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

Advisory Group: Deborah Buck, Penny Lukins, Katie McClusky, Dr. Theodora Papatheodorou

Synopsis: The first 1,000 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 six months and continue to breastfeed with complementary foods until two 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 five higher order and 14 lower order themes which formed the basis for the overarching theme of practitioner perspective versus caregiver instinct. The five 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

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Dr Janbee Shaik Mopidevi who conducted initial literature searches and consequently joined the advisory group. Many thanks are also due to the advisory group, Emily Luff and Dr Paulette Luff for reviewing popular literature on baby weaning.

Funding: The baby weaning project has been funded by Norland Foundation.

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 

Researchers: Dr Theodora Papatheodorou, Norland College and Dr Paulette Luff, Angila Ruskin University

Supported by: Holly Forster & Marianna Misca, Research Interns, Anglia Ruskin University

Synopsis: Home-based childcare is an under-researched area of childcare provision. While there is extensive research about quality in institution-based childcare and education, less is known about domestic, home-based provision such childminders, and least of all about in-home childcare provided by professional nannies. However, increasingly home-based childcare has attracted the interest of researchers, who have explored it from different perspectives highlighting its distinctiveness and quality features; benefits for children and their families; ways of financing such provision; and professional development needs for professionals offering in-home childcare.

  • The aim of our study is to explore the qualities of home-based childcare, offered by qualified childminders and nannies, in England. More specifically, the study intends to explore:
  • The key qualities and characteristics of home-based childcare, offered by qualified childminders and nannies?
  • The perceived benefits for children, families, and childminders/nannies?
  • The training and continuous professional development needs, and opportunities offered to qualified childminders and nannies?
  • Home-childcare and education at the era of COVID-19
  • Possible ways and means of funding expansion of home-based childcare

To address the research questions an exploratory multiple-case study is employed. Data collection to inform the case studies is via observations of home-based childcare practices; semi-structured interviews with qualified childminders and nannies, and documentary evidence (such as drawings, photographs, video/audio-recordings, and other artefacts) produced by children in home-based childcare. Thematic and content analysis of qualitative and visual data is used to identify key emerging issues.

Project progress so far: A scoping study has been conducted on home-based childcare to be presented at the forthcoming 72 OMEP 2021 World Assembly and conference in Athens Greece. See here.

Paper full reference: Papatheodorou, T. and Luff, P. (forthcoming) Home-Based Child Care: What is it? What are the Challenges? Could it be an alternative model of childcare? Paper to be presented at OMEP International conference, July 2021, Athens Greece

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 the executive summary

More connected whilst further apart? A reflection and investigation of an higher education institution's experience of supporting students through blended learning during the COVID-19 pandemic

Research project: More connected, whilst further apart? A reflection and investigation of a higher education institution’s experience of supporting students through blended learning during the COVID-19 pandemic

Researcher: Katie Crouch and Lucy Krebs

Supported by: Aimee Fletcher (Graduate Research Intern)

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)

How do students, Newly Qualified Nannies (NQNs) and Norlanders apply the Professional Development module and unit learning outcomes to their practice and do they use them to inform their lifelong learning?

Research project: How do students, Newly Qualified Nannies (NQNs) and Norlanders apply the Professional Development module and unit learning outcomes to their practice and do they use them to inform their lifelong learning?

Researcher: Debbie Buck

Supported by: Ying Zhang (Graduate Research Intern)

Graduate Research Intern Scheme

Learn more

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