Relational pedagogy in early childhood education. What does the literature tell us?

Research project: Relational pedagogy in early childhood education. What does the literature tell us?

Researcher: Dr Theodora Papatheodorou

Synopsis: Relationships are crucial throughout life and transcend time, geographical, cultural and discipline boundaries and it is even more so at children’s early stages of life. Indeed, relationship formation is at the heart of early childhood care and education curricula and practices and well-ingrained in the consciousness of early years educators.

While philosophical and cultural notions of existence in the world converse with evidence from neuroscience about child development and the values and practices of early years educators, the field of early years education is at an early stage in conceptualising and empirically exploring the relational and social nature of pedagogy. It was only in the early 2000s that relationships started to be investigated from a pedagogical perspective and the term relational pedagogy emerged in the field of early childhood education.

A literature review has been conducted aiming to compile an annotated bibliography and to map the field of relational pedagogies since the early 2000s. Two research questions were posed:

  1. What literature is currently available about relational pedagogies in early childhood education?
  2. What does current literature tell us about the conceptualisation and application of relational pedagogies in early childhood education?
  • To locate the relevant literature the following inclusion criteria were established:
  • Publications from 2000s onwards only
  • Children’s age up to 8 years old
  • Early childhood educational provision of different types
  • Conceptual papers, empirical research papers, practice-focused papers, books and edited volumes
  • Conceptual papers of relevance to education in general.

Papers which focused on older age groups in education were excluded.

The literature review revealed that the field of relational pedagogy is still at its infancy, but encouragingly more publications have appeared during the last five years. Conceptually, relational pedagogy is explored and advocated from an ontological perspective, meaning that human experience is understood in relation to others, underpinned by a dynamic mutuality, affectivity and ethics of care that are realised through dialogical encounters.

From empirical research, relational pedagogy is understood in terms of early years educators’ accepting and caring attitude; establishing personal relationships and connection before exercising professional roles; enabling children’s socialisation and learning; providing reassurance and validation; being knowledgeable; exercising common knowledge and relational agency; knowing children’s interests and working closely with families. Creating joyful experiences that enable dialogue, mutuality, and reciprocity are key features of relational pedagogies.

The existing literature revealed that there are recurrent overlapping as well as divergent themes, illustrating the multi-layered and multi-faceted complexity of relation formation, revealing the challenges in articulating a relational pedagogy epistemology at a conceptual and applied practice level. However, articulating a relational pedagogy epistemology is crucial for understanding the nature of relationships developed in a professional capacity as opposed to relationships established in a personal capacity in familial and friendship context.

Relationality in a professional capacity may overlap with personal relationships, but it is different too. Relationality in a professional capacity is subject to certain personal and institutional conditions and circumstances and requires a range of competencies which could be developed and enhanced though training. Such competencies, however, can often be indeterminable, requiring a high level of awareness and alertness on the part of the early years educators.

Acknowledgements: With thanks to Bogdan Dragomir, Graduate Research Intern at Norland, who assisted with the initial literature searches and preliminary review of selected papers.

Funding: The Graduate Research Internship was funded by Norland Foundation.

• Papatheodorou, T. Relational Pedagogies in Early Childhood Education – Annotated Bibliography (submitted for review)
• Papatheodorou, T. Relational pedagogies in early childhood education: Mapping the field (Paper submitted)
• Papatheodorou, T. Relational pedagogies in early childhood education. Conceptualisation, implications for practice, and the challenges for evaluation, Webinar at Aristoteleio University, Thessaloniki Greece, 7 May 2022 (Title in Greek: Σχεσιοδυναμική παιδαγωγική στην προσχολική αγωγή και εκπαίδευση: Θεωρητική προσέγγιση, πρακτικές εφαρμογές και η πρόκληση αξιολόγησης)

Baby Weaning: a scoping review of the scientific and popular literature

Research project: Baby weaning: a scoping review of the scientific and popular literature

Researcher: Amy Prescott

The first 1000 days of a child’s life is a critical period for development; these 1000 days can have repercussions that are often seen later in adulthood. From a nutritional standpoint, the decisions made regarding complementary feeding may have a significant impact on a child that could  influence and reduce  child obesity, chronic diseases, cognitive, motor and socio-affective development, learning capacity and child mortality. The introduction of complementary foods to an infant’s diet is an important step, and represents a time for optimal health, growth, and development. The World Health Organisation advises all infants to be exclusively breastfed for a minimum of 6 months and continue to breastfeed with complementary foods until 2 years or beyond. This is especially salient given that undernutrition is associated with 45% of child deaths, and in many countries less than a quarter of infants aged 6-23 months meet the criteria of dietary diversity and feeding frequency.

