Preservice Teachers’ Beliefs About Childhood: Challenges for a Participatory Early Childhood Education?

May. 02, 2013

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education,  Volume 34, Issue 4, p. 390–404, 2013.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study is to examine preservice teachers’ beliefs about childhood in an attempt to see how they may support an active, participatory role for children in early childhood education (ECE).

Three hundred sixteen preservice teachers participated in the study.
All participants were first-semester students in an early childhood education department in Greece.
The participants described childhood characteristics and children’s ability for decision-making in a written text.


The majority of preservice teachers attributed socioemotional as well as cognitive and socioemotional traits to children among which the most frequent were innocence, play, spontaneity, carefreeness, sensitivity, and joy.
Some of these traits were attributed systematically together highlighting varying typologies of childhood that could partly be related to existing typologies and scientific theories of children’s development.

The authors recognize specific ontological presuppositions that underlie specific preservice teachers’ beliefs.
These are that (a) childhood has special characteristics that make it distinct and different from adulthood; children are innocent, playful, and spontaneous, characteristics that adults have lost;
(b) children are incapable and powerless because of their innocence and lack of cognitive abilities; children can decide on matters that concern them but only under specific preconditions, such as adult guidance;
(c) childhood is a homogeneous and universal category with no differentiations due to age and contextual grounds and consequently childhood is unvaried.

The separation of childhood from adulthood found in the special, minor, and immature childhood has as a common presupposition that childhood is a state of being that has different characteristics from adulthood and not a dynamic and changing process.

The authors can also recognize specific epistemological presuppositions underlying some preservice teachers’ beliefs that relate to
(a) a view of childhood and adulthood as states of being and not as dynamic and changing processes,
(b) an understanding of ‘biological age’ as the basic criterion for attributing characteristics to a social category, and
(c) an absolute theory that interprets all childhood based on generalizations and lack of contextual information that allows possible differentiations.

Based on the specific ontological and epistemological presuppositions underlying preservice teachers’ beliefs the authors propose that these constitute a framework theory that can be used by preservice teachers to predict, interpret, and reason what childhood is all about.
This framework theory may influence prospective ECE practitioners’ actions.
For example, a basic prerequisite to enhance children’s participation as a practitioner is to know and trust children and adjust your actions to their uniqueness and potential.


The authors highlight three important conclusions from this research.
First, preservice teachers already have a number of beliefs that explain children’s behavior, haracteristics, potentials, and needs when they enter university education.
They easily attribute a number of characteristics to childhood and make judgments about their abilities before studying scientific theories about childhood or children themselves.
Second, beliefs about childhood vary among preservice teachers and some of their beliefs are related to known scientific theories about childhood or to existing typologies.
Third, despite this variation, there are specific ontological and epistemological presuppositions underlying these beliefs that construct a framework theory for understanding childhood.
Overall, the ontological presuppositions (one childhood distinct from adulthood with special and permanent characteristics) and the epistemological presuppositions (universal and undifferentiated view of childhood as a state of being and not as a dynamic process) childhood preservice teachers were found to hold may probably influence their understanding of the new modern scientific theories and may also act as obstacles in the realization of children’s participation in ECE.
Finally, specific recommendations include three strategies.
The first strategy involves processes within which preservice teachers acknowledge and question their own beliefs as well as societal beliefs about childhood.
Such processes may be a presentation of students’ own experiences and memories of childhood and schooling followed by a discussion or a critical analysis of social dominant discourses about the minor childhood in the media and society.

The second strategy demands a new theoretical background to help preservice teachers recognize young children’s early abilities and rich potentials as well as interpret ECE from multiple perspectives including the children’s perspective.
The third strategy requires the acquisition of research abilities that would assist preservice teachers in their observations and interviews with children to gain firsthand experience of lived childhoods.
Last, fostering divergent experiences of preservice teachers with different children should be enhanced to alter the homogenous and universal image of childhood held by preservice teachers.

Updated: Nov. 04, 2015