Wednesday, 9 December 2015

What next for the early childhood research agenda?

What are the current trends, tensions and innovations in research with young children? What can we learn from early childhood research undertaken in different parts of the world? Where should early childhood research go next? In this blog CRFR Co-Director, Kay Tisdall introduces the recently published Sage Handbook of Early Childhood Research within which she and her co-editors set out to address these questions.

Policy-wise, early childhood used to be largely ignored. But in recent decades, early childhood has gained unprecedented attention, globally and nationally. Certain empirical evidence has helped garner this attention, from the tradition of child development, to the interest of economists, to the brain scans of babies. Qualitative and quantitative research has accumulated, across an even broader range of disciplines. As early intervention and early childhood become popularised policy concerns, it is timely to take stock.

Ann Farrell (Queensland University of Technology) reached out to Sharon Lynn Kagan (Columbia University) and myself, to ask if we wanted to put a book together. The result is the edited collection, just published as The Sage Handbook of Early Childhood Research. We set out to include a broad range of disciplines, both areas with rich and long-standing research investment and emerging ones, and learning from different contexts around the world.

Some of this was challenging to achieve. We were surprised by the number of childhood researchers who felt they ‘didn’t do’ early childhood. The magic age of 8 was a cut off for quite a few of our potential authors. This is a finding in itself: is there too artificial a divide between ‘early childhood’ research and ‘childhood’ research, reifying age and stage distinctions that may not be applicable to the research agendas and questions at hand? Is there more than could be learned across these literatures and research areas? We sought to encourage all authors to think widely, not to assume that their findings would address all diversity and all contexts. While this was well familiar to many of our authors working in the Global South (majority worlds), this was more challenging for some of our authors from the Global North (although generously receptive to our editing suggestions). Some authors came from a critical perspective on early childhood research in general and their own particular areas of work, while others were encouraged to introduce such a critique within their chapter, to stimulate us and future readers.

The book now has four parts: situating early childhood research; theorising early childhood research; conducting early childhood research; applying early childhood research; and considering the future. It covers a wealth of topics (from children in conflict situations to sustainability), a range of methods (from econometrics to narrative inquiry), and disciplines (from human geography to neuroscience). By the end, we identified three focal areas for the future early childhood research agenda. First, we need to address under-considered areas: responsiveness to cultural and ability variation; systematic structures and elements; and global comparison and trends; and the quality of ECE services, their equitable distribution and their sustainability. Second, we need to enhance research methodologies, tools and approaches, including new technologies and valuing both quantitative and qualitative approaches. Third, research results need to be applied more systematically and judiciously.

We conclude that implementing such an agenda is not a short-term or piecemeal undertaking. We aspire to the book contributing to critical reflection and provoking controversial thinking. By doing so, we think this will move early childhood research to its rightful place admist meaningful, sustainable and effective policy and practice.


Do you want to develop your skills in research and consultation with children and young people? Take a look at our Continuing Professional Development courses, delivered by Dr Susan Elsley and Professor Kay Tisdall:

10-11th March 2016: Involving children and young people in research and consultation
28-29th April 2016: Using creative methods in research with children and young people

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