Given the importance of this process, it is unsurprising that caregivers often feel inundated with information relating to how and when to begin weaning; caregivers want to give their baby a healthy start but struggle to make sense of the advice and guidelines, which may often send conflicting messages. Therefore, this project has been initiated with the aim of critically examining both the current scientific and popular literature about how to effectively wean infants to offer an objective evaluation for caregivers and practitioners. The research questions are:

  1. What are the key approaches to weaning or complementary feeding?
  2. What are the key issues or influences for caregivers when deciding how to wean their child?

The rapid review was conducted by two reviewers using an extensive search strategy, screening process, results, and data extractions. The preliminary findings, following thematic analysis, revealed 5 higher order and 14 lower order themes which formed the basis for the overarching theme of practitioner perspective versus caregiver instinct. The 5 themes comprised of: (1) guidelines and advice, (2) optimal time for weaning, (3) influence of solid food introduction on growth, (4) in the home, and (5) weaning styles: benefits and risks.

Outputs: Project report


With thanks to the advisory group:

  • Deborah Buck,
  • Emily Luff
  • Dr Paulette Luff
  • Penny Lukins,
  • Katie McClusky,
  • Theodora Papatheodorou,

Funding: The Baby Weaning project has been funded by Norland Foundation.

For more information, please contact Dr Theodora Papatheodoro: [email protected]

What are the perceived benefits of students participating in a voluntary sewing group?

Research project: What are the perceived benefits of students participating in a voluntary sewing group?

Researcher: Kate Jaeger

Synopsis: The benefits of engaging in arts and crafts, including sewing, have been well documented in the literature. Learning a new skill, meeting new people, engaging in a relaxing activity are all things that are cited in the literature and I have personally experienced and observed others enjoying, as a sewing lecturer.

There is research exploring the benefits of arts and crafts with various minority groups, but not specifically with sewing and students. This triggered my research project. At the beginning of 2020, I approached first year students at Norland College to offer them the opportunity to attend a 6-week, voluntary sewing group.

My aim was to trial a sewing programme to refine and finalise for its implementation with other groups in the wider community and research the perceived benefits of students attending the group. The sewing programme was delivered over a period of six weeks. Fourteen students participated in the programme. Ethical approval was received before conducting the research project.

I used case study action research methodology to address the aims of the study Methods of collecting data included a weekly diary, completed by students and a reflective diary kept myself. Qualitative data were analysed using thematic analysis and descriptive statistics were used for quantitative data.

Quality(ies) of home-based childcare

Research project: Quality(ies) of home-based childcare

This research project is a collaboration between Norland College and the Early Childhood Research Group, Anglia Ruskin University 

Lead researchers: Dr Theodora Papatheodorou, Norland and Dr Paulette Luff, Angila Ruskin University

Research team: Mandy Edmond, Norland, Dr Kay Aaronricks, Anglia Ruskin University, Selvie Hayward, Norland and Jessica Bradley, Norland

Note: The Qualities of Home-Based Childcare project was initially conceptualised by the lead researchers in Spring 2020. Due to COVId-19, the project was postponed and commenced in summer 2021 with a revised methodology to ensure adherence to COVID-19 guidelines.


Home-based  education and care is an under-researched area, compared with centre-based provision,  and less is known about its  qualities.  This project was conducted to explore the qualities of home-based childcare, based on the reported experiences of registered childminders and trained nannies, posing the following research questions are posed:

  • What are the key qualities and characteristics of home-based childcare, offered by childminders and nannies?
  • What are the perceived benefits, as perceived by childminders and nannies?
  • What are the professional training and continuous professional development opportunities for childminders and nannies?
  • What would make possible an expansion of home-based childcare, as part of national policies and financing arrangements?

