S. (2008). Qualitative Case Study Methodology: Study Design and Implementation for Novice Researchers. The Qualitative Report, 13(4), 544–559. Retrieved from
Bronfenbrenner, U., & Evans, G. W. (2000). Developmental science in the 21st century: Emerging questions, theoretical models, research designs and empirical findings. Social Development, 9(1), 115–125.
Claudia Coulton, Francisca Richter, Seok Joo Kim, Robert Fischer,  and Y. C. (2016). Leveraging Integrated Data Systems to Examine the Effect of Housing and Neighborhood Conditions on Kindergarten Readiness.
Coley, R. L., & Kull, M. (2016). Cumulative, Timing-Specific, and Interactive Models of Residential Mobility and Children’s Cognitive and Psychosocial Skills. Child Development, 87(4), 1204–1220.
Eisenhardt, K., & Graebner, M. (2007). Theory Building from Cases: Opportunities and Challenges. The Academy of Management Journal, 50(1), 25–32. Retrieved from
Fuchs, T. (2007). Psychotherapy of the lived space: A phenomenological and ecological concept. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 61(4), 423–439.
Greig, A., Taylor, J., & MacKay, T. (2011). Doing research with children: a practical guide. London: SAGE.
Krantz, D. (1998). Taming chance: social science and everyday narratives. Psychological Enquiry, 9(2), 87–94.
Leventhal, T., & Newman, S. (2010). Housing and child development. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(9), 1165–1174.
Schmitt, S., Finders, J., & McClelland, M. (2014). Residential Mobility, Inhibitory Control, and Academic Achievement in Preschool. Early Education and Development, 26(2), 189–208.
Schmitt, S., & Lipscomb, S. (2016). Longitudinal associations between residential mobility and early academic skills among low-income children. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36, 190–200.
Smith, J. (2016). Experiencing phenomenology: an introduction. London: Routledge.

Waid, J. (2014). Sibling Foster Care, Placement Stability, and Well-Being: A Theoretical and Conceptual Framework. Journal of Family Social Work, 17(October), 283–297.