"Do you dance at work Mummy?" An ethnographic study of young children's perspectives of work.
McAlevey, Fiona Louise
This study foregrounds young children’s perspectives of work, allowing their opinions, experiences and knowledge to become visible. It questions the ways in which young children understand work, and what work means to young children. When viewed in relation to children, the concept of work has a chequered history. Researchers’ perspectives have alternated between presenting work as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for children. However, children’s own perspectives of work are largely missing from research literature. In particular, there is a gap in research into young children’s perspectives of work in New Zealand. This study seeks to fill part of that gap. In the current study, fourteen young children (ages 3-4) from two New Zealand early childhood education [ECE] settings, shared their perspectives of work as part of a two-year ethnographic research project. They actively participated in the research through taking photographs and contributing to interviews. In addition, children photographed work at home, and two families participated in home-based interviews. Additional data were constructed through participant listening (Forsey, 2010) and participant observation. A thematic analysis of the data was undertaken using Rogoff’s (2003) framework of community, interpersonal and personal lenses. Sociocultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978) is used in this study to illustrate that children’s learning about work draws on their own agency, together with the skills and knowledge of those with more experience. Thus, work, when viewed as a sociocultural activity, is neither good nor bad. It is simply an activity that affects young children’s lives on a daily basis. The study also uses childhood studies theory (Lenzer, 2001) to explain that how children are perceived, and their subsequent access to participation in activities such as work, are largely shaped by their relationships. Childhood studies theory also acknowledges that children have a right to participate and that their perspectives are valuable. The young children in this study built knowledge of work through observation in their ECE settings and homes. They learned about work through guided participation (Rogoff, 2003) with more experienced workers. They recognised that who was able to work and what they could work at, were affected by values, beliefs and rules enacted in the contexts of ECE and home. Young children in this study expressed a clear desire to be involved in work themselves. It was relationships – with “people, places and things” (Ministry of Education, 1996, p. 11) – that shaped their ability to participate in work. In particular, the study identified that their participation was directly affected by adult discourses about children. When adults believe that children should be free from work, or that children are incompetent in relation to work, they limit children’s opportunities to work (Morelli, Rogoff, & Angelillo, 2003). In contrast, many of the young children in this study were active participants in work. The adults in their lives recognised their competence and the benefits they gained from participation in work. The current study helps to make young children’s participation in work visible. It shows that young children actively contribute to communities and argues that their participation should not remain hidden. In addition, it recognises that young children are able to share ideas about their worlds when provided with tools and opportunities to participate. For young children in this study, the focus on cameras provided a new means of communication. The study shows that using visual research methods can potentially broaden young children’s ability to share feelings, ideas and knowledge about their worlds.
Advisor: Sandretto, Susan; May, Helen
Degree Name: Doctor of Education
Degree Discipline: School of Education
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: New Zealand; young children; ethnography; work; young children's perspectives; early childhood education; qualitative; four year olds; work vs play; children as researchers; visual methods; visual ethnography; childhood studies; sociocultural theory; Rogoff's planes; photography as a method; research with children
Research Type: Thesis