The study was carried out in two phases. An initial scoping study was conducted to build a comprehensive picture of what is known and what is not known about home-based child care. In the second phase primary data was collected, by means of an online survey and focus group discussions, used in a sequential manner.


Papatheodorou, T. Luff, P. Aaronricks, K. Edmond, M. Hayward, S. and Jessica Bradley. Qualities of home-based Childcare, Research project report. Bath Norland

Papatheodorou, T. Luff, P. (forthcoming) Relational foundations of home-based childcare


Aaronricks, K., and Luff, P., Pedliham, R. and Papatheodorou, T. (2021) Childminders and nannies beyond the walls: What is distinctive about home-based childcare? Paper presentation at Norland Annual Conference (28 June 2021)

Edmond, M. (2022) Qualities of Homebased Childcare Project: What Practitioners Need to Know, Paper presentation at Norland Annual conference, (28 June)

Luff, P. and Papatheodorou, T. (2022) Exploring the centrality of relationships in home-based childcare.  Paper presentation at Norland Annual conference, (28 June)

Papatheodorou, T., Luff, P., Aaronricks, K. and Edmond, M. (2022) Home-Based Child Care: What’s in it? What are the Challenges? Could it be an alternative model of childcare? Paper presentation at the 74 OMEP international conference, Athens Greece (12-15 July)

Papatheodorou, T. and Luff (2022) Relational Foundations of home-based childcare, Paper presentation at the Virtual RCEN conference, organised by the University of Sacramento-USA (11-13 June) 


With thanks to Holly Forster & Marianna Misca, Research Interns at ARU, who supported the initial phase of the scoping study


  • The project was funded by Norland Foundation
  • The ARU Research Interns were funded by ARU
  • The Norland Graduate Research Intern was funded by Norland Foundation

For more information, please contact:

Dr Theodora Papatheodorou: [email protected]

Dr Paulette Luff: [email protected]

The demographic of Norland students

Research project: The demographic of Norland students

Researcher: Dee Burn

Supported by: Kexin Cheng (Graduate Research Intern)

Synopsis: This 12-month project aims to develop a rich understanding of Norland students as they embark on the first steps of their Norland journey from first point of contact through to enrolment. It will look at Norland student demographics compared to the national picture of undergraduate students in the early years and related subject areas. The project will also focus in on student motivations, aspirations and their key questions and concerns prior to beginning their studies at Norland. Widening participation will also be considered in line with Norland’s commitment to finding and supporting those who will make the very best early years practitioners regardless of age, gender, disability, ethnic or socio-economic background. The project aims to produce a set of detailed student personas that will inform and guide Norland’s recruitment, teaching and learning, student support and lifelong career support activities.

Curriculum mapping

Research project: Curriculum mapping

Researcher: Dr Theodora Papatheodorou

Supported by: Alice Lucas Clements (Graduate Research Intern)

Synopsis: This project has been initiated with the aim of developing a framework for reviewing Norland’s existing curricula and informing future directions of provision. A literature review has been conducted reviewing existing higher education and early childhood studies specific policies and requirements. Relevant research about the state and status of early childhood degrees, especially after the publication of the critical 2012 Nutbrown Review of early education and childcare qualifications, was also reviewed. Preliminary findings revealed that after 2013, there is a proliferation of early childhood studies degrees offered by higher education institutions, but there is limited research of the quality of these qualifications and their contribution to the professionalisation of the sector.

A full analysis of current literature is in progress.

Read Executive Summary

Read the report

An examination of viva as an assessment tool for work-based assessment in early childhood undergraduate studies

Research project: An examination of viva as an assessment tool for work-based assessment in early childhood undergraduate studies

Researcher: Tom Parsons

Supported by: Juliane Buchheit (Graduate Research Intern)

Autistim in very young children, up to four-years-old - Development of a support programme

Research project: Autism in very young children, up to four-years-old – Development of a support programme

Researchers: Dr Theodora Papatheodorou and Amy Prescott

Project duration: 2021-22


Autism, also referred to as Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition which cannot be treated or cured. However, if the condition is diagnosed early on, autistic children can be supported to enhance their potential, strengths, and capacities to lead a fully functioning life.  Yet, there is limited knowledge and understanding of autism especially among very young children (0-4yrs) indicating a clear gap in scientific research.

