Still Missing? History Chapters in Introductory Early Childhood Education Textbooks From the 1990s to the 2010s

Jun. 01, 2013

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Volume 34, p. 374–389, 2013
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors compare history chapters in recent introductory early childhood education textbooks with those from an earlier study (Prochner, 1998).

To understand the place of history in recent textbooks, the authors reviewed ten textbooks, including six from the original study that are still in publication. The sample was composed of books that set out to provide an introduction to early childhood education for beginning teachers.

Textbooks in the Early 21st Century

Foundation textbooks are described as important sources of knowledge for beginning students.

As in the original analysis, this examination focused on four aspects of the chapters:
(a) The Rationale Offered by Authors for the Study of the History
The textbooks surveyed in the current study offered students variations of the rationale that knowing the field’s history is a necessary part of becoming a professional. Knowledge of history is understood as knowing the roots of current ideas and practice.

(b) The Dominant Story
In the earlier study, the dominant story was derived mainly from the contributions of “giant thinkers” in psychology, education, and philosophy. A notable current trend is identified, that textbooks have improved their attention to international and non-Western developments.

(c) Checking the Facts
Textbooks aim to provide reliable and accurate information.
However, where there are errors, textbooks have the potential to be misleading and weaken the knowledge base for teachers. With this in mind historical facts were checked to verify their accuracy by cross-checking dates and other information with a number of accounts. The textbooks were largely accurate in relation to facts. Dates, for example, were correct in almost every instance.
A more important matter, however—as was the case in the earlier study—was a tendency to oversimplify ideas.

(d) The Perspective on Early Childhood Education  History
The history of early childhood education (ECE) in textbooks provides students with a feel for what Spodek (1985) called the organizational saga of the field. In the earlier study, the overall impression was that facts are less important than historical view that, over time, the field has moved from infancy to the “threshold of maturity” (Seefeldt & Barbour, 1998). While this continues to be the view in some textbooks, others stand out as representing a new, if not wholly reconceptualized, approach to ECE.
Nevertheless, while there is some evidence of a change in the presentation of history in the textbooks in the current survey, the article concludes by identifying some missing pieces, as in the original survey.

Conclusion—Some Missing Pieces

In this article, the authors have described what textbooks include in their history of ECE and noted trends over the past 15 years. Textbook authors are generally clear in articulating their theoretical or philosophical approach to early education. The authors believe foundations textbooks have a valuable role in teacher education as a resource and guide for teachers and students. The areas emerged in the previous analysis and were found relevant in the current study, suggesting that the history in individual textbooks across editions is relatively stable, as well as amongst textbooks in a single time period.

The Place of Caring Knowledge in Early Education
The expanding ecology of early childhood education was a feature of the field in late- 20th-century America. Early childhood curriculum frameworks developed by governments in recent years have generally included children from birth to school-starting age. However, as indicated by the preceding review, the field has retained a quite narrow version of its history. On the one hand, the expansionist tendencies of the fields of nursery and kindergarten education led early childhood education to stake claim to child care. On the other hand, the different ideological roots of early education and child care are generally ignored or collapsed within a definition of early education. While caring knowledge is primarily associated with therapeutic settings, there has been interest in applying it within schools.
The history—and the profession—of early childhood education would be enriched by a critical reflection on the place of caring knowledge in early childhood programs and practices.

A World History of Early Childhood Education
Textbooks have improved their attention to international and non-Western developments. These include regular sections on the histories of the early childhood program in Reggio Emilia, Italy, and the Waldorf and Montessori programs. However, the histories of other developments, such as the Te Wh¯ariki early childhood program of New Zealand and the innovative early childhood programs of the Scandinavian countries, are omitted. Knowledge of the histories of any of these programs could provide students with new insights into the broad scope of early childhood education.

The Relation of Preschool History to School History
The authors argue that omissions, errors, and biases regarding history, specifically in early childhood, need to be rectified. For student teachers in early childhood education, this can begin with the understanding of history gained from early childhood foundational textbooks.
Taking the lead from reconceptualist thinkers the authors would like to see early childhood history in textbooks embrace a more transformative approach. Students could be engaged in considering alternate standpoints on history: in examining the experiences of women, children, and minorities; the relationships between school histories and those of early childhood care and education as mentioned above, but also of the histories of social work, nursing, psychiatry, and other professions intersecting with ECCE.


Prochner, L. (1998). Missing pieces: A review of history chapters in introductory early childhood education textbooks. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 19, 31–42.
Seefeldt, C., & Barbour, N. (1998). Early childhood education: An introduction (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Spodek, B. (1985). Early childhood education’s past as prologue: Roots of contemporary concerns. Young Children, 40(5), 3–7.

Updated: Nov. 27, 2016