There are certain phrases that resonate strongly throughout early childhood educational practice. 'Child-centred education’ is one of them, a concept that dates back to Rousseau, perhaps even earlier. However, what does it really mean? If we were really undertaking a child-centred approach, then why don’t childhood cultures, including popular cultures, have a central place in early years curricula? If we were being truly child-centred, would the discourse of ‘toxic childhoods’ have such a strong hold on the professional world of early childhood education and care? I objected, for example, to a letter sent to the Daily Telegraph in England, with over 100 signatories who are apparently concerned about childhood. I felt strongly that some of the sentiments in this letter were rather misguided. Take, for example, the suggestion that children:
What is “real” play? Why is play that takes place via screens not “real” play? There is a false juxtaposition here that sets up engagement with technologies and “real” play as oppositional. In addition, screen-based entertainment is not exclusively sedentary (have these signatories seen children using dance mats?). For example, the Digital Beginnings study indicated that young children engage in a range of activities whilst watching television, including singing, dancing and talking to characters.
We are drowning at the moment in the current torrent of moral panics around children and new technologies, phrases such as ‘toxic childhoods’ and ‘lost childhoods’ flowing around us. Moral panics in relation to childhood are nothing new, as Springhall has demonstrated, but it seems to me that as technological developments progress at a rapid pace in these first years of the 21st century, retrogressive discourses around childhood and adolescence are becoming even more prevalent. Those of us working in this field need to shout loudly and clearly that child-centredness should not mean ripping the contemporary cultural and social centres out of childhood.