This research project was conducted in three phases. In the first phase a systematic literature review  was conducted to establish existing scientific evidence about autism in very young children. Consequently, existing scientific findings were reviewed and conceptualised to develop a framework that informed the development of a support programme.  In the second phase, the First Steps – An Early Autism Family Support Programme was designed with the input of experiences therapists, autism experts, and parents of children with autism. In the third phase, the support programme was piloted in order to review its implementation and  revise the programme document, systems and processes, accordingly.

The research project was initiated by Norland in collaboration with the Transforming Autism project. Norland has licensed the First Steps – An Early Autism Family Support Programme to TAP for its implementation.


Papatheodorou, T. and Prescott, A. (2022) First Steps: An Early Autism Family Support programme.  Bath: Norland (programme licensed to Transforming Autism Project for implementation)

Papatheodorou, T. and Prescott, A. (2021) The early signs of autism and interventions for children up to the age of four years old: A systematic review of the literature. Bath: Norland (Unpublished report)

Papatheodorou, T. and Prescott, A. (forthcoming). Sensory and Affective Reciprocity in Child and Caregiver Interactions: A Metamorphic Framework for Supporting Young Autistic Children and their caregivers (in preparation)

Papatheodorou, T. and Prescott, A. (forthcoming) Home-Based Support for Young Autistic Children:  Programme co-design with the synergy of researchers, child therapists and caregivers. In Papaneophytou, N. and Das, U. (eds)  Autism: A Metamorphic Orientation Toward Systems, People, and Things (abstract submitted)


Papatheodorou, T. and Prescott, A. (2021) Intervening early – Developing a therapeutic intervention framework for young autistic children. Paper presented at Norland Research Conference (29 June)

Papatheodorou, T. and Prescott, A. (2022) In-home support for very young autistic children and their caregivers; The crucial role of sensory and affective reciprocity in child and caregiver interactions. Paper presented at Norland Research Conference (28 June)

Papatheodorou, T. and Prescott, A. (2023). Sensory and Affective Reciprocity in Child and Caregiver Interactions: A Metamorphic Framework for Supporting Young Autistic Children and their caregivers. Paper accepted at the International Oxford Roundtable, Session Special and Gifted Education, March 12-15, 2023


With thanks to the following therapists and experts for their input during the design of the Autism Support framework and the bespoke programme for the Transforming Autism Project charity

  • Zuzana Camm, Child Psychotherapist and Advanced DIRFloortime Practitioner and Coach (Child therapist, Transforming Autism Project)
  • Shaun and Sharon Halloran, parents of an autistic child
  • Aaliya Mavani, Occupational Therapist (Transforming Autism Project)
  • Sarah McDonald, Project manager (Transforming Autism)
  • Dhakshini Patel, Integrated Child Psychotherapist (Lead child therapist, Transforming Autism Project)
  • Giora Shayngesicht, Developmental Therapist and Supervisor at the Mifne Center in Israel (external member)
  • Dr Susanna Towers, autism expert and parent of an autistic child (external member)
  • Jane Yates, Integrative Child and Adolescent Psychotherapeutic Counsellor (Child therapist, Transforming Autism Project)


 The project was funded by Norland Foundation

Learn more about the programme

The neuroscience of play: a scoping study

Research project: The neuroscience of play: a scoping study

Researchers: Dr Janet Rose and Lucie Wheeler

Project duration: 2021

Synopsis: Neuroscience research has been present for many years now, however the emerging branch of Neuroeducation – brain science focused on child development and learning – has created a need to explore in further depth the workings of a child’s brain. Whilst the literature is starting to grow around brain development in children, there is little that shows what happens in a child’s brain when they are engaging in play-based activities and learning. Many claims have been made about the benefits of play for young children’s learning and development largely based on observational or self-reporting research.  However, there is an opportunity for the neurosciences to offer additional insights and confirmatory evidence about the impact play has on learning.  This will enable adults to understand more effectively how they might create an optimal environment for young children’s brains and their role within this.  This project has undertaken  an extensive search of the current literature around neuroscience and play in order to ascertain what already exists and what next steps might be needed in terms of future research.

A scoping literature review was carried out on Norland’s online platform Discovery. Findings were extracted and inserted into a summarised table format where a thematic analysis was carried out to analyse and code the findings and create themes to give further searches direction.

The following issues emerged from the scoping study:

  • There are limited studies in this area, at least in part due to ethical implications of the type of research required.
  • Physical, social, thematic and dramatic play all aid in brain development, specifically Rough-and-Tumble play (RTP) which aids in decoding emotions and helps foster a sense of safety whilst developing the social brain.
  • Adults and the environment are critical for the developing child. The interactions between adult and child, and the environment in which these interactions take place, are a crucial catalyst in how that child’s brain develops.
  • The architecture of the brain is established in the early years by both genetic and environmental influences. The brain is hardwired to perform tasks such as breathing, circulation and reflexes, and softwired to adapt to external stimuli and develop further. Animal studies have supported the idea of play influencing the brain development of children.


  • Further research is required to explore this topic in more depth via a wider range of outputs.
  • Adults need to be better supported to learn and develop their understanding of research from the neurosciences and how they can help.
  • Policy makers should acknowledge the importance of the adult and environment on brain development and support the industry accordingly.

Outputs: Project report


  • Abstract submitted for a paper publication in a research journal
  • Conference paper in preparation for submission to an international conference

Funding: The project was funded by Norland Foundation for the recruitment of a Graduate Research Intern

The Festival of Quilts 18-21 August 2022

National Exhibition Center, Birmingham, UK

Title of Piece: Love Never Faileth – Norland 125th Anniversary Quilt

Project by: Kate Jaeger

Name of principal makers: Kate Jaeger; Kristina Coles; Nicola Giddings; Katie McCluskey; staff and students at Norland ; Children at St Stephen’s School, Bath; Mary-Jane Hutchinson Trym quilting, long arm quilting. Special thanks to Marion Bedford for her help and advice

Artist’s statement/inspiration:

As the Sewing Lecturer at Norland, I was inspired to make this Love Never Faileth quilt to commemorate Norland’s 125th anniversary. During my research I had come across Blackwork, Redwork and Bluework quilts and loved the simplicity of using an embroidered outline and one colour to create a picture. Redwork is a form of embroidery developed in the 19th century. Redwork designs were outlined pictures created using simple linear stitches exclusively worked in red thread on white fabric. Traditionally red threads were chosen because red dyes were the first commercially available colourfast dyes.  Later Bluework and Blackwork quilts became popular too.

As children are at the heart of everything we do at Norland, we felt it was important that children were involved in the creation of the quilt somehow. As my research ideas came together, creating a quilt using children’s’ drawings and the Bluework formula seemed the obvious way to include children. Blue is a historical colour of Norland, taken from the speedwell flower that has featured on the badge awarded to fully qualified Norlanders since the 1900s.

I visited a local primary school in Bath, which hosts Norland students on placement, and asked the children to create line drawings of Norland Nannies and the activities they like to do with them. The children enthusiastically drew all kinds of wonderful pictures and playful scenes depicting joyful moments.

Norland staff and students transferred the children’s drawings onto squares of unbleached cotton, which were then embroidered in a speedwell blue colour thread using simple embroidery stitches. The fabric used for the sashing was created during a printing project as a mop-up cloth which created the fantastic painterly effect. Speedwell flowers were appliqued and used as the four anchor stones and Norland’s two founding mottoes, ‘Love Never Faileth’ and ‘Strength in Adversity’, are included using print.

This commemorative quilt is a celebration of children and everything they love to do, depicted through their drawings and lovingly stitching by Norland staff and students. It is a fantastic multi-generational collaboration that not only represents a milestone in Norland’s long, pioneering history but also that love and stitch will always bring us together.

Materials used: White Modena cotton; Cotton quilting fabrics; Wadding; Stranded embroidery threads

Techniques used: Applique; Embroidery; Print; Domestic sewing machine; Long arm quilting

a lady stood next to a quilt

Graduate Research Intern Scheme

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Learn more about our Graduate Research Intern Scheme, which we launched in summer